Read an Excerpt
By Angie Daniels
Dafina BooksCopyright © 2005 Angie Daniels
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhile waiting at the checkout counter, Chenoa Campbell's gaze traveled out the storefront window where a familiar face caught her attention. Jeremy Abbott, her former partner, was standing near a bench outside Radio Shack with both hands stuck deep inside the front pockets of his denim jacket. A frown bunched her forehead as she watched his eyes darting rapidly from side to side. He appeared nervous and slightly agitated.
Chenoa searched his face and tried to reach into his thoughts. Watching him with keenly observant eyes, she quickly determined he was waiting for someone.
She handed the cashier her money then stole another look in his direction. Jeremy glanced down at his watch, shook his head then began to pace a small path in front of the store. The mall was busy, so several times he was blocked from her line of vision, but when she caught sight of him again, he was still there, waiting. For whom? she wondered.
"Six ninety-five is your change," a voice said, breaking into her thoughts.
With a start, Chenoa glanced over at the cashier. "I'm sorry. I was thinking about something." She stuck her change in her purse, reached for the bag, and headed out the store.
Maneuvering around a bunch of teenage boys, she strolled across to where Jeremy was standing. She had to call his name several times before he finally responded.
He stopped in his tracks then turned and gave her an absent smile. "Hey, Campbell. What are you doing here?"
Chenoa gave him a curious look. "I was about to ask you the same. I'm doing a little shopping. What about you?"
"I ... um was waiting for someone, but it doesn't look like they're coming." Nervously, a set of keys slipped from his fingers. He reached down and retrieved them then glanced over his shoulder before returning his gaze to Chenoa. Something was wrong. She had worked with Jeremy for over three years. That was long enough to know when he was acting unusual.
She shifted her weight to her other leg and placed a hand to her hip. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," he said all too quickly. He gave her a weak smile as if to reassure her then glanced down at his watch again. "Look, I got to go. I'll see you in the office tomorrow." Then he added as an afterthought, "It's my turn to pick up doughnuts." Before she had a chance to remind him to remember chocolate sprinkles, he turned and walked away.
Dumbfounded, Chenoa watched him leave. Jeremy looked over his shoulder every other step. With her lips pressed firmly together, she stood there until he was out of sight. Finally she shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't about to spend her evening worrying about him. Nevertheless, first thing tomorrow morning they were going to have a long talk.
The smell of fresh baked pretzels fluttered under her nose. She followed the scent to a stand to her right. Chenoa knew she didn't need a pretzel, not after the scale topped at one hundred and twenty-five pounds at her last doctor's appointment, but right now she was too hungry to care.
She had just stepped into the long line when sounds exploded. Gunshots. Running feet. Women and children screaming. Immediately, she reached inside her purse for a nine millimeter Glock.
"Police! Get down!" she cried as she pushed her way through the crowd toward the direction of the shots. Lying on the floor near the top of the escalator was Jeremy. His right hand clutched at his chest; the front of his shirt was covered in blood.
"Jeremy!" she cried, sinking to her knees beside him. Her eyes quickly darted through the crowd looking for the shooter, but no one stood out.
"Someone, call an ambulance!" she screamed at the people gathering around her. "Hold on, Jeremy." She reached into her bag for the silk blouse she had just purchased and pressed it firmly to his wound, hoping to slow down the loss of blood.
He greedily gasped for air then turned his face toward her and his hand came up to touch her arm. His fingers were cold against her skin. With a great deal of effort, he shoved a small piece of paper into her hand.
"He's ... the one." The words were garbled, loud enough for only Chenoa to hear. A fit of coughing overtook him and blood bubbled at the corner of his mouth. "Be ... careful." His eyes shone hard as steel for the flicker of a moment before his body went limp, and his head rolled to the side.
"No. Jeremy, wake up!" She pounded on his chest, trying to keep his heart pumping just a few minutes longer. "Dammit, you can't die on me."
Someone stepped forward from behind her, coming to one knee beside Jeremy. "Excuse me, miss. I'm a doctor."
Chenoa stumbled out of the way and allowed the young woman room. "Please, stay back!" she said to the growing crowd. While she watched the woman check for a pulse, she snatched her cell phone from her hip and dialed headquarters. She reported the homicide and asked for officers to secure the scene.
