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Shards of an Angel
By Christina Marie Beck
Abbott PressCopyright © 2012 Christina Marie Beck
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDeputy Sheriff Krysta Jamison was on her way home from Sacramento to Roseville, California. Rush-hour traffic was typical on February 12, 2008. Stopping behind five other commuters at the last traffic light before she reached the sanctuary of her home, Krysta stretched and grimaced, lingering pain and stiff muscles from the last arrest she'd made still bothered her.
A domestic-violence call had taken her and her beat partner, Cole Kingston, back to a familiar address. As soon as they made contact with the suspect, Leon, the fight was on. They approached the run-down apartment, heard a scream, and with weapons drawn, kicked in the flimsy door. That was when Leon charged and tackled Kingston, knocking his service weapon out of reach.
Calling for code-three cover, Krysta weighed her options and settled on the only one that would keep the collateral damage to her partner minimal: go old-school, jump in the fray, and grab a body part. So Krysta launched her 5' 10" frame and 140 pounds of muscle on the back of a 6' 4", 260-pound enraged black man fueled by crack cocaine and a primal desire not to go back to jail. As she grabbed his neck with her right arm, she unloaded her pepper spray into his eyes with her left.
This only pissed him off more. He gave up trying to battle Kingston for the loose weapon, attempting instead to get her off his back. Krysta tightened her knees on his thick waist and gouged at his face and nose. Leon lunged upward and slammed her back into the stucco wall three times, knocking the wind out of her and whiplashing her head.
Through her blurry vision, Krysta saw Kingston secure his weapon and come at the suspect swinging. Leon answered by swatting at Kingston, pushing his 6' 2", 200-pound runner's body backward along the second-story landing as if Kingston weighed nothing.
Dangerously close to tripping backward down the concrete stairs, Krysta yelled, "Cole! The stairs!" Just then, she heard the cavalry arriving. Tires hit the parking lot and squealed to a stop. Doors slammed, and she could hear feet running. Suddenly, three more Sacramento County Sheriff's deputies charged up the stairs, and then each grabbed a body part. The suspect went down hard, smashing his head into the concrete deck and screaming bloody murder.
On her way home now, Krysta felt the knot on the back of her head where she had hit the wall. She had taken two Aleve capsules at the office after she returned from the jail, but she might need more once she got home. Days like this made her question staying in patrol. She felt she could still keep up with the twentysomething deputies coming out from the jail rotation. Hell, she was only thirtysomething. She avoided putting an actual number to it. Her husband, David, was three years older, and still virile and sexy as hell. Maybe in a few more years she'd start looking for a detective slot somewhere. Maybe. She still loved patrol and her beat partners.
The light changed, and slowly she made it through, barely, and turned on the street of her quiet Roseville, California, neighborhood—a trouble-free street in a large housing development. She liked living in Roseville. It got her out of Sacramento County and into a quieter, safer city where the people were nicer, the streets were not so cluttered, and the everyday things she needed were only five minutes away.
A smile crossed her face as she parked in front of their three-bedroom, two-bath, one-story house, recently painted a soft dove gray, with the trim, garage, and front door the color of rich Bordeaux. Her mouth watered at the thought of that first ice-cold beer, and her arms felt a little empty knowing a sweet, loving, eight-year-old boy would soon fill them. Expecting to have to use her key, she was startled when the door flew open and the same exuberant eight-year-old jumped into her arms, squeezing her neck and glancing over the painful bump.
"Oh ... whoa, kid. Let me in the door before you attack me."
Garrett giggled. "Attack ... you're funny, Mommy."
Krysta grimaced from the pain in her throbbing head and sore back and shoulder muscles. "Yeah, I know—a laugh riot."
She gently squeezed him back and then removed his arms from her neck, setting him on the ground. She rubbed his red curls and kissed the top of his head. "So, buddy, what's up?"
"We got to go to the store. I have to do an extra-credit project for tomorrow. Mommy, can we go now?"
"The store? What? Where's your dad?"
"I'm right here, babe. Sorry. I've been playing phone tag with this client all day. I have to take this call tonight or he's going to move on to someone else." David walked up, a cell phone in one hand and his other arm outstretched for her. He pulled her into a hug and kissed her lips. "Long day? You're a little late."
She moved into his strong embrace and relished his warmth and love. David worked out of the house as a computer programmer, a very good programmer, who could design any software, from games to business applications to complex mathematical solutions. Krysta never really understood how he did it all, but he made a good living, loved his career, and, most important, was home for Garrett after school.
"Yeah, late call with this doped-up bad guy beating on his wife," she rattled on, rapidly shooting out the words like a Gatling gun. "As soon as Cole and I made contact, he charged, and the fight was on. I had to call code-three cover. I pepper-sprayed his eyes, getting it everywhere, and was slammed into a stucco wall a few times until help arrived. Then, of course, it's my call, so I had to take him to jail. And that same obnoxious butthead of a sergeant with the Napoleon complex gave me grief for bringing the still-fighting suspect in bleeding from the forehead, where his face met the concrete twice. Then I had to talk to Teri to explain why I got in this sergeant's face again, and—"
David cleared his throat, smiling as he nodded toward Garrett.
