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"Looks like Lizzie's running late this morning."
"When I called Sergeant Scott, she said she would meet me in her office." Sam Broussard scowled at the short, balding detective who'd led him to the closed door at one end of a murky basement corridor in the Oklahoma City P.D.'s headquarters building. "Eight o'clock sharp."
The cop who'd introduced himself as Kostka slid a key into the door's lock and swung it open, releasing a whiff of musty air into the hallway. The space beyond the door reminded Sam of a windowless black cave.
It matched his dark mood.
"When did Lizzie make that appointment with you?" Kostka asked while reaching in and flipping on the office's overhead lights. "I called her from Shreveport two weeks ago today," Sam answered, wondering why the hell that mattered.
"She said she was flying to Vegas that afternoon to get married, and would be back at work this morning."
Which was the start of the first leave time Sam had taken since the tragedy that had thrown his world out of whack. Time off his lieutenant had ordered him to take.
Kostka rubbed his double chin. "That'd explain it."
"Lizzie's experienced a few personal complications lately." Kostka stuck a hitchhikerlike thumb toward the office. "Why don't you get settled while I give her a call?"
Sam remained in the dim corridor while his narrowed gaze took in the neat-as-a-pin desk in the cubbyhole-size office, its walls lined with battered black filing cabinets. He doubted Liz Scott's personal complications could get anywhere near to the damnable ones he'd endured. Even after two and a half years the guilt still ate at him like acid.
The one thingtheonly thingthat had eased that searing ache was the intense edginess he felt a month ago when he recovered the .45 Colt.
The thought of the weapon that had been linked to one of Oklahoma City's cold case homicides had Sam peering around the office's door to see if he could spot a second desk. He didn't.
"Does Scott have a partner?" he asked.
"No," Kostka answered. "The OCPD received some sort of grant to open the cold case office a couple of months ago. Got funding for only one detective position. That'd be Lizzie's."
Sam knew he could turn over the evidence envelope he had carried in from his SUV to the department's property room, then get back on the road to the vacation he had no desire to take. But leaving the Colt wouldn't help him figure out why the instant he'd touched it, he felt the equivalent of a rasp running right up his spine to the base of his skull.
Each day the gun had stayed in possession of the Shreveport P.D., that feeling had intensified. Which was something Sam hadn't shared even with his own partner, much less his Grandmother Broussard. One mention of his edgy unease, and the self-professedand very superstitiousconjure woman who'd raised him would have mixed up one of her infamous herb bags of who-knew-what green leafy substances, with instructions for him to sleep with it under his pillow.
Even if he didn't give a damn about the case the Colt connected to, Sam knew all too well how defense attorneys could twist chain-of-custody issues to get evidence tossed out. Thirty years had passed since the automatic was used to murder a woman. With the case still unsolvedand a motherlode of evidence found inside the gunhe didn't want to risk having a judge rule the Colt inadmissible just because the cop who recovered it had failed to turn it over to the current officer of record on the case.
"I'm late! I'm sorry I'm late."
The harried female voice and hurried clip of footsteps on the dingy tile floor had Sam looking over his shoulder.
Despite the dim lighting, he could tell that the tall, long-legged woman rushing his way was a knockout. Her skin seemed flawless, her face a perfect oval. Her hair was slicked back and twisted into a braid that hung over one shoulder. As she moved, one flap of her turquoise jacket fanned back to reveal the gold badge and holstered automatic clipped to the waistband of her black slacks.
When she got close enough for him to see that her hair was flame-red, a feeling of familiarity hit him. But if they'd ever met before, he couldn't name the place or time.
"Welcome back, Lizzie," Kostka said. "I was about to settle your visitor in your office and give you a call."
"Thanks, Kostka, I owe you."
"And don't forget it." Behind the older man's grin, Sam saw the sharp assessment in his eyes as he gave her a quick going over. "I heard about the latest glitch in your plans. You okay?"
"Fine. I'm fine."
It took Sam by surprise to find himself fighting the impulse to reach out, trail his fingertips down the knotted cable of her hair to find out if it felt as fiery as it looked. Instead he offered his hand. "Sergeant Scott, I'm Detective Broussard, Shreveport P.D."
"Detective," she said, extending her hand. "Sorry I wasn't here when you arrived."
The instant her palm pressed against his, Sam felt heat zigzag between them like a bolt of lightning.
"You're here now," he said, and suspected she'd felt the sensation, too. Why else would her eyes narrow, or her hand linger in his a moment longer than necessary?
"Guess I'm done here," Kostka said, turning toward Sam. "Pleasure to meet you, Broussard."
Sam returned the detective's handshake. "Thanks for the escort."
"No problem," Kostka said, then ambled down the hallway toward the elevator.
"I planned to arrive early and have things organized for when you got here," Liz said across her shoulder as she stepped into her office. She plopped her black leather tote bag on the desk, then turned back to face him.
Beneath the office lights, Sam saw that her eyes were ice-green. A tingle touched the back of his neck like a cool wind. Again, he felt a sense of familiarity, as though he'd gazed into those green eyes before, but had no memory of where or when. All he knew for sure was that if his grandmother ever got wind of this, she'd get her sister and cousins together for a mass tarot card reading.
"Then ." Liz lifted a hand, let it drop. "Time just got away from me."
Stayed home for a quickie with the new husband? Sam wondered. She wasn't wearing a wedding ring, but neither had he. There were plenty of ways for do-wrongs to get revenge against a cop. No sense telegraphing that the cop had a spouse someone could go after.
Sam settled in the sole chair at the front of the desk that Scott had waved him toward. He noted her office was ruthlessly organized. File drawers were neatly closed, papers stacked, their edges aligned.
Some instinct told him she ran her life that same way. "So, what do I call you now?"
