The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming) (3 page)

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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“May we come in and talk to you?” Hank asked.

“What about?”

“It would be better if we came inside,” he said.

The woman was clearly uneasy, but most people were when a couple of detectives appeared at the door. After another look at Hank’s ID, she led them into the living room.

“We’re here about Steve Parker,” Hank began after they sat down. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but he was murdered on Saturday evening.”

“Oh, no,” she whispered.

Her eyes grew misty as Hank elaborated. When he was done, she murmured, “That’s so awful. Sometimes I wonder why people live in this city.”

After giving her a minute, he took his notebook from his pocket and said, “I’m afraid we have to ask you some questions.”

“Yes. Of course.”

“How long had you been seeing Dr. Parker?”

She hesitated briefly. “You aren’t under the impression that I’ve seen him recently, are you?”

“We’re only aware that you dated him.”

“Yes, I did. But it was from early June until about a month ago. Then we decided things just weren’t working out.”

“I see. And have you had contact with him since?”

“No. We...well, we didn’t see any sense in pretending we were going to remain friends when we wouldn’t. So the end was the end.”

Hank nodded. “What about enemies? Do you know if he had any?”

“If he did, he didn’t tell me about them.”

“And when the two of you called it quits? Did that have anything to do with another woman?”

“No, it was...basically, we’d just come to realize that we didn’t have much in common.”

“And what about another woman since? Were you aware that he was seeing anyone?”

Flores hesitated again before saying, “No. As I told you, there’s been no contact. Not even a phone call.”

“Well, the reason I asked is that we believe he had a female visitor on Saturday evening. Would you have any idea who it could have been? Did he have any women friends who might have just dropped by or—”

“You think a woman killed him?”

“We’d simply like to question his visitor. So, as I said, if you have any idea...”

“I don’t. I’d like to help you, but I really don’t.”

Hank nodded. “I’m sorry I have to ask this, but just for the record, where were you on Saturday evening?”

“I was with a friend,” she said slowly. “A female friend. She came over around seven, we had dinner here, then watched an old video.
The English Patient.
We’re both Ralph Fiennes fans. And it’s a long movie, so she didn’t leave until after midnight. Do you want more details?”

“No, but I need your friend’s name and number. Again, it’s only for the record.”

“Her name is Rhonda Stirling. And her number is 555-1623.”

Hank jotted that down, then closed his notebook and thanked Flores for her time.

Travis added his own thanks, gave her his card and asked her to call if she thought of anything that might help them.

“Anything at all,” he added before she closed the door.

“What do you think?” he said as he and Hank started down the hall.

“Same as you. Our wit put the blonde in the hall around ten. M.E.’s estimated time of death is between nine and midnight. Flores was watching her video the entire time.”

“You know that’s not what I meant. Do you think she was lying?”

Hank shrugged. “Always a possibility.”

“I’ve got a feeling that either she was or there’s something she held back. And she knew Rhonda Stirling’s number without looking it up. Which probably means they’re pretty good friends.”

“You’re saying good enough that Rhonda might give her a phony alibi?”

“It wouldn’t be a first.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll check it out. But at this point Flores is a whole lot lower on my list than Parker’s sister.”

Travis frowned. He and Hank rarely had different gut reactions to people, and he’d be a whole lot happier if they’d read Celeste Langley the same way. As in, innocent.

They reached the elevators and silently waited—until Hank caught his gaze and said, “I was right last night, wasn’t I. Something about that woman got to you.”

He shook his head. “I told you, I just felt sorry for her.”

Hank eyed him, clearly not buying that. But when he spoke again he simply said, “Good. ’Cuz I’d hate you to start feeling anything more, then discover she’s our perp.”

* * *

A
LITTLE
BEFORE
TEN
, Travis and Hank called it a night and started uptown, heading for Manhattan North Homicide so Hank could pick up his truck and get home to Jersey.

He had a house on a couple of acres, not far from Madison. It was a bit of a commute, but he’d bought there because his ex-wife had wanted to live in the “country.” They weren’t there long, though, before Jane left him. Like so many cops’ wives, she just hadn’t been able to take the night work and impossible hours.

