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"Goddamn it, he's not getting away with this. Do you hear me?" Detective Sergeant Cat Forrester glared at the circle of detectives watching her with varying amounts of guilt etched across their faces. "He was drunk. He got in a car and mowed down a twenty-eight-year-old mother. That makes him a killer, a murderer. I want his ass on a stick. So get back out there and talk to every damn person who knew him, loved him, hated him and slept with him. Somebody somewhere is hiding his sorry ass."
One of her female officers raised her hand. "No one in his family is talking right now, but I'm pretty sure if I keep up the pressure on the eldest daughter"
Cat glared. "Is anyone else apart from me taking this case seriously? The guy was drunk, left the pub and got in his car. He then thought nothing about driving through Marlborough Place, past a school right when they were letting out for the day. He killed a mother. A mother of a small child. If that small child hadn't been talking to her friends a few feet away, she would be dead, too. We are going to catch this guy. Do I make myself clear?"
There was a cursory wave of nods and fingers tapping on keyboards in response. "Good. Well, get to it, then. Go. All of you."
The mumbled "yes, ma'am"s and scraping of chair legs against tile grated on Cat's nerves, hitching her stress level up another notch. Turning her back, she stared at the incident board. He couldn't get away with this. Not another drunk driver going unanswerable to his crime.
"What?" she snapped.
"Sergeant." The firm, don't-mess-with-me voice of Inspector Harris echoed around the small room.
Cat grimaced. Damn. She turned and planted a smile on her face. "Sir."
He shook his head. "Don't give me that smile of yours, Sergeant. What was that all about? The driver has been missing in action for two days and you're dressing down your team as if he's been on the run for two weeks."
"I want him caught."
He stared at her for a moment longer before he blew out a breath and rested his hip against the gray metal desk behind him. "How much longer is this one-woman mission to end all drunk driving going to go on, Cat?"
The use of her first name spoke volumes. She hated it. If she lost her inspector's respect, and it evolved into sympathy, God only knew what the effect would be on her team if they witnessed it.
She crossed her arms. "It's not a mission, sir. I just don't think it's being given the time or concentration it deserves. This guy left a man alone to raise a four-year-old daughter."
"As your father's killer left you, your brother and mum."
Heat pinched at Cat's cheeks. "That's not the same. I was an adult."
He shrugged. "Depends how you look at it. What will this child remember of her mother? You had years of memories with your dad."
She turned away from him, picked up a marker and made some illegible and pointless alterations to the board. "This isn't about my dad, sir. He died seven years ago."
"And it's still as raw as yesterday."
Cat squeezed her eyes shut. "You're wrong."
There was a long silence and Cat inwardly cursed when the words in front of her blurred. She blinked. "Was there something you wanted to ask me, sir? I really should"
"A call just came through."
Cat put down the marker and turned. "Call?"
He nodded, his gaze locked on hers. "Your mum. She needs picking up."
Shame and embarrassment flooded her body in equal measure and Cat swept past him to her desk. "Where?"
Inspector Harris stood. "The Hunters Arms."
"Fine." Cat whipped her bag from her chair and hitched it onto her shoulder. "If there's nothing else"
"Cat." He caught her wrist as she moved to brush past him. "She needs help. Professional help."
"I can handle it."
"Not on your own. Not anymore."
She eased her arm from his hand. "I'll be back when I can."
Cat swallowed the humiliation burning like acid in her throat and walked from the room.
When she got outside, she inhaled great lungfuls of fresh air like she hadn't had the God-given pleasure of it in a week. Once her heartbeat slowed and her cheeks cooled, she flicked her hair over her shoulders, slid into the front seat of her police-issue car and drove toward the pub.
Fifteen minutes later, the soles of her shoes sucked and pulled against the sticky linoleum tiles as she walked deeper into The Hunters Arms. The bright August sunshine struggled to penetrate the nicotine-stained windows, and the TV screen hanging above the bar was so thick with dust, Oprah looked as though she was talking through a snowstorm.
Cat narrowed her eyes. Except for the three patrons sitting at the bar with the same early-morning thirst as her mum's, the pub was empty. She met the bartender's gaze as he wiped glasses.
"Where is she?"
He tilted his head toward the closed door of the ladies' bathroom.
She inhaled a deep breath and walked toward the closed door, fighting the nausea in her throat. How many more times would she have to do this? Ten? Twenty? Or was today the day she found her mum dead? Stepping inside, she nudged each cubicle door open in turn, her heartbeat increasing, her hands clammy. Tears threatened and she blinked them back. If her mum was dead, Cat was prepared. She'd been prepared since alcohol became her mum's necessary poison seven years before.
