A tough-as-nails cop, Chantel Harris faces whatever life throws at her, and then some. As part of Santa Raquel's High Risk teamcreated by the town's women's shelter, The Lemonade Standshe goes undercover to expose one of the community's elite as an abuser.
Looking the part is easy, but gaining acceptance into upper society circles is a different matter. That's where gorgeous and successful lawyer Colin Fairbanks comes in. But Colin is so much more than Chantel could have dreamed. Wanting him is dangerous. Falling for him could ruin everything
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Read an Excerpt
It felt weird being in an interrogation room out of uniform. Not that thirty-two-year-old Chantel Harris spent much time interrogating suspects. She was a street cop, not a detective. But in the twelve years she'd been a cop, she'd been called in to sit with suspects on occasion and to help with questioning a time or two.
Even worse than being out of uniform was entering the room on stiletto heels, with makeup on her face and with her blond hair, which usually lived in a ponytail, cascading down her back in artfully curled waves.
"Excuse me, miss, but Chantel?"
She almost turned and walked right back out as Detective Wayne Stantona friend from academy dayswhooped. And grinned.
"Impressive, Wayne," Chantel said, trying not to become too fond of the way the silk lining of her pants slid along her legs as she sat. Cops couldn't afford Italian-made silk-lined clothes. Shrugging out of the matching slate blue jacket, she drummed her blunt-cut fingernails on the table. "Let's get through this."
"Actually, you're the impressive one," Captain Reagan said, coming in behind her and closing the door. "You clean up nice, Harris."
"Thank you, sir." The undercover assignment had been her idea. Hers and Wayne's. She had no doubts about her ability to do the job. Or her desire to catch the rich scumbag who thought his money and power gave him the right to knock his wife around.
"I might make one suggestion, though." The captain was holding back a smile. "What's that, sir?"
"Before you go to the fundraiser tonight, stop off at one of those walk-in nail salonsI believe there's one on the corner of Dunbar and First. Get yourself some acrylic nails. No rich society woman's going to show up with fingers that look ready and able to pull a trigger."
He had a point. "Yes, sir."
"The money you received was enough to buy you the clothes and things you need to see you through a six-week stint?"
Six weeks had been the operation's initial approval window. Chantel hoped she could either get proof in that time or enough evidence to warrant an extension on the assignment.
"Yes, sir. I found a secondhand shop in LA that sells highend designer clothes."
"So just to be clear" the captain looked at her and Wayne "you'll work your regular tour, with pay. For this operation you have your project budget, but your time spent is on a volunteer basis."
"Yes, sir," Wayne echoed. While the detective wouldn't be undercover, he was not only going to be the person to whom she reported, but he would also be doing follow-up, including information dissemination.
The captain shook his head. "You're both really committed to this High Risk team."
"Yes, sir," they said in unison. By bringing together members from all professions that came in contact with victims of domestic violence, creating an information pool that ensured that doctors and schools and legal aid and child protective services were all on the same page, the team was preventing domestic-violence deaths. Chantel had seen firsthand evidence
The captain sat back. "You know, when I first read the memo on this team, I thought the folks in charge were nuts."
Chantel's jaw tightened as she bit back the ready defense that sprang to her lips.
"But I have to admit domestic violence statistics, even here in Santa Raquel, are down remarkably."
"And you." He nodded toward Chantel. "You know better than most."
She'd first visited Santa Raquel from San Diego two years before, as a favor to a friend who believed his wife had been taken by her abusive ex-husband. Wayne, who'd been a member of the Santa Raquel police force, had helped heralso on his own timeand they'd saved a woman's life.
As far as anyone knew, it had been Chantel's first personal experience with domestic violence. And while she'd always known that what had happened with her stepfather had been a crime, she'd only in the past months begun to realize just how hideous his treatment of her had been. Helping Max and Meri Bennet had changed her in a lot of ways. Not only in how she viewed love. Through them she'd found her calling, found a way to put her own past to good use. To make lemonade out of her lemons. She was meant to help other women who, though they may have the strength of Hercules, couldn't always fight their battles on their own. Innocent women who'd been betrayed in the vilest ways by the one person they were supposed to be able to trust above all others.
She'd applied for a position on the Santa Raquel police force, as well as with the High Risk team developed by The Lemonade Standa unique women's shelter right there in Santa Raquel. The place where Meri Bennetwife to Chantel's close friend, Max Bennethad run when her ex-husband, a Las Vegas police detective, had threatened the lives of her husband and young son.
