Authors: C. D. Hersh
Table of Contents
THE PROMISED ONE
The Turning Stone Chronicles
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
THE PROMISED ONE
Cover Design by Fiona Jayde
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This book is dedicated to the
Defense Contract Management Agency.
The long business road trips
we took during Donald’s career
gave birth to conversation in the car
that led to this book’s premise.
We still plot better on the road than at home.
Not many people find someone they can successfully collaborate with—especially if that person is their spouse. Egos and hurt feelings tend to get in the way. I guess we’re lucky, and we owe it all to Sharon Arent, Jerry Bennett, and a script we wrote for a church Christmas program called Back To Bethlehem. Jerry was the director of the all-church program and Sharon was the leader of our church acting group Epiphany. The church needed some original material written for Back to Bethlehem, and Jerry and Sharon encouraged us to write something to submit to the committee. We did. The committee liked it, and we’ve been writing together ever since.
Thank you, Sharon and Jerry, for starting us on the road to publication. Without that push from you we might not have discovered this unique partnership as coauthors.
Thanks, too, to Bob Goettke, who has been our go-to police officer for law enforcement questions.
A special thanks goes to Catherine’s critique partners Jillian Kent, Paulette Lotspeich, and Ginny Powers who gave their time and effort to help polish this book. You ladies are wonderful!
We’d also like to thank the editors and staff at Soul Mate Publishing for believing in our story and for all the help they’ve given us along the way.
When month and day are the age
that is the time
When day and month are the time
that is the age
When time and age agree,
trinity becomes unity
If a mark didn’t come out of the bar soon, he’d have to change his hunting spot.
Danny Shaw glanced at his watch. In the past hour, only two men—too big for him to handle—had staggered out of the Dew Drop Inn Bar and Grill. He needed someone rich and easy to take down. And soon. If he arrived late again, he’d get canned. And if he lost one more job, he’d lose Lulu.
The door opened, spilling crowd noise and blue haze onto the dimly lit street. He moved back into the shadow of the building. Waiting.
A slender woman walked by, her legs wobbling on spiked heels as the hem of her blue slinky dress swished around her thighs. Whiskey and perfume wafted on the air. As she reached to smooth back her blond hair, a prism flashed on her ring finger.
As his gut tightened, adrenalin pumped through him.
Perfect. Tipsy and a rock too.
A big haul could make this his last job this week, allowing him more time to spend with Lulu
He pulled his ski mask down then took his gun from his coat. Withdrawing a silencer from his left pocket, he screwed it onto the barrel, and stepped out. The woman didn’t notice him, so he scanned the street for witnesses. No one around. Closing the gap, he made his move.
Shaw jammed the gun barrel in her back and hooked her arm. “Don’t scream,” he whispered, “and I might let you live.”
Under his hold, she stiffened. Her high heels tapped rapidly on the pavement as he steered her into the dark, littered alley. When they were well into the shadows, hidden from passersby, he shoved her against the graffiti-covered building. “Gimme your purse and jewelry.”
The woman raised perfectly manicured hands above her head, her shoulder angling toward him as she started to twist around.
“Keep your face to the wall,” he ordered.
She mumbled something into the bricks and then lowered her left hand, dangling a bejeweled handbag behind her head.
“Now the jewelry.” He snatched the purse.
She unhooked her necklace, slipped off her watch and diamond ring, then held them out.
He stuffed them into his pocket. “The other ring, too.”
“That ring has no value. It’s costume jewelry my niece gave me.”
“Take it off.”
“You’ve got my cash and credit cards, and my diamond. Isn’t that enough?”
He hated when they resisted. “Give me the ring.”
She gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. “No.”
He jerked her around to face him. “Dammit, woman. Give me the freaking ring or I’ll blow your head off.” He yanked on the band.
Without warning, she swung her hand up, connecting with his jaw. Stunned, he stumbled backward, still clutching the hand with the ring. They fell to the pavement. Her hands clawed at his, and her feet kicked his shins, scrabbling their legs together. Fighting for control. Fighting for the gun.
Wrapping his legs around hers, he rolled her over and pinned her beneath him with his body. Freeing his hand from her grasp, he slammed her skull on the ground. Her head rolled to the side and she lay still.
Certain he’d knocked her out, he tried to remove the ring from her finger. Suddenly she bolted up, head-banged him, and grabbed his gun hand.
As he struggled to keep control of the weapon, the barrel twisted toward him. Heart pounding, he watched his life flash in front of him.
