Read Without Compromise Online

Authors: Becky Riker

Without Compromise

To Oliver.

You amaze me with your hidden talents, your

heart for Jesus, and your perspective on life. You

inspire me to learn and try new things, and you

give me greater joy than I could have ever imagined.

I am so proud to be your mom.

CHAPTER ONE

Tag Madden was the unit playboy, and everyone knew it. He didn’t care that his teammates saw him that way. He liked the ladies, and they liked him. As far as he could tell there was no harm in having some fun.

What did bother him was that there were some people in his unit who thought his preferences in his personal life meant he was not serious about his job. His assignment to the New York City SWAT team should prove that he had the fortitude to stick to something. His staying power just didn’t extend to romantic relationships.

The young man stomped to the men’s locker room and tore his shirt open.

“Having a bad day?” the sergeant was wearing just a towel and standing in front of the sink.

“No, sir,” the younger officer made an attempt to regulate his behavior so as not to draw more questions.

Sergeant Lutz drew a razor through the shaving cream on his face, “You just get back from seeing Hanson, Thaddeus?”

Tag was as irritated by Lowell’s use of his first name as he was at the reference to the department’s shrink. He scraped a hand over his closely cropped blond hair.

“Yep.”

Lutz stopped shaving, “She give you the okay?”

Madden scowled and slammed his locker door shut.

“Let me guess,” Lutz turned around and folded his arms across his chest, “Dr. Hanson thinks you’re too flippant about what happened, and you need to properly process the event.”

Madden pulled a clean t-shirt onto his athletic form, “Something like that.”

Lutz shook his head, “Sorry to hear that,” he eyed Madden’s attire. “You heading to the gym?”

Madden tied his shoe and then turned to go, “Thought it might help me ‘deal with it.’”

The younger man could hear his commander laughing as the locker room door closed between them.

Tag was glad to find the gym nearly deserted. Of course, that was because everybody else was out working. Tag couldn’t go to work because he was on administrative leave. He wrapped his hands as he crossed the floor to the hanging bag.

The first hit felt good. He planted his other fist into the leather.  Then again. He had been working out his hostility for about ten minutes when a voice sounded behind him.

“What’d that bag ever do to you?”

He didn’t bother looking over his shoulder, “What are you doing here, Creed? I thought you were on vacation.”

The stocky woman circled him to stand next to his target, “Got back about noon today.”

He didn’t stop the punches, “And they’ve got you working already?”

She dared to step between him and the worn leather, “I heard what happened.”

Tag landed another punch just above her head. She didn’t even flinch.

“They put you on leave?”

He nodded and moved on to the speed bag.

Mora sat down on the nearest weight bench, but she didn’t appear to be looking for a workout. He could feel her eyes on him.

“They complain about the womanizing?”

He ground his teeth at the question.

She chuckled.

“Whaddya want, Creed?” he puffed out the words as he spun back to her.

“Just curious,” she met his eyes.

He didn’t buy it. He figured they had sent his old partner down to talk to him on purpose. The shrink probably thought she could make use of the connection.

“My dating habits have nothing to do with the incident.”

She shrugged, “Then don’t let her get to you. Try to keep your cool in there.”

“Great advice,” he muttered as he turned back to the bag.

Creed stood up and smacked the young man on the butt as she walked by, “See ya round.”

He grunted in response.

Tag had hitched a ride from Harry in the morning, intending to take a bus home. Normally, he didn’t mind the trip home from the station. He enjoyed visiting with the wide variety of people he met along the way.

Two hours in the gym did nothing to dampen his irritation, but there were other cops getting off their shifts, and he had a greater desire to avoid questions than to burn energy. He grabbed what he needed from his locker and sprinted toward home. A couple blocks before he reached his building, Tag slowed to a walk to cool down and to allow the slight breeze to dry the sweat from his face and the back of his neck. Tag hoped the rest of May would be as cool as the first week had been. New York could get pretty hot in the summer.

He felt only slightly better by the time he arrived home. He dropped his sweatshirt on the floor of the secure entry so he could check his mail before going upstairs. He was about to stick his key in the lock when a figure in a too-large grey hoodie came tearing down the stairs and careened into him.

