By Colby Marshall - November 24, 2012

Serious damage control required. “You misunderstood, Lieutenant Hutchins. I only suggested that perhaps investigators abandoned a profitable route of inquiry too soon. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Really, really didn’t mean to, considering your thumb is larger than my windpipe.

“I believe you said, ‘Do the drunken testimonies of bar patrons satisfy the FBI? Are we one hundred percent sure the former partner of the assassin had nothing to do with the murders?’” His eyes dared McKenzie to contradict him.

Damn. He had the thing memorized. Talk about pissed. “Look, it’s my job. Again, no offense, but it’s nothing half the country isn’t thinking. Plus, it makes a good story. It wasn’t personal.”

“Well it’s personal to me.” Anger flashed in his eyes.

The door was yards away. Someone would hear her if she called for help. However, if he shot the president, he’d probably be willing to bump off a reporter no problem. That, and he could easily grab her if she tried to run. She wiped her palms on her skirt.

Think, brain! Think!

“It’s a good ten paces to the door, but I’ll give you a head start.”

McKenzie’s attention jerked back to Hutchins. “What?”

“If you’re thinking of running,” he replied. His eyebrows arched. “You can sprint. You might have a chance. The lock might slow you up, though.”

McKenzie knew her eyes went as big as saucers. In the next second, the SEAL smirked.

“Hilarious,” she replied. “So, I take it you didn’t sneak in here to shoot the breeze.”

“My partner was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a mindless killer,” Hutchins said, the growl in his voice as comforting as that of an uncaged Siberian tiger.

McKenzie held back the retort on her lips and instead forced out, “What do you mean?”

“I can’t let people think he was something he wasn’t. I know what the evidence says, but I knew Cody. I know he didn’t do this. I’m going to prove it. So, take it back. Come with me and search out the real story. You said I killed the president in one of the biggest papers in the world, for God’s sake. It’s the least you can do for me.”

McKenzie shook her head. “I had every right to say what I did."

Hutchins grabbed her wrist again. “Oh, really? Been sued for libel much?”

“Been arrested for assault much?”

The SEAL’s lip curled. “Touché. Still, do you want to try me? Think your position at the paper is secure enough that they’d support you if someone filed suit?”

McKenzie stepped backward to put distance between the two of them, but he closed in, running her into the bathroom wall. “I’ll retract my statement about you and imply further investigation is warranted. That’s the best I can do.”

“Not good enough.”

“What do you care what people say about him as long as they know you had nothing to do with it?”

“First off all, Mac—”

“McKenzie,” she corrected.

Mac,” he said again. “You said it yourself. Who cares that fifty people saw me in a bar? Cody and I were partners, so until I clear him, I’m suspect number one.”

McKenzie gritted her teeth and looked at his fingers clasped around her wrist. “Gee. I can’t imagine why anyone would think you were capable of something like that.”

He followed her gaze toward her arm. His fingers unfurled, but he leaned his face into hers, keeping her trapped against the wall. “He was my partner. For years, I trusted him with my back. I don’t want him to be that guy everyone only knows because they think he committed the worst crime this millennium.”

He backed away a step. McKenzie exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She examined the spots where the tile pieces ran together on the floor. Cody Randolph’s name was the worst kept secret on earth right now. In Jessie’s newest front page article, she’d read all about the pictures of the vice president taped around Cody Randolph’s hotel room, the same hotel room where the police found his sniper rifle. She looked back up at Hutchins. This man wasn’t ready to believe the truth, but she couldn’t blame him. His teammate was a traitor.

 “The problem is he did commit the worst crime of the millennium.”

“Well, I guess I’m through here, then,” Hutchins said. He turned his back on her.

McKenzie closed her eyes.

Slow down, heart. We’re in the clear.

In the next instant, however, her eyes flew open. “Wait!”

It was too late, though. Her chance at the interview of a lifetime—and the front page—had walked out the bathroom door.


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