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It was just too damn much to handle at the same time, Detective Kyle O'Brien thought as he walked out of his lieutenant's office.
His late mother used to be fond of saying that God never gave you more than you could handle. Obviously, this had to be the new, improved God heaping all this on him. Either that, or his mother wasn't really as close to the Man upstairs as she thought. All this was more than he could put up with at one time.
It had been hard enough dealing with his mother's recent death without finding out that she had lied to him, to his brother and to his sister for the last twenty-five years.
All of their lives.
Their father hadn't been a Marine who had died overseas for his country. Their biological father had actually been the late, malcontented Mike Cavanaugh, a police detective who had never married their mother because he already had a wife and family. From what Kyle had managed to gather, unlike his older brother Andrew and his younger brother Brianboth high-ranking officials on the Aurora police forceMike Cavanaugh selfishly preferred the company of a bottle to that of anyone around him.
The revelation, made by his mother on her deathbed, had hit Kyle like the full swing of a sledgehammer right to his gut. What made it even worse was that they were the last words his mother uttered.
Angry at the immediate world and feeling deprived of his mother and the illusion of the father he'd thought he had and his very identity, Kyle had gone storming over to Andrew Cavanaugh's house to confront the former chief of police with this information.
At the time, Kyle had believed that everyone else in the vast Cavanaugh clan hadknown about Mike's indiscretions. As it turned out, Andrew Cavanaugh and the rest of the family were just as stunned by this latest twist as he and his siblings were.
None of the Cavanaughs were angered by this information, and he, Ethan and Greer suddenly found themselves welcomed into the family with open arms.
Well, almost everyone. It had taken Mike Cavanaugh's son, Patrick, a little while to come around.
But eventuallythanks to his wife and his sisterhe had. The whole of the Cavanaughs had come around a great deal faster than he, Ethan and Greer had. Barely two months later, Greer was still a little in shock but coping. As for Ethan, he seemed to be acclimating to the reality of who his father was.
Funny, when you're part of triplets, you expect the other two-thirds to feel exactly the same way as you do. He supposed he couldn't fault them and in a way, he envied Ethan and Greer the peace that seemed to be coming into their lives.
But here he was, still trying to work through his hurt, his anger and his confusion, not to mention his grief. And if that wasn't enough on his plate, his partner up and quit the force.
Oh, he hadn't called it quitting. Eric Castle called what he was doing retiring, saying something about wanting to enjoy his life before his luck ran out. Whatever the hell he chose to call it, it felt like desertion.
Castle had been his first and only partner and he'd worked out a system with the older detective. One that served him pretty well. Now he was supposed to just skip off happily into some other partnership? With a Cheshire cat?
That was apparently what the lieutenant thought when he'd called him into his office.
Kyle sighed. He should have known something was up when he walked in and saw the woman sitting there in front of Lieutenant Barone's desk. A petite, pretty blonde, with lively blue eyes and a mouth that kept pulling into a smile as easily as she drew breath. Also as often. At first glance, he'd just assumed she was a friend of the lieutenant's. Maybe even his daughter, given the age spread.
The last thing she could be was his new partner. But then, he hadn't noticed the telltale bulge of her weapon.
His new partner.
The words stuck in his throat the first time he tried to repeat them. Finally, he managed to ask, his voice low, the words coming out almost on a growl, "You're replacing Castle?"
By the tolerant smile on the lieutenant's face, it was obvious that he'd expected resistance and had decided to be amused by it rather than annoyed. "Well, given that the man's on his way to Lake Arrowhead " The indulgent smile widened as the lieutenant cocked his head, as if he was trying to read him. "Did you miss Castle's retirement party? Wasn't that you I saw giving the toast?" he prodded.
Kyle blew out an angry breath, but kept his expression blank. "Yeah, I know he's retired. I just thought you were going to let me go it alone for a while."
"I was," the lieutenant replied. "I believe my exact words were, 'You can go it alone until I can find you another partner.' And I did." He gestured toward the young woman in the other chair. "Detective Rosetti," he emphasized.
Kyle kept his unfathomable eyes on the lieutenant. "It's only been a week."
Barone inclined his head. "So it has. I didn't want you to get too used to being on your own. You need someone to watch your back." There was no arguing with the lieutenant's tone. "Rosetti's a transfer from the Oakland PD. As luck would have it, she's from the homicide division, so there won't be a breaking-in period." He ended with a smile aimed at the young woman.
"As luck would have it," Kyle murmured under his breath.
Right now, he wasn't feeling particularly lucky. Just the opposite. He didn't have the time or the inclination to babysit a novice, no matter what Barone claimed. The woman couldn't possibly be a seasoned detective. Not with that face.
A glimmer of Barone's temper surfaced. He tolerated a little stubbornness, but only for so long. "Look, it's not as if we're some bed-and-breakfast township where arguments are resolved by going, rock, paper, scissors. People have hot tempers here and they kill each other. We need all the good menand women," Barone amended, nodding his head at the new detective by way of a semi-apology for his near oversight, "we can get. Am I right?" he asked Kyle.
He knew there was no fighting this. "Yes, sir, you're always right."
Barone nodded his head. "Good of you to remember that. All right, I'll leave it up to you to show Detective Rosetti her desk and introduce her around to the others." Barone was already turning his attention to the next matter on his desk.
"Right." Kyle eyed his superior. "Is that all, sir?"
There was humor in the brown eyes when they looked up at Kyle. "For now," the lieutenant allowed.
Kyle turned on his heel and walked out. By the rustling noise behind him, he knew that his new albatross was shadowing his tracks.
