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Excerpt for Murder in the Family by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



A dead father’s heroism is difficult to live up to, but an embittered mother is even harder to live with. Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Dana Sinclair longs for just two things: more action on the job, so she can earn a promotion like her father before her, and a better relationship with her estranged mother. When her partner is killed, she wonders how she’ll get along without him. But when her own mother is murdered shortly thereafter and it appears that her dead father has come back from the grave to do it, she does everything she can to uncover the truth, despite warnings to the contrary from her boss. Then there’s the bouquet of English daisies a mysterious man hands her at her partner’s funeral--the very same flowers Daddy gave her the night he was murdered. So, are the flowers a gift...or a warning?




KUDOS FOR MURDER IN THE FAMILY



In Murder in the Family by Lisanne Harrington, Dana Sinclair is troubled. Becoming a cop like her father, who died heroically in the line of duty--or so she thinks--Dana is estranged from her mother who doesn’t like her choice of career. But when her mother is killed, Dana begins to unravel a dark family secret that calls her father’s death into question, as it appears that he has come back from the dead to kill her mother. As Dana struggles to uncover the truth, she puts everything on line--even her own life. Well written, suspenseful, and intriguing, this mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through. ~ Taylor Jones, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy



Murder in the Family by Lisanne Harrington is the story of a young woman who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and be a cop, something for which her mother can never seem to forgive her. When Dana Sinclair’s partner is killed, Dana gets a bouquet at his funeral from a strange man. The flowers are pink English daisies, ones that have a special meaning for her. Then there are the photos of her childhood that someone sends her, but who? After her mother is brutally murdered, Dana starts to wonder if what her mother told her about her father dying heroically is true or if it was all lies. She suspects her father has returned from the grave and is responsible for the murder. But how can she prove it? Although Murder in the Family is a completely different genre than her first three books, Harrington proves that she can handle the mystery/thriller genre equally well, crafting a tale of betrayal, deceit, and greed that will keep you turning pages as fast as you can from beginning to end. ~ Regan Murphy, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



Dana is a composite of quite a few characters, real and fictional. Author Alex Kava’s character, FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell, was a huge inspiration. While Dana isn’t a lot like Maggie, my hope is that her personality draws the reader in the way Maggie’s does.



My family, as always, was patient and more than willing to overlook my faults and forgetfulness while I was writing this, even if not all of them truly understand what I do. Or that I must do it to survive. It’s like breathing.



Huge thanks to Lieutenant Dennis Parker, (Ret.) of the El Reno Police Department for answering my endless questions about police procedure, guns, squad cars, and all things law enforcement. You rock, buddy!



My team at Black Opal Books, however, do understand me, and work hard to help me create the very best story I can, because some stories just have to be told: Faith, my amazing editor, who patiently encouraged me; Lauri, who saw potential in the story, and in me; and Jack, who worked so diligently to once again create a cover that was exactly what I envisioned, despite my being so frustrating a client, although he never let on. Thanks, guys.



And as always, my special thanks go out to you, my Most Important Reader, without whom all this wouldn’t mean a thing. I hope you enjoy helping Dana solve the murder. You can contact me through my website: http://www.lisanneharrington.com or shoot me an email at Lisanne@lisanneharrington.com. I would love to hear from you.




OTHER BOOKS

BY

LISANNE HARRINGTON

AND

BLACK OPAL BOOKS



Moonspell



Moon Watch



Moon Shadows




MURDER IN THE FAMILY



Lisanne Harrington



A Black Opal Books Publication

Smashwords Edition



Copyright © 2019 by Lisanne Harrington

Cover Design by Jackson Cover Design

All cover art copyright © 2018

All Rights Reserved

EBOOK ISBN: 9781644370667



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




EXCERPT



Calls at one in the morning usually meant trouble, but when her mother said “I love you,” something was definitely wrong...



Dana’s cell phone squawked loudly. She ground the heels of her palms into her eyes and swore under her breath. Who the hell was calling her at...she squinted and looked at her watch...one o’clock in the morning?

She stretched across the bed and grabbed the phone. Its green screen light glowed in the dark like some alien homing beacon.

“Dana Sinclair,” she announced. “Hello?” Silence. “Hello.” She ran her hand through her tangles. Another crank call? Seriously?

“Dana?” It was faint, but she recognized the voice immediately.

“Mother? Is that you?”

“I’m so sorry.” Mother sounded exhausted, and Dana wondered if she was ill.

“What’s wrong?”

“I only--did it--” her mother wheezed, “--because I--love you.” There was a dull clunk, then silence.

“Mother?” Dana shouted. “Mother!”

Still nothing.

“Hang on, Mother,” she said, ripped off her slippers, and reached for her hoodie. “I’m on my way.”




DEDICATION



For my beloved Tod,

who encourages me to write,

even if he doesn’t understand what I do.

Love you, Sweet T.





CHAPTER 1



Gunfire exploded somewhere close by. Two rapid shots. Then a third. Close enough to make Orange County Deputy Sheriff Dana S. Sinclair’s heart jump into her throat and her hand go automatically to her sidearm. It was right here, right in the McDonald’s parking lot. Right where she had left her partner, Jose Ramírez, talking to a young boy not two minutes ago. She sprang out of the food line and pushed through the crowd already rushing in the doors, trying to get out of the way of whoever was shooting.

“Shots fired,” Dana shouted into her shoulder radio mic as she burst out the door. She gave their location and ducked behind an old Mustang convertible parked about thirty feet away from the squad car. Jose’s legs stuck out from behind the cruiser.

They didn’t move. She’d give anything to go to him and make sure he was still alive, but he’d be pissed if she let the shooter get away.

“Officer down. Officer down!”

A boy in a black hoodie ran away from them, and she raced after him.

“Down,” she commanded the few gawking by-standers who hadn’t scattered when the shots were fired. “Everybody get down.”

The boy turned and fired two rounds. Dana crouched, took aim, and returned fire. The bullet hit him in the fleshy part of the shoulder. He looked wide-eyed at the wound as blood flowed down his chest. She went to him quickly but cautiously and took the 9-mm Ruger out of his hand.