Pushing open the final stall, she stared down at her mum's painfully thin body sprawled across the tiny, tiled space. Patches of red wine stained her sunny-yellow dress; her designer slingbacks were scuffed and torn. Shoulder-length red hair, once so similar to Cat's, lay limp and loose about her shoulders, her long ago luminous skin an ugly shade of gray.
Dropping to her knees, Cat slid her hands under her mum's arms and heaved her upward until her head lay in Cat's lap. "Mum, it's me. Come on. Time to wake up."
She gently tapped her mum's cheek until she coughed, exhaling alcohol-infused breath into Cat's open mouth. Cat gagged, the sound loud and revolting as it echoed around the filthy enclosed space.
"For crying out loud." Cat held the back of her hand to her mouth.
Slowly her mum opened her eyes. After a moment, her gaze focused and she smiled. "Hey, baby. What are you doing here?"
Struggling to keep a lid on her rising frustration, Cat forced a soft smile. "I've come to take you home, silly."
"You're a good girl, honey. Always be there for me, won't you?"
Cat looked away as the usual words of assurance dissolved on her tongue like condensation on a cold bottle of beer. "Let's just get you out of here, okay?"
Hauling her mum to her feet, they shuffled from the bathroom into the bar. Ignoring the glassy-eyed stares of the drunks watching them, Cat tilted her chin and continued forward until they emerged outside. Cat lowered her mum into the passenger seat of her car and snapped her seat belt into place. She slammed the door.
She was a detective sergeant in the U.K. police force, yet she couldn't fix her grieving, alcoholic mother no matter how hard she tried. She sometimes wondered if it would be easier catching her first serial killer than dealing with the criminality of her mum's affliction. Shaking her head to clear the lingering sense of failure hovering around her like an invisible phantom, Cat marched around to the driver's side.
She'd find a way to help her mum sooner rather than later. She had to. The alternative was her brother and her becoming orphans at the age of twenty-nine and twenty-seven respectively. The fingers of the demon drink continued to claw at their shadows. Always there, always threatening to destroy what both of them had left.
Yanking open the car door, Cat slid into the seat and glanced across at her mum. Slumped over, her head tilted to the side, her eyes closed in comatose slumber, Julia Forrester barely resembled the glamorous mother and wife she'd been once upon a time. Cat brushed the fallen hair from her mum's cheek.
"I love you, Mum. I promise I'm doing my best to fix this."
Twisting around in her seat, Cat started the engine and fought to keep a firm hold on her resolve. Everything would be all right. It had to be.
The drive home passed in a blur of radio conversation with her team at the station, the whole time Inspector Harris's accusation of her personal involvement with drunk-driving cases beating her upside the head. She needed to stop reacting so vehemently every time a new hit and run landed on her desk. Yes, they were an open sore to her alcohol-hating heart, each one a sharp cut of remembrance striking her flesh like a knife, but that wouldn't help catch the guilty party.
The driver who killed her father was three times over the limit when he was caught. The Breathalyser reading served as the lock on the door to his prison cell. Others, like her current case, were harder to catchbut catch him she would.
Cat swallowed the perpetual guilt her mother's undoing caused time and again. If her father could see them now, he'd be so angry with her mum, her and Chris. How had their family been reduced to such disconnected chaos in seven years?
Swallowing hard, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel and concentrated on getting home.
By the time they reached the house, Julia was fairly lucid and Cat managed to get her inside and onto the settee without the humiliation of curtain-twitching neighbors asking if she needed any helpagain. She whipped a fleece throw from the back of an adjacent armchair and tucked it tightly around her mum's perspiring body, knowing she'd wake shaking and cold.
Satisfied her mum would sleep for at least another hour, Cat left the room and walked upstairs to her bedroom. Physical and mental exhaustion settled over her like a concrete duvet as she fell backward onto the bed. Her heavy lids closed.
"Just for a couple of minutes," she murmured.
The sharp shrill of the phone on her bedside table obliterated her flagging energy, shaking her wide awake. Cat flew across the bed and snatched up the receiver before it woke her mum.
"Hello?" Her gaze darted to the open door.
"Hi. Um is that Julia?"
"No. This is Cat Forrester, her daughter. Julia can't come to the phone right now. Can I help you?"
Annoyance prickled at her nerve endings as she fell back onto the bed again, her eyes closing. "Yeah, as in poised to claw someone's eyes out."
His totally masculine burst of laughter sent a shiver down her spine and a loop the loop through her stomach. Her eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright.
She knew that laugh .
A smile tugged at her lips. His voice was rich and deep, warm when everything else around her felt cold. She swallowed. It couldn't be. "Jay?"
