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Eyes focused on the mark one hundred yards in front of her, Evelyn pulled the trigger. Anticipating the buck of cold metal in her hand, her body absorbed the kickback as three short bursts echoed in her ears. Her lips twitched into a tight smile. She couldn't have been more accurate if she'd been at point-blank range.
Evelyn holstered her piece, pushed her protective glasses up and smirked at the man standing next to her. Detective Ryan O'Neil pressed the green button to their right, refusing to meet her gleeful stare, and watched as the tethered paper target danced its way down the shooting lane closer and closer into view.
Her partner sighed ruefully. "Two to the chest, one to the head. Not bad, little Miss Evelyn Davis, not bad."
Evelyn flinched slightly. Most of the time, she wasn't bothered by the new name she'd adopted fifteen years ago. But every so often, hearing "Davis" instead of "Maslin" still shocked her a bit. It seemed like today was going to be one of those days.
Ryan pulled the target sheet from the hanger and waved it in Evelyn's face. He grinned, the dimples in his cheeks deepening. Standing at six foot one and a solid 190 pounds of pure muscle, Ryan had the eye of every passing woman. His easygoing smile and casual mannerisms perfectly balanced out her sometimes cool, detached approach to their work. They were the perfect pair, and in looks, they could easily pass as siblings.
The paper fluttered from Ryan's fingers to the shell-covered, dirty concrete f loor. He ran his hand through his thick mass of dark curls, sapphire eyes twinkling as he said, "But can you do that with your left hand?"
They both knew she wouldn't, or couldn't, refuse his challenge.
"That's 'Detective' to you, sir. And you know I can."
She'd needed the release of the gun range after closing the Langdon case. Seeing those broken and battered little girls had taken its toll on herphysically and emotionally. It had been a long time since she'd needed to go that deep into the psyche of a monster, but someone had to do itno one else on the force had seen past Adam Langdon's stellar résumé, perfect face and solid alibi.
Going on nothing more than a hunch, she'd followed Langdon after work one day. After being detained and released due to lack of evidence the bastard had gotten cocky, not bothering to cover his tracks. He'd led Evelyn straight to his lairoff the grid and hiddenwhere, unbeknownst to her at the time, his newest victim lay bound and gagged. That sixth sense she'd grown to trust had pushed at her, demanding attention. So she'd done the only thing she could: called for backup and went in alone. Though he was bigger, she was running on righteous anger and quickly got the drop on him. By the time Ryan and the backup arrived, Langdon was in cuffs and the kidnapped little boy sat huddled in Evelyn's lap, crying softly. Old VCR tapes lined the closest shelves, some dating back fifteen years, of his previous victims.
She'd craved Wild West justice for Langdon. Instead, they'd shipped him to Clallam Bay Corrections Center just southeast of Neah Bay. She wanted him out of Washington State altogether, but knew he wouldn't last long at CBCC. That gave her some sense ofjustice served. Even the cruelest killers wouldn't accept some thingsand a murdering child molester was one of them. But he wouldn't be able to touch another child. He likely wouldn't be able to do much of anything soon. Her lips tugged up as the dark, primal thought passed through her mind.
"Okay." Ryan's voice pulled her back to the present. "Let's see you prove it."
He pulled out a worn leather wallet, grabbed a crumbled twenty and slapped it onto the counter in front of them. He stuffed his wallet back in his pocket, then clipped another paper target to the hanger. "Right now."
"I hate to take your money, O'Neil. But if you insist
." Evelyn shook her head. All thoughts of Land-gon vanished.
She was in her element, and Ryan was toast.
She turned, pushed her protective eyepiece back into place and picked up her department-issued 9mm. She flicked off the Glock's safety and raised her left hand. Focusing her breath, she concentrated on the flimsy target swaying from its ride down the shooting range. With each controlled breath, she slowed her heartbeat. She locked onto the bull's-eye. Her mind morphed the thin target into the still-nameless face that tormented her dreamless nights: her family's killer.
Without hesitation, her pointer finger squeezed the trigger
and blew a hole through the target's middle.
"And that, O'Neil" she holstered her piece, pivoted and grinned at her partner's blank face "is how it's done in the big leagues."
"Impressive." He sank against the wooden stall, hand rubbing the stubble on his chin as he studied Evelyn's obliterated target.
Evelyn picked up and tossed the empty shell casings into the trash. Ryan crossed his arms across his barrel of a chest and kicked a few casings her way. "So, Kate and the kids want you to come over for dinner tonight."