Garrett looked up at her with wide eyes. "You took a bad guy to jail, Mommy?" he asked, his voice soft yet impressed.
She inhaled deeply. "Yeah, buddy, I did. It's all good. So what's this about the store? I thought that was your domain, sweetie," she added, turning to David.
David frowned and pointed to the phone at his ear. "Sorry. And I only just found out when Tyler's mom came to the door thirty minutes ago, needing a cup of brown sugar and asking what we were doing for the party tomorrow."
"Garrett, son, you want to tell your mom why we are just finding out about this now?"
Garrett kicked at the carpet. "I forgot the note."
"In my backpack."
David produced it for her inspection.
She read the note that started "Dear Parents," and went on about a celebration of both George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays the Friday before Presidents' Day weekend. "Presidents' Day, already?" She glanced at Garrett. "What are we supposed to bring?"
He lit up again. "Can we bring those cupcakes with the dirt and gummy worms and bugs like you made for my last birthday party? Please?"
"Mud pies? That's a lot of work," she muttered, feeling her relaxing evening swirling down the drain.
"Please, Mommy, please." He gave her that brown-eyed, puppy dog look that bowled her over every time.
Groaning, she glanced at her husband.
David pulled her into another hug. "I'm sorry, honey, but I have to wait for this conference call, and apparently it's extra credit or something. I promise I'll make it up to you." He snuggled her neck and kissed her throat. "Later tonight ... back rub and maybe something more?" He kissed her lips and held her tight against his body. The same gorgeous muscular body that after ten years of marriage and life together still fit so well with hers and still brought a tingle to her belly.
"Oh man," she patted his chest. "Darn right you will pay for this. And I'm holding you to that, mister."
David nodded solemnly, holding his fingers up in the Boy Scout salute.
She laughed and punched his chest, knocking him a bit off balance, and he laughed too.
"Okay, buddy, let's go."
"Yeah, yeah!" Garrett yelled, already running for the door. David grabbed her arm and kissed her again, soft and sweet, sealing the promise.
Garrett ran back and pulled his mother out of his father's arms.
As Krysta headed for the door, David said, "Oh, and we need something for dinner ... and cat food."
She gave him the one-finger salute, making him laugh again, and then she followed Garrett to the truck.
The store was only a mile and half away, so she set her mind to remembering how to make mud pies. "So, Garrett, my man, how was school?"
"It was fun. We made decorations for the party and hung up our pictures. Can you come to the party, Mommy?"
"I don't know, baby. I have to work, but maybe I can get off early. We'll see."
He nodded. "Freddy's having his birthday party Saturday."
"I remember. We'll go shopping tomorrow for his gift. Hey, you have a birthday coming up in a couple weeks too. It is birthdays all around. We should start planning."
"I know, I know. I want a Batman party."
"A Batman party? Oh gosh, I don't know if I can get Batman here in time."
"You know, call up Batman and ask him to the party."
Garrett crinkled his eyes, thinking, and then cracked a wide grin. "Mommy, he's a cartoon in comic books and on TV. He's not real."
"You sure? Whenever you talk about his adventures, he sounds real to me."
Garrett giggled and playfully patted her leg. "You're silly, Mommy. Batman ... real." He laughed even more.
She smiled and braked for a light. She had already scheduled a part-time actor who, as a sideline, donned costumes for various theme parties for both children and adults. He'd told her she would be surprised at what some adults requested, and she'd assured him she wouldn't be. After checking five references and running his name through the sheriff's database, she felt confident she had vetted him well enough to call back for a reservation of his services. She glanced sideways at the chattering, excited boy, knowing a real-live Batman at his party would blow his mind. And, of course, make her the greatest mom. Ever.
Still smiling, she slowed to turn into the parking lot full cars and harried people doing the same thing as she, running errands after an already full day. Garrett rattled on a mile a minute about his party plans while she spotted a slot in the next aisle. She hit the gas a little, speeding up, and turned into the aisle, right into the path of a rusty red Chevy Nova. Krysta slammed on the brakes and threw her arm across Garrett's chest, keeping him in his seat even though he had his seat belt on. She missed hitting the car by inches. A guy in the passenger seat honked the horn at the same time as he yelled at the girl who was driving.
Krysta tried to wave him off putting the truck into reverse, carefully backing up to give the girl room to go around her. The guy glared at Krysta as the car pulled away.
"Garrett, you all right?" she asked, taking a deep breath, trying to curb the espresso shot of adrenaline.
"Yeah, Mommy. Who was that?"
"I don't know and don't care."
She pulled into the spot and shut off the truck.
As she and Garrett walked hand in hand toward the supermarket, Krysta didn't notice that the rusty red Nova was still circling the parking lot.
