Detective Morgan Forester's resolve is as steely as his gun and the badge he wears with pride. And he'd once belonged to Trista Emerson—until a tragedy drove them apart.
Now, two of Trista's clients are dead, and Morgan is back, sexier than ever…and convinced Trista might be the killer's next victim.
Faced with Morgan's twenty-four-hour brand of protection, Trista has to admit the truth—she still loves him. This time, she vows to reach the man behind the badge—and show him she was, and always will be, his woman.
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"Sometimes I feel like taking that gun out of his night table and shooting the television! Right in the middle of Star Trek!"
Chartered psychologist Trista Emerson pressed the stop button on the tape recorder, cutting off Nan Walker's explosion of rage toward her husband, Jerry. It marked the first time Nan had been anything but meek and agreeable, and Trista had taken it as a very good step forward. But now Jerry and Nan had missed their four o'clock appointment and Trista didn't know what to think.
The Walkers were relatively new clients, part of a recent trend that she'd been trying to avoid.
Trista preferred individual therapy, but often it was impossible to separate the two. A client might come to her initially because of personal problems. If that client was married, however, often the problems spilled out into the relationship.
When that happened, she was honest about her own history.
"I have training and counseling experience in this area. But you should know that my own marriage ended in divorce."
For some reason that knowledge turned very few of them away.
"Your own trauma has made you wiser, more sympathetic," a trusted colleague had told her—a man she'd gone to for therapy following the breakup of her marriage.
Certainly the results she'd seen in her practice gave testimony to his opinion.
But sometimes, she wondered. Was she the best person to advise these people? Like Nan and Jerry Walker. She'd been seeing them for a couple of weeks now, and she was determined to do her utmost to help them in the one-month trial period they'd all agreed upon. But it wasn't a good sign that they'd missed this session.
Trista put the Walkers' file in her out basket for her secretary, Brenda, to file later. She might as well go home—theirs had been her last appointment of the day. But she didn't want to leave her office. She never did.
For three years now, since her separation and divorce, she'd been alone, and she still couldn't get used to facing an empty apartment at the end of each day. Not that it had been any better than the last year of her marriage. Neither counseling nor time seemed to lessen the pain of her losses, the memories hanging like dark storm clouds on the horizon of her mind. The past. Her present. The eternity of a future that stretched unendingly before her.
When she concentrated on the problems of others, her malaise lifted. Her work, in this way, had become her salvation.
After work—that was the problem.
Expelling a breath, Trista stood up from behind her desk and walked over to the window. Her office building was located just south of King Street, and her suite on the south side of the top floor had a nice view of Lake Ontario. Usually the sky was hazy, and the lake broody and gray. But today the spring sun shone, and the water sparkled, blue and inviting. A deceptive appearance, for in fact Lake Ontario was so polluted that swimming was considered dangerous.
"Good God." Detective Morgan Forester considered himself a hardened cop, but he wasn't prepared for the sight that met his eyes as he stepped inside the motel room at five-thirty Tuesday afternoon.
The deceased, a large man in his late forties, sat on the kitchen floor by the front of the stove. Thick lumps of meat and tomato sauce covered his head, and had dripped down over his shirt, merging with the dark red stain marking the bullet wound in his chest. The sauce and the clotting blood had congealed into a thick red pool around the body.
Adding to the scene's repugnance was the smell. Although the body had only been there for about twenty-four hours, the scent of death in the room was unmistakable. That, combined with the cloying odor of the day-old tomato sauce, was lethal. Morgan shook his head, feeling damn weary of his job.
"Any fingerprints?" He turned away from the body and walked over to the table where Kendal, one of the I-dent officers, was finishing up his work.
"Some. But they're probably the maid's and the deceased's. I wouldn't get my hopes up."
Morgan raised his eyebrows. "I never get my hopes up. I suppose you guys have already talked to the desk clerk who was on duty?"
"We have. A Mr. Kyle Litherman. He says that at about twenty past one yesterday afternoon, a woman wearing a tan trench coat, leather gloves, hat and sunglasses walked into his office. He didn't notice a car, figures she probably took a cab. They usually do. Who wants to risk having their vehicle identified in a motel parking lot in the middle of the day?
"Anyway, the woman told him she and her husband were locked out of room 14. He gave her the key and says he didn't notice anything unusual after that. Which isn't surprising, given how far this room is from the office and the proximity of the expressway."
He rolled his eyes, indicating the traffic noise which was clearly audible even with the exterior door closed.
"You questioned the other motel occupants?"
