Dylan "Hook" Hoecker had no problem keeping pace with Dagger and Cochise as they raced along the dark alleyway, following the skip they’d tracked to a gun shop in Libby. Scooter James had made the crew the moment Dagger entered the premise. Perhaps it was Dagger’s burly physique that had tipped him off, or maybe he was just nervous having three intense-looking dudes enter the store, but he’d run for the back exit.
No, Hook’s legs had never been an issue. He ran like the wind, easily leaping over a barrel Scooter dumped on its side, hoping to trip them. Beside him, Dagger cursed, and Hook couldn’t help smiling as the big guy went down. This skip was his. When he reached the end of the alley, Scooter veered left and ran through a stand of motorcycles, tipping over one, which sent the rest slowly falling like dominoes. Bikers sitting at outdoor café tables nearby rose and filled the street, shouting and moving toward their Harleys, forcing Cochise and Hook to push past them.
Cochise went down when one biker stuck out a foot, perhaps angry that their chase had scratched his ride.
Hook waved his prosthetic arm, which, sometimes, had even those who weren’t so tight with the law pausing and giving him a break. He didn’t mind one bit using his disability to give him an advantage. He shouted out a “Thanks, man,” when one biker rolled his bike forward to clear his path.
Now, it was just him following the slap of Scooter’s Adidas on the pavement. Hook paced himself, forcing himself to keep his breathing even so he’d outlast his target. He didn’t use every bit of his strength to close the gap, because he knew he’d need anything extra to take the fucker down once he began to slow.
In his mind, Hook thanked his physical therapist, who’d concentrated on helping him make the adjustment to his new circumstance, learning to use his prosthetic, but who also continued to meet him on the track three or four mornings a week to make sure he worked out the rest of his body to help, not only keep him toned for the work he did, but to keep his dark moods at bay. Raydeen Pickering was a hero in his mind, because she went the extra mile for every man and woman she accepted into her treatment program.
Ahead of him, Scooter ducked into another alley.
“He’s turned again,” he said, knowing the others could hear him through the radio in his earpiece. “Left, into an alley.”
“I’m behind you,” Cochise said. “Don’t let him out of your sight.”
“I’m cutting through another alley. Will try to get to the street before he does,” Dagger said in his ear.
Hook went left and entered an alley lit by a single golden bulb at the back door of a restaurant. He ran past rank-smelling trash bins and plastic bags but didn’t see his mark ahead. “Don’t see him,” he said, and then slowed and turned.
Something dark swung at his head, and he held up his right arm to deflect the blow from a two-by-four from a pallet, no doubt. But the board hit plastic and metal and bounced off. Hook swung under it with his left, catching Scooter in the chin. Their target dropped like a sack of rocks across a row of trash bags lined up on the dirty, smelly pavement.
Hook stood over Scooter, shaking his left hand because it hurt like hell. Then he noted that his prosthetic dangled kind of funny. He tried to open and close the claw, but apparently, Scooter’s blow had damaged the cable. “Fuck,” he said, and gave Scooter a light kick in the side. “Bastard.”
The sounds of two individuals converging on him from different directions forced him to contain his anger and tuck his prosthetic against his body to hide the damage. The last thing he ever wanted to have happen was for one of these guys to think he was less capable of mixing it up. For the most part, he thought of his arm as an advantage in a fight. Metal hit harder than flesh and bone, and, generally, it could sustain a punch much better, too.
Thankfully, he kept a spare in his vehicle. He just had to get there. But first things first.
Scooter moaned from the ground as Cochise then Dagger came to a halt beside him and stared downward.
“Like we tried to tell you before you ran like a scared rabbit,” Hook said to Scooter, “we’re fugitive recovery agents, and we’re taking you to jail.”
Scooter pushed up on an elbow. “What the hell is that smell?”
Dagger sniffed. “Don’t know, but now I’m hungry. Could be chili.”
“I think it’s stew,” Cochise dead-panned. “Benny’s Eats makes a mean beef stew.”
“Shit, it’s all the way up my shirt,” Scooter said as he sat, rubbing his jaw.
“Well, looks like you’ll have something to snack on during the drive back,” Dagger drawled.
Scooter let out a huff. “Goddamn. My car, man. I left it at the gun shop.”
“You’ll just have to pick it up from impound,” Dagger said, “if the judge is stupid enough to let someone bond you out again.”
Hook reached down his left hand to help Scooter to his feet.
Scooter frowned. “Damn, you wearing armor on your arm? My teeth about rattled out of my head when I hit you.” Then he glanced at Hook’s metal claw. “Well, shit. That explains a lot.”
Hook reached for his handcuffs from the pocket on the back of his web belt. When he pulled them forward, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to cuff him, not one-handed.
Cochise held out his hand. “Let me do the honors.”
