Mrs. Charles ran through her home, ducking as a fourth round of bullets peppered the wall just above her head. She shrieked, yelling for her husband. The twins clutched her skirt as they cried, and their father came running into the room. A bullet shattered a vase a foot from the terrified mother, and Mr. Charles engulfed his sons in his arms. The front door splintered from its hinges, letting four armed men enter the house. Mrs. Charles backed into the kitchen, her fingers closing around the handle of a recently used frying pan. One of the men followed her, and she swung the pan as hard as she could. The man staggered back, and she struck him again. He fell to the floor, and she jumped over him when Tobias and Caleb screamed.
“No! You leave those boys alone!” Mr. Charles yelled, grabbing the shoulder of another man who had snatched the twins from their father. Two of the men dragged the six-year-old boys out the front door, leaving the fourth to face the desperate father. The thug struck Mr. Charles on the head with the handle of his gun. The older man fell to the floor, blood splattering the carpet. Mrs. Charles knelt next to her husband as the frying pan fell from her grasp. The attacker sprinted after his comrades, who had already thrown the twins into their car.
“My boys!” Mrs. Charles shouted, but she ducked for cover when more bullets were fired into the house. The couple clutched one another until the shots ceased. They slowly got off the floor and went to the window just as a young man ran into the room with four other officers on his heels.
“Mr. and Mrs. Charles!” he exclaimed. “Are you hurt? Where’s Lillian?”
“She’s not here.” Mr. Charles coughed. “But those men took the boys.”
“Edward, there’s one still in the kitchen,” Mrs. Charles said while her husband sank into his worn armchair. The young officer pointed his men toward the kitchen, and they walked briskly to detain the thug. They stomped into the front room, and the man sneered at Mrs. Charles.
“Best be glad it wasn’t your pretty daughter,” he chuckled. “But we’ll get her too. Soon enough, we will.”
“Get him out of here,” Edward ordered. The officers obeyed, and Edward pulled Mrs. Charles toward him while putting a hand on Mr. Charles’s shoulder. “We’ll find Tobias and Caleb,” he said. “But right now you, sir, need medical attention.”
Mr. Charles waved him off with another cough.
“I’m fine, son. It’s just a scratch.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree, sir.”
“You should listen to him, Richard.”
“Not you too, Amy.”
Their argument was interrupted by a howl . A small Jackabee ran into the house with a heartbreaking whine. A young woman ran in after him, her dusty brown hair wind-blown and frizzy.
“Mom! Dad! Did they hurt you? Where are the twins?”
“They took them, Lily. They took them.” Mrs. Charles broke down, sobbing into her daughter’s shoulder. Lillian’s face blanched.
“No,” she breathed. “I just stepped out to get something from the market. They can’t be gone.”
Edward placed his hand on the lady’s back to support her and her mother. “Lillian, we’re going to do everything we can to find them. But right now, we need to get your father some medical help.”
Lillian took a deep breath and helped her father out of his chair. Her mother took her place at the man’s side, and they stepped out of the house. Chance whined, pawing Lillian’s skirt. Lillian knelt to let the dog jump into her arms. The puppy rested his head on her shoulder, touching his nose to her ear. Edward stroked the dog’s ears before taking Lillian’s left hand in his. His fingers grazed over her ring, but she pulled away. “Don’t.”
“We both know that this is my fault. If I’d listened to my editor and dropped my research, then my brothers would still be here right now. I should have known that my family would be targeted by the Red Devils.”
“We can’t even be sure that it is the Red Devils who are behind this.”
“Ed, it has to be! They always strike in groups of four to six, and I’m investigating a possible contact of theirs. They must have figured out that I was tailing Mark Delvan, and my brothers are paying the price.”
“Lily, we’ll track them and get the boys back.”
“How? You’ve already lost six officers since the scare at Helen Fisher’s boutique last week. Your sergeant won’t let you go after one of the most dangerous gangs in Chicago. Not after what happened last time.”
Edward took Chance from Lillian’s arms and set the pup on the floor. Then he took both of her hands in his, pulling her close to him.
“Your family is mine too, Lillian. We’ve stopped criminals together before. We can do it again.”
“No, you listen to me. Officer Clements has already been investigating Mark Delvan for other offenses, and she is one of the best. We have leads we can work with. If he really is behind this, then we’ll get him.”
“But I can’t ask you to put yourself in harm’s way again—”
“Lillian, this is my job. And I love you and your family. Please let me help you.”
Chance barked, scratching the floor near Lillian’s foot. The lady looked down at her loyal companion, who jumped on his hind legs with another bark. He tilted his head, giving her his signature look.
“It looks like I’m outnumbered,” she sighed, a ghost of a smile gracing her lips. “Fine, but please promise me that you’ll be careful.”
“Aren’t I always?”
Lillian raised an eyebrow.
“Ahem, right. Officer Grant!” he shouted to the man waiting just outside the broken front door. “ Get in touch with Clements and make sure all her notes are ready when we get back to the station. We have two boys to rescue.”
