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This is not a fully edited sample, so things may change a little in the final released book. I hope you enjoy!
Kate Darby looked up from watching the Live PD rerun on her cell phone when the doctor walked into her hospital room. She’d been in the hospital for almost a month, due to complications of her gunshot wound to the abdomen.
She’d gotten over the fact her hair resembled a rat’s nest, her skin looked translucent, and the bruises on her arms from the IV made her look like a junkie. When this doctor first came in to examine her, and she wasn’t under the influence of anesthesia, she blushed from her ears to her toes. No chance she’d be asking him for a date after this.
She couldn’t believe it had been a month already. And yet, every time she closed her eyes, she relived the event that put her here as if it were yesterday, each time recalling new details, and each time, she chastised herself for not being more aware. Then she’d remind herself there wasn’t supposed to be any danger. She’d been meeting an informant, and that informant wasn’t the person who overtook her, got her gun, and nearly raped and killed her. No, that wasn’t how it went down at all.
The one thing she couldn’t quite place her mind around was who else, besides her chief and the informant, knew she would be there. Did he mention something about the captain? Had she been followed? If so, that made her wonder about her abilities as a cop. Shouldn’t she have been more aware of her surroundings? She knew she was lucky to be alive. And the only reason she was alive landed squarely at the feet of the person who shot her assailant. And that was definitely not her chief or captain.
“Are you ready to blow this popsicle stand?” Dr. Randal asked, his smile spreading across his face.
Kate had gotten used to the doctor’s jovial attitude, even though in the beginning of her stay at the hospital she hated it. She preferred negative, quiet, maybe even distant, to jovial and inquisitive. She knew the only reason she liked the doctor was because he stood six feet tall, had slightly unruly brown curls, big brown eyes that smiled, and a huge grin with perfect teeth. She didn’t know exactly why, but good teeth meant a lot to her when it came to looks. Maybe it was the meth mouth syndrome of her mom’s friends that she remembered from her early years.
“I’m gonna miss you,” she said, putting her TV show on pause.
“Somehow I doubt that. And I know for a fact you won’t miss the therapist down at OT and PT. And I don’t think they’ll miss you, either.” He patted her on the shin.
Kate laughed, and for the first time in weeks, it didn’t make her want to vomit from the pain. “I wasn’t that bad.”
“I can tell you this, they aren’t used to being bossed around the way you bossed them. Most of their patients aren’t in such a hurry to get well. You know getting well means going back to work. No more disability payments.”
She knew he wasn’t kidding. She’d overheard other patients talking about how nice it was to get paid for staying home and wondering how long the benefits would continue. She’d even seen them hobble into physical therapy with their walkers, then when they didn’t think anyone was looking, she saw them walking just fine on their own. She’d heard about people milking the system, but now she knew it was real.
“Lazy assholes, milking their employers. I hate those people,” Kate said, sitting up a little taller in the bed. “I can’t imagine continuing to come to therapy when I could get better by doing the exercises at home.”
Dr. Randal smiled. “So you’ve told your therapists for the last two weeks. I’m glad you’re going home today. Is Chief Rambone here to pick you up?”
Kate flinched. “No. Is he here?”
Dr. Randal pointed to the door. “He’s just down the hall. I asked him to wait while I talked to you and wrote up your discharge papers. Do you have a ride home? Because you’re not in any shape to drive.”
Kate nodded. “Speaking of that, when am I going to be able to wean myself off the meds? I’m the daughter of an addict, as you know, and I’m pretty sure I’m hallucinating because of them.”
“Hallucinating? Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” He read through her chart then looked up at her.
“Well, I didn’t want to seem like a weirdo. I mean you’re cute and all, and I thought maybe after I was discharged you might want to date me.” She winked. “What would you think if I told you I saw dead people?”
He laughed. “My wife wouldn’t be too keen on me dating my former patients, but I appreciate the flattery. As for seeing dead people, please elaborate.”