“Better sit down and put some pressure on that.” She snapped her handcuffs around his wrist and got a better look at his face. Asian, about fifteen. She frowned. He resembled the composite sketch the department had recently released of one of a trio of home invasion suspects. Was this boy involved? Was that why he shot Jose? She secured the suspect to the door handle of the car next to him and ran to her partner’s side. He had two holes. The one in his hand was minor. The one in his thigh worried her. She spoke into her radio mic again. “This is officer three-two-four-seven-nine. Sinclair. Shots fired. Repeat, shots fired. Two casualties. Officer down. Hurry!”

Dana dropped to her knees and applied pressure on the largest wound. She scanned the crowd and spotted a young man wearing a faded Angels T-shirt, with a battered leather backpack slung over his shoulder. “You.” She pointed at him. “Anything in that pack of yours we can use as a compress?”

The man took off the bag and rummaged inside. “Napkins?” He tentatively held them up for her inspection.

“What’s your name?” she asked him.

“Matt.”

“Okay, Matt.” She pointed in the direction of the boy who’d shot Jose. “Take the napkins to that kid over there. Hold them in place on his wound. Press hard. Understand?”

He nodded, and Dana turned back to her partner. “Hold on, Jose.” She tried to ignore the blood. There was so much of it. She pressed down on his thigh. “You’ll be okay.” Her hands were quickly drenched.

She increased the pressure. That damn kid must have nicked the femoral artery. This was bad. Really, really bad. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re okay,” she said. “Just hold on. Help’s on the way. Stay with me.”

The bleeding wasn’t going to stop on its own. Dana ripped a wide strip off the bottom of her uniform shirt and shook her partner softly to make sure he was still conscious. “This is going to hurt,” she told him, and wound the fabric tourniquet tightly around his thigh. She knotted it as securely as possible, wincing when a semi-conscious Jose moaned. “Sorry, partner,” she whispered.

“S’okay, kiddo.” His eyes momentarily rolled back in his head, then cleared. Dana leaned close. She didn’t want to miss anything he might say. “Don’t let this change you.” He grimaced, his eyes flickering as he struggled to stay awake. A faint smile formed on his lips. “Stay crotchety.”

She smiled back. “Ha ha. You’ll be barking orders at me again before I know it.”

“Not this time.” Jose’s eyes fluttered shut, and his breathing slowed to almost nothing.

“No, wait.” She scanned the crowd. “Where’s that damn ambulance? Someone get a doctor!” She turned back to her partner. “Hang on, Jose. Just hang on!”

Tears streamed down her face and splashed onto her hands as she tightened the makeshift tourniquet. She glanced over her shoulder when she heard the faint sounds of a siren, then smiled down at Jose.

“Hold on just a little longer, buddy. Help’s on the way.” But it was no use. He was bleeding out. There was nothing more that she could do. Her partner, her friend, her brother in blue was going to die. That punk had killed him. “Aw, Jose,” she whispered. “Stay with me. Please. I can’t make it without you.”

He opened his eyes. “Watch after my kids,” he said, and his faint smile slowly faded.

“Don’t leave me,” Dana cried and shook him angrily. “Don’t you dare, you son-of-a-bitch.”

But he was already gone.




CHAPTER 2



The funeral was three days later. Dana had never been to the Cathedral Memorial Gardens in nearby Garden Grove before, but she was well aware of the turmoil the congregation of the Crystal Cathedral had suffered years before. Dana was surprised it was to be Jose’s final resting place. Final resting place. She still couldn’t believe he was gone.

Protocol stated that the ceremony couldn’t begin until all elements, dignitaries and attendees were in place, and after quite a long wait, things had finally gotten underway. Graveside, two hundred of the county’s finest were there to honor one of their fallen. Dana sat a few rows behind Jose’s family: his elderly mother and step-father, four-year-old Gracie, and seven-year-old Teyo, who sat stoically next to his grandmother, lower lip trembling. Dana wondered if he remembered his mother’s funeral. He’d only been three when she’d had a stroke and died shortly after giving birth to Gracie.

She felt so bad for the kids. What would they do without him? What would she do without him? The thought had always been there, in the back of her mind, but she’d managed to shove it out of the way anytime it surfaced. Even more importantly, what would happen to Teyo and Gracie, now that their father was gone?

She watched as the Honor Guard folded the flag that had been draped across Jose’s coffin and presented it to his mother, who sobbed quietly. Dana reached underneath her sunglasses and did her best to stem her own tears. But when the bagpipes started playing, she totally lost it.

Fishing in her purse for a tissue, a candy bar wrapper, a Post-it note, anything to wipe her nose with, she was startled when a shadow fell across her lap. She looked up to see a man hiding behind huge aviator sunglasses with a baseball cap pulled down low on his head, and used the sleeve of her uniform instead. Screw it. That’s what dry cleaning was for.

“Officer Sinclair?” he said. “Officer Dana Sinclair?”

“Yes?” Dana tried to get up but the man stood so close that it was impossible. He was definitely in her personal space bubble and she shifted a little and rested her hand on her knee to stop its bouncing up and down like a kangaroo on speed.

“Here.” A bunch of pink flowers was thrust in her face, and she dropped her purse as she bobbled them.

“Who...” She reached down to get her purse off the ground. When she looked up again, the service was over and people were leaving. Frowning, she hurried out of the row of chairs, trying to get past the other mourners without shoving them out of her way, but by the time she got into the aisle, there was no sign of the strange man. She made her way out to the parking lot as quickly as the crowd would allow, but it was too late. She’d lost him.

That was really weird. Why would someone bring me flowers, especially here? She shook her head. No time to dwell on it now. She wanted to say goodbye to the kids, who were just about to climb into the limo. But before she could reach them, someone grabbed her arm and whirled her around.

“Hey!” That was totally uncalled for and she meant to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. Instead, she took one look and crumpled into the man’s arms.

