The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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Sworn to Protect

Celeste Langley may be the NYPD’s prime suspect in her brother’s murder, but Detective Travis Quinn is convinced she didn’t do it. She’s too kind and warmhearted…and his feelings for her are far too strong.

But before they can have any kind of future, Travis must keep Celeste safe. First from the very system he has sworn to uphold, and then from a cold-blooded murderer who has marked Celeste as his next victim. Now the safest place for her to be is in the shelter of Travis’s arms.…

Dear Reader,

Home, family, community and love. These are the values we cherish most in our lives—the ideals that ground us, comfort us, move us. They certainly provide the perfect inspiration around which to build a romance collection that will touch the heart.

And so we are thrilled to offer you the Harlequin Heartwarming series. Each of these special stories is a wholesome, heartfelt romance imbued with the traditional values so important to you. They are books you can share proudly with friends and family. And the authors featured in this collection are some of the most talented storytellers writing today, including favorites such as Roz Denny Fox, Amy Knupp and Mary Anne Wilson. We’ve selected these stories especially for you based on their overriding qualities of emotion and tenderness, and they center around your favorite themes—children, weddings, second chances, the reunion of families, the quest to find a true home and, of course, sweet romance.

So curl up in your favorite chair, relax and prepare for a heartwarming reading experience!

Sincerely,

The Editors

DAWN STEWARDSON

After spending most of her life in Toronto, Ontario, Dawn has lived for the past ten years in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, with her husband, John, and their two large dogs. They all enjoy the mild climate, the ocean, hiking in the mountains and the city’s huge assortment of wonderful restaurants. (The humans enjoy those in person, the dogs via doggie bags.)

Dawn Stewardson

The Shelter of His Arms

With special thanks to fellow authors
Linda Markowiak and Judith Arnold
for sharing their expertise.

To John, always

CHAPTER ONE

Sunday, October 3, 8:03 p.m.

T
HE
UPPER
EAST
SIDE
is arguably the best neighborhood in Manhattan and the old building was elegant—not the sort of place that would routinely have a crime-scene van and blue-and-whites sitting outside the entrance.

Travis parked behind one of the cruisers, then he and Hank climbed out into the gathering dusk and headed up the front steps.

“Homicide.” He flashed his detective’s shield at the officer guarding the door.

“Top floor,” she told them. “Apartment 507.”

As they passed the double row of entrance buzzers, he noted the gray residue of powder that said the buzzers had been dusted for prints.

Given the time elapsed, there wasn’t much hope anything useful would come of it, but he was glad the crime-scene techs were being thorough.

On five, another uniform was posted outside 507. Yellow police tape secured the hallway in front of both it and the adjacent apartment.

“What’s with the second apartment, Officer?” Travis asked, showing his badge again.

“It’s actually one apartment with an adjoining office. The victim was a psychiatrist.”

Travis nodded. “What else do we know?”

“Name was Steve Parker. Lived alone. Divorced, according to the next-door neighbor. And it looks like he was shot sometime yesterday.”

“Nobody heard anything?” Hank asked.

“Well, our people are questioning the other occupants, but nobody called in a shooting. And in a building like this, if someone heard shots... I’d say the perp used a silencer.”

“I’d say you’re probably right,” Travis agreed. “How about the doors? Any sign of forced entry?”

“Uh-uh.”

“Who discovered the body?”

“The building manager. He had an appointment to see the vic about some repairs. And when Parker didn’t answer his door...”

Travis nodded. “We’ll want to talk to him, but we’ll have a look inside first. The medical examiner arrived yet?”

“Uh-huh. Ten minutes ago.”

When the officer turned to open the door, an all-too-familiar feeling of uneasiness crawled up Travis’s spine. Even after four years in Homicide, walking in on a murder scene hadn’t become routine to him. Each was different, and you never knew just how grisly any particular one would be.

This didn’t seem too bad, he saw, relaxing a little as they stepped into the apartment. Nothing gruesome. Not at first glance, anyway.

A large, expensively furnished living room lay beyond the foyer—the body of a white, middle-aged man sprawled on the floor. Rob Gentry, an M.E. Travis and Hank had crossed paths with several times before, stood over it, making notes. A couple of the tech team members were methodically working away in the room. The others would be scattered throughout the rest of the apartment.

Hank closed the door; Gentry looked over and nodded a greeting.

Travis nodded back, breathing shallowly as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves. At his very first homicide, the coppery smell of drying blood had made him throw up. Since then, he’d been more careful.

“I hear he was a psychiatrist,” he said to Gentry.

