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The Quiet Storm
By RaeAnne Thayne
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe ice princess was nervous.
From his post by the door of the precinct break room, Beau Riley watched the woman perched on a plastic molded chair in front of his desk. She sat prim as a schoolgirl, with spine-cracking posture - knees perfectly aligned, shoulders back, those huge blue eyes focused neither to the right nor the left.
He might have thought she was carved from a thin glacial sheer except for her hands, which trembled ever so slightly.
No. Scratch that, he corrected himself, looking a little closer. She was more than nervous. She was scared to death. Elizabeth Quinn, multigazillionaire publishing heiress, looked ready to jump right out of her skin.
He had to admit he wanted to let her stew in it a little longer, let her sit there until perspiration popped out on that lush, perfect lip, until she was as jumpy as a grasshopper on a hot sidewalk.
The vindictiveness of the impulse startled him. Was his ego really so fragile?
Maybe. He had plenty of reason to dislike this particular rich bitch.
Still, curiosity was a far stronger element of his psyche than petty vengeance. He had to find out. What the hell was she doing perched at the desk of one of Seattle PD's finest? What would possibly make the ice princess come down from her crystal palace to mingle with the rest of the world?
Whatever she was doing here, he wouldn't find out unless he talked to her. With one hand fisted around the handle of his favorite Sonics coffee mug, he sauntered to his desk and loomed over her.
As he neared, she drew a deep breath as if gearing up for a firing squad, then she lifted her gaze to his. He wanted to think he saw an instant of shocked recognition in those cool-blue eyes, then she shielded whatever emotion might be lurking there.
"May I help you?" he asked, his voice sharp as an ice pick.
She blinked a little at his tone, and those pretty white hands fluttered just once then tightened on the strap of a slim little nothing of a purse he was willing to bet cost more than his month's salary.
"Are you ..." Her voice faltered and she closed her eyes. After a few seconds she opened them again. He was intrigued to see that the nervousness had given way to determination. "Are you Detective Riley?"
So it wasn't a mistake. She was here looking for him. He narrowed his eyes as his curiosity kicked up a notch. Last time he'd seen her, she hadn't been nearly as eager to talk to him.
"Yeah. I'm Riley. Who wants to know?" He couldn't resist asking the question, even though he knew exactly who she was.
Muscles worked in her throat as she swallowed. "My name is Elizabeth Quinn. I'm a ... friend of Grace Dugan's.
She gave me your name and said you might be able to help me."
Ah. Suddenly things began to make more sense. He should have known Gracie had her meddling little fingerprints all over this somehow. His temporarily sidelined partner damn well ought to have enough on her plate with a husband like Jack Dugan, a new baby, an energetic seven-year-old and that big house out on Bainbridge Island.
But Gracie wasn't content with that. Oh, no. She wasn't happy unless she was coming up with new and creative ways to tangle up his life.
He swallowed a frustrated growl and turned his attention back to the latest complication perched in front of him. Damn. Why did it have to be Elizabeth Quinn? She probably needed a traffic ticket fixed or some other piddling thing.
He wanted to order her away from his desk. Wanted to snarl that he had real police business waiting for him and didn't have time for this today. Before he could open his mouth, though, he caught sight of her hands again. Those long, slender fingers looked strangely vulnerable clasping that ridiculous bag. Closer inspection showed that instead of the glossy polish he might have expected, the nails were bare and looked as if they'd been chewed almost to the quick.
The sight shouldn't have moved him. He was a hardened police detective who had seen the worst life had to offer. Still, a funny little twinge caught in his chest.
"How can I help you?" he finally asked.
Elizabeth Quinn pursed those lush lips, so at odds with the rest of her prissy, back-off demeanor. She followed his gaze to her hands, then looked back at him, and the sudden pain etched into her eyes like acid on glass took him by surprise.
It had been there all the time, he realized, just buried beneath all the nervousness.
"I need you to find a murderer," she whispered.
Okay. He wasn't expecting that one. He edged back in his chair and frowned. "We have a chain of command for these kinds of things, Ms. Quinn. If you're here to report a crime, I can point you in the right direction. Other than that, I'm not sure how I can help you."
Her chin lifted. "I've been through just about every link in that chain of command, Mr. Riley. I'm ready to hire private investigators, but Grace suggested I come to you first."
Lucky him. He made a mental note to wring Gracie's pretty little neck the next time he saw her, and blew out a breath. "What is it you expect me to do?"
She had an odd habit of pausing before she spoke, as if weighing the wisdom of every word. Beau caught himself leaning forward so he didn't miss anything.
"I'm here to ask you to reopen a case that has been closed."
"We don't close murder cases until a suspect is convicted."
"This case was closed because the death was ruled a suicide. But it's not. I know it wasn't. You people have it wrong, no matter how damning the evidence might seem. Tina never would have killed herself. Never. She might have been depressed and ... and in trouble but she would never have done anything that drastic."
Whoa. Where did all this intensity come from? The ice princess had suddenly vanished, leaving behind a passionate woman with snapping blue eyes and flaming color.
He wouldn't have expected that such emotion lurked inside the brittle shell of Elizabeth Quinn. He had to wonder what other heat might be hidden there.
"I'm sorry. You're going to have to give me a little more than a first name to go on here. Tina who?"
It was fascinating to watch her control click back into place. One minute she radiated fire, the next she sat before him composed and cool. She waited just a heartbeat more, then she spoke softly. "Tina Hidalgo. My friend. Three weeks ago she was found dead in her apartment. Shot."
Her mouth with its elegant pink tint gave a tiny quiver and straightened again. "There was no sign of forced entry, no fingerprints but her own on the gun, and she left a note."
"Sounds pretty cut-and-dried."
"Yes, that's what the other detectives-Speth and Walker-concluded. But they're wrong."
He had seen this reaction before. Suicides were often the toughest cases a cop had to work. In their grief and denial, the people left behind often struggled to face the fact that their loved one would ever take such a final step. They often preferred to focus their anger not on the deceased but on the cops with the nerve to put such a stark label on their loss.
He didn't want to add to her grief, but it would be cruel to give her any hope that he could help her. "Ms. Quinn, I'm sorry about your friend. But Marc Walker and Dennis Speth are both fine detectives. They wouldn't have closed the case unless they had ruled out any possibility of homicide and unless the medical examiner signed off on their findings. I'm not sure what you would like me to do."
Excerpted from The Quiet Storm by RaeAnne Thayne 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.