Authors: Roxie Rivera
Tags: # Jack finally has sweet, #feisty Abby right where she was always meant to be--writhing wth pleasure in his bed and safely sheltered in his arms. The vicious cartel assassin on her heels has no idea what he's up against.
Jack finally has sweet, #feisty Abby right where she was always meant to be--writhing wth pleasure in his bed and safely sheltered in his arms. The vicious cartel assassin on her heels has no idea what he's up against., #romantic suspense
In Jack's Arms
By Roxie Rivera
Night Works Books
College Station, Texas
Table of Contents
Exhausted and suffering from an aching back, I rubbed my blurry eyes and tried to focus on the serial
number etched into the bottom of the DVD player so I could compare it to the pawn ticket tag. Conducting
a spur of the moment inventory on thousands of items in our storeroom? It wasn't exactly the way I had
wanted to spend my Monday, but an overnight break-in and burglary had pretty much scuttled my plans.
"Hey, Abby?" Mark, one of my brokers, poked his head into the backroom. "One of our regulars is here. He's trying to pawn a silver chain but…"
"It's under weight?"
"Yeah. I wouldn't bother you with it, but he's one of our best customers. I know you like to give them a break every now and then."
"Who is it?"
"Oh." I thought of the sweet older man who took care of his ailing mama. She was torn up with
diabetes and on dialysis, and he was barely scraping by with his hardware store job. "What's he want?"
"He wants eighty, but I was thinking of giving him, like, thirty-five or forty."
"It's the end of the month, Mark. I bet he's trying to scrape together enough money for his mama's
meds. Give him the eighty. He's good for it."
I didn't say what we were both thinking. On the first, Carl would start receiving the disability and Social Security deposits that kept their household just this side of the poverty line. Like many pawn shops,
Kirkwood's Jewelry and Loan provided a needed service to folks who required a little extra money to tie
together the ends of their dwindling budgets.
There weren't a lot of choices for households on the fringe. They could come through my front door,
pawn a television or watch and walk out with some cash to be repaid at a high but fair interest rate, or they could take their chances with one of the payday loan places that were popping up all over the place. The
really desperate ones visited loan sharks like Besian Beciraj or John Hagen, although the latter was rumored to be winding up the illicit side of his business.
Mark looked less than thrilled with my decision but shrugged. "Whatever you say, boss lady."
He didn't say it meanly, but I sensed he didn't approve of the small favors I did for our regular
customers every now and then. He had been at the shop only a few years and had come from a personal
finance place across town that did things differently. I had learned the business by trailing my granddad
around the store as a kid. Customer loyalty and word of mouth were huge in this trade, and I leapt at any
chance to ensure both.
Letting it go, I got back to work comparing the serial numbers and pawn tags in our company database
to the items remaining on our shelves. Since being called up to the shop just after six that morning, I had crawled and climbed and sifted through hundreds of items. I had never been more thankful for Granddad
insisting on upgrading to barcodes and scanners a few years ago. This ordeal had been bad enough that the
thought of having to manually flip through the inventory logs made me want to weep!
A knock at the storeroom door interrupted my work. The police and insurance crew had been in and
out of the shop all day, but it was nearly seven in the evening so I doubted it was either of those two paying me a visit at this hour. Wiping my dusty hands on the towel slung over my shoulder, I crossed to the door
and wrenched it open. The jovial, handsome face of Detective Eric Santos greeted me. "Hey!"
"Hi, Abby." He gestured to the storeroom behind me. "Would it be all right if I came in to chat for a few minutes?"
"Sure." I stepped aside and motioned for him to join me. "It's been a while since you've visited the shop. Not since those punks in the 1-8-7 crew tried to unload all those stolen cell phones, right?"
"Has it been that long?" He shook his head and raised his eyebrows. "Man, that's been seven months?
"About that," I said. "Granddad was still puttering around the place."
The corners of his mouth dipped with sadness. "I still have a hard time believing Mr. K is gone. I
walked in the door and expected to see him behind the counter, to hear him laughing and telling his
"It's been five months, and I still do the same thing, Eric." Feeling a fresh wave of grief welling up inside him, I quickly changed the subject. "So are you working the robbery beat now?"
He leaned back against one of the sturdy shelves. "No, I'm still working guns and gangs."
"But this was a robbery. Unless…" I put two-and-two together and exhaled roughly. "You think this break-in last night was gang related?"
"Eric, they didn’t take anything useful. They totally bypassed the big-ticket items like jewelry and
electronics. They didn't even try to get to the firearms. All they took were the video cameras and cell
He frowned. "That's all?"
I nodded. "So far that's the only thing that's missing back here. What kind of a gang robs a store full of expensive, easy to fence jewelry and doesn't even take a single gold chain?"
"You've seen some of the dumbasses who run with the crews around here." Eric shot me a troubling look. "Of course, this might have been a message."
