Authors: Julie Miller
He pulled his chin away, but she cupped his strong jaw and kept him facing her. The late-night shadow of his beard was scraggly and dark and added an air of menace to him.
“You don’t like anyone hinting that you’re a good cop who KCPD could still use, and you don’t like admitting when you have feelings for someone.” Holly stroked her thumb across his lips.
guy made her toes curl inside her socks and brace for trouble.
The elevator hit a gentle bump and slowed its descent. “Am I pretty clear as to what your words are telling me?”
He opened his mouth, about to deny the truth.
Instead, he reawakened his dragon’s heart with another kiss….
TORONTO • NEW YORK • LONDON
AMSTERDAM • PARIS • SYDNEY • HAMBURG
STOCKHOLM • ATHENS • TOKYO • MILAN • MADRID
PRAGUE • WARSAW • BUDAPEST • AUCKLAND
For the Class of 1978. Fulton High School, Fulton, Missouri.
Happy Anniversary to us. Anytime a place can take
a shy girl and give her a place to shine, a place to be
inspired by talented, dedicated teachers, and a place
to make dear, lifelong friends and memories—
you know it’s a good place.
Julie Miller attributes her passion for writing romance to all those fairy tales she read growing up, and shyness. Encouragement from her family to write down all those feelings she couldn’t express became a love for the written word. She gets continued support from her fellow members of the Prairieland Romance Writers, where she serves as the resident “grammar goddess.” This award-winning author and teacher has published several paranormal romances. Inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie and Encyclopedia Brown, Ms. Miller believes the only thing better than a good mystery is a good romance.
Born and raised in Missouri, she now lives in Nebraska with her husband, son and smiling guard dog, Maxie. Write to Julie at P.O. Box 5162, Grand Island, NE 68802-5162.
898—SEARCH AND SEIZURE
947—BABY JANE DOE
966—BEAST IN THE TOWER
1009—UP AGAINST THE WALL
1073—ARMED AND DEVASTATING
1090—PRIVATE S.W.A.T TAKEOVER
1099—KANSAS CITY CHRISTMAS
—A burnt-out, beat-up KCPD legend with nothing left to lose. He doesn’t believe he’s anybody’s last hope, though a bossy, beautiful criminalist seems to think so.
Dr. Holly Masterson, M.E.
—Criminalist with the KCPD crime lab—just as smart as her legs are long. When evidence starts disappearing from her lab and a mysterious stalker threatens her reputation and her life, is the danger personal? Or part of one of the biggest cover-ups in Kansas City history?
—Holly’s coworker. A CSI with a weird sense of humor.
—Holly’s younger sister. Trouble seems to have a way of finding her.
—Jillian’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. He works at Caldwell Technologies.
—Longtime Kincaid family friend. Could someone in his own company be responsible for his best friend’s murder?
—Television reporter. Does she know the answers before she asks the questions?
Irina Zorinsky Hansford
—Back from the dead after thirty years? Or is someone exacting vengeance in her name?
—Homicide detective leading the investigation into John Kincaid’s murder.
—A covert organization disbanded at the end of the Cold War. Or are they still in business? And who is willing to kill to keep their secrets?
—Will his sons finally uncover his killer?
“…And I will sleep in peace until you come to me.”
“I hope you find peace, Dad.” Edward Kincaid turned away from the funeral service in the distance and limped back up the sloping hill of Mt. Washington Cemetery to his own hell. It wasn’t the first time he’d been to a ceremony to bury a fellow cop. But it was the first time he’d shown up for one without wearing his own uniform or badge. And it was the first time he’d shown up to bury his own father. “I don’t know how. But I hope you do.”
Edward couldn’t feel the cold rain seeping through his hair and running down his scalp. But he felt the chill of the April day down in his knitted bones. He could barely make out the lyrics of the song his youngest brother, Holden, was singing. But he felt the mournful melody deep in his soul.
His mother and brothers, colleagues from the KCPD and more family friends than he could count were gathered on the opposite side of the copse of evergreens and ash trees to his back. But here were the only two people he wanted to be with right now. With his cane sinking into the mud, he awkwardly knelt down in front of the pink marble gravestone and wiped the rain away from the words carved there.
Beloved Wife. Beloved Daughter.
Cara and Melinda Kincaid. He should be in the ground beside them. Instead of them.
Tears burned in his eyes, but he didn’t shed them. He was all cried out months ago.
He heard the minister talking. He’d gotten this far. If he was going to do this thing, if he was going to face those mourners, he’d better get moving.
“I can’t stay today, girls,” he whispered. The thick, moist air swallowed up the gravelly rasp of his voice. “But I wanted…I wanted you to know that I’m sober today. I’m doing it for Dad. I wish I’d been strong enough to get my act together for you. I’m going to do right by him—by you, too. I threw out the bottles the night I got the call about…his murder. That’s five days sober. I’m going to make it one more.” One day at a time was what his AA sponsor kept telling him. One day was about all he had in him anymore. “I promise.”