“Easy, there,” Tag attempted to steady the kid, but he was shoved backward as the stranger pushed by and ran out the door.

It plain that the kid didn’t belong there. Tag had only lived there a year, but it was a four-plex so he knew everybody in his building along with most of the regular visitors. It took Tag a split second to register that he had been nearly bowled over and another moment to give chase.

The boy had barely a head start, but by the time Tag got outside, the kid was already a half a block ahead. Tag started running immediately and was gaining on the figure in the sweatshirt when the runner turned abruptly down an alley. Tag nearly swore at how beautiful the direction change was executed. He followed, fishing in his gym shorts for his cell.

Tag knew the little hoodlum was going to be trapped now; this was a dead end. He was surprised when the kid spun, glanced up at a fire escape ladder about three yards off the ground, and jumped to grab the lowest rung.

Now Tag did swear.

              He wasn’t going up there without a good reason. It was one thing to chase down a suspicious character on foot, but climbing up the side of a building because something didn’t seem right was another thing altogether.

              “Hey, Edna,” he spoke into his phone, “how are you doing?”

              He watched the figure climbing further away from him.

              “I’m fine, dear,” her voice sounded normal.

              “You hear anything strange tonight?”

              “Alfred was having an argument with his newest lady,” she mentioned the middle-aged man who lived under Tag.

              Tag doubted that had anything to do with the guy in the alley, “Yeah?”

              “Yeah, but I couldn’t tell what that was about. Last week they were arguing so loud I could hear every word.”

Tag wondered if Edna had to open her door to catch those words.

“Molly is sick, so I brought her some soup this evening.”

              “That was nice of you,” he stood and watched the kid get further and further away, but it seemed like it didn’t matter anyway.

              “Her sister is visiting. Nice girl. Little thing, though.”

              Tag really didn’t need any more information. Obviously, all the tenants were okay.

              “Thanks for the update, Edna. I’ll talk to you later.”

              Tag stepped back and looked up at the kid. He had apparently decided that Tag wasn’t a threat and so sat down on the top landing. Tag sighed and jogged back to his apartment building.

              After checking on his neighbors to be sure they were, indeed, okay, he went home and showered. He was just getting dressed again when the phone rang.

              “We’re hitting Candy’s tonight. You comin’?” Jeremy’s voice was as upbeat as usual.

              “No, thanks.”

              “Better to drink with friends than all alone,” Tag’s teammate urged.

              Tag laughed, “True, but I’m gonna skip it anyway.”

              Jeremy didn’t press.

              Tag went to bed early and got up before the sun was shining with not a clue as to what he was going to do with his time.

             

CHAPTER TWO

Josie was early to the set. She had a good deal of makeup and equipment to put on for the first scene, and she wanted to be ready the moment her team was.

“Miss Drake,” the director’s assistant, Stan, caught her just before she made it to her trailer, “Grant wants to change a couple things.”

              “Okay,” she changed direction to go have that conversation.

              The change was pretty elaborate, but Josie was sure she could handle it.

              Three hours later, the young woman was riding on the roof of a car as she wrestled with another stunt double, Peter. Pete threw her over his shoulder onto the hood of the car. Josie twisted her body to absorb the impact properly, rolled, and scrambled back up to the roof, yanking Pete’s leg out from under him. Pete dropped to his side and slid off the car in a beautiful execution of the planned stunt.

              “Cut!” Grant’s voice could be heard over the noise on set.

              Josie waited for him to tell them to do it yet again, but he didn’t.

              “That was great people. Take five while I get a look at the footage.”

              Josie was grateful for the chance to get some water. This scene wasn’t as harrowing as the next one, but they had been going non-stop for an hour, and she was dried out.

              “You ready to go through a little fire, Josie?” Pete offered her a cold bottle of water.

              She cracked the top, “Always.”

              He leaned back, “How about that date tonight?”

              She swallowed her water and narrowed her green eyes, “What date?”

              “The one you’ve been promising me for the last five years.”

              “Oh,” she dragged the word out, “the one you’ve been dreaming about – the one that’s never going to happen.”

              “C’mon, Josie. We’d be great together.”

