A research manager at a TV station, Deanna Lindsay is content with her successful career and her relationship with her friend and lover, Richard. Then she gets the call that changes her life. Stacy Lowell is dead, the victim of an apparent hit and run. Deanna hasn’t seen her old friend in almost seven years—so she’s stunned to discover that the troubled woman appointed her as the guardian of her six-year-old biracial daughter.
At first, New York firefighter Patterson Temple doesn’t think Deanna is the right person to provide a home for young Jade—but then Deanna starts to change his mind. Almost against his will, Patterson finds himself drawn to the elegant career woman. But someone from Stacy’s past also wants Jade—someone very dangerous.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
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Stacy was scared.
She didn't want Marcus to find her. She didn't want to have to try and say no to him again. Just saying no had never worked before, anyway. He'd always managed to convince her that things would change and that he really did love her. That he would stay out of trouble and away from other women. That he would do the right thing and not take his bad luck and failures out on her and Jade. But he was always breaking his promises. Sooner or later, something would set him off. Then they'd have to move. She'd have to find another job, make up stories, tell more lies.
She didn't want to live that way. She wanted a better life. For herself. For their daughter, Jade. She could do it. She'd learned to manage without Marcus since he'd been sent up. She had her own apartment, friends, a job. She didn't need him anymore.
And he'd never wanted Jade.
She surfaced from the subway on Chambers Street and looked around to get her bearings. All the courts were down here in Lower Manhattan. City Hall, One Police Plaza, and even the FBI were within walking distance ... and not one of them could do a thing to help her. She'd tried. Once she'd even told the police about things Marcus had done that they didn't know about. But she couldn't give them proof. He'd threatened her so many times. She complained. It's a domestic matter, she'd been told. One of these days he would hurt her seriously. She didn't want him to do that to Jade. Get a restraining order, they'd advised. Move.
She was tired of running.
Stacy glanced around the crowded downtown street. Paranoid, she scanned all the people around her. What if Marcus had already started to follow her? What if he knew where she'd moved? Stupid. Sure, he already knows, she thought wildly. Hadn't his crony, HoJo, tracked her down to tell her that Marcus had made parole?
She crossed the street and headed west, dodging the cabs and delivery trucks, the town cars and all the traffic flooding the narrow streets, flowing on and off the Brooklyn Bridge. Someone blew a horn. She ignored the angry blast and accompanying obscenities even though her heart lurched with adrenaline as she reached the sidewalk. She rechecked her watch. She had less than five minutes to make it to the office of Protective Services.
She picked up her pace, reached the next crossing. She stepped off the curb. Someone yelled, shouted, "Watch out." She turned her head. A monster on wheels barreled sown on her, blasting and snorting. She froze. There was no place to go and no time to move.
The impact tossed her into the air, her body loose-limbed and out of control. Her arms flailed. She dropped her purse. Her shoes came off. She landed on the street, her head bouncing against the cement until she was senseless and numb.
She couldn't move.
She made a feeble attempt to lever herself up. People were speaking words that made no sense. "I'm okay," she wanted to say, but she couldn't breathe. She had no idea how much time had passed, but she knew it was running out. She would never make it.
She collapsed back to the ground, hurting everywhere. Her eyes fluttered open to see strangers surrounding her, hiding the sky and blocking out the daylight. Her gaze roamed around the blurring, out-of-focus faces filled with horror, regret ... and pity. She sighed in finality; she couldn't possibly get to Protective Services now.
She couldn't keep her eyes open any longer, and they drifted shut.
Suddenly she felt a little bit better. Flashing through her consciousness were years of memories. Things she'd forgotten. Things she didn't want to remember. Fast-forwarding through all her mistakes. The only thing she'd ever done right was Jade.
She couldn't hear the voices now. Everything was fading away. She didn't even hurt anymore. Maybe she'd just lie here for a few more minutes. Then she would have the strength to get up and go home to Brooklyn. She had friends there. People who would help her. She wouldn't worry about Marcus anymore.
Everything would be okay.
"Hold the doors, please," Deanna Lindsay called out, picking up her pace as she hurried to catch the elevator. She was discouraged from jogging in her two-inch pumps by the slick faux-marble floor of the television network's lobby.
"Don't run, I've got it," a male voice called out.
Deanna reached the door and pushed in behind several other passengers. She expertly finger-combed her short, full hairstyle, which the brisk March wind had blown apart. She had lightened her hair with henna, and the reddish glint helped define her own toffee-colored complexion. In a narrow metallic frame around the elevator door, she caught a partial and distorted image of herself. She absently adjusted the bright tangerine Pashmina shawl tied around her shoulders over her taupe winter coat. She wore her favorite gold loop earrings, but wondered if her teardrop pearl pair would have been a better choice with this outfit.