In the time since Meri's rescue from the hands of a madman, Chantel had not only grown to know her, but to consider her one of her closest friends.
When she thought about what would have happened to her if Max hadn't been so adamant that his wife was in trouble if Chantel hadn't loved him enough to have enlisted Wayne's help.
The captain tapped the table. "So, I've read the reports. We're all on the same page here, and unless I hear from Stanton that we have a problem, I'll expect normal reports on this sting until otherwise noted."
"Yes, sir." As a beat cop, Chantel wasn't used to sitting down for one-on-one conversations with a department captain.
She wasn't used to hobnobbing with the rich and famous, either. She hoped, during her debut that evening at the auction being hosted to benefit some art foundation, that she wasn't as tongue-tied and awkward as she felt right then.
The captain seemed to have dismissed them, but he was still sitting there. And until he stood, she couldn't. "I just have one question "
"Yes, sir?" Wayne answered for the two of them.
"This collage thing You don't think this is overkill? The department's money, going undercover, working your ass off for no compensation because some kid pasted pictures on a board during art class?"
"The boy's father has a sealed juvenile record, sir," Wayne said, immediately pointing out the information they'd found when they'd started asking questions about the wealthy, respected and well-known Morrison family, who lived just a few miles from them in nearby Santa Barbara.
"I understand. He hit his younger brother with a baseball bat."
"The boy died."
"That was more than forty years ago. Plus, as we've already said, the record was sealed."
"Hospital records show that Mrs. Morrison is accident-prone." Wayne was all business as, in his suit and tiedaily attire for him nowhe sat forward, facing the captain.
"I understand. She's not the only woman who appears to suffer from the malady. Believe me, I want domestic violence to stop. I don't want anyone to suffer abuse at the hands of loved ones. I'm just trying to understand, between you and me, why we're going to all this trouble because of a collage."
Wayne looked at her, and Chantel found her tongue.
"The artist who works in the schools doing collages with students, Talia Paulson, volunteers at The Lemonade Stand, sir. She has now had formal training in domestic violence counseling. She works with all students, but part of her purpose is to read the collages, as a way to pinpoint problems students might be having that the adults in their lives are either unaware of or not tending to.
"Anger issues, self-concept issues, grief. It all comes out not only in the photos these kids choose, but in organization and color expression, too."
She had Captain Reagan's full attention now. And though she felt like a bug under his microscope, she respected the man and needed his buy-in.
Not to do the job. The project was already approved. But for her own sense of she didn't know what.
"Ryder Morrison is a straight-A student in a well-touted private school. He also used to be a star swimmer and was damned good at surfing, too. In the past year, he's become withdrawn. Never wanting to leave home, or seemingly leave his mother's side. Talia was called in. What she saw in Ryder's collage alarmed her to the point that she called the High Risk team immediately."
"I read the report," Reagan said. "What was in the collage? That's what I'm asking."
"Baseball bats. A series of them, hidden among a collection of surfboards, sticking out of the leg of a pair of swim trunks, as a tattoo on a businessman's arm. The bats were all small, and all black. The other thing that stood out was a collection of adsall women selling house-cleaning supplies like furniture polish and floor wax. They also were spread throughout the other clear interest groupings. All of those were rimmed in red and purple. Colors that typically signify love and blood. Bruising. There were other things, but those were the most standout. Talia was alarmed and called us. Wayne checked it out and found not only that Mrs. Morrison was prone to being hurtbruisedbut that Mr. Morrison had had an episode with a baseball bat."
"Did anyone think about asking the kid about any of this?" Reagan asked. "I didn't see anything about it in the report."
"His parents refused to let him speak with us," Wayne dutifully reported.
Chantel looked at Captain Reagan and made a split-second decision to trust him. He was a powerful man in the small police force. She wanted to know they had him on their side.
"Talia spoke with Ryder," she said. "He told her that he'd overheard something, but that when he'd asked his mother about it she'd told him he'd misunderstood. We don't know what he was referring to. But that had been his reply when Talia had asked him about the significance of the baseball bats. He said they were black to represent misunderstanding."
"A bit deep for an eleven-year-old."
"Kids who are forced to grow up quickly tend to be that way." Chantel knew.
Reagan frowned. "So you think what this kid overheard was something about his father killing his little brother?"
Wayne's head tilted a bit as he said, "Stands to reason. It's pretty clear that whether it's something he overheard, or something going on in his home, Ryder has had a complete personality change in the past year and neither of his parents are acknowledging it."
