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Harte Delancey always felt like such a wimpy kid around his older brothersprobably because that's how they treated him.
He looked up from the grill where steaks were sizzling. Lucas and Ethan were tossing long spiraling passes to each other in the football-field-sized backyard of their parents' Chef Voleur home. If Travis were here instead of overseas somewhere, he'd be out there too.
Harte preferred more solitary forms of exerciserunning, backpacking and biking. He chuckled wryly and flipped the steaks as Lucas made a spectacular leap and snagged the football out of the air.
"Steaks ready in five," he called out as his mom brought a big bowl of her famous buttermilk ranch potato salad from the outdoor kitchen to the already laden table. Lucas's wife, Angela, followed her carrying a massive casserole of baked beans.
"Everything looks great," Harte said.
"I hope so," Betty Carole Delancey said in her self-deprecating way. "The tomatoes don't look very good."
He eyed the plump, bright red slices with amusement. "If they were any better, the Times-Picayune would be on the story. What do you think, Dad?" he asked his father, Robert, who sat in his wheelchair watching Lucas and Ethan.
Harte's dad turned his head slightly. "Everything good," he said haltingly. It had been fourteen years since the massive stroke had left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. With his wife's help, he'd relearned how to talk.
Lucas and Ethan washed up at the sink, arguing about who had the more accurate throwing arm. Then Lucas kissed Angela on the cheek before sitting down beside her. Ethan grabbed the chair opposite the two of them.
Harte took the last T-bone off the grill and set the platter down in the middle of the table. He sat between Lucas and their mother.
"Want to play a game of three-team touch later, Mr. Prosecutor?" Lucas asked as he tousled Harte's hair. Harte ducked but not in time. "Or should I call you Monsieur Chef?" he mused, stabbing a steak with his fork and holding it up for inspection.
"After you eat all that and can't move? Sure." Harte was used to Lucas ribbing him about his choice of career and his cooking.
Lucas was a detective with the New Orleans Police Department, as was Ethan, and Travis, an Army Special Forces operative, was stationed overseas. It was a sore spot with all three of them that their youngest brother had broken tradition and studied law.
As if reading his thoughts, his mom said, "I was hoping we'd hear something from Travis this week."
"What's it beensix months since you last spoke with him?" Ethan asked, then washed a bite of steak down with iced tea.
"September," his dad said.
"That's right, darling," his mom said as she cut his steak into bite-sized pieces for her husband. "It's been seven months."
Harte saw Lucas and Ethan exchange a glance. He knew what they were thinking. It chafed them that their mother was so solicitous and gentle with her husband. Neither oneespecially Lucashad ever forgiven their dad for his drunken rages and punishing fists. It didn't matter to them that Robert's stroke had rendered him a docile wraith of his former self.
At that moment, the patio door opened. It was Cara Lynn, smiling and dressed in a casual floral dress that sported all the pastel colors of spring. Not that the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana ever saw spring or fall for that matter. The weather was generally either hot and humid or chilly and wet.
Still, the sun seemed to shine brighter when their only sister and Harte's closest sibling was around.
"What a gorgeous day to have dinner outside," she said as she rounded the table, giving everyone a quick kiss, then sat.
"Nice of you to grace us with your presence," Ethan said, cutting into his steak.
Cara Lynn made a face at him. "I'm showing twelve pieces at the New Orleans Fiber Arts Show in just over a month," she said, "and I've got finish work to do on five of them. You probably won't see me again until after the show."
Harte's mother sighed as she set two loaves of French bread on the table. "That's why I try to have these dinners as often as possible. Everyone's so busy these days."
"Speaking of which," Harte said, "the court date in the Freeman Canto murder case has been moved up. The judge will hear opening arguments on Tuesday."
"Tuesday?" Lucas said. "Five days from now? That seems sudden. Didn't you just take over the case a couple of months ago?"
"And they were talking about putting it on the docket for June. But now defense counsel Felix Drury has to have open-heart surgery, and the judge didn't want to put off the case another three or four months while he recuperates."