“It’s okay,” he told her. “I’m here.” Michael Finnegan MacDermott, her childhood friend and the person who knew all her childhood secrets, wrapped his arms around her, crushing the flowers between them.

“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I know. I’m so sorry.” Finn gave her a crumpled linen handkerchief and she blew her nose with it.

“What are you doing here?”

“I told you I’d be here if I could.”

“You also said you were really busy and probably wouldn’t make it.”

He shrugged. “Had to be here for my BFF, right?”

Dana cringed. Not only did she hate that expression, but she really didn’t think of him that way. Not anymore. Granted, he’d been a good friend when they were kids, one she’d known forever, but as fond of him as she was, he could never be the friend and confidante that Jose had been.

“Come on,” she said, shaking it off and slinging her arm across his shoulders. “I know a little spitfire who’s just dying to see you again.” Charlie, her nine-pound Miniature Pincher, loved everybody but seemed to have a special affection for Finn. She’d sit in his lap and demand he rub her belly for hours.

“How is the little mongrel?”

“She’s good.” They walked to her car. “Why don’t you follow me?”

“You kidding?” He leaned on her door as she climbed behind the wheel. “I’ll race you.”

He pushed the door closed, ran over to his car, jumped in, and sped off. Dana shook her head and wondered if he’d ever grow up. Good thing he didn’t peel out. She would have had to kill him if he did that.



***



On the drive home, she blasted her favorite oldies station and tried not to think about things, but it was a losing battle. After Jose was shot, she’d given her statement about it to Internal Affairs, and it had stirred up all kinds of emotions in her: sorrow, anger, guilt. To top it off, she’d been placed on administrative leave. Routine. Perfectly normal under the circumstances, but being relieved of her service weapon and badge--even temporarily--left her feeling powerless. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, today was her twenty-seventh birthday.

She entered the lobby of her building, grabbed her mail from the box, and considered taking the stairs. But as drained as she was, she decided to give herself a break and ride the elevator for a change. She stepped inside, pushed the button for her floor, and leaned against the mirrored wall while the elevator climbed slowly upward. When it finally got to the fourth floor, the car made its usual bumpy landing and the doors contemplated opening. She squeezed through them and headed slowly down the hall.

As she fished in her purse for her keys, she realized that Finn had, indeed, beaten her home. He was sitting against her front door. She hoped to be able to convince him to leave so she could go to the wake and surround herself with her fellow officers to commiserate and tell stories. Maybe have a drink or three. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate his being here--she did. She couldn’t really explain it, she just wanted to wallow in her sadness a little longer, be with others who really understood what she was going through. “Hey, Finn.”

“Hey.”

She unlocked the door and couldn’t help but laugh as Charlie leaped past her and jumped on Finn. He knelt down and let her lick his face.

“Okay, little girl, okay.” He tried to push her gently away but she was too excited and kept coming back for more. He looked up at Dana. “Little help here?”

“Sorry pal, you’re on your own.” She set her purse and the flowers down on the kitchen table and searched for something to put them in. She no longer had an actual vase, thanks to Teyo and Jose, who’d broken the only one she’d had during a Father’s Day free-for-all involving a Nerf football. She rummaged around and found an old plastic Circle K soda cup.

Jose must be laughing his ass off. The warm and fuzzy feelings that sprang up caught her off-guard, and she smiled. It felt good.

Charlie’s toenails clicked on the linoleum. “How about some dinner?”

The little fireball woofed her agreement and trotted over to her food dish. Dana took the hint and dumped a cup of kibble into her bowl. Charlie practically inhaled it.

Dana’s cell rang, jangling her already sensitive nerves. She tripped over the kitchen table leg in her rush to answer it. It might be the department calling her back to active duty.

“Hello?” she asked without taking the time to look at the caller ID.

“What, no ‘Dana Sinclair’?” Finn said quietly. She’d nearly forgotten he was there with her. “What would the goon squad say if they found out? You’d be kicked out of the club.”

“Stop it,” she mouthed, but he wasn’t looking at her. He pulled back the kitchen blind a few inches and peered out the window. She frowned and turned her attention back to the phone. “Hello?”

When no one answered, she clicked off and put her phone down.

“Wrong number?”

“Guess so.”

“Hey, I know things are pretty crappy right now, but I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you.” He turned and glanced into the living room, almost as though he expected someone else to show up.

“You looking for someone?”

He turned back to her and smiled. “Nope.”

She pulled out a chair and sat down. It was another sticky autumn day, and she blew her regulation-length bangs off her forehead and fanned the back of her neck.

“So,” Finn began as he sat down across from her, and Dana chuckled. She knew what was coming. “How many times you clean your six-shooter today?”

“This isn’t the wild, wild west, you know,” she told him. “Besides, it’s not my service weapon. Had to turn that in when they put me on administrative leave. That there’s just an itty bitty little thirty-eight caliber Smith & Wesson.”

“Answer the question, girlie.”

“Only twice.”

“How many?”

“Twice.”

“How many?”

“All right, four. Four times. But my boots only once. Hardly thought about it at all. Seriously.”

In reality, she’d thought about nothing but justice as she sat in front of the television while she cleaned her revolver and polished her heavy black service boots until she was afraid she might rub a hole in them if she didn’t stop. It had comforted her and helped her pass the time.

She’d made sure her superiors noticed the resemblance between the shooter and the composite sketch of the home invasion suspects, and was glad when it turned out he was one of the perps. But it hadn’t explained what he was doing at McDonald’s or why he’d shot Jose. Had it been some sort of gang initiation? They were hoping to get a confession out of the boy, but until they did, the best she could do was take small comfort in the fact that they had caught the shooter.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Finn said. He plucked a petal off one of the daisies. “What else did you do? Oh, wait. Let me guess. Umm, haul your carcass out of bed, drag yourself into the living room, and stare at the walls for hours before finally deciding to watch some grainy old film noir on TV.”