Hook pressed his lips together and handed him his handcuffs. If he’d been on his own, he’d have managed, somehow, but he might have had to put Scooter back on the ground first. He hadn’t quite mastered the single-handed snap using his left hand. Everything was harder to master with his left. Maybe he should ask Raydeen to add handcuffing to the everyday tasks he worked on improving.
Once Cochise had Scooter restrained, he stood back and let Hook grip Scooter’s upper arm to take him back to their vehicles.
The walk back was interminable. They passed the bikers who shot them birds but otherwise stayed pretty mellow. Back at the gun shop, Lacey, Dagger’s partner, gave a wave to the shop owner and sauntered their way. She’d canvassed the businesses in Libby days ago, leaving cards. No doubt the middle-aged owner had been only too eager to snitch, because then she’d grace his shop again. Dressed in skin-tight jeans and a pink button-down blouse that she’d knotted at her midriff, Lacey looked like a sweet confection. All that was missing was the powdered sugar.
“Hey there, Scooter,” she said. Then she shook her head and held her nose. “Good Lord, he is not riding in our vehicle.”
Hook grunted. “You can ride with me. I’ll even let you drive.”
Lacey might have looked like a cupcake, but she was one sharp cookie. Her gaze went to the arm he’d tucked close to his body, and she gave him a broad smile. “Dagger, you don’t mind if I ride with Hook, do you? I’ve never had the chance to talk with him alone.”
Dagger narrowed his eyes.
Lacey gave him a blinding smile. “See you back in Bear Lodge! Only you’ll be way later than us,” she said, then held her nose again and gave him a wink.
Cochise chuckled. “Come on, Scooter. You’ve got a new date with a judge. Bet if you sweettalk your jailers, they’ll let you have a shower before they put you in your cell.”
After Cochise, Dagger, and Scooter left, Lacey turned back to Hook, her big blue eyes rounding in concern. “Oh my God, you’re hurt!”
“Not really. Not much anyway, but he did a number on my prosthetic.”
“What did he hit you with?”
Hook grimaced. “A two-by-four. Most of the blow hit plastic and steel; my shoulder took some of the impact, too. I have another arm in the back of my truck.” Moving to the rear gate, he opened it and reached for the sports bag that held his spare arm. Then he pulled at his Velcro tabs and removed his Kevlar vest then unbuttoned his plaid shirt. When he tried to shrug it off, he winced, because his upper arm and shoulder ached.
“Let me help you, Dylan.”
He thought it was kind of funny that the women at the agency were the only ones who didn’t call him “Hook”. As well, if one of the guys had offered to help him, he would have given him a frown, but Lacey was so damn sweet he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so he turned his back and let her drag off his shirt.
“Wow, that’s some hardware you have to wear.”
He shrugged off the strap that circled around his left shoulder to lose his harness then drew the socket off his stump. He tried to move away because the sock beneath it was soaked with sweat and smelled, but Lacey didn’t seem to mind, moving in to roll the sock off his limb.
This part always felt weird when a woman did it, even on those rare occasions when Raydeen helped. He never felt “less than” when he wore his hook, but without it, he felt exposed, lacking. The stump and the long red scar were ugly.
“Do you use powder or anything before you put on a new sock?” she asked.
“No, the sock wicks away the moisture,” he said, “it keeps my skin pretty dry, when I’m not running marathons.” He dug into his bag and felt for a soft, rolled sock and pulled it out.
“You don’t mind if I help, do you?” she asked. “This is fascinating.”
“Dagger might not like you putting a sock on another man’s…stump,” he said, growling, but offering her a waggle of his eyebrows.
She laughed. “You did not just say that.” Then she made a face as she rolled the sock upward. “Although, thinking about it, the process is quite similar…” She pulled on the top of the sock, removing any wrinkles. “I do that right?”
“Dagger taught you well,” he drawled.
“You know, he’s going to ask me what the heck we talked about all the way back home. I have to come up with something better than ‘cloaking your stump’.”
Hooks mouth stretched. Lacey was special, and her blonde, cheerleader beauty and bubbly personality were only frosting. He wondered why it was that every time she entered his mind he thought about desserts. The woman was so much more. Although she was the only MBH hire who wasn’t prior military, she’d proven herself a valuable addition. She had people skills, knew how to work with disguises, and had a very agile mind.
Hook thought Dagger was pretty damn lucky to have her.
After they drove through a fast-food window for food, Hook downed aspirin with a Coke to help lessen the growing ache in his shoulder.
“You could put back your seat and get some rest,” she said, aiming a smile his way before turning her attention back to the dark highway.
“Not often I get to share a ride with a pretty woman,” he said. “I’d just as soon keep you company.”
“Are you nervous with me behind the wheel? I won’t be offended. Dagger rarely lets me have the keys. Says I’m a menace on the road.”