"Maybe you'll get lucky and Drury will plead his client, or at least try to wrap up the case early," Ethan said. "I've testified in a case or two where Jury Drury was defense counsel. He treats the jury like his own personal fan club. Plays to them and draws out his arguments. Plus, doesn't he love to file motions for acquittal?"
"Yes, he does. The D.A. got the notification about the new trial date around one-thirty today, and before three there were two defense motions on his desk." Harte speared a bite of steak. "So that means I probably won't have time to breathe until the trial is over, starting tonight." Just as he finished speaking, his cell phone rang.
His dad grunted. "Dang things," he mumbled.
Harte glanced at the display and excused himself from the table. "Got to take this," he apologized as he walked to the other end of the patio.
"Delancey? It's Mahoney," Detective Tom Mahoney said unnecessarily. The gruff detective didn't like cell phones any more than Harte's dad did. "Got a problem."
"What kind of problem?" Harte asked, smothering a sigh. Mahoney was an excellent detective, but he had a very broad definition of problem.
"Your witness in the Canto case was almost run down a little while ago."
Harte's scalp burned. "Dani? What happened? Is she all right?" He blinked away a disturbing vision of Public Defender Danielle Canto's exquisite body crumpled on the highway.
"Yep. A vehicle nearly sideswiped her on the sidewalk leading up to her house. Doubt it was an accident. The damn car left tracks in the grassand skid markslooks like it didn't even try to slow down"
"Tom! What about Dani?" Harte broke in.
"She's okay. But real shaken up. Has a few scrapes and bruises from throwing herself up onto the porch, though," Mahoney assured him. "That saved her. The front steps are nothing but toothpicks now."
"I'll be right there."
"No need to rush," Mahoney said. "The excitement's over now."
"Well, it may not be the last of it. Did you hear that the Canto case has been moved up? It's due to start Tuesday."
"Hmph. That explains a lot. That car had to be sent by Yeoman. He doesn't want Ms. Canto testifying against him."
Harte agreed. Ernest Yeoman was an importer and distributor who supplied goods to all the Hasty Marts in the Southeast. He had long been suspected of dealing in contraband, specifically drugs, through his import business. "Please tell me you've got evidence that ties him to this."
Mahoney cleared his throat. "Can't say. We picked up some headlight glass fragments and paint chips where the vehicle sideswiped the porch. We'll see if the lab can match it up with a make and model."
"Where's Dani now?" Harte asked. "Did she have to go to the hospital? I want to talk to her. Find out what happened."
"She's at home. We've got her statement. You can read it as soon as it's typed up."
Harte was already fishing in his jeans for his car keys. "You left her by herself?"
"I told her to go to a hotel or a friend's house until we could arrange something, but she's about as stubborn as her granddaddy always was. I've arranged for a cruiser to drive by hourly through the night."
"Good. I'll head over there as soon as I find a judge. The hourly drive-by is great for tonight. But I'm getting an order of protection. I'm not taking any chances with my star witness."
The bottle rattled against the glass shelf of the refrigerator as Danielle Canto pulled it out. Her hands were shaking. She tightened her fist around the cold green glass with a disgusted huff. Her hands never shook.
But today was a special occasion, she thought wryly. She'd felt the brush of hot steel and the prickle of splintered wood against the backs of her calves just before she'd managed to leap up onto the front porch of her grandfather's home. She barely remembered doing it, but it had to be a new high-jump record. The wooden porch was at least four feet off the ground.
She'd hit the porch hard and rolled, bruising her thigh, scraping her knees and elbows and hurting her wrist. She'd rolled up to her haunches immediately, but between her aching muscles and the panic that had hitched her breath, she hadn't gotten the license plate. By the time she'd taken a deep breath and managed to focus, all she'd been able to see was the car's back fender as it screamed away in a shower of stones and mud.
She'd grabbed her phone and called 911, and waited without moving until they got there. She hadn't even considered inspecting the damage to the steps and the four-by-fours that supported the porch. Maybe she should check now, but that would involve getting a flashlight and going around from the back door to the front, not to mention the trauma of seeing how much damage the car had done to the porch. No. She didn't want to knownot tonight.