Evelyn stopped short and glanced up. Ryan smiled.
She didn't want to disappoint the kids, but what she really needed was a bottle of Malbec and a bubble bath. She shook her head. "Ryan, that smile of yours isn't going to help you."
"My killer smile may not have worked on you. But I have one better."
Evelyn groaned and leaned back on her heels.
"Kate said she won't take no for an answer. Be there at six o'clock, Davis."
There was no arguing with Kate O'Neil. Evelyn knew it. Ryan knew it. Hell, even Kate knew it. Evelyn sighed. She'd clearly lost this battle.
"I guess I'll see you at six, then." She threw a shell casing at Ryan's head, but he ducked without so much as a blink. "But I'm bringing a date."
"Oh, yeah?" Ryan's eyebrows arched together. "Who's the lucky man?"
She fluttered her lashes. "His name is Mr. Malbec. Ever heard of him?"
Ryan's deep laugh bounced off the wooden walls of their shooting stall. "Nice one, Davis, real nice."
Evelyn picked up her gear and made her way toward the exit. She pushed open the door, turned and winked at her partner. "Thought you'd like that."
"Six o'clock, Davis. And don't be late," Ryan shouted after her.
Evelyn stepped out of Starbucks, nursing her double-short, no-foam, soy latte as she crossed the cobblestoned street and walked to her favorite spot in SeattlePike Place Market. Heading straight to the end of the market, past the infamous fish-throwing stand, she turned right. She let the heavenly scent of lavender lead her, its invisible tether reeling her in. The soft aroma invaded her senses and melted the stress of the preceding weeks. She filled her lungs with the delicate fragrance. Tonight, after dinner at Kate and Ryan's, she'd sit in a hot lavender bath and let the rest of the stress seep out of her pores.
Arriving at the stall she sought, she smiled at Josie's familiar face. Pixie-like with her petite figure and a voice to match it, the vendor's eyes crinkled as she grinned at Evelyn.
"How are you this evening, Detective?"
Evelyn shook her head, still smiling. "Just Evelyn tonight. I'm officially off the clock and desperately need some lavender oil and bath salts."
She swung her small black bag to her front and riffled through its contents. Where was her wallet? She carried the smallest purse possible, yet always managed to misplace things. Would wonders never cease? Finally locating the item she was searching for, Evelyn looked up. Josie's head was down as she leaned over the counter that overflowed with lavender and stretched to reach the bath salts.
"Are you ever truly off the clock, Evelyn?" the tiny woman asked as she pawed though her lavender products. She put the oil and salt into a tiny opaque bag and held it out to Evelyn. "Somehow, I doubt it."
"Well, this" Evelyn exchanged money for the bag and held it up, the soft scent floating up to her nose "helps with my half-hearted attempt. Thank you."
"You're most welcome." Josie winked and turned to help the tall man who had strolled up to her small boxy stall.
Evelyn left. She walked back through the marketplace, soaking up the late afternoon activity. She didn't have to be anywhere for an hour or so and had every intention of enjoying her downtime. God knew she needed the break, and this was the perfect place for her to get it.
She loved Pike Place Market. The hustle and bustle was strangely refreshing, and she came here as often as possible. People never seemed to have a care in the world as they purposely, yet leisurely, went from stall to stall searching for that perfect treasure. It was a place to enjoy, a place to discover. And nowhere else could she fade into the background so quickly and easily.
He followed behind Evelyn, twirling a lavender sprig. Just far enough away that she wouldn't notice him in the sea of people, but close enough to smell the lavender trail wafting behind her. He seethed as she ambled from one marketplace stall to the next. He'd wanted to move in, destroy her as she'd laughed and bantered with that vendor woman. He'd even stepped closer, his hands twitching in anticipation. But no, it wasn't time. Not yet.
So he'd bide his time, and watch, then make her feel pain she'd never known before. Then. Only then would he take her.
His step lightened, the mental picture of her bleeding out at his feet pulsing through him. He stopped behind the column, held his breath and waited for her to finish at the wood-carver's stall. She laughed. Anger burned in his eyes. How the hell can she be cheerful? She doesn't deserve it. Not with what she 'd done, and what she'd taken from him. He crushed the lavender sprig in his hand and threw it to the ground. She didn't deserve happiness, but that would soon change.
He'd see to that.
Kate threw the wide glass door open. Evelyn smiled and held out the bright assortment of lilies, roses and baby's breath that she'd picked up at Pike Place Market. "For you."