Her copper-colored brows drew together. "Now?"
"When we talked on the phone, you said you were flying to Vegas to get married. You going by your husband's last name?"
"Oh." She looked away toward one of the windowless walls, but not before Sam saw the color rise in her cheeks.
Great, Liz thought. Well, she had to deal with her acquaintances and coworkers being privy to the mortifying details of how her personal life had imploded, but she did not have to share them with a total stranger like Broussard.
And she didn't care for the shock that had run up her arm when his hand had closed around hers.
"I'm still going by Scott," she said vaguely and studied him out of the corner of one eye while tugging a thick legal-size envelope out of her tote bag.
Broussard was tall, lean and broad-shouldered, dressed in black chinos and a charcoal canvas shirt with its sleeves rolled up on his forearms. Even though it was mid-fall, his skin was deeply tanned, his dark, shaggy hair shot with gold highlights from the sun. A rough shadow of beard darkened his cheeks and jaw. His features were chiseled, more rugged than refined, giving him the all-American jock look a lot of cops had.
"I remember you saying you'd be stopping here on your way to Colorado," Liz said while stowing her tote in the bottom drawer of her desk. "So we can deal with the transfer of evidence paperwork first thing and get you back on the road."
He glanced down at the envelope in his left hand, then lifted his gaze back to hers. Something flicked in his eyes, then disappeared before she could read it. "I'm not in that much of a hurry."
His voice had a killer rough-sweet quality, gravelly and totally sexy, with a noticeable Louisiana accent. The way her heart rate hitched at the slow drawl had Liz locking her jaw. With a real-life ex-fiancé and a dreamed-up hunk lover, the last thing she needed was to get the hots for some Louisiana cop just passing through.
Caffeine, she thought. Strong, cop coffee was what she needed to get her system leveled.
"Since you've got spare time," she said, "how about I go down the hall and pour us some coffee?"
In the five minutes it took her to retrieve the coffee and settle behind her desk, Liz had regained her composure. She had reminded herself that showing up late for the first time in her law enforcement career was not a capital offense. What mattered in the big scheme of things was that she was back at work. Her mistake had been taking off the two weeks she'd planned to be on her honeymoon. Spending that time mostly alone hadn't done her nerves any gooddidn't her recurring dream prove that? Once she slid back into the routine at work, she was sure her life would get back on track. Even though it wouldn't be the married life she'd envisioned for herself.
"Since you've been off, I guess you haven't had time to review the homicide file the Colt connects to," Broussard said before taking his first sip of coffee.
"Actually I have." She opened the thick envelope she'd pulled from her bag and tugged out its contents.
"I took the file with me to Vegas."
One of his dark brows quirked. "I'd say working while on your honeymoon is beyond the call of duty."
Liz gave him a tight smile. "I'm dedicated." And way thankful she'd been able to immerse herself in the details of the thirty-year-old murder and forget her own heart-wrenching troubles for a time. "So, Detective, you said you recovered the Colt in a cellar at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Shreveport?"
"Busted a fencing operation there," Broussard said and frowned.
"Something wrong with your coffee?"
"No. Sergeant Scott, have we met before?" Regarding Broussard from across her desk, Liz didn't realize the side-trip her mind had taken until she found herself comparing his eyes to Dream Lover's. The shape might be similar, but instead of a shocking blue color, Broussard's eyes were a hard gray that reminded her of rocks hacked out of a cliff.
And he was real, flesh and blood. A prime piece of eye-candy. She definitely would have remembered if they'd ever crossed paths.
"I'm certain we've never met, Detective. Why do you ask?"
"Because you look familiar. Very."
"I don't have a clue why," she answered. He sipped his coffee, watching her over the rim of his cup. "Have you ever been to Shreveport? Maybe attended a law enforcement conference somewhere in Louisiana?"
"No, to both." Liz rubbed her forehead where a headache brewed. After two weeks of having her sleep interrupted each night, she had to struggle to keep her thoughts sharp. "Can we get back to the Colt?"
"Yeah." Leaning forward, Broussard handed the evidence envelope across the desk. "I put a copy of my report, our firearm examiner's and the lab's inside."
Liz slid open the envelope and pulled out a clear plastic baggie containing the blue steel automatic. Wish you could talk, she thought, gazing down at the weapon that had ended a woman's life decades ago.
Setting the Colt aside, she slid the reports from the envelope. "Instead of my sitting here reading these, why don't you give me the highlights?"
"All right." Leaning back, Broussard rested an ankle over his knee. "It's hard to say how long the fencing operation we busted has been in business, but some of the stuff we found had been there a long time."
He inclined his head toward the desk. "Like the Colt. It was in the cellar in a plastic storage bin filled with guns.
"A lab tech ran all the weapons through NCIC. We got a hit that the Colt had been reported stolen thirty years ago in Oklahoma City. When our examiner tried to do a ballistics test fire, he discovered the Colt was jammed. He disassembled it and found the trace evidence I told you about on the underside of the slide."
"A small piece of latex, skin tissue and blood." The investigator in Liz couldn't suppress a smile. "You have to figure the latex is from a surgical glove worn by someone who shot the Colt. And that he placed his hand too high on the grip, then squeezed the trigger. The slide came back, then forward so fast, he probably didn't even know what 'bit' him."
Broussard nodded. "That shooter could be the person who killed your victim."
"If so, after thirty years we now have his or her DNA." Liz lifted a hand to finger the tail of her braid.
"The timing on this is amazing."
"This office has been in existence only a few months, and I've been playing catch-up. It wasn't that long ago I submitted the ballistics information on the shell in that specific homicide to the ATF's database."
For the second time, Broussard regarded her over the rim of his cup. Beneath the office's bright lights, his smoky-gray eyes looked as hard as the strong lines of his beard-stubbled jaw.