Close Encounters

Close Encounters

by Sandra Kitt
Close Encounters

Close Encounters

by Sandra Kitt

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Hailed by E. Lynn Harris as a “bold and imaginative” tale that is “sure to keep readers turning the pages,” Sandra Kitt’s interracial love story presents a man and a woman whose fates are changed forever by a random act of violence
Lee Grafton is a divorced cop and the father of a teenage girl. Carol Taggart is a newly single professor. Their lives collide one night when Carol is caught in the crossfire of an undercover drug sting gone south. Shot and seriously wounded, she finds an unexpected friend in Lee . . . unaware that the man she’s falling for could be the shooter.
Twenty years on the street do nothing to prepare Lee for the night that changes his life. Determined to make amends, the special-operations lieutenant finds himself irresistibly drawn to Carol. But Lee soon faces a new threat. With his career and heart on the line, he races to prevent Carol from becoming a victim once again.
Passionate and bold, Close Encounters shatters myths about race, gender, and love. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480438774
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 08/27/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 358
Sales rank: 902,816
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Sandra Kitt is the author of more than twenty novels, including The Color of Love, Significant Others, and Close Encounters, as well as numerous short stories. Her work has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award and has appeared on the Essence and Blackboard bestseller lists. She is the recipient of the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. A native New Yorker, Kitt previously worked as a graphic designer, creating cards for UNICEF, illustrating books, and exhibiting her own work, which is included in the collection of the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles. She formerly served as the managing director of the Richard S. Perkin Collection in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. 

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

4:37 a.m.

"I'm going in . . ."

The statement was clear, but it had an echo, common to remote transmissions, as if the speaker were in an empty room.

Lee Grafton stared out his windshield. Based on the sounds he heard over his radio, he could visualize what was going on. It was a routine setup, a drug buy and bust, but the ultimate goal was to tap the leader, Earl Willey, for the bigger charge of homicide. Lee glanced at Detective Barbara Peña, slumped in the passenger seat next to him, her eyes closed. She appeared to be peacefully dozing, but he knew she was following the script as closely as he was. Her work with the informant had led directly to the setup of this operation. There was no need yet for either of them to respond.

It was all boring to Lee. He could remember when he'd first joined the force and was excited about every aspect of police work. That was before he realized that he didn't make much of a difference and no one appreciated the dangers he faced. That was before he had been made an enemy of the people, by the people.

Lee shifted restlessly. He wanted to open his window and let in some air, even though it was late January and a cold night. He needed the jolt to stay focused and wipe out the sluggish run of thoughts that kept repeating in his head: his disagreement with the captain the day before and the bullshit politics that pitted the brass against the officers on the front line. The angry phone call from Erica because he'd had to cancel their get-together. The dissatisfaction of intense but quick sex with Karen . . . and a sleepless night. A lot of stuff, he considered, rubbing his eyes and stifling a yawn.

The sleeve of his navy-blue nylon jacket crinkled as he twisted his wrist to squint at the time. Then he began to tap out an uneven beat against the steering wheel.

"It's quiet . . . nobody hanging around," the voice transmitted. "The elevator's out. They always do that when they're dealing so they can hear anybody coming up and down the stairs . . . or moving around the hallway. Remember that."

Lee reached inside his jacket and pulled out a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses. He held them up to his nose to peer at the information on the stat sheet clipped to his dashboard.

"He forgot to mention the thing with the elevator," Barbara commented.

"He can't afford to forget," Lee said.

Lee crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head against the headrest. He mentally reviewed the plans, but the team knew the drill. With little variation, they'd done undercover drug deals like this one hundreds of times. But there was still the buildup of tension about all the potential dangers. He didn't want any of his team hurt. He didn't much care what happened to the suspects.

Despite the predawn darkness, there was activity on the street. Figures moving in and out of shadowy doorways. A car driving slowly down the block looking for illicit business. It was an unfriendly setting for outsiders, who were easily spotted, and a dangerous one for those with suspicious motives. It was a potential death trap for someone like himself.


"What?" Lee asked absently, watching a transaction taking place outside a twenty-four-hour convenience store. He didn't doubt that it was illegal, but he couldn't be distracted from his own priorities.

