Authors: Peggy Bird
Tags: #Romance, #spicy
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2013 by Margaret Bird
ISBN 10: 1-4405-6779-4
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6779-7
eISBN 10: 1-4405-6780-8
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6780-3
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © istock.com/cokacoka
This is for Bob and all the other men and women in the U.S. military who willingly go where they’re asked to go and do what they’re asked to do so the rest of us can live our lives in peace. Thank you. In gratitude, a portion of the proceeds from this book will be donated to organizations serving veterans in the Portland area.
Portland Police Detective Danny Hartmann didn’t try to hide her surprise at what she was seeing under the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge, one of the eight that span the Willamette River, linking the two sides of Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t the dead body that startled her. If the dead man hadn’t been there, she’d still be at home, asleep. What she didn’t expect was what else was there — a small, well-hidden city of makeshift shelters and camping tents, inhabited by a population of men sleeping in the cold fall rain that was practically a daily event.
“I thought all the people from these homeless camps had been moved indoors.” She looked around and tried to make a quick count. “There must be, maybe, a dozen and half people living here.”
“Seventeen, to be precise,” Doctor Jake Abrams responded. “And, yes, some people were moved indoors a couple weeks ago when your colleagues came through and shut down the camps after some ass-hat business owner complained. But the number of people who need a place to stay is always bigger than the number of spaces available.”
Abrams had made the 911 call that brought the uniformed cops, crime scene techs, and two homicide detectives to the transient camp. “The camps reappear under another bridge as soon as the cops leave,” he said. “The current iteration has been in existence for about ten days. I’m surprised you haven’t had a complaint about it already.”
“Sorry,” Danny said. Other than as a reaction to the anger in the doctor’s voice, she wasn’t sure why she was apologizing. “I wasn’t aware the Portland Police Bureau was responsible for creating this.” She waved her arms to take in the whole transient city.
“Okay, Doc, let’s go take a look.” Danny’s partner, Detective Sam Richardson, ambled over after talking to the two uniforms who’d responded to the emergency call.
Someone to change the subject and shut this jerk up
. She hoped her disgust wasn’t too evident.
“He’s … The body’s over there,” Abrams said, pointing to a shelter set apart from the rest of the camp. “I found him about six
, when I came to make rounds.” Leading the two detectives toward what looked like an old plastic drop cloth over some sort of cardboard frame, he continued, “At first, when he didn’t respond, I thought he was sleeping off a night of drinking. But then I saw this.” They’d reached the structure surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, and he pointed to a series of holes low to the ground on one side that Danny immediately knew were bullet holes. “And when I looked inside, I saw he’d been hit several times in the head and neck and bled out.”
“So you knew the man?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, his name is … was … Jim Branson. He’s an Army vet. Served almost twelve years. Couple tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan. Returned stateside about eight or nine months ago after he was wounded and discharged. I met him a couple months after that. Patched him up after a brawl. He had PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder — and … ”
“We know that one, Doc. We’ve seen enough colleagues with it,” Sam said.
“Right. Sorry. Too used to having to explain it to civilians, I guess.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “He drank too much, got into fights, and didn’t take care of himself. I was checking on him because of an infected knife wound in his leg.”
“You make rounds on these guys every day?” Danny asked.
“No, I can only get here about once a week.” He sounded defensive, as if he knew he should be there more often. Danny felt a flicker of pleasure at making the good doctor uncomfortable.
He continued, “I don’t usually treat the guys here, just check up on them if they haven’t come back to the clinic for a follow-up. Jim is … was … an exception. He asked me to treat him here. So I did.”
“And you called as soon as you found him,” Sam said.
“Of course I did.” Abrams made a face that clearly showed how annoyed he was to be asked the question.
Danny waited, repressing a smirk, anticipating the enjoyment she would get from watching her partner put the pain-in-the-ass doctor in his place. Sam was an expert at managing a witness with a chip on his shoulder.
“Didn’t mean anything by it, Doc. Sometimes people try to revive the victim or look around for the perp and don’t call right away. Just trying to get a clearer picture of how things happened.”
Oh, hell. He’s playing mild-mannered Sam. Where’s the crusty one I know and love?
Danny quickly checked the expressions on the faces of the two men to make sure she hadn’t said anything out loud. She was relieved when the conversation went on without interruption.
“Sorry.” Jake Abrams actually looked like he meant it. “Shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. Guess I’m on edge. This is the third time this has happened.”
has happened?” Sam asked.
“Third time someone’s shot into one of the camps. The other two times, no one reported getting hit.”