After grilling her for twenty minutes to squeeze out every detail she could give him about the incident, Detective Mahoney had guessed that the car had been sent by Ernest Yeoman. She shuddered. Could Yeoman be that stupid, or maybe that arrogant, to think that he could scare her into refusing to testify? A horrible thought occurred to her. What if whoever was driving that car had been sent, not to scare her, but to kill her?
She squared her shoulders. Whatever the reason for the attack, it was time for her to take action. She wasn't her grandfather's granddaughter for nothing. Freeman Canto had taught her to take care of herself. She looked at the bottle of Chardonnay still clutched in her fist, then set it carefully on the granite countertop. Right now she needed a means of self-defense more than a drink. She held up her hand. It would not be shaky long.
Stalking to the bedroom closet, she took down the metal box from the top shelf and unlocked it. Inside was the lock-pick kit her granddad had given her for her tenth birthday.
"Never know when you might need to get through a door," he'd said.
The small leather case felt familiar in her hand and reminded her of the hours she'd spent picking every lock in the house, again and again. She didn't remember when she'd stopped carrying the small kit. Probably about the same time she started wearing lipstick and noticing boys. Well, she'd be carrying it now.
With a sad little smile, she set the case on the dresser, then carefully lifted out the other object in the box. Her grandfather's gun, a SIG Sauer. She wrapped her hand around the grip. The cold metal felt good against her palm. She supported her right hand with her left, the way Granddad had taught her, and slid her forefinger over the trigger.
She'd never shot anyone, hopefully never would, but tonight she was thankful that he'd taught her how to take care of herself.
She handled the weapon quickly and expertly, ejecting, checking and reinserting the seventeen-round magazine. Then she grabbed the second loaded magazine from the box. Sighting over the barrel, she nodded slightly. She wouldn't go anywhere unarmed until the trial was over. Next time somebody tried to run her down, she'd take him outor his tires at least.
She took the gun, the extra magazine and the lock-pick kit to the foyer and put them in her voluminous purse, then hefted the bag to her shoulder for a quick test of its weight before setting it back on the table. She felt much safer with her granddad's things so close. Now she could relax. As soon as she double-checked all the locks. After a quick round through the house, she headed back to the kitchen.
Her hands had stopped shaking while she concentrated on cleaning and checking the SIG, but as she picked up the corkscrew to open the Chardonnay, they started quivering again. It took a couple of tries to remove the cork, but finally, she was able to pour the chilled Chardonnay with only a little clanking of glass against glass.
Holding the glass high, she said, "To you, Granddad. The bastards who killed you will rot in prison if I have anything to say about it." She took a long swallow and shuddered.
Grabbing the bottle, Dani walked to her bedroom, kicked off her high heels and frowned at the long scrape that marred the red leather of the right shoe. "Great," she sighed, and flopped onto the bed.
Outside, she heard a faraway rumbling of thunder. She shivered. She didn't like storms. They scared her. Her dad had died in a tornado when she was only seven. Until that awful night last year when her granddad was murdered, storms had been the only thing that scared her.
That night, she'd learned that home did not always represent safety, that faceless monsters could murder a man without conscience and that as strong and capable as she'd always thought she was, she'd been helpless to save her granddad. But at least Ernest Yeoman, the man who she was convinced was behind her granddad's murder, would soon be brought to trial.
According to Harte Delancey, the prosecutor who'd been assigned to her case, the D.A. was practically salivating at the chance to get his hands on the suspected drug smuggler. Yeoman had long been suspected of using his import business to smuggle contraband and drugs into the country through the Port of New Orleans. He was also rumored to have friends in the legislature. Some rumors had even suggested that Freeman Canto was one of those friends.
Dani felt the determination that had sustained her since the night her grandfather had died rise inside her, pushing away the fear. She was not going to let Yeoman or anyone else frighten her away, no matter how serious the threats. Nobody would smear her granddad's name if she had anything to say about it.
She held her glass up in a salute. "I'm fighting for you, Granddad," she whispered, her throat tightening. Just as she brought the glass to her lips, something made her stop dead still.
What had she heard? Footsteps maybe, in front of the house? Or had the rain that had been threatening all day finally gotten here? Holding her breath, she listened. There it was again. That was not rain. It was footsteps.