"I gotta go."

He quirked his mouth. "As in take a leak?"

"You take a leak . . . I have to piss."

He shrugged. "You'll have to wait. Don't tell me you're nervous."

"You know I hate doin' this," Barbara complained.

"Take it easy. Think of something else. This should be over soon . . ."

"What about the ghost?" the transmission picked up again.

Lee went back to listening to the action taking place three blocks away.

"He's on point. We have an eyeball on him . . ."

Finally there was a muffled knocking on a door.

"Yo . . . it's Tino. Open up."

Lee concentrated on the formalities of the greeting, of establishing identity. He knew the safe house was probably temporary. The usual tenants paid to stay away and keep their mouths shut. The apartment would give the appearance of normal living quarters, except for the paraphernalia related to the night's trade, plastic baggies and neat stacks of cash in small denominations.

"Where you been, man?"

"I'm fifteen fuckin' minutes late. What's the big deal?" Tino asked.

"My man here thought you wasn't going to show." There was movement and a shuffling of feet. Faint voices in the background.

"What? You gotta date or something, Willey? I been straight, man. I'm here,

like I said."

"That's a positive ID," came another voice through Lee's radio.

Barbara straightened in her seat.

"Where's Mario?" Tino asked.

"Don't worry about Mario," Earl Willey said. "He's takin' care of some business for me. You came alone, right?" the soft but commanding voice asked.

Lee and Barbara exchanged puzzled glances.

"Mario's suppose to be there," she said as the transmission continued.

"You shittin' me? Hell, no. I got people downstairs waitin'. Make sure I come out with the stuff."

"Fuck! What's he doing?" a voice asked nervously over the radio.

"Relax. He's not stupid," another voice reassured. "Nobody makes a deal and goes in with no one at his back."

"And watch your dogs, okay?" Tino instructed.

"Pit bulls, I think," Barbara whispered to Lee. "Word is Earl has four or five of them."

"You got the money?" the transmission continued.

"Yeah, I got it. You got my package?"

There was more shuffling. The transmission skipped and broke before coming back clear again. Then there was what sounded like a door opening.

"Hey . . . where're the two of them going?" Tino asked. His voice conveyed just the right amount of surprise and suspicion.

"We got two coming down . . ." the radio contact announced for all within range.

"Heads up on all stations. Stay alert . . ."

"We got to check your man out," Willey said to Tino. "Okay, let's see what you got."

The radio clicked and there was a hurried whisper of warnings and signals among the undercover team. Lee recognized the signs of heightened readiness. Barbara's face was tense, her knee shaking. Lee stole a long look at her but didn't say anything.

"Come on, Earl. This is a fuckin' waste of time, man," Tino complained fearlessly. "I'm here to deal and you got four baby-sitters on your ass. You afraid of me? Come on, where's my package?"

"You talk too much," someone said in disgust to Tino.

Lee's brows came together as the scene was fully realized in his head. He was worried about the movement of Willey's men. He reached for a cellular from the dashboard and used his thumb to punch in a call to his site leader. "This is taking too long. Is everything set?"

"We're on it," came back the confirmation.

"My man is right," Willey said to Tino. "You talk too much. Check him out."

"Hey . . . come on, Willey. What is this? You take my money, and then you doubt me, man?"

"Naw . . . I don't doubt you, Tino. I know you been playin' me."

"That's it! We go in, NOW. Move, move . . . MOVE!"

Lee's body stiffened as he listened to the command. In an instant he reached for the ignition, turning the key.

"They made him," Barbara said.

There were sounds of violent activity in the house.

Barbara got on another cell phone to appraise the need for additional support. Lee had hoped that the deal would go as planned, simple and clean. Maybe his guy had overplayed his hand. It was always a crapshoot. Barbara sat up straight and snapped on her seat belt. The car surged away from the curb and rolled swiftly down the street toward the action erupting several blocks away.

5:13 a.m.

4:37 a.m.

