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Authors: Linda Winfree

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Crime

Anything but Mine

BOOK: Anything but Mine
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Anything But Mine
Copyright © 2008 by Linda Winfree
ISBN: 1-59998-891-7
Edited by Anne Scott
Cover by Anne Cain
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: March 2008
www.samhainpublishing.com
Anything But Mine
Linda Winfree
Dedication

The Class of 2008: Although you tried to keep it a secret by not signing the card, good deeds always come out. You will never know what a blessing you were to me that day or even over the five years you have been in my life. About all of you, I can never say that you are “anything but mine” because, as the kids I’ve taught the longest and loved the most, you are mine in my heart.

Even when I despaired that you’d ever learn how to use a comma or master sentence structure, when all you wanted to do was cut up, when you didn’t want to write another essay or read
The Scarlet Letter
…you were special to me. You were my ninth graders, my sophomores, my juniors, my seniors.

So one last time… “All right, y’all, listen up. We’ve got things to do. This is important.
Focus!

I love you all very much and wish you the best in all you undertake.

Ms. Winfree’s Favorite Students Ever: Ashby, Bryant, Brent, Whitney, Chelsea, Keke, Anna, Alex, Jordan, McLeod, Kaleb, Carrie, Kaley, Matt, Lindsey, Brittany, Amanda, Ashley, Vance, Emili, Layne, Preston, Danielle, Holly, April, Jennifer, Oliver, Michele, Ashton, Jay, Justin…and Jakie.

Chapter One
She wasn’t going to die. It just felt like she was.

And right now, she really, really wanted to.

Autry Holton rested her forehead against the cool wood of the vanity. The orange-scented cleaner she used wafted from the floor, and nausea churned in her stomach again. Whoever had coined the term “morning sickness” was an idiot. It was more like morning, noon and night sickness, and anyone who said it didn’t last beyond the third month needed a mental health check too. Tonight, she’d be willing to bet labor pains wouldn’t feel like menstrual cramps, either.

Holding the vanity for support, she pushed to her feet. Her knees trembled, and she rested for a minute, breathing through her nose. Avoiding her reflection, she reached for her toothbrush and toothpaste. She didn’t have to look to know her eyes were red and watery, her hair stringy, her skin pasty.

Yes, she had that pregnant-woman glow people raved about.

The mint cleansed the awful taste and left her feeling somewhat refreshed. She spit and rinsed her mouth. This constant nausea couldn’t last five more months, could it? At least, if nothing else, it would go away when she had the baby. Stress. It had to be the unremitting stress. If she could just relax—

A high-pitched whine rent the air, and she dropped the cup, ceramic shards flying everywhere, plinking off the tile, hitting the wall with soft thumps. Her heart thudded, tempo picking up to an uncomfortable race. Oh God. He’d come for her, just as he’d said he would. Her stomach pitched again, and she wrapped her arms across the small bulge of her baby. She couldn’t let him hurt the baby.

Think, Autry.
She slammed the door closed and threw the lock, hitting the panic button next to the light switch. In the bedroom, the phone rang. She took a step back, and pain sliced into her foot. The broken cup. Just a cut. She could handle that. She could handle anything as long as
he
didn’t get through the bathroom door.

The phone continued to ring, and she strained to hear other noises—splintering doors, shattering glass, footsteps. Nothing. Simply the harsh whine of the alarm and the phone’s shrill ring mingling with the roar of her pulse and her own rough breathing.

In her stomach, the baby fluttered, the low, soft movement she’d only noticed in the last few days. “It’s all right,” she whispered, the sound of her shaky voice too loud in the bathroom. She slid down to sit on the floor again, blood oozing from her foot to pool on the white tile.

“It’s all right, baby,” she said again, rubbing a palm over the soft mound. Maybe she should have gone for the phone, but that meant crossing the bedroom to get the cordless from her desk and she’d already been here, in the safe room with the panic button. Besides, if she didn’t answer, the monitoring company would automatically call the sheriff’s department. Help should be on the way. Everything would be fine. She just had to keep telling herself that. Help would arrive soon.

The lights went out. The alarm ceased its wild squeal in an instant. A neighbor’s dog barked in a wild frenzy.

Autry screamed.

Stanton Reed slid from the patrol car and left the door slightly ajar. Sound traveled farther during the quietness of night and he didn’t want the snick of a closing door to alert anyone to his presence. Darkness shrouded the neighborhood, punctuated only by pools of blue from security and street lights. Welcoming the shadows, he slipped into them, using the dark for cover. He jogged across a damp lawn, eyeing the street as he went. No one moving about, no one hiding under vehicles.

