Authors: Chastity Bush
The Stranger Next Door
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © 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, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
The last thing Officer Tess McCoy expects is to meet her sexy new neighbor wearing nothing but her birthday suit, but since her partner’s death six weeks before, nothing seems to go the way she plans.
Despite his incredible good looks, Tess needs to keep her distance from the sexy stranger. The last thing she needs is another complication in her life, and the man living across the street looks like he could be a very big, very sexy complication.
But her life takes a startling turn when Jack rescues her from would-be kidnappers in the dead of night. Now, she needs Jack’s help to stay safe and find out who wants her, and why.
Sparks fly high as things between them heat up, and Tess can only wonder if she’ll escape the ones attempting to kill her, only to fall victim to Jack’s killer charm.
To my husband, John, who believes in me and loves me endlessly. To our daughters, Tori and Alexis, who keep me on my toes and share my love of reading and art. And to my wonderful friends at Book Obsessed Chicks Book Club, especially Kimberly Radicy-Rocha, who pimp my books like high-class hookers. I love you all. J
“Dispatch to car twelve. Come in, car twelve. Over.”
“Car twelve here. Copy.”
“There’s a disturbance at the Quick-E-Mart on South Seventh Street. Over.”
“Roger that. We’re on it.”
Sliding the receiver back onto the hook, Tess smiled at her partner.
“About time we got a little action.” Dean grinned. “All work and no play makes Dean a dull boy.” He pressed the accelerator and sped down the street.
Tess and Dean had been best friends since childhood and partners since their first day on the force more than ten years before.
He was a typical adrenaline junkie while she was a basic hopeless romantic. How or why she’d ever become a cop, she’d never know. Perhaps it was her way of showing people she wasn’t such a goody two-shoes, which in all honesty, she didn’t believe herself to be. Just because she’d rather sit at home with her head in a book, instead of going out clubbing, didn’t mean she was prudish.
But with Dean, it didn’t matter. They knew each other better than they knew anyone else. Never a lull in conversation or a dull moment ever fell between them. Their differences ensured there was always something to discuss or something they could teach one another.
After all this time, they were more like sister and brother than partners.
“Don’t get too excited,” Tess warned him. “The last disturbance we got called to here was two ten-year-olds fighting over whether or not Tony Hawk was the greatest skateboarder of all time, remember? It ended with a bloody nose and a broken skateboard.”
Laughing, Dean shook his head. “You’re a party pooper, you know that?”
Smiling, Tess leaned back in the seat and relaxed as much as she could for the next four blocks. The clock on the dash read three in the morning, and she was bushed. Patrolling the south side wasn’t for the faint at heart. But they’d been assigned here for the night, at Dean’s suggestion, no doubt. There was nothing she could do about it, nor did she really want to. They didn’t get a lot of action on their regular patrol, and Dean went a little rigid when he didn’t get his adrenaline fix. She could live with it for one night.
“Here we are,” Dean said as he thrust the car into park. “Not a ten-year-old in sight.”
Stepping out of the car, they looked around cautiously. Trash littered the sidewalks as the wind blew around them. A stray newspaper slapped against her leg. Bending, she dusted it away.
An eerie feeling swirled in the air around her, filling her lungs like a choking smoke as she cautiously approached the store. Chalking it up to lack of sleep, Tess shook the feeling aside and shoved her hands deeper into her pockets. Now wasn’t the time to get spooked.
“Watch yourself. This isn’t exactly the good side of town,” he said, zipping his jacket.
“You’re telling me,” she murmured, pulling her jacket tight around her as she and Dean pushed through the main entrance.
A bell tinkled overhead as they entered the small corner store. Candy and novelties lined the counter on either side of the cash register and around the open space of counter reserved for customers to pay for their purchases.
“We received a call about a disturbance,” Tess said as she approached the counter where the clerk waited.
Sweat dotted the clerk’s brow. His thin form shook. He looked utterly terrified as he nodded once, curtly.
