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"I'm worried about her, Brian." Lila Cavanaugh's eyes met her husband's in the long mirror that hung over the double, ice-blue-tiled sink in their bathroom. "She's never behaved like this before." They both hurried to get ready, to arrive at work early for completely different reasons.
Brian Cavanaugh, the Aurora Police Department's Chief of Detectives and, technically, Lila's superior, at least at the precinct, didn't have to ask his wife who she was, despite the fact that Lila's declaration had come out of the blue.
Lila referred to her younger daughter, Riley McIntyre.
Riley, like her three siblings as well as her mother, was a detective on the police force and ultimately under Brian Cavanaugh's command. Until a couple of months ago, the twenty-eight-year-old had been a happy-go-lucky, outgoing and upbeat young woman who greeted every morning with a grin and a wisecrack. Her deep blue eyes always sparkled. If Brian were to single out the stepchild with the most optimistic, positive view of life, it would have been Riley.
But the recent murder of her new partner, Detective Diego Sanchez, by the very serial killer that she and the rest of the homicide task force were pursuing at the time, had changed all that. Riley had become quiet, introspective and, at times, just plain unreachable.
It concerned him, as well.
In a way, she reminded him of his niece, Rayne, the youngest of his older brother, Andrew's, children. Right after her mother had disappeared and was presumed dead, Rayne began to act out, getting in trouble with the police despite the fact that Andrew was Aurora's Chief of Police at the time. Fortunately, Rayne had straightened out over time and made them all proud.
Granted, Riley wasn't acting out, but there was no denying that she was dealing with an excessive amount of emotional turmoil.
Was the change in her behavior permanent or temporary?
"She keeps saying she's all right, but I know she's not," Lila insisted. She gave up the pretense of applying her makeup and turned to face her husband. "I don't want her on the street like that, Brian. Being out there is hard enough when you're at the top of your game, let alone being off the way she seems to be these days." Lila hated asking for favors, even from her own husband, but this was for her daughter. "As her superior, can't you order her to take some time off until she's her old self again?"
Lila had long since accepted and made peace with the fact that her children had all followed her late husband and her into the police force. She did her best not to worry about them too much. But this new turn of events had thrown the balance off and she sincerely feared for Riley's well-being, not to mention her life.
"I could," Brian allowed slowly. His eyes met Lila's. "But I won't."
Disappointment sliced through her clear down to the bone. She had counted on his agreeing with her. "But Brian—"
"Lila, put yourself in Riley's place. When you were shot and almost died on me all those years ago, how did you feel, having all that time to think about what'd happened?" He deliberately made no reference to how he'd felt, watching her sink to the ground, or what had gone through his mind as his own hands tried to stop the bleeding, to desperately keep her life from flowing out of her body.
Her mouth turned grim. "Awful," Lila finally conceded.
And she had continued to feel that way long after she'd recuperated from her gunshot wound. Ben McIntyre, her first husband, had used the shooting to manipulate her. Jealous of what he thought was her relationship with Brian, her partner at the time, Ben had forced her to quit the force in order to become a full-time wife and mother. While she loved her children, she hated being away from the life that gave hers such meaning.
Giving up the force made her feel like only half a person.
"What I can do," Brian said, "is make Riley's status contingent on seeing the department's therapist."
"Hoolihan?" Even as she said the man's name, Lila shook her head. Her frown further underscored her disapproval.
Brian thought of himself as a fair man and he was always willing to listen to an opposing point of view. Turning around to face his wife, he leaned a hip against the sink and crossed his arms before his still rather buff chest.
"Okay, what's wrong with Hoolihan?" Brian asked.
After she'd been shot and before Ben had forced her to resign from the force, she'd seen the therapist on her own. She remembered it being a less-than-rewarding experience.
"Well, for one thing, I doubt if anyone but a robot could relate to the man." The session—and the man's cold, dead eyes—had left a bad taste in her mouth that existed to this day. "He's impersonal, removed and, frankly, the man gives me the creeps."
Brian thought it over for a moment. His own encounters with the therapist were limited to run-ins in the hall and an exchange of nods. He was in no position to champion the man.
"All right, we'll find someone else for Riley. That'll be your assignment," he said affectionately, punctuating the declaration with a quick kiss to her temple.
The corners of Lila's mouth lifted as she fisted one hand at her hip. "And what'll you be doing while I'm searching for a sympathetic ear for Riley?"
"You mean what'll I be doing aside from the massive task of directing the detectives of all the departments?" he deadpanned. He thought of the reason he was going in so early. "I'll be making the final decision regarding finding our daughter a new partner."
Lila smiled. She liked his reference to Riley as "our daughter" despite the fact that their combined families consisted of eight adult children and he could have just as easily divided the two factions into "your kids" and "my kids." Instead, they became "ours." That was just the Cavanaugh way and it was only one of the many reasons why she loved this man so much.
"Do you have anyone in mind?" Lila asked, curious.
He looked back into the mirror to make sure he'd shaved evenly. "Yes, I have someone very definite in mind."
"Do I get a name, or do I have to guess?" she asked.
Brian looked away from the mirror. There was a glimmer in his eyes. "Depends on what you're willing to trade for the information," he teased.
Lila glanced at her watch. "We're both due at the precinct in half an hour," she pointed out.
Wide shoulders rose and fell in a pseudo-careless shrug. "Lots of things can be accomplished in a small amount of time, Mrs. Cavanaugh," he told her just as he began to skim his lips lightly along her neck.
He could make her heart race so easily, Lila thought.
She doubted if she would ever get used to this. Or take it for granted.
"So, we're skipping breakfast," she said with minor difficultly as he stole her breath away.