By the time she ended the call, the woman rose and gave her a grim look. "I'm sorry, but he's gone."
Tears stung the backs of Chenoa's eyes as she shook her head in denial. She hadn't witnessed a homicide in two years, yet even then it had been a complete stranger, not a dear friend.
"Oh, no!" Chenoa heard from somewhere over her left shoulder. She swung around to see her sister, Chante, standing in the crowd. She'd dropped her bags and gasped, "That's Jeremy, isn't it?"
Chenoa nodded then moved to stand beside her older sister. Instantly, Chante curved an arm protectively around her waist.
"What happened?" Chante asked.
Chenoa closed her eyes for several seconds and when she opened them again, she returned her gaze to Jeremy's lifeless body. "I don't know, but I'm definitely going to find out."
"Have a seat," Sergeant Robert Lawson said before he moved behind his oak desk and eased into a large leather chair.
Chenoa closed the door behind them then plopped down in a chair across from his desk, sinking into its cushioned depths.
"You don't look too good," he observed.
"No, I guess I don't," Chenoa answered. She dropped her head to her hands. Her thoughts were spiraling with the events of the past several hours and she felt as if her head were about to explode.
Everything had happened so fast she still couldn't believe that Jeremy was dead. The ambulance, the reporters, the crowds of people at the mall, and the blood.
She looked down at the evidence of his murder smeared across the front of her sweater. Blood. Jeremy's blood. Soaked through, no doubt. It took all she had not to rip the clothes from her body just to rid herself of the smell, the memories of what had happened.
"Are you all right?" Lawson asked, regarding her closely.
Chenoa glanced up at her boss of three years. Tall and solidly built, the middle-aged father of five had a head full of raven-black hair with a touch of gray at the temples. His extraordinary golden brown eyes were filled with genuine concern.
Chenoa released a long sigh. "I'm fine," she answered. She wasn't really but there was no way she was going to break down in front of him even if was understandable. She took a deep breath to steel her nerves. "Why do you ask?"
Lawson leaned forward in his chair. "Because a good friend died in your arms today, Chenoa. It's all right to cry."
Chenoa noticed the slight shake in his hands and realized he was far from unaffected himself.
The retired marine captain may have had the military running through his blood, but the man she knew was a far cry from being cold and heartless when it came to his officers. Even though the marines was known for training its soldiers to hide their emotions and become tough as nails, Lawson was often seen expressing his feelings. When a rookie was killed last year during a robbery that went bad, Lawson showed sorrow like all of the rest of them. When his mother passed last year of heart failure, he was often found at his desk, head down, stricken with grief. Chenoa knew Lawson would understand and probably hold her in his arms while she cried for the loss of her friend, but she couldn't do that. She was a detective and tears were a sign of weakness. It was already hard enough being one of three women assigned to the Wilmington Police Department. Showing any signs of weakness would only make her life as a newly promoted detective even harder.
"I'll be fine. So, please, don't worry about me." She knew the quiver in her voice would probably betray her even though she tried to sound in control. "I'd rather you put your energies into finding the person who murdered Jeremy." Her hands closed in a tight fist to conceal their trembling.
"Oh, we will. Don't worry about that," he vowed, seemingly letting the topic of her well-being drop. But Chenoa knew better. Lawson would keep an eye on her for a while to see that she was holding up as well as she pretended to be. He was a man trained to be observant, to notice any detail no matter how minor. He would definitely recognize weakness and would immediately put her on leave with no room for discussion. Lawson knew his officers like the back of his hand and often had the uncanny ability to read their minds.
"Why don't you tell me what happened?"
She rubbed her eyes, trying to massage out the headache that was threatening to stake claim at the corner of her forehead. "I don't know what happened," Chenoa answered honestly. "When I stopped to talk to him, he seemed nervous. He kept looking over his shoulder, watching everyone around him."
"Did he tell you what was wrong?"
Lowering her head, she shook it. "I asked, but he said it was nothing. Apparently, he was waiting for someone."
For some reason, she didn't mention the note that he had given her.