"Yup. No one heard a thing."
"Of course not." Even if they had, Morgan doubted they'd be willing to cooperate, on the same principle Kendal had just stated. Who'd want to admit to being in this motel on a weekday afternoon? "So, are you guys finished here?"
"Just about. We've taken the photos. We just need to bag the rest of this stuff and send off the body, but we knew you'd want to see everything first."
Morgan gave a short nod of approval. "What about time of death? Does the coroner's estimate coincide with the timing of the woman asking for the room key?"
"She sounds like the one we want, all right. Now tell me about the deceased."
The officer flipped open a notepad and began reading from his notes. "The guy's name was Jerry Walker, although he booked into the room as John Doe. He runs a chain of five hardware stores, with a main office on Queen Street. We talked to his wife this morning."
Morgan shook his head. Arriving late on the scene like this—it was far from ideal. He'd received the call from Inspector Zarowin around eleven, but he'd been out of town tying up loose ends from a previous case. Fortunately the crew on the Identification Unit knew what they were doing.
"Who found the body?" He stretched his shoulders, fighting the ache from his six-hour drive. No sense thinking about how tired he was. The day that had begun at six that morning would doubtlessly be continuing far into the night as well.
"The maid. She was doing her rounds and reached this room at about 10:00 a.m."
"And how did Mrs. Walker take the news?"
"She broke down. We couldn't get much out of her, but she did say her husband wasn't in the habit of spending nights away from home, and she'd been worried sick."
Morgan looked around the motel room as he listened, rubbing his hand over the stubble on his chin, wishing he'd had time to shave that morning. As he scanned the room, he took in details without conscious effort.
The table was set with flowers and candles. A bottle of red wine sat open beside two clean wineglasses. He picked up one of the white plates from the table and fingered a chip, barely visible to the human eye.
"The dishes are from the kitchenette," the I-dent officer told him. "Walker must have brought the candles, flowers and wineglasses himself."
Morgan's eyes settled on a rose that had been placed on the untouched bed. "He went to a lot of trouble here. What did you find in his pockets?"
"Wallet, with a hundred and sixty dollars, and identification. Some matches, a couple of condoms—pretty optimistic for an older guy." He pointed to the items, already packed away in a plastic bag on the table.
Morgan ignored the attempt at humor. He wondered about the woman this guy had been waiting for. She must have been something special to warrant all this effort.
"Well, pack it up. I've seen enough." He nodded to the other officers, then turned on his heel and left the room. Back outdoors, he took a deep, reviving breath of fresh air. He hadn't eaten in over eight hours, but he no longer felt hungry. And it would be a long time before he'd be able to face a dish of spaghetti again.
Trista'S fingers paused over her computer keyboard, the phrase she'd been about to write slipping out of her mind.
She'd heard something. Hadn't she? She listened for several seconds, but all was silent. Her gaze slid to the clock on the edge of her desk and she was surprised to see that it was already past nine.
The building was probably all but deserted by now. Maybe she'd heard the security guard making his rounds.
She finished her sentence then saved the document. That was enough for one day. If she went home now she'd have just enough time to eat dinner and watch a program on television before going to bed.
Scooping up the day's tapes from her desk, she headed for the reception area out front where she dumped them into Brenda's in box to be transcribed tomorrow. She was about to return to her office for her jacket and briefcase when she heard something that sounded like a chair leg scraping against the floor. The sound had come from the direction of the file room.
Trista stared at the closed door. Was someone in there?
The idea of an intruder was ludicrous—the only money in the place was a fifty-dollar petty cash fund that Brenda kept locked in her top drawer—but she was reluctant to open the door and check.
If someone was there, the last thing she wanted to do was surprise him. Trista backtracked to her office and shut the door with a loud bang, and locked it behind her.
She could have sworn she heard the sound of another door opening, then footsteps. Picking up the phone, she called building security. Joe Wilkins answered immediately.
"I think someone may have broken into my suite, Joe. I just heard some strange noises in the file room, and Brenda went home hours ago."
"Don't worry, Ms. Emerson. I'll be right up to check it out. We had a squirrel in the offices above you last week. Could be the same rascal."
"I'm not sure, Joe. It sounded like footsteps to me."
"I'll be right there. Are you in your office?"
"Yes. And the door's locked." Trista set down the receiver, and waited. A few minutes later, the sound of voices in the hall made her adrenaline surge. Joe worked alone downstairs. Who could he be talking to?