They made marriage a risky proposition for a cop, and one Travis intended to continue avoiding—despite his mother’s hints that thirty-three was more than old enough to be settling down.

Turning his thoughts back to their newest case, he began mentally reviewing the evening.

They’d made six stops after leaving Jill Flores and had caught five more people at home. Three of Parker’s friends and two of his long-term patients.

All had professed shock at hearing he’d been murdered. Each had seemed sincerely upset. None had told them anything helpful.

Of course he’d given them all his card, so there was a chance that one of them would think of something useful and get back to him. Or maybe a detail neither he nor Hank had picked up on immediately would fall into place later.

That often happened. One person you questioned said something that eventually came together with what another one told you.

Adding up bits and pieces was how you usually solved homicide cases.

He turned onto East 119th, and as they neared the parking garage, he asked Hank, “What do you want to do in the morning?”

“Sleep in.”

Travis grinned. “I can live with that. How about I see you here at ten?”

“I could probably manage nine-thirty. That would let us talk to a few more people on our Parker list, then spend the afternoon playing catch-up.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Despite the pictures Hollywood painted, big-city homicide detectives didn’t have the luxury of devoting all their time to a single case. He and Hank routinely had more of them on the go than they could reasonably juggle.

They reached the garage and his partner climbed out, then turned to give Travis a tired wave. As he disappeared into the garage, Travis started back downtown.

One of the good things about both living and working in Manhattan was you were never very far from where you were going. Which meant that in mere minutes, barring a traffic crunch, he’d be home.

Just as he was debating whether the first thing he’d have when he got there was a hot shower or a cold beer, his phone rang.

Hoping it wasn’t someone calling about a fresh homicide, he dug the phone from his pocket and answered it.

“Detective Quinn, it’s Celeste Langley again.”

Instantly, he felt the edges of his brain growing fuzzy.

“I’m so sorry to phone this late, but—”

“Don’t worry about it. I barely finished working,” he said, thinking she sounded upset. “In fact, I’m still on my way home.”

“That’s a very long day.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“I...Detective, I just had a call from a man who told me he was one of Steve’s patients.”

Travis felt an icy numbness at the base of his spine, the sensation he always felt when he knew he was hearing something
not
good.

“He said that you and Detective Ballantyne had been to see him, and—”

“What was his name?”

“Evan Reese.”

Definitely
not good. Reese had been seeing Steve Parker five days a week for the past three years, but he was clearly a long way from being cured of whatever his problem was.

Not that Travis figured he was any expert in the field of psychiatry, but it didn’t take Sigmund Freud to recognize a mentally unbalanced person. And his read on Reese was that the man might be dangerous.

“We talked to him a couple of hours ago,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “Why did he phone you?”

“He said he wanted to offer his condolences. But...well, the thing is, the conversation got weird enough to make me nervous.”

Weird.
Crap. They were well beyond not good.

“Even so, I wouldn’t be calling except that I simply couldn’t figure out why you’d tell him about me, let alone give him my number. So I decided that if I bothered you for just long enough to get an explanation, I’d sleep a lot better.”

“Ms. Langley...did he
say
we gave him your number? Or are you only assuming—”

“No. He said you happened to mention Steve had a sister, and that when he told you he’d like to offer me his sympathies you gave him the number.”

“Well, he lied.”

“You mean about your giving him my number? Or do you mean you didn’t even mention me?”

“Not a word.”

“Oh,” she murmured.

Her tone told him he’d just upped her anxiety level.

“Then how did he even know I existed?” she asked.

“Your brother must have talked about you.”

“No, that can’t be it.”

“He wouldn’t have had to say much.”

“But he wouldn’t have said
anything.
I wasn’t an important part of Steve’s life. I don’t imagine he ever talked about me to anyone, and he’d definitely never have said a word about his personal life to his patients.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. It would have been inappropriate, and one thing I do know about Steve is that he was very professional.”

Okay, if it wasn’t Parker who’d told Reese...

Travis tried to think of another possibility but came up empty—probably because his mind was so closely focused on the fact that since Reese had Celeste Langley’s number he likely had her address, as well.

That thought reminded him he’d forgotten to ask an obvious question, so he said, “Regardless of how Reese knew about you, is your number listed? Could he have gotten it from Information?”