Kate didn’t want to elaborate. She wasn’t sure what was real and what was drug induced. “It’s nothing really. But when I push the button on my morphine drip, I sometimes see the guy who shot me sitting at the foot of my bed. I can even feel the weight of the little gang banger.”
Dr. Randal frowned. “He feels real to you?”
“He does, and then I usually fall asleep. He hasn’t killed me while I’m sleeping, so he really is dead.”
“He really is dead. I’ve seen the autopsy report. No way did he survive what you did to him.” He scribbled in her chart. “Okay, I’m going to send you home with hydrocodone, but if you can tolerate the pain with just ibuprofen, I’m good with that.”
Kate knew she’d need the hydrocodone for at least a few days, but she’d make sure Bryce weaned her off them right away. She had things she needed to do, and she couldn’t accomplish them in a painkiller induced state. It was bad enough they wouldn’t let her drive for at least another month.
“I’ll make sure I stay ahead of the pain. Now what else do I need to do to get out of this place?” Kate smiled, so happy to be leaving the hospital.
“Call for a ride,” Dr. Randal said. He closed her chart and hung it on her bed. “Are you ready to talk to your boss?”
Kate frowned. “Give me a minute, then send him in.”
Dr. Randal squeezed Kate’s foot, then left the room. Kate liked him well enough, but thought he was awkward in little ways. She’d grown fond of him over the last month, but not in a dating way like she’d said. Cute as he was, he landed on the scrawny side for her tastes. Reminded her too much of her foster brother, Bryce Trident.
Picking her phone up from her lap, she closed down Hulu, then sent her brother a text: JAIL BREAK!!!
He texted back: stop yelling at me!!! What time?
She responded: 10 minutes ago
Bryce’s answer wasn’t immediate, but he finally sent: Roger that
Kate swiped out of the messages, then swiped her voice recorder app. She hit record, then placed her phone on the bed next to her hip, but under the sheets just a little, so Rambone couldn’t see it. She’d started recording any conversations with him, or other law enforcement officer who came to visit, especially the ones quizzing her about what she remembered.
Rambone stood in the doorway. “I hear you’re breaking out of here today.”
Kate mustered a smile. “You heard right.”
“Need a ride?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“You sure? You can get dressed and I’ll wheel you out of here. I know you’re anxious to get home.” He stepped into the room.
“My brother is on his way. We have plans this afternoon,” Kate said. Unconsciously, she pulled her covers up and crossed her arms.
“You’re feeling well enough to go home?”
“I’m so glad. I know you still have months of rehab, but we look forward to having you back.”
Kate grinned. She’d been rehearsing this for weeks. It was the first time the chief had mentioned her coming back to work. “I’m not sure I’m coming back, sir.”
Rambone’s eyes widened into saucers, making his face look clownish. “Tell me it isn’t so.”
It wasn’t so, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. She didn’t know who to trust and she had things she needed to look into before she let her guard down. “I’m playing the wait and see game. If I can’t rehab back to one hundred percent, I have no right being a cop. I’m not going to put my fellow officers in danger. I mean it’s bad enough I put myself in the situation to get ambushed. I don’t know if this job is for me anymore.”
It literally hurt her to say the words, her flesh suddenly burning where the bullet entered her abdomen.
“It’s too soon to talk like that, Darby.” She swore she saw relief in his eyes. He didn’t want her back on the force.
“I’ll have many months to decide,” she said, trying to sound defeated.
“Have you been to see the psychologist?”
“I don’t need a psychologist. I killed a man, that’s it. It was me or him, and I chose me. No mental therapy needed.” They’d had this conversation every time he came to see her.
“Psychological evaluation isn’t an option, not if you want to remain a cop,” he said.
“If I come back to work,” Kate retorted. “Was there anything else? I’d like to get dressed so my brother doesn’t have to wait for me.”