Melinda would have jumped up and thrown herself into his arms to congratulate him. Despite her young age and her disability, his daughter had always been intuitive about moods. She knew when her daddy needed a hug, when he needed to be left alone, and when he needed someone to cheer him on and make him smile.
Five days without a drink wasn’t much for a man who’d been trying to numb his brain and heart since Christmas Eve, the first anniversary of their deaths. But Melinda’s pure love would have made him feel as though five days was the entire world. Cara would have been a little more low-key about the whole thing, saying something that would keep him from getting a big head about his accomplishment. And later, she’d find a way to congratulate him privately, personally—and very thoroughly. His two girls would have inspired him to live better than he had been, try harder than he knew how, feel more than he’d ever thought possible.
If only his wife and daughter were still with him. He didn’t want to be at the cemetery. He didn’t want to accept another death—especially not this one. He didn’t want to feel a damn thing.
But he owed his father a hell of a lot more than drinking himself stupid and not showing up for his funeral.
“I want you to look for Grandpa, angel.” Leaning heavily on his cane, Edward pushed himself up to his feet. “Grandpa’s coming to see you, he missed you so much. Give him a hug.”
His canvas jacket was soaked and clinging to his shoulders before he could finally tear himself away from the memories and guilt. But once his mind was back in the present, Edward turned his ear toward the ceremony continuing just thirty yards or so behind him. Holden had finished his song, and KCPD’s lady commissioner was speaking now, eulogizing his father. “Deputy Commissioner John Kincaid was the finest example of what being a Kansas City police officer is all about.”
Edward nodded in silent agreement and cut through the trees to study the sea of umbrellas and listen to the remainder of the service. The world itself was weeping at the injustice of the day. John Kincaid had inspired him to join KCPD. He’d taught Edward how to be a cop, a man, and a father—teaching by example. Edward had already lost more than he could stand when his wife and daughter were murdered. How was he supposed to deal with his father being beaten and shot to death as well?
The world made no sense. What was the point of following the rules and fighting for justice and giving a damn when the bad guys still won?
Back when he’d been an active-duty investigator and undercover cop for KCPD, he’d dealt with violence and death nearly every day, but he’d been able to remain detached and focused enough to get his job done. But then he’d lost Cara and Melinda, and death had become an inescapable, personal, destructive demon. Now his father, a good man—the man he’d once aspired to be—had been murdered as well.
How many pieces of his soul did a man have in him to lose?
Commissioner Shauna Cartwright finished her eulogy, and the blue KCPD uniforms all bowed their heads for the minister’s closing prayer. The twenty-one gun salute visibly jolted through his mother, Susan Kincaid, whom he could see sitting between two of his brothers—Atticus and Holden. His brothers wore their full dress KCPD uniforms with black mourning ribbons draped across the badges on their chests. He searched beyond the green awning to find his next eldest brother, Sawyer, standing hatless in the rain. He wore KCPD dress as well. Sawyer stood next to William Caldwell, one of their family’s oldest friends. Bill was leaning in, offering some condolence or words of wisdom that Sawyer would hear but not take, especially if the words involved
let someone else handle this.
Bill Caldwell was like an uncle to them—having been a fraternity brother of their father’s and fishing buddy before any of John Kincaid’s sons were even born.
Edward was looking at a family in stoic devastation. It wasn’t a world that he’d ever wanted to welcome them to.
“What the…?” Edward pulled his shoulders back and stood a little taller. “Don’t do this, Atticus.”
It was one thing to feel the emptiness and injustice of the day. It was another to have to put words to it and deal with anybody else’s pain. But his brother had broken away from the gathering and was striding straight toward him.
Atticus’s gray eyes matched his, as determined to have this conversation as Edward wished he could avoid it. Stubborn son of a gun. Atticus wasn’t a man he could glare away. Not if the proffered hand was any indication.
“Don’t tell me you don’t recognize what this means, Edward. It’s good to see you.”
The idea of turning around and walking away remained a distinct possibility. But the idea of explaining his cowardice to Cara or Melinda, who rested only a few yards away, was even more untenable. So he reached out and shook Atticus’s hand, grudgingly reconnecting with his family. Grief and anger and understanding passed between them. “Don’t you dare try to hug me.”
Atticus almost laughed at his grinch-like reply. But this wasn’t a day for laughter. Instead, his younger brother turned and stood beside him, watching as friends and family dispersed, ducking under umbrellas and walking down the hill toward their cars.
They stood together, like the old days, back when John Kincaid’s four sons had been invincible. Those days were long gone—for Edward, at least. The soft patter of the rain on the overhanging trees should have been a soothing sound. But Edward heard each plop against every branch like the ticking of a clock. Atticus didn’t do anything without a purpose, and he seriously doubted that this reunion was just a “Hey—how are you doing?” moment.
“You should come say hi to Mom. She knows you’re here, but it’d mean a lot to her if you made the effort to touch base.” He should have suspected Atticus’s mission before he spoke. “She’s hurting. We all are.”
Welcome to my hell
But it was a sentiment he would never utter aloud to his grieving brother. Edward inhaled a deep breath and tried to say something appropriately sympathetic. “I’m sure Mom has invited people over to the house, but I can’t do the small-talk thing. Just give her my love.”
