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The abrupt ring of the telephone didn't wake her.
Despite the fact that she'd gone to bed more than an hour ago, she was still awake. Tense.
Waiting to have the last fragments of serenity wrenched from her. Again. It had been happening more and more frequently. The middle-of-the-night phone calls shattering her peace of mind.
She supposed that she could have closed off the landline, muting the ringer so that when the call came, it wouldn't register, wouldn't cause her heart to race.
But she couldn't shut the phone. She didn't have that luxury because if one of her children called, if she shut off the phone, she wouldn't be able to take the call. She didn't want to worry them, making them wonder why she wasn't home at this hour or wasn't answering her phone.
Or they could need her. All four of them, Zack, Taylor, Riley and even Frank, were on the force as she had been.
As their late father had been.
She would never be able to forgive herself if she missed a life-and-death call just because some phantom nutcase seemed bent on spooking her.
Sitting up, Lila McIntyre turned on the lamp and squinted at the light's harsh intrusion. Over in the corner, Duchess, her ten-year-old German shepherd, picked up her head as if to ask, "What's wrong?"
"Go back to sleep," she told the dog, but Duchess kept on eyeing the ringing phone. And wouldn't stop until she answered it.
Edgy, Lila felt like throwing the phone across the room instead of picking up the receiver. With effort, she made herself calm down. Whoever was on the other end of the line wanted her to lose control. If she gave in to a fit of temper, she'd be playing into his hands, doing exactly what he wanted her to do.
Lila looked at the phone's LCD screen. All it told her was that the incoming call was "out-of-area." No number, no hint.
Whoever it was was playing mind games, she thought. But why? Nothing came to her.
Maybe it was just a nut job, pure and simple. It was the most plausible explanation, but her intuition told her no.
Drawing in a long breath, Lila snatched up the receiver and pressed it to her ear. The very act made her shiver.
"Hello?" she snapped. It wasn't a greeting, but a demand. A demand for a reply.
There was no answer on the other end of the line. Only the faint sound of someone breathing. Someone listening to the sound of her voice while keeping his own a secret.
What do you want from me? she asked silently. Out loud, she did her best to sound bored. "You know, this isn't funny anymore. I can have this traced and when I find out who you are, there are going to be consequences. Consequences you're not going to like." Lila looked down and saw that she had dug her nails into the comforter, gathering it into a wad. She released itbut wasn't able to do the same with the tension that rode roughshod over her. "So why don't you do yourself a favor and stop acting like an eight-year-old?"
There was no response, just another soft breath drawn in and exhaled. And then came a "click" in her ear. The caller was gone.
Lila sat there, holding the receiver, annoyed with herself. Annoyed because she was allowing this jerk to get to her.
"If you'd like to place a call "
Lila jumped as the metallic female voice instructed her to dial again. With a muffled curse, she threw the receiver into the cradle. The recording was abruptly silenced.
Her hand shook as she dragged it through tousled honey-blond hair.
It was the twenty-first call.
By definition, a peace officer should like peace. Despite the fact that he had risen up through the ranks and was now the chief of detectives, a position he had held for quite some time, Brian Cavanaugh still considered himself a peace officer.
A peace officer who hated peace and quiet.
Oh, he didn't hate it on the streets of Aurora, a city that he and rather a large portion of his family patrolled and thought of as their own. The peace on the streets was something he took exceptional pride in. Maintaining it was what he was all aboutprofessionally. The peace and quiet he hated was the type that assaulted him when he first opened his eyes in the morning. The kind that slapped him across the face when he walked through the front door of his house every evening.
Not all that long ago, that same house rang with the sounds of voices, as likely as not raised either in laughter or in frustrated fits of temper that dissolved as quickly as they materialized. The voices of his wife and his children, three boys and a girl.
An amused smile curved his mouth. He could just hear their response to that. They wouldn't have taken kindly to being referred to as children. They saw themselves asand wereadults. Three men and a womanall of whom would always be his children long after they traded in their service revolvers and law books for canes.
Troy, Jared, Dax and Janelle were all married now and Susan, his wife, had died by her own hand several years ago. Leaving him with a whole lot of empty space. What had once been a home had become a house where he laundered his clothes, slept and, on occasion, ate.
Most of the time, though, he took his meals either at his desk or at Andrew's, his older brother's house. Andrew was a veritable Houdini when it came to pulling food out of the air. No matter how many faces popped up at the extended table that Andrew had had specially made, a table that could sit twenty-six, Andrew always seemed to have enough food to feed everyone. And there was always enough left over for seconds and possibly thirds.
Andrew's hospitality was legendary and family was all important to him.
It was all important to all of them, Brian thought now as he closed a folder on his desk. He'd just never realized how much it meant to him until he'd walked down the aisle and given Janelle away, then returned home after the reception.
And woken up the following morning to absolutely nothing. No noise, no sounds of a door being opened and shut, nothing. Nothing but all-enshrouding peace and quiet.
And damn, but he hated it. "Don't you ever go home anymore?"
The soft query caught him off guard. He hadn't been looking toward the entrance to his office. Instead his attention had been fixed on the portal that led him to the past. Remembering times when his life was so full he hadn't had two seconds to rub together. That was when his kids were younger, all still living at home, and Susanwell, there was no getting away from it. Susan had been waning, even then.
It had been a draining juggling act, working on the force and standing guard on the home front, making sure that no one suspected the deep bouts of depression that Susan battled. He thought it would be detrimental for his children to know the depths to which their mother could sink. He was fairly certain he was successful in his efforts, that no one suspected how bad Susan was.