"Hi, Norman. Thanks for holding the door," she said to the man who acknowledged her with a smiling nod. She caught her bag as the strap slid from her shoulder to the crook of her elbow. "Sorry ..." she murmured when the bag swung into a black woman standing next to her.
"That's okay," the woman responded.
Deanna glanced at the woman quickly again and recognized her as the ninth-floor receptionist. Gloria ... she didn't know the last name. Deanna smiled politely, murmuring good morning, and turned to face the door.
"You know, you're the last of a dying breed, Deanna."
Deanna looked inquiringly at Norman, who worked in the network PR office, a few floors below her own department.
"Am I? Why do you say that?"
He pointed to her feet. "I thought all you modern women had given up on high heels. Sneakers are the universal footwear, and they're a lot more comfortable."
"You're absolutely right," Deanna agreed. "But Reeboks don't go with my suit. Anyway, I'm not a jockette. I'm a thirty-something middle manager." Norman laughed. "And heels make me look taller."
"What about dress-down Fridays? Don't you take a break then?"
"Sneakers are fine for sports, but not the boardroom. I have to at least look like I'm in charge."
There was some chuckling behind her and Deanna hazarded another glance at Gloria. She found the woman's eyes sparking with amusement, and realized that Gloria was wearing sneakers.
"So you think not wearing sneakers means you'll be treated better?" Norman continued to bait her.
"Probably not," Deanna conceded with a shrug. "But I dress for the position I want, not the one I have."
"Oh, really? So, what position do you want? CEO, I suppose."
"Goddess," Deanna said with a straight face, eliciting laughter from the other occupants.
"No chance of that around here," Gloria remarked.
"You never know." Deanna shook her head. "I have God on my side. She would approve."
Everyone was still laughing when the elevator stopped on four, and Norman got off with a cheerful wave. The door closed and the elevator continued its ascent. After a moment Gloria spoke up.
"Hmpf!" she said. "They're never going to put a black woman in charge of anything around here 'cept for administrative assistants."
"There are plenty of black writers and anchors," Deanna replied. "I'm the manager of the Information Center."
"Is that what you do?" Gloria peered at Deanna with a skeptical frown. "Someone told me you're just a librarian."
Deanna could hear the derision in Gloria's tone, as if a librarian was some sort of lower form of animal life. It was particularly irritating coming from someone who was not required to have more than a high school diploma for her job.
The elevator came to the next stop and Deanna and Gloria disembarked. Deanna continued down the adjacent hallway to the Information Center.
The lights were on when she quietly entered. She glanced at the clock. Eight-fifteen. She did a sweeping visual inventory of the circulation desk, and the row of stacks beyond. She could see nothing out of the ordinary. And yet ...
"Good morning," Deanna called out, loud enough to be heard, and calm enough not to sound wary or suspicious.
For another moment everything was still. Then a figure emerged from behind a cabinet just outside of Deanna's office. Deanna thought it might be Stephen Adler, her administrative assistant. But the person coming forward was Nancy Kramer. She held several folders and loose papers close to her chest.
"Hi, Ms. Lindsay."
"Nancy ..." Deanna kept the surprise from her tone. She glanced beyond the younger woman toward her office, wondering if her door was still closed and locked. Then she brought her attention back to Nancy's face, carefully watching her expression. "What are you doing here so early?"
Nancy's dark brown eyes blinked, and her gaze didn't hold Deanna's for more than a few seconds.
"Trying to finish up some work. I didn't think there'd be a problem with me coming in before the center was open."
Deanna studied her for a moment. Nancy Kramer had been in the department for several months. She came with excellent recommendations and impressive schooling, and she was generally a good worker. But Deanna didn't approve of her staff working extra hours without her knowledge.
"There wouldn't have been a problem if you'd told me first. Just what is it that has to get done before nine o'clock in the morning that couldn't wait until you came in at your normal time?"
Nancy smiled vacantly in return, peering at Deanna through her glasses with an expression that might be fear, shyness, or predictable employee jitters when talking to her boss.
"Well, I like to make sure I don't fall behind. Especially when I have to take time to help out Ruth or Marianne. They get so busy, and I want to help as much as I can. I feel so lucky to be here."
Deanna listened patiently to the wide-eyed compliment, raising her brows. "I appreciate your initiative, but I'd rather that you ask first. Ruth has experience, and she's the senior reference librarian. She understands the office routine and who's responsible for what. When she's unavailable, you can ask me."
Nancy nodded. Her dark hair, cut in a short pageboy, swung against her cheeks. "Of course. I just want to do a good job, and I notice that sometimes I'm here alone. That's okay, isn't it? I wouldn't want to get Ruth or Marianne in trouble for being away from the library. They've been so helpful."