“I don’t remember hearing about drive-bys at a transient camp. Was it reported to us?” Danny asked.
The doctor snorted. “I doubt it. Why would anyone report it? You wouldn’t do anything about it.”
“Other than try and find out who was doing it, no, I don’t imagine we would,” she said, glaring at him. “I mean it’s not like figuring out shit like this is part of our job or anything. So, of course … ”
“Danny,” Sam interrupted, “why don’t you go talk to the guys who were within hearing range and see what you can find out? I’ll stay here with the doc and sort out what he found when he got here.”
Danny nodded and walked away, relieved to be out of the orbit of what was, she was sure, the snarkiest doctor — maybe the snarkiest person — in the city of Portland.
Ninety minutes later, she’d talked to most of the residents in the camp, two of whom she was surprised to find were women. No one had seen or heard anything other than a few strange noises that hadn’t meant much to anyone.
A few of the inhabitants owned up to sleeping off too much booze. A couple said they’d heard noises that could have been backfires, gunshots, or their memories of combat. Most said there were always strange noises at night around the camp — cars and trucks overhead, people walking nearby, rats running around under the bridge. That made Danny even more grateful than usual that she had a warm, snug apartment to go home to. She hated rats.
She was about to rejoin her partner when Doctor Snark flagged her down.
“We got off on the wrong foot,” he said. “I’m sorry. Can we start over?”
She waved off his apology. “Don’t worry about it. I’m used to people not being real happy to have the police around. We deal with all sorts in this job.”
He grinned and his smile lit up his face. A face that was really quite good-looking, now that she re-considered it. Wide-set blue eyes that looked as deep as the sea, dark hair that fell in waves around his ears and over his forehead, a bit shaggy, like he needed a haircut. Sculpted cheekbones, a strong jaw covered in designer stubble, and a full mouth that looked a hell of a lot better smiling than it had thinned into a line of disapproval. In fact, she couldn’t take her eyes off his mouth, now that it was smiling at her. It was full-lipped and luscious looking.
His tall and nicely muscled body wasn’t bad either.
“I imagine you do,” he said. “I meet some jerks in my work, too. But most of the time I try not to be one. This morning I failed. I apologize.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “My only excuse is that I get wrapped around the axle when it comes to these guys … ”
“You noticed. Yeah, and women. They mean a lot to me. And this has me worried. Like I said, it’s not the first time we’ve had someone shoot into one of the camps. If it’s the same person doing the shooting, they’re escalating and that raises all sorts of red flags. It concerns me. Big time.”
“Mind if I ask why this is so important to you?”
“A lot of the people in these camps are veterans, some from as far back as Vietnam, who’ve had a hard time coming home. I was in the National Guard. In Iraq.” He paused for a moment, his eyes clouded, as if seeing something far away. “I know how it is. I volunteer at a clinic for vets. One of the things we do is try and get them to a place where they can really come home. Every part of them.” He stopped again.
“Sounds like a tough job,” Danny said to prompt him.
“Someone has to do it. The same government that sends these guys off to fight doesn’t always do such a great job of making sure they get back to some sort of normal civilian life afterwards. They do okay for most vets but some guys slip through the cracks. Too many of them, in my opinion.”
“You said the camps reappear because people have no place to go. Didn’t I read about a VA program that provides rent vouchers for homeless vets?”
He nodded. “There is a program like that. Wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys here have those vouchers. What they don’t have is a place to use them. Since the housing bubble burst, rentals are in short supply around Portland. The vouchers don’t pay as much as the landlords can get on the open market so they limit the number of units available for the guys to use the vouchers.”
“Thanks. That helps me understand what’s going on a little better.”
He looked down at her. “I guess I owe you one more apology.”
Curious, she asked, “And what would this one be for?”
“I apologize for casting aspersions on the organization you work for. Apparently not all cops are disinterested in the problems these folks face.”
“No apology needed. I’m sure if you rousted my friends out of their homes I wouldn’t be too impressed with you, either.”
The grin was back. “I don’t think you were too impressed with me even though I wasn’t anywhere near your friends’ homes.”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled in return. “You could be right, Doctor Abrams.”
“As long as we’re starting over, it’s Jake, Detective Hartmann. And you’re … ?”
“Danny. Happy to re-meet you, Jake.” She put out her hand and he shook it, holding on to it longer than necessary.
“Danny? There must be a story behind that.” The smile that went with the comment moved from merely attractive to downright sexy.
Dammit, he knew exactly what he was doing by continuing to hold on to her hand. “Not really. I like Danny better than my given name.”