Read Lethal Legacy: A Novel (Guardians of Justice) Online

Authors: Irene Hannon

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Lethal Legacy: A Novel (Guardians of Justice)

BOOK: Lethal Legacy: A Novel (Guardians of Justice)
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© 2012 by Irene Hannon

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www.revellbooks.com

Ebook edition created 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-3823-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

This book 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 events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Praise for Irene Hannon’s Novels

Heroes of Quantico Series

Against All Odds

(Daphne du Maurier Award;
RT Book Reviews
Reviewers’ Choice Award)

“A wonderful array of believable characters, action, and suspense that will keep readers glued to each page. Hannon’s extraordinary writing, vivid scenes, and surprise ending come together for a not-to-be-missed reading experience.”

4½ stars Top Pick,
RT Book Reviews

“I found someone who writes romantic suspense better than I do.”

Dee Henderson, author, the O’Malley Family series

“Hannon delivers big time in this novel. The intercontinental suspense plot combines flawlessly with a fantastic romance that sizzles.”

Book of the Month,
The Suspense Zone

An Eye for an Eye

(RITA Award finalist)

“RITA–Award-winner Hannon’s latest superbly written addition to her Heroes of Quantico series neatly delivers all the thrills and chills of Suzanne Brockmann’s Team Sixteen series with the subtly incorporated faith elements found in Dee Henderson’s books.”

Booklist

“Characters that are engrossing, a plot filled with unexpected twists, and a love story that will melt your heart. The only downside to this terrific novel is that you won’t want to put it down.”

4½ stars Top Pick,
RT Book Reviews

“An explosive start, followed by brilliant pacing through the rest of the story and the perfect balance of suspense, action, and romance.”

Relz Reviewz

In Harm’s Way

(RITA Award)

“A fine-tuned suspense tale. RITA–Award-winner Hannon is a master at character development.”

Library Journal

“Fast-paced crime drama with an aside of romance . . . and an ever-climactic mystery. Hannon’s tale is engagingly sure-footed.”

Publishers Weekly


In Harm’s Way
kept me turning pages as it raced from one twist to another. This book will be a hit with Irene Hannon fans!”

Susan May Warren, RITA Award winner

Guardians of Justice Series
Fatal Judgment

“Hannon’s ability to write scenes that cause readers to feel uneasy and to second-guess their safety always makes her stories page-turners.”

RT Book Reviews

“Bestselling author Irene Hannon weaves a wonderful story full of suspense and romance. She captures your attention at page one and doesn’t let it go until long after you’ve finished the book!”

Suspense Magazine


Fatal Judgment
has all the things I love in a romantic suspense. A strong heroine, and a good man, and a tragedy she might not survive. Irene Hannon is a name I love to find, and
Fatal Judgment
is her storytelling at its best.”

Dee Henderson

Deadly Pursuit

“Compelling characters and an emotionally engaging plot powered by a surfeit of nail-biting suspense.”

Top 10 Inspirational Fiction 2011,
Booklist

“Full of action, suspense, and just the right amount of romance.”

RT Book Reviews

“The strong character development and suspenseful story line here will win over readers of Lynette Eason, Dee Henderson, and Terri Blackstock.”

Library Journal

“An exceptional novel of romantic suspense.”

Omnimysterynews.com

To Jennifer Leep—
for taking a chance on a newcomer to romantic suspense . . . and for a letter I will always treasure.

And to Kristin Kornoelje—

for making me a better writer.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright Page

Praise for Irene Hannon’s Novels

Dedication

Prologue

1
         
2
       
3
       
4
       
5

6
         
7
       
8
       
9
     
10

11
     
12
     
13
     
14
     
15

16
     
17
     
18
     
19
     
20

21
     
22
     
23
     
24
     
25

26

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Books by Irene Hannon

An Excerpt from
Vanished

Back Ad

Back Cover

Prologue

Vincentio Rossi lifted his glass of ten-year-old Lombardi Brunello di Montalcino, closed his eyes, and sniffed the complex bouquet of the ruby red wine.

Perfect.

Then again, at a hundred bucks a bottle, it should be.

But the cost was of no consequence. After twenty-eight years of forced abstinence, he didn’t scrimp on his pleasures. At seventy-four, plagued by high blood pressure and off-the-scale cholesterol, he intended to make every minute count. Who knew how many years—or months—he had left?