He stepped back three steps, putting his hands on his hips. She could tell he didn’t like her tone, but didn’t want to reprimand her in her hospital room. “I’m just wondering if you remember anything else about that night. Anything at all.”
“Like I’ve said a dozen times before,” she tried to keep the irritation from her voice, “I remember being ambushed when I was looking in the back seat of a car. I remember being forced into the alley by Payaso. He tried to rape me. The doctors say he didn’t succeed, but from the time he had me on the ground to waking up after surgery, I have no recollection. Not even a single snippet of what actually happened seems real. I only have the account of what you tell me, and I don’t feel any of it. You know, it’s like looking at a picture and being told where it was taken, but having no recollection of being there.”
Rambone looked down at the floor. “That’s what you said last time, too. Are you sure you don’t remember anything?”
Kate took a deep breath and sighed, but she didn’t answer his redundant question.
What she wanted to say was, I called to tell you about my meeting, remember that? And only you, maybe the captain, and Geo knew where I was going. What about that? How did Payaso know I’d be there? Was he following me? Was he told I’d be there? And either way, why was I the target? The fucker ambushed me, which makes me feel completely incompetent, and then he got my gun. It was the worst feeling of helplessness. When he stripped me down to my bra and underwear, what was I going to do? He was on top of me, ready to stick his little gang banger penis into me, when someone shot him. Yes, they shot him in the chest. What happened next was in slow motion, and yet it was a blur. I somehow got out from under him. And even though he’d been shot, he was able to get one off on me. The searing pain was like nothing I’ve ever felt, and then I went numb as I worked my weakened ass off to get my gun back from that fucker. Then I shot him, and shot him again, and again, until my magazine was empty. Oh, and by the way, I know who shot him in the chest. Did you know he was killed right after he saved my life?
“Hey, you ready?” Bryce’s voice pulled Kate from her thoughts. “Oh, hi,” he said to Rambone.
“I would be, but I had an unannounced visitor.” Kate looked at Rambone. “Thanks for stopping by. I’ll call you if I remember anything, but I doubt it. It’s been a month.”
Rambone didn’t move.
Bryce looked at Rambone. “She said goodbye.”
“Actually, she didn’t,” Rambone shot back.
“Well, I’ll say it for her. Goodbye. Now leave.”
Bryce never cared for Rambone, and Kate usually mediated. She didn’t have the energy this time.
“Have you autopsied the Mexican killed last night?” Rambone asked.
“You’ll have to talk to my boss about that.” Bryce stepped in front of Rambone and opened the closet. “The doc said no pants or anything tight, so you’ll have to wear sweats or yoga pants. Which do you prefer?”
Rambone walked out of the room, dismissed, and not happy about it. Bryce better watch his driving or he’d be racking up a slew of tickets. Kate was sure of it.
“How did you get here so fast?” Kate asked.
“I was down in the morgue. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting your call. Figured it was easier to get here early and catch up on paperwork while I waited for your call. Now sweats or yoga pants?”
“Sweats. I’m too tired to care what I look like,” Kate said.
“You ever cared before?” Bryce said, pulling the folded sweatpants from the shelf and tossing them at Kate.
“Haha.” Kate sat up and swiveled in the bed, now hanging her feet over the side. She lifted her gown, then reached down to put her foot into the sweats. “Ugh.”
Bryce rolled his eyes. “And now I’m going to have to dress you, too? I already had the servant’s quarters turned into a bedroom for you.” He bent down and helped her get one foot, then the other into the legs until she had her feet through the holes. “Can you pull them up by yourself?”
“You have a shitty bedside manner,” Kate said. “You’re lucky your patients are dead so they can’t complain.”
“Why do you think I picked forensics? I hate people.” Bryce tossed her a sports bra and t-shirt. “It’s still warm outside. Do you want a sweater anyway?”
