Read an Excerpt
"The chief wants to see you in his office."
Wyatt looked up at the young clerk who had just stuck her head inside his cubicle. "Did he say why?"
"No, just that he wants to see you."
Wyatt shoved the letter he'd been sweating over into a folder and pushed his squeaky swivel chair back from a desk piled high with case files. He picked up the folder for the Whiting case. He hadn't even finished his written report yet, but he was sure last night's developments would be the topic of the chief's discussion.
He wouldn't be thrilled that Derrick Whiting would not be standing trial for the murder of his wife. But neither would he be walking the streets a free man, with insurance money in the bank and the sexy mistress in his bed.
Whiting had shot himself last night when Wyatt and Alyssa had shown up at his door, arrest warrant in hand. Fortunately, Josh was not there to witness the event. He'd moved in with his grandparents over a month ago.
Alyssa caught up with Wyatt just before he reached the chief's door. "So you were summoned, too."
"Think Dixon's pissed that we couldn't stop the sick bastard from killing himself?" she asked.
"I'm sure he'd have preferred to have the guy stand trial, but it is what it is."
The door was open. Martin Dixon waved them both inside. He stood and moved away from his desk to welcome them. He wasn't exactly smiling. He never did. But his eyes and stance said it all. He was glad this was over.
"Hell of a job! Both of you. I wish we could have brought Whiting in to stand trial, but I can see why he took care of his own death sentence. And if he hadn't, the evidence you've collected would have guaranteed a conviction. No juror in his right mind would have let him off."
"It's the jurors not in their right minds I always worry about," Alyssa said. "But thanks for the kudos."
"The mayor called this morning," the chief continued. "Said to tell both of you how grateful he is for the way you handled the investigation. He wanted to congratulate you himself, but he's getting ready for a joint press conference he's giving with me in about an hour."
Wyatt grimaced. "You're not going to thank us by making us spoon-feed the details to the media sharks, are you?"
"No. The mayor and I will make statements. Louis will handle the questions about the case, but I need both of you to brief him."
"That, I can handle," Wyatt said.
Louis was in charge of APD public relations and he had a way of feeding the media just enough to keep them happy without releasing any gratuitous details.
"Anyway, good work," the chief said again.
"Thanks," Wyatt said. "Just doing my job, and I'm certain the guy who ate the bullet was guilty as sin."
Wyatt and Alyssa had eaten and slept that case for three months. The murder had been carefully planned, and almost perfectly executed to make it look like a startled burglar had committed the crime. But Derrick had made a couple of fatal errors. Most murderers did.
Thankfully, Derrick Whiting was Josh's stepfather of just over two years and not his biological father. Josh admitted they'd never been close, though Derrick had painted a picture of perfect family harmony to his co-workers.
At least now Josh wouldn't have to live with the knowledge that his real father had killed his mother in cold blood. He wouldn't be forced to endure the cruel taunts of schoolmates for being a murderer's kid or have to wonder if the evil that possessed his father was buried deep in his own DNA.
"You're both up for a promotion," the chief said. "I've decided to skip a few bureaucracy hurdles and move that along."
"Now you're talking," Alyssa said.
The announcement caught Wyatt totally off guard. Great for Alyssa, but so much for the letter of resignation he'd been laboring over for the past hour.
"Is this a problem for you, Wyatt?" Dixon said, obviously picking up on Wyatt's discomfort.
"Not exactly a problem, but.. " Might as well blurt this out. The decision was made. "I appreciate the promotion offer, but I'm turning in my resignation."
The chief looked stunned. Wyatt refrained from making eye contact with Alyssa. He'd planned to tell her first. That was partner protocol, but news of the promotion took this out of his hands.
"When did you decide this?" Dixon asked.
"A couple of weeks ago, but I've been thinking about it for quite a while. I planned to see the Derrick Whiting case through before I talked to anyone about it."
"You should have come to me sooner. Whatever the problem is, I'm sure we can work it out."
"My leaving has nothing to do with department or the work," Wyatt added quickly. "Hell, this place is home. But I need a change. I've been with the APD ever since I dropped out of college and signed on as a rookie cop."
"What kind of change? If it's a move out of Homicide, we can"
"I'm moving back to Texas," Wyatt said, hopefully ending the discussion.
Dixon looked skeptical. "To go into ranching with your family?"
"I doubt I'll live on the ranch," Wyatt explained, "but I've got unsettled business in Mustang Run and it's time I take care of it."
"Does this have to do with your mother's murder?"
"That's a big part of it," Wyatt admitted.
"Are you sure you've thought this through?"
"I'm sure," Wyatt assured him. He'd thought of not much else for most of his life. It was the reason he'd become a cop. He'd put it off as long as he could.
The chief shook his head, his expression making it clear he thought the move was a big mistake. "You said once that your brothers are all convinced of your father's innocence. I doubt they'll appreciate you stirring up trouble. And he's served seventeen years of a sentence. That's more than a lot of convicted perps serve when there isn't the slightest doubt that they're guilty."
"I'm not going after my father. I'm going after the man who killed my mother. If my father is innocent, I'll prove that beyond a doubt. If he's guilty, then I'll just have to deal with that. My brothers are grown men. They'll have to do the same."
"I hate to say it, but I can see where you're coming from, Wyatt. And I don't doubt for a second that you'll find the answers you're looking for."
"I hope that confidence is justified."
"Keep me posted. And as long as I'm heading up the force, there's always a place for you if you decide to come back."
"I appreciate that."
"When do you plan to leave?"
