#FreeREADFriday, Check Out Chapter 2 In the Shadow of Pride, Release Date 02/23/2021
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
In Chapter One, of In the Shadow of Pride, you got a brief introduction to the relationship between Mac and Lexie. In Chapter Two, you get to see just how much these two fight their attraction in the most dangerous situation.
Just a quick reminder. Pride will only be $0.99 until it releases, 02/23/2021. Please grab your copy now!
Hugs to all,
Nancy C. Weeks
In the Shadow of Pride Book 4
Shadows and Light
Two years later…
“Shit! What the hell?” Mac cussed under his breath as a thin line of sweat slid down his spine. Keeping his voice at a whisper, he stepped out of the teller line and spoke into his mic. “Why didn’t someone stop Lexie Trevena at the entrance?”
Rico’s widow, with a two-year-old Gabriel in her arms, had wandered right into the middle of a multi-task force sting operation.
“She parked in the Mother with Child slot at the front door. We couldn’t have anyone approach without drawing suspicion,” an agent in the surveillance van replied.
“Everyone stay alert. I’m going to try to get her and the kid out of here.”
Mac slowly made his way across the lobby. He couldn’t help admiring all that was Lexie Trevena. Her deep mahogany hair flowed loosely down her back, accentuating her dark tanned skin. Her charcoal-brown eyes brightened with a smile for the receptionist. God, she was beautiful. And Gabriel―the kid was a carbon copy of his father.
Lexie set the squirming child down at her side and reached into her oversized canvas bag. She pulled out a juice cup, handing it to her little boy. On any other day, Mac would have been okay with running into the pair. Why this bank at this exact moment?
Business in the small lobby was quiet for an early afternoon. It was why Luis Horde picked this time of day to rob credit unions. He could slip in and out quickly. However, things could change on a dime. If threatened, Horde didn’t think twice about using innocent bystanders as shields.
Horde had been working his way north, robbing one credit union after another for the last several weeks. Mac’s sister-in-law, Sarah had tracked his movements, and her algorithm predicted this branch would most likely be his next hit. As if on the clock, he entered the bank just a few minutes ago and was filling out a deposit slip at the center table where he could keep track of the entire lobby. He was probably composing the demand note to pass to the teller. Mac wanted him on the ground, but a couple of customers were too close, only an arm’s reach. If Horde made Mac, the calm, quiet afternoon would jolt into an intense hostage situation.
Mac took a moment to eye the three members of the task force positioned in the lobby. The rest of the task force surrounded the bank waiting for the signal.
His eyes raked over Lexie one more time. Even after two years, whenever he checked in on her and Gabriel, she still treated him like something she had to wipe off the bottom of her shoe. In her eyes, she lumped him into the perfect Venn diagram, husband killer, betrayer of trust, and in the center, Rico. But damn it, Mac wasn’t that man. Rico had been a good friend, but as a husband, he had been a complete ass. If Mac ever had a woman like Lexie Trevena in his bed, he wouldn’t screw it up by banging someone he talked to for five minutes in a bar.
Where the hell did that thought come from? Moron. Get your head in the game. New plan. Get Lexie and her son out of the bank without making Horde cagey.
Mac approached the reception desk and leaned his elbow on the counter. Gabriel held tightly to his mom’s leg, but glanced up, and smiled at Mac. He was a cute little booger and seemed to tolerate Mac a lot better than his mom. Gabriel held out his juice box toward Mac.
Lexie turned, and their eyes held. For an instant, she looked almost happy to see him. It may only have been the sense of seeing someone she recognized, the familiar, because her eyes slowly began to smolder.
“Why is it every time I’m having a shitty day, you show up?”
She picked up her son, eased around Mac, and sat Gabriel down in one of the plastic chairs. The kid let out a small protest and reached for his mother. She searched her bag, handing him a small book and a toy giraffe.
“As soon as I fill out some paperwork, I’ll pick you up.”
“I’ll take him.” Mac held out his hands.
Holding a child wasn’t one of his best plans with a bank robbery only minutes from breaking wide open, but the little guy looked so defeated. Horde glanced in their direction before turning back to his business.
“He isn’t feeling well.”
“Why don’t I help you carry him out to the car?” The excuse he was looking for just dropped into Mac’s lap. He held his hands out to the toddler and Gabriel went into his arms.