Carol Taggart felt her body being jostled from sleep as Matthew shifted behind her. She felt the heat of his chest on her back and the intimacy of his touch. In an instant she remembered everything about the night before, and she wanted Matt to leave. Not because the evening had disappointed her or because he'd done anything to get on her nerves. Actually the night had been wonderful, fun and familiar. But Carol didn't want it to be any more than that.

A soft whine and a guttural snort came from Max, her dog.

Carol rolled onto her back and slid away from the seductive comfort of Matt's arms. She lay for a moment listening to his breathing, remembering what it had been like sharing her bed, her life with him. Maybe she was overreacting, but she wanted him to leave. Now. While she still felt warm and forgiving toward him.

She turned onto her side to lie facing him. She didn't need light to see the sweep of Matt's dreadlocks behind his neck. She knew by heart the hollow of his cheeks and the full shape of his mouth. She reached out to stroke his jaw. And then she shook him.


He groaned but didn't move. Carol sighed, twisted an arm awkwardly over her head and fumbled for the switch on the bedside lamp. Her eyelids fluttered, protesting the sudden brightness. Matt also opened his eyes and squinted at her in disbelief.

"You gotta be kidding me. You're not going to make me get up and leave, are you?"

"Matt . . . it's not going to work."

"It already has. Can't take back the night," he murmured in a sleep slurred voice. "You're not sorry, are you? Sure didn't feel like you were sorry . .

." He began to stroke her torso, a breast and the tight bud of her nipple.

Carol refused to allow herself to enjoy his attentions. "I have a class in a few hours. I have things to do . . ."

"People to see? In the middle of the night?" he asked, skeptical but not angry.

"I have to walk Max."

"This doesn't have to be a one-night stand, Carol. That's not what I'm looking for."

"I know," she whispered. "That's why you have to go. We're not going to start over again. We're divorced and it's going to stay that way."

"So what was last night?" he asked.

Carol shifted again and rested her head on his chest, letting him gather her against him. "It was a blast from the past. It was one glass of wine too many. It was just being happy to see you." She wiggled closer. "Anyway, seemed like it would be fun. You've been calling me for weeks. I just thought I'd put you out of your misery. And mine."

"So you're saying you just wanted me for my body?" Matt growled playfully, his hand gliding over her back and buttocks.

"Mmmmm. Pretty much the same way you wanted me. Can't we just be friends?" she asked quietly.

"Tack on 'and lovers' and you got a deal."

She pulled slowly away. "No. Not a good idea."

Finally seeing that Carol was serious, Matt kissed her shoulder and pushed back the covers to climb out of bed.

She watched as he moved around the room in search of his clothes. He began to dress, snapping the band of his Jockey shorts after he'd pulled them on, rattling his belt buckle as he stepped into his slacks. She wouldn't have to worry about the morning-what to say to him, what he'd say to her.

Carol drew her legs up and curled her toes. Her body was still warm and soft from their lovemaking, and she wasn't sure why that made her feel so hollow. She had no expectations, and there was the comfort of knowing that he would not require breakfast. And there had been that sheer, blissful release of sexual tension. In all honesty, she'd needed that, bad.

Matt turned to glance down at her. He paused in putting on his clothes and sat down on the edge of the bed, leaning over her. Slowly he took hold of the comforter and peeled it back until her breasts were exposed.

Immediately her nipples puckered into stiff buds again. Matt bent forward to kiss her, partially covering her with the heat of his torso, his skin smooth and firm. His dreadlocks swung forward to tease her skin. His fingers began a rhythmic stimulation of the rigid peaks of her breasts.

Carol felt the hot, liquid pooling of arousal in her groin.

"I had fun, Carol," he whispered against her lips. His hands slid up her arms, grasping her hands and threading his fingers with hers. He pressed down on her, kissing her with languid enjoyment.

Carol liked his honesty, that he didn't try to come off cool and aloof. "Me too. How come we didn't have fun like this when we were married?"

Matt sat up and looked down at her. "I don't know. Maybe I was too selfish."

"I was too needy."

"Bad timing," he continued.

"Wrong reasons . . ."

Another low grunt sounded in the background.

