Summer at the Lake (Harlequin Super Romance Series #1560)

Summer at the Lake (Harlequin Super Romance Series #1560)

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by Linda Barrett

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Kristin McCarthy hears him before she sees him. The melody of his saxophone glides across the summer night. The music's healing effect on her daughter has Kristin seeking the person who can play so beautifully. Too bad Rick Cooper is a cop. With all she and her daughter have experienced, police don't rank high on their get-to-know-you list.

Still, Rick…  See more details below


Kristin McCarthy hears him before she sees him. The melody of his saxophone glides across the summer night. The music's healing effect on her daughter has Kristin seeking the person who can play so beautifully. Too bad Rick Cooper is a cop. With all she and her daughter have experienced, police don't rank high on their get-to-know-you list.

Still, Rick could be one of the good guys. Something about him challenges all Kristin's assumptions. And their time together sparks her hopes for a future beyond this lakeside retreat. But before she can bring those dreams to life, Rick has to prove he's the man she and her daughter can trust…forever.

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Count on a Cop , #366
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Rick Cooper shoved his badge and gun across his commanding officer's desk. "I'm done," he said quietly. "There will be no next time. Twelve years is enough." His mind made up, he eyeballed Captain Stein steadily.

The captain met his gaze with equal weight—and pushed the badge and weapon back at Rick. "Not accepted. Your resignation is not accepted."

"What?" Rick had imagined a dozen different conversations at this point, all variations on the theme of "Goodbye and good luck." He hadn't imagined this scene. "You can't…"

Stein held up his hand in a stop motion. "Save it. And you listen to me."

As if he had a choice.

"You're so lost in this incident that you can't see straight. Sure, it sucked. Sure, we hated the outcome. But I'm not losing my best negotiator to a pity party he's throwing for himself. And that's what you're doing."

Rick started to rise.

"Sit! I'm not finished."

He normally liked the captain. Stein was fair, smart and capable. But right now, Rick wanted to flatten him. Pity party! Didn't the man understand? Three people had died because of Rick's failure, one of them a little girl. Best negotiator? Hell, no.

"Did you talk to the shrink?" asked Stein. "No. Did you contribute to the debriefing with the team? No. Did you seek me out? No. I thought we had a better rapport than that."

"There's nothing to say," replied Rick. "The crisis team was there—every member. We played to win and we lost. Big-time. It won't happen again if I'm gone."

"Listen to your ego. Do you think you're the only one grieving this? The only person in the NYPD who's ever lost a negotiation?"

"Sorry, Captain. I'm done."

Stein shook his head. "It was a bad one,Rick. I know it. When a kid is involved, it's tough. But you're not done. You're burned out. And for that we have a leave of absence. Eight weeks."

Rick shrugged. It didn't matter what it was called— a leave, a resignation, whatever. He'd invested twelve years here for nothing, and now he was going to find another line of work, rethink the whole career angle. He wanted something less responsible, something that wouldn't be on his mind 24/7, something he was better suited for. Plus, with a less demanding job, he'd be ready for a social life again. A normal social life with a nice woman. A long-term relationship. Maybe a marriage that would last this time. The key was to leave the department first.

Again he started to get up.

"Uh, one more thing," said the captain.


Stein grunted. "I want to hear from you every week."

He had to be kidding. "I already have a mother."

The CO. glared at him, his fist hitting the table as he said, "You're one of mine, Cooper, one of my best. And I take care of my own. Understand?"

He did. He understood the code, but Stein was going beyond the general brotherhood. The man had put the negotiating team together. His name was stamped on it, and Rick owed him more than a sarcastic response.

"I'll call you," Rick promised.

"And you'll call Doc Romano for an appointment."

"Romano? I don't need a shrink. I'm outta here, remember? In fact, I'm leaving town for a while. Going to do some fishing upstate, play my sax and find another career."

The CO. continued to watch him. "Then you'll see the doc now. I did favors to get the guy assigned to us. He's the best there is, Cooper, and he's standing by for you."

Rick inhaled deeply, then exhaled. "Is that what you call taking care of your own?"

"That's exactly what I call it."

Kristin McCarthy set the last of the dinner dishes into a cabinet in her borrowed house, delighted with the change of environment. She and Ashley would be country girls for a while. Her daughter needed distractions. New surroundings. Ashley needed a place to heal. Kristin's friend Marsha had immediately offered them her summer home on Morningstar Lake in the Catskill Mountains, three hours northwest of New York City. They could stay free of charge until August, when Marsha and her family would come up themselves. At that point Kristin would need to return to U.S. Life Corporation, anyway. Her leave of absence ran out on August 1.