Abusive childhood. Lousy job. Lulu. The elaborate wedding plans she’d made.
He didn’t want to die. Not now.
He wrenched the gun toward the woman. The metallic
Round-eyed shock reflected in the woman’s face.
Shaw’s heart stopped racing as she relaxed in his grip, then amped back up, pounding against his ribs.
Shit. Assault, battery, and now . . . murder.
Quick and easy money to pay for the wedding. That’s all he’d been after.
They’ll put me away for life if I get caught. Lulu’s gonna be pissed if I screw up her wedding plans.
Pushing into a squat, he stared at the dark stain spreading across the dress front. He removed the ring from the woman’s finger. She should have just given it to him.
The woman stared at him, blood seeping from the corner of her mouth. “Return the ring, or you’ll be sorry.”
With a short laugh he stood. “Big words for someone bleeding to death.” After dropping the ring into his pocket, he gathered the scattered contents of her purse, and started to leave.
“Wait.” The words sounded thick and slurred . . . two octaves deeper . . . with a Scottish lilt.
Shaw frowned and spun back toward her. The pounding in his chest increased. On the ground, where the woman had fallen, lay a man.
He wore the same slinky blue dress she had—the seams ripped, the dress top collapsed over hard chest muscles, instead of smoothed over soft, rounded curves. The hem skimmed across a pair of hairy, thick thighs. Muscled male thighs. Spiked heels hung at an odd angle, toes jutting through the shoe straps. The same shoes
The alley tipped. Shaw leaned against the dumpster to steady himself. He shook his head to clear the vision, then slowly moved his gaze over the body.
A pair of steel-blue eyes stared out of a chiseled face edged with a trim salt-and-pepper beard. Shaw whirled around scanning the alley.
Where was the woman? And who the hell was this guy?
Terrified, Shaw fled.
The dying man called out, “You’re cursed. Forever.”
No one knew what Rhys Temple liked better than Alexi Jordan. That’s what made them such good partners. That same intimacy would also make them great lovers, a thought that had crossed her mind many times.
Alexi retrieved Rhys’ birthday cake from the back seat of her car. The privilege of baking this momentous-occasion pastry had almost brought her to blows with the rest of the females in the precinct office. She scooped up his birthday gift and then dropped it as the cake box slid down her arm. A quick slap on the clear plastic lid stopped the perilous drop, but squished the yellow roses she’d so carefully crafted onto the German Chocolate cake.
She examined the decorations. Rhys’ name, age, and birthday salutation were intact. She sighed. “So much for presentation.”
A deep chuckle sounded behind her. “Need some help?”
“Hey, birthday boy.” Alexi motioned toward Rhys. “Get your gift.”
His eyebrows rose, and a seductive grin eased across his face as his arm circled Alexi’s waist.
Electricity shot through her causing her to shudder. “Not me.”
At least, not for now.
“The box. In the car.”
“Oh, that gift.” He released her, his hand trailing across her back.
She jabbed at him with her elbow.
He shrugged, his grin playful. “You can’t blame a guy for trying.”
He’d been “trying” for some time now. It was starting to get to her, but there was no way she could afford to give in. Too many things stood in the way.
As he maneuvered his tall body in front of her, his taut abdomen brushed against her in a way she felt was purposely seductive. Old Spice cologne mixed with a manly scent, uniquely Rhys, drifted past her. She loved the way he smelled.
She backed away. He made concentrating difficult. So much that in the year and a half they’d worked homicide, she’d often been tempted to ask for another partner. But the thought of not spending most days with him always changed her mind.
He tipped back his black Stetson, and a shock of light brown hair tumbled down over his forehead. Grinning, he shook the package. “Doesn’t rattle.” He made a move to toss the box. “Breakable?”
“If you do, I won’t buy another one.” She tapped the top of the cake container. “Set it down here.”
He obliged and grimaced when he noticed the squished cake.
“No complaints. Squished or not, it will be your best birthday cake ever.”
“At least there are no over-the-hill comments on the top.”
With her hip, Alexi closed the car door and then locked it. “I’d never do that.”
He grinned again. “Smart move. Your thirtieth will be here soon. You get what you give.” Following her toward the precinct front door he asked, “So, what did you get me?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” she said as she waited for him to open the door. She carried the cake into the break room and placed it on the paper birthday tablecloth next to a pile of beribboned packages.
He scanned the table, his eyes sparkling like a child who couldn’t wait for Christmas.
Tucking his gift under her arm, she started to leave.
“Hey.” He pointed at the other gifts. “Aren’t you going to add yours?”