Lillian was sitting at Edward’s desk within half an hour, poring over Officer Clements’s notes. The policewoman sat on the reporter’s left while Edward paced in front of them. Chance lay in the corner of the room with his head resting on his paws, his eyes half closed.
“I was able to follow one man I believe is involved with the gang,” Officer Clements said. “His name is Harlan. He isn’t the brightest, but he could probably bend a horseshoe with his hands. He doesn’t carry a gun, but he really doesn’t need one.”
“Where did you last see him?”
Officer Clements got up from her chair to reference a map of the city that was tacked to the wall. She marked on the map with a pen as she spoke.
“This is the warehouse I saw him at. When he went inside with another older man, I tried to follow, but the door was locked.”
“Oh, locked doors won’t stop Lillian,” Edward said.
“I’ve picked enough locks to know what I’m doing,” Lillian explained, trying not to sound too pleased with her skill.
Officer Clements smiled and continued.
“Harlan goes from place to place, but he always comes back here. This could be where they’re stashing the twins. It’s close to your house, Lillian, and they could have gotten there quickly after the shooting.”
“But is there another place they could have gone?”
“There is a hotel across town that I’ve seen Harlan at. It’s an expensive place, though. I can’t imagine that it would be a mob’s headquarters.”
“Not the whole mob, but maybe for the leader,” Lillian mentioned. “But I think we should focus on the warehouse for this. But if the boys aren’t there, then we’ll try the hotel.”
“How soon should we move in?”
“As soon as we can,” Edward replied. “Those boys are in danger, and we need to get them out as soon as possible. We’ll leave in twenty minutes. Just give me time to round up as many units as I can.”
Lillian waited, but every minute that passed felt like an hour. Chance moved from the corner to the reporter’s feet, lying unnaturally still as he awaited his next command. Officer Clements joined Edward in the preparations, and Lillian did her best to wait patiently. But the second Edward came to get her, she bounced from her chair and followed him. Chance padded after them, his tongue lolling.
The force of at least twenty-five officers got in their cars and left in waves to surround the warehouse without drawing unneeded attention. Lillian and Edward got in an unmarked vehicle driven by the reporter’s usual chauffeur, Wallace. The old man was a retired officer and had helped Lillian with covert operations in the not-so-distant past. He greeted the couple and pup with a pained smile as they got in the car.
“Sorry to hear about the boys, Lily,” he said as he drove away from the station. “But I’m happy to help in getting them back.”
“We really do appreciate the help, Wallace.”
“Anything for you and your family.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence. Wallace parked the black car a block from the warehouse. He stayed with the car while the couple and the loyal pup walked the final half-mile. Upon arriving at the warehouse, all the officers were stationed and out of sight. Lillian shared a look with Edward, who drew his gun. They went discreetly to the side door and found it locked. Lillian pulled a pin from her hair and slipped it into the lock. She had the door open in ten seconds. Chance growled low as he went in first. Then Edward followed the pup with Lillian right behind him. As the door closed, two officers positioned themselves at the door, ready for the signal.
It was unusually bright in the warehouse that had been furnished extravagantly with red velvet couches and matching chairs. Patterned rugs lay scattered among the furniture while two rows of unmarked cars sat near the large service door at the far end of the warehouse. A section was closed off with tall privacy boards covered with red curtains.
Lillian stepped further into the warehouse, keeping close to Edward. Chance sniffed for a moment but then turned back to Lillian with a whine.
“He smells Tobias and Caleb,” she whispered to Edward. His grip visibly tightened on his gun. They slowly surveyed the room, not seeing any thugs or gang members. As they reached the first set of couches, someone started clapping.
“Welcome, Miss Lillian Charles. I will admit, I didn’t expect to see you so soon. And Detective Edward Gray, what a pleasant surprise,” a tall man with dark red hair said as he stepped out from behind the privacy wall. Edward trained his gun on the man, but he didn’t seem nervous. “Oh, please. You’re going to need a lot more than one gun against me,” he chuckled. Lillian glanced around, the glint of at least seven guns catching her eye as the gang members made their appearances.
“Delvan,” Edward spat. “Where are the boys?”
“Who? Oh, the lady’s little brothers. I knew nabbing them would get your attention.”
“Where are they?” Lillian demanded. Chance barked, emphasizing the reporter’s anger.
“Harlan,” Delvan called. “The lady wants her brothers back. Bring them out.”
A tall burly man dressed in a tight tux stepped into sight, dragging both boys by the arm. Tobias and Caleb were silent, their blue eyes wide with fright. They saw Lillian and Edward, and both of them squirmed in Harlan’s vice-like grip.
“Lily,” Tobias cried. He winced as Harlan tightened his grip on his arm.
“Let them go, Delvan. They’re just kids.”
“Oh, they were never my intended target.” Delvan dismissed the detective’s words with a wave of his hand. He walked closer to the couple, his eyes shifting to Lillian. “I was after her.”
Edward tensed. “Why?”
“You can’t be that stupid. She’s been investigating and following my men for her story. She was getting too close, so the boss wanted her out of the way. I will say, you are a lovely sight, Miss Lillian. Most of us didn’t even know what you looked like.”
