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Ashton John Kendall stormed through the squad room, ignoring the curious gazes of his fellow detectives. He headed straight toward the back. where the Crime Scene Investigations unit had their desks.
He hadn't slept a wink the night before. after delivering the bad news to his family. God. that had been hard.
He could have talked to Rachel last night as well. but no. He'd been too angry. Way too angry.
Problem was. eight hours of tossing and turning hadn't lessened his fury one bit. Hell. he hadn't even stopped at the coffee shop for his usual coffee and casual flirting with the blonde barista.
He rounded the corner and skidded to a halt. That was odd. Rachel wasn't at her desk.
She was always here by this time. He glanced at his watch to be sure. Eight-thirty. During the weeks when they'd dated. he'd found out how obsessive she was about being on time. She liked to get any paperwork out of the way first thing before heading to the lab. so her schedule would be clear in the case of an emergency.
"Damn it. where is she?" he snapped to no one in particular.
"Good morning. Ash." the transcriptionist sitting at a tiny computer table against the wall said.
He smiled at her and tried to tamp down his anger. "Hi. Vanessa. How's your brother?" He and Vanessa had dated for a short while a couple of years ago. They'd had fun.
She beamed at his question. "He's doing really well. He's acting like his old self again."
"I'm glad. A shame that he had to go through a triple bypass at thirty-three. Have you seen Rachel?"
Vanessa shook her head. "No. She's been late a couple of days this past week. She should be in anytime now."
Rachel Stevens late for workand not once but several times?
Jack Bearden walked in with a steaming cup of coffee. "Morning." he said. He. Rachel and Frank Marino were the senior criminalists for the Ninth District of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
"What about the lab? Could she be down there?" Ash asked Vanessa.
"Maybe. but I doubt it. You know how she likes to clear her desk first thing in the morning."
Ash took a deep breath. working to control the anger that was building up again. "Tell Rachel I need to talk to her as soon as she"
He whirled around to see Rachel standing there. clutching a big leather purse. She looked pale. "Here I am." she said. spreading her hands and offering a smile that looked pasted on.
Just seeing her ramped up his anger another notch. "Yeah. we need to talk." he snapped.
Rachel ducked her head and slid past him to her desk. She laid down her purse and started to take off her raincoat. but apparently decided to leave it on. She slid her fingers around the back of her neck to free her ponytail.
"Have a seat." she offered. pointing to a straight-back chair.
"Nothere." he grated.
Rachel looked up. startled. as did Vanessa and Jack. Ash sucked in a breath and consciously relaxed his jaw. "Can we?" He inclined his head in the general direction of the squad room.
She studied his face. her own still pale. her lips pressed tightly together. Then she nodded and stepped past him.
"Where?" she asked evenly.
"Room three." Interrogation Room Three wouldn't be occupied unless there had been a drug raid or a gang war during the night. Sure enough it was empty.
Ash held the door for her. then closed it behind him. Rachel sat down and folded her arms. She looked miser-ableand guilty. As well she should.
But she also looked small and scared. A hollow feeling in the middle of his chest. which had been there ever since he'd cooled things between them. began to throb. He rubbed the spot with his knuckles. Maybe it was indigestion.
"Ash?" Rachel said tentatively. "Will this take long? Because I've got a lot to do this morning."
He quelled the urge to stand over her as if she were a suspect. Instead he pulled out a chair across from her and sat. flattening his palms on the tabletop.
Rachel watched him. her eyes wide in her pale face. Pink spots rose in her cheeks. Her throat moved as she swallowed.
She looked frightened. He knew he could be formidable. His brothers used to call him the berserker when they were kids. But he'd never turned his wrath on a woman. With an effort. he composed his face. He wanted her to speak first. Wanted her to own up to what she'd done without him having to drag it out of her. Own up and apologize.
She frowned and her gaze dropped to his hands. She took a long. shaky breath. "Ash. I don't know what you've heard"
"You don't?" he interrupted. irritated by her hedging. "Really? You didn't think I'd find out eventually? I guess you hoped I wouldn't get wind of it until the official announcement."
Rachel recoiled as if he'd slapped her. "The official?"