He chuckled. "Poor Max. Sounds like he's not getting any. You want me to stay, don't you, Ol' Man?" In response, the dog lumbered up on all fours and padded heavily over to the edge of the bed, where he rested his snout on Matt's leg.

"See . . ." Matt turned to Carol. "Even Max wants me to stay."

Max whined.

"You wish," Carol murmured. "Besides, you never used to like Max."

"You're wrong," Matt said. "I just wanted you to give me as much attention as you gave him."

"You can't be serious, Matt. Max is totally dependent on me. His love is unconditional."

"And he never cheated on you."

She watched him dispassionately. "You said it, I didn't. Anyway, Max is not horny, just old."

Matt continued to stroke her even as he stood up again. "Okay, I'm leaving. I'll call you soon."

She didn't respond. She didn't want to encourage him.

Max whined again. His tail thudded softly against the floor. Carol sighed, pushing the covers away and swinging her legs off the bed as she sat up.

"Go back to sleep. It's not even light yet," Matt said, pulling on a thick cable-knit sweater and reaching for a pair of boots.

"I know, but I think Max needs to go out."

"That's why I don't own a dog. Too much work."

"You don't own dogs. You either relate to them as part of your family or you don't," she murmured, also beginning the search for her clothes. "It's not work," she added thoughtfully. "It's a responsibility. Like having kids."

"I repeat . . . too much work."

Matt went to use the bathroom while Carol donned underwear and dressed quickly in jeans and a sweater. The dog stood gazing at her adoringly, his rheumy yellow eyes blinking in the unexpected light.

She patted his head briefly and rubbed under his jaw. "I know, Max. It's too early," she complained for both of them. "Let's go and come back, fast."

The animal headed for the door in apparent understanding. Carol followed, picking up her keys and the leash. She was already in her down parka when Matt caught up to her in the hall. She stood patiently as he got into his own coat. She was overcome again with a sudden warmth for him because of what they'd once meant to each other. Now he was as she'd first seen him-a tall, handsome black man with a smooth grace. A talented musician, an entertaining companion. A wonderful lover. But she'd married him too soon, thinking she needed someone like Matt who would affirm and validate her own life. Someone who would protect her. Most of all, someone who would love her. She'd married him because her parents had not wanted her to.

Matt stopped to examine a piece of handmade pottery on a bookshelf. He stopped again when he spotted a framed charcoal drawing of himself playing his sax. He glanced at her, pleased and reflective.

"I don't think I've ever seen this one," he said.

"You haven't."

"I'll buy it from you."

"It's not for sale," Carol said firmly, preparing to open the door.

"Does that mean you still love me?"

She shook her head patiently at his persistent baiting. "It means you were a good subject and I think that's one of my best portraits." She opened the door. It was cold outside. The air seemed to penetrate right through to the bone, shooting through her body and exiting as vapor when she breathed. She clipped the leash to Max's collar even though he was not about to wander from her side. His once rambunctious spirit had given way to colitis, rheumatism, and poor eyesight.

Matt reached for her hand and squeezed it. "Want some company? You shouldn't be out here by yourself."

"I'll be okay. This will take all of five minutes. I'll probably only go as far as the corner."

He hunched his shoulders and put his hands in the pockets of his leather coat. "I'll call you, okay?"

Carol hesitated. "Matt, I . . ."

"Come down and hear me some night at the club. I've got a new group." He began backing away.

Carol gave in and waved with a nod. "I'll try."

Momentarily distracted, she let Max lead her as his aged girth wobbled along. He sniffed here and there, searching for a spot that suited him. She knew his favorite paths, but sometimes he couldn't wait that long. And sometimes he just got finicky, like now. They were about three blocks away, in another neighborhood, one through which she rarely passed. At this time of night-no, early morning-the streets were quiet and empty. But this neighborhood had a bad reputation.

She heard a car coming fast down an adjacent street. It raced across her field of vision going south, as if the street were a drag strip. A delivery truck turned at the corner and came toward her. Another car sped by, following the first. The presence of life was actually reassuring, but without a hat and gloves, Carol was cold and eager to get back home.

At the corner Max meandered right. Carol thought to check him, then decided to give him two more blocks before retracing their steps.

