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Authors: Cathy Perkins

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BOOK: For Love of Money
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Chapter Thirty-two

Something warm trickled into Holly’s eyes. A wide band of pain settled around her temples and tightened, throbbing into a headache. It pounded in time with the shriek of a car alarm.

Laurie sat huddled against the bulk of the SUV. “My ankle,” she moaned.

Holly rose on her hands and knees, and winced at the chorus of pain. She crawled gingerly across the narrow gap between the cars and peered at her friend’s foot.

Oh, no
.

Two women appeared at the rear of the vehicles. “Are you okay?” one asked anxiously.

“Call 911,” Holly said, her attention fixed on Laurie’s ankle. The Chevy’s rear tire had her foot pinned.

Crap, what should she do now? Her first-aid course hadn’t covered anything this serious. “We can try to shift the car and get your foot out, but maybe we should wait for the ambulance.”

Holly glanced at the older of the two women. Clad in elastic-waist jeans and a sweatshirt, she looked like somebody’s mom. Cell phone pressed to her ear, the woman was focused on whatever the 911 operator was saying.

“Tell them to hurry,” Holly said.

“They said don’t try to move the car.” The woman lowered her phone. “You’re bleeding, by the way.”

Holly touched her forehead and came away with shaky, bloody fingers.

“He could’ve killed you,” the other woman, the younger of the pair, sputtered. “He must have been drunk or something.”

Holly looked at her blood-splattered sweater and wondered if she could use it as a bandage. A warm rivulet trickled down her cheek. She dabbed at it with her forearm.

The pulsing wail of a siren began. She figured a Pasco cop was blasting up Lewis Street. The cavalry to the rescue. The two women had vanished, probably headed to the entrance to flag him down. “Another minute,” she told Laurie. “Hang in there.”

“You don’t think he meant to hit us, do you? The guy driving the truck.”

“Of course not.” Denial immediately kicked in.

Holly stared at Laurie’s foot, unable to deny the obvious. What had she stirred up? Or rather
who
had she stirred up? Marcy’s killer? Frank? Creepy Security Guy?

Laurie grimaced and maneuvered onto her back. Her leg twisted at an awkward angle. “He probably meant to bump you off. You
are
the only witness to Marcy’s murder.”

“Nice try, but I didn’t witness anything. No, this is one of your multiple admirers, desperate for your attention.” Laurie
couldn’t
have gotten hurt because of her.

“I can think of better ways to attract me,” Laurie mumbled. “Chocolate. Jewelry. Signal flags.”

The older woman came back, arms laden. “I had some paper towels in my car.” She lifted her hands. “And a blanket. We should keep your friend warm.”

“Thanks.” Holly gave her a grateful smile. Definitely someone’s mom. In a good way.

She tucked the blanket around Laurie, and then pressed a paper towel against her own aching head. Now that the immediate crisis was past, the headache was growing to titanic portions.

More people crowded around the damaged cars. The entire library must’ve emptied into the parking lot, the patrons drawn like coyotes to the carnage.

“Did anybody see which way the truck went?” Holly called.

A babble of voices answered. She grimaced, wishing she’d stayed quiet.

Spinning blue lights splashed across the crowd and a patrol car bumped into the parking lot. The siren drilled into her skull. About the time she thought she might lose it, the officer killed the racket.

The policeman approached the wrecked cars. He swiveled his head between her and Laurie, then stooped to check on Laurie’s foot. “An ambulance is on its way, ma’am.”

Holly sagged against the Pathfinder adjacent to the Chevy SUV. Of all the people on the police force, why did the responding officer have to be the Shrimp? She fervently hoped he didn’t remember her—or the grief she’d given him about Lillian.

Why was a Franklin County deputy even there instead of a Pasco city cop?

His assessment of Laurie complete, he turned and gave Holly a calculating look, clearly trying to place her. A moment later he rose, pivoting on his heel without a word to her. Shrimp—
what was his name?
—turned to the circle of curious bystanders. “Hit and run. Anybody get a description of the vehicle or the driver?”

The woman who’d called 911 stepped forward. “That truck tried to hit them.” Indignation fizzed around her like a Fourth of July sparkler. “He drove right at them.”

“Can you tell me the license plate? The kind of truck?”