              Pete wasn’t very big, probably no more than two inches taller than her own five-three. He also shared her lean build and her love for the job. She was certain, though, that they would not have much to talk about past the first date.

              She leaned against a wall, “How do you figure?”

              “We have a lot of common interests.”

              “Leaving work out of it, name one,” she challenged.

              “Martial arts,” he mentioned one quickly.

              “Which you started because of work – doesn’t count.”

              “Bikes.”

              “I only learned to ride because I needed it in a movie, and I haven’t been on a motorcycle since.”

              “Sky diving.”

              “Work-related again. You don’t even know what I like outside of work.”

              He shrugged, “I’d like to.”

              Josie would bet that Pete would be disappointed to find that Josie attended a weekly Bible study or that she had no interest in sex outside of marriage. She figured she could get him to quit asking her out by mentioning either of those points, but she didn’t bother.

              She finished her water and threw her bottle into the recycling bin, “No, thanks.”

              Pete didn’t press, and Josie didn’t expect him to. She was used to men hitting on her, but she wasn’t interested right now. As a matter of fact, she was never going to be interested in the men in this industry – there was too much temptation.

              “Did you know Holton Graham is going to be on set next week?” Belinda came up beside her and whispered as they walked back toward makeup together.

              “This is my third Graham movie,” Josie smiled down at the shorter girl. “I’ve heard that every time, but it’s never happened. He always backs out, and the publishing company sends some peon in his place.”

              Belinda shrugged, “A girl can always hope.”

              Josie sat in the chair, so the makeup people could work their magic.

              “Pretty amazing work out there today, Josie,” Grant called after her five hours later as she prepared to leave the set.

              “Thanks, Grant.”

              It meant a lot to her that he would bother to tell her himself. He was certainly busy enough that he would be justified in ignoring a mere stunt double once the cameras were off. Grant was her favorite director to work with for the simple reason that he did pay attention to the individuals.

              She looked down at her watch, wondering if she had time to run across town before she went to the gym for her hapkido class. Josie grimaced when she realized she would not have time for a proper visit if she did that.

              She decided to skip Molly’s house and go to class. She texted her sister that she was going to try to stop by at seven instead of five-thirty. Molly didn’t respond, but Josie knew she would get it eventually.

              The hapkido class went over, so Josie knew she still wasn’t going to have much time for a visit if she wanted to get to bed early. She took a quick shower and headed over to her sister’s apartment anyway.

              “Hi, Jo,” the older sister answered her door with a smile.

“You look like you’re feeling better.”

“I told you it was just allergies. You have supper yet?”

              “No. Why? You offering?”

              “I am. What do you want – turkey or beef?”

              Josie’s eyes lit up, “What kind of beef?”

              “Bulgogi.”

              “I don’t even know what that is, but I’ll take it,” she shrugged out of her ratty sweatshirt.

              “It’s a Korean dish. I think you’ll like it.”

              “You know, there are definite benefits of having a caterer for a sister.”

              Molly laughed and placed a plate in front of her sister.

              Josie took a bite and groaned, “This is so good, Mol.”

              Molly took the seat opposite her sister, “How was work?”

              “Fine. I got to ride a flaming car through the side of a building.”

              Molly laughed, “You get your kicks in the weirdest way – living your life on the dangerous side.”

              “Oh,” she spoke between bites, “I had a little unanticipated danger last night.”

              Molly rested her chin on her palm.

              “I was walking out of your building,” she explained.

              “Running,” Molly interrupted with her own version.

              “Yeah, well a guy came out the door after me, running.”

              Molly’s eyes widened.

              “He chased me about a block but stopped when I went up a fire escape.”

              “Why didn’t you scream?”

              “I would’ve if he’d caught me.”

              Molly didn’t look appeased, “What did he look like?”

“Y’know,”  Josie deadpanned, “I didn’t stop and look at first – trying to get away such as I was.”

Molly shook her head.

The older sister’s disgust only fueled Josie’s teasing, “Then when I was sitting up there on the fire escape, I tried to check him out – it’s been a while since I’ve had a date, after all – but his features were a little fuzzy.”

She actually could have described the guy in better detail because he had been standing under a street light when she was looking down at him. Josie didn’t think there was any point in it, though. The guy was long gone by now, and the police weren’t going to put out an APB for a guy who hadn’t done anything more than chase her one block.