Suddenly Max perked up, his sensitive hearing more attuned to sounds than hers was. He slowly began to trot, lengthening the leash from the retractable unit that Carol held, headed for the corner just twenty-five feet away. She quickly pushed a button that prevented the cord from unwinding further.

"No, Max," Carol commanded when it seemed the dog would take yet another

unexpected path.

Max held up for a moment at the sound of her voice, but he was now clearly distracted. Finally, he stopped near the curb, prepared to relieve himself.

"Thank you," Carol murmured caustically. She waited patiently, forcing herself not to think about how cold she was. Her hands especially were getting stiff and numb.

The dog was hardly done when he let out a halfhearted bark and stood alertly, listening.

"Forget it," Carol said, tugging gently on the cord. "We're going home."

Max had other ideas.

He suddenly lurched forward, pulling Carol with him and straining against the leash.

"I said no . . ."

The dog rounded the corner. Construction scaffolding ran along most of the block, indicating that renovation work was in progress on the facades of the old tenements. While the scaffolding allowed for normal pedestrian traffic beneath it, it produced deep shadows on the sidewalk.

Trying to control the dog claimed Carol's attention, and it was several seconds before she became aware that they were not alone.

Like phantoms, two men suddenly emerged ahead of them, startling her. They were dressed all in black, in bulky North Face parkas. One wore a knit ski hat, the other a leather baseball cap. Their footsteps were silent in athletic sports shoes. Their faces were almost hidden by the high necks of their coats, and one was talking urgently into a cell phone-fast, and in words she didn't understand. Max stiffened as they approached, but the two men didn't even appear to notice them. They made her nervous nonetheless.

Just ahead, a car turned the corner and rolled into the street, its headlights off. Carol pulled on Max's leash and jumped when she heard what sounded like cap pistols somewhere to her left. The two men were even with her now. Carol tried to pull Max back and turn around. The taller of the two men, the one wearing the baseball cap, looked over his shoulder in the direction of the shots. He saw the car. He reached under his coat and withdrew a gun . . . and Max began to bark.

Carol froze at the sight of the weapon. Her stomach churned into a tight knot of fear. She felt trapped by the two men, who made no attempt to hide their guns. The first man stared openly at her, his dark eyes and well-shaped mouth devoid of warmth.

"Shut the fuckin' dog up," the taller man hissed.

"Forget the bitch . . ." the other said.

Max barked louder.

The man pointed the gun and something metallic clinked on his wrist near the handle of his weapon. "I said shut him up!"

"Don't . . ." Carol pleaded, reaching down to grab Max around the neck as he strained to be let loose and continued to bark.

There was a sudden light pop. Max yelped sharply and his body jerked against her. The man grabbed her and dragged her roughly to him as Max fell motionless to the ground.

Lee screeched his cruiser to a stop, and he and Barbara jumped out. They found the rest of the undercover team in action and rushed forward, prepared to join them if necessary. Squad cars had been positioned to block off vehicular entry and exit from the area. A SWAT team in full gear was already inside the staked-out building, and more police carefully searched the perimeters.

High-beam headlights crisscrossed in eerie brilliance, making the street look like a landing field for alien craft.

Lee and Barbara were approached by several undercover officers.

"Where's our man?" Lee asked briskly.

"Tino's out and okay. Minor injuries. He held his own before we came in.

The ghost was right on the money. Came up with two of Willey's posse before they broke . . ."

"Gunshot exchange?"

"Some, but all for show. They just wanted to get the fuck out."

"What about Willey?"

"We're not sure yet. He might have slipped out. A lot of what we got are minor players. All the young ones we're not going to be able to hold for."

"I'm not surprised," Lee said, glancing around to appraise the situation.

"Was Mario anywhere?" Barbara asked.

The team leader shook his head. "Not that we could tell."

"Okay, where are we now?" Lee interrupted.

He listened to the officer's account of what had gone down, but he was more

concerned with why. In the almost twenty years that he'd been in undercover, nine of them active on the streets, only a handful of operations had gone wrong. In all that time they'd lost only three officers. Three too many, but that was part of the job and part of the risk.

