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Reunited in Danger
By Joya Fields, Rochelle French
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Joya Fields
All rights reserved.
Keely Allen's feet pounded down the hallway, in rhythm with her hammering heart, and her breath came in short puffs. Her instincts screamed at her to bolt out of the Baltimore City Courthouse, because the ache she felt for the two kids she hadn't been able to help was unbearable. Instead, she ran past the front exit, down the marble hallway, and into a conference room. Nevaeh Kaufman, her friend and fellow social worker for the child abuse case, followed her in and shut the door.
Keely stared at Nevaeh. "How could Judge Lawrence make that ruling?"
"We can't win 'em all, Keely."
"How could a judge possibly think those two kids will be safe in that bastard's custody?"
"The lawyer knew what to say, how to play the cards. The illegal search and seizure itself was enough to get the dad off. When the doctor testified the marks on Tommy and Ava weren't necessarily consistent with abuse, it sealed their fate. And he's their biological father."
"Like that means anything." Keely would see the children's faces as she tried to sleep in the coming nights. As a social worker at Child Protective Services, she'd trained herself not to let the cases affect her personal life. But she wouldn't be able to forget these two. Little Ava reminded Keely of herself as a child. That girl needed the chance at a decent life — the kind of life Keely had been lucky enough to find.
She sat at the conference room table and buried her head in her hands. Her eyes burned from too much time spent on her laptop, her stomach growled from too much coffee, and her heart ached from seeing too much pain. "I can't do this anymore, Nevaeh."
But what other career choices did she have? She'd become a social worker to fight injustices against children, but now she felt ... stuck.
Her cell phone vibrated in her pants pocket. She answered it, still distracted.
"Keely, hurry home ... your father ..."
Her heart stuttered. Margaret Beyer, her father's next-door neighbor, sounded distressed. The call disconnected before she could ask what was wrong. Her gut tightened. Oh God. What had happened to her father? She knew her father's schedule — he should be at the airport at this time of day. Why would he be at home?
She redialed Mrs. Beyer's number, holding her breath. The call went directly to voice mail. She disconnected, then called her dad's cell.
"What's wrong?" Nevaeh asked.
Keely shook her head while her father's phone rang. "Something's wrong with my father." That call, too, went to voice mail.
"Can I help?"
"I just need to get there." She grabbed her briefcase and ran out of the conference room. Why hadn't either her father or Mrs. Beyer picked up? As she raced down the hall, she punched 911 into her cell phone, then quickly explained to the operator she thought her father could be in distress, gave her dad's address, and hurried outside. In seconds, she was in her car, racing to her father's house.
She sped down Baltimore's streets, gripping the steering wheel with sweaty hands. Could it be her father's heart? At seventy-five, he was active, still the preacher of his church and the leader of Loving Arms — the non-profit he and Keely's mom had founded to help pregnant women. Her dad thought rest was for the weak. But Keely had been after him to slow down lately.
Or maybe he'd been mugged. Her father's neighborhood wasn't the worst neighborhood in Baltimore, but she knew the dangers of city living — the shootings, the drugs ... the murder rate.
She turned the corner onto Monroe Street. Three Baltimore city police cars with flashing blue and red lights sat double-parked in front of her dad's row home. Right behind them: two ambulances. No.
After parking quickly, she ran to the house, where a young uniformed cop with a buzz-cut moved in front of her, blocking the marble steps. He held up a hand. "Can't go any further than this, ma'am."
She looked over the officer's shoulder. Uniformed men walked in and out of the house carrying evidence bags and clipboards, and wearing solemn looks on their faces. She suddenly went dizzy and sick to her stomach.
"My dad. Ben Allen. His neighbor called me. Is he ..."
"Ben Allen's your dad?" The officer frowned. "I need to see some ID."
A blue-eyed, pale-faced girl who had a dad with skin as dark as milk chocolate didn't add up for most people. She understood the officer's hesitation. Her fingers felt stiff and clumsy and it seemed to take forever to fish out her license. She read the officer's nametag as she handed him her ID: Tom Peterson.
After a quick inspection, Officer Peterson wrote her name on his clipboard. "This is as close as you can get. It's a crime scene."
She swayed and grabbed the brick exterior for support. "Is my dad okay?"
"He's injured. The EMTs are bringing him out soon."
She whispered a prayer. Ben. Her adoptive dad ... her rock. She shifted, and managed to get a view into the entryway. She recognized her father's neighbor, seated on the edge of a hardwood step, a female medic bandaging a cut on her forehead. The woman looked up and caught her eye.
"Keely, oh thank God," Mrs. Beyer called out.
To hell with the cop. Keely would get as close as she could. She mounted the first marble step and stuck her head through the doorway. "Where's my dad?"
