Toni

The burn from my injured knuckles was keeping me from falling asleep at the moment. Admittedly, I didn’t think it would work for long because I was exhausted. Adrenaline had long since drained out of me, taking with it all of the numbness that’d been protecting me. All I could feel now was defeat, disgust, and more than a little despair.

To be honest, I kept hoping I’d wake up and discover this had all been a bad dream. But I couldn’t wake up without falling asleep, right?

But a holding cell at the one-nine New York City Police Department wasn’t exactly the kind of place I’d ever want to close my eyes.

My temper had always been a nasty one, but I’d usually been able to keep it under control. I’d always been the cool-headed one in the family – on the surface at least. This was the sort of thing I’d expect from one of my brothers. Vic, maybe. Or Franky. Even though Vic was the ex-con, Franky had always been the one our older brothers had to pull out of fights. My temper paled in comparison to his…but I was the one who’d hit a cop.

It wasn’t entirely my fault, though. It wasn’t like I’d expected to ever face a situation quite like the one I’d found myself in a couple hours ago.

The one I knew I should regret.

Part of me did.

I regretted hitting the cop. It hadn’t been her fault Ashford Lang was an asshole. I regretted going over there and making it easy for him to set me up.

And it had been a set up.

I regretted humiliating myself like that.

Most of all, I regretted having taken that job in the first place. I wished I’d never heard of the Winter Corporation, or Isadora Lang…or her older asshole brother Ashford. Even as the guilt flooded me, I didn’t stop wishing it.

My eyes started to burn, but I held the tears back through sheer stubbornness alone. Crying in here was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d grown up with four older brothers, and I knew how dumb it was to show weakness.

I rubbed at my gritty eyes and tried analyzing the situation even though I’d already gone through it a couple times already. I was still in holding. I hadn’t gone through booking and processing yet. Thanks to Vic, I had a good idea of what happened once the cuffs went on. I sighed. I would’ve been more than happy to keep my knowledge all second-hand.

Why in the hell had I hit her?

I should have hit Ash.

He’d been the one who deserved it.

The woman sitting next to me shifted, her short skirt hiking up high enough that if she turned towards me, I’d have a good idea of her grooming habits. She’d been escorted in not long after I’d been unceremoniously shoved inside and I didn’t have to ask to know what she was in for. After all, I could see her nipples through her barely-there halter-top.

I jerked my gaze away, but not quick enough because she saw me looking at her.

She shot me a look and smirked. “I do girls if you got the money. Could be a good way to pass the time.”

My face went red and I cursed my fair skin. I wasn’t usually so easily embarrassed, but I also wasn’t used to being propositioned by women. In jail.

The other women in the cell laughed and I just sat there, not knowing what to say or do. Fortunately, once they’d finished, they went back to whatever it was they’d been doing before I came in.

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, only that I’d gotten lost in my thoughts when I felt a pair of eyes on me. I jerked my head up and saw the cop I hit looking at me.

“Have you been making friends?” Her voice sounded funny and I wondered if I’d broken her nose.

“I’m sorry for hitting you,” I said, sincerely. “My temper got the better of me, and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

“You think that’s going to help?” She crossed her arms over her chest.

“No.” I lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug and looked away. “I did something stupid, and now I’ll have to deal with the consequences.” After a pause, I muttered, “If you were Lang, I sure as hell wouldn’t be apologizing.”

She lifted a brow. “Maybe you shouldn’t have kidnapped his sister.”

I gave her a withering look. Now I was regretting the apology.

The prostitute next to me started to laugh. “You, a kidnapper? Bitch, you ain’t never broke a law in your life. You can’t even look at me without blushing.”

I glared at her this time, but she held my gaze without wavering. It was the officer who walked away without a word.

“Who did you kidnap?”

The question came from a belligerent, heavy-set woman sitting on the bench across from me.

“Nobody.” I sighed and dropped my face in my hands.

“Not what the cop thinks. Who does she think you kidnapped?”

“Does it matter?” I didn’t want to talk about the Langs.

She asked again and I pretended not to hear.

Probably not the best action.

She came up off that bench. She was massive, easily six and a half feet tall. She’d break me in two. I was just about to tell her the answer – hell, I’d tell her anything she wanted – when the girl at my side stood up and got in front of me. “Leave her alone, Rita. She ain’t causin’ you no problem just sittin’ there anyway.”

The woman about to kick my butt – Rita, apparently – took a menacing step toward the prostitute. I hadn’t realized how tall the woman next to me was and I suddenly felt smaller than I ever had before. If these two started a fight, there was no way I’d walk away without a scratch.

“What’s it matter to you?” Rita took a step toward my unexpected savior, her eyes narrowing. “Maybe you should just sit down and shut up, Passion.”

The prostitute responded by folding her arms and jutting out her chin.

I didn’t want to know what might have happened if an officer hadn’t appeared at the cell at that moment. “Gallagher, Toni.”

I practically jumped up, thinking something was finally going right. Except it wasn’t an answer to my prayers. I was simply going to booking. It was…humiliating.

I got my phone call first, though. Fun fact: it’s not true that you’re entitled to one phone call when you get arrested. The cops don’t have to let you call anybody. But if you’re polite, you can make a call, or even two or three. I went out of my way to be as polite as possible, and I made two phone calls. Neither call was to Ash because I planned on never speaking to him again.