"We have a pretty relaxed office," Deanna replied. "As long as the work gets done, I have no complaints. Just make sure to log in all reference requests, and indicate when and who answers them."
Eagerly Nancy held up pages of a printout. "I have some I'm working on right now. And I noticed there are some books that haven't been catalogued yet, so I thought I'd do those."
Deanna nodded and began walking toward her office, key in hand. "Yes, thank you. But it could have waited until regular hours."
In her office Deanna put her coat away. She sat, slipping her feet out of her shoes as she booted up her computer. Waiting to log on, she looked over her calendar of appointments and meetings for the day. She put her phone on the speaker system and listened to voice mail messages as she simultaneously opened her E-mail box on her screen. There were thirty-two messages. Patiently, Deanna began to read ...
A cup of fresh coffee appeared near her right hand as she expertly worked the keyboard and mouse.
Deanna glanced at her watch. Nine o'clock already. "Good morning, Stephen ... thanks. You're a saint."
"The next time you get bent out of shape because I screwed up on something, I'm going to remind you that you said that," Stephen Adler said.
Deanna arched a brow and shook her head. "Won't do you any good. Your slate is wiped clean at five o'clock this afternoon. Is that your phone ringing?"
"It's Ruth's," he said, leafing through envelopes and messages in Deanna's out box. "I'll send this file upstairs. What are you doing here so early?"
"What I'm always doing when I get here early. Trying to catch up on my work."
"You worry too much," Stephen murmured.
"Easy for you to say. You don't have to deal with the anchors and writers when they're on deadline. What I want to know is, how could you schedule me for three meetings today?" Deanna asked, frowning at the screen as she efficiently deleted several messages she didn't need to read. "How am I supposed to get work done?"
"My rule of thumb is, I never say no to the head of the department when he wants to see you. And don't try to do everything yourself. Delegate. That's why you're a manager."
"You're too smart for your own good," Deanna replied good-naturedly. "Maybe I should fire you."
"No, you won't," he responded confidently. "I'm probably the best assistant you've ever had, and you know you can count on me not to bullshit you. Besides, I know the filing system. You get rid of me and you'll never find half of your important files."
Deanna laughed. "You know, I only let you think you're in charge," she responded, as he too laughed and retreated to answer his ringing phone.
Deanna idly considered once again Nancy Kramer's very early presence in the office. She appreciated that Nancy was being conscientious, but she wanted the work to get done during normal business hours. She decided to make that point at the next departmental meeting.
On the other hand, if Nancy was making some headway in the continuing backlog of monographs waiting to be catalogued, Deanna was inclined to forgive the overzealousness. Richard Peyton, her boyfriend of two years, would tell her she should be glad she had people working for her who didn't need to be drop-kicked to get them motivated. Deanna grimaced. She'd have to chastise him for a typical male sports analogy when she met him for lunch later. He was leaving on a business trip the next morning, and this would be their last chance to get together until he returned.
Her telephone rang. "This is Deanna," she answered.
"Hi. This is Barbara Cook, Sylvia Day's producer."
"What can I do for you, Barbara?"
"We're working on a segment for Your Health that will air on the News at Noon. On health and exercise. How we've become a nation addicted to overindulgence and instant gratification."
"Oh ... you mean we're all getting fatter." Deanna smiled.
"Except for you. You're the envy of most of the women on staff."
"I didn't know I was being watched. Instead of concentrating on those of us who overeat, why don't you do something on why there are still people in American who go hungry?"
"Good thought, but not light enough for lunchtime news ..."
"No pun intended ..." Deanna interjected wryly.
"I'll keep it in mind for another story."
"I'm afraid to ask when you need this," Deanna said, writing down the inquiry and checking her watch.
"Any chance of getting it by E-mail within the hour?"
As Deanna hung up, Stephen appeared in her door.
"It's Bellevue Hospital on the line."
Deanna frowned. "Bellevue? What do they want?"
"Actually, it's the medical examiner. He wants to talk with you."
Deanna's gaze sharpened. "Isn't that like ... the morgue? Are you serious?"
"As a heart attack."
"Stephen, I hate it when you ..."
"Sorry. The morgue is located at Bellevue Hospital. Want me to put the call through or have him call back?"
"He wouldn't tell you what this is about?"
"Nope. Just that it was important that he talk with you as soon as possible."
"All right," Deanna said, racking her brain as to why the M.E. would want to speak with her. As it was, she'd never known that the morgue was part of one of the city's largest and oldest hospitals. It made sense. Like one-stop shopping, Deanna thought irreverently. She picked up the phone.
"Hello. Can I help you?"