"I saw them, Keely. They wore ski masks and gloves, but I could see the area around their eyes." Her voice cracked near the end of the sentence.
"This lady here had a shotgun, but one of them clocked her pretty good," the EMT said.
Mrs. Beyer was a staunch advocate for keeping her neighborhood safe, but the old ways didn't work so well with the newer generation. Keely glanced into the family room. Papers, trash, and knickknacks littered the floor and rugs.
She looked up when two medics rolled a gurney toward her, through the family room. Her father's dark face peeked out from under a blanket, but she wasn't even close enough to see if his eyes were open or closed.
She took a tentative step forward. "Oh my God. Dad?"
An older policeman, wearing a suit and a detective's badge lanyard around his neck, rounded the corner of the foyer. "You can't come in here."
"Come on, Dunnigan. She's his daughter," Peterson said.
With a slight rise of his graying eyebrows, the detective stepped back a few feet, then held out his arm to keep her stationary. "This is as close as you can get," he said.
She gasped when the EMTs rolled her dad closer. His eyes were swollen shut. Bright blood — that looked like it had splattered and dripped from his head wound — stained his polo shirt. His chest rose and fell.
Thank God. He's alive.
"They're taking him to Greene Street," the detective said.
She fought the nausea and fear that ripped at her gut. Oh dear God. Only the worst injuries went to the hospital on Greene Street.
She yearned to step closer to the man who'd given her shelter and love when her biological parents couldn't. Since she couldn't comfort him physically, she leaned forward. "You're going to be okay," she whispered.
If only she could believe her own words.
* * *
Logan North's heart palpitated as he steered his SUV through an intersection. He wouldn't break protocol by turning on the lights and siren, but he sure as hell would get to the hospital as fast as possible. The words he and his partner had just heard on the police radio echoed in his head. Ben Allen. Beaten unconscious and on his way to the hospital.
"Shit. Slow down. At this rate, you're gonna make it to the hospital before Ben's ambulance. You made me spill my coffee." In the seat next to him, Anthony Quinn wiped a hand on his jeans. "Bad enough the meeting with this damn snitch Jacko ended up being mostly a bad lead, you have to spill my coffee?"
Logan ignored his partner. Ben was more than a neighbor, more than the pastor at his childhood church. Ben was the closest thing to a father Logan had ever known. The pastor had come closer to being a father than Logan's own abusive parent. The man whose anger coursed through him like poison.
Right now, Logan wanted to beat the bastard who'd done this to Ben to a bloody pulp.
Damn. His temper was boiling over, and any instant he could turn into his dad. He needed to bury that fucking urge. Hadn't the charges of excessive force a year ago driven the point home?
He cleared his throat. "Ben's got to be okay. Keely's probably beside herself."
"Keely, eh? When was the last time you saw her?"
"Knock it off." This wasn't about his past relationship with Keely, it was about getting to Ben and helping him.
"You think I don't see what happens when her name comes up in conversation?" He kept his gaze forward.
"Go ahead. Deny it. She's the one who got away. The one you can't forget."
He clenched his jaw. The only way to deal with Quinn when he went off in a wrong direction was to wait it out. Silence.
"Oh, fine," Quinn said, settling back in his seat. "Let's stay in safe territory, then. Talk about the one part of Jacko's tip that might be useful. Boats."
Finally. Back to their case. Easier than discussing personal crap. "And women who don't speak English?"
"This shit reeks of human trafficking."
"Jacko said he'd know more by tomorrow," Logan said. "Let's hope he stays sober between now and then." Jacko had an uncanny ability to lead police to criminals through his tips from drug dealers. His information often led to arrests for murders and other serious crimes. When those tips proved worthy, that is.
Often as not, Jacko came up empty, or flat-out wrong.
"We need more facts," he added, "but it's time to alert the detective in charge of Human Trafficking."
"Good idea. Maybe you can go out with a bang, you know ... your last case before you leave for Texas could be the huge bust that gets us awards and media attention."
He wasn't interested in attention or awards. Getting out of town and away from police work was all he wanted. Too many years dealing with homicide — which included human trafficking. He'd be starting his new desk job in Texas soon. He couldn't wait.
Quinn's silence shifted Logan's attention back to Ben and his injuries. Would he be okay?
Someone messed with Ben, they messed with Logan. He'd find out who hurt Ben. Then he'd make sure that person would pay.CHAPTER 2
Keely's heart stuttered when the EMTs rolled Ben's gurney into a huge, machine- filled room with beige-curtained partitions at the hospital. The strong smell of bleach and lemon cleaner stung her nostrils and the nausea from earlier built again.
She felt as helpless now about her dad as she had thirty minutes earlier with the two children in court. Why did bad things happen to good people? What use was she in a system and in a world teeming with criminals? Her dad had raised her right. He'd showed by example that hard work and compassion paid off.