“Give it to her yourself. Let me get Sawyer and Holden on this. We’ll keep everyone away and you can have a private moment with her before she leaves Mt. Washington.”
Grandma needs a hug, too
. Edward ducked his head and turned away as his daughter’s sweet voice tormented his conscience.
He could wallow in grief and anger all he wanted. But he’d never been able to say no to his little girl.
His mother needed him right now. His family needed him. Edward had nothing left to give, nothing left to say. But for Cara and Melinda—and for John Kincaid—he’d find the strength to at least go through the motions. He’d find the caring that had been gutted from him somewhere along the way.
“I’ll meet you by her car in ten minutes.”
GAVE YOU BOYS
literary names, I didn’t think you’d take them to heart.” Susan Kincaid, dedicated English teacher and loving wife and mother, patted Edward’s knee as she scooted closer beside him in the rear seat of the funeral home’s limousine, still parked on the road that twisted through Mt. Washington cemetery. “Edward Rochester Kincaid—just like Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester—you’ve been burned so badly by the world that you feel your only comfort is to hide away from it. He didn’t find peace until he was forced from his seclusion by Jane. He didn’t understand how much he was loved and needed, either.” Resting one hand on the folded American flag that sat in her lap, she reached over and laced her fingers together with Edward’s. “These are hellish circumstances to force you from your seclusion. But I’m so glad you’re here, son. It…soothes me.”
Soothing? Edward was shaking inside his skin with raw emotion and the uncertainty about what he should—and could—do to help his family through this tragedy.
Cocooned by the rain and three younger brothers who stood guard outside the long black car to ensure their privacy, the limo’s plush interior absorbed the scoffing noise Edward made. He breathed in his mother’s subtle perfume along with the musty dampness that clung to their clothes and took note of the slight tremor in her chilled fingers as they nested inside his broader, callused, scarred-up hand. He’d never been given much to romantic notions, not even before a killer bent on revenge had torn his life apart.
A year and a half ago Edward had been a damn good cop, one of the best undercover operatives KCPD’s drug enforcement division had ever put on the streets. Edward and his team had worked months to put one of Kansas City’s top cocaine suppliers out of business. Yet a technicality had allowed André Butler to walk away after a mistrial. Sure, Butler’s empire had been destroyed, his sources outed. But until a second trial could be mounted, the self-proclaimed modern gangster had walked out of the courthouse a free man—a free man looking for payback against the cop he’d trusted like a brother—a brother who had ultimately betrayed him.
Butler had been released on December twenty-third. His first stop after spending the night with a girlfriend and stealing her car the next morning? Edward’s front yard. According to witnesses, Melinda had been building a snowman that day, keeping herself busy while Cara loaded presents into the car for the Kincaids’ traditional Christmas Eve get-together at his parents’ home. Butler had lured Melinda out to the street, shot Cara when she tried to protect their trusting little girl and then shot Melinda to silence her wailing cries over her fallen mother. Edward had been out to pick up a bicycle with training wheels for Melinda’s Christmas present when he got the call about Butler being spotted near his own address. He’d raced and skidded over slushy, snow-packed streets in a desperate effort to get to his family.
By the time he turned the corner onto his block, Edward knew he was already too late. Butler ran to his car, turning his gun on Edward’s speeding SUV and firing off multiple shots. Edward prayed the bastard’s neck hadn’t snapped when he ran him down—that he’d died a slow, painful death. Though he’d barely felt it at the time, one of the bullets had cracked his windshield and pierced his chest, doing plenty of damage to his insides. Plowing over Butler, crashing through a line of parked cars and wrapping his engine around a tree had done even more. With both legs busted and his own blood leaving a crimson trail across the snow, Edward had crawled to the front sidewalk to try to breathe life back into the women he loved.
He’d taken out the bad guy, but he couldn’t save them.
Yeah, any romantic notions he might have once had were long gone.
His mother’s grip steadied as her soft voice jerked him back to the present. Why had he gone back to that morning? Too many beers had numbed his memory for too many months. But now that the physical mess of reclaiming sobriety had passed, every detail of that morning—every image, every hurt, every blame—stuck in his head with painful clarity.
He had no business being here, no business making this day any worse for his family than it already was. “Mom, I…”
Edward tried to withdraw his hand, but Susan held on tight.
He stared down at their interlocking fingers, resting atop his thigh. He was supposed to say something now. Unlike smooth-talking Holden, or Atticus who’d always been smart enough to figure out what needed to be said, or even Sawyer, who led with his heart and blazed ahead and dealt with the consequences later, Edward wished he was eloquent enough to either compliment his mother’s strength or console her grief. But his instincts about such things were rusty from months of lonely isolation, and the right words wouldn’t come.
They didn’t have to. Susan Kincaid hadn’t been married to a cop or raised four more for nothing. “I understand that you’re not ready to face a crowd of well-wishers. I’m sure the comparisons to Cara and Melinda’s funerals must be overwhelming. But it means everything to me that you made the effort to be here. For your family.”