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Book 4 of Men of the Texas Rangers Series
By Margaret Daley
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Margaret Daley
All rights reserved.
Fingering the necklace, Jared had given her for her seventeenth birthday, Kelly Winston cracked her bedroom door open. When she peeked out, her mother strode toward the staircase. Releasing a swoosh of air, Kelly snuck down the hall to her mom's bathroom and pulled out the middle drawer where she kept her supply of medicine.
Kelly picked up the first bottle, a painkiller her mother had started taking last winter after her car wreck. Kelly shook one into her palm. She grabbed the next bottle, not sure what these pills were, but she pocketed several of them anyway, then moved on to the next medication, an old one for anxiety her mom had taken when Dad divorced her and moved away. She took three of them.
"Kelly," her mother yelled from the foyer downstairs.
She shot straight up, her heart pounding, but she didn't hear any footsteps approaching.
"Your date is here."
She drew in a deep breath to calm her rapid heartbeat and quickly closed the drawer. "Coming, Mom."
She stuffed the pills she'd taken into her jean pocket and hurried from her mother's bathroom before she came looking for her. When Kelly saw Jared standing next to her mom in the foyer, she smiled and nodded once.
His mouth curving up, a dimple appearing in his left cheek, he winked at her.
"When are you going to be home?" her mother asked as she walked toward the kitchen.
"The party lasts until midnight so after that."
"Don't wake me when you come in. I'm exhausted and hope to go to bed early."
"I won't," Kelly said, right before closing the front door. It was so easy to stay out when her mother took a sleeping pill. Mom would be out until tomorrow.
"What did you get?" Jared rounded the front of his Porsche.
After sliding into the front seat, she dug the dozen pills out of her pocket and laid her palm out flat to show him. "Painkillers, sleeping pills, and an assortment of others. Is that what you wanted?"
"You did great. This will be fun."
"Are you sure your friends will be okay with me coming?"
"You're my girlfriend. We've been dating for over two months." At the stoplight, Jared looked at her, his blue eyes gleaming with male appreciation. "You're the most beautiful girl at Summerton High School. I'll be the envy of every guy at the party."
Though his words flattered her, Kelly's nerves tensed throughout her body. This was her first pill party. She'd heard of them from some of the other girls. She'd always wanted to be a part of the in crowd. Tonight she would be. Finally. All because Jared Montgomery, a hottie and a senior, had started dating her when she became one of the junior cheerleaders—after years of honing her skills and dieting constantly.
When Jared parked behind a warehouse, Kelly glanced at some of the other expensive cars. A few she recognized. "The party is here?"
"Yeah. This place isn't in use right now. Perfect for what we want to do. Ready?"
She nodded, laying her quivering fingers on the door handle.
He clasped her shoulder, stopping her from leaving the car. "Just do what the others do. It's a small group of my closest friends. You'll be fine. This is such a rush. You'll see what I mean tonight."
Peering at him, she fortified herself with the knowledge he'd told her he loved her last week. All the kids were doing this. What harm could a few prescription drugs really do? They were all prescribed for someone to take. Her mom took several every day. It wasn't the same as taking illegal drugs like meth or crack. Those could seriously mess with her mind.
As they walked toward the back entrance to the warehouse, hidden from the street, Jared grasped her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed her knuckles. "Stay close and I'll take care of you."
His gaze connected with hers. Her stomach flip-flopped. He could always do that—make her feel so special. She certainly didn't get any affirmation from her mother, or her father, who lived in Chicago and couldn't be bothered with her.
Before going in, Jared tipped her face up and kissed her, then pushed the door open.
The beat of the music pulsated in the air. Four teens sat or stood around the huge cavernous warehouse—bare of any items as far as Kelly could see, except for a few crates used for the party. Beyond the pool of light, darkness lingered as though a black curtain encircled a small part of the building, cordoned off for the pill party.
Jared retrieved two beers from a cooler and passed one to Kelly. She hated the taste but noticed all the other kids had one. She'd pretend she liked it.
"Let's put our drugs in the bowl. When everyone arrives, we'll grab a handful and take them with the beer." Jared pulled a wad of pills from his pocket.
"We drink, dance, and wait. For some nothing much happens. Dud pills. Others get a rush, feel euphoric. Either way, we'll forget our problems and have fun." He released his pills to fall into a large plastic bowl where there were a lot of drugs in various colors and sizes.
Kelly uncurled her hand, and the ones she brought tumbled on top of the others, then she took a swig of beer, suppressing her gag reflex.
Jared tapped his can against hers and then lifted his drink, downing probably half of it. "C'mon. We need to catch up with everyone. We'll be floating in no time. Not a care in the world, especially the English test you have on Monday."
While she tilted the can to her lips, he slung his arm over her shoulder and cradled her against him. His sweet action reinforced why she was here in the first place.