"My caseload is as caught up as it will ever be, so I'd like to clear out as soon as you replace me."
Dixon nodded. "The department will miss you."
"I'll miss being here."
Talk went back to the Whiting case, but the celebratory tone of the meeting had shifted. Wyatt, usually the first to make a wisecrack to alleviate the tension, could think of nothing to say. He loved his job, but he had to do this.
And he could use a change of scenery. His apartment walls were starting to close in around him. He needed a taste of wide-open spaces, hilly pastures and the quiet fishing spots Dylan, Sean and now Dakota were always talking about.
That didn't make going back to Mustang Run and Willow Creek Ranch any easier.
As soon as they stepped into the hallway, Alyssa poked him in the ribs. "When exactly did you plan to hit me in the head with this?"
"At the last possible moment, so I wouldn't have to listen to you whine and lecture," he teased. "And don't poke me with those bony fingers."
She poked him again. "You'll go crazy in the Podunk town of Horse Run."
"Mustang Run. And I don't plan to be there forever."
"No, just long enough to cause trouble," Alyssa quipped.
"And I'm talented at stirring the pot, so that shouldn't take too long."
"Your dad's already spent seventeen years in prison before being released on a technicality. He's reunited with four of his five sons, even Tyler who's still on active duty in Afghanistan. He's a beloved grandfather. Have you ever considered just leaving well enough alone?"
"I'm not planning to go down there and string him up from the nearest tree. Troy claims he's looking for Mother's killer. I aim to help him."
"Oh, right, the good son. You can't even call him Dad."
Wyatt stopped walking and made eye contact. "Are you telling me you wouldn't feel the same if your mother had been murdered?"
"Okay, point made. But I'll miss you, partner. Worse, I'm selfish. Now I have to adjust to someone new. I'll probably get one who sweats profusely or passes gas in the car, or heaven forbid, treats me like a woman."
"He won't make that mistake but once."
She smiled as if that were the ultimate compliment. "Do me a favor while you're out there with those rattlesnakes and cow patties, Wyatt."
"Send you a snakeskin?"
"Don't even think about it. But if on the off chance you find a woman who can put up with you, don't push her away like she's been living with a family of skunks, the way you did everyone I tried to fix you up with."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"You know what's wrong with you?"
"I don't like skunks."
"You're afraid of falling. As soon you think you might like some woman, you make up excuses for why it won't work. She's too smart. She's not smart enough. She has cats. She has kids. She doesn't like cats or kids."
"You should get better friends to fix me up with."
"You may as well admit it. You're afraid of relationships."
"Shows how smart I am. Do you know the divorce rate among cops?"
"One day you'll meet a woman who'll knock you for such a loop you won't be able to walk away. I hear Texas is full of women like that."
"Could be." But a woman was the last thing he needed now. Texas and reuniting with Troy Ledger would be challenge enough. And now that the decision was made, he needed to move on. With luck, he'd be on the road by the middle of January.
He traveled light. That was just one of the advantages of never putting down any deep roots or acquiring things like mortgages or a wife.
He had no intention of changing that.
"It's the fuel pump, Mrs. Burger. It's going to have to be replaced."
Kelly groaned. She had another four hours to drive and it was already after three. Plus, the weather forecast for tonight was a line of severe thunderstorms preceding a cold front moving in from the northwest.
The mechanic yanked a red rag from his back pocket and rubbed at a spot of grease on his arm that defied his removal efforts. "I can get to it first thing in the morning. And I'll be glad to give you a ride now to the nearest motel."
"I really need to get back on the road today. I'll pay extra if you can fix it this afternoon."
"I'm not sure how quickly I can get the part. I might be able to just run over to Mac's Garage and pick it up or I might have to have one shipped in."
Just her luck to have her car break down in a small town. "Can't you have someone drive to the nearest town with a Honda dealer and pick one up? I'll pay his overtime and buy his gas."
Jaci tugged on Kelly's skirt. "Can we go now, Momma?"
"Not yet, Jaci." She struggled to keep the frustration from her voice. She couldn't expect a five-year-old to understand why they were just standing around waiting instead of off on the adventure she'd been promised. Jaci had been such a trooper over the last twelve months when their lives had been in serious upheaval.
"Let me see what I can do," the young mechanic said.
He returned to the small waiting area ten minutes later, this time smiling.
"I found a fuel pump that I can have here in under an hour. If we don't run into problems, you can be on your way just after dark."
"Super." They'd arrive in Mustang Run too late to accomplish anything tonight, but at least she'd be at the new house when the moving van arrived in the morning. Not actually a new housejust new to her. Actually it was older than her grandmother who'd willed it to her. But it would offer Kelly a new start after her year from hell.
Not that she had a clue what shape the house would be in. It had stood empty for over a year now and the man who'd been managing the property was visiting his son in California.
All he'd told her over the phone was that the house would need an ample application of soap and elbow grease and paint. She'd decided to move in and fix it up one room at a time as she found the time and the money.
She had some savings but not enough for major repairs. Her husband's medical bills had taken most of it before he died three years ago. And last year, she hadn't earned a dime.
"I'm hungry, Momma," Jaci said, though Kelly suspected she was more bored than anything else.
"There's a McDonalds's out on the highway," the mechanic offered. "I can give you a lift over there if you'd like and pick you up when your car's ready. It's got a nice play area."
Jaci jumped around excitedly. "McDonald's. Please, Momma. Please."
Hours at a McDonald's surrounded by squealing kids and the odor of friesor sitting here rereading for the twentieth time the two storybooks Jaci had brought with her in the car.
That was a no-brainer.