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The town of Whitehorn, Montana, didn't look as though it had just been kicked in the teeth, David Hannon thought as he pushed through the outer doors of the police station. The July sky was blue, the sun was out, the mountains in the background were spectacular, and the town appeared to be every man's vision of the perfect place to settle down. But, of course, if everything in his hometown had been perfect lately, he wouldn't be here. At least not on a search for the truth.
David moved beyond the sunlight and into the station. He removed his dark sunglasses, smiled down at the middle-aged woman sitting behind the desk and told her who he was and who he wanted to see. She scribbled his message down on a scrap of paper and excused herself.
"Hey, Hannon, it's been forever. Good to see you," a booming voice called, snagging his attention as David walked further into the room and grinned at the deputy sheriff heading his way. "But if you wanted to catch any of those weddings your family's been staging lately, you're too late. Of course, the way your clan has been falling, there might be something Cupid's slipped into the water supply. Better watch out. You could be next. Just another smooth bachelor fallen facedown in the wedding cake."
David shook his head, still grinning as he reached out to shake his old friend's hand. There had been a couple of unexpected weddings in his family in the past few months. But that wasn't why he had returned.
"Reed, it's great to see you, too. And you're right. I only wish I could have made it here in time for both Frannie's and Cleo's weddings, but I couldn't get away at the time." It was the truth. It had nearly killed him that he hadn't been able to get here in time to see the sister and cousin he was crazy about each take their turn walking down the aisle.
"So, you missed the weddings and now you're here for "
"To see my home and family, kiss the brides, congratulate the grooms on their good fortune, say hi to all my old buddies," he said. "Do a little nosing around while I'm here."
"Thought so," the man said. "Can't blame you. I'd be doing the same, if it were me, considering all the things that have been going on."
Another deputy showed up and slapped David on the back. "David, it's good to see that pretty face of yours. You don't come around nearly enough. Means less women fainting at your feet, more dates for me, but still we've all missed you, bud. I couldn't help but hear what you said. That nosing around you're talking about have anything to do with those bodies that were found at the future resort/casino site out on Kincaid land?"
David tilted his head, reluctant to say too much until he knew which way the clouds were rolling in. "I thought I'd see if I could help out."
"In an official capacity? FBI send you to assist?"
More like they hadn't stopped him. His superior had known where David was going when he requested a leave of absence and he also knew what was going on here in Whitehorn, but David was overdue for some time off. Still, it was a mark of Phil's confidence in his professionalism that the man had okayed the leave without question. "Don't get in too deep, Hannon, or I'll have to call you back," was his only comment. David didn't plan to give Phil any reason to do that, but he fully intended to get at the truth of what had happened here in his hometown.
"Yeah, are you here as Special Agent Hannon or simply as David Hannon, one of Whitehorn's favorite wandering sons?" another man asked with a chuckle.
"We'll see," David answered with a shrug and a grin. "Who's the chief investigating officer on this one?" A lot would depend on how open-minded and cooperative the officer was.
The men exchanged a few sidelong glances. "That would be Detective Neal. Over there," one man said.
David turned and looked toward the back of the room where his old friend had pointed and met with a sea-green-eyed stare and a pair of raised delicate blond brows. She was tall, slender, very crisp, her white blouse a sharp contrast to her black pantsuit. Her outfit and her demeanor said she was no-nonsense, just as her position required her to be. Nothing unusual about that. David had worked with plenty of female special agents, trusted his back to more than a few. Some of them had been colleagues, some friends, some more. None of them had ever made him think of hot nights and tangled sheets and drinking champagne from a woman's lips. Until this second, that is. This lady detective was definitely a very special case, and she was frowning at him right now. She made one last comment to the person she'd been conversing with and started walking his way.
"Detective Neal?" David asked the man standing next to him.
"Very definitely, Hannon. Have a care. Gretchen's relatively new to the area, but she's one of the best. Worked the streets of Miami for a while. She's knowledgeable, she's fair and caring, but she's tough. You may be able to charm most women with a single crook of your finger, but Gretchen takes her work very seriously and if you don't do the same, she bites."
The man's words were teasing, but David could hear the respect in his friend's voice.
"I wouldn't imagine the sheriff would give his biggest case to someone who didn't know how to do the job. Rafe's too smart for that," he agreed.
"She know who and what you are?" the man asked.
"Could be. Or maybe not. Catch you later," David said quietly as he strode toward Detective Neal.
He didn't know what the lady knew about him other than that he'd sent a note asking to see her, and those killer green eyes told him nothing. She moved across the room with purpose and efficiency, studying him as she advanced.
"Mr. Hannon?" she asked, looking down at the note the officer at the desk had taken to her. She stepped up beside David and he noted that in spite of his six-foot-one-inch frame, she didn't have to look up very far to stare into his eyes. "You must be related to Frannie, then?"
"My sister," he agreed.
"Frannie was one of the first people I met when I arrived here," the lady said with a carefully polite smile. "She made a stranger feel welcome. But you didn't come here to talk about your family. You're here on police business, I'm told. You know something of one of my cases? You have information you'd like to provide to the authorities, perhaps, Mr. Hannon?"
Her voice was the cool smoky kind that could make a man think about bed when he should be thinking about business. Her thick, honeyed hair moved as she spoke, brushing her jawline. David had an undeniable itch to reach out and sample the silky texture of the tempting shimmery stuff. Like a curious child, he mused. Or a man in the mood to get his face slapped. He tilted his lips up in a bemused grin.
"I'm here on a matter of public concern, Detective Neal," he said, schooling his thoughts to the matter at hand. "You're handling the Raven Hunter murder and the death of Peter Cook. I understand that both bodies were found on the site of the future resort/casino being built in the area and that Peter Cook was one of the employees on the site. I'm here to look into those cases."