With each step, Autry’s name beat in his head. Hard to convince himself this was any routine call, when it was Autry’s house, Autry’s alarm,
Autry
not answering the phone.

Dogs barked in the distance, a wild chorus, but the alarm remained silent. A lawn away, he could see her house sitting, completely dark, even the outside lights extinguished. Foreboding shivered over him. Had someone cut the power, silencing the alarm before the neighbors awoke?

Why didn’t she answer the damn phone?

Dread lay like a lump in his gut. Four minutes since dispatch had received the call from her alarm company, another two minutes before that between the initial alarm and the call to dispatch. A lot could happen in six minutes.

A person could die.

No. Damn it, he couldn’t let anything happen to her. As he reached Autry’s dark yard, one of the shadows to his right moved, morphed into the running form of Tick Calvert, his lead investigator. Any other time, he and Tick both would have been home in bed this time of night, but tonight, Stanton was thankful for the flu that had more than half of his deputies incapacitated. Autry deserved the best his department could offer. He might not have been the right man for her personally, but he and Tick were the best cops to respond to her call.

“See anything?” Tick whispered as he reached Stanton’s side. He had the entry ram slung over his shoulder, flashlight off but ready in his hand.

Stanton shook his head, trying to still the nervous pulsing under his skin. No noises came from the house. He closed his eyes for a brief moment. God, let her be okay. Don’t let him be too late. “You?”

“Nothing.” Tick tilted his head toward the house. “Ready?”

“Yeah.” With the well-oiled timing of a long partnership, they circled the house, Tick moving right, Stanton moving left, so they met up at the back door.

“Looks clear,” Tick said, his voice a mere breath. He lowered the entry ram and stepped back. “Ready to do this?”

He’d been ready four minutes ago. “Just do it.”

Seconds later, the steelcore door swung inward with a deafening bang. The sound echoed in the still night, and the dogs barked again, wilder this time. The door hung on its hinges at a drunken angle, and Tick laid the ram aside. Stanton eased his gun from its holster, aware of the hushed slide of Tick’s Glock leaving its leather case as well. On either side of the doorway, they made eye contact using the dim illumination cast by a neighbor’s security light. Both eased to a crouch.

Stanton hefted his flashlight, rubbing his thumb over the switch, prepared to perform a “flashlight roll”. The house remained dark and silent, but they couldn’t take a chance it was empty. For all they knew, a suspect waited, set to ambush them at the first opportunity. The glow behind them would serve to silhouette them as they moved through the door, so a low-profile entry was key.

He strained his ears, listening for any sound that would alert him to Autry’s presence. Where was she? What was going on?

With a soft click, he depressed the flashlight switch. Brightness burst into the kitchen, and he let the cylinder flow from his fingers, rolling across the doorway to rest near Tick’s waiting hand. Nothing moved in the light.

“Same as always?” Tick murmured. Stanton nodded. He lifted his gun, offering cover while Tick slipped into the room. Grabbing his flashlight, the beam extinguished again, Stanton followed. In the dark, his senses seemed heightened. The silence pulsed with a noise of its own, a heaviness against his ears. The familiar smell of the house, a blend of orange cleaner and the cinnamon potpourri Autry loved, surrounded him. The urge to cry out her name gripped him, and he shoved it down. The training had to win over instinct.

Progress through the house was torturous. Each room required a cautious approach and thorough check, with the dark serving to underscore the tension. At least he knew the house, which saved them minutes, but his foreboding grew as they neared Autry’s bedroom. He’d heard nothing to let him know she was in the house, that she was okay, and he dreaded what they might find once they crossed that threshold.

The bedroom door stood open, and once more, they repeated the flashlight roll and covered entry. The room was empty, the bed rumpled. The scent was different here, the unique smell he associated with Autry, her body wash and the pure sweetness of her skin filling his senses. An image flashed through Stanton’s head, of those same sheets wrapped around his and Autry’s sated bodies, of her soft touch and softer sighs. He shook away the memory.

Where was she?

Tick checked the closet and nodded toward the shut bathroom door. Stanton closed his eyes. The safe room. The panic button was in the bathroom. He crossed to the door, crouched, and reached up to turn the knob. Locked. A tendril of relief snaked through him.

“Autry?” His voice sounded more like a strangled croak.

“Stanton?” Through the door, she sounded small and frightened. Scared, but okay. He closed his eyes, gripping the doorknob, his knees going weak.