“What are you doing? Put him down. I have a meeting with the loan officer.” Lexie’s eyes searched the row of offices at the rear of the lobby.
“If Gabriel isn’t feeling well, maybe you should come back another day.” At a closer look, Gabriel’s eyes were a little red and his nose was running. Mac pulled out his handkerchief and did what he could for the nose.
“What do you know about kids?”
Mac shrugged. “I have nephews and nieces. Kids like me.”
Letting out a frustrated groan, she rummaged through her oversized purse. “If I had the time to come back another day, I wouldn’t be here now, would I?”
“Gabriel just looks a little green.”
“There’s a bug going around his daycare.” She smiled at her son. “Go on, Gabriel, why don’t you give Mac one of your very special hugs?”
Her eyes sparkled just a little too brightly. Mac took a closer look at the toddler and couldn’t help easing back just a little.
Lexie let out a deep laugh. “You’re the one who picked him up. When you come down with the flu in a week, just remember to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.”
With that, she reached her hands out for her son and he dove into her arms, resting his head on her shoulder. With a sheet of paper still in her hand, she side-stepped around Mac and headed toward Horde’s table.
Mac grabbed her elbow and stopped her. “Where are you going? The door is that direction,” he said, nodding toward the entrance.
“I need a pen to fill out this form.” She pulled her arm free. “Don’t you have someone to arrest or something?”
Mac didn’t move, but searched for Horde out of the corner of his eye. Shit. The guy heard her, his stance grew stiff and he stepped away from the table, eyeing Mac and, worse, Lexie.
“But I took off work just to play with you and Gabriel. The little guy will feel better with fresh air. We can do this loan thing another day.”
Mac stared into Lexie’s confused eyes, silently begging her to play along. Before she could respond, Gabriel let out a groan.
“Sick bowl, Mommy.”
Lexie made a dash for the trash canister under the table, but it was too late. Gabriel let loose and emptied the contents of his stomach all over Lexie’s arms and Horde’s pant leg.
In all the years Mac had been an agent, this moment was a first. He had a couple choices, laugh out loud or pull out his gun, leveling it at Horde.
Lexie reached for her bag and pulled out a pack of wipes, removing several. She first washed Gabriel’s face, then cleaned off her arm. Mac grabbed several sheets from the container and scooped up what he could off the floor, tossing the mess in the small canister.
When Lexie glanced at the man’s leg, a hint of pink rose in her face. Mac almost lost his lunch when she knelt down close to Horde.
“God, sir, I’m so sorry. Here, I can get most of it off your leg, and I’ll pay to have your suit cleaned.”
Horde took another step away from her, shaking the vomit from the toe of his shoe onto the floor. “Never mind, lady.”
She stood, reaching for her bag. This time, she pulled out her wallet and handed Horde a ten-dollar bill. “I have no idea how much it cost. Will this do?”
Mac reached for Gabriel and set him behind him. One of his team would grab the kid if Horde pulled a weapon. Mac inched close enough to Lexie.
“Please take the money,” Lexie said, leaning in closer.
“If the man doesn’t want the money, you can’t shove it at him, love. You apologized. Just let him get on with his business. You need to see to Gabriel.”
He placed his hand on her arm, keeping his fingers relaxed even though adrenaline pumped through his veins.
She jerked free. “Mac, what’s wrong with you? Stop manhandling me—”
Horde grabbed a fistful of Lexie’s hair and yanked her against him. He whipped out a 9mm from the back of his waistband and rammed the barrel into the sensitive skin of her lower back. “Back off, cop.”
Customers shrieked and raced for cover as one of Mac’s agents grabbed Gabriel. The toddler let out a yell, but Mac kept his attention on Lexie. “Man, what the hell? I’m not a cop,” he said, raising his hands up. Fear cut through him but keeping the game going was priority. Lexie’s life depended on it. “Take your hands off my girlfriend. She just felt bad about the—”
“Back off!” Horde took two steps toward the exit. “Clear your team out now or she gets one through the shoulder. You have twenty seconds.”
“Mac!” Lexie cried out.
Horde dug the barrel deeper into her skin. It had to hurt like hell. Mac raised both arms, hands out, and took a step back. “Let the woman go if you want to see tomorrow.”
“Big words, asshole. I got your girl, and you have less than ten seconds.”
Lexie’s voice may have sounded full of fear, but if her eyes could shoot lasers, Mac would be a pool of ash. Her hand inched up between Horde’s arm and her neck. She leaned her head backwards.