“It was old and dirty. The light over the tag was burned out, but it had a Washington tag. It looked like A-2-4-something.”

“The truck has a huge dent in the front fender,” her friend added. “How hard could it be to find?”

“Did you see the driver?”

The younger woman shook her head, then pointed at the adjacent row of cars. “I was over there. I heard it going too fast and turned around just in time to see him aim at those two women. Are you sure they’re okay?” She peered around the officer.

Slumped against the Nissan’s door, Holly watched Shrimp try to extract anything useful from the witness. Several Pasco patrol cars had arrived by then, and other officers talked with various people around the parking lot, but they were too far away for Holly to hear the conversations.

She wished the ambulance would hurry. Laurie had given up any pretense at banter. Eyes closed, moaning periodically, she clutched at Holly’s hand. She hoped Laurie had only twisted her ankle instead of crushing it.

The gash on Holly’s own head burned. She eased the paper towels aside and felt another trickle roll down her cheek. Damn.

Everything hurt. Her head pounded with a crashing headache. Her left hand and knee had a major case of road rash. She was going to have some nasty bruises, and to add insult to injury her favorite jeans now sported a huge tear, and blood splattered her sweater.

Another car, a Crown Vic that screamed
I’m-an-Unmarked-Police-Car
, stopped beside the Pasco cruisers. She recognized the figure behind the wheel.

Terrific. A complete disaster.


JC strolled over to join the group assembled beside the damaged cars. “Hello, Holly.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked.
Gimme-a-break, no-verbal-warfare-tonight
threaded her resigned question.

Without answering, he studied the bashed-in fenders, clicked his tongue, and shook his head.

Why did he take such a perverse pleasure in making her feel guilty? “I’m the
victim
here, not the driver. Vic-tim,” she reminded him.

He crouched beside her. His lips twitched into a smile. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “You know, you look real sexy with your hair all messed up and your eyes kinda droopy.”

Outrage warred with confusion. “You can’t say stuff like that when you’re working. It’s sexual harassment.”

He sat back on his heels. “Who says I’m working?”

“What, you show up at every hit-and-run accident scene?”

“Only when there’s a pretty woman involved.” His smile deepened into a full-on grin and those blasted dimples popped into view. Damn, most people looked cute with dimples. JC’s appeared and the room temperature rose ten degrees.

Trying to slow her pitty-pat heartbeat, which
wasn’t
helping the pounding in her head, she gathered her tattered dignity. She ignored his sexist remarks and demanded, “If you’re not working, why are you here?”

“I guess that worked,” he said.

And damned if he didn’t stand up, turn around, and stroll over to where the squad sergeant talked with a guy in street clothes that she hadn’t seen arrive.

She stared after him. Was that supposed to be a distraction? A come-on? Or was he trying to make her mad? Whatever it was supposed to be, she sorta wished he’d come back.

“Forget about the blind date,” Laurie said. “Admit it. You should start seeing JC.”

“Hush. You’re delirious.”

Shrimp squatted in front of her. His nametag read Dickerman, the name she now remembered hearing JC call the smaller man.

“I’ll take your preliminary statement. Detective Patton will talk to you at the hospital.”

Her head throbbed and she wished Dickerman would speak more quietly. “I don’t think I need to go to the hospital, but Laurie should. Do you know when the ambulance will get here?”

Laurie’s face was white and if her grip got any tighter, Holly was going to have to go to the hospital for a mangled hand.

Dickerman studied Laurie’s pale, sweating face. “I’ll check.”

He crossed to a patrol car and picked up the radio.

Holly scanned the other groups, looking for JC. He stood beside the patrol sergeant, watching her. He didn’t break the contact when their eyes met. The intimacy of his gaze flustered her, and she turned back to Laurie. “Any minute now.”

Dickerman returned. “Ambulance is in bound. Can you tell me what happened?”

Maybe he didn’t remember her. She felt a flash of relief. She hadn’t been a total bitch, but she hadn’t been very nice to him. “We were walking to our cars and heard the truck start. It was parked beside that building.”

She pointed across the street. “Do you think he’d been drinking?” Maybe that was why the vehicle had been parked behind the darkened business.

He ignored her question in that irritating way all cops apparently did. “What happened after you heard it start up?”