“Uh-uh. It’s unlisted.”

“Then I think we’d better talk some more about this face-to-face. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“No, wait. Coming here at this time of night would be crazy. I can—”

“Five minutes,” he repeated. “Ten, max. And...” He hesitated.

What would happen if Reese showed up at her place?

He considered the question for a couple of seconds, then decided that when she’d been so cautious about letting him and Hank in last night, she’d never open her door to a stranger. Especially not one like Reese.

And that meant there was no point in warning her not to. It would only make her more upset.

“And what?” she said.

“Nothing. Nothing that can’t wait till I get there.”

CHAPTER THREE

Monday, October 4, 10:23 p.m.

G
AZING
OUT
INTO
the night, stroking Snoops’s soft gray fur while she watched for Travis Quinn, Celeste couldn’t help feeling a little dumb for not even considering that Evan Reese might have been lying.

If that possibility had occurred to her, she’d never have bothered Quinn. But she had. And despite her guilt about that, she wasn’t entirely unhappy that he was on his way over.

She was feeling a chilliness that had nothing to do with the room temperature. If Reese hadn’t gotten her number from the detectives, then where?

And how had he even connected her to Steve when their last names were different? Obviously, he’d somehow learned Steve had a sister, but just how had he honed in on her?

While she anxiously watched the street, a car sped down it and pulled to an abrupt stop in front of her building. A black Mustang. The car Travis Quinn had been driving last night.

A sense of relief enveloped her as she watched him climb out. There was something about him that she found extremely reassuring. Something in addition to his being a cop.

In part, she knew, it was simply that he looked like a man accustomed to taking charge. He moved with a fluid confidence, and his features, regular as they were, were decidedly masculine.

But there was more to it than that. And although she hadn’t managed to put her finger on exactly what it was, she’d caught herself wondering about it a dozen times during the day.

All she felt certain of was that it had to do with the way he’d watched her last night. She’d been aware of his eyes on her almost the entire time.

Strangely enough, it hadn’t made her uncomfortable. In fact, it had made her feel as if he was on her side.

Oh, she realized that didn’t make sense. He and his partner had simply come to tell her about Steve. There’d been no question of “sides.” Yet, whether it made sense or not, that was how she’d felt.

She continued gazing down at him until he’d walked halfway up the front steps and disappeared from view. Then she hurried to the entrance hall.

“Hi,” she said, pressing the intercom button after her buzzer sounded.

“It’s me.”

“I know. I was watching for you.”

Once she’d released the downstairs lock, she opened her door so she could wait for him in the doorway. A minute later he strode out of the stairwell and started along the hall toward her.

He was taller than she’d remembered him. And even more attractive. His dark eyes were the color of rich chocolate, and the little laugh lines around them were appealing.

Appealing.
Her choice of that particular word surprised her.

Since her marriage had fallen apart, she’d only been aware of good-looking men in the abstract. And thinking in terms of “appealing” was moving from the abstract to the concrete.

Be careful, she warned herself. The last thing she needed was her thoughts wandering along those lines.

“I feel terrible about dragging you over here so late,” she said, gesturing him inside.

“You didn’t drag me—I insisted. And the time doesn’t matter. There’s nobody waiting at home for me, and if I cared about nine-to-five, I wouldn’t be a cop.”

“Well, even so... Can I at least get you something? Coffee? Or soda? I don’t have any beer.”

“Do I look like a beer kind of guy?”

“Aren’t most men?”

He smiled. She smiled back, aware it was the first time she’d felt like smiling all day.

“A cold soda would be nice,” he said.

He trailed along as she headed for the fridge. When she turned to set the cans on the counter he seemed to have completely filled her little galley kitchen with his presence. It made her far more aware of him than she felt comfortable with.

Telling herself a second time to be careful, she reached for the tab on the first can.

“Want me to do that?”

“Sure. I’ll get the glasses.”

By the time she had, he’d opened the sodas. He poured them into the glasses, then followed her into the living room.

“So,” he said as they sat down. “Tell me more about Reese’s call.”

She hesitated, suddenly afraid that once she had he’d think her phoning him had been downright silly.

“You said the conversation got weird,” he prompted.