Chapter Two"Dee! You dumb bitch! I told you not to attract any attention," the passenger shouted. "What the fuck's wrong with you?"
"Sorry," Deanna whimpered, slouching farther down in the seat.
"Yeah, you are sorry. Shit."
The passenger was a slight, skinny white guy with long, stringy, greasy, mousy-brown hair, and pale, clammy skin. He wore a dirty yellowish T-shirt and holey jeans. His name was Damion O'Connor, and he was looking for some action. It had been an hour and half since his last hit of crank, and his skin was beginning to crawl. But he would take care of that later. Right now he watched as the woman from the truck walked into the store with that cute little redheaded boy.
He pointed toward the front of the store. "Pull up there and stop."
Deanna did as instructed, wondering for the thousandth time how she'd gotten into this mess. Six months ago, she was in high school, had friends, went to lots of parties, and had a life. All until she met Damion. Now she was a strung-out sixteen-year-old runaway, twelve hundred miles from home.
When she looked in the mirror that morning, she was shocked at what she saw. She had always been short and slender—"hot," as the boys liked to tell her—with long blonde hair and big blue eyes that were sexy as hell when she wore makeup. Today though, all she saw was a stranger. A gaunt girl with stringy, matted hair, who had no need for makeup because her once-sexy eyes were now drawn into her head and surrounded by black circles. Her skin was dry, pale, and oh so ugly.
She'd turned in disgust, throwing a lamp at the mirror and shattering it. The fragments had flown all around the room. How the hell would she ever get away from this man? How would she find her way home? Would her parents even want her back?
Damion slapped her on the back of the head. "Are you listening to me?"
"Stupid bitch." He slapped her head again. "I said, 'Drive around but stay close to the front. Get back here fast when you see me running out of the store.' Okay? Got it?"
"Yeah, yeah, I got it. Drive around, look for you ... yeah, I got it."
He shook his head in disgust as he climbed out and went into the store. What was he going to do?
"Huh, fuck that," she grunted to herself. What was she going to do?
* * *
"Can I go look at the comic books?"
"Garrett, we don't have time today. I want to get what we need so we can get out of here."
"But Mom, I think the new Batman's in."
"Garrett, not today," Krysta said, distracted as they walked toward the pet food aisle.
"But Mom," Garrett persisted, pulling on her sleeve. "Joey has the new one. I saw it, and it's really cool! Can I get one too?"
She looked down at him. "Again, Garrett, not today. Now stop! I had a rough day, I'm tired, and I still have to make mud pies. All I want to do is get out of here."
"But Mom," he pleaded, giving her the same puppy dog look he'd flashed not ten minutes before.
"Garrett, I said no. You know your dad and I don't like you out of our sight when we're in stores. Now come on." She pulled him toward the cat food.
"I'll just be right there," he persisted, pointing at the aisle next to the pet food. "I just want to see if it's in."
She let out an irritated breath. Still ... she thought as she looked around. This is Roseville, not Sacramento. And Garrett's getting older, pulling away as all children eventually do. I'm just going to be in the next aisle for a second or two.
She let go of his hand. "Okay." He was already running toward the comics as she called after him. "Garrett!" He stopped and looked back at her. "Stay there. Don't go anywhere else, and I'll be right there. Okay?"
He nodded and left her standing there, shaking her head and thinking that kids grow up way too fast.
* * *
Damion O'Connor had seen the whole exchange, and now he smiled. Stressed-out moms were so easily manipulated by their children. He'd done it to his own mother all the time before she up and died on him, leaving him alone with his asshole of a father.
Shaking that memory from his wasted mind, he excitedly ran his hands through his hair and then down the legs of his jeans as he formulated a plan. This was going to be easier than he'd thought. He looked around and then walked quickly toward the comic books, pulling a small brown bottle and a cloth from his pocket.
* * *
Krysta found the only brand of cat food their finicky cat would eat. It was expensive, but it kept the little beast happy. That was all that was important when you owned spoiled pets, right? She laughed quietly to herself and placed the bag in her cart.
Hearing Garrett scream, Krysta ran to the next aisle.
"Mom! ..." she heard him call again.
She came around the far corner, just in time to see a stranger holding her son in his arms and running for the doors.
"Hey!" Krysta yelled, sprinting after them. "Stop! Stop ... now!"
The guy didn't look back or slow down.
Krysta picked up speed, almost knocking down a lady with two kids as she raced outside. She saw the rusty red Nova stop at the curb.
Just out of her reach, the guy hit the door full steam, tossing Garrett into the backseat.
Krysta reached the car just as the girl driving burned rubber, speeding away from the curb and a panicked Krysta.
In disbelief, Krysta momentarily stared at the car. This cannot be happening....
Excerpted from Shards of an Angel by Christina Marie Beck Copyright © 2012 by Christina Marie Beck. Excerpted by permission of Abbott 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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