“Nope. I’ll give it to you later, when we’re alone.”
“Ooh. Something special. Mineral or animal?” His right eyebrow raised, his smile growing.
Alexi laughed. “Just embarrassing.”
“For you or for me?”
“I’m not telling.”
Sidling close to her, he backed her against the wall. “Come on. Just a hint,” he said, a purr in his tone as he placed his hand on the wall next to her shoulder and moved into her personal space with the ease of a lover. One of his famous melt-the-girl looks smoldered in his gaze. The golden flecks in his green eyes lit up like fireworks. Hot fireworks.
Enjoying his closeness and the raw sensuality emanating from him, she lingered for a minute, then slowly moved away. Standing this close she could get burned, and she wasn’t ready to play with fire . . . not yet. She shook her head. “Not a chance.”
He crossed his arms, obviously irked that she hadn’t succumbed. “My irresistible charms work on everyone else. Why not you?”
Oh, if you only knew.
She had to fight to resist him. She flashed him a smile.
“Because I’m special. And I’m your partner. Keeping your back safe is more important than getting you on your back.”
He laughed, a deep, throaty, and utterly sexy sound.
She locked her knees to keep from melting into a puddle.
“I like the sound of that.”
Of course you would.
She felt her face flame.
“Jordan.” Captain William’s baritone voice interrupted the awkward moment.
Grateful for the interruption, Alexi spun on her heel toward the captain, hoping he hadn’t heard the last of the conversation or noticed her flaming cheeks. “What’s up, Captain?”
“I’ve got a body you need to ID, Alexi.”
An icy tidal wave washed the heat out of her face. The captain rarely called anyone by first name, and when he did it was always bad news. He’d never asked her to ID a body before . . . and Baron hadn’t come home last night.
“We think it’s your uncle.”
Dead bodies always made Alexi think about her murdered parents and brother. For nearly twenty years, she’d been waiting for the memory of coming home and finding their bodies, bleeding out onto the carpet, to lessen. That gruesome scene, always in the back of her mind, leapt to the forefront with each visit she made to the morgue. Besides the thought of killing someone, viewing corpses was the number one thing she disliked about her job.
And now, the captain thought Baron was dead, too.
As the coroner slid out the refrigerated slab, she inched closer to Rhys, her breakfast threatening to reappear any second and embarrass the crap out of her.
Get a grip, girl. This comes with the job. You’re a homicide cop, so act like one.
He’s probably mistaken anyway.
She sucked in the nervousness.
Captain Williams stopped the coroner from lowering the sheet. “I’m sorry, Alexi.” The hard lines of his face softened, like they did when he spoke to victims’ families.
She eyed him, not liking what she saw one bit. He seemed too sure. Sounded too sympathetic. Her fingers touched the sheet, then she shied away, tucking her hands under her arms. “You’re wrong. It can’t be Baron. I’d know.”
The coroner folded the sheet down revealing a male, about sixty, with a salt-and-pepper beard.
A sharp pain shot through her head. She grasped the metal morgue slab to keep herself upright, blinking furiously to hold back the tears.
It couldn’t be . . . there had to be some mistake.
Rhys put his arm around her waist. “I’m sorry, Lexi.”
She rested against him, welcoming the support, and nodded, an automatic response in spite of her denial. No one spoke. After what seemed like an eternity, Alexi found her voice. “What happened?”
“A mugging, we think. He had no ID on him.” The captain paused, his concern for her so palpable it hung in the air like fog. “That’s not all.”
He folded the sheet down, revealing a blue spaghetti-strap dress. A dark purple stain covered the front.
Alexi swallowed the bile that rushed into her throat.
Don’t get sick. It’s just blood. You encounter blood all the time.
But not Baron’s blood.
Her vision blurred and she began shaking.
Rhys tightened his hold on her. “You gonna be okay?”
She nodded a lie in answer to his question. How could she ever be okay? Her uncle, her mentor, the last member of her family was gone. Was he murdered for the same reason as the rest of her family?
Inching away from the body, she rested her head on Rhys’ shoulder. When would she awaken from this nightmare? She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the tears back, but they slid out anyway.
Swiping at her cheeks, she opened her eyes. Baron still lay on the stainless steel morgue slab. Gingerly, she touched the satiny dress straps. The material felt soft, a distinct contrast to the blood-covered, coarse chest hairs curled around the slim straps.
What was he doing in a dress that did not fit him? His alter ego was a tall woman. Why was he mimicking a small woman? Is that why he was murdered?