“Well, now you have me. Let the boys leave,” Lillian said, swallowing her fear. Delvan raised an eyebrow and chuckled at her brave words.
“All right. Harlan, release them.”
The burly man reluctantly let go of the boys. The twins sprinted to Lillian and Edward.
Lillian gathered the boys in her arms, Edward staggering forward as the bullet hit him. He crumpled to the ground with an agonized shout and clutched his wound.
The twins hid behind Lillian as she knelt next to Edward. She grabbed his gun that had fallen from his grip and aimed it at Delvan. He chuckled again, his laugh echoing darkly throughout the warehouse.
“Relax, love. It’s not fatal. Not instantly, anyway. Just slide the gun over to me, and your fiancé and the kids will be allowed to leave. But you must stay.”
“How can I be sure you’re telling the truth?”
“Now, love. Would I lie to you?”
“Yes, you would!” Caleb shouted at him. Lily grabbed her brother and pulled him behind her when Delvan’s amused smile turned sinister.
“Well, Lillian? What’s it going to be?”
Lillian looked around as all the gang members stepped out of their hiding places. There were eight of them total, but one in a black overcoat caught her eye. Wallace tipped his hat to her with a wink, and she turned back at Delvan. She pointed her gun at him for a moment before raising it above her head. She fired three shots in a row before throwing the gun across the room. Wallace caught it just as officers broke through all the side doors of the warehouse. Officer Clements covered Lillian and the boys while two more helped Edward out to safety. Lillian pushed Tobias and Caleb forward, and Chance barked as he led the way. They ran out of the warehouse as bullets peppered the doorframe. Lillian felt one fly inches past her ear, and Delvan’s angry shouts echoed above the gunfire.
“You will pay, Lillian Charles! I promise you that. You will pay!”
Lillian huddled with the twins behind one of the police cars, all praying for the shots to cease. Edward had been dragged many yards from the warehouse, and one officer stood over him while a second wrapped his shoulder to stop the bleeding. The gunfire continued for several agonizing minutes until Delvan himself and Harlan ran out. Delvan held a gun and fired at the officers with Edward. One fell back, shot in the chest, and the other stayed on the ground. Lillian looked at her brothers seriously.
“Stay here,” she ordered. She stood up as Harlan got into one of the cars. He started the car, and Delvan started to get into the backseat. Chance howled and jumped into action. He bounded toward Delvan, managing to catch the man’s pant leg with his teeth. Harlan started to drive off, and Delvan tripped on Chance as the dog bit his ankle. He fell hard into the gravel, kicking at the dog. Chance tumbled back with a whine. Lillian ran toward the scuffle just as Delvan aimed his gun at Chance. Lillian grabbed his arm, throwing off his aim. The shot was still ringing in Lillian’s ears as she kicked the gun out of his hand and threw it aside while the officer ran to her assistance. More officers were coming out of the building with more gang members in tow, and many ran to help. Lillian stepped back, breathing heavily. Delvan was dragged to his feet, and he glared at her.
“This isn’t over, Miss Charles. The Red Devils will make sure you’re silenced. That’s a promise,” he threatened. He was led away, and Lillian rubbed her arms as Tobias and Caleb ran to her. She hugged them both while Officer Clements walked over.
“Thank you, Lillian. If you hadn’t gone after him, Delvan would have gotten away.”
“Chance is the real hero, aren’t you, boy?” she said to the pup. Tobias and Caleb hugged the dog and giggled as he licked their faces. Lillian looked over to where Edward was still lying on the ground. Officer Clements approached, putting her hand on Lillian’s shoulder.
“Danger comes with the job, Lillian.”
The reporter continued to look at Edward.
“Don’t worry about him. He should make a full recovery. He was only hit in the shoulder.”
Lillian nodded at her words and paused before replying.
“Thank you, Officer Clements.”
“Please, call me Grace. We’re beyond titles now.”
Lillian smiled at her new friend but stayed with the boys as the officers took control of the scene. Chance skidded around in the gravel, barking as Wallace came toward them.
“That was quite the risk, sneaking in like that,” Lillian said while her chauffeur shrugged.
“I wasn’t about to let you go in there without immediate backup.”
“How’d you get in? All the other doors to the warehouse should have been locked.”
“You’re not the only one who can pick a lock.”
They fell silent, watching the twins play in the grass with Chance. Lillian felt tears form in her eyes as she thought about what could have happened. Edward could have been killed. The twins could have died. Her dad was still recovering from the first attack.
“Everyone around me is in danger,” she thought. “I can’t stay. Not while the Red Devils are after me. Margaret has offered to take me in before, and she’s a good friend. Her house isn’t large, but it should be enough for the two of us. It isn’t obvious, and it could be a good place to live for a while.”
“Wallace, could you make sure the twins get back to my parents okay?” she asked.
“Of course, but where are you going?”
“I can’t say. Just tell my family that I love them. Tell Edward I’m sorry.”
She turned away before he could respond and whistled for Chance. The Jackabee bounded after her and trotted at her side. She refused to look back because she knew that if she did, she wouldn’t be able to leave. And she needed to. She had to keep her family safe—no matter the cost.