Kate's face lit up. "Thanks, sweets. They're beautiful. How do you manage to find these? I swear, I never have the same luck when I venture down there."
She put the flowers down on the foyer table, turned and pulled Evelyn into a massive bear hug. As they stood at the same height of five foot ten, it was easy for Kate to do. The affectionate contact surprised Evelyn every time she found herself in her friend's tight embrace. She had accepted Kate's need to hug her. But it wasn't always like that. After her family's death, Evelyn had kept everyone at arm's lengthliterally.
"I knew you wouldn't say no." Releasing her hold, Kate stepped back. Her curly red hair fell to one side as she tilted her head slightly. She clucked her tongue. "Wow, Ev. You look awful."
Evelyn laughed and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Thanks."
She was forever amazed at her friend's bluntness. It was the trait that had initially drawn Evelyn to her. The moment Ryan introduced them, a tight bond had formed between them. Knowing where she stood with Kate had been a welcome place for Evelyn. And eight years later, she still appreciated Kate's candor and friendship. Looking at the green-eyed beauty, one would never guess that she was a cutthroat, shoot-from-the-hip, take-no-shit assistant district attorney.
"Just saying how it is," Kate teased as she closed the door behind them.
Kate moved across the foyer, entered the dining room and flipped the light switch. Evelyn followed behind her. The clear, blown-glass chandelier twinkled to life. The room had plush cream carpets and pale blue walls. The table settings were laid out on the pub-style table.
Evelyn, plus the O'Neil clan, made five.
"Why are there six plates on that table?"
She pushed down the frustration bubbling inside her. If she had known Kate planned to pull this tonight, she would have declinedand nothing would have stopped her. Damn Kate, always trying to set her up.
"Are there?" Kate smiled innocently.
"Tonight, of all nights? You know how much the Langdon case took out of me. And how much I hate you trying to set me up." Evelyn fought to keep her voice level.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Ryan owes me ten bucks." Kate reached for the sixth place setting and gathered it into a neat pile. "Do you honestly think I would have made this a blind date? Tonight? Not in a million years. I haven't seen either of you in weeks, and I want you all to myself. Besides, Ry thought it would be funny to see how long it took you to notice the number of place settings. I told him less than two minutes. He said ten. We bet, and I won."
Evelyn should have known better. Heat kissed her cheeks. Apparently she needed this evening with her friends more than she realized.
Kate balanced the plate setting on one hand and reached for the flowers. She stopped, tilted her head. "Hear that?"
Little feet clapped down the hardwood floors, tiny giggles bouncing off the hallway walls. Evelyn grinned. She dropped to her knees and waited for the assault to commence.
Right on cue, Ava, Kate and Ryan's six-year-old daughter, charged around the corner, long blond hair swinging wildly, and flung herself into Evelyn's open arms.
"You're here! You're here!"
Ava tightened her grip around Evelyn and squeezed. Her little face pressed into the soft curve of Evelyn's neck. She returned the child's hug and quietly sighed. Kate knew her too well. This was exactly where Evelyn needed to be tonight.
Here with this family
her adopted family.
Ava pushed back from Evelyn's embrace and, despite her lisp, babbled a mile a minute. Evelyn and Kate exchanged an amused lookthe child was an attorney in the making. Evelyn turned her attention back to the chatty child as Kate headed toward the kitchen.
"Ry, can you grab me a vase?"
A baby's contagious laugh pulled Evelyn's lips into a smile, and she shifted Ava to one side to lock eyes with the little love of her life.
Liam O'Neil. At sixteen months, he was still a sweet baby to her, but he'd started to tear around the house as soon as he learned to walk, and his constant nonsense babble was heartwarming to hear. Liam hesitantly toddled toward her, his eyes sparkling with determination and untold mischief. Oh, dear. He took after Ryan with his playful demeanor, jet-black curls and matching dimples.
Liam was going to be one solid heartbreaker when he grew up.
His feet got ahead of his small body as he glanced up at Evelyn and he face-planted. Hard. His chin connected with the floor with a hard crack. Ava's jabber halted. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at her brother's crumpled figure.
He lay there for a minute, hugging the floor, his tiny body a statue. A whimper escaped his lips as he slowly lifted his face toward Evelyn. His chin quivered and tears collected in his eyes.
Evelyn set Ava down and, in two steps, scooped him into her arms to cuddle him close to her.
"Look at you, little man. You're okay, sweetheart." She lightly kissed the red, angry knot on his chin. He whimpered again, fat tears threatening to roll down his cheeks.
"You're okay. See? All better."