In Safe Company
Copyright © 2015 Lee Christine
All rights reserved
In Safe Company
The bikie turf war has returned to Sydney, and the lawyers for the Southern Cross, Poole Greenwood, are at risk of a retaliatory strike from the Altar Boys.
In Safe Company is a short story featuring secondary characters, Dickson Cross and Natalie Slater, from romantic suspense series In Safe Hands, In Safe Arms and In Safe Keeping published by Escape Publishing.
Natalie watched the commotion taking place inside Cafe Nix from the doorway of the adjoining function room. The smartly dressed owner, a woman of European descent after whom the cafe was named, was attending an emotional couple who were dining in the restaurant.
The female patron was in floods of tears, her male companion on his feet, the owner beckoning over a waiter. Earlier, the young woman had rushed into the bathroom.
Natalie had taken notice.
So had Detective Dickson Cross of Sydney’s Gang Squad.
While Dickson went over to the table to investigate, Natalie turned and scanned the assembled group in the function room behind her. Within seconds, she caught the enquiring eye of her employer, former SAS Commander and security expert, Luke Neilson, the owner of Neilson’s Security. He was standing beside his wife, Allegra Greenwood. Known in Sydney law circles as “the perfumed steamroller”, the cool blonde was a partner of the prestigious law firm, Poole Greenwood. Next to Allegra was Evan Barclay, former rugby union international. The cocktail party was being held in honour of Barclay’s appointment as a junior partner of the firm.
Natalie gave a slight shake of her head, and Luke’s broad shoulders lowered as he visibly relaxed. Whatever was going on with the young couple out in the restaurant, she was pretty sure it had nothing to do with the reason she and Dickson Cross were in attendance tonight.
She turned around as Cross came towards her. Tall and athletic with a shaved head and intelligent, blue eyes, he was as attractive as the day they’d first met at Goulburn Police Academy.
Natalie’s body tightened as her eyes locked on his. Did he remember that night? The bourbon-flavoured kisses and aroused gropes they’d exchanged in a dark corner of some police cadet’s lounge room? While her brain couldn’t recall the party’s host, the memory of Dickson’s hot, demanding mouth on hers, his cool hands as they slipped under her blouse and unhooked her bra, was burned into her cerebral cortex.
Heat suffused Natalie’s face and her nipples hardened inside the lacy bra she always wore beneath her black pants suit. Dickson Cross had been one man who’d really made her feel it, and if she ever got another chance to lay her hands on his impressively muscular frame, she’d work his body over good and proper.
She wouldn’t be saying no this time.
“What’s going on?” she asked, as one by one every patron in the restaurant got to their feet and broke into applause.
“She’s pregnant. That’s why she took so long in the bathroom. She was doing a test. Been trying forever apparently.”
Natalie watched Dickson resume his position on the other side of the doorway. Life could be so unfair. It was obvious, from the couple’s unbridled joy, they’d been to hell and back trying to fall pregnant, while she’d got knocked up from one unsatisfying fuck that had barely lasted two minutes. “Bloody hell.”
Dickson slanted her an amused look, hands shoved into his trouser pockets. “Come on. You’ve got two kids. You must have felt that kind of excitement.”
Guilt and regret hit Natalie square in the chest. Excitement? No. Shock, horror and a paralysing fear that her life had veered way off course was more like it. And her reaction had been so unfair to Jake, her charming ten year old who, along with his younger brother, were the greatest joys in her life.
“I was surprised when I heard you’d started a family,” Dickson was saying. “I hadn’t picked you as an early casualty.”
Natalie smiled and shook her head a little. “You still have a way with words, Cross. Jake was unplanned. I’m ashamed to say my emotions at the time were hardly joyous.”
“I didn’t know.” He rested one hand low on his hip, while the other jingled loose change in his pocket. “I got stationed to Wagga.”
“I know.” Maybe if he hadn’t gone to Wagga, she wouldn’t have gotten involved with the loser.