"Not always the most important meal of the day," he told her, slowly working his way around her throat. He lifted up her chin with the tip of his finger to expose more of the targeted area.
Lila gave up the pretense of leaving the house on time. She wove her arms around her husband's neck.
"Consider it skipped," she breathed, giving in to temptation.
"But I didn't put in for a transfer," Riley protested, stunned.
She was sitting in her stepfather's office. That morning she'd found a message on her desk saying that the Chief of Detectives wanted to see her. She'd come knowing that this had to be something official because if it was anything else, Brian would have picked up the telephone and called her at home to discuss it.
But she'd never expected to be hit with this.
"I know you didn't." Brian's voice was kind, but firm. "I decided to do it for you."
Riley had never been big on change, especially not now. "I've been assigned to Homicide ever since I made detective." A feeling of desperation began to sink hooks into her. She did her best to bank down the feeling. "Have I done something wrong? Because if I have, just tell me what it is and I'll—"
Brian cut her off. "No, nothing. You haven't done anything wrong, Riley," he emphasized. "You're an asset to the force and, most likely, this is only a temporary assignment. Robbery is currently shorthanded." He paused for a moment before adding, "And you need a change."
He saw her shoulders stiffen, as if his words had been a physical blow.
"I just need to get back in the saddle," Riley insisted.
"You never got out of the saddle, Riley," Brian contradicted. "You didn't take any time off after Sanchez was killed, even when I encouraged you. And I understand that. You're one of those people who needs to be busy in order to deal with something unpleasant that's bothering you." He smiled at her. "You're not all that different than I am in this respect," he acknowledged. Getting out of his chair and from behind his desk, he drew closer to her. "This isn't punishment, Riley. This is taking a breather, getting a change of pace—and doing me a favor," he added for good measure, hoping that would help her.
Riley took a breath. This was the man who had brightened her mother's world a thousandfold. The man who had always been more of a father to her and her brothers and sister than her own father had been. Brian was doing what he thought was best for her, but she didn't want to give up her routine, didn't want to be away from people she was accustomed to working with. This was not the time for her to build new relationships.
Still, when he put it like that, it was hard turning the Chief down—even though she knew what was really behind his so-called request. And "favors" had nothing to do with it.
Sighing, she realized she had no choice but to relent. Riley nodded. "All right, if it's really that important, I guess I can work in the robbery division—but just until you get someone else to fill the position."
"Thank you. I knew I could count on you," he told her. She noticed that he didn't agree with her about the temporariness of the situation. Instead, he seemed to be waiting a beat, then continued. "And there's something else."
She knew it. Riley looked at her stepfather warily. "What?"
"Nothing major," he assured her. "I want you to see a therapist."
Riley closed her eyes, searching for strength. "Oh, God, Chief, not Hoolihan."
"No," he agreed with a laugh, "not Hoolihan. Your mother already made that case for you," he explained when she eyed him curiously.
"Mother?" Riley repeated quietly.
So they were both conspiring against her, she thought, feeling more alone than ever. She loved them both, but didn't they understand that she'd deal with this on her own terms? In her own way? That it was just going to take her time to forget the image of Diego, lying in the alley, in a pool of his own blood, a stake driven through his heart like some character in a grade B horror movie?
This wasn't a head cold she was trying to get over but a huge case of guilt. She should have been watching his back.
Brian nodded. "She made me see that talking to Hoolihan wasn't going to help. Your mother suggested that you find someone in private practice to help you deal with this."
Riley squared her shoulders in a defensive movement that, at one time or another, he'd seen his own four kids make. "But I am dealing with this."
Brian knew that he could successfully argue the case, but he merely said, "Humor me."
Riley sighed. She was stuck.
"How long do I have to find this 'shrink'?" She couldn't get herself to even say the word "therapist." Acknowledging the word would be like admitting that she needed help and she didn't. She just needed time, that was all.
"I would have preferred yesterday," Brian told her honestly, "but let's just say you need to find one by the end of the week."
She was definitely not looking forward to the search. "Yes, sir."
"Good, that's what I like to hear. Now, about your new partner—temporary partner," he threw in when he saw her grip the armrests and rise in her seat.
Sitting back down, Riley continued gripping the armrests as if ready to rip them out. "I don't need a partner," she protested with feeling. "I can work on my own."
"That's not how this operates, Riley, and you know it. The only time a detective goes solo is if his—or her—partner calls in sick for the day. We work in teams, Riley, we always have," he reminded her. "Homicide, Robbery, Vice, it doesn't matter what department, the procedure is the same."
Because he was a man she respected as well as loved, she decided to be honest with him, to bare her soul for the moment. "Chief, if something happens to my partner right now, I don't think I'm up to handling that."
"Which is why I said you need to see a therapist," Brian reminded her gently.
"Besides," a deep voice behind Riley said, "nothing's going to happen to me, although I'm touched that you're concerned."
Intent on making her point with the Chief, Riley hadn't heard anyone behind her. The voice, coming out of the blue the way it did, nearly made her jump. At the same time, she realized that it sounded vaguely familiar.
Riley twisted around in her chair just in time to see Detective Sam Wyatt stride in, then lean his long, muscular frame against the doorjamb. He'd filled out some since she'd last seen him.
"Morning, Chief," Sam said, nodding at Brian. "You sent for me?"
"Always know how to make an entrance, don't you, Detective Wyatt?" Brian said with a shake of his head. He gestured to the chair beside Riley. "Sit down," he instructed.
"Yes, sir." He deposited his body into the vacant chair, sparing Riley a nod. "And as for making an entrance, in this case, I had to, sir.