He knew her so well. On a typical day, after grabbing a Pop-Tart and taking a six-mile run around the neighborhood, she’d slip into her uniform, shove her feet into her freshly polished service boots and give her badge a final spit-shine before she raced out the door. Today, she’d barely been able to pull herself together in time for the afternoon funeral.

Finn plucked another petal and frowned. “Where’d you get these?”

“Some guy at the funeral gave them to me.”

“What guy?”

“Dunno. Just some guy I’ve never seen before.”

“Well, who’re they from?”

“Beats me. He just shoved them at me and took off. No card or anything.”

“You know what they are, don’t you?”

“They’re pink English daisies. You know--” She hesitated. “--Fairy Fire.” It was what her father had called them. She hadn’t seen any English daisies in the last twenty years, not since the night her father was murdered.

Strangely, Finn just sat there a moment, stone-faced and silent, even though he knew exactly what they were and what they meant to her. Then he got up and wandered into the living room. Dana pushed back her chair and watched him. Was he pacing? Why? What was going on with him?

“Finn?”

“Hmm?”

“You hear what I said?”

“Yeah, I heard you.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird?” she asked. “Who would have sent them to me? It’s not like I’ve met anybody new.”

Normally, he would have teased her unmercifully about getting flowers. But his silence was starting to freak her out.

“I never even met anyone who knew what English daisies were,” she told him. “Except Dad, of course.” She paused. “Think he’s come back from the dead? Sent them to me from beyond the grave?”

“That’s ridiculous.” He sounded angry. His back was to her, and she wondered again what was wrong.

“Geez, Louise,” she said. She walked over to him. Touched his arm. “I was only kidding. Lighten up, will ya?”

More silence. Not even the usual “don’t call me Louise.”

“How do you explain it, then?” she pressed. This cat and mouse shit was really starting to piss her off. She smacked his bicep. “Hey. Will you just turn around and look at me? What’s the matter with you?”

He turned to glare at her, his voice hard. “I think you should just forget about them. Toss them in the trash and be done with it.” He brushed past her, his voice softening a bit. “You don’t need some anonymous asshole sending you flowers.”

She followed him back into the kitchen. “I’m not going to throw them away just because I don’t know who sent them.” She’d never have chosen them herself, but since they were here now, she might as well enjoy them. She turned the cup a quarter of a turn. “They’re kind of pretty, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t think.”

“Maybe I have a secret admirer.” Even though the very thought made her uneasy.

“You should be worried about a stalker,” Finn said, reinforcing how well he knew her. “Not wondering about a secret admirer.”

“I’m not.” Where was his anger coming from? “It’s just--if it were any other flower--I don’t--”

“Leave it alone, Dana.”

“Leave what alone? What’re you talking about?”

“I have to go now.”

“Wait!” Dana followed him to the front door. “Where you going?”

“Do yourself a favor, Dana. Throw the damn things out and forget you ever got them.”

“Will you just stop and tell me what your problem is?”

“Take care of yourself,” he said. “And for God’s sake, be careful.”

“Finn, wait.”

“Oh, and by the way, happy birthday.” He charged out the door and fled down the hall, leaving Dana wondering what the hell that was all about.




CHAPTER 3



Back at the kitchen table, Dana fingered the delicate petals. She’d thought the flowers were a gift, but in light of Finn’s bizarre reaction to them, she had to wonder if they were meant as a warning of some kind. But a warning about what?

Finn had definitely been trying to get her to back off, but she had no clue why. Was her old friend hiding something? If so, what could it be?

He claimed he didn’t know who sent the flowers, but the way he looked when she mentioned her father made her wonder if he knew something about his murder that she didn’t. All she knew was that he’d been killed in the line of duty. Could there be something more to it?

It had to be something else. Whoever sent them had to know what they meant to her. Could whoever it was want her to believe her father was still alive? Could he be? She shook her head. It was absurd. He was long dead. Wasn’t he?

Too many questions and no answers. There was one thing she was certain of, though. No way had her mother sent them to her. She barely acknowledged Dana these days, never mind sending her flowers, even for her birthday. And she didn’t even know about Jose.

Restless, Dana got up and roamed the apartment. She tried without success not to think about Jose, not to picture his face, not to remember how cold he’d felt when she held him in her arms that last day. Or how it had taken him barely two minutes to bleed out.

She checked her watch. She had about an hour to kill before it was time to meet her fellow officers to commiserate over Jose’s death, so she flopped down on the couch and flipped on the television.

As she stared at the screen, a commercial of a mother and adult daughter strolling arm in arm down the beach appeared.

Dana dreaded telling her own mother about the mess that was her life these days. Her constant barrage of “I told you so’s” would only make matters worse.

“Screw it,” she said. “This is ridiculous.” She turned off the TV, slammed down the remote, and grabbed her keys. Time to put on her big girl panties and quit avoiding things. Quit avoiding her mother. She wasn’t a child so she should stop acting like one. As she drove to her mother’s house, she blasted the radio and did her best to avoid thinking.

When she arrived, she pulled into the driveway--something her mother hated, claiming Dana’s car leaked, which it didn’t. It was just one more thing to gripe about--and marched up the walk. With only a slight hesitation, she rapped sharply on the door.

“Hello, Mother,” Dana said when the door opened.

“Oh. Hello, Dana.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. You?”

“Not so good. Can I come in?”

“Why? What’s wrong? You arrest someone for sleeping in their car? Oh, no, let me guess. Somebody failed to get a permit for their pet rhinoceros.”

Dana bit her tongue. It was always the same. Her mother just couldn’t accept the fact that she’d chosen to follow in her father’s footsteps. Hell, she’d needed to. “You know that’s a Norco law. I patrol Orange County, Mother, not Riverside. I’ve told you that a hundred times.”

“Oh, well, excuse me. I meant to ask if you’d caught someone peeing with the bathroom window open again.”

It was no use. Her mother’s anger and disappointment would never diminish. Dana’d been on the force seven years, and her mother was as bitter about it today as the day Dana joined the Academy. She suspected her mother spent quite a few hours looking up strange city ordinances just to annoy her. “That’s Dana Point law, Mother. South County. I patrol North County, remember?”