She placed her hand against Baron’s chest, hoping she’d feel warmth and a heartbeat, willing him to wake.
All she felt was the chill of morgue refrigeration.
She shoved her hand into her pocket. “This is my uncle, but I don’t recognize the dress.” A twittery, nervous laugh suddenly burst from her. “Of course, I haven’t been in his closet playing dress-up since I was a kid.”
“He’s a cross-dresser?” the captain asked.
“Baron didn’t strike me as the cross-dressing type,” Rhys said. “Of course, we never talked about that when we were betting on football and shooting the bull.”
She moved away from Rhys.
There’s a lot about Baron you don’t know
“Was he a cross dresser, Jordan? It would explain a few things,” the captain said.
“I always thought Baron was a man’s man.” Alexi stopped, suddenly aware her description might be taken the wrong way. “I mean, Baron was the most macho man I’d ever known. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be just like him. Strong. Capable. Able to do anything. I used to try on his hats and suit coats and pretend I was a tough guy.” She hiccupped and choked back a sob. “He’s why I became a cop.” Drawing in a shaky breath, she asked, “Do we have any idea who did this?”
The captain shook his head. “Not yet. But I promise you, we’ll find his killer. Any ideas on the dress?”
Alexi put on what she hoped was her best homicide investigative face. “Maybe the killer made him put it on. A cross-dressing fetish killer?”
Rhys grunted. “It’s too small. Besides, that doesn’t make any sense.”
Alexi fished around for some other idea. Something that might sound more reasonable than the truth she could never tell. “Maybe it has something to do with his PI work.”
“Would you check his files?” the captain asked.
She nodded. “I’ll see what I can find.”
The coroner lifted one of the dress’ torn edges. “Looks kind of Incredible Hulkish, if you ask me. Little guy becomes a big guy. Shreds the clothes.”
The captain gave him a sharp stare. “That’s fiction. Give me a better explanation.”
That’s not too far off
“Any other ideas?” the captain asked.
She shook her head. Another lie. The reason Baron dressed as a woman wasn’t as important to her as why
he had shifted as a
woman. Lifting the sheet off Baron’s left hand, she asked, “Did he have a ring on when you found him?”
“No,” the coroner said. “Whoever killed him took everything.”
A knot in her stomach threatened to double her over. She fought to stay upright.
Where was his Turning Stone ring?
“Will there be a memorial?” The coroner’s voice broke into her thoughts.
Alexi shook her head. “Baron wasn’t much for pomp and circumstance. It’s just been the two of us for years now. That’s how he’d want it to end too.”
Brushing away a tear, she stared at her uncle.
No crying. Grief is a midnight indulgence. When no one else could hear.
The coroner touched her arm gently. “I’ll take good care of him.”
“Thank you.” Alexi walked out of the morgue.
Captain Williams came alongside her. “Take the day off, Jordan. You probably won’t be good for anything today, anyway. I’ll let you know if I get any news.”
Rhys put his arm around her shoulder. “I’ll go with you.”
She shook her head. “Stay. You don’t want to miss your birthday celebration. I’ll be okay.”
“Screw the party.” Rhys pulled her to a stop and rotated her to face him, his eyes dark with sympathy. “Let me take you home.” His tone indicated he’d accept no argument.
“I need to be alone right now.” She shrugged off his hold. If he took her home, his kindness and caring embraces and sympathetic kisses would do her in. She’d succumb to his charisma. “I don’t need you hovering.” The words came out sharper than she’d intended.
Instead of reacting in kind, Rhys’ approach softened. “You’ve had a shock. You need me, Lexi.” He folded her into his arms. “You need to let it all out.”
His touch nearly undid her.
I need you more than I can ever admit.
She wiggled out of his embrace
He moved toward her again. Alexi held him at arms’ length. If he didn’t stop, she’d become a puddle of tears. And then he wouldn’t let go. He’d want to comfort her, protect her, and if she let him in that far she knew where that would eventually lead.
Even though she fought against that intimate relationship, she needed, no, wanted it from him. But, if and when they got together, she wanted something more lasting than sympathy sex.
Trying to appear angry to cover her real feelings, she snapped at him. “I don’t need you, Rhys. Nor do I need to let it all out. I need to be alone.”
“I mean it. Leave me alone.” She shot him a warning scowl and stalked off.
What she needed most right now was time to think. Baron’s death wasn’t just a shock; it was a potential time bomb, especially if she couldn’t find his ring before someone read the inscription.