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Authors: Maggie Shayne

Darker Than Midnight (35 page)

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
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“She's one of mine,” Frankie added. “Give her back her gun.”

The cop did. And Frankie kept talking. “It's not your collar, Jax. Not this time.
I'm
taking him in.”

Jax met her eyes, about to argue.

“You know damn well it's for the best.”

“He's not safe in jail, Frankie.”

“He'll be safe in mine. I've already cleared it with the state boys. And we can discuss it on the way. Come on.”

“It's okay, Cassandra,” River said. “It's time. Besides, Ethan's no threat to me now.”

They watched as Ethan was carried to a waiting ambulance—he didn't look good. Victoria followed, climbing into the ambulance to ride with him. Just as well—Jax didn't think the woman was in any condition to drive.

No one arrested her. A cop went along with her, though. They'd probably sort all this out later and decide then how to
proceed. It was more humane that way, Jax supposed, though she'd have loved to see the bitch who'd tried to shoot River hauled away in handcuffs.

River let Frankie take him by one arm and lead him outside to her car. “Rex is in Cassandra's car,” he said.

Frankie nodded and promised to have an officer drive it back to Blackberry as she opened the back door of her SUV.

He got in the back seat, and Cassandra slid in beside him, rather than taking the front seat beside Frankie. She didn't give a damn how it looked to every other cop on the scene. And as soon as Frankie pulled the car into motion, she thrust a hand over the seat, palm up. “Let me get the cuffs off him.”

Frankie met her eyes in the rearview mirror.

“Come on, Frankie. There's no one watching to be sure we follow procedure now. It's just us. This man has saved my life more than once now. He's the same hero cop he was before. Not a killer.”

“You sure of that?”

“I am. You will be, too, by the time we get to the station.”

Sighing, Frankie snapped her key off her belt and dropped it into Jax's waiting hand. River leaned forward, and Jax removed the cuffs.

“Better?”

“Me? Hell, Cassandra, you should be in the hospital. Look at you.”

She rolled her eyes and leaned back in the seat. “Frankie, Stephanie Corbett was having an affair with Ethan Melrose.”

Frankie's head came up sharply, her eyes snapping to the mirror, narrow and inquisitive. “Can you prove that?”

Jax nodded. “Got a maid at the Harrington Inn who remembers them both. But I think we can do better with a little bloodwork. I'd lay odds the fetus was his.”

“It was,” River said. “I called him on it, back there. He didn't deny it.”

Shaking her head slowly, Frankie sighed. “I'm sorry, River. This can't have been an easy thing to learn.” Frankie turned her mirror so she could see him.

“It wasn't easy,” he said. “Ethan claims she was trying to end their relationship. That she wanted to try to make our marriage work.”

“So you think he killed her?”

“Yeah. I do. I think he intended to kill us both. But I was outside. So instead he set things up to make it look like it was me. Got me committed. And he's been drugging me into oblivion ever since.”

“He probably even hired that goon of an orderly to kill River,” Cassandra added. “He knew I was on to all of this—so he set me up. Lured me out to an empty street and ran me down. Hauled me to that cabin he and River own together, and waited for River to come after me. Then he locked us in and torched it. I was supposed to die in that fire. River was either supposed to die with me or be blamed for killing me, sealing his fate once and for all.”

“It's a solid theory, Cassandra. But it's going to take evidence.”

“River's lawyer has his medical records—they're being reviewed by experts in the field now. And we have Dawn and Bryan, who can testify that the door and shutters of that cabin were blocked from the outside. You can't put a two-by-four across the outside of a door and then somehow get inside the building.”

“And there should be evidence on Ethan's Mercedes, as well,” River said.

“Yeah, blood and hair, in addition to the dent I probably left in the front when he nailed me, the dirty bastard.”

Frankie nodded slowly. “Phone your lawyer, River. Have him meet us at the station back in Blackberry. I'll do my best to see to it a judge meets us there, as well. All right?”

“Fair enough.” He nodded at Cassandra. “Think we can drop this one off at the hospital on the way?”

“I'm not leaving you alone in a jail cell, River. Not until we're sure.”

“Ethan's not going to come after me tonight, Cassandra.”

“Suppose he's got some other thug out there waiting to take a crack, hmm? Suppose the newest criminal he hired to take you out doesn't know the game's over yet?”

He sighed, lowered his head. “Ever the optimist.”

They pulled in at the station in Blackberry, where four cop cars pulled right in behind them. The state boys were not about to let a fish as big as this one get too far from their sight. Frankie admitted she'd done some fast talking to convince them to let her handle all of this from her own little PD. She'd reminded them of the orderly with the record, the possibility that someone was out to murder River, the still unanswered questions. She'd insisted River would be safer in a cell by himself in Blackberry than lost in the shuffle of a larger department. And they'd agreed.

Jax got out of the car, and River behind her. He was right beside her when she started into the office, and felt the ground start to spin. Or was that her head?

She was vaguely aware of Matthews and Campanelli coming out of the station to greet her, their worried looks, hands on her shoulders, the relief in their voices that she was all right. And then she started to sway.

“Dammit, I knew it.” River scooped her up into his arms before she could hit the ground.

She rolled her eyes. “Put me down, I'm fine. And your leg—”

“You're not fine. You need to go home, go to bed.”