Taking a small sip, Vincentio let the peppery flavor linger on his tongue, savoring the hint of wild mushrooms and truffles as he gazed out the window of Romano’s onto the familiar Buffalo street scene. The private table he’d occupied every weekday for the past three years suited him, allowing him to observe without being observed.

But he didn’t like dining alone. Isabella should be sitting in the empty chair across from him. Romano’s had been their place, and during all the years they’d spent apart, he’d looked forward to sharing it with her again. But none of his connections, none of his money, had been able to stop the insidious cancer that had taken her life five years ago.

Worst of all, he hadn’t been there at the end, to hold her hand and say good-bye.

Vincentio tipped the glass against his lips and took a long swallow of the earthy wine. Wishing he could rewind the clock. Wishing he could return with her to the hills of Sicily where they’d spent their honeymoon.

Wishing he hadn’t made the fatal mistake that had cost him everything.

At the sudden vibration of his cell phone, his hand jerked. The ruby liquid sloshed close to the edge of the glass, and he set the slender-stemmed goblet carefully on the table as he pulled the phone off his belt.

In the old days, he’d had nerves of steel.

One more thing that had changed.

He squinted at the digital display. His vision wasn’t great anymore, either. But it didn’t matter; caller ID was blocked.

The voice that greeted him, however, was familiar. A spurt of adrenaline set off a tingle in his nerve endings, and he angled away from the other patrons in the restaurant.

“You have news?” Vincentio wasted no time returning the man’s greeting.

“Your hunch was correct. He’s in town.”

Vincentio’s fingers tightened on the stem of the wineglass. “You’re certain?”

“I’ve seen him myself. He is older, yes—but there is no question.”

A buzz of excitement swept over him, leaving him light-headed for a moment. He’d waited a long, long time for this.

“You know what I need.”

“Yes. I’ll relay the information as soon as I have it.”

“Excellent. You’ll be well rewarded, as always.”

Hand trembling, Vincentio slid the phone back into its holder and fumbled for a small, folded piece of paper in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. Through the years, the creases had worn thin, and he opened the yellowed sheet carefully. All but one of the names he’d written more than two decades ago had a check mark in front and were crossed out.

He smoothed it out on the tablecloth, retrieved a pen from his jacket, and checked off the final name.

Step one.

He folded up the paper, tucked it and the pen away, and grasped the stem of his wineglass again.

Outside, passersby continued to hurry along in the mid-April chill. Spring wouldn’t come to the Lake Erie shore for a while yet, but it suddenly felt like spring to him. He’d almost given up hope of ever finding the traitor who had repaid his kindness with disloyalty. Who had turned his son against him. Who had done his best to undermine all . . .

The delicate stem of the wineglass snapped in his fingers, and Vincentio watched the crimson liquid gush out and seep into the snowy white linen, staining it red.

Like blood.

A smile lifted his lips. He’d always believed in omens.

And this was a good one.

1

SIX MONTHS LATER

“So what was up with your solo act at Jake and Liz’s wedding on Saturday?”

At the question, Detective Cole Taylor stifled a groan. He did
not
want to start his week by rehashing his brother’s wedding. Especially with his colleague Mitch Morgan, who had gotten engaged to his sister at said wedding.

“What do you mean?” He didn’t look up from his desk. Maybe if he acted busy, Mitch would move on.

“I mean, where was the hot date you usually bring to social events?”

Coming alone had been a tactical mistake. One Cole had recognized five minutes into the reception. He should have brought someone. Anyone. With a woman on his arm, he would have avoided all the kidding from his relatives and the questions about when it was going to be his turn. The grilling had gotten so bad, he’d taken to hiding behind some potted plants—and drinking champagne.

Lots of champagne.

“I wasn’t in the mood to bring a date.”

“Yeah? How come?” Mitch settled onto the edge of his desk.

So much for getting rid of his future brother-in-law.

Resigned, Cole forced his lips into a cocky grin, swiveled his chair, and folded his hands across his stomach. “The pickings were slim for that night, and I’m particular. I want looks
and
intelligence.”

“Since when? That wasn’t exactly a rocket scientist you brought to the party at Doug’s house two weeks ago.”

“That sounds like something Alison would say.” Cole’s grin morphed into a frown. “Did my sister put you up to this?”

“Nope. But she was surprised you came alone too.”

“You know, I appreciate how everyone is taking such an interest in my social life all of a sudden.” He laid on a healthy dose of sarcasm. “But trust me, I have it under control.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I wouldn’t want you to lose out on the chance for wedded bliss.”

Cole snorted. “How do you know it’s going to be blissful? You only got engaged two days ago.”