Something’s definitely not right here.
Her earlier foreboding intensified.
Meeting Dean’s eyes, she slowly placed her hand on the butt of her gun.
“Sir, is there a problem here?” Dean asked warily.
The clerk’s eyes darted behind them and then quickly back to their faces.
He was pale and sweating. It was clear to Tess the man was terrified, but of what?
The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Every instinct she possessed told her to call for backup, but she ignored her inner voice. She chalked this uneasy feeling up to the fact that she was exhausted, it was late, and she was possibly not thinking as sharp as usual.
Turning in the direction the clerk kept looking, Tess scanned the area. Everything looked fine. The shelves were filled to the brim with chips, candy, and other snacks. The floors gleamed a brilliant ivory under the bright lights. Cautiously, Tess moved deeper into the store. Something black behind one of the rear shelves caught her eye.
Drawing her gun, Tess proceeded toward the object.
A shoe, and what appeared to be a dead body, rested at the rear of the aisle. Holstering her gun, she closed the distance between herself and the body.
“Call for an ambulance!” she called out to Dean as she knelt down beside the lifeless figure. Taking in the size of the hole in the front of the man’s jacket, she braced herself for what she’d find inside.
Gathering her nerve, she ripped open the blood soaked jacket. She nearly retched.
Blood poured from a gaping hole in the young man’s chest. Skin, muscle, and bone littered the entrance wound and spattered the racks of food and the glass doors of the coolers all around her. Blood covered the floor beneath them and soaked through the legs of her uniform pants.
There was no hope for the victim. He’d sustained too much damage. His face was pale, his lips already tinged the lightest shade of blue.
“Help’s on the way,” Dean said as he knelt down beside her. “I checked the store but didn’t see anyone. I also radioed for backup and an ambulance.”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing they can do now,” she said, showing Dean the gaping wound before closing the jacket back over it.
“Damn, he’s gone.” Dean shook his head.
“Did you get anything from the clerk?” Tess searched the pockets, looking over the dead body for identification.
“All he said was a couple of guys came in here and started to argue. After he called the cops, one shot the other, then ran out the back. He didn’t kno—Tess get down!”
The impact of Dean’s body slamming her to the floor knocked the air out of her as a single gunshot ripped through the silence. The sound of running footfalls and approaching sirens reached her ears as the bells on the entrance door chimed. Whoever shot at them had escaped through the front door.
“Come on, buddy, get off me; he’s getting away,” she said, trying to catch her breath. Dean was a lot heavier than he appeared.
Again, she pushed at his chest but Dean wouldn’t move.
“Come on Dean, he’s gone. Get up,” she urged again, pushing at his large body, but still he remained a dead weight on her back.
Something warm and sticky slid down the inside of her collar and dribbled down her neck and chest. Prying one of her arms out from between their bodies, she reached up and touched the warm liquid. Pulling her hand back, she trembled.
Thick, red blood, mixed with something else she couldn’t identify, coated her fingers, running into the palm of her hand and down her forearm.
“Dean?” she said in a panic as she wiggled around. Struggling from beneath him, she rolled him onto his back and immediately spotted the hole in his forehead.
Screaming, she shook his shoulders.
“No, please, no! Wake up, Dean! Wake up!”
Once again, the bells on the front door chimed and a stream of shouts and curses filled the air.
“Get her away from the body; she’s in shock!” someone yelled over the sound of incessant screaming … her screaming.
A pair of strong hands clamped her upper arms.
“Stop it, he’s gone, McCoy! There’s nothing you can do! He’s gone!” a voice blared in her ears before crushing her against a hard chest, wrapping her, holding her with strong arms.
Gone? Dean’s gone?
The world stilled around her. Everything and everyone froze. No one moved or made a sound. It was as if she were in a movie and someone had hit the pause button. Nothing existed, besides her and her best friend’s bloody corpse.
