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Detective Kendra Cavelli remembered reading somewhere that life was a series of leavings. At the time, she'd thought this was a very pessimistic point of view. But, she realized now, she'd been a lot younger and full of hope then.
Granted, no one would consider her old by any standards, except for maybe when measured against the life cycle of an everyday fruit fly. But the truth of it was, these days she felt a great deal older than what the age indicated on her birth certificate.
And who knew? Maybe the year that was written down wasn't as accurate as she'd once thought. Certainly the last name had turned out not to be.
She'd spent more than twenty-six years thinking she was a Cavelli, only to be told that she wasn't, that she and her brothers and sisters were actually Cavanaughs because her father was really a Cavanaugh. Thanks to a distraught maternity nurse who had been enveloped in grief the day her father and the real Cavelli baby were born, the two infants had accidentally been switched before either was a day old.
Former police chief Andrew Cavanaugh had done some research into the matter once it had come to light. It seemed that a nurse on the maternity floor, a Jane Allen, had just been told that her fiance, Private First Class Wade Johnson, had been killed in some unnamed battle halfway around the world. Grief-stricken, Jane had gone through the paces of her job, utterly dazed and confused.
And because of that, Kendra's father and his subsequent offspring had lost their identities. Her father was taken home by the Cavellis while the real Sean Cavelli had been claimed by Seamus Cavanaugh and his wife.
And now, several months into what she and her siblings referred to as the "great revelation," she was still having trouble centering herself. She felt trapped between the past she'd thought was hers and the completely new present that loomed before her.
Maybe she'd have less trouble adapting, Kendra thought now as she cut across the hall of the second floor of One Police Plaza, if this name thing had not been tangled up with the loss of her own fiance and now, on top of that, the sudden exit of her partner.
The first had all but destroyed her when he had deliberately blown himself away to the next world, and the second had just recentlyand voluntarilyretired. The upshot was that both had left her to deal with things as best she could on her own.
She doubted that either one of them had given her so much as a thought when making their final decision. God knew that Jason hadn't because if he had, he'd still be alive today. And they'd be married.
Instead, here she was, feeling incredibly isolated and alone. Alone even though her immediate family, counting her father, Sean, and her brothers and sisters, came to a grand total of seven peopleplus her. At this point, Kendra didn't know if she was even allowed to count the family members she was no longer actually related to.
As for the "family" she was suddenly supposed to be part of, she hadn't gotten around to doing a successful head count there. All she knew was that, when gathered together, they could probably fill up half a stadium. God knew they filled a great deal of the Aurora Police Department, of which she was a proud part.
At least that hadn't changed.
At least, she now amended silently, she assumed that wouldn't change, even though she'd just been summoned by the chief of detectives, Brian Cavanaugh, who, along with the former chief of police, was one of her two "newfound" uncles.
Walking into the chief of detectives' outer office, she stopped at the desk positioned just in front of the door to the man's inner sanctum.
The entrance was guarded by a very capable-looking young woman in her late thirties. As Kendra crossed to her desk, the woman raised her eyes to Kendra's and quietly waited for her to say something.
"Detective Kendra CavelCavan" Kendra stumbled, not having decided which name she was going to use now that she was aware of the whole story. It wasn't as easy a decision as some might have thought.
Thomas and Bridget had already both opted to go with Cavanaugh, as had her father, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to abandon the name she'd used for more than a quarter of a century.
The decision to do so was particularly difficult for her in light of the fact that she already felt as if she had been abandoned. If she abandoned her name and the people she'd once regarded as family, what did that say about her?
Tabling her unsettling thoughts for a moment, Ken-dra said, "I'm here to see Chief Cavanaugh."
Lt. Reta Richards, the chief's administrative assistant for over ten years, smiled at her and nodded knowingly, as if she understood and sympathized with the dilemma Kendra was facing these days.
"The chief is on the phone right now," the lieutenant told her. "But he said to tell you that he'll see you as soon as he's through. Please have a seat." She indicated the chairs to the right against the opposite wall. "It shouldn't be long."
With a preoccupied nod, Kendra crossed to the chairs and took a seat.
That was when she noticed that she wasn't the only one waiting to see the chief of detectives. Occupying one of the other chairs was a tall, dark-haired, strikingly handsome man who despite his athletic build seemed to fill the room with his presence.
Making eye contact with her, the room's other occupant flashed her an easy smile. The kind of smile that said he was comfortable in his own skin and welcomed visitors regularly.
Kendra was well acquainted with the type. Not a serious thought in his head, except for having fun. Her engagement to Jason had rescued her from men like that.
Or so she'd thought at the time.
Instead, her engagement to the late firefighter had introduced her to a world of devastating grief and heartache.
She nodded absently at the man, acknowledging his silent greeting, and then took her seat. She was not about to start a conversation with him; she fixed her eyes on the inner door.
Kendra was torn between hoping the chief's door would open immediately, separating her from the possibility of having to make small talk with a man she didn't know who most likely just wanted a receptive audience, and hoping that Brian Cavanaugh would take his time getting to her because she had no idea what to expect.