No one except for him and Andrew, who always seemed to know everything. And, of course, Susan, who, when she managed to rise above the leaden blanket that would eventually smother her, would look at him with those brown eyes of hers and silently ask, "Why?"
He had no answer. No one did. No one knew why she would periodically drift away mentally. Her returns grew fewer and fewer as well as shorter and shorter. Until one day she was gone altogether, body and mind. That was the day she committed suicide, leaving a note that said she was sorry, but she couldn't help herself.
It was a sense of family that kept him going then. That and his duty to the city where he and his brothers, and then his children, nieces and nephews were born. The city that they now served.
Seeing the slim, blond-haired woman in the doorway took him back, as well. Back to the days when he was a homicide detective. And Lila McIntyre was his partner.
"Damn best partner anyone had ever had," he'd told her more than once.
And he'd meant it.
A multitude of emotions tangoed through his mind, dominated by the almost sickening fear he'd felt that night he'd had Lila's blood seeping through the spaces between his fingers as he pressed down for all he was worth on the hole a bullet had torn in her side.
"Nothing to go home for anymore," he answered simply. Brian placed the folder in his top drawer, then shut it. "My family's grown and off making families of their own. Just the four walls and me now."
Lila came a little closer, smiling that smile he'd once been able to read so well. The bittersweet one that used to make him ache inside for reasons he would never allow himself to dwell on.
"You need a dog," she told him. "Duchess was a great help after " Her voice trailed off, the smile intensified. "After," Lila repeated with a sigh, making no effort to finish the thought.
They both knew what she was not saying. After Ben had been killed. That had been over three years ago. Ben McIntyre had been another detective on the force. Unlike either of them, he had worked in the vice squad. Ben had been a victim of a drug bust gone bad or his own greed, depending on who you spoke to.
It was the latter theory that had been shadowing Lila and her four children these last few years. Causing them grief. But Ben was gone either way and she had managed to soldier on, continuing to work at the precinct, her head always held high.
He'd always thought of her as a magnificent woman.
He'd always thought of her, even when he shouldn't have.
Brian looked at her now, thinking that Lila bore no visible scars of what she'd gone through. She still looked exactly like the young woman he'd been paired up with almost fourteen years ago. He couldn't help comparing her to Susan, to how differently the two women bore up to things.
Lila's life had been hardfew thought she would survive the wound that took her away from active dutyand yet here she was, still young and vibrant. In comparison, Susan had had almost everything she wanted and yet somehow that had never been enough. His wife had allowed life to leave ravaging marks on her until she finally just faded from existence.
Not fair, he upbraided himself. Susan was your wife, where's your loyalty?
He had no answer to his own silent question. What he did have was a fair amount of guilt for even allowing his thoughts to succumb to this contest of mentally weighing and measuring between the two women.
There was no point to this. The past was gone and nothing could ever change that.
Brian focused his attention on the here and now. On the woman standing near his desk. Everyone else from the day shift had long since gone home. The Lila he remembered never did anything without a reason. Their paths, whether by design or by happenstance, hadn't crossed for a long time. Why now? What was she doing here when by all rights she should have been home?
"So what brings you here?" Brian asked, doing his best to bank down the awkwardness that came from losing touch with an old friend.
"Same old Brian." Her smile lost some of its bittersweetness, replaced by a broad ribbon of amusement.
"Nice to know that some things don't change. You always did get right to the point."
He laughed. He'd never been very good at small talk. As he recalled, neither had she. "Must have been the company I kept." He looked at her for a long moment. Something was bothering her. Did it have to do with one of her kids? "You were never known for beating around the bush, either."
Lila inclined her head, honey-blond bangs falling into her blue eyes. She moved them impatiently out of the way.
"Touché." She glanced at the chair that stood before his desk and nodded toward it. "May I sit?"
He gestured for her to do just that. "You don't have to ask. We are friends, remember?"
In a fluid motion, Lila slid onto the chair. Her figure was still fighting trim even though she spent her days behind a desk now. From a distance, she could have been mistaken for one of her daughters. All four of the McIntyre offspring were here, on the force, all bravely ignoring the hail of insinuations and slurs regarding their father's character until it had finally run its course.
Though he'd never really liked Ben McIntyre, he had come to the man's posthumous defense. There was not enough proof to convict Ben or Dean Walker, his dead partner, of the whispered accusations. Brian was a firm believer in the "innocent until proven guilty" aspect of the law no matter what his personal feelings might be. Shortly before Ben's death, the man had accused him of sleeping with Lila.
Susan had voiced the same accusations, but in Susan's case, her insecurities and demons put words into her mouth. In Ben's case, it was just unfounded jealousy. Even so, Brian wouldn't allow that to dictate his feelings about Ben's complicity in the missing drug money. Just because Ben was a poor excuse for a human being didn't mean he was a dirty cop, as well. And thus far, there wasn't enough evidence to convict him or absolve him.
"Yes, we are," Lila was saying. "Friends." Banking down a sigh, Lila raised her eyes to his. She had no idea where to start, how to phrase this without sounding like some old woman who habitu-
ally checked beneath her bed each night for intruders before going to sleep.
She knotted her fingers together in her lap, searching for the right words.
Brian frowned slightly. Her body language spoke of feelings that seemed the total antithesis of the woman he'd once known. Known her as well as he'd known himself.
"Are you nervous, Lila?"