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The Cradle Will Fall
By Maggie Price
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAt five minutes to five, Sergeant Grace McCall-Fox limped into the Oklahoma City PD's Youth and Family Services squad room, feeling as old as her undercover disguise made her look. She had a jagged hole in her right support stocking, put there during the day's last arrest when she used her knee to force an uncooperative juvie to kiss pavement while she cuffed him. One pocket on the tan wool coat she'd scored at a thrift store sale had gotten ripped in the struggle and small pebbles had somehow wedged into both toes of the prison-matron-looking laceups she'd borrowed from her grandmother's closet. Her cheeks were chapped from the hours she'd spent trolling the frigid shopping mall parking lot; the gray streaks she'd sprayed on her raven-black hair had turned sticky the minute snow had begun falling. Her right arm ached from having been nearly jerked from its socket by several wannabe purse snatchers who thought they'd make easy prey of an elderly woman out doing her Christmas shopping.
Instead of a fragile senior citizen, they'd encountered a slim, petite, thirty-year-old cop who'd dropped them on their collective butts in one smooth move.
The booming voice pulled Grace's gaze across the squad room to the tall, gray-haired man leaning out an office door.
"I need to see you," Lieutenant David Kelson said. "Now," he added, before stepping back into his office.
Grace dropped her vinyl decoy purse on her desk, pulled off her coat and gold wire-rims with nonprescription lenses. Thinking Kelson might want to review the plan on her current undercover op, she snagged the file, then wove her way around the scattering of city-issue metal desks, mostly vacant this late in the day.
Through the wedge of the open door she saw that Kelson was now seated at his desk, his attention focused on the paper in his hand.
Gripping the file, Grace smoothed a palm down the baggy gray dress she'd bought at the same time as her coat.
"Sir?" she asked.
Kelson glanced up. "Come in, McCall." Like everyone, he used the shortened version of her hyphenated last name.
"How'd things go today at the mall?"
"The team took down four juvie purse snatchers and three auto burglars. We're hoping to nab more tomorrow."
"That happens, it'll be without you. The FBI has asked for your assistance on a case. Consider yourself on special assignment."
"Yes, sir." She arched a brow. "What sort of assignment?"
Kelson rose. "I'll let the agent in charge brief you."
The drift of her lieutenant's gaze across her shoulder gave her the first indication of another presence in the office. "I understand you two have worked together?"
"I'm looking forward to teaming with you again, Grace."
She went utterly still at the sound of Mark Santini's deep, rich voice coming from behind her. A voice from her past. A voice whose owner had continued to haunt her over the span of six years, even though she'd loved and married another man during that time.
Spine stiff, she forced herself to turn. And felt everything slip out of focus when her gaze met familiar eyes so deeply brown it was impossible to see a boundary between pupil and iris.
Oblivious that the earth had just tilted beneath her feet, Kelson retrieved his overcoat, then moved around the desk. "Sorry I can't stick around, Agent Santini," he said, offering Mark his hand. "Like I said, I'm due to meet my wife at a Christmas party."
"No problem. I had hoped to get here earlier, but cutting through red tape to get that court order held me up. I'll brief Sergeant McCall on the case so she and I can hit the ground running in the morning."
"Use my office as long as you need." The lieutenant turned to Grace. "Agent Santini has cleared your assignment through the chief's office." Kelson snagged the paper he'd been reading when she walked in, handed it to her.
"Here's a memo to you from the chief that makes your assignment official. Keep me updated."
"Yes, sir." Tucking the paper into the file folder, Grace watched her boss cross the office and walk out, closing the door behind him. Wishing she was also on the other side of that barrier, she pulled in a breath and glanced back at Mark. A good head taller than herself, he looked down at her, his gaze slowly traveling the length of her - from gray-sprayed hair to prison-matron shoes - with a few layovers.
"Elderly is an interesting look for you, Grace."
"It fools a lot of juvie purse snatchers," she said, and struggled for additional words that wouldn't come.
Physically, Special Agent Mark Santini had changed some in six years. His hair, as thick and black as her own, was still combed straight back, but it was cut shorter now, and silver had begun to salt the temples. The planes and angles of his face were leaner, sharper, and circles under his eyes evidenced lost sleep, yet the man was still down-to-the-ground gorgeous. Always a consummate clotheshorse, his black silk suit was tailored and expensive. But the coat hung somewhat loose off his broad shoulders, and the pants were a little baggy, as though he'd lost weight. Instead of making him look gaunt, however, the effect created an approachable, relaxed appearance.
Grace was anything but relaxed as she clenched the file folder against her breasts. Mark stood so close she could have reached out and touched him. Touched the man who'd swept into her life with a startling magnetism that soon had her considering giving up her cozy, settled world. And even though she hadn't, he had remained a ghostly presence that had nearly destroyed her relationship with Ryan Fox.
She had loved Ryan with all her heart. To the depths of her soul. Just the thought of the doubts he had suffered because of her reckless behavior over Mark had her heart shattering all over again.
She did her best to shove away the quick, instinctive tug of resentment that accompanied the thought. What had happened years ago had been her doing, not Mark's. He had no idea she'd gone temporarily insane and made the decision to toss away her lifelong dream and meld her life with his. No idea that the history they'd shared had shaken the foundation of her subsequent marriage.
"How are you, Grace?" His voice was all business, devoid of emotion.
"Fine," she said, using the same impersonal tone. "And you?" Strange, she thought, that two people who had been such passionate lovers could transform into nothing more than polite acquaintances.
"Busy. Eternally busy." He studied her with calm observation, his expression unreadable. "I was sorry to hear about your husband's death. I sent a card. I hope you got it."
Excerpted from The Cradle Will Fall by Maggie Price Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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