Barbara confirmed that no one had seen their informant, Mario. Suddenly they all heard gunfire. Everyone responded reflexively by pulling out their semiautomatics, ready to take cover.

An officer shouted from the sidewalk. "Out the back! We think we got him cornered."

Barbara rushed over to Lee. "Let's take a look."

Lee hesitated. "No, let the others go. Willey's not dumb. He wouldn't do something so obvious. I say let's check out the opposite direction."

Barbara got back into the car next to him, her impatience showing as she shook her head. "He might still be inside. He knows we're not going to take a chance 'cause there're families in the building."

"Right. But I don't think he's going to hang around to find out. Willey's out of there."

"What about Mario?"

"We'll figure out what went wrong later, Barb."

Lee maneuvered his vehicle around several cars and headed down the street. As he neared the corner he and Barbara heard police action to their left, and the barking of a dog to their right.

"Willey's got pit bulls," Barbara reminded him.

"I know, but . . ." Lee let it hang.

He turned the corner, moving slowly, headlights off. The dog continued to bark, but Lee couldn't tell where the animal was. Then there was an angry command, followed several seconds later by a pop and a short yelp. The barking stopped.

"I see something," Barbara said, pointing toward the corner.

Lee squinted in the direction she indicated. He nodded. "Yeah, I see . . ."

When they were almost to the far corner, the shadows began to move. Quickly Lee got on the speaker system.

"Police . . . step forward . . ."

He stopped the car and waited. He knew there were two people standing under a construction canopy. Barbara released the security strap on her automatic and cautiously opened her door.

"Take it easy . . ." Lee said, about to open his own door.

Suddenly there were two shots. One splintered the glass on the passenger side of the car.

"Dammit!" Barbara uttered, trying to duck back inside the car and half falling to the ground behind the still-open door.

Two more shots followed, creating bursts of sparks on the sidewalk where the gunmen stood. As Lee also took cover, one of the shrouded figures broke and ran for the corner. There was no opportunity to get off even a warning shot as the fleeing figure quickly disappeared.

"Police! Put the gun down!"

Two more pops pierced the night.

Another police car turned onto the street behind them. Lee got out his weapon. Standing between the door and the frame of his car, he leveled his gun at the assailant in the dark and fired. There was a return of fire yet again, and Barbara joined in. A moment later a body fell forward, slumping to the ground. Another figure raced out of the darkness and rushed for the corner. Several officers took off on foot after the fleeing figure, while Lee and Barbara stayed focused on the fallen victim. With guns drawn and pointed, shouting commands and with backup behind them, Lee and Barbara approached the suspect.

Barbara reached the sidewalk first, but her attention was diverted to another form on the ground. "It's a dog," she said. "It's dead."

Lee lowered his gun and squatted next to the bleeding body. The victim's hands were empty, and instinct told him that he would not find a weapon nearby.

"Who did we get?" one of his men asked.

"Is it one of Willey's men?" Barbara asked, as she and several other undercover officers hurried forward with their guns drawn and aimed.

For the moment Lee was speechless. He watched the slow spread of a small circle of blood beneath the prone body. He reached out to check for a pulse. "It's . . . a woman. Black. She's alive."

Someone ran a flashlight beam along the ground, first over the dead dog and then over the woman's dark form.

Lee glanced briefly at the dead animal. He saw the leash on the ground, its lead still attached to the collar. His gaze returned to the woman, to a face drawn in pain. He stared into dark eyes that blinked at him in bewilderment. His stomach muscles tensed violently.

He was momentarily transfixed by the woman's confusion. It was a blank disorientation that pulled him up short and made him catch his own breath.

And it registered very quickly that his twenty years of hands-on street experience had not prepared him for this moment.

"Oh, shit," Barbara said succinctly, voicing exactly what Lee was feeling.

—Reprinted from Close Encounters by Sandra Kitt by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Sandra Kitt. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

What People are Saying About This

E. Lynn Harris

Bold and imaginative…sure to keep readers turning the pages.

Jayne Ann Keller

Sandra Kitt is carving out a unique place for herself in the world of women's fiction.

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