Authors: V. K. Powell
The cure for grief is action, but is it worth the risk?
Greer Ellis is a hard-working homicide detective who excels at her job and values her reputation and her privacy. Since the death of her partner two years ago, work is the only thing that interests her. Until Eva Saldana, an internationally renowned journalist comes to town looking for answers in her brother's death. Eva is convinced the overdose label so hastily applied to his case is not only wrong but is also a cover for murder. When evidence seems to point to a fellow officer, Greer is torn between her quest for the truth, allegiance to her profession, and her growing desire for Eva.
But is the risk they must take to be together justifiable?
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© 2011 By VK Powell. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-497-3
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First Edition: January 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Editor: Shelley Thrasher
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Design By Sheri([email protected])
To Protect and Serve
It would not be possible to do the work I love without the support and encouragement of amazing friends. Each of you brings a special gift to my life, and I am grateful.
To Len Barot, deep appreciation for allowing me to be a “writer.” It makes my heart sing. And to each person in the amazing Bold Strokes family who reads, tweaks, massages, and improves my imperfect product, I say thank you.
For Dr. Shelley Thrasher, much gratitude for your guidance (subtle and otherwise), suggestions, and kindness. You help me view my work with fresh eyes.
To all the readers who support and encourage my writing, thank you for buying my work, visiting my Web site (www.powellvk.com), sending e-mails, and showing up for signings. You make my “job” so much fun!
A gun barrel was pressed against his temple. Cold shivered down his spine. His heart drummed, his body stinking of fear-sweat.
“Do it or I’ll blow your fucking brains out. Bad sight for your family—body with no fucking head.” The stranger motioned to the thin white lines of cocaine on the coffee table.
“Please, why are you doing this? I don’t even know you.”
“Just ain’t your day.”
“What do you want? Money?” His voice trembled and tears stung his eyes. What was happening? He couldn’t think—was trying to survive. “Please.”
“Nice big inhale. You’ll like it.” The gunman laughed—cold, like he was forcing it.
He shook his head, then looked around for an escape. The man stood between him and the door—trapped.
“Fucking snort. Do it. I don’t have all night.” The stranger jabbed the gun barrel against his temple again.
“Can I take off my shoes?”
The gunman’s forehead wrinkled. “Sure, but make it quick.”
He slid his Kenneth Cole oxfords off without untying them and tossed them toward a chair. Then he removed his socks and threw them on either side of the room. How freeing—to be careless and sloppy in the face of death. His captor shifted impatiently from side to side.
“Okay, you’ve had your fun. Snort.”
Shaking, he picked up the straw and inhaled, trying to remember the last time he’d spoken with his family. If he’d only told someone where he was going today. If only…
“Now the other one.” He repeated the process. “Excellent. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
His heart pounded erratically. Energy surged in his brain. He gasped for air. Not enough air. Sweat trickled into his eyes, and he wiped at it, lethargic. “Please.” A series of pictures flashed through his mind: his parents, brothers, sister, the woman he loved. Scenes from his life, good and bad. He tried to hold on to the images.
Everything around him blurred. He reached out for help. The coffee table rose toward him. His vision dimmed. He fell.
“Clare!” Greer Ellis’s own horrified voice echoed in her ears, her throat dry and raw from screaming. Perspiration soaked the bedsheet, and she was hot and sticky. She threw off the wet covers and slowed her rapid breathing. The pulse pounding in her temples eased, and she slid her hand to the opposite side of the bed—still empty. The nightmare continued even after she woke. She’d had it less often during the past two years, but it remained as vivid.
Greer rose and crossed to the barn-style doors in her second-story garage apartment. They overlooked a stream-fed pond, and after she slid them apart she listened to the melodic trickling of water over rock. Gradually it reconnected her with the present. The gray dawn light bathed her cooling nude body in soft shadows, and the brisk fall air licked and tingled her clammy skin.
She grabbed the old kaleidoscopic throw that Clare had knitted, hugged it around her, and relaxed into its warmth. The wool-blend material was faded, its corners fraying. She inhaled deeply, hoping some remnant of Clare’s scent remained. But it had vanished, like Clare had. Greer had refused to wash the afghan, or even use it very often, but that hadn’t helped. She sat in the open doorway, swinging her legs and staring across at the deciduous trees. They had been stripped of their colorful leaves like she had been stripped of her lover.