Instead, I called my oldest brother, Deacon, who spent nearly five full minutes saying how he couldn’t believe that I’d do something so stupid before he promised to explain to our parents what had happened and that I was okay. Then I called Vic. He was a thorn in my side at times, but he’d always understood me better than my older brothers. He didn’t sound surprised when I told him, but his voice sounded a bit odd. After a moment, he told me to make sure I kept my mouth shut, and not to do anything or say anything.

“Anything,” he practically snarled the word. “You understand, Toni?”

I wondered if the apology counted. Probably, but it was too late now. I agreed without telling him what I’d done, and we disconnected.

As I sat down next to a desk, Passion walked by with a hip-swinging gait. She winked when she saw me and flopped down in a chair as though she was ready to get her toes painted. She had an expression on her face that said she’d done all this before and she wasn’t impressed.

Me, neither. I was fucking terrified.

“Allergies?”

I jerked my head around and stared at the officer. “Excuse me?”

He gave me a bored look. “Do you have any food allergies? Environmental? Things like latex–”

“I know what allergies are,” I said, interrupting him. “I’m not an idiot.”

He paused briefly, then jerked his shoulder and went back to typing. “Yeah, well, hitting a cop seems like a pretty idiotic thing to do.”

He was right. I’d hit a cop. Best case scenario, I’d escape prison. Worst case, my entire life was ruined. I’d never be allowed to become a psychologist. Everything my parents had sacrificed, all of the work I’d done. All of it would be for nothing.

My head started to spin and black dots danced in front of my eyes.

Abruptly, a hand caught the back of my head and pressed down, reminding me of what I’d already known I should be doing.

“Breathe, Ms. Gallagher. The room looks a lot more normal if you breathe.”

I sucked in one breath, then another.

“That’s it…” It was a familiar voice, but not one I could place immediately. “Hey, why don’t you go get her a soda…yeah, yeah, I know. Look, I know the kid. I’ll watch her.”

The pressure on the back of my neck eased and, a moment later, I found myself looking at a graying, grizzled cop. He wore a rumpled suit and his face was equally rumpled. Lived-in, I supposed. But I knew him anyway.

Scowling, I crossed my arms over my chest and looked away. “Thanks for the help, Detective Bowers. I’m fine now.”

“It’s Captain actually, Ms. Gallagher.” He arched a brow at the frosty look I shot him. “It seems you’ve found yourself in trouble.”

“It’s a family trait.”

“Hmmm…” He bent forward, his eyes focused on the screen in front of him. He winced as he shot me a look over the computer. “You went big for your one and only trouble ever. Assault of a cop, Ms. Gallagher?”

Stonily, I ignored him. Hearing the heavy tread of police-issue uniform shoes, I looked over. It was the officer who’d started booking me.

Bowers got up, groaning a bit as his knees popped. “You hang tight there, Ms. Gallagher.”

Like I had a lot of choice.

As the older man walked away, I watched him go.

He was the one who’d arrested Vic all those years ago. It had been Bowers’ face on media reports when everything had gone to hell. He’d been furious that Vic had only gotten six months and had made sure everyone knew what a scumbag my brother was.

I was led into a small concrete room before I could dwell on Captain Bowers much longer. I knew what was coming next.

The door opened and I turned around.

Shit. It was the officer I’d hit.

The harsh light shining down on her face did nothing to soften the bruising on her nose, spreading up to her left eye. Man, I’d really gotten her good. I silently cursed my brothers for having taught me how to fight.

“Apparently you’ve got friends in high places.” Her voice was tight, angry.

I blinked.

That wasn’t what I’d been expecting to hear.

She nodded at the table and said, “Sit.”

I sat.

At this point, if she wanted me to twirl around and bark like a dog then hop like a bunny, I would.

“Captain Bowers talked to me. Asked that I consider…letting this go.”

I blinked at her. No fucking way. “Ah…” I cleared my throat, then tried again. “Um…”

Nothing intelligent was coming out.

“You do know him,” she prompted.

Numb, I nodded. I didn’t understand. Why would Bowers do that for me? He’d never liked my family.

“Any idea why he’d like me to reconsider?” she asked. She touched the glorious bruise, already a deep, ugly purple. “I mean, I personally think there’s a good reason to not reconsider.”

I didn’t say anything. What could I say? I had no reason to offer her.

“You must have something to say.”

“I already did. I told you I was sorry and I meant it. What more do you want?”

She stared at me for a long moment, and then she got up and left.

I was alone in the room, and I stayed that way for a very long time.

***

 

The squeak of the opening door woke me.

I jerked my head up, groaning as pain lashed through me, my stiffened neck protesting the sudden movement. Bleary-eyed, I stared at the doorway. It took a moment for my brain to register what I was seeing. When it did, my jaw fell open.

“Deacon.”

I launched myself at him and his arms caught me. My feet left the ground and over his shoulder, I saw Franky and Vic too. A rush of emotion swept over me.

“Let’s get you home.” Deacon kissed my temple and squeezed me even tighter before setting me on my feet. “You can give us all the details later. For now, let’s get out of here.”

“I can’t.” Confused, I looked around.

“Get out of here.” It came from the officer I’d hit. She gave me a disgusted look from where she stood behind Franky. “Go on.”

I remembered her comment. Friends in high places. Shit. “Ah…did Ashford Lang call? Did he have something to do with this?”

She snorted and muttered, “As if.”

“Come on, little sister,” Vic muttered as he took my arm. “Trust me. You don’t want to stay here any longer than you have to.”

I let him lead me out while Franky and Deacon followed behind like some weird little entourage. I didn’t understand what had happened.

If it hadn’t been Ash who’d gotten me out, then who was it?

 

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