“Yeah, baby, it’s me. Can you open up?”

“Yes…just…a second.” Her voice sounded muffled now.

Stanton straightened. What was she doing? “Autry. Come on. Open the door.”

The latch clicked and the door swung inward. Tick flicked on his flashlight, the beam bouncing around the room, dancing off a small puddle of blood on the floor. Stanton’s stomach dropped, but before he could take in the ramifications, Autry flung herself into his arms, her slender body trembling. She gasped against his chest, a rough sobbing that tore at him.

Gun in hand, he held her the best he could and stroked her back, her bulky robe soft under his palm. A hint of toothpaste wafted to him. “Honey, what happened?”

She shuddered, her face buried against his chest. “The alarm went off and I thought it was him. I closed the door, and then the lights died. I was so scared, Stan.”

He groaned. “Why didn’t you answer the phone? If we’d known no one was in the house yet—”

“I was already in the bathroom.” She stiffened and pulled away. The loss sank in immediately, his arms curiously empty, the way they’d been the last four months. “For all I knew, he was in the house.”

“You said you thought it was him,” Tick said, his voice quiet. “Like you knew who it was.”

“I don’t…” Even in the dim reflection of light from Tick’s flashlight, Stanton could see the tension tightening Autry’s face. She shook her head and took a cautious step back, arms crossed over her midriff. “I just meant…”

Stanton watched her. She wouldn’t meet his gaze, looking everywhere but at him. What was she hiding? “Tick, do me a favor, would you? Check the breaker box, call this in, and take a look around outside.”

“Sure thing.”

With Tick’s departure, the room plunged into darkness once more. Stanton pulled his flashlight from his belt. Light bounced around the area, and he shone it over the bathroom floor. The blood glistened, wet and crimson. Autry’s blood. His stomach rolled.

“Are you all right? What—”

“I dropped the cup and cut my foot.” Her voice steadied, the panic gone. She sounded more like the competent attorney now, less the frightened woman. The walls, the ones she’d begun erecting even before he’d told her it was over, rose higher. “It’s fine.”

“Let me take a look. You might need stitches.”

“I said it’s fine.” She stepped farther away, and in the uneven light, he could tell she watched him with a wariness that tugged at his heart.

No, not his heart. He felt guilty, maybe, for ending what had been between them, for hurting her, but that was all. He’d been worried about her tonight, but no more than he’d have worried for anyone else he knew. She didn’t have his heart.

And he damn sure didn’t have hers.

The lights clicked on, brightness flowing out of the bathroom. The alarm chirped once and fell silent. Her digital clock flashed 12:00 over and over. Stanton blinked, glanced at her, and did a double take. Her hair fell about a too-pale face, her blue eyes big and smudged with exhaustion.

He dropped his gaze to the foot she favored, a slow trickle of blood dripping onto the tile. “Let’s do something about that.”

“I’ve got it,” she said, a hint of testiness in the words. She edged away from him, grabbing a hand towel and sitting on the toilet to wrap the terrycloth around her foot.

Stanton sighed. “What’s going on, Autry?”

Her fingers trembled, but she shrugged. “I don’t know. The alarm—”

“Autry. Don’t lie. What’s going on? And does it have anything to do with Schaefer?”

Her head jerked up. “Everything with us always comes back to him, doesn’t it?”

“It’s a valid question. Lots of people are upset that you’re defending him.”

She lifted her chin. “I’m doing my
job
. If people can’t understand that the system works for everyone, not just for those who are obviously innocent, then they’ll have to get used to it.”

Stanton shoved his flashlight into its loop with a tight, tense movement. “He’s about as far from obviously innocent as somebody can get.”

Her jaw went taut. “He hasn’t been tried yet. Remember that whole thing about ‘innocent until proven guilty’?”

The old anger flashed through him. “I don’t understand you. Tick’s one of your oldest friends and you’re defending the guy who tried to kill him—”

“It’s my job,” she said, her voice subdued, all the fight draining from her face. She rubbed her arms, exhaustion coloring her movements and posture, and guilt curled in Stanton’s gut. She’d been through hell tonight and he was adding to it. “I took an oath, Stan. I thought you of all people would understand that.”

“If it were any other case, I could.” Weariness tugged at his soul. Why was he pushing this? He hadn’t been able to change her mind at the beginning and he sure as hell wasn’t going to do it tonight. What he needed to do was pull his act together, treat this like any other call and get back out on patrol. Quit worrying about what shouldn’t have been in the first place.

BOOK: Anything but Mine
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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