“When it came into this parking lot, it was going too fast. We turned around and saw he was drifting across the aisle—that’s why I thought maybe he’d been drinking—and I realized he was going to hit us if we didn’t move.”

“Where were you, exactly?”

“Behind this car.” She pointed at the bashed-in Chevy SUV. “I pushed Laurie between the cars and dove after her.”

The officer looked at the bloody mass of paper towels Holly was holding to her own temple. “Did he hit you?”

“I think I hit the Pathfinder’s mirror.” She pointed at the adjacent vehicle.

Dickerman stood and played his flashlight over the mirror. “Yeah. There’s blood here.”

An ambulance rolled into the parking lot and added its flashing lights to the chaos. A competent-looking man and woman jumped out. The EMTs quickly examined Holly and Laurie, then concentrated on Laurie’s ankle.

Holly shifted her position, trying to move out of the way. Her scraped hands protested, and her knee announced it was most unhappy with the one-point landing she’d made on it. None of it was fatal, she reminded herself. Just damned uncomfortable. She pushed; the pavement ground into her raw palm. “Ouch.
Shit
.”

Warm hands grasped her arms and lifted her to her feet.

JC stood in front of her. He drew her away from the cars, giving the paramedics room to deal with Laurie and maneuver a stretcher. They’d connected some kind of jack to the SUV, probably to lift it off Laurie’s foot.

JC stared at Holly’s forehead and then made a slow assessment of the rest of her injuries, ending by raising her hands for inspection. “You were lucky.”

She tried to think of something to say that didn’t sound idiotic. JC was standing too close to her, but his warm bulk felt comforting. Nearly getting run over apparently threw intelligence and common sense to the wind. Her hands trembled and the
what-ifs
were lining up in her head, clamoring for attention. What if she’d been slower to react? What if the SUV had shifted a few inches more and landed on Laurie’s body instead of her foot? What if—

JC slid a hand all the way up her arm to her shoulder and then back down to her elbow. He left it there, gently tugging her nearer. The urge to snuggle into his chest was nearly irresistible. His presence made her feel safe and protected. To her surprise, just his being there made her feel better.

With a sigh, she gave in to temptation and leaned into his shoulder.

Just for a second.

His arms wrapped around her. She didn’t pull away. His hand traced a reassuring pattern against her back. Neither spoke.

She closed her eyes. Some of the tension seeped away. Standing clasped in JC’s arms felt like the most natural thing in the world. Her head fit precisely into the hollow of his shoulder. He knew just how to rub her back, his touch confident and comforting. She shifted and buried her nose in the folds of his jacket. His scent triggered memories and instincts. Of their own accord, her hands rose and slid around his waist. His arms tightened and his chin touched the crown of her head in a gesture that was achingly familiar.

Behind them, the EMTs lifted Laurie onto a stretcher and wheeled it to the ambulance, then the female medic returned. JC’s arms retracted and he moved away. Holly immediately missed the warmth and security.

The EMT ran practiced hands over Holly, checking for injuries. She flashed a penlight into her eyes and her headache exploded. Eyes closed, she collapsed against the Pathfinder and let the impersonal metal support her instead of JC’s warm arms.

“You need stitches for that cut, and you should be checked for concussion.” The medic pressed a bandage to Holly’s temple.

Her eyes cracked open. “It’s not going to scar, is it?” Warmth immediately climbed her face and she hoped JC hadn’t heard her question.

The woman smiled, showing the strained teeth of a smoker. She nodded in JC’s direction. “Don’t worry. He’ll still think you’re pretty.”

Holly started to protest, “It isn’t like that,” but the EMT was urging her to the ambulance.

JC stepped over. “Just a second,” he told the EMT.

The woman moved to the vehicle and helped her partner load their gear.

JC clasped Holly’s arm. She wasn’t sure what to make of him constantly touching her. On the outside, she thought she was doing a pretty good job of faking calm and collected. He was watching her like he was afraid she might start screaming or doing something hysterical and really hoped she wouldn’t.

Inside, she
was
screaming. All she wanted to do was curl up in his arms again and let him protect her, but
hello
, the world didn’t work that way. She sighed and rubbed small circles into her uninjured temple. “I do not need this right now,” she muttered.

BOOK: For Love of Money
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