Kate stood and tied the sweats loosely at her middle. She avoided looking at the fresh scarring where the bullet entered her body, and where the doctors opened her up to retrieve it. The wound burned when she thought about it. When she looked up, Payaso stood behind Bryce, smiling. Kate lost her balance and fell back to the bed.
Bryce jumped forward. “Hey, are you okay?”
Embarrassed, she said, “Fine. Maybe a little lightheaded from standing up.”
Again, she looked past Bryce, but Payaso was gone.
“Let me get you a wheelchair, and we can get you out of here. I have your discharge papers. I was taking care of that this morning, too.”
“How? Dr. Randal didn’t even know you were picking me up.”
“Doctors aren’t the real bosses around here, the nurses are. Duh.”
She should have expected that from him. “Is your doctor okay with you leaving work to take me home?”
Bryce worked with the pathologist in the morgue. He loved his job and was getting used to the new doctor since his old boss retired.
“I’m not working today. I was just doing paperwork on my own time, since I was here anyway. Oh, and Dr. McC says hi.”
Kate slipped into her Vans, and pointed to the closet. “Can you just throw that stuff into a bag?”
Bryce packed up her belongings, while Kate pulled her phone from the covers and ended the recording. She slipped the phone into the pocket of her sweatpants and started toward the door.
At the door, her day nurse said, “Oh, no, you don’t,” and shoved a wheelchair at her.
“Well, shit, I was hoping to walk out and show everyone how good I’m doing.” Kate turned, grabbed the arms of the chair and gingerly lowered her butt to the seat. “Guess I’ll just have to give my Miss America wave as you push me out.”
Bryce and the nurse laughed, but Kate did raise her arm, cup her hand, and give a little wave all the way to the elevators.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Zane is at the house,” Bryce said as he helped her into his car.
Bryce had warned Zane not to push it, but they came to an agreement that he could be at the house, but not pick Kate up at the hospital. Sergeant Zane Gwilly was Kate Darby’s boss, but more than that, he was her ex-husband. It killed Bryce to see how much they both still loved each other, but Kate was too stubborn to admit she’d made a mistake by divorcing him.
He’d known Kate since they were kids, when Kate’s foster parents had brought him into their home. Kate and Bryce fought like blood siblings, but they also fought for each other. No one knew her like he did, and sometimes he thought Zane envied him that.
“I can’t believe you want to see him,” Bryce said.
“I banished him from the hospital weeks ago. It’s only fair for him to see I’m doing well, so he can see I can make it without him.” Kate settled into the seat.
“I think you’ve made that plenty clear since the divorce. Please be nice to him. I’m not in any mood to mediate.” Bryce maneuvered his car out of the hospital parking lot and toward the interstate.
Kate laid her head back and closed her eyes. “I need to ask him a few questions. Oh, and we need to pick up my pain meds from the pharmacy.”
Kate started snoring a minute later.
Thank goodness the pharmacist knew him, so he pulled into the drive-thru and picked up Kate’s meds. She jerked and snorted, then turned her head, so Bryce pulled her wallet from her bag and handed the I.D. to the tech. It only took a few minutes and they were on the road again. Kate didn’t wake up until they pulled into the driveway of the pecan farm she’d inherited from her long-lost grandfather.
Bryce had fought the urge to move into the house, but gave in as soon as he found out Kate would be in the hospital longer than expected, due to complications from the surgery. In the month Kate spent in the hospital, he moved out of his place, selling about half his stuff, and putting the rest in storage. Though this antebellum home had plenty of room for his things, he didn’t want his modern tastes to clash with the tradition of the home. Besides, he didn’t need anything, since the house was fully furnished and stocked.
Kate had walked into a sweet deal in which her grandfather’s trust, and the income from the leased pecan orchards, paid for the upkeep and taxes on her new home. She hadn’t even moved out of her place when she’d been shot, so Bryce had taken that task on too, with a lot of help from Zane.