Her eyes shot to his when he said it, but the crowd of interested spectators and fellow cops forming around them made the smart-ass comeback she had in mind a very bad idea.
Some of those fellow cops looked less than happy at the sight of River walking around without handcuffs, much less holding an officer in his arms. Even now she wondered if he was thinking about kissing her. He was close enough, and she wouldn't be able to do much about it, not while he was carrying her as if she were weightless. He looked at her lips, and his own curved just slightly. He was letting her know that he knew what she was thinking—that he was thinking it, too.

“We've got every cop in the county here, and my lawyer just pulled in, as well,” he said. “I'll be fine. You need to go home.”

“Who's gonna make me?”

His smile grew into a full-size one. “I'm calling your father.”

“You wouldn't!”

“Frankie?” he asked.

“You can use my phone,” Frankie said. “And if she manages to talk you out of it, I'll do it myself.” She opened the door and held it.

“Bring her in here,” Matthews said, leading the way. “Put her on the sofa. Jeez, Jax, you look like hell.”

Campanelli said, “I'll bring you a phone.”

River limped a little as he carried her through the station and lowered her onto the green fake-leather sofa in the reception area. Jax glared at him the entire time he was on the phone with her father. And when he hung up she knew her dad was on his way. “I really resent that, River.”

“I can tell by the holes you're burning into my head with your eyes,” he said. “But it's just as well I called. They've been worried sick.”

She shrugged. “I don't like people telling me what to do. I don't like being pushed.”

“It's part of the package, Cassandra.”

“Part of what package?”

He didn't answer. Instead, he looked around at all the police, most of them standing there talking. Matthews was mak
ing coffee. Campanelli turned a wastebasket upside down and set a pillow on top of it, then put it in front of her, so she could elevate her sprained ankle.

Frankie's nephew was hanging back, watching things, looking smug. The other cops—the imports—were sending River curious or down-right pissed off, looks.

“Don't you think someone ought to put me in the cage, now?” River asked softly. “These guys are looking suspicious as hell. I don't blame them. I'm not even cuffed and can't stop making eyes at the best-looking cop on the job.”

“You're
not
going in the cage.”

He lifted his brows. “I don't like people telling me what to do, either,” he said. “But I understand why you're pushing so hard. Maybe
you
don't. But I do. That comes with the package, too.” He shrugged. “But still, there's no point in screwing up your career over it.”

“You make about as much sense now as you did when you were still on all the psychotropics, River.”

“You wish.” He got up and walked back to the cell. “Open it up, Frankie.”

“No need for that,” Frankie said, coming up behind him. “Judge Henry's on his way over here to see what we've got.” She looked past him at the man just entering. “I take it that fellow in the overpriced suit is your lawyer?”

River looked, as well. “Yes.”

“Perfect. Soon as the judge arrives we'll make a stab at sorting all this out. You, Jax, better take a load off and relax.”

Her father walked in behind the lawyer, even as she was opening her mouth to reply. He looked across the room, not at her, but at River. And the two of them exchanged a silent message. Then her mother was pushing past everyone. “I couldn't believe it when we rushed all the way to the hospital only to be told you'd checked yourself out! What were you thinking, Cassie?” She sat on the edge of the sofa and hugged
Jax hard. Jax winced, because it was a little too hard, given the state of her rib cage.

“Actually, Mrs. Jackson, if she hadn't checked out of the hospital and shown up at Ethan Melrose's, I'd probably be dead right now,” River said, moving forward.

Mariah looked up at him as he approached. He held out a hand and she closed hers around it without getting up. “I'm sorry we haven't met before now. I'm River Corbett.”

As soon as he said his name, she jerked her hand from his and her eyes widened.

“He didn't do what they said he did, Mom,” Jax said.

Her mother shot a look at her husband. “You knew about this, didn't you?”

Ben nodded. “Knew. Didn't like it. But you know your daughter when she gets something in her head.”

“For what it's worth, Mariah,” Frankie said, “it looks to me like she's been right about Corbett all along. We're going to be sorting all that out here, tonight. At least, making a start at it. But your girl there, she's got a few busted ribs and a bad ankle sprain. She needs to be in a bed. I'd prefer a hospital bed, but her own at home will do just as well, providing she gets into it soon.”

“I am
not
leaving—”

River put a hand on her shoulder, stared into her eyes. “Go home, Cassandra. I can't focus if I'm sitting here worrying about how soon you're going to collapse. Go home. Let your mother pamper you for a couple of hours.” He leaned closer and whispered, “And then, if all goes well, I'll be there to do it myself.”

She was torn between melting into his arms, and turning and fleeing at those words. She hated being taken care of and he knew it. Why, then, was she looking forward to him keeping that promise like a kid looks forward to Christmas morning?

Hell, she knew why.

She got to her feet and paced a few steps away from him.

Her father moved closer and spoke to her, his voice low and for her ears alone. “Your mother can't be here with all this,” he told her. “You know how hard this sort of thing is for her, the memories it stirs. Look at her. Already.”

Jax glanced her mother's way and saw the lines of tension at the corners of her mouth, and how her eyes were darting around the station. God, this was no good for her.

“And she won't leave you. She can every be bit as stubborn as you.”

“At least I come by it honestly.” Jax sighed, turned back to River. “I need to see you in Frankie's office.”

“Go ahead,” Frankie said. “When you finish, stay there and I'll send your lawyer in, River. The judge will be another twenty minutes.” She looked around the room. “I don't see much need for the rest of you to hang around. Go home.”

“And leave you alone here with a fugitive?” one state cop asked.

“He hasn't been cleared yet, Chief Parker.”

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
2.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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