“Right. In private practice. His office area is through there,” he added, gesturing in the direction of a hall that ran off the far corner of the living room.

“Forty-five years old, according to his driver’s license.” This time, Gentry gestured toward the coffee table. Its surface was clear except for a drugstore photo envelope sitting at one end and a wallet at the other.

“Wallet was in his bedroom,” he said as Travis focused on it. “One of the techs brought it out.”

The M.E. turned toward the body again and continued giving them details. “Killed last night between about nine and midnight. Four .38-caliber wounds to the chest from close range. Died almost instantly. Nothing indicates he was trying to defend himself.”

“So he probably knew the killer. Had no concern about letting him in, then got taken by surprise.”

“That’s how I read it. Oh, and from the angle of the entry wounds I’d say the perp was quite a bit shorter than Parker. Probably not more than five-seven or -eight.”

“Possibly female, then,” Travis said to Hank. “That could explain why the vic was taken by surprise.”

He nodded. “A .38’s a lady’s gun.”

“By the way,” Gentry said, “there’s a contact-in-emergency card in his wallet.”

Travis picked up the wallet, flipped through it and removed the card.

Originally, “Adele Langley” and “Mother” had been printed on the next-of-kin and relationship lines. That information had been scratched through and replaced with “Celeste Langley” and “Sister.” The phone number had been changed, as well.

Absently, he wondered whether the mother had died or if Parker had just decided the sister would make a better contact.

“Langley, not Parker,” Hank said, peering at the card. “Mother must have remarried before she had the daughter.”

“Hey, you should be a detective,” Travis told him.

He grinned. “Yeah, well, guess we’d better send a uniform to the sister’s and let her know what’s happened. Give me that number and I’ll get an address to go with it.”

As Hank took his cell phone from his pocket, Travis handed him the card. Then he walked over to one of the techs and asked if they’d come across an address book.

“Uh-huh. There’s one in the end table.”

“Good. If it hasn’t already been checked for prints would you mind doing that right away? I’d like to take it with me. And there’s got to be an appointment book in the office. Same thing with it. Oh, and if there’s a Rolodex, it, too.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.”

He’d have to call Parker’s Monday appointments and cancel them, then get one of the support staff to do the same for the rest of the week.

The apartment would remain a restricted crime scene until they were sure they had everything they needed. And he didn’t want any patients showing up, expecting a session, and finding yellow tape and an officer outside the door.

After glancing around the room and seeing nothing else that grabbed his attention, he headed back across to the coffee table and picked up the photo envelope. The label on it was dated a year ago; the snapshots looked as if they were from a family gathering of some sort.

On the back of each picture, in the same neat printing as on the next-of-kin card, were the names of the people in the shot.

There were three of Parker with the same older woman. Printed on them was “Me and Mom.”

After flipping past a few more pictures, Travis paused at one of “Mom” standing beside a much younger woman—an attractive blonde.

“Not bad,” Hank commented, finishing his call and sticking the phone back in his pocket. “But her hair’s too short.”

Travis turned the photo over. It bore the words “Mom and Celeste.”

“The sister,” he said, just as the officer outside the door opened it and called, “Detectives?”

“Yeah?” Hank said.

“Got a minute?”

Through the doorway, Travis could see a second uniform in the hallway—clearly dying to tell them something.

“There’s a guy who’s been staying with a friend in 501,” he began before they’d even stepped out of the apartment. “He came home around ten last night. And when he got off the elevator a woman was in the hall here, hurrying for the stairs. He’d never seen her before, but like I said, he’s only a visitor.”

Travis glanced toward the staircase at the end of the hallway. Few people on the fifth floor of a building would choose the stairs over an elevator. Not unless they were trying to avoid being seen.

“Did your guy have any idea which apartment she’d come from?” Hank was asking.

“No.”

“Would you mind checking that out for us?” Travis said. “See if anyone on this floor had a female visitor last night. And if they did, get an ID and ask what time she left.”

“Sure. But I already know nobody’s home in a few of these apartments.”

“Well, get answers where you can. And if nobody on five can tell you who she was, we’ll want to ask
all
the occupants about her. How good a description do you have?”

“Not very. The guy only saw her from the back. But he figured she was in her twenties or thirties and...” The officer checked his notebook. “She looked ‘stylish.’ I don’t know how he could tell that from the back, but it’s what he said. She was average height, with short blond hair, and was wearing a gray trench coat. Had a big black purse slung over her shoulder. Or it might have been a briefcase with a strap. He wasn’t sure.”