Bryce liked Zane, but felt sorry for him, because he’d fallen in love with Kate. He knew Kate would eventually break Zane’s heart, and she did, even though it broke her heart, too. Kate would never take to commitment, but she sure tried to fight it. And poor Zane got caught in Kate’s web when she was feeling generous. Her generosity never lasted long.
“Oh, he’s already here,” she said when she woke up.
“I told you he was,” Bryce snapped. “Now don’t be a bitch.”
Kate blew out a breath. “I’ll be nice. Besides, I need information from him, remember?”
“I remember. But isn’t it a bit early to start worrying about investigating Newton’s death?”
“What else am I going to do? Sit around and read books and watch TV? I did that for a month already.”
Under his breath, Bryce said, “I’m pretty sure you mostly slept and irritated the therapists and nurses.”
Kate smacked him on the shoulder. “I was nice to the nurses.”
Bryce parked in front of the house. “Sure you were. Can you walk up the steps, or should I have a ramp put in?”
Kate opened her door and stood, looking stronger than she had at the hospital. He saw her stiffen.
“You okay?” He came running around to her side of the car.
The ghostly look on her face scared him, but she said, “I’m fine. Help me get to the house.”
Bryce reached out so she could put her arm over his shoulder.
“No, not like that. Just be here to catch me, even though it probably won’t be necessary.”
Bryce rolled his eyes as Zane came running down the stairs. He told Zane not to fuss over Kate, but Zane went all mushy in the brain where Kate was concerned, especially since the shooting.
“Let me help,” Zane said, reaching out.
Kate stepped away from Bryce and held Zane’s arm. “I just need you in case I lose my balance.”
Kate looked up at the porch, looking determined. Then she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Are you okay?” Zane asked.
Kate didn’t answer, and Bryce looked to the porch to see what made her stop. Nothing. The porch was empty, but one of the rockers was swaying with the wind. How weird, only one of the chairs moved.
“I’ll run inside and get some sweet tea.” Bryce sprinted up the stairs and disappeared inside the house.
“She’s home.” Azizi stood in the kitchen, stirring mint into a pitcher of sweet tea.
Bryce nodded. Azizi scared the shit out of him. According to Kate, Azizi was a permanent fixture on the plantation. She lived in the tenant house on the property and apparently came and went from the main house as she pleased. How did she know he was coming in to make tea?
“She is. I have the servant’s quarters ready for her, so she doesn’t have to climb the stairs.”
She added ice to three tall glasses and poured tea in them before saying. “It’s safer for her on the first floor.”
“Safer?” Bryce didn’t understand.
Azizi hummed to herself.
Bryce heard Zane and Kate talking in the other room as he put together a tray of cookies, and cheese with crackers. He wasn’t sure what had come over him, since he was in no way a gracious host.
“Did you really tell Rambone you weren’t coming back?” Zane asked.
“That asshole, did he tell you that?”
“He sent me a text.”
“Well, it wasn’t his business to spread around. Now the entire department will think I’m a wuss. I just told him that to get him off my back.” Bryce could hear the smile in her words. She was glad Rambone had spread the word. He knew Kate’s plan.
“Doesn’t matter anyway. He replaced you three days after the incident.”
Did he just hear Kate growl? He’d better get out there before she ate Zane alive.
“Incident? You mean the attempted rape and murder of a police officer?” Bryce said as he walked into the room with the tray of snacks.
“Thank you,” Kate said. “Took the words right out of my mouth.”
Zane rolled his eyes. “Whatever. You know I wasn’t trying to lessen what happened. He did hire a guy, though. Chad Souza. Odd fellow.”
Bryce put the tray on the coffee table, and Azizi walked up behind him and placed the tray of tea next to it. “I thought you might want some of my special sweet tea,” she said.
“She can’t have alcohol with the meds she’s taking,” Zane said.
Azizi laughed. “Oh, no, honey, this is a different kind of special. Enjoy.”