She wondered how much progress her eleven-year-old would make by August, if any. Healing the soul seemed to take more time than healing the body.

She glanced at Ashley now as her daughter swept the floor and put the broom away. She watched her adjust each chair until it was positioned just so and then organize her schoolbooks for the next morning's work. In the week they'd been here, they'd established a few routines. Schoolwork began the day. Eating dessert on the screened porch overlooking the lake ended it.

The teakettle whistled. Kristin shut the heat off and glanced at Ashley. "Ready for a glass of milk and some of those peanut butter cookies we baked this afternoon?"

The child's wan smile broke her heart. Ash was a shadow of her naturally ebullient self, but Kristin continued the one-sided conversation as though nothing was wrong. If she kept acting as if life was normal, maybe Ashley would start to believe it could be normal again. Maybe she'd want to go back to school and play with her friends.

"Pour yourself some milk, sweetheart, and let's head out back to the porch. We can listen to the sounds of the lake."

First Ashley checked the locks on the front door, then she poured her milk. Half a glass. Kristin took comfort that it was whole milk. Four percent fat. Every calorie counted.

She snatched two sweaters from a wall hook, and collected the pencil and notebook the therapist had recommended they keep close by—in case Ashley had any breakthroughs to record. Then Kristin and Ash sat on matching chaises staring into the darkening night. The large lake began fifty feet from the house, and on sunny days, willows, birches and maple trees provided shade. There was a well-defined path to the water and shoreline, an area covered with small stones and sand.

She and Ashley had explored a lot of shoreline during the past few days. Whether they'd trespassed on neighboring properties, Kristin didn't know and didn't care. She considered the explorations around the lake "nature walks" and justified them as part of the science curriculum. Ashley seemed to enjoy examining the different plants and insects on these outings, so they'd made their walks a daily activity.

"The frogs make me laugh," said Kristin. "But the sounds of the water are soothing. What do you think?"

Ash nodded and imitated a gentle wave's rolling motion with her right arm, her fingers touching her left hand, repeating the sequence several times.

"That's right, Ash. The small waves lap the shore over and over," responded Kristin. "In a steady rhythm. Is that what you're telling me?"

Ashley nodded once more.

One day, her daughter would talk again. One day they'd chatter away about everything just like they used to. Even the psychologist said it would happen at some point. But Dr. Kaplan would make no predictions. "Every person works through it differently—there's no timetable for trauma recovery."

They'd get there, little by little. Kristin believed it. She had to believe it. Hope kept her going. Right now, however, maybe a game of Scrabble would keep Ashley's mind occupied. The game might take an hour, but the longer the child stayed awake, the more tired she became and the less chance a nightmare would tear her apart. It worked for Kristin.

"Ash, how about…"

But Ashley jumped from her chaise, grabbed Kristin's hand and pointed to the left. The child cupped her own hand behind her ear.

Kristin listened hard and heard the lovely sounds of a… She glanced at Ashley. "A trumpet?"

Ash shook her head with vigor. Her chest rose and fell. Kristin heard deep breaths fill her daughter's lungs, heard her exhale, and stopped breathing herself. Talk, baby, talk!

"Ahh… ahhh…" The girl grabbed a pencil and wrote, "jazz sax."

Almost. She almost said it.

Ash positioned a chair to face the music and slowly sat down. As she listened, she remained perfectly still, hands in her lap.

In the glow of the overhead light, Kristin soon saw a tiny smile emerge on Ashley's face and wanted to shout for joy. The old Ashley—the real Ashley—was still there. Just now, the new Ashley had forgotten to be afraid, and had unconsciously allowed herself to enjoy the moment. The real Ashley was simply in hiding. Waiting. And the music had reached her.

It made sense. Ash was her father's daughter, too, a musical child of a talented dad who'd taught in high schools with passion and devotion—and played trumpet and piano with their regional orchestra.

John and a younger Ashley had filled the house with music at one time. Piano duets. Piano and flute duets.

Wonderful music. But John's unexpected death from a brain tumor four years ago… Kristin looked at Ashley again and caught her breath. Her daughter's quiet behavior, her fragility, were heartbreakingly similar to her demeanor then. Grief. She and Ashley had grieved hard together. And now her daughter, while listening to this sweet music, was mourning once again. For her dad? Or for herself?

Kristin's hands fisted. If she ever found the man who'd raped her child… she'd kill him. Piece by piece, she'd take him apart.