The paramedics rolled in a gurney. Sirens, screams and orders were shouted, echoing around. Everything wavered before her eyes, then darkness assailed her.
Ever since the shooting, everything around her seemed to move in slow motion. Even now, as she stood beside Dean’s father, Roman Camillo, she couldn’t get a grip on the exact reason why they, along with her fellow officers, were dressed in uniform and standing in the middle of a cemetery.
Guilt, heavy and searing hot, settled within her. If not for her, Dean would still be alive. She’d not only lost her best friend, she’d cost a wife her husband, and a father his son.
Tears gathered in her eyes, not only from the emptiness inside her heart, but also from the scathing rumors. Apparently, she and Dean’s close relationship was ample fodder to suggest they were more than partners, more than just friends.
How people could discuss such nonsense at a time like this not only puzzled her but angered her as well. Didn’t they care about the friend they’d just lost? The one currently lying lifeless in the box before them?
A steady hand rested on her shoulders as Roman pulled her against his side.
“It’s going to be all right,” he whispered next to her ear in a voice void of all emotion.
Blinking up at him quickly, she nodded before facing forward once again, trying to ignore the looks and whispers coming from the other officers and the hate-filled glare boring into her, courtesy of Dean’s wife, Melanie. Correction, Dean’s widow, Melanie.
Tess listened with a deaf ear as the minister droned on and on about forgiveness and eternal life. She wished he would finish soon. She didn’t know how much more she could take.
A slight movement to her left caught her attention.
Turning her head, she watched as a man dressed completely in black whispered something in Roman’s ear. Roman nodded and squeezed her shoulders a little tighter. The expression on his face as he whispered something back to the other man gave her pause.
His lack of emotion, of tears, for his only son hadn’t bothered her. She’d known Roman her entire life. He wasn’t one to show emotion, but what did rouse her curiosity was the look of anger he cast upon the messenger.
Roman caught her gaze, and his expression softened. “Everything’s all right,” he repeated, urging her attention back to the minister as he finally wrapped up his service.
* * * *
“This is all your fault.”
Turning away from her friend, Patrice, Tess came face-to-face with Melanie Camillo.
She’d known this confrontation was coming and had done everything in her power to prevent it, but Melanie had been relentless. Now, back at Roman’s house for the wake, Tess had no other choice but to face the irate widow.
“I know,” Tess agreed.
“And you’re just going to stand there and act like it’s all right you got my husband killed? Everyone knows you two were more than partners, and you have the balls to show up here and disrespect me like this?”
Tess held up a hand to stop Melanie’s rant. “Dean and I have never been anything more than friends and partners. If I could trade places with him, I’d be in that box, not him.”
“You’re nothing but a whore in uniform!” Melanie bellowed as she jabbed a finger into Tess’s chest. “Maybe if you’d kept your pants on, he’d still be alive right now. God knows all he ever worried about was protecting your sorry little ass.”
Tess had taken all she could, and now, after the longest week of her life, her temper was too far gone for her to even attempt to control it. “If I were you, I’d watch what I said. Everyone knows you weren’t faithful. Hell, you’ve been screwing half the police force since before you and Dean married.”
Melanie gasped in horror, but Tess forged on. “And stop acting like you’re some poor mistreated, misguided wife. Not one person, including Dean, thought you gave a damn about him. Your marriage was nothing but a sham. You faked a pregnancy to wiggle your way into his pocketbook, and I still can’t believe you succeeded.”
Melanie slapped her, hard.
Roman rushed forward and stood between them. “Melanie, I think you should leave.”
“You’re asking me to leave? I’m your son’s wife. I'm family, and you're asking me to leave, but you’re letting her stay?”
“Can you tell me one thing Tess said that was a lie, Melanie?”
Tess stood as still as a stone as Melanie peered around her, her cheeks stained with an embarrassed blush before she replied in a low tone, “You’ll regret this, you little whore. Mark my words; you’ll regret ever crossing me.” Turning, Melanie stomped through the door and out of sight.