“Then you must have--”

“Mother.”

“--arrested someone for--”

“Mother!”

“--failing to give the right of way to a duck.”

“Mother. For God’s sake. Are you going to let me in or what?”

Her mother simply stood there and glared at her.

So that’s how it’s going to be. Dana sighed. “Have it your way. I just thought you might want to know that Jose’s dead. Shot by some punk while we were on duty. His funeral was today.”

“Oh.”

“Oh? Is that all you can say? Oh?” Anger and confusion welled up inside her.

“What is it you want me to say, Dana?”

Whatever, Mother. I know we’ve never had a good relationship, but can’t you put aside your resentment just this once and think about me for a change? I am your daughter, after all. “How about you’re sorry, to start with. How about that?”

“I am sorry.”

“Well, it sure doesn’t sound like it.” Dana knew she was being petulant, but she couldn’t help it. Talking to her mother always seemed to bring out the worst in her.

Her mother’s voice softened. “Truly, I am.” She opened the door wider and motioned for Dana to come inside. “Didn’t he have two little children?”

“Teyo and Gracie, yeah.” Tears welled up and Dana struggled to keep them in check.

“How are they doing?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess.” Dana took a deep breath and prepared to discuss the real reason she was here. “Listen, Mother. The reason I’m here...well, two, actually...” Her mother remained expressionless. “First off, did you send me some flowers today?”

Not unexpectedly, Mother snorted but said nothing.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I also wanted you to know that I haven’t forgotten what tomorrow is.” Or today.

“Tomorrow?” Her mother sat down in her favorite chair. Dana took a seat on the couch.

“October sixth. The anniversary of Daddy’s death.”

“I know what October sixth is. What do you want me to do about it?”

“What do I--” Dana shook her head. “I don’t want you to do anything about it. I just wanted to talk to you, let you know that I remembered.”

“Two Brownie points to you.”

Dana closed her eyes and counted to five. Ignore her. Whatever you do, just don’t take the bait. “Mother, I know you’re still angry Daddy’s job took him from us, even after all these years. But I miss him. You know, you always said I was just like him.” She paused and looked her mother directly in the eye. “Do you think you’ll ever forgive me for becoming a cop?”

“Don’t hold your breath.”

“Is it because seeing me in uniform reminds you of Daddy?”

“I’m sorry about your partner, Dana. He was a good man, and I know you loved him.” Mother stood. “You can see yourself out.” She left the room.

Dana shouldn’t have been stunned at her mother’s abruptness, but even after all these years, it still stung.




CHAPTER 4



Dana sat up suddenly, heart pounding, not sure what had awakened her. She’d gone to bed half-drunk, having partaken of too many shots of Glenfiddich, not only toasting her dead partner but also in hopes of putting the afternoon’s dismal outing to her mother’s behind her. Her hand went automatically to her hip in search of her weapon before she realized where she was. Home. In bed. Alone. As usual.

A dream. It was just a bad dream. She tossed back the covers and swung her legs off the bed. Her toes grazed the tops of the slippers Teyo and Gracie had given her for Christmas. They had overstuffed piggy heads on them, and she could almost hear the kids’ giggles. It was the second time she’d been caught by surprise with a happy memory in as many days. Jose and the kids had definitely brightened her life.

As she slid her feet into the fuzzy slippers, her cell phone squawked loudly. She ground the heels of her palms into her eyes and swore under her breath. Who the hell was calling her at...she squinted and looked at her watch...one o’clock in the morning?

She stretched across the bed and grabbed the phone. Its green screen light glowed in the dark like some alien homing beacon.

“Dana Sinclair,” she announced. “Hello?” Silence. “Hello.” She ran her hand through her tangles. Another crank call? Seriously?

“Dana?” It was faint, but she recognized the voice immediately.

“Mother? Is that you?”

“I’m so sorry.” Mother sounded exhausted, and Dana wondered if she was ill.

“What’s wrong?”

“I only--did it--” her mother wheezed, “--because I--love you.” There was a dull clunk, then silence.

“Mother?” Dana shouted. “Mother!”

Still nothing.

“Hang on, Mother,” she said, ripped off the slippers, and reached for her hoodie. “I’m on my way.”

She tugged the sweatshirt on over her tank top and quickly pulled on a pair of jeans. After yanking the charger cord off the phone and jamming the phone into her pocket, she snagged her pristine white sneakers out of their box in the closet and rammed her bare feet into them.

Stopping only long enough to snatch her personal sidearm from the nightstand, she grabbed her bag, locked her door, and sprinted down the hall. She burst into the stairwell and bolted down all four flights.

Her heart thundered against her chest, and her breath came in short, harsh bursts. She erupted out the building’s side entrance and into the parking lot. There were more than a hundred parking spaces, and she silently thanked the gods that be for favoring her enough to have scored a spot in the closest carport.

She unlocked the car door, climbed into her late model Buick, and jammed the keys into the ignition. The car started, and she revved the engine. The tires squealed as she backed out.

Her mother still lived in the same house where Dana and her brother had grown up. She could drive there in her sleep and, in fact, had driven by many times when she’d first joined the Department, hoping to find her mother gardening or otherwise puttering around outside the house. Back when she still allowed herself to hope for a better relationship with her. Or any relationship.

Normally, the drive took about twenty-five minutes. That night she made it in twelve.




CHAPTER 5



Her mother’s front door stood wide open, beckoning to the night like a portal to Hell. Goosebumps rose all over Dana’s body, and she approached her childhood home with a growing sense of dread. The house was dark. Silent. Only the occasional chirp of a cricket stuck somewhere within its walls punctuated the silence, and Dana was comforted by the weight of her revolver. She swallowed the lump in her throat, took a deep breath, drew her firearm, and crept inside.

Crouched just beyond the door with her gun ready, she listened intently for any sound from a hidden intruder. Sweat beaded up on her forehead and trickled down between her breasts.