Travis barely registered the last sentence. His mind had caught on the “short blond hair.” He turned to Hank, reading his own thoughts in his partner’s eyes.

There were probably half a million young women with short blond hair in New York City. Even so, instead of sending a uniform to notify the sister they’d go themselves.

* * *

C
ELESTE
REREAD
THE
SENTENCE
a third time. There was something decidedly awkward about it, but she couldn’t quite figure out how to fix it. Finally, she gave up and set her pencil down on top of the manuscript.

She just hadn’t been working up to speed lately—a serious problem when publishers always wanted a fast turnaround. However, past nine-thirty at night was definitely time to give up.

After switching off the desk lamp, she wandered from the spare bedroom she used as her office to the living room and stood staring down at the street, wondering how long it would be until she began to feel human once more.

Months yet, her friends had warned her. Probably a year before she was her old self again. She’d been close to her mother, so she couldn’t expect to just bounce right back to normal.

Aunt Nancy had even suggested grief counseling, but that simply wasn’t her. She’d always coped with her problems on her own.

Telling herself that things could only get better, she absently watched a black Mustang pull up in the No Standing zone outside her building’s entrance.

The two men who climbed out were both tall, dark...and, yes, she’d give both of them handsome, too. They were somewhere in their thirties, and the driver put her in mind of Alec Baldwin.

That thought had barely formed before she recalled how annoyed her estranged husband used to get when she’d say that someone reminded her of a movie star. Bryce had always told her comparisons like that were stupid.

Of course, he’d thought a lot of things she did were stupid. Particularly toward the end.

As she looked down at the street again, to where the two men stood talking in front of the car, Snoops leaped onto the window seat and arched his back, demanding attention.

When she picked the cat up and cuddled him, he nuzzled his cold nose against her neck—his version of a kiss.

“Thanks, little guy,” she murmured. “I needed that.”

* * *

T
RAVIS
AND
HANK
had almost reached the stairs of the stately old brownstone when Travis decided the element of surprise would be a good idea. If they could simply knock on Celeste Langley’s door, without giving her any advance warning...

“Let’s wait outside a few minutes,” he suggested. “See if we can get in without pressing her buzzer.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Hank said.

That was hardly a news flash. Hank was three years older than Travis and had been in Homicide longer. But they’d been partners for long enough that they generally thought alike—which was exactly what they’d been doing tonight.

During the drive over from Parker’s apartment, they’d agreed there wasn’t much chance his sister was their killer. Aside from anything else, they
never
caught the cases that were easily solved.

And even if Langley
had
been visiting her brother last night, it hardly proved she was a murderer. Parker could well have been alive when she left.

Still, you never knew what the element of surprise would produce.

“I’d say we just got lucky,” Hank said as a teenager came along and started up the steps with keys in his hand.

“Excuse me?” Travis said. “NYPD detectives,” he added, showing his badge when the kid turned toward them. “You mind letting us in?”

“I...” He glanced nervously at the gold shield, then shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

They took the stairs and headed along the hall to 304, Travis not looking forward to what lay ahead. Informing the next of kin was never a fun job, so they took turns with the ones they did themselves. And this one belonged to him.

Hank knocked on the door, then held his badge up toward the peephole when they heard a faint noise from inside. “Police detectives, Ms. Langley.”

“How did you get in?”

“Someone coming home.”

“Do you have other identification?”

She was, Travis thought as Hank produced his photo ID, a typically suspicious New Yorker—which wasn’t a bad thing to be.

A couple of locks clicked, then the door opened and Celeste Langley gazed warily out at them.

The snapshot hadn’t done her justice. In living color, her eyes were the deep blue of sapphires. Her mouth was positively lush, and while in the picture she’d been wearing a tailored suit, tonight she had on a dark silk shirt and slacks that revealed slim curves.

Reminding himself why they were here, he said, “I’m Detective Ballantyne’s partner, Ms. Langley. Detective Travis Quinn. May we come in? We need to talk to you.”

For a moment he thought she was going to ask what this was about, then she simply stepped backward and ushered them inside.

Travis closed the door and followed her and Hank into the living room—wishing he were just about anywhere else. He knew she was assuming they’d come with bad news. People always did. But that didn’t make delivering it any easier.

He glanced around as they sat down, doing his standard quick assessment. The room, large enough to easily serve as a combined living and dining room, was tastefully decorated with quality furniture. The antique dining room suite was undoubtedly from the 1800s, or even earlier, and he’d guess that the artwork was worth a fair bit.

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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