"I hope so," a raspy male voice began. "This is Dr. Marvin Gavin. I'm the medical examiner for the city morgue. Are you Deanna Lindsay?"
"Yes. Are you sure you want to talk with me? Is this a reference question?"
"Well, in a way it is. I'm looking for anyone who may have known a woman by the name of Stacy Lowell."
Deanna thought for a moment. "Stacy Lowell ... I don't think so."
"Are you sure? Perhaps this is someone you used to know. Maybe from another job, or you went to school together ..."
Deanna rifled through her memory, but nothing immediately emerged as a possibility. "No, I'm sorry. It doesn't sound familiar at all. Why do you need to know?"
"Unfortunately Ms. Lowell is now in temporary residence here. I have information that she might have known you. We found your business card in her wallet. On the back is what appears to be a phone number. I thought it might be yours, but when I tried calling, someone Spanish answered."
"That was probably my old number," Deanna supplied. "I moved about five years ago. But I never knew a Stacy ..."
She stopped suddenly. Instantly an image came to mind of a woman she hadn't seen in years. How could she have forgotten Stacy?
She'd been very young. Sweet and petite. A runaway who was over her head in the fast-paced and often unwelcoming life of New York City.
"This woman you have?" Deanna asked. "What happened to her?"
"Stacy Lowell was killed two days ago, the victim of vehicular homicide. A traffic accident. So far, the police and my office have been unable to locate any family who can positively identify her. They ran what information they found about her in the local papers, figuring maybe someone who knew her would recognize the description ..."
As he talked, bits and pieces of memory came back to Deanna. And with them came a recollection of the circumstances around which she and a woman named Stacy had once known each other.
Stacy's last name wasn't Lowell then. Nonetheless, Deanna couldn't help a sudden sickening suspicion that she and Dr. Gavin were talking about the same woman.
"Stacy is dead," Deanna said, more to herself than to Dr. Gavin.
"Sounds like you might have known her after all. Will you help?" Dr. Gavin asked.
"What do you want me to do?"
"I'd like you to come to the morgue and identify the body."
"Maybe it's not the Stacy that I knew," Deanna said.
"Can you describe the woman you remember?"
Deanna closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. "She was small. On the short side. She had blond hair and hazel eyes."
"Can you recall any particular distinguishing marks?"
"Not really. Stacy seemed very ... wholesome. Sort of Mid-west. I used to tease her about it. That is, if we're talking about the same woman. I hope not."
"Well, the woman we have here also has a faint scar across her right forearm."
Deanna's stomach seemed to somersault. "Oh, no ..." She rested her forehead in her hand. She remembered a scar. She knew what it was from.
"Bingo?" Dr. Gavin asked hopefully.
Deanna still hesitated. She felt pulled back through a time warp. Her stomach muscles contracted again as the exact details of what had brought her and Stacy together were resurrected from her past. And what had eventually sent them on their separate ways.
"Ms. Lindsay?" the doctor prompted when Deanna remained silent. "Does any of this sound familiar yet?"
"Yes, it does. I mean, yes. I did know someone named Stacy."
"Good. Would you mind coming in?"
She sat with her eyes closed, processing the doctor's words, taking in the possibility that the Stacy she had known was dead. She felt sad and guilty because she hadn't stayed in touch. Stacy had been a troubled young woman who struggled not only to make sense of life, but also to survive it.
Deanna said in a soft but firm voice, "It sounds like you have more than enough information. Maybe you can check with Social Security or someplace like that. I just don't think I want to see her like ... that."
"I understand. Believe me, Ms. Lindsay, we're trying everything. Right now you're the best lead we have. You may have known the deceased before she changed names. Your identification might help the authorities locate next-of-kin. It won't take long. Perhaps half an hour of your time. Can I see you sometime today?"
"You mean ... come to the morgue?"
"That's right. We brought the deceased here after she expired at the scene of the accident."
Deanna sighed and sat back in her chair, fishing around beneath her desk for her shoes. She slipped her feet back into them and stood up, anxious to end the call and get back on familiar ground. She needed to walk around a bit and catch her breath. "... expired at the scene ..." She was having a hard time with the concept of Stacy being dead.
"I don't know ..."
Dr. Gavin sighed audibly on the line. 'Let me tell you what will happen if no one comes forward to identify or claim her. We'll have to keep Ms. Lowell's body here and continue our search, perhaps for several months, hoping that her family will be notified somehow, sooner or later. Maybe someone will try to call or visit and discover she's no longer at her apartment, or even alive. Maybe someone will pick up on our notification in the daily papers. But it's a long shot and it means waiting. And the longer we wait, the slimmer the chances are of anyone coming forward. We'd prefer not to have to bury her as an a.k.a., or worst-case scenario, a Jane Doe.