Someone was hiding inside. She could feel it.

Her breathing was rapid and shallow. Her heart hammered inside her chest. She would have to rush the room.

“One,” she mouthed silently, willing her heartbeat to slow. “Two.” She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then opened her eyes. “Three.”

She exploded away from the wall. Scanned the room. The gun moved in concert with her eyes. Nothing seemed out of place. No one huddled behind the couch or next to the bookcase. She crossed the living room and started down the hall. Cocking her head, she squinted into the gloom.

Something flew out of the dark.

An indistinguishable figure, clothed in darkness and silhouetted by the moonlight, knocked her backward and ran past her. Dana gathered herself quickly and raced after the intruder.

“Help.”

The voice was barely more than a whisper, yet she heard it clearly and stopped short.

“Mother?” she called, turning back inside the house. “Mother, it’s Dana. Where are you?”

“Here.”

Dana sprinted down the hall, pausing only long enough to flick on the light switch before rushing into her mother’s bedroom.

A pungent coppery smell assaulted her, and she nearly gagged when she saw the blood splatter on the mirror and the overturned perfume bottles on top of her mother’s vanity. Her years on the force couldn’t prepare Dana for the sight of so much blood and gore in her mother’s bedroom. Nausea filled her stomach, and she struggled against it.

Someone had flung the elegant stool her mother always sat on while she brushed her hair at night across the room, and it now rested up against the dresser. Throw pillows, normally decorating the bed, had been strewn haphazardly across the floor.

“Mother?”

The only response was a thick gurgle. Careful not to brush against the blood-streaked doorjamb, Dana sidestepped a bloody footprint and entered the bathroom.

The once-beautiful tile floor was bathed in blood. A rivulet of it spread onto the eggshell-colored bedroom carpeting. Her mother lay face down on the cold tile, her normally perfectly coiffed silver-gray hair dark and matted. An open cell phone lay beside her.

Dana stuck the gun into her waistband at the small of her back and knelt down next to her mother, avoiding the blood that pooled around her body.

“Oh, Mother.”

Her skin was ashen and sallow, her pulse thready and weak. Dana’s hands shook. Her instinct was to turn her mother over, but her training told her not to. Instead, she fished her cell out of her pocket and dialed 911. While she waited for the call to connect, she leaned down and whispered into her mother’s ear.

“I’m here, Mother. Hang on. Help’s on the way. Yes, hello.”

“This is the nine-one-one operator. What is your emergency?”

“This is Deputy Dana Sinclair. Badge three-two-four-seven-nine. I need backup and a bus immediately.” She gave the operator the address. Her mother’s eyelids flickered as if she might have heard the call.

“Dana,” Mother croaked.

“Shh.” Dana gently brushed a sticky lock of hair off her mother’s pale forehead. “Don’t try to talk. Save your energy.”

Mother shook her head slightly. Her eyes blazed with that familiar fire Dana knew so well. She wouldn’t have been able to look away even if she’d wanted to. “I’m--sorry--honey.” Her mother struggled to get the words out. “It was--for--your own--good.”

“My own...What are you talking about?”

As quickly as they had blazed, her mother’s eyes lost their fire. Her breathing slowed then stopped. No fanfare, no battle, no fighting against the inevitable. Just gone. Like Jose. Except this was even worse.

“No,” Dana whispered. Then she punched the wall. “No!”

She leaned heavily against the bathtub, rubbed her bruised knuckles, and waited for help. At some point, she couldn’t say when, she used the inside collar of her sweatshirt to wipe the tears from her eyes.

When she heard the paramedics arrive, she stood up and called to them. “In here.” Then she looked down at her mother’s body. “Mother, I swear to you, I’ll find whoever did this.” She crossed her arms and walked out of the bathroom. “And then I’m going to find out what you’ve been hiding from me all these years.”




CHAPTER 6



Five thirty a.m. Her mother had been taken to the morgue. Dana collapsed into her mother’s favorite chair and tried to concentrate on the crime scene techs as they cataloged the scene. She couldn’t believe it. Her mother’s house was now “the scene.” Bright yellow triangles littered the house, the numbered tabs indicating spots where the CSIs found trace evidence.

Uniforms milled about and spoke in hushed tones. She gave up trying to listen in on their conversations and wished someone would bring her a cold compress to lie across her burning eyes. The first officer on the scene had briefly questioned her then informed her that the detective in charge would arrive shortly, and she should stay where she was. Dana leaned back in the chair and tried to get comfortable. Damn thing had huge immovable wings that served no purpose other than to look stupid and make comfort impossible. She shifted first to one side, then the other before she finally gave up and rested her head in her hands. Memories of her mother burrowed into her thoughts and crowded out everything else. Tears welled up and she angrily brushed them away. Even though they’d hardly spoken for the past seven years, she couldn’t bear the thought of her mother being taken from her so suddenly, so violently. So soon after Jose.

No use. There was just no getting comfortable in this stupid chair, so she got up to get some fresh air.

“Hey, Frank,” she said to the uniform nearest her. “I’ll be out front.”

Frank nodded. “Right.”

She went out on the front porch, stretched, and looked up at the pink and orange stripes that stained the early morning sky. What she wouldn’t give for a cup of coffee. She sat down on the top step and wrapped her arms around her knees to ward off the chill in the air. Her eyelids began to droop, and she laid her head on her arms.

“Excuse me, miss?” Dana lifted her head and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. All the color had gone out of the sky. How long had she slept? A man with thick black hair that accentuated the greenest eyes she’d ever seen stood before her. “Miss?”

“Yes?” She stood up too quickly and immediately regretted it. Her head was pounding, and her knees threatened to buckle. She groaned.

“Are you all right?” The man reached out to steady her. “Can I get you a glass of water or something?”

“I’m fine. Really,” she assured him. Dana drew her hand through her hair then grabbed a strand and twisted it absently around her fingers. “I’m sorry. Who are you?”

“Steve.” He flashed a smile. “Steve Campbell.”