“Because I know your sister.” He grinned at Cole. “And if you need more proof, ask Jake when he and Liz get back from their Bermuda honeymoon.” Standing, he stretched. “So you want to go get some lunch?”

“No. Too busy.”

“Want me to bring you back a burger?”

“No. I’m not hungry.”

Mitch shot him a surprised look. “You’re always hungry.”

“Big breakfast.” He waved his colleague away and swung back to the desk. “I’ll hit the vending machines later.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mitch hesitate. Cock his head. Then, with a shrug, his fellow detective walked away.

Finally.

Once Mitch exited, Cole leaned back in his chair and stared at the photo on his desk, a family shot taken at his mom’s birthday party not long after Jake had returned to St. Louis from a stint in Iraq with the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group. It had been just the four of them since his dad died six years ago. But now there was a sister-in-law to add. Soon, there’d be a brother-in-law. And not long after that, Cole suspected nieces and nephews would come along. His sister and brother would be busy with their families. His mom lived in Chicago with her sister now; not that far from St. Louis, but far enough. He’d be the odd man out.

And playing the field was starting to lose its allure.

Annoyed by a sudden empty feeling in the pit of his stomach, Cole straightened up. Must be a case of weddingitis. It was hard not to think about the lack of romance in his life when he was surrounded by cross-eyed lovers and the air was filled with matrimonial vibes. But if it was supposed to happen, it would. No sense fretting about it.

No sense missing meals, either.

Debating what to get for lunch, he stood, snagged his jacket off the back of his chair, and slid his arms into the sleeves. Maybe he’d take Mitch up on the burger offer after all. If he hurried, he should be able to catch him at the elevator or in the lobby.

But he only made it two steps away from his desk before his phone rang.

As he paused, it rang again.

“You gonna get that or what?” Luke Adams looked up from a computer screen at an adjacent desk in the shared office, his expression frazzled. The man was a stellar detective, but he hated computers. And Cole didn’t relish being the outlet for his irritation.

“I’m getting it, okay?”

Luke grunted and went back to hunting and pecking while Cole returned to his desk and picked up the phone.

“Taylor.”

“Are you in the middle of anything?”

At his unit supervisor’s clipped query, Cole sank back into his chair.

He was now.

“Nothing that can’t wait.”

“Good. I need you to talk with a woman whose father died five months ago. We ruled it a suicide. However, the daughter claims she has new information that could change our minds.”

“Who handled the case?”

“Alan. But she doesn’t want to wait until he gets back from vacation. And FYI—she wasn’t happy with our resolution. Even though she couldn’t point us to any suspects or motives, she claims somebody was out to get her father and believes his death was a homicide.”

Cole stifled a sigh. Great. A conspiracy theorist. He’d run into them before. And since Alan had just left on a two-week trip to the Caribbean, this woman could be bugging him for fourteen days.

“Okay. I’ll meet her out front. What’s her name?”

“Kelly Warren. Her father’s name was John.”

“Got it.” Cole replaced the receiver, picked up a notepad, and stood.

So much for lunch.

Perched on the edge of a standard-issue waiting room chair, Kelly clenched the strap of her purse between her fingers, crossed her legs, and jiggled her foot. She didn’t want to be here. The whole law enforcement aura brought back all the trauma of her father’s death. But calling in the new information wouldn’t have the same impact. She wanted the police to know she took this seriously—and that she intended to make sure they did too.

The door to the inner offices opened, and a mid-thirtyish dark-haired man in beige slacks, a sport coat with a subtle herringbone pattern, and a white shirt stepped through.

“Ms. Warren?”

“Yes.” She rose, crossed the room, and took the hand he extended. At five-seven, she considered herself on the tall side. But she had to look up several inches to meet the man’s intense cobalt eyes—their hue an exact match for his tie.

She felt like she was drowning in blue.

“Detective Cole Taylor. Please come in.” He ushered her through the door. “First room on your right.”

Kelly eased past him, focusing on the neutral beige carpet. Better.

He followed her in silence. At the door he’d indicated, she took a quick inventory of the conference room. A large table surrounded by comfortable chairs took up most of the floor space. She claimed the nearest seat.

The detective closed the door and sat at a right angle to her. “I understand you have some new evidence to present regarding the death of your father.”

“Yes.” She fiddled with the catch on her purse. “I’d rather give it to Detective Carlson, since he handled the case, but I didn’t want to wait two weeks.”