But they weren't paying off. Not right now. Not for him.
She stepped closer to the curtained room. A nurse outside the partition drew the curtain shut and held up a hand to stop her.
"Why the hell is everyone trying to keep me away?" Keely snapped, then regretted her statement. The nurse had a job to do.
"Does yelling at people help you get closer?" A man's familiar voice came from behind her.
Keely froze, then her heart kicked up a racing rhythm. It had been ten years, and the voice was lower now, but she'd recognize it anywhere.
She resisted the urge to whip her head around, and instead she turned slowly, determined not to show him how his presence affected her.
And then she caught sight of him and went a little dizzy.
Logan's muscular frame filled the space between two other cops who stood in the hallway. He was broader than she'd remembered him. Ten years had turned the boy into a man. In blue jeans, a simple gray T-shirt, and a black leather jacket, he looked out of place among the uniformed officers, until he held his police badge out for the quizzical nurse.
Suddenly, he looked up and caught her gaze. His brown eyes held the intensity of a caged animal.
Keely wanted to hate him. Wanted to pretend he'd never been a part of her life.
But she couldn't do either. She knew firsthand how Logan North's arms could make the worst pain go away. Or make the heartache last forever.
And she knew how much Logan cared for her father. That had to be why he was here.
Because he certainly wasn't here for her. Never had been.
* * *
Logan hadn't planned to talk to Keely. He wasn't even a part of this investigation and shouldn't be at the hospital flashing his badge and ordering people around. He knew she wasn't happy to see him. He'd visited Ben plenty of times over the past ten years, but he'd always made sure those visits happened when she wasn't around. He hadn't wanted to see her distain. Her anger. But the need to protect Ben overrode his desire to avoid her, so here they were.
But now, as she looked at him with her shining blue eyes, he thought for a second maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe she had forgiven him for what he'd done ten years ago.
He swept his gaze down her form. Her utilitarian dark gray pants, white shirt, and black blazer did nothing to hide her curves. She'd filled out more since the last time he'd seen her, with curves in all the right places, and yet her body seemed so familiar ... the same coconut shampoo that made him want to lean closer, the same hitch to her breath that he remembered so clearly. When he looked back up to catch her gaze, the steely look in her eyes made it clear she was just as strong-willed now as the first time they met when she was thirteen. But pain shone in her eyes, too.
What did she need? Oddly, he had no idea. Trained to respond to emergencies — he'd been a cop for over seven years, after a three-year stint in the Marines — he was clueless how to help her.
"Logan," she whispered.
His heart surged. There. She'd taken the first step. He wanted to touch her, but didn't dare. But then her bottom lip quivered, and he was lost. Three strides closed the distance between them.
And yet he kept his arms at his sides.
The familiar voice yanked him out of his fog. He looked over to see Bruce Dunnigan, one of the detectives with Violent Crimes, approaching.
"What's Homicide have to do with this case?" Dunnigan asked.
"Victim's a friend," Logan answered. He'd been friends with Dunnigan for years, too, and was relieved to see he would be heading the investigation. He introduced Keely to the detective, who gave her a polite but reserved smile when Logan explained his connection to Ben and Keely.
"Do you have any idea who might have attacked your father, Ms. Allen?" Dunnigan asked her.
"No," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
"I'll get more information from you later after I talk with the responding officers." Dunnigan turned and left.
Keely reached her hands out, and Logan thought for a minute she'd seek comfort in his touch, then she pulled back and crossed her arms over her chest. Seeing her like this — troubled, confused — rattled him. But she wouldn't want that. Not from him. He notched his chin toward the waiting room and led her to a chair.
"What was Ben doing today? Was he at the church?" he asked.
"He was supposed to be at the airport, picking up a pregnant woman from Los Angeles."
"Loving Arms stuff?" He'd helped Ben with fundraising a few times, supporting the non-profit agency that acted as an intermediary for pregnant women, offering everything from help with adoption lawyers to health care to baby blankets knit by Ben's church members.
She nodded, but didn't look at him.
"Is there anyone you can think of who has something against Ben?"
"Everybody loves him. The police wouldn't let me inside, but I could see that stuff was thrown everywhere."
"We'll figure it out, Keels." He jolted as the old nickname slipped through his lips. It stirred old emotions, ones he'd ignore for now. "I have to read the report and talk to the officers who were first on the scene. Could have been a robbery gone wrong."
A tear cascaded down her face, and Logan wanted to trail the back of his hand along hersoft cheek. But instead, he stayed the hell away.
Excerpted from Reunited in Danger by Joya Fields, Rochelle French. Copyright © 2013 Joya Fields. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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