“Dana,” she responded. “Sinclair.”

She grasped his outstretched hand, glad his handshake was firm and dry. Too many men went all fish-handed when they shook hands with a woman. She hated that.

“I live next door.” Steve aimed his thumb over his shoulder. “Is everything okay?” He stood on his toes and looked past Dana into her mother’s living room.

“No, Mr. Campbell, everything is not okay. My mother is dead.”

“Oh, shit.” He stood back on his heels and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m so sorry. Your mother was a real nice lady.”

“Thanks.” A real nice lady? Had he ever met her mother? Nice was the last thing Dana thought anyone would have called her.

“She was a little gruff at first, you know?” he continued.

Dana nodded. Now that was definitely Mother.

“Do you mind?” He gestured at the step and when she shook her head, they both sat down. “But she always spoke to me whenever we were both doing yard work. She made me chicken soup when I had a cold--or thought I might be getting one.” Steve scratched his cheek absently. “Once she even baked me a cherry pie. From scratch.”

“Sounds like you knew her pretty well.” She was amazed at the fondness in his voice. She’d never even caught a glimpse of the soft side of her mother that this stranger seemed to know so well.

“Not really. I mean, we never really socialized or anything.”

“Oh.” Dana glanced at her watch. What was taking that detective so long? She was beat. All she wanted to do was to go home and take a long shower, followed by an even longer nap. Her clothes were soaked with her mother’s blood, and she hated the feel of her now-stiff sweatshirt against her skin. Her head pounded and her ears had a slight ringing in them. Too many shots last night.

Steve stood up and glanced into the house. “Well, I guess I’d better be going.”

“Maybe you should hang out here for a while,” Dana suggested and looked again at her watch. “The detective in charge should be here any minute.”

“No, I don’t really have time.” He raised one hand and waved to emphasize his point. “I don’t know anything anyway. I just came over because I saw all the cop cars.”

Something about the way he kept looking over her shoulder made her wonder if that was really the reason he was here. Seemed more like he was looking for something. “You really should give a statement. I’m sure it won’t take long.”

“When I saw you sitting outside, I just wanted to come over and introduce myself.” He patted his front pocket. “Offer my condolences. That’s all.”

Dana watched as he took his wallet out of his back pocket. Although none of the officers milling about seemed to pay him any mind, something about this guy put her senses on high alert. Maybe it was because he hadn’t even asked what happened. She made a mental note to check him out as soon as possible.

He took out a card and handed it to her. “Stephen M. Campbell,” it read, and listed a phone number. She flipped it over but there was nothing on the back. It was a strange business card, and she wondered what he did for a living.

“That’s where you can contact me,” he said. “I’m just next door, so you can come over any time.” He cleared his throat. “Talk about your mom. Or whatever.”

After he returned the wallet to his back pocket, he patted his front pocket again and seemed to be waiting for a response.

“Right.” She tapped the card against her hand. “I’ll give this to the detective when he shows up. I’m sure he’ll be contacting you.”

“Well.” He hesitated and looked past her into the house again. “Let me know if there’s anything you need.” Then he stepped off the porch and was gone.

There was that look again. Was he looking for something in particular? What was it about him? Could he know more than he was saying? Or was it nothing more than morbid curiosity? After all, civilians weren’t used to crime scenes. And what was with his odd habit of tapping his pocket? She’d never seen that one before. She’d have to mention it to the detective in charge.

And maybe look into this Stephen Campbell character herself.



***



Right after the neighbor left, Lieutenant Brian Jackson appeared on the scene. Relief flooded through her as she realized that her long-time friend and mentor was the investigator she’d been waiting for. There was an air of authority about him that she’d always respected. She’d been a young teen when they first met and had become more comfortable with him over the years than anyone else. Except Jose.

She sat up straight and tried to adjust her bloody clothing in anticipation of his interview. As he strode up the driveway toward her, his face dissolved into a study of emotional pain and sorrow for just an instant before his game face returned. She stood and stuffed her soggy tissues into her pocket.

“Dana. Sweetie. I’m so sorry about Agnes.” He enfolded her into a warm hug. She closed her eyes and allowed him to stroke her hair. He smelled like Old Spice and Tootsie Rolls. She wondered how long it would be before he pulled a miniature candy out of his pocket and offered her one. “How are you doing?” He pushed her gently away and searched her eyes. “You okay?”

Dana nodded. “I’m good.”

Brian narrowed his eyes, studying her, but said nothing.

“Had better days,” she admitted. “But I’m okay.”

They went inside and sat down on the couch. Brian immediately went into cop mode. “I understand you found the body.” He took out his notebook and pen. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“Sure,” she said. The cop in her kicked in, and she looked Brian directly in the eye as though she had just come off patrol and was reporting on an incident that wasn’t so personal. “Mother called me a little after one last night.”

Brian frowned. “She called you? Since when did she start speaking to you again?”

“She hadn’t. But for some reason, she called me instead of nine-one-one.”

“Why didn’t you call nine-one-one after you talked to her?”

“Because I didn’t realize she’d been hurt. I just thought she was sick or something.”

“Okay. So what did she say?”

Dana shrugged. “All she said was that she was sorry, that she only did it because she loved me. She couldn’t seem to say anything else, so I told her I’d be right there. And then when I got here...” Her voice faltered, and she cleared her throat. “She was lying on the floor in the bathroom, barely conscious.”

“Did she say anything else? Like who attacked her?”

She shook her head. “All she said was that she was sorry, and that she’d done it for my own good.” She looked over his shoulder and tried to maintain her composure. Wiped her nose on the cuff of her sweatshirt. “Then she died.”

“Dana, I know this is painful.” Brian patted her knee. “But we’re almost done. Any idea what she meant by that?”

“Not a clue. Do you?”

He shook his head. “She have any enemies?”

Dana shrugged. “Not that I know of. But you know we weren’t very close. Especially since...you know.”