She raised one brow. "What reason would you have for doing that, Mr. Hannon?" she asked, that boudoir voice quiet but firm.
"David," he said simply. "Special agent. FBI," he added, removing his credentials from the pocket of his sports jacket and flashing them. "I have reason to believe I could be of service here."
He doubted that very much, but he could see something. Those beautiful green eyes had narrowed. He'd at least gotten her complete attention.
"I haven't heard anything from the Bureau indicating that you were on your way, Mr. Hannon," she said, ignoring his suggestion that she call him by his first name. "You're telling me you've been assigned to my case for some reason?"
"I don't recall putting it that way."
"Just what way would you put it, then? If you're not here officially, why would you offer your services?"
"This is my home. I have an interest."
"And Jeremiah Kincaid, the chief suspect in the Raven Hunter murder, was your uncle."
David nodded his agreement. "We weren't close."
The lady took a deep breath. "There was animosity between you?"
The slight look of hope in her eyes had David smiling. "Nice try, Detective, but no, I wouldn't say that. I didn't really know Jeremiah well. He didn't take much interest in his sisters' offspring. The man had other interests." The wary look that crossed the lady's face told David that she knew exactly what he meant and that she was wondering if the family traits were passed down through the male bloodlines. His uncle had been an infamous womanizer.
As for David, he'd been blessed with more than his share of female companionship, and he hadn't failed to notice that while Gretchen Neal did her best to shelve her femininity during working hours, she couldn't hide that rose-and-cream complexion of hers. But just because he'd noticed the lady's skin, that didn't mean he was anything like his disreputable uncle.
David held out his hands in a gesture of surrender, but he arched one brow in obvious challenge.
"Look, Detective, I'll be honest. I'm interested in this case because this is my hometown. It's no secret that the people on the Laughing Horse Reservation have wanted to build this casino and resort for a while and that it will bring them much needed revenue. It's also no secret that this deal has been made possible only because the people from the rez and a few private investors have joined forces to cross reservation lines and build some badly needed bridges between the town and the reservation. Like everyone else here, I want that to succeed. Finding bodies on the affected land has put a halt to that construction and those bridges for now, so, yes, I have an interest in that sense. But I'm also interested because all these 'discoveries,' these bodies, seem to have upset my aunt Celeste tremendously. Jeremiah was her brother, Raven was the father of her niece, Summer, and this brings back memories of her sister Blanche's death, as well. She's naturally upset, so much so that she isn't sleeping. She isn't eating right, I'm told. If I can help in any way, assist with the case and help move things more quickly, I'd want to do that."
"There's no reason for you to get involved. This is a homicide. Not an FBI matter. Raven Hunter's remains weren't found on the reservation, and the Whitehorn force is an excellent one. We're capable of handling this alone." Gretchen Neal's tone and her demeanor projected absolute calm. She was good, but not good enough to hide that trace element of annoyance in her eyes. She was in charge here and she didn't like the implication that she needed outside help to do her job.
"I'm not implying that you're not capable, Detective," David said, keeping his voice cool and soothing. "That doesn't mean that this department, just like any other law enforcement agency, couldn't use a little assistance when it's offered gratis. You can't tell me that this special arrangement doesn't follow standard procedure, because Whitehorn has never really been known for doing that. You've got Rafe, a county sheriff, in charge of officers in the town and deputy sheriffs out into the rest of the county. Those jobs have always overlapped, and territories have been crossed when it was necessary to keep the citizens of the area safe. It's a maverick setup that makes Whitehorn specialand effective. Why not take it a step farther and get a little help from another agency, as well?"
The smallest of smiles lifted her lips and David had the feeling that he'd been given an unexpected gift. Her smile transformed her face, making her eyes light up. He had an urge to take a step closer. He squelched it, sure that this lady who was fighting so hard to keep him out of her investigation definitely wouldn't want him in her personal space.
"You like to argue, don't you, Mr. Hannon?" she asked with a touch of laughter in her voice. "Well, you're right, I can't debate the procedural issue, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to take on volunteer officers. We've had plenty of work trying to keep the site uncontaminated. People seem to want to flock to a murder scene for some reason. I'm sorry, but in my book, you'd be another warm body wandering over the site."
She stood her ground, her green gaze apologetic but immovable. David had to give Gretchen Neal credit. She wasn't going to let just anyone waltz in here and start calling the shots. He could see why Rafe Rawlings had put her in charge.
He raised one brow. "You make a good point there, Detective Neal, but I can assure you that won't be a problem. In my line of work, dead bodies show up more often than I care to remember." As always, David did his best not to think back on those scenes. Moving on was the only way to get past the memories and deal with the job effectively. He didn't like sloppy work any more than Gretchen Neal did.
"Ms. Neal," he continued. "I assure you I'll keep my warm body out of the way as much as possible. I'm here to help, not to hinder." His voice swooped low on those last words, almost the way a man would speak to a lover, and the lady blinked. She raised her chin higher, the slightest touch of rose in her cheeks just about the only hint that she was anything other than calm. He understood her consternation. He'd been a loner for most of his life and he knew all about that need to hold everything close, that unwillingness to give up even one thread of control to anyone.
For one second, one very brief second when she looked up at him, David could have sworn that the look in Gretchen Neal's eyes spoke of vulnerability. Immediately the shades came down on her soul.
"I'm sure you mean well, but Ithat is, I really don't know you, Mr. Hannon, so I can't very well take your word on that, can I? Would you take me on without question if the circumstances were reversed?"