Jared loves me and won't let anything bad happen to me.
* * *
Her throat parched, Kelly swayed in the middle of the lit area with several teens slumped on the concrete floor. The light and dark swirled before her. She searched for Jared and found him where he'd been before she'd gone to see if there was something to drink. The coolers had been empty. To ease her dryness, she'd considered cupping her hands into the melted ice, but she didn't.
Kalvin Majors stumbled and fell into a stand with a light. It crashed to the floor and shattered. He continued wandering around in a circle, shouting every once in a while, "Go Eagles."
Kelly returned to the darker area because the room didn't seem to spin as much. She plopped down and crumpled back against a post. Jared lay not far away, and no matter how much she'd tried earlier to get him up, she couldn't. He'd just batted at her as if she were an annoying fly pestering him.
Another girl, Zoe, was stretched out on the floor moaning, while Luke, who was in several of her classes, vomited. The stench assailed her nostrils, and she almost hurled. She cupped her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes.
This isn't fun. I want to go home.
She crawled toward Jared, afraid to try standing. When she reached him, she shook his shoulder hard. Nothing. At least before, he would mumble or groan, but this time he didn't do anything. Cradling his face between her hands, she intended to yell at him until he woke up.
His skin felt cold, but it was hot in here. How could he be so cold? Her mind fumbled around trying to grasp onto something she should realize. Did she stick her hands into the ice water after all?
"Jared! Wake up!"
Someone—Brendan maybe—said, "Pipe down."
She didn't care. Increasing her volume, she shouted his name over and over.
Kelly lifted his arm to pull him up and get him outside into the fresh air. His limp arm was dead weight, making it hard to budge him at all. Finally, the effort zapped all her energy, her world spinning faster than before. She collapsed on top of Jared. A black veil descended ...
Someone jostled Kelly, pushing her off her comfortable pillow. She blinked, a harsh light glaring in her eyes.
"He's dead," a frantic female voice shrieked, piercing through Kelly's dazed mind.
Dead? Kelly struggled to focus on the two blurs standing over another blur.
"We've got to get him out of here. This is my dad's warehouse."
"And do what?" the girl screamed.
"Don't know. Can't leave him in here."
Kelly curled up into a ball, the cold concrete against her cheek. She wanted to open her eyes again. To see what was happening but the darkness beckoned. If she slept a little longer, she would be okay.
A scraping sound penetrated the haze in her mind, but she kept moving toward the black.
She jerked, then folded in on herself even more. Now running toward the dark void where she could escape ...
Kelly rolled unto her back, the cold hardness beneath her demanding she wake up. She tried forcing her eyelids up but only managed to open them a slit. Through her narrow vision a face loomed close. The darkness surrounding her made it hard to see who it was. Blue eyes? Jared?
But no matter how much she tried, she couldn't keep her eyes from shutting again. Her mind in a fog, she allowed it to swallow her up.
* * *
"Really, Mom, I don't feel well. I think it's something I ate last night." Lexie Alexander drew the cover over her head and hoped her mother would just leave her alone.
Her mom threw back the coverlet and felt her forehead. "You don't feel hot. I hate going to church by myself."
"I thought Uncle Ethan was going."
"He got a call. Some hikers found a dead body."
Lexie's stomach roiled, bile rising up. She jumped from bed and raced for her bathroom before she got sick all over the carpet. Barely making it, she heaved into the toilet.
Her mom handed her a cold washcloth. "Guess you really are sick. I thought you were trying to get out of going to church."
As Lexie hung over the rim, she shook her head.
Her mom filled a cup with water and gave it to her.
Lexie swished the cool liquid around in her mouth then spit it into the toilet. "I really did eat some spicy food that didn't agree with me. I had the Cantina deliver last night while you were out on your date with Cord."
"I'll stay home, in case you need me."
Lexie handed the cup to her mother. "I don't think there's anything else in my stomach. I'll be fine with some rest. I was up a good part of the night."
"You should have come and gotten me."
Lexie rose, glimpsing her wild short hair and pale face. "I know you're a nurse, but what would you have been able to do? Hold my hand while I puked? I know I'm not eating at the Cantina ever again."
Her mother lingered in the doorway into the bathroom. "On the way home from church, I'll stop and get some ginger ale and saltine crackers, in case you want something later."
Lexie waved her away then cupped some cold water and splashed her face. The awful taste in her mouth reminded her of that spicy food that probably was the culprit behind her getting sick. As she heard the bedroom door click shut, she put a glob of mint-flavored toothpaste on her toothbrush and scrubbed her teeth, hoping to get the nasty taste out of her mouth.
She trudged back to bed and fell across the messed-up covers. Her mind started surrendering to sleep ...