"It's Jaren," he heard her call after him.
Kyle stopped, and turned around. The woman stopped an inch short of colliding into him. "What's Jaren?"
"My first name," she told him cheerfully. "You didn't ask."
"No, I didn't."
Because he didn't care. He'd been working with Castle for three months before he learned the man's first name. Things like that weren't necessary to do a good job. He wasn't looking for a relationship or a friendship, he was just looking to execute his job to the best of his abilities. Knowing her first name didn't figure into that.
Looking just a little at a loss as to how to read him, Jaren said, "So, now you know."
"Now I know," he echoed, his voice utterly emotionless.
Her eyes met his. He could swear he saw a bevy of questions forming and multiplying. It was like looking into a kaleidoscope as it rolled down a hill. "Can I know yours?"
Several retorts came to his lips and then slipped away. It wasn't her fault that he'd been saddled with her, he argued. Wasn't her fault that his mother had lied to him, and then chosen not to go to her grave with the secret that he and his siblings were bastards, fathered by a man who didn't care enough to form any sort of relationship with them, or their mother. Wasn't even her fault that his partner had left the force, leaving him exposed for just this sort of thing.
But damn, the perky little blonde was the only one here and he had no place else at the moment to discharge his temper.
"It's Kyle," he finally said. "LookRosetti is it?" Her eyes still holding his, she nodded. "You'd better know this up front. I've got my own way of getting things done."
Her smile was more amused than anything else. Why did that annoy him?
"I kind of figured that out. Don't worry, I won't get in your way, Kyle," she promised, her voice so cheerful it instantly grated on his nerves. "I'm just here to do my job, same as you."
He sincerely doubted that. Rosetti didn't suddenly have a name to live up to, didn't have to prove that she was every bit as good as the others who legitimately bore the name of Cavanaugh. He was no one's poor relation and the only way he could show his newfound family that he was just as good as they were was by being faster, better, smarter than all of them.
Hell of a tall order considering that the other Cava-naughs on the forcepractically an army of them were all top-notch cops, every last one of them. Still, he swore in his heart he was more than up to the challenge.
He and his brother and sister were up to the challenge, Kyle amended. Sometimes he tended to forget that he didn't need to feel as if he was the leader of the group. Just because he'd been born a full five minutes first didn't mean that he was the big brother. He'd always felt as if he was the protective one, the one who had to take care of everything for his siblings and his widowed mother.
Widowed. What a crock, he silently jeered, his heart hurting even as he did so.
Why the hell didn't you trust us enough to tell us the truth when we were kids, Ma? Why build up a legend for a man who never even existed? Was it to make us feel better? Or did you make up those lies to make yourself feel better?
He had no answer, only anger.
Kyle realized that his so-called new partner was looking at him as if she was waiting for an answer to something.
"What?" he snapped out impatiently.
They were out in the squad room and without thinking, he'd walked over to his own desk. Castle's had faced his. The surface was wiped clean. Hadn't been that clean since the first day he'd walked into this room.
"Is this my desk?" Jaren asked. There was no sign of impatience in her voice.
What was she, a robot? Just what he needed, someone who was always sunny. "That was Castle's desk," he answered.
"Your old partner."
It wasn't a guess. Jaren had done her homework. She always did. As bright and chipper as a cartoon character, she knew that people tended to underestimate her, and initially assumed that she probably had the IQ of a freshly laundered pink sock. Not wanting to surrender her natural personality and force herself to appear more somber than she was, she worked hard to negate that impression in other ways.
One of those ways was to be a walking encyclopedia on a great many subjects. The other was to be the best damn detective she could. This included being up on almost everything, including weapon proficiency. She mentioned none of this, preferring to surprise her detractors with displays when they were called for. It usually put them in their place after the first couple of times or so.
O'Brien, she decided, was going to take a bit of work.
"Yeah," Kyle answered grudgingly. "My old partner."
It wasn't that he felt lost without the older man, who'd been a decent mentor. It was just that Castle understood that he liked to keep his own counsel unless he had something important to say. Silence was a great part of their working relationship.
This one struck him as someone who only stopped talking if her head was held under water. And maybe not even then.
She nodded her head, curly, dark blond hair bobbing. "Then I guess that makes it mine."
"For now," he qualified. Despite what he'd said to the lieutenant, he was still very far from committed to this so-called partnership.
Her smile made him think of a mother indulging her child's fantasy. But only so far.
"I'm not going anywhere," she informed him pleasantly. "Unless, of course, they decide to move us. En masse."
He grunted in response as he took his seat. Hitting a few keys, he appeared absorbed by what he saw on his monitor. His question took her by surprise, especially since she didn't think he asked questions, not of the people he worked with. She'd heard he was a pretty terrific detective, though, and she was hoping to learn something from him.
"Why'd you leave Oakland?"
"Personal reasons." When he merely nodded at her answer, Jaren asked, "Don't you want to know what they were?"
His eyes answered her before his words did. "Not particularly. Someone says something's personal, I figure they want to keep it that way."
She shook her head, allowing a small laugh to escape. It almost sounded lyrical. She would have a melodic laugh, he thought darkly. They'd hooked him up with a wood nymph.
"No, I was just labeling them. Personal as opposed to professional." Then, before he could cut her off, she filled him inwhether or not he wanted her to, she thought. "I left because my father died, and there was suddenly nothing left for me in Oakland. I have no family," she confided. "So, I sold my house and applied for a job down here."
I've got too much family, he thought. Want some of mine? Out loud he asked, "You're kind of young to be a detective, aren't you?"