"The one and only. How are you, pretty girl?"
"My God, it is you." Her smile stretched to a fullblown grin. "I can't believe this. It's been years." Since her father died.
"It's great to hear your voice again. What have you been up to?"
She hesitated, hating to lie but the alternative was impossible. Jay. Jay Garrett. Childhood friend and confidante. Her one-time lover.
"Not much, really. Work, work and more work." She forced a cheery smile. "How are you?"
Cat stood and walked toward the bedroom door. "Jay?
"I need your help, Cat. I'm in trouble. Big trouble."
The timbre of despair in his voice alerted her to grief. Loss. She heard it loud and clear. It didn't matter whether the speaker was male or female, young or old. When you lost someone before you should, it always sounded the same. She was trained to recognize itpersonally and professionally. To listen and help. To alleviate others' pain and hide her own. She stopped pacing and tightened her grip on the receiver.
Her mind whirled back seven years ago to the last time she and her family took their annual holiday to Temple-ton Cove. A picturesque town situated amongst the spectacular "English Riviera" region of Southwest England. The place Jay and his family had lived for generations.
"Sarah? Is she okay?" Cold dread seeped into Cat's blood, making goose bumps erupt on her arms. "Jay?"
"She's dead, Cat. Murdered."
She sucked in a breath as a lump of stone dropped into her abdomen. "What?"
"You need to come to the Cove. Investigate her death. The police here aren't getting anywhere." His shaky breath rasped down the line. "I'm a suspect, Cat. You have to help me. You have to help me show them"
"Wait. You're a suspect?" How could good, kind-hearted Jay Garrett be a suspect in a murder investigation? The Jay she remembered always smiled, laughed and kissed with lips that could lead a girl into all sorts of trouble .
"Please tell me you're the detective you always swore you would be. You have to help me. I need you."
He needs me. After all this time. "Jay, listen to me. If you're a suspect, what happened? Cops do not go around accusing people"
"The cops are walking around like their bloody heads are cut off. Sarah's parents are waiting for them to release her body while the police point the finger at me rather than the real killer. I feel trapped, Cat. You've got to come to the Cove."
Cat felt the color leave her face and she gripped her hair back in a fist. "How did she die?"
She squeezed her eyes shut. "Oh, God, no."
Sarah. Her friend. Her partner in crime. Memories of their childhood antics crashed into her heart and mind, of tormenting Jay and Chris, Cat's older brother, as they hung around the arcade trying to look cool. Of course, they'd grown up and Jay became the one whom all the girls noticed whenever he walked into a room. Especially Cat.
The seconds passed like heartbeats before Jay spoke again. "You'll come? You'll help me find the son of a bitch who did this?"
Her mum shot to the forefront of her mind on the eternal elastic band connecting them. She snapped her eyes open. "I can't."
Panic poured through her veins. She couldn't leave. She could never leave. "You don't understand"
"Cat, please. We have to find out what was going on with Sarah before she died. Who would kill her? Everyone loved her. You can't think I would do this. I loved her. You know that."
Love. What was love to any of them? Tears seared the back of Cat's eyes as she strode from the bedroom onto the landing. "You have to let the police do their job. Tem-pleton Cove is miles from my jurisdiction. There's nothing I can do. I'd help if I could, but"
"Cat, please. It's my fault."
Her heart turned over and she ground to an abrupt stop. "What do you mean your fault?"
"I didn't kill her, but I didn't get to her quick enough to save her, either."
Cat looked over the banister at the open living room door. "You were there?"
"No, but I should've been. I'll explain everything. Just say you'll come. For me for Sarah. Please."
The clink of glass against glass halted Cat's words. Her mum had obviously woken and was now wetting her dry throat. Squeezing her eyes shut, Cat swore under her breath. Clearly, she'd missed another hidden bottle on her daily sweep.
"Cat?" Desperation sounded in Jay's voice.
She walked wearily downstairs. "I can't. I'm sorry. I've got a million and one things going on. Things I can't just leave."
She leaned around the living-room doorjamb and anger burned in her stomach. Her mum downed a glass of vodka, the half-empty bottle swinging from her other hand.
"Surely you've some holiday time due." Jay pleaded into her ear. "I've been distracted for too long. I owe it to Sarah to find her killer."
Cat balled her hand into a fist when her mum abandoned the glass in favor of drinking straight from the bottle. She was due some time offtime off from everything. She moved from the door and into the hall.
"Give me your number and twenty-four hours to see what I can do." She fought the tears of frustration stinging her eyes.
"Yes, Jay. God help me, I'll come."