The song "Because of You" blasted the air, startling her wide-awake. She fumbled for her cell phone on her nightstand and brought it to her ear. She didn't feel like talking—even to her best friend.
"Hello." Her answer came out long and drawn out.
"Lexie, I need your help."
"Kelly?" She pushed to her elbows. "Why are you whispering?"
"I'm at a warehouse across town. I need a ride home and bring me that blouse you borrowed last week. Mom has to think I've been up and out with you this morning."
"Where have you been?"
"At a party—all night. I'm scared. Come get me."
Lexie looked around and saw her car keys on the desk by her purse. "Where's the warehouse?"
"At the corner of Sixth Street and Bluebonnet Road."
"That's clear across town in the bad part of town."
"I know. That's why I'm not walking home. I need your help, Lex." Fear laced each word Kelly spoke in a shaky whisper.
Lexie swung her legs off the bed. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Pull up in back of the warehouse. I'll be watching. I don't want to leave until you come."
"Okay." Lexie hung up and snatched her jeans and T-shirt off the floor nearby. She stood to put her clothes on, but the room tilted. Plopping down on the bed, she dressed. Remembering the fear she'd heard in Kelly's voice prodded her to move as fast as her shaky body would allow.
* * *
"Thanks for coming out on a Sunday morning," the police chief of Summerton said to Texas Ranger Ethan Stone.
"Cord, what happened here?" Ethan stood just outside the cordoned-off area with yellow crime scene tape.
"Two hikers found a car in Summerton Lake with a dead body in it—Jared Montgomery."
Ethan whistled. "Have you told his parents yet?"
Cord Thompson shook his head. "I can't call and tell them over the phone. I need to make sure the crime scene is processed by the book first."
Ethan removed his tan cowboy hat and raked his fingers through his hair. "Agreed." Bradley Montgomery owned the largest ranch in this area of northeastern Texas, and Jared was his only child. "Did the hikers recognize Jared?"
"They are with an officer giving their statements. One of them dove under to see if someone was trapped in the car. He saw Jared and tried to get the door open. He couldn't, but he could see Jared was dead. He hightailed it out of the water to call 911. Hopefully, since only those hikers know about Jared's death, this gives us a little time before the news gets out. I can't mess up this investigation, or I'll be looking for another job."
"What do you want me to do? You know I'm always here to help."
"Considering the potential of this case to be high profile, I'm glad you're the Texas Ranger assigned to this area." Cord rubbed his nape. "I've got a feeling this case will come back to bite me. I don't want Bradley Montgomery to find out from someone else besides the police, but as I mentioned, I need to stay here. Sending a street officer would say to the man his son wasn't important enough to our police department to have someone higher up inform him of Jared's death. Bradley is one of the people whose taxes probably pay a good part of our salaries. He goes to your church. You know him. Would you inform him of his son's death and that you'll be working with us on this case?"
"You and I go to the same church."
"I know, but you two were better friends in high school." A grin skittered across the police chief's face, but only for a second.
"So you're officially asking me to participate in the investigation?"
"Since when have we stood on protocol? We've known each other since childhood, and you know the Texas Rangers are here to help with local cases when needed."
"As I said, we can't make any mistakes with this case. I can already imagine Bradley breathing down my neck, and I won't blame the man when he does. I don't have children, but if something happened to my niece or nephew, I'd be all over it."
"I haven't been here long. What kind of kid was Jared? Like his father?"
"Yes. Jared is a popular guy and well-liked from what I've heard. He's on the football team as the quarterback. This will be a blow to the whole team and school."
Ethan walked to the red Porsche, still dripping water, and studied the boy, his body leaning back, held in place by his seatbelt, his head bent to the right. "Are there signs of foul play?"
"Not that I can see, but the Medical Examiner is on the way. I didn't want to move him from the car until he got here. I'll push to have the autopsy done immediately."
Cord frowned. "It doesn't feel right. He has everything going for him. That's why I want to be here when the ME arrives. Nothing about this scene looks like a suicide."
"What are you afraid of? That this is drug or alcohol-related, and Bradley's active campaign against drugs is known all over these parts?"
Cord nodded. "Why here? Yes, I suppose he could have driven into the lake because of the boat ramp here," he pointed at the pavement ending in the water, "but it's set out of the way from the parking lot where the road forks."
"Which brings us back to suicide. He could have purposely driven it into the lake. Or someone else did. So who would have it in for Jared if he's so popular?"
"You see how many questions there are. Bradley will want them all answered and then some. He'll be looking for someone other than his son to put the blame on." Cord removed his trademark toothpick from his front shirt pocket and stuck it into his mouth. According to him, chewing on it helped him think since he'd stopped smoking.
Excerpted from Severed Trust by Margaret Daley. Copyright © 2013 Margaret Daley. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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