Ash leaned back in his chair. shaking his head. "Do you know I had to sit my family down last night and tell them? Can you imagine how devastated they were? Especially Natalie."
He pushed his chair back and stood. He was too angry to stay seated any longer. He walked over to the two-way mirror and watched her reflection.
To his surprise. she was staring at him with a look of confused horror on her face. Was it a distortion of the mirror? He turned. No. She still looked confused.
"Natalie devastated? I'm not sure what you're talking about" Rachel stopped. biting her lip. She rubbed her temple with two fingers. "Wh-what did you say to them?"
"Come on. Rach. what do you think I said?"
Rachel blinked. and a tear slid down her cheek. She shook her head. "I don't think I und"
"That's right." he interrupted. "You didn't think. You obviously didn't consider what this would do to me. To my family. Why didn't you refuse? I'll bet it was Meeks. wasn't it? I know you've been seeing him. Are you two still tight? Did he talk you into doing it?" She'd dated Tim Meeks. an assistant district attorney. for a few weeks after Ash had delivered his patented Let's cool things off for a while spiel. And everybody in the squad knew how ambitious Meeks was.
Rachel swiped at the tear. her eyes narrowing. For the first time she didn't look terrified. He was relieved. Even though he was angry enough at her to spit nails. he hadn't intended to make her cower.
"Tim? Talked me into?" She looked down at her hands just a second. then back up at him. Gone were the confusion. the horrified expression. even the guilt. In their place was what looked like relief.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." she said archly. "I feel like I walked into the middle of a suspense thriller. Why don't you start at the beginning and tell me just exactly what you think I've done. and why you think Tim Meeks talked me into doing it."
Now Ash was confused. But his stoked fury overrode all other emotions. "You know. I have friends in the D.A.'s office. too. My friend was kind enough to give me a heads-up. I appreciated the advance warning. Of course. I'd have appreciated it more coming from you."
Ash slammed down his palm on the table. "Would you stop acting like you just landed on the planet?" He clenched his jaw. "Rick CampbellI'm assuming you know who he is?" His voice dripped with sarcasm. "Small-time burglar. loser. slaughtered my parents in their beds twenty years ago?"
Rachel's eyes went wide. She didn't acknowledge his question.
"Is it coming back to you now? His family finally managed to convince District Attorney Jesse Allen to reopen the case and retest the DNA. They're sure that DNA evidence will prove their son didn't murder my parents."
"DNA evidence? Oh. my God."
Ash studied Rachel. Was that surprise or guilt? Of all the terms he might use to describe her. including dedicated, professional, beautiful, sweet and sexy-as-hell, the words sneaky, underhanded or traitorous would never come to mind.
"What? Suddenly you remember what you did? Dr. Rachel Stevens. Criminalist. DNA Profiling? It was Meeks. wasn't it? He got you to do it. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn'tI didn't know." she whispered. her face blanching. The pink spots were gone now. "It was a blind request."
"Right." he retorted. "You expect me to believe" But Ash didn't get to finish. because Rachel moaned and put her hand over her mouth.
"Oh. no." she mumbled. She shot up out of her chair. "I'm sorry. I'm not feeling well." she muttered as she lurched toward the door.
"Hey. come back here. I need to know the results" But she was through the door and rushing down the hall. her hand over her mouth.
Ash stared. openmouthed. at her back as she ran from the room.
Rachel splashed more cold water on her face. then let it run over the pulse points in her wrists. She shivered.
Her doctor had told her the nausea usually started at around six weeks. She supposed she was lucky that she'd made it all the way to eight. He'd also told her that with her petite five-foot-three-inch frame. she'd probably be showing in no time.
She turned sideways. let her raincoat slide down her shoulders and arms to the floor and held up the hem of her top. She sucked in her belly and squinted at the mirror. It was a little bit round. And most of it wouldn't suck in. As much as she hated it. the doctor was right.
Another wave of nausea hit her. so she splashed some more water on her face and using her hands as a cup. drank a couple of cold mouthfuls.
Then she patted her face dry. picked up her raincoat and went back to her desk. Under the guise of studying a DNA report that had just hit her desk. she thought about Ash and his accusations.