Determined to shake off her morose mood and get her mind back on the job, Natalie once again studied the crowd behind her. Evan Barclay was chatting to Nate Hunter, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Police. Beside Nate was his petite fiancée, Josephine Valenti, Allegra Greenwood’s personal assistant. Towering over Josie, with short cropped silver hair, was the lanky form of principal partner, Simon Poole. The remainder of the crowd were a mix of clients and business associates.
“So, is it true?” She turned back just as Nix popped the cork on a bottle of Moet for the young couple. “Are the Southern Cross and Altar Boys at war again?”
“You know the bikies.” Dickson slanted a glance at her. “The turf war’s never really over.”
“But you and Hunter pulled off the biggest organised crime bust in the nation’s history.”
Dickson lowered his voice. “Word is, the overseer’s controlling things from inside.”
Sydney’s Mr. Big.
“Didn’t the entire Altar Boys’ hierarchy end up in the slammer?”
Dickson gave a curt nod.
“So, I’m guessing you have no idea of the contact on the outside, otherwise we wouldn’t be standing here guarding the lawyers for the Southern Cross.”
“You know, you’re as sharp as ever, Slater.”
“And you had a full head of hair in the academy.”
Dickson grinned then, and Natalie’s heart skipped two beats.
“Interesting, too, how the New South Wales police can’t seem to cope without the help of Neilson’s.”
“Don’t get tickets on yourself, Slater, because you sold out and joined the private sector. You’ve worked with Luke long enough to know he won’t let anyone within fifty yards of his wife.”
That was true.
Luke had been like a man possessed when Allegra had a stalker.
“And as for Nate, I think he’s sorry he didn’t take that job with the Australian Federal Police.”
Natalie nodded her understanding, uneasy at the thought of another looming bikie war. Luke’s instructions tonight had been simple, and nothing to get too worked up about.
We’re taking precautions. Just keep an eye out for anything unusual.
It was the smart thing to do. For the most part, the bikies’ retaliatory strikes were aimed at the rival gang. But with a new player carrying out the overseer’s instructions, Luke had every reason to fear a counter strike could be aimed at the Southern Cross’s legal representatives.
Natalie took a deep breath, grateful she’d made the decision years ago to get off the force for the sake of the kids. There were still risks involved with working for Luke, but nothing like the risks Dickson Cross faced in the gang squad.
A chill rolled down Natalie’s spine as she resumed her perusal of the cafe.
Who was the new faceless person taking instructions from inside Goulburn Maximum Security?
And what was their modus operandi?
“How’s everything looking?”
Dickson turned as Nate Hunter joined them in the doorway. “We’ve had a pregnancy celebration. That’s about it.
“Things are starting to wind up inside.” Nate’s eyes did a quick sweep of the diners. “Why don’t you two do a circuit of the exterior? Luke and I will take over here until you get back. If everything’s clear, we’ll give Poole Greenwood’s staff the all clear to leave.”
A few minutes later, Dickson stepped onto the sandstone verandah of Cafe Nix and dragged the oxygen into his lungs. A cool breeze wafted in from the Pacific, lowering the temperature and improving everybody’s mood, if the happy Friday night revellers on the street were any indication.
Natalie jogged down the three steps to the pavement. “So you want to split up and I’ll meet you back here?”
“No way.” Dickson followed her down and took hold of her elbow. “We stick together.”
She pulled her arm from his grasp, though she fell into step beside him. “I’m not on the force anymore, Cross, you don’t get to tell me what to do.”
Dickson didn’t care.
He’d already got his way.
They were going together.
Going together? He’d thought about asking Nat to go with him exclusively at the academy, especially after the night they’d hooked up at that party. But she’d pulled down her top, pushed his hands away and reminded him that in a few weeks’ time the graduates would be posted to all four corners of New South Wales.
She was being sensible.
For both of them.
The next thing he knew she was married with a baby.
“So what happened to Allan?” he asked as they rounded the corner and began their surveillance.
He’d been dying to ask her all night.
“He had an affair.”