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One True Thing
By Marilyn Pappano
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I wish you would reconsider."
Jace Barnett didn't look up from the desk he was cleaning out. He didn't need to see to know it was Tim Potter who stood on the other side. The captain had tried to stop him when he left the disciplinary hearing, but Jace had gotten away without speaking to him. He'd known his luck wouldn't hold until he left the building, but after the hearing, he just hadn't given a damn.
"You caught a bad break, Jace -"
He shoved the drawer shut and began gathering the few items on the desktop. "A bad break? I didn't do anything wrong, but the department hung me out to dry anyway because it was politically expedient." He loaded the last two words with every bit of the disgust he felt for them, for the higher-ups who'd sat in judgment of him, for the machine that had sacrificed him for the chief's greater good.
"I know," Potter said, his tone as conciliatory as Jace's wasn't. "You got a raw deal, and I swear, we'll make it up to you. But that's going to be hard if you go crawling off with your feelings hurt."
The only personal item remaining on the desk was a photograph taken two months earlier. The Barnett clan at Thanksgiving - his parents, Ray and Rozena; his uncle Del and aunt Lena; his cousin Reese and his wife, Neely. Jace stood in the middle with Amanda, his arm around her shoulders. She was gone now, part of the fallout of his "raw deal." She'd liked cops in general and him in particular, but not after the suspension. Not once he'd become the target of a very public and negative witch-hunt. Last he'd heard, she was seeing some detective in Vice, and she was in love.
He hoped the vice cop had a more realistic understanding of what that meant than he'd had. He'd believed her - had even been planning to ask her to marry him once this mess was over. He'd been a first-class sucker.
He put the photo in his gym bag, then stood and met Potter's gaze. "I'm not crawling off. I'm getting the hell out."
"But, Jace - A couple more years and you can retire. You don't want to give that up."
Jace switched the gym bag to his other hand, scooped his coat off the desk and headed for the door. "Screw retirement. Screw the job. Screw you all." Just like they'd screwed him.
He was almost outside when Potter caught his arm. "Forget the resignation, Jace. We'll consider this a temporary leave of absence. Take some time to cool off and think about it clearly."
He'd had nothing to do but think since they'd pulled him off the job weeks ago. He'd thought until he was sick of it, and he'd always reached the same conclusion. It was time to get out. If this treatment was the best the Kansas City Police Department could do for one of its wronged veteran detectives, he no longer wanted to be a part of it.
It had begun snowing while he was inside. He stopped, pulled on his coat and gloves, then opened the door. Frigid air along with a few flakes rushed inside as he looked back at Potter. "I've given this department my best for more than fifteen years - my dedication, my loyalty, my support - and the first time I need some of it back, you tell me to bend over and take it quietly, then get back to the job as if nothing happened. Well, Captain, it ain't gonna happen. I'm outta here."
He stepped out into the snow and headed for his truck. Potter stepped out after him, but didn't speak. When Jace pulled away from the curb, the captain was still standing there, snow coating his gray hair and shoulders.
His fingers tight around the steering wheel, Jace headed for his apartment. He'd been a damned fool. All along he'd believed today's hearing would exonerate him. The suspension, the investigation, being yanked off his cases - that was all routine whenever allegations of wrongdoing were made against an officer. He'd hated it, but he'd been positive everything would turn out in his favor. Hell, he'd done nothing wrong.
Except believe in the department and the people he'd worked with.
Except think that seventeen years of outstanding service counted for something.
Except assume that the truth actually counted for something.
Today he'd learned better. The police chief had a run for the governor's office in mind, and justice for one detective stood little chance against his ambitions.
Seventeen years patrolling the streets, working Homicide and Sex Crimes and Narcotics, seventeen years of dealing with scum, working long hours for too little pay, facing danger more often than he wanted to recall, and this was the thanks he got. Sacrificed for the benefit of the chief's public image.
He was only a few blocks from the apartment when he saw a car at the side of the road. Its right wheels were in a ditch, its headlights pointed up and illuminating the snow that darkened the afternoon. A woman stood near the rear of the car, huddled in her coat and looking helplessly at the vehicle. Automatically he eased his foot off the gas and switched on his blinker to pull onto the shoulder.
Deliberately he shut off the blinker and pressed the gas pedal down instead.
He was out of the help-giving business.
Slow as molasses in winter, the sun crept across the morning sky, bathing the landscape in bright light so harsh it leached the color from the day. Somewhere in the not-too-far distance, an overly excited canine burst into a frenzied fit of barking and ...
Oh, jeez, that sucked. Frowning, Cassidy McRae gazed at the scene in front of her and tried again.
Fat clouds stirred overhead, casting lazy shadows over the forest. A hawk circled, its wings outstretched, its fingerlets rippling in the self-generated breeze, its eagle-eyed gaze searching ...
An eagle-eyed hawk? Sheesh.
How about ... In the distance, a buck appeared on the verdant lakeshore, its gaze alert and wary as he approached the water for a drink, his impressive antlers casting equally impressive shadows on the smooth glassy surface.
She snorted in much the same way her imaginary buck might. There were many things she couldn't do in life, and it looked as if turning an evocative phrase was one of them.
Calling herself a writer couldn't make it so, any more than claiming to be a Martian would make that true.
For example, take the scene in front of her. A real writer would be able to describe it in such rich detail that her reader would feel the morning air, soft, still bearing the faint memory of the dawn coolness but growing heavy with the promise of heat. She would smell the clean fragrances of the woods, the lake, the wildflowers blooming in profusion in the tall grass, and she would hear the birdsong, the faint hum of insects and the gentle lapping of the water against the shore.
She, not being a real writer by anyone's definition, would say the scene was rustic. Very country. More accurately, very un-citylike.
See? She couldn't even decide for herself what it was.
Excerpted from One True Thing by Marilyn Pappano Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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