Azizi turned to leave the room, then stopped. She looked at something in the corner of the room, then looked back at Kate, who was looking at the same thing. Bryce didn’t see anything other than the coat stand and umbrella rack.
Azizi left the room.
“So what about this Souza guy?” Kate asked.
“He’s just different. Doesn’t really seem to want to be a cop. I like him, and yet he gets on my nerves.” Zane grabbed a glass of Azizi’s special tea and took a long sip. “Mmmmm.”
“It doesn’t matter an
yway. I’m not coming back until I find out who killed Newton. He saved my life. I owe him that much.” Kate picked up her glass of tea and sipped. “Well, that’s different. I like it.”
Bryce heard Azizi chuckle from the kitchen. He wondered if Kate and Zane heard it, too.
“You’re in no shape to investigate anything.” Zane set his glass down hard on the table. “Besides, the case is closed.”
Bryce picked up the glass and put a coaster under it. He planned to just sit and watch this train wreck go down.
Kate sat her glass down a little more delicately, but Bryce had to put a coaster under hers too. What was coming over him?
“That’s bullshit and you know it. There wasn’t even an investigation.” Kate tried to stand, then thought better of it.
“Look, the captain said they had evidence of a member of Barrio Azteca doing the shooting. The gun used had been used in another shooting by a Barrio Azteca gang member. Newton had been honing in on their territory, along with poaching Payaso’s business. If you hadn’t killed Payaso, they would have eventually.”
“I don’t believe it.
And even so, how is Barrio Azteca infiltrating clear up here in East Texas? They are from El Paso.” Kate ran her fingers through her hair, and caught her breath when she tried to sigh.
“They go clear up into Colorado, Kate. They are getting bigger every day. And they have deep pockets, so they can buy good cops. Imagine if they were in the pockets of a bad cop.”
Kate leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her middle, then adjusted them away from her injury. “Imagine what they’d do if they knew the cops were pinning a murder on them when it wasn’t true.”
“No, Kate. You’re gonna stay far away from this. Cops are not friends of this gang. They are ruthless. And I do mean kill their own kind of ruthless. This isn’t something I wouldn’t let you do if you were one hundred percent healthy.” Zane made the mistake of pointing his finger as he spoke.
Kate sat forward too quick and winced, but it didn’t stop her. Then she looked in the corner, turned a little pale, and stopped for a second. Then she said, “Let’s make this perfectly clear. You are no longer my boss, and
no longer my husband. You don’t get to now, nor did you ever, get to tell me what to do with my personal time. So you won’t be letting me do anything, because it’s none of your fucking business.” Kate stood. “Get out!” She walked into the kitchen.
Bryce stood. “I think it’s time for you to leave. She doesn’t need to be agitated. Why do you even try? You know she’s gonna investigate. That guy saved her life. She’s sure he’s dead because of what he did.”
Zane picked up his glass of tea and finished it in one gulp. He slowly placed it back on the tray, then stood.
Bryce knew he was baiting him, so he smiled and waited. Then he slowly got up and walked to the front door, holding it open for Zane. “Don’t stop by without calling.”
Zane glared at him as he strolled across the room and out the door.
Bryce almost locked the door behind him, but he wanted to hear what Kate had to say, so he slammed the door and jogged to the kitchen, slowing just before entering.
“He’s with you still, isn’t he?” Azizi was saying to Kate as Bryce entered the room.
“What are you talking about?” Kate asked, a little paler than she had been in the living room.
“The man, he follows you. I can see his shadow,” Azizi said.
Kate’s eyes went wide. She pulled her phone from the pocket of her sweat pants and sent a quick text. Bryce’s phone didn’t buzz, so she hadn’t sent it to him.
She set her phone on the counter and said, “I’m going to take a nap. I don’t feel so well.”
When Kate closed the door to the servant’s quarters, Bryce hustled across the room and picked up her phone. She’d texted Zane: What’s the name and number of the LEO PTSD center in Dallas?