“I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.” The man opened his notebook and picked up his pen. “I’m not familiar with the particulars of the case, but why don’t you tell me what you have and we’ll go from there?”

His tone was polite, his words professional. But there was a touch of reserve in his manner. As if he didn’t appreciate her questioning the conclusions of his fellow detective. Or maybe he had a lot on his plate and didn’t like wasting his time with evidence he assumed would be inconsequential to a thoroughly investigated closed case.

Too bad.

Her fingers tightened on her purse, and she lifted her chin. “Before I show you what I have, you need to know I’ve never believed my father committed suicide.”

He studied her. “My supervisor mentioned that.”

“You also need to know I’m not going to give up. Suicide went against everything my dad believed. Somebody killed him.”

The words left a bitter taste on her tongue, and pressure suddenly built in her throat. Dismayed by her lack of control, she dipped her head and fumbled with the clasp on her purse. “Would you mind . . . could I have some water?”

“Sure. I’ll be back in a minute.”

The detective scooted his chair back and stood. A moment later, he disappeared from her peripheral vision. She heard the door shut behind her.

Kelly groped through her purse for a tissue. Blew her nose. Dabbed at her eyes. Until the past five months, she’d never been a crier. Now, tears welled up whenever she thought about the aching void her father’s death had left in her life.

But tears weren’t going to help her convince the police the note she’d received was anything more than an odd twist of fate. She needed to be strong, assertive, and in control if she wanted them to take her seriously instead of treating her like an emotional grieving daughter who was grasping at straws.

With one more swipe at her cheeks, Kelly tucked the tissue back in her purse. Sat up straighter. Said a silent prayer for strength.

And prepared to do battle.

Shoulder propped against the wall beside the door to the conference room, Cole checked his watch. It had taken him less than a minute to retrieve the bottle of water now sweating in his hand, but based on Kelly Warren’s shattered expression when he’d left, he figured she needed an extra couple of minutes to regain her composure.

Her grace time, however, was up.

Giving the knob an extra rattle to alert her to his return, Cole pushed the door open and entered the room.

He’d half expected to find her in tears, her face a splotchy mess. Crying women, as he’d discovered in his fourteen years of police work, only looked attractive in movies. But she surprised him. A single, tiny drop of moisture clinging to the tip of one of her lush lashes and a tautness in her features that accentuated her elegant bone structure were the only evidence of tears.

He set the bottle of water on the table in front of her and retook his seat.

“Thank you.” She screwed off the cap and took a long swallow, giving him a perfect view of her slender neck and the graceful curve of her jaw.

He found himself staring.

And he continued to stare as she set the bottle down and rummaged through her purse. Talk about great hair. Wavy and russet-colored, it was parted in the middle and hung well below her shoulders, held back on each side with matching jade barrettes. It looked soft and luxurious and . . . touchable.

When she lifted her chin, his lungs stalled as her emerald green eyes locked on his.

She frowned and shifted in her chair. “Is something wrong?”

Clearing his throat, Cole looked down and picked up his pen.
Get a grip, Taylor. You’re dealing with a grieving daughter here. Not some hot chick who’s angling to be picked up.

“No. I was just thinking that . . . you seem familiar.”
Lame, lame, lame.
He tried not to cringe.

“Did you work my father’s case?”

“No.”

“Then I doubt we’ve met.” She withdrew a printed piece of paper from her purse and slid it across the table toward him. “This came with a delivery of flower bulbs this morning.”

Grateful to have a reason to shift his focus, Cole picked up the piece of paper that turned out to be a packing slip for an order of two dozen Magic Carpet tulip bulbs to be delivered in late October.

“There’s a message box at the top left.”

At her prompt, he located the box and scanned the note.

Happy birthday, Kelly! Don’t these sound exotic? We’ll plant them together on your big day. I’ll bring the cake! Love, Dad.

Cole tried to grasp the significance of the message. Failed.

“I’m sure receiving this was a shock, Ms. Warren, arriving so long after your father’s death.” He reread the message, searching for some clue he’d missed. “But many people order fall bulbs well in advance.”

Her mouth tightened as he looked at her, and his gaze dropped to her lips.

Nice.

“I’m aware of that, Detective Taylor. But take a look at this.” She tapped a date located near the bottom of the packing slip, redirecting his attention. “He placed this order the day before the police allege he committed suicide. In other words, less than twenty-four hours before he died, my father was planning to plant tulips with me in five months.”

BOOK: Lethal Legacy: A Novel (Guardians of Justice)
12.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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