"You're in a tricky spot here, Abby. You've got the Hermanos that way and the 1-8-7 crew that way." He gestured to his left and right with his thumb. "Now that John Hagen is getting out of the sharking game, the word is that the Albanians are pushing down into this territory."
Nothing that Eric said was a revelation to me. I had lived and worked in this neighborhood long enough
to know all the angles and all the power players. "I doubt it's the Albanians."
"Yeah, because they're such warm and fuzzy guys."
"I don't know about warm and fuzzy but I've never had problems with any of them."
"Probably because your granddad used to play nice with Afrim Barisha before he got himself shot and
stuffed in a trunk," Eric brusquely replied. "Don't think I don't know about all that under the table dealing those two did."
"I wouldn't know a thing about that." I did, actually, know quite a bit about the way Granddad used to take payments for the Albanian loan shark who operated out of the backroom of a bar a few blocks over
from us. After inheriting the business, I put a stop to it, but I had managed to maintain a cordial relationship with Besian Beciraj, the mob captain who had stepped in to fill the power void.
"You had better not," Eric gently warned. "That's not a world you want to get mixed up in, Abby. It's dark and dangerous business. Stick to pawning and making loans. It's safer."
I considered some of the violent and threatening customers who came through the front door. "Some
"Fair enough." He conceded that fact with a smile. "Look, I'm going to keep an eye on this case. To me, this burglary was part of a bigger pattern. You had an attempted break-in a few weeks ago and then this real break-in last night. They stole from you but not enough to hurt you. Someone is trying to intimidate you—
and who is more likely than Besian?"
"He doesn’t need to intimidate me. Our business models are totally different. I operate on the right side of the law, and he operates on the wrong one."
"It could be about a protection tax."
"Well, I'm a skilled negotiator, Eric. I've got this one."
"Don’t be so cocky, Abby. You can't do everything on your own."
"I've done a pretty good job so far." Eric knew only too well what sort of childhood I had survived before Granddad had stepped in to adopt me and my older brother. At a very early age, I had learned that I could count on no one but myself—and that I needed to be able to talk my way out of any situation. "We'll be fine, but I really appreciate you showing so much concern."
"This pawn shop has been around since the fifties, and your family is one of the oldest in this
neighborhood. The businesses on this block are the main reason this area has stayed safe and prosperous. I want it to stay that way."
"So do I."
Eric signaled the end of that discussion with a short bob of his head. "So how is Mattie doing? I'll admit I was upset that he wasn't placed on my baseball team this year. I really miss him at short stop, and no one trash talks from the dugout like Mattie."
I grinned at the funny memories Eric evoked. For the last four years, the detective had been coaching a
special needs baseball team every summer. The program had gotten so popular that they had added two
more coaches and teams this year. "Mattie was sad that he didn't make your team, but he seems to really enjoy Jack and Finn's coaching style."
Eric issued a throaty sound of annoyance and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves those
Connolly brothers." He gave a snort of amusement. "At the rate the bleachers are filling with single ladies, these games are going to be standing room only soon. If the women hanging around the parking lot after
the games are any indication, Jack might be the hottest bachelor in Houston this summer."
I ignored the sharp bite of jealousy that Eric's words inspired. The mere mention of Jack Connolly sent
a wicked swooping sensation through my belly. Like his two younger brothers Finn and Kelly, Jack was
something of a legend around this neighborhood. He had been an officer in the Marine Corps and had
completed two tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq before his convoy rolled over an IED and he sustained
a head injury that forced him out of the job he had loved so much.
Four years ago, he had returned to Houston to take over the family gym. Granddad had given him a
series of small loans over that first year to help Jack make payroll and improvements. Since that first
morning he had walked into the shop to pawn that motorcycle he had loved so much, I hadn't been able to
shake my immediate and incredibly strong attraction to the dark-haired, green-eyed fighter. I had absolutely no business at all fantasizing about the smolderingly sexy former Marine who taught my weekly self-defense class, but I couldn't help myself.
Hiding my interest in Jack, I said simply, "He's a nice guy. They both are."
"They are," he agreed. "I think it's important for our players to see someone like Finn living a full, happy life. He doesn't let his missing leg stop him from going after life full-force, you know?"
"Absolutely." I couldn't help but smile as I remembered the Saturday morning practice session when Mattie had gotten his first look at Finn's prosthesis. "I almost died from embarrassment when Mattie asked Finn if he was a cyborg."
Eric laughed. "That sounds like Mattie all right. What did Finn say?"
"He told Mattie to keep his secret because the government didn't want everyone to know about their
"I bet Mattie just ate that right up."
"He loved it. I don't think I've seen him laugh that hard in a long time." Ever since our granddad had finally succumbed to his congestive heart failure, Mattie had been withdrawn and temperamental. All that
changed when the baseball team had started practicing in early May. "He's happier lately and spending a lot of time at Connolly Fitness."
"I doubt Jack or Finn mind that at all."