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Bell notes of Baccarat crystal ... soft strains from the Steinway grand. Thick Persian rugs resting on gleaming teak floors, heavy damask drapes, priceless antiques ... the silken swish of cocktail dresses as tastefully subdued as they were costly. Civilized, intelligent conversation devoid of any mention of sex, controversy or - God forbid - money.
Such was the scene in her parents' Tarrytown mansion, a gathering like so many others that had formed the backdrop of Chloe St. Claire's charmed life. A world of privilege taken wholly for granted, even, until the last eighteen months, by Chloe herself.
"You will help me with the Christmas auction, won't you?" said one of Chloe's mother's oldest friends.
"Of course," Chloe murmured, taking a sip of champagne to head off a burgeoning yawn.
"Bless you," the woman said, patting Chloe's arm. "You're such a good girl. Dolores and John have every reason to be proud." She glanced around the room and smiled. "And this is a wonderful show of support for Roger. You and he make a lovely couple."
"We're not -" Just then, Chloe's mother neared, and her protest went unheard as the two women exchanged air kisses.
"Darling," said Dolores St. Claire, resplendent in Valentino red. "Your father needs to introduce you tosomeone. You don't mind, do you, Helen?"
"Of course she must go. We'll talk soon, Chloe, dear."
Of course. Chloe saw her father with Roger and one of his banker friends. The political season was in full swing, and the prominent banker's support in Roger Barnes's upcoming race for district attorney could make a big difference. John St. Claire nodded at her, a clear invitation to join them and play out her role as Roger's political asset. She was halfway across the room -
When the pager inside her Judith Leiber purse buzzed against her hip. Oh, dear. The dispatcher wouldn't be paging her unless it was an emergency.
Chloe pressed one hand against a stomach suddenly tight with nerves. Whatever it was, she couldn't refuse - her supervisor had left her in charge for two weeks. Pasting on a smile and handing her glass to a nearby waiter, she prepared for the disapproval that would be silent but fierce from both her parents and Roger. Even after eighteen months, they were still assuming she'd come to her senses and leave a job they considered both unnecessary and sordid.
They were baffled at her decision to take the police-department psychologist job her graduateschool adviser had suggested, and she couldn't explain what she herself didn't understand. The world in which she worked was completely foreign and should be repellent. She was their good daughter, her life comfortable, her road already mapped out.
What she learned in this job and what she witnessed was at times raw, heartbreaking and horrifying. But despite her parents' hope that it was merely a minor detour, this unlikely rebellion had become fascinating and ... important.
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Chloe ducked under the stark yellow crime scene tape. Ahead, spotlights cracked the night into a scene she wondered if she'd ever see without feeling the impact.
In the brightly lit center would be a body and, likely, blood. Where light faded into darkness, too many people would be standing around while the forensics team did its work. A circus, with death as the star attraction.
Somewhere in the midst of it all would be an officer who'd killed a fellow human being, whether from noble motives or dark. That the motive was likely honorable wouldn't matter; few people, police included, escaped a psychic shock from the act of taking a life.
Her job was not to counsel at the crime scene, merely to debrief per police department regulations in the event of a "critical incident" - any situation in which the potential for posttraumatic stress syndrome was high. She'd have her chance to counsel later, but not to care now was hard; not to want to help was impossible. She knew all too well that by the time the officer visited for follow-up, the barriers would be back in place, the mask perfected. The cop who'd suffered, no matter how good his reason for shooting, would be less reachable. Less willing to admit the roller coaster his emotions were riding.
Detective Vince Coronado would be tougher than most, she already knew. He was a legend in the department, a cop's cop. He wouldn't come to her by choice - few of them did. They called it "being sent to the Arctic Circle," the deep freeze away from the action. Her office had power over when - and if - they returned. None of them liked it, and a lone wolf like Coronado would be worse.
"Excuse me," she said to the beefy uniformed officer in front of her, stepping around the last barrier between her and center stage. At the sight of the body, Chloe closed her eyes briefly, then opened them by sheer will. Coronado was around here somewhere, and she could not betray the slightest emotion. This was part of her job, no matter how little she thought she'd ever get used to the odd vulnerability death conferred, the reminder of just how fragile life is.
She felt a gaze upon her and looked up. Strong jaw clenched, Vince Coronado radiated power - and danger. He was dressed for his undercover role, jeans soft with age clinging to muscled thighs, broad shoulders encased in a loose Hawaiian shirt. Though his clothing might be casual, Chloe could see nothing soft on this man, nothing about his manner that didn't intimidate, until she glimpsed the dark curls on his neck glistening with sweat, making a lie out of his cold blue stare. He wasn't unmoved. He was human.
And his eyes weren't cold, she saw, drawing closer. They were blanked out, a common reaction.
The mind refused to accept the full impact of taking a life, however despicable.
That would come later.
It would rattle him - it rattled all of them, whether they admitted it or not. Cops either developed armor to keep the pathos and pain of their jobs at a distance or they didn't make it. But killing cracked those shields, and the man inside suffered, a cave creature forced into whitehot desert sunshine.
She noted Coronado's position. He was set apart, as though no one wanted to be contaminated. Shooting in the line of duty always triggered an Internal Affairs investigation and presentation to a grand jury. It meant time away from the job and being a pariah until the officer was cleared. That was one of the hardest parts of a fatal shooting for a cop: spending time on the other side, being a suspect. No longer automatically one of the good guys. She glanced at his empty holster; one of the first acts by a superior was to take a cop's gun away, rendering him not only suspect but feeling naked. The roller-coaster ride commenced.
"Detective, I'm Chloe St. Claire, department psychol -"
"I know who you are." Each word was a bullet. Coronado stared into the distance, hands tucked in the front pockets of his jeans, hard cop firmly in place. "Where's Bradley?"
(Continues ... )
Excerpted from The Good Daughter by Jean Brashear
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted July 16, 2003
Chloe St. Claire, born to money and luxury, looks strangely out of place when she attends crime scenes in cocktail dresses...but the police psychologist is determined to carve out a niche in the often ugly 'real' world inhabited by 'bad' cop Vince Coronado. Jean Brashear's third of her Deep In the Heart series, The Good Daughter, features the story of a little girl who believes her place in life secure--but finds that security is an illusion, and that money and prestige are poor substitutes for a meaningful life. Vince Coronado realizes that life can be taken in a heartbeat--he is, after all, a cop. A cop that has had to kill in the line of duty--but has been hounded for the deaths. The son of a prostitute and some john, he has no fantasies about life, and no hope of love. Who could love the throwaway child who became a hardened, cynical cop, caught up in a scandal that could claim his life? Brashear's characters are memorable, her books unique. The Good Daughter will send you running for the next in the series--and those that came before.
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