Tess felt a blush of her own rise on her cheeks as she noted everyone staring wide-eyed at her. Things would never be the same. Not in her personal life, and not in her career, because everyone had their own opinion of what had really gone on between her and Dean. Roman kissed her on the forehead, as he had done for as long as she could remember. “Don’t worry about what she said. You know what you said was true.”
“I know—” she nodded wearily, “—but I didn’t have to stoop to her level and actually say it. I feel no better for it.”
Roman smiled. “You could never be as rotten as she is.”
Tess smiled, but the smile faded as Roman became serious.
“You don’t know it yet, but Dean left you a large amount of money through a life insurance policy. Only he and I knew about it.”
Tess gaped with surprise. “What? Why would he do that?”
“He wanted to make sure you were taken care of if anything happened to him. He loved you like a little sister and was always worried about what would happen to you if something were to happen to him. I assured him I’d take care of you, but he wouldn’t have it. He said he needed to know he didn’t leave you with nothing.”
Tess shook her head with amazement.
“Now, Tess, I want you to do something,” Roman said quietly.
“I know your aversion to banks, but I want you to consider putting the money in one instead of that safe of yours. It’d be a lot safer.”
Between Tess’s distrust of banks, instilled in her by her grandmother who’d survived the Great Depression, and her inability to keep a checkbook accurately, she didn’t see the sense in opening an account. It’d be nothing but a huge hassle. Besides, she had a perfectly good safe at home, and the thought of someone handling her funds just didn’t appeal to her.
“I appreciate your concern, Roman, but I'm really not comfortable with a bank.”
Roman frowned. “Just promise me you’ll think about it. This policy isn’t small, and keeping that kind of cash about is more than a little unsafe.”
Tess smiled and nodded. She’d think about it, but it didn’t mean she’d do as he asked.
Just then, another man she recognized as one of Roman’s security guards approached. This was nothing new to Tess. For as long as she could remember, Roman had employed guards. He was beyond wealthy, and she figured it explained why he was so tight on the matter of his family’s safety.
The man whispered in his ear, and Roman nodded. The guard hurried away at a quick clip.
“Something’s come up. I have to go. You going to be all right?”
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him.
“You know that if you need anything you can come to me, right?”
Tess nodded. Since her parents’ death when she was ten, and she’d moved in with her elderly grandmother, the Camilla’s had been her family, taking care of her as though she were their own. It’d been much to her grandmother’s relief, as she was too old to care for her properly, but had little choice because there was nobody else to take care of her. Even now, Roman treated her as though she were his own daughter, and she returned his familial affection.
He gave her one last squeeze then turned and strode away.
Tess watched for a long moment until he disappeared from sight.
Turning, Tess spotted Lieutenant Danny Holdings.
“I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose Marty.”
Tess nodded. She and Danny had been friends for as long as she’d been on the force. He possessed a kind smile and handsome face with bright blue eyes, long black lashes, a square jaw, and firm, full lips. A handsome man, but Tess had never had anything but a friendly emotion for him.
“Marty’s a great guy,” she agreed. “You’re lucky to have him watching your back.”
“You coming back to work soon?”
“No. I’ve already talked to the captain. I think I need a little time before I come back.”
“I know what you mean.” He nodded with understanding. “But I hope to see you again soon. You're a good cop, Tess.”
With a gentle squeeze of her shoulder, he turned and walked away.
Taking a look around her, Tess couldn’t help but feel as though everyone were watching her. She knew she was being paranoid, but the feeling was still there.
“You look ready to bolt.”
Looking at her friend, Patrice Monroe, she admitted it. “I am.”
“Then let’s get the hell out of here. If one more person looks at us like we’re lepers, I’m going to lose it. What’s the deal with some of these folks?”
They’re gossiping bastards, that’s what.
With a nod and a sigh of relief, Tess grabbed her handbag and followed her friend out the door.