She was going to do something really stupid. Rico obviously had taught her how to get out of a chokehold, but never with a loaded barrel digging into her.
Mac yanked out his Glock and aimed it directly at Horde. “Don’t you dare.”
A shiver spiked down Lexie’s spine. Mac’s expression grew rigid as he held his stance stock-still. Out the corner of her eye, a woman raced with Gabriel through the exit. He shrieked for her, but the woman kept running.
Lexie hadn’t practiced her next move in over two years. If she was even an inch off, the situation would go to hell fast. She tightened her hold on the man’s arm, pulling his forearm down so she could breathe.
Mac’s words, don’t you dare registered. Why couldn’t that arrogant agent ever trust her judgment? She had one chance. If the man got her outside the building and into a car, it was all over.
“Five seconds, cop.”
Lexie took Horde’s words as her green light. Yanking her head forward, she slammed it into a hard jaw. The force of the blow sent him staggering backward, which eased his hold around her neck. She jabbed her free, fisted hand down hard into his groin. He released her completely as he bent at the waist. Lexie swung her fist up, striking his nose.
When a painful roar escaped from his throat, she twirled away from him, yanking his right shoulder out of its joint. She twisted his arm once more, and he let out another yelp before he lost his balance and landed flat on his back. The weapon in his hand fired a stray shot into the ceiling. The roar from the blast filled her ears, momentarily blocking out all sound. Mac ripped the gun from the man’s hand as two other agents secured him.
Mac grabbed Lexie’s elbow, shoving her behind him. The whole thing took seconds, but it drained every ounce of energy from her, and she leaned her head against Mac’s shoulder. Before her knees gave out, she stumbled over to a chair and dropped into it.
Mac followed, his large frame looming over her like a dark cloud and his hands fisted on his hips.
“Are you okay, Lexie?”
It took all her control not to scream in his face, No, damn it, I’m not okay! Rubbing the soreness from her knuckles, she studied his expression. Mac McNeil’s anger was a sight to see, brows narrowed, jar tense, hell, every muscle in his body taut, and it was all aiming right at her. Her! How could the jerk make this her fault?
“You let me sit here with Gabriel, and there was a guy with a gun only a few feet away.” She shot up from her seat and shoved him in the chest. He didn’t move an inch. “Am I okay? No, I’m not anywhere near okay. What the hell is wrong with you, McNeil?”
“Me? I did everything but drag you out by the hair. How dense can one person be?”
Mac’s conversation filtered across her mind. It made little sense in the moment, but now, hell, the man was so clear. Shit!
Mac ruffled her every nerve on a good day. She was just too tired, too stressed to give what he was saying even a momentary thought. He’d tried to warn her, and she missed every clue. God, Gabriel.
“Where is my son?”
“Relax. Gabriel’s fine. He’s with one of my agents.” He reached for her hand, easing her fingers out of a fist. The middle finger hurt the most. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger over the swollen joints. “Doesn’t feel like you broke any bones.” He lifted her chin and studied her neck. “Your hand is going to hurt for a few days.”
“I remember. Rico wasn’t exactly an easy defense trainer.”
The intensity of his stare made her want to lower her eyes, break their connection, but that would be backing down. She would never allow Mac to get the upper hand. “If we’re done, I would like to see my son.”
“He’s right behind you.”
She turned and let out a noisy sigh. A woman held Gabriel in her arms. Tears streaked his soft cheeks, but he was fine. “Oh Gabriel,” she said, reaching for the one person on the planet she loved unconditionally. She moved her hand over his small body. “Are you okay?”
“I threw up.”
“I know, but I bet your tummy feels better.”
“Can I have a popsicle?” He lowered his head to her shoulder.
“As soon as we get home.”
A man dressed in a gray suit approached with her bag in his hand. “So sorry for what just happened. Are you okay?”
Lexie nodded her thanks, heaving the bag over her free shoulder. “I’m fine. I just need to get my son home.”
“Mrs. Trevena, I’m the loan officer, Carl Greene.” He led her a few feet away from Mac. “We can arrange another time to come in and discuss your―”
“What about my loan?”
His expression softened. “If you will allow the bank to use the trust fund as collateral—”
“No. The trust fund goes untouched. Do I qualify on my salary?”
He shook his head, and Lexie’s heart dropped.