On her way over to the station she had pulled it out and read it. Until she had a chance to figure out what it meant, she would keep that piece of information to herself.
Chenoa took a deep shaky breath then exploded from the chair. "Damn! I should have insisted. I should have followed him and kept asking him questions."
Lawson watched her for several long seconds, letting her burn off a good amount of anger; then he asked, "Did you see anything?"
"No." She paced the length of his office. "He didn't want to talk and I didn't want to pressure him. I thought I would wait until morning then ask him about it. Then I heard gun-fire and women and children screaming. It had happened so quickly and the only thing I saw was Jeremy lying on the ground with two bullet holes at the center of his chest."
"Did you check the crowd?"
She came to a halt. Her gaze snapped to his. "For what? Someone holding a gun?" She gave a harsh laugh that was far from amusing. "The murderer was gone long before Jeremy had even hit the floor. But, yes, I checked the crowd as best I could without knowing what in the hell I was supposed to be looking for." The shooter had been right there somewhere among the crowd watching her every move. It could have been anybody.
Chenoa drew a deep breath, once again forbidding herself to cry. If only she had known who Jeremy was meeting.
An abstract thought crept to her mind. "What was Jeremy working on?" she asked.
Lawson stared at her thoughtfully, trying to decide if he should share that information with her before finally saying, "The Cocktail Murders."
Her brow arched and she returned to her seat. "I didn't know he was on that case."
Lawson's mouth tightened momentarily. "That's because he was working undercover."
The highly televised crimes spanned a six-month period. Barmaids and a waitress found dead. A serial killer who was smart enough to have left behind nothing but a truckload of unanswered questions plagued the state.
Chenoa's mind began to race. Jeremy must have gotten too close. He had somehow stumbled on the truth.
Suddenly, she remembered Jeremy's partner. "Has anyone contacted Payton?"
There was a long prolonged silence as she kept rewinding the series of events, trying to think what she could have done differently. If she had insisted that Jeremy tell her what was going on maybe he would still be alive. That possibility would haunt her until his killer was found.
She rose from the chair. "I want on the case."
Lawson ran a hand across his head. "Campbell, this is not the time for revenge. Besides, we have no evidence that says his murder had anything to do with his involvement in that case."
She tilted her chin in a defiant gesture. "But I am determined to find out. I want justice. Jeremy was more than just a former partner. You know as well as anybody no one is going to be more determined to solve his murder than I am."
He gave her a long worried look then released a sigh. "Campbell, go home and get some rest. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
Without saying another word, she turned and walked out of his office.
Chenoa went home, stripped, and climbed into a tub filled with mango-scented bubbles. She looked down at the blood under her fingernails. The thought of Jeremy lying in her arms had her hands shaking so hard, she almost dropped the soap. She took a deep breath. Somehow she would have to find a way to come to terms with what had happened.
Jeremy was gone.
She momentarily closed her eyes as emotions flooded her, and again she struggled to keep visions of his lifeless body at bay.
They had been partners until he was promoted to detective in early March. After a nasty divorce from his first love, he was thankful for the raise in pay in order to keep up his child support payments. Suffering from a broken heart, the only things that held him together were his two preschoolage daughters.
Despite his home life, Jeremy had always been the life of the party. The office just wouldn't be the same without his jokes and horseplay.
Chenoa opened her tearstained eyes and for the next ten minutes lay motionless as she remembered the past three years.
Jeremy had been the only officer she had completely trusted. Other than with her family, trust had never come easily for her, especially not with men. After several failed relationships, she had come to realize that once trust was gone, rebuilding it was a long and painful process that she just didn't have the time or the patience to deal with. Instead she made certain not to place that kind of trust in anyone else. She could take care of herself. At least that's what she had thought.
What she would remember most about Jeremy was that he changed her way of thinking when he had saved her life. They were on a stakeout and she had underestimated a seventeen- year-old drug dealer. If Jeremy hadn't walked in the room when he had, she would not have lived to have seen her twenty-fifth birthday. After that she realized no matter what, her partner had her back.
Excerpted from LOVE UNCOVERED by Angie Daniels Copyright © 2005 by Angie Daniels. Excerpted by permission.
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