Brian nodded. Of course, he knew what their relationship had been like. She’d used him as a sounding board for her anger and resentment almost since the day they’d met. He’d listen patiently to her teen tirades and tried to help her understand her mother. Why she was the way she was, who she was, what made her tick. He’d been the father she desperately wanted.

Wait a minute. She squinted as she leaned forward. Needing a closer look at the front door, she got up to examine it. Her legs wobbled slightly before they gave out completely. Brian grabbed her elbow to steady her as he guided her back onto the couch.

“Take it easy, Dana.” He turned to the closest patrolman. “Gibbs,” he barked. “Water. Now.”

“Right away, Lieutenant.” He hustled toward the kitchen.

Brian gently shook her.

She brought her hand to her forehead and rubbed. “What happened?” She felt groggy, like she’d been in bad need of a two-hour siesta but had only managed a ten-minute cat nap.

“You fainted,” Brian told her.

“I did not.” She had never fainted in her life.

He smiled. “Okay, Sinclair. If you say so. You’re right. You’re Wonder Woman.”

“That’s right,” she agreed. “I am. Want to see my golden bracelets?”

He shook his head and handed her the glass of water Gibbs gave him. “Here, drink this, smart ass.”

“Thanks.” She gulped down half the glass and felt better.

“I’m going to stand up again,” he informed her. “You okay now, or should I have Gibbs bring the smelling salts?”

“Ha ha. Very funny,” she replied. “I’m fine, see?” She got up and moved toward the front door. “Look.” She motioned Brian over and pointed at the doorknob. “No scratches or marks. No sign of forced entry.”

“Right. That should narrow down the suspects.” Brian closed his notebook, returned it to his uniform shirt pocket, and buttoned up the flap. “Who had a key?”

“Other than me, you mean? No idea.”

“Okay. I’ll have Gibbs drive you home.”

She wasn’t about to let that happen. The guys in the department would never let her live it down, having to be driven home like a “mere” woman. “I told you, I’m fine.” She’d drive herself home, thank you very much.



***



When she got home, Charlie met her at the door, barking an enthusiastic hello the second Dana put the key in the lock.

“Okay, okay,” she said wearily once she had the door open. Charlie accepted a pat on the head and raced off. Dana went into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and leaned on the sink. After a moment, she peered into the mirror. Blood was smeared across one cheek. Her hair was a tangled mess. She leaned a little closer and rubbed a dark spot of blood off her bottom lip. It was all just too much, and she finally lost the battle against her emotions.

She allowed herself a good long cry, something she had rarely done since her father died. When she’d cried herself out, she stripped off the sweatshirt and pants she’d been given by one of the lab techs when they took her bloody clothes to examine for trace evidence and tossed them on the floor. She stepped inside the shower and leaned into the hot water, enjoying the force of the spray as it cleaned off the blood. She wondered if she would ever feel clean again.




CHAPTER 7



The mid-afternoon sun was streaming in through the window when Dana awoke. Dust motes floated in the air above her head. She stretched her arms and legs leisurely and listened to her wrists and ankles crackle, then ran her fingers through her hair and looked over at Charlie, who blinked sleepily.

“Come on, lazy bones.” Dana scratched her between the ears. “Time to get up.”

Charlie responded with a yawn.

Dana climbed out of bed and pulled on a clean pair of jeans. She padded barefoot down the hall and into the bathroom. After brushing her teeth, she filled her hands with cool water and splashed her face. When she looked in the mirror, she was shocked at the dark purple bruises that had formed underneath her eyes while she slept. She still couldn’t believe that the two people she loved most of all--for she did love her mother, in spite of everything--were gone. Would she always feel this alone?

Sighing, she decided to grab a quick cup of coffee, and maybe a Pop Tart, and then get started on her day. Pick up a few things at the market and then head back over to her mother’s, see if the CSI team was done yet.

The urge to be at her mother’s house nagged at her. If she hurried, she could take Charlie out, straighten up the apartment, pack an overnight bag, and still have plenty of time to get over there and look for clues. It wasn’t until she was actually in the car and almost to the market near her mother’s house that it occurred to her that the yellow crime scene tape would likely still be plastered across the front door. To cross the police line would not only be career suicide, it could contaminate the area and destroy any evidence that hadn’t yet been collected, resulting in whoever slaughtered her mother to get off scot-free.

Dana pulled into the market’s parking lot, found an anonymous spot somewhere in the middle, and contemplated her options. It went against her nature, but she supposed she could pretend she wasn’t a deputy, just this once, and hope for the best. That thought lasted about a second and a half. She shook her head. No way. Once a cop, always a cop.

Her only other option, she realized as she chewed on a hang nail, was to try and wheedle Brian into giving her the go-ahead to enter the crime scene, and risk disobeying a direct order when he told her to keep out of it. She had a right to know who killed her mother, and why, and wasn’t about to just sit on her thumb and spin while others handled the investigation. It might cost her her beloved job, but she’d just have to risk it.

A knock on her window startled her. That strange next-door neighbor of Mother’s hovered beside her car, flashing a toothy grin, and made a winding motion with his finger, indicating that she should roll down her window. When she did, he looked inside the car. Charlie growled on the seat beside her.

“Hi, Dana,” he said. “It’s me. Steve.” He patted his chest as if to prove his sincerity.

“Steve.” She tried not to show her concern but couldn’t help wondering how he’d found her here. He wasn’t carrying any grocery bags. “What are you doing here?”

“I saw you drive in and thought you’d want to know that the cops left Agnes’s.”

“They have?” She glanced at her watch. Three thirty-five p.m.

“Left about twenty minutes ago, I’d say.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Glad I could help.”

She grabbed her purse off the passenger seat, patted Charlie on the head and told her to stay, and opened the door.

“Hey, how’d you know I was here?” she asked Steve, but he had disappeared. Dana frowned as she scanned the parking lot. She couldn’t help but wonder if he was following her.

And if so, why?



***



After picking up a few groceries, she decided to go talk to Brian in person rather than call him. It would be harder for him to turn her down if they were face to face. Or so she hoped.


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