Chantel added, "They say his behavior changes are no more than a phase, due to his burgeoning adolescence. And because there are no signs of physical abuse against him, no sign that he's being mistreated at all, there's no more we can do to gain entrance through a front-door approach."
"That family is in danger, sir," Wayne told him. "The boy is clearly afraid."
"I'm willing to work triple shifts without pay if need be to prevent Mr. Morrison from hurting his son. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if Ryder ended up hurt or, God forbid, dead because we did nothing."
"Not to mention Mrs. Morrison," Wayne added. "Her life is clearly even more in the balance than her son's since she's already exhibiting signs of having been abused. According to hospital records, she's had a broken arm, a broken collarbone, multiple contusions on the back of her head and ribs broken in her back. Those are the injuries she sought medical help for. We have no idea how many others there have been. As you saw in the report, we've had three doctor notifications of suspected abuse over the past several years, but each time, both parties deny any wrongdoing. It's clear she's not going to press charges. Or even stand up for her son. She won't let him talk to us."
While it was true that Leslie Morrison had refused police access to her son, Chantel wasn't as certain as Wayne that the woman wouldn't stand up for him. She believed it was more a case of the woman keeping her son safe by covering for her husbandand taking his abuse herself.
Reagan shook his head, picking up his folder. "So, she won't press charges against the bastard."
The statement hung there between the three of them. Questions choking them with their lack of answers.
Until it became clear that the only way any of them were going to find the peace they sought was by getting back to work.
"You be careful out there," Reagan said to Chantel as she walked down the hall of the station like she'd been born in fashionable heels. She'd been practicing in her apartment all week.
"I will, sir."
"This man, if he's guilty of all that we suspecthe's dangerous."
"I know, sir. Which is why we need a cop in there keeping an eye on things. Don't worry. I'll have my gun with me at all times."
He nodded as he left them. Then it was just her and Wayne, standing by the back door.
"You got me on speed dial?" he asked.
"Then go get them, Chantel. You're born to do this job. If anyone can pull it off, you can." She hoped so.
Going against bad guys didn't give her pause. Drug dealers. Thieves. Rapists. She was trained to take them down.
But act all girlie and glamorous? A woman who could laugh in all the right places and move like she wanted every man in the place to look at her?
That wasn't her style at all.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An intriguing story that keeps you guessing and trying to figure out who is guilty of what throughout. Lots of protective shields are in place that have to be torn down to let life in again. Chantel Harris is a tough girl cop in Santa Raquel who is going undercover among the city's elite to try to bring an abuser to justice. Colin Fairbanks is a lawyer who is part of that inner circle, and the attraction they feel towards each other at first sight is Chantel's lucky break and her way into the group she needs to infiltrate. Chantel's intent is to find out the specifics of one particular crime, but stumbles upon a years old cover-up that is entwined among the people she is interested in. Will Colin forgive her once he finds out she's a fake?
This was a more event based story, than emotional one. Even though the issues of the book are serious, from domestic abuse to date rape, and police cover up for criminals and crimes, it wasn't an overly emotional tale. Chantel has passion for her job, she is giving everything she has, her time, energy, and resources, to catch the criminals. Now going undercover, for the first time, she feels a little out of her depth, but is determined to make it work, and get the job done. She has seen a lot during her life, even a couple people falling in love, but trusting someone so completely, to surrender to your emotions that way, wasn't something Chantel planned to do herself. Ever. Colin, the rich rainmaker lawyer, running his family's legacy, the law firm, and looking after his sister, are all he lives for. The occasional dating, and charity work withstanding, he is all about making deals, and getting new clients. And protect his sister, no matter what. To trust someone, that is asking too much, to fall in love, not for him. So when these two meet, while Chantel is undercover, sparks fly, and a connection is made, that takes them both by surprise. They fumble around each other, not sure what is happening, and soon they can't help but fall for each other. But will they have a future, since everything they are building in between themselves is based on lies and deceit? Looking for evidence for domestic violence, Chantel runs into much bigger case she, and her team, ever imagined. The antics they go into, to catch the perpetrator, with evidence and witnesses, puts lives in danger, and Chantel into a situation she promised herself, she would never be in. The story is engaging, it is curious how Chantel lives on the edge of her true personality, and her undercover image, how she deals with the high society, the glamour and finesse of the pretend world she is in. I like the characters, the supporting cast gave a lot to the plot. There's constant referrals to the past events, several times the same events from the past are told, that have nothing to do with this story. To tell once, to show character development, is perfect, no need to repeat. With unexpected events towards the end, the story takes a surprise ending, making it gratifying and fulfilling ending for all. ~ Four Spoons