Brad Winston had emailed her last week for the first time in two years. Gabriel’s birth mother wanted to meet. Lexie had to be overreacting, but if the woman thought she could take her Gabriel away from her, Lexie planned to have a large influx of money for the fight of her life.
Greene’s comment was the worst possible news: she had nothing. With tears blurring her vision, she said a quick thank you before heading toward the exit. Gabriel’s small arms wrapped securely around her neck anchored her emotions and kept her from breaking down.
“Lexie, wait a sec,” Mac said, crossing the foyer.
“Do you need me to give a statement?” she asked.
“What just happened?”
He raked his eyes over her and then at the loan officer. “Don’t lie to me. That wasn’t nothing.”
“It’s none of your business. I need to get Gabriel home.”
“I’ll see you to your car.”
“I can walk to my own car, McNeil.”
“And I’ll walk with you, Trevena.”
The heat of the afternoon hit Lexie the moment she stepped onto the sidewalk, but unlike most people, she enjoyed it. If she were alone, she would lift her face into the sun and allow its warmth to calm her. With Mac at her heels, taking a relaxing moment was out of the question. Clicking the key fob, she opened Gabriel’s side of the car and set her purse on the floorboard.
“Let me take Gabriel,” Mac said right behind her.
“I’m quite capable of putting my son in his car seat.” She set Gabriel down, pulled the car seat strap over his head, and clipped it into place. She pressed her lips on the boy’s forehead and said, “We’ll be home in a few minutes, and I’ll get you all cleaned up.” After shutting the door, she planted a smile on her face.
“Thanks for seeing me to my car.”
Mac leaned against the driver’s door with his hands in his pockets. There was something different in his eyes—not anger, but disappointment. If possible, that look hurt more than his anger.
He broke their connection, shielding his emotions. “Lexie, do you need money?”
She hugged her elbows. “No, I’m fine.”
“If you need—”
“Mac, I’m not taking money from you. Will you please drop it?”
Hardness formed in his expression as he straightened his frame. Time seemed to slow, and the tension between them thickened and intensified. God, he made her so nervous, and if she didn’t get the hell out of there, the tears she had been keeping back were going to break wide open.
A huge part of her wanted to unload everything, the fear and desperation that hit like a ton of bricks the moment she opened the email from Brad Winston, but she kept quiet. Sometimes pride meant carrying a heavy burden. She couldn’t show weakness, especially in front of this man.
Mac reached for the handle and opened her door. Still, she needed to say something to him. “I’m not usually that clueless. I should have picked up on what you were trying to do.”
A smile touched his lips. “You had your mind on a few other things.”
Hell, the man could change from being an irritating jerk to a perfect gentleman on a dime. He was actually trying to be nice to her.
Mac reached for her hand and Lexie stilled as his warmth spread through her. His thumb caressed the tender skin in the center of her palm. He didn’t move an inch, and she could have sworn neither did she, but before she could put any space between them, Mac lowered his head and their lips touched.
Undefined emotions spiked through her every cell as he brushed his lips over hers. She couldn’t stop herself. She deepened the kiss. Mac touched only the tips of her fingers and her lips, but it was as if their bodies meshed with each other. Need she had not felt in years overwhelmed her. She took what her body demanded until one reasonable thought surfaced.
This was Mac McNeil she was kissing as the damn FBI swarmed around them. She could easily lose herself in him; the sensations he dredged up were so strong. But Lexie had been down this road before. It wasn’t a place she would ever revisit. There was too much at stake for her to involve herself in another meaningless relationship.
Lexie turned her head and broke their connection. She inched away, bumping into the door frame. “I can’t… we can’t―”
He didn’t argue with her and even placed more distance between them, which allowed her to drop into the driver’s seat. She took her time adjusting her seat belt across her chest and placing the key in the ignition. She reached for the door, but Mac shut it gently and then tapped on the driver’s window with his knuckle. After lowering the window, she raised her chin and faced him.
“This isn’t over, Lexie.”
His words came out hoarse, sexy as hell, but they hit her like a threat. There wasn’t anything left in her to argue with him. Instead, she took the chicken way out and drove out of the lot. His intoxicating herbal scent clung to her, as did the feel and taste of him. It was going to be a long time before she got that kiss out of her system. It wasn’t until she reached the next block that her response formed in her head.
Like hell, it isn't.