Unless it wasn't Joe coming at all, but somebody else. The same somebody she'd heard earlier in the file room? She looked around her office for something, anything, that might serve as a weapon. A pair of scissors lay conveniently on the corner of her desk. She grabbed them, then hid behind a bookshelf on the wall next to the door.
Trista grasped the scissors handle so that the metal dug into her skin. The voices drew nearer. She could tell that both were men. The one who was doing the most talking could have been Joe, but the other voice was deeper, and something about the cadence of the speech made her stomach clench into a hard knot. He spoke only a few words—she couldn't make out—then the first man spoke again, and now they were close enough that she knew for sure it was Joe.
With a relieved sigh, she let the scissors drop from her hand. Crossing the carpeted floor, she opened the door.
"Joe! Thank goodness, it's you. My imagination must be working overtime. I thought…" The words froze on her tongue when her gaze fell on Joe's companion.
The man's eyes were the exact shade of dark blue-gray as the storm clouds that built over Lake Ontario during the hot, humid summers. And they were fixed on her with a ruthless-ness that made her feel like an insect about to be squashed.
Trista wanted to turn and run, but there was nowhere to go, and Joe would surely think she was crazy.
"Here you are, Ms. Emerson." Joe sounded cheerful. "Detective Forester walked in the front door just after I got your call, so he decided to come with me to check out those noises."
"How convenient." She was amazed at how cool her voice sounded.
"Pretty good timing all right. And they say you can never find a cop when you need one!" Joe chuckled, not noticing that the other two people in the room were definitely not amused.
Although she'd been looking at Joe as they spoke, Trista felt her gaze being pulled back to the detective. Neither of them had acknowledged that they knew one another, but he hadn't taken his eyes off her for a second. He was still watching her, his expression grim and unyielding.
"Let's check out that file room," he said.
The deep rasp of his voice shocked her. Only vaguely did it resemble the voice she remembered, in the way a young red wine compares to a rich port. Both from grapes, yet… "It's out this way," she said, striving for the same cool tone she'd used earlier. She walked around Joe and led them past reception.
Trista paused in front of the door to the file room. "This door is ajar. Just before I called you, Joe, it was closed."
"Are you sure?" Joe asked.
Was she? She thought so, but now she wondered if she'd merely assumed it was closed. Frowning, she led the way inside.
Initially, all appeared as normal. The photocopier stood against the far wall. To its right were the file cabinets, the table with the coffee machine on it and a row of ceramic mugs. Then she noticed that one of the file drawers was partially open. That wasn't like Brenda.
"Looks okay," Joe said cheerfully, walking into the room and examining the ventilation screens carefully. "I can't see any signs of squirrels, though."
"I'm sorry, Joe. I really thought I heard something."
"No problem. Best to be safe about these things. Well, I'd better get back to my post. Coming, Detective?"
"I was actually hoping to have a moment with, um, Ms. Emerson."
Trista's heart sank. She should have known she wouldn't get rid of him that easily.
"Okay, then." The sound of Joe's whistling traveled down the hall, fading out once he'd closed the main door behind him.
Trista stared at a picture on the wall, knowing full well that those stormy eyes were on her again, seeing far more than she wanted him to see. She'd thought of Morgan often over the years—more often than she wished—and always with the hope that he'd put the past behind him and gone on to live the full and happy life that he deserved.
With the lines of anger and bitterness that outlined his mouth and creased his forehead, however, she could see that her wishes had been in vain. And now she couldn't find the strength to face the bleakness that she saw staring out of his eyes. What had brought him here, tonight of all nights? What could he possibly have to talk to her about?
"There was something about this room that bothered you when you first walked in, wasn't there?" His voice, although quiet, reverberated through the space like ice cracking on a frozen pond.
Trista frowned. She wasn't surprised that he'd noticed. He'd always had a sixth sense about things like that. "Yes. It was that drawer." She pointed at the open cabinet. "My secretary, Brenda, locks those every night. I've never seen her forget."
He walked across the room and stopped where she had pointed. "This one?"
She nodded, then watched as he flipped through the files. It was a relief to have his attention elsewhere. Now she could examine him more closely. His hair was still dark, no signs of gray. And he still wore it so short you couldn't tell it was naturally curly. He'd kept in shape, his body had the sinewy leanness that comes from a life of physical activity. As he bent over the drawer, the black leather of his jacket stretched tautly across his shoulders.
"Are these your notes on client sessions?" he asked.
"Yes, they are."
He looked at the label on the outside of the drawer. "I suppose this is where your file on the Walkers would be kept?"
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