A loud clanging from the main house announced that the morning’s first pot of coffee was ready. Bessie had started using this method of notification when Greer moved from the house to the apartment two years ago. No matter how early the ghosts arrived in Greer’s dreams, Bessie was awake first, like a sentinel keeping watch.
Greer walked through the back door ten minutes later fully dressed and ready for work. The beautiful log home that Bessie had built with her lover, Ruth, still held too many memories of their happy foursome. She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to live in the apartment long, but each time she entered this space, she saw and heard Clare. She kissed her sixty-three-year-old aunt lightly on the cheek. “How you feeling, Aunt Bessie?”
“Next to perfect, as always.” Bessie pinned her with sharp blue eyes that dared her to be untruthful. “Bad dream?”
“The usual.” Her aunt was capable of peeling away her defensive layers like an orange. Greer busied herself pouring coffee to avoid prolonged exposure to the look that always left her feeling too vulnerable.
“When you’re ready to talk, I’m here.”
“I know. Thanks.”
They slid into their morning breakfast routine with eggs, bacon, and grits, salted by the latest hospital gossip. As head nurse, Bessie knew all the rumors, which she shared—
When they finished cleaning up and headed to their vehicles for work, Bessie said, “And one more thing. Stop trying to test your mortality with these stupid stunts you’ve been pulling.” She tilted her head toward the new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy that Greer straddled. “Hospital gossip isn’t the only scoop I’m privy to.”
Greer throttled Icarus and shot out of the driveway around Bessie’s old truck. In the side mirror, she saw her aunt mouth the words “slow down” before she disappeared in a cloud of gray dust. Greer twisted the grip again, laying a long stretch of rubber and popping a wheelie as she hit the road toward downtown New Hope. She had to completely concentrate and carefully control her body to perform the maneuver. She loved the power that pulsed between her legs and the way the bike teetered on its rear wheel. Riding Icarus flat-out made her enjoy life in a way that she hadn’t for too long.
But her exhilaration vanished when the bike’s front wheel reconnected with the pavement. Only the cool fall air, the vibrating machine, and memories of Clare remained. She could almost feel Clare’s slender body pressed against her back, thighs cupping her butt, hands caressing her crotch until wetness seeped through her jeans. She often arrived at work horny and happy. During the day, the edginess kept her sharp and focused in her job as a beat cop. And at night Clare held her again and satisfied her need.
But Clare wasn’t here. Reality sliced through her like the crisp morning wind stinging her face. She wouldn’t hold Clare again. A stranger had made sure of that. Greer gunned Icarus and wished she could ride into the sun and burn away the loss and guilt. But no one answered her prayer. She couldn’t soothe the ache permanently. She found relief only when she flirted with death.
She gripped the throttle tighter and buried the speedometer needle in the red zone. The bike burst into top speed and the frame vibrated with power. When her pain eased, she was entering the no-passing zone leading into town behind a very slow-moving vehicle. Greer pumped the brakes and cursed. Slowing, she followed the sightseer on Elm Street through downtown toward the police department.
“Get back,” Eva Saldana said to the impatient motorcyclist who zoomed up behind her. She flashed to her assignment in Jakarta last year when two cyclists rode her bumper, then whizzed past with automatic weapons strapped to their sides. She shivered and tapped her brakes.
As the tailgater slowed, Eva again focused on the pleasant scene before her. Breakfast patrons chatted under rainbow-colored umbrellas lining the sidewalks of the cozy downtown avenue. The tires on her rented BMW thumped over the brick-paved street with the steady cadence of a carriage on cobblestones. As she gazed at the quaint small-town setting, several people waved as she passed.
But older warehouse buildings towered behind the colorful awnings and smiling faces. They reminded her of two movie sets quickly constructed with no time to clear the lot. The worn and crumbling façades looked ominous, as if waiting to consume the inviting foreground. If this scene was the norm in New Hope, North Carolina, population 55,000, her time here would be an experience in contrasts.