She'd been sure he was talking about her pregnancy at first. as impossible as that was because she hadn't told anyone yet. But ever since her doctor had confirmed that indeed she was pregnant. she'd felt like she was walking around with a big neon sign over her head.
The longer Ash had railed at her. the more confusing his words were. until he said Campbell and DNA.
She'd immediately realized what had happened. The knowledge that the DNA she'd run for the police commissioner had belonged to the man who'd murdered Ash's parents had turned her already queasy stomach upside down.
If she'd stayed in the room one second longer. she'd have puked all over the table.
The request. which had come two weeks before. had hardly surprised her. The police commissioner's chief of staff had called her about a special assignment. It was rare to get a request from the top. but it happened. Rachel herself had gotten two previous requests from the commissioner's office.
This request was to run DNA analysis and comparison on a cold case. The commissioner's chief of staff had asked her to pick up the package from the commissioner's office herself.
Of course. she'd been curious when she'd seen the sanitized documents and unlabeled samples. but it wasn't the first time she'd been asked to make an analysis and comparison blind. and she was sure it wouldn't be the last. She'd performed the tests and written her report and. per the commissioner's request. personally delivered the whole packet to his office.
Now she knew which case it was. The Christmas Eve Murders. One of the most widely publicized murders in St. Louis's history. The victims were Joseph and Marie Kendall. beautiful. wealthy and successful. The prominent St. Louis couple had been murdered in their bed on Christmas Eve while their four children. Devin. Ashton. Thaddeus and Natalie. slept peacefully. dreaming of sugarplums. in a nearby wing.
Rachel shuddered as nausea spread through her again. A few deep breaths warded it off. She dug into her purse for a package of crackers and nibbled on one as she processed everything Ash had said.
What surprised herand hurt hermost was that he actually thought she'd had anything to do with reopening the case. He wasn't thinking clearly. because he knew how her job worked. In the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. a not insignificant part of DNA analysis was cold cases.
As a Senior Criminalist #1. DNA Profiling. she processed requests for analysis ranging from appeals from lawyers claiming their clients were falsely imprisoned. to court cases where previous DNA evidence was called into question. Another large part of her job was rechecking and verifying analyses done by outside labs.
She had no control over which cases she reran. She merely delivered on her assignments. Her position was cut-and-dried. She couldn't do favors for anyone if she wanted to.
Ash's accusation that she would have done that kind of favor for Tim Meeks was preposterous. Insulting even.
As if she'd jeopardize her job for the scrawny. preppy A.D.A. She'd gone out with him a time or two after Ash had done what every female in the department had warned her that he would dowooed her. won her and made her fall in love with him. then dumped her.
The women were right about his legendary charm. too. He'd eased away so cleanly and smoothly that it had hardly hurtat first.
"So what was that about?" Vanessa asked. twirling her chair around. "I've never seen Ash lose his cool like that. What did you do to him. girl?"
Rachel arched her neck and massaged a knotted muscle there. Then she shook her head and chose her words carefully. "He's upset about a case. He had some questions about the DNA." She hoped the hint that she and Ash were discussing technical DNA questions would quash Vanessa's interest. She was right.
"Oh. okay. I thought you might have managed to make our local Casanova angry. So far Ashanova is batting a thousand. He's the only man I've ever dated that I still like. even after he broke up with me."
Rachel regarded Vanessa. She was dark-haired. pretty and had a fair share of men hanging around. But Ash was in his early thirties while Vanessa couldn't be more than twenty-five. What had he seen in her? Okay. besides the obvious. "How'd he break up with you?"
Vanessa studied her nails. "You know. I'm not sure I can explain it. It just sort of happened."
Rachel nodded. It had just sort of happened with her. too. And Vanessa was right. It was impossible to explain. Somehow. he'd gone from sexy heat to casual cool. and she'd emerged without a scratchwell. except for the baby.
She ran her palm across her tiny baby bump. unable to keep a smile from her face. She was absolutely thrilled about the baby. She was fine with raising it alone. Women did that all the time. and her mother had already been saying for years that she'd be chief babysitter for her future grandkids. And Rachel wasn't worried about providing for her child because she had an extremely well-paying job.