Molly threw a dishtowel at her sister’s head, “Maybe you should call the police – file a report anyway. You want them to be aware, at least, of some guy hanging around apartment buildings, waiting for women to walk out.”

              “Maybe you should move to a less creepy neighborhood.”

              “It’s not creepy. I even have a cop who lives right across the hall from me.”

              Josie laughed, “Oh, yeah. The SWAT guy.”

              Molly nodded.

“How come I’ve never met him? He’s lived here for a few months now.”

              “He’s been here for over a year,” Molly corrected. “And you haven’t met him because he’s down at the station almost every day.”

              “Workaholic?” Josie spoke around a bite.

              “Or he’s got nowhere else to go,” Molly snapped, irritated. “Was he was inside the security door?”

              Josie raised an eyebrow, “Your neighbor?”

              Molly pulled her sister’s plate away as a threat.

              “No, no, no,” Josie cried. “Don’t take that.”

Molly raised her eyebrows.

Josie gave in, “He was standing by the mailboxes.”

              Molly shuddered, “I’d like to at least tell Tag.”

              “Tag?” she took the plate back and took another bite.

              “My neighbor.”

              Josie laughed, “His name is Tag?”

              “I don’t think that’s his real name, but that’s how he introduced himself.”

              “Young guy?” Josie fired a knowing look at her sister.

              “Yes,” Molly smirked, “and good looking, but don’t imagine anything else. He’s a player.”

              Josie wrinkled her nose, “Ick.”

              Molly stood up to spoon more food onto her sister’s plate, “Yeah. He’s nice enough to pass in the hall but not the kind of guy I’d like to spend the rest of my life with.”

              Josie finished the food, “Thanks for supper.”

              “Not a problem. If I ate all my leftovers, I’d weigh a ton.”

“You could always bring them to the set again.”

              “Watching you gives me the creeps – especially last time.”

              Josie wracked her brain, “What was last time?”

              “You were doing something underwater. I think you were trapped in a car.”

              “I wasn’t actually trapped in anything, Molly. The set piece was in front of me and on one side.”

“You were under water so long, I was sure you had actually drowned.”

              “You do realize I had breathing equipment, don’t you Mol?”

              “Which would do you no good if you had actually been knocked unconscious.”

Josie smirked as she put her plate in the dishwasher.

Molly put her hands on her hips.

“If I remember correctly,” Josie pushed Molly a little, “you got three catering jobs from your last visit.”

              Molly sighed, “I’ll try to get by later this week.”

              Josie pulled her sweatshirt back on and went to the door. As she opened it, she heard Molly’s downstairs neighbor, Al, talking to Mrs. Price in the hall. She closed the door and backed into the room.

              “It’s Al,” she hissed.

              Molly laughed, “You’re going to have to face him someday.”

              Josie glared at her sister, “You were the one who set us up – told me he was a nice guy.”

              “He is a nice guy,” Molly followed her sister to the window. “And I didn’t mean it as a date. I just thought you could help him find a martial arts center.”

              Josie opened the window, “Well, thanks to you, I had to change my class time.”

              “I really wish you wouldn’t go jumping out second floor windows, Jo. It’s strange.”

              “Night, Mol,” she slid out the window and landed neatly on the ground below.

              She recovered quickly enough to realize she had been seen by two men. She laughed softly and was about to explain the situation to the witnesses when she realized the blond one was the same man who had chased her the night before. She turned and ran around the back of the building, comforted by the tall chain link fence in the path of escape.

              Josie scaled it with no difficulty and assumed she was home-free. She turned around to look at him and was dismayed when he cleared the obstacle neatly.

Knowing there was a series of closely built buildings nearby, she picked up her pace and headed toward the structure with the lowest fire escape ladder.  Josie gained her target and scrambled up the ladder. She did not stop at the landing this time because she could hear him behind her.

              She had no idea why this guy was chasing her. Maybe he was just hanging around the area, looking for easy prey. If that was the case, it seemed like he was putting an awful lot of effort into chasing her down. Maybe he had committed a crime the night before, and he didn’t want a witness as to where he had been at a certain time.

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