The problem was, she had trouble waiting. Her father had commented affectionately, more than once, that she was not one of his more patient children.
It was hard not to shift restlessly in her seat. The man to her right occupied his chair as if he didn't have a care in the world. And when he smiled at her, all it seemed to do was increase her restlessness, although she couldn't explain why.
As it turned out, Kendra didn't have all that long to wait. Less than five minutes later, Reta saw the light go out on the phone's multiline keyboard and looked up. "The chief will see you now."
Since there were two of them and the lieutenant hadn't specified which of them she was speaking to, Kendra heard herself asking, "Which one?"
"Why, both of you," Reta replied pleasantly.
The man to her right was already on his feet. God but he was tall, Kendra thought as she rose from her chair. He had to be almost a foot taller than she was and she stood close to five-seven in her stacked heels.
For some reason she couldn't pinpoint, she felt a strange ripple of foreboding in her stomach.
She had a bad feeling about this.
Kendra walked in first, whether because she was just a little faster, or because of some latent gallantry on the man's part, she wasn't quite certain. Not that it mattered all that much, she supposed. What mattered was why she'd been sent for in the first place.
Old-school all the way, Brian Cavanaugh rose from his chair and leaned forward over his desk. He shook Kendra's hand warmly, as if they had known each other all her life instead of just a little while.
Oh, she'd known of him, and the chief had been the one to give her her gold shield at the ceremony when she'd been made a detective just shortly after she'd become engaged. But she hadn't actually known him until the "great mixup" had come to light. After that, there had been a slew of miscellaneous invitationsboth for actual occasions and for no reason at allto attend family gatherings, usually at retired police chief Andrew Cavanaugh's house, but not always.
Not everyone attended each gathering, but she'd seen the chief at these unofficial parties often enough. He'd worn the very same smile then as he was wearing now. Did that mean that she should relax?
Or was he just trying to soften the blow that was about to come?
She'd been born suspicious and while that was helpful in her line of investigative work, it did wreak havoc on her personal life.
"How's everything going, Kendra?" the chief asked her as he silently indicated the chair to the left of his desk.
By everything, she assumed he meant work. Her partner had retired two weeks ago and she was alternating between missing the man's grumpy countenance and being summarily angry at him for his abrupt retirement. Never mind that Det. Joe Walsh was approaching almost seventy and had well earned this retirement. The widower had led her to believe that he was planning to work forever. She'd allowed herself to get comfortable with the idea that she could count on seeing Joe's hangdog frown facing her each morning across their desks.
"I'm managing," she answered in a pleasant voice that neither confirmed nor denied her statement. Until she knew what was going on, her guard was going to remain up.
"And you, Detective Abilene?" Brian asked, looking at the tall, rangy man who'd stretched his long legs out before him the moment he'd sat down.
From this angle, the man seemed to be all leg, Ken-dra caught herself thinking.
"The same," the detective replied, nodding toward Kendra as if that meant he was echoing her assessment.
Brian smiled then and Kendra's uneasiness grew.
Part of the reason she disliked departures so intensely was because they were wrapped up in change. She'd never cared for change. It was a very real fact of life, but that didn't make it any easier for her.
Lately there'd been so many changes, she couldn't keep track of them all.
Brian laughed softly, causing both of the other two people in the room to look at him curiously.
"I'm getting ahead of myself," Brian said to them. "Introductions are in order. Detective Matthew Abilene, meet Detective Kendra"
He paused then, realizing that he hadn't been apprised of her official decision yet. Each of the Cavellis, like the four stepchildren who had come with his marriage to his former partner, Lila, and the triplets from his late brother Mike's hidden family, had been given the option of changing their surnames and officially becoming Cavanaughs if they so chose.
So far, the family name was batting a thousand, but he was not about to jump the gun with the few who were still undecided.
"Have you made a decision about your last name yet?" he asked her.
Because the chief was being thoughtful rather than pushy, she offered the man a grateful smile. "I'm still working on it, sir."
He nodded understandingly. "I understand. It's a big step to take," he agreed. "Let me know what you decide." His intent was to let her know that while he was interested in the final outcome, he refused to apply any undue pressure on either side of the argument. "Anyway," he continued briskly, "it's come to my attention that the two of you have both recently lost your partners for one reason or another. Yours took his long overdue retirement," he said to Kendra, then turned to Matt. "And yours"
"picked up and left the state when his girlfriend decided she wanted to live somewhere where it's always raining," Matt commented. Glancing toward Kendra, he added, "They moved to Seattle."
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the handsome face. Was he talking down to her? The man might be good-looking enough to have his own fan club, but she took offense. "I figured that part out on my own," she told him coolly.
"Sharp," Matt murmured. Whether he was just making an offhanded comment or being sarcastic, she wasn't sure. But she leaned toward the latterin which case he needed to be taken down a few pegs even if she never saw the man again.
"Yes, she is," Brian replied in no uncertain terms. "Which is why I've decided to partner the two of you up"