Right. She, who'd rarely engaged in a verbal argument, let alone a physical one, had absolutely no idea how to take a man down. It had been the cops' job to get the monster. And they hadn't done a blessed thing.

Ashley walked over and stroked her mother's tear-streaked face.

"The music's beautiful but sad," Kristin explained.

Her daughter nodded and bestowed a warm kiss on her cheek before sitting down again.

Kristin swallowed her sobs and allowed the anger to storm through her body all the way to her fingertips and toes, and to her cramped stomach. Oh, yes. She'd definitely kill the guy.

After warming up the sax the previous night, his first evening at his family's country house, Rick actually slept through until noon. Unbelievable. Maybe cutting out the caffeine was key, but he didn't think so. He gave credit to inhaling the sweet mountain air, removing himself from the "incident," and being in a place of good memories and happy times.

Over the years, his dad had turned a three-room cabin into a four-bedroom, fully winterized and insulated home. Rick had helped with the continuous remodeling, and for the last dozen years the family had enjoyed not only summers in the mountains, but ski weekends in the winter, too.

None of the neighbors were at the lake this early in the summer. Of course, that would change with the Memorial Day weekend at the end of the month. But for now, Rick had everything he wanted—his dog, his sax, some groceries and a change of environment.

The combination seemed to be working well so far.

On his second night, he headed for the screened back porch again, saxophone in hand, the big shepherd at his side. He suspected that Quincy enjoyed the companionship more than the music; the dog would stick close even if he played like a beginner, squealing and screeching sour notes. He wasn't a beginner. Music was the other half of himself.

Tomorrow, he'd call some of the local clubs and see if he could sit in on a few sets. That would be a treat he didn't often get in the city. The club owners knew him, knew he could hold his own with their players. Moreover, having an extra cop on the premises was always a plus. It was a fair trade. But now he wondered whether he could earn his living through music. Lots of people turned their hobbies into careers. Maybe he could be one of them.

The dog nuzzled him and waited until he sat down. Then Quincy lay on the braided area rug near his human's chair.

Rick fingered a few scales, closed his eyes and began with some old favorites from John Coltrane. After ten minutes, he heard Quincy move, and through slitted lids saw him sit at attention, ears up, staring through the right-side screen. Rick didn't stop playing. His dog possessed superior hearing skills, and an owl, a frog, a cat or even a tiny field mouse could be out there. No big deal.

But then he heard the voice. A clear soprano. She began vocalizing against his melody—no words, just creating her own riffs. She kept up with him as he played. Out of curiosity, he changed musical styles, selecting a Sinatra standard, then something from Broadway. She stayed with him. He switched to the blues. To his astonishment, the lovely human vocals were replaced by the sound of a flute. And, like the vocals, this music followed his lead, too. Then led him. The flute wound around his sax, playing with the melody, playing against the melody. For almost an hour, he ran with the flow they created until, without conscious planning, he began Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven."

Boom! Red blood on a white jersey, the blood staining his memory as surely as it stained the child's clothing. An innocent little girl. A man. A woman. Arms and legs awry. Because of him. Tears welled, and this time, when the clear melody of the flute joined him, he heard the pure sound of a solitary church bell in his mind. The sax dropped to his lap. His head dropped to his hands. But the sweet, sad melody of the flute continued to the very end.

When quiet filled the air once more, he whispered a gravelly "Amen" and listened to the night. He heard only the gentle rustle of the leaves. Like an arthritic old man, Rick rose from his chair, reached for his sax and shuffled to the door.

His unknown partner was an accomplished musician, perhaps professional. Funny, he thought he knew everyone on this side of the lake. It seemed he was wrong.

For the first time since her daughter's rape, Kristin prepared for bed feeling content. Ash had reached out with music that night. She'd connected with someone. Kristin pulled down the bedspread and plumped the pillows, looking forward to a full night's sleep. A rare night's sleep.

Everything Ashley had done that evening, she'd done of her own volition. Her voice was an instrument and, unconsciously, Ash had joined the saxophone, singing without words. That activity alone had sent Kristin's spirits soaring, but when her daughter grabbed the flute—a last-minute addition to their luggage when leaving home—and played counterpoint to her mysterious partner, Kristin fought to keep her cheers to herself.

She slid into bed and reached for the notebook she kept in her night table drawer—a record of Ashley's progress. A journal of events. She hoped and prayed that whoever played the sax that evening was a youngster like Ash—a teenager would be fine. A sweet, gentle girl or boy who might help to draw her daughter out of the shell she'd created. Created because of a monster.

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