Hard to Serve_ A Hard Ink Novel - Laura Kaye

Chapter 1

“You’re on restricted duty, pending medical clearance, Detective Vance,” Captain Mike Burkett said, his voice unusually formal as his gaze lifted from the file of paperwork. Probably because of the suit from internal affairs sitting beside him. Why the hell was that guy here for Vance’s evaluation to return to duty anyway?

Detective Kyler Vance. That’s who he was. Who he’d always been. Who he needed to get back to being. He’d had enough time off and on his own to last for a lifetime.

Kyler eyeballed the IA investigator and his gut tightened with suspicion. But he boxed that shit up tight even as his hands fisted against his thighs under the beat-up wooden table in the meeting room at the Baltimore Police Department’s headquarters. “Cap, it’s been three months,” he said, working to keep his temper in check. Three months since he’d been shot in the shoulder in the line of duty. Three months since that GSW had left him with nerve damage that affected the strength and dexterity of his right arm and hand. “I’m fine. I can do the job.”

His captain gave him a pointed look full of truth and regret. “You still can’t meet the target-shooting qualifications. So you’re riding a desk. For now.”

For now. Meaning, at some point, Kyler might be allowed to return to duty. Or he might not even be allowed behind that desk. Everyone wearing the uniform had to meet certain performance qualifications and standards, no matter what job they performed. Which was why Kyler had been one hundred percent committed to his physical therapy since a shooting spree erupted at a funeral attended by a bunch of his friends, killing a couple of bad guys and wounding more than a few good ones, himself included. But it had all been worth it to nail the scumbags responsible for murdering his godfather, Miguel Olivero, who had been his father’s partner on the force back in the day. “You know I’m working on it. I’m stronger every day.”

Burkett nodded and released a weary breath. All at once, the lines on the older man’s weathered face betrayed not just his age but the stress he was under. Serving and protecting was an honor, but it was also a job that inflicted all kinds of wear and tear. “I know. And if there was something I could do—”

“But there isn’t,” the IA guy said. Detective Niall Foster, his badge read. Kyler had seen him around from time to time, but he didn’t know him much more than that. Cops didn’t make friends with IA investigators. “I’ll tell you what Captain Burkett hasn’t yet said. You’re lucky to be on restricted duty and not administrative leave.”

“Why the hell would I be on administrative leave?” Anger rolled through Kyler at the other man’s monotone voice and blank face, as if he wasn’t fucking with the only career Kyler Vance had ever wanted. Career, hell. Being a cop was his whole damn life. Just like it’d been for his father, uncle, and grandfather before him.

Foster flipped open the file in front of him and skimmed his finger over the writing. “You’re no doubt aware that Commissioner Breslin has launched an investigation into corruption and conspiracy within the department, particularly as it relates to the city’s heroin trade. Your name has come to the attention of the investigation as a person of interest, and—”

“Wait a goddamned minute,” Kyler said, launching to his feet and driving his finger into the worn tabletop. He couldn’t deny that he’d bent some rules in the weeks before his injury, but he’d done it in the name of uncovering that corruption—and nailing those responsible for Miguel’s death, both inside and outside BPD. Kyler supported the new commissioner’s goals to restore the integrity of the department, even if the guy was a hardassed, stubborn, my-way-or-the-highway son of a bitch. At least, that’s the impression all the guys had of him—Kyler hadn’t yet had the pleasure. “I’m not dirty, and I’d like the person who accused me of being otherwise to say it to my fucking face.”

“Sit down, please, Detective Vance,” Foster said, gesturing to the chair behind him. Kyler sat reluctantly, but his muscles remained as tense as if he were expecting to be jumped. He certainly felt like he was being ambushed here. He glared at Burkett, who at least had the decency to look abashed. “No one has accused you. You’re not currently a suspect. But you are a person of interest in the