“Now, she tells me,” he said under his breath, but only to make her smile.
“I think he complains just to keep his hands on the steering wheel. I’m thinking it’s a man-thing.”
“You’re probably right,” Hook said, grinning.
“So, Hook, you got a girlfriend?”
Hook’s eyebrows shot upward. “Nope.” And not a subject he wanted to continue. Since his injury, he hadn’t had so much as a coffee date with a woman. “I’ve been kind of busy. The move, new job…”
“Hmm.” She kept quiet for a while then shot him a look that had him gritting his teeth.
He hoped like hell that wasn’t sympathy in her expression.
“You know, I have a side gig, not that I’ve had a lot of down-time myself lately, but I do women’s makeup and hair. I host parties. I meet a lot of women.”
Knowing where this was going, he shook his head. “Don’t fix me up. Please.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that. But I could help you meet women—”
“Don’t need help with that either. I meet women.”
“Anyone who doesn’t have a mug shot, and who isn’t heading back to jail?”
“I’m just saying, there lots of women who would find you really attractive.”
He grunted. “Sure.”
She was silent a moment, then, “Is it because of your arm?”
He wiped a hand over his face, wishing he’d decided to take that nap she’d offered. “Is what because of my arm?”
“The fact you’re shy.”
“I’m not shy.”
In the dashboard lights, he could see her face screw up into a frown as she continued to think about him.
“I’ll go on a date. When I’m ready.”
“And how long has it been since your last one?”
He sighed. “Maybe a couple of years?”
“Since before you lost your arm?”
“Yes, but I’ve been busy. Recovery, rehab, move, new job…” He gritted his teeth, because he knew she wasn’t going to let this go until she got to the bottom of it. Dagger had warned him that even though she looked pretty and soft, she was a pit bull underneath all the pink.
“See? I’m worried about you. The longer you wait to get out there, the harder it’s going to be. You’ll build it all up into this mountain of doubts that you’ll find really hard to climb over…”
He shook his head. She needed to add “therapist” to her list of side gigs. His therapist had said pretty much the same thing before he’d been medically discharged.
“Just think about it. You’re young still. And I know guys need to…you know…let their little swimmers take a few laps,” she said, pointing a finger and wiggling it like a minnow fighting to get upstream. “It’s not healthy to forgo…swimming.”
“Swimmers?” He couldn’t help it, he started laughing. “Do you talk dirty like this to Dagger?”
She grunted. “No, he likes the real words. And he tells me he needs to…swim…all the time, to keep him from getting grumpy.”
Now, he was gasping with laughter—so hard, he had to bend forward. His shoulders shook.
“Hey, it’s not that funny.”
“Sorry, sweetheart,” he said, wagging a finger as he continued to chuckle. “I’ll have to ask Dagger how the fishing’s going.”
She shook her head, and a grin began to stretch across her face. “Don’t you dare.” She blew out a long breath. “Okay, I’ll drop the subject—and I won’t throw women in your path. Promise. But you have to promise me you’ll at least think about it.”
“I will. When I’m ready.” He let out a breath and settled back against his seat. The laughter had felt good. Damn, he liked Lacey. Too bad she was already taken.
They arrived in Bear Lodge in the early morning hours. After letting herself out of his 4Runner, Lacey gave him a wave, and he watched until she passed through her front door. Then he drove to his place.
He fought the stubborn lock, jiggling it, cussing under his breath until he clamped his claw on the knob. At last, it opened, and he shoved inside. He’d have to talk to the apartment super about getting the knob replaced. Maybe he needed a latch instead. Something his metal appliance wouldn’t slide off quite so easily.
Fucking everything about his daily life required adjustments.
He didn’t bother turning on the lights as he moved through the apartment, heading toward his bedroom. Once inside, he flicked on the lamp beside the bed and strode into his bathroom. He eyed the whirlpool tub. Too much effort. Although the jets and some Epsom salts would have been nice.
Instead, he stripped and stepped into the shower, not bothering to wait until the water warmed. He let it flow down his body, sliding over his belly. The cool water had the opposite effect it should have, invigorating his cock. He braced his stump against the tile wall and leaned forward as he grasped himself with his left hand.
This was something he was getting the hang of. He still missed the ease of jerking off with his right hand. Using his left, he had to concentrate on the motions, remember how it had felt in his right, and mimic the movements. That extra bit of thought dragged out the process. By the time the water was steaming up the room, his hips thrust against his grasp, sliding his cock through his tight fingers.
When he came, his head fell back, and he swayed, pleasure replacing the dissatisfaction with his fate that had plagued him since he’d realized his prosthetic had shattered, reminding him again that he wasn’t whole. That he’d never be again.
He watched his come spurt against the shower wall, and a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. His little swimmers were doing just fine.