“Well...yes, it did, although it started out normally enough. I mean, I was surprised when he introduced himself as one of Steve’s patients. But if he’d simply said he was sorry about what had happened, I probably wouldn’t have given his calling a second thought.”

“He said more, though.”

“Yes. First, he got into how awful the timing was for me—with my mother having died so recently.”

“How would he know about that?”

“I assume Steve told him. I know I said he’d never talk about his personal life with a patient, but he canceled some of his appointments after the accident. So, if he canceled one of Reese’s I guess he explained why.”

Travis Quinn nodded for her to continue.

“Initially, he just seemed concerned about me. But then he began getting personal.”

“Saying...?”

“Well, for example, he asked if my father was alive. And when I said that he died a few years ago, Reese said he certainly hoped I had
somebody
to lean on.

“I suppose that sounds innocent enough when I repeat it, but when he said it...”

“How did you respond?”

“I told him I had some really supportive friends. Then I wondered if, instead of that, I should have said I was in a serious relationship.”

“Are you?”

“No.”

She waited a beat, half expecting him to tell her how
he
thought she should have handled it. When he didn’t, she said, “At any rate, the next thing he asked was whether I lived alone, and that was when I
really
began getting nervous.”

“And you said...?”

“That there was no need for him to worry about me. That my building’s very secure and the neighbors all watch out for one another.”

“Your building isn’t bad. Is the part about the neighbors true?”

“Not exactly. The ones I’ve met seem nice enough, but I barely know them. I haven’t lived here long.”

He didn’t ask for more details. However, his expression said he’d like them, so she added, “I left my husband in January and took a sublet while I looked for something permanent. I’ve only been here since June.”

“Ah.” He slowly rubbed his jaw, which drew her attention to his four o’clock shadow and reminded her how long a day he’d had.

“Detective Quinn—”

“Travis,” he said. “Why don’t you call me Travis.”

He hadn’t even spoken all the words before he began wondering what he was doing. He was here because he was a cop, not to get friendly with the woman.

She looked a little surprised, but smiled and said, “Call me Celeste, then.”

Nodding, he told himself he’d only suggested they drop the formality because it felt strange to be sitting here drinking soda with her and calling her Ms. Langley. It had been nothing more than that.

Sure, buddy. Let’s be honest and admit you like her.

The imaginary voice sounded so much like Hank’s it almost made him smile.

Of course, he didn’t know her well enough to really
like
her yet. But he’d admit to finding her attractive. After all, he’d been admitting that—to himself, at least—since last night.

And the fact that he did was hardly surprising. Her smile was fantastic. And she had a beautiful mouth. Basically, she had a beautiful
everything.

It made him curious about what sort of idiot her husband must be—to have given her reason to leave him. But that was
not
what he should be thinking about.

Scrambling to remember where they’d left off, he said, “So, getting back to Reese, you told him not to worry about you and then...?”

“He said he couldn’t help it. Because... This was what
truly
scared me. He said the two of us are cosmically connected.”

Travis felt that icy numbness at the base of his spine once more. “Cosmically connected. Did you ask exactly what he meant by that?”

“Uh-huh. And he said part of it was that I was an editor and he was a writer, so we were like two halves of a whole. But, far more significant, I was Steve’s sister. And Steve had been a very important part of his life. Which meant we had to look out for each other. So he’d keep in touch.”

Terrific. Just what she needed.

“Travis, he left me with such a creepy-crawly feeling I didn’t know what to do.”

“Well, you did the right thing by phoning me.”

“Then you don’t think I overreacted?”

“No. In fact, I’ll pay him another visit tomorrow. Make it clear he’s not to contact you again.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh.
Reduce fear
is one of the mandates in the department’s mission statement.” Not that he was going to worry about reducing Reese’s fear. He’d threaten to hang the guy up by his ears if he ever called her again.

“I’ll get back to you after I’ve talked to him,” he added. “Let you know how it went.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

He pushed himself up, knowing he’d better get out of her apartment—pronto.

Until he and Hank were certain she hadn’t killed her brother, she was a suspect—regardless of whether he believed she could have done it or not. So he had to leave before he did something even more stupid than telling her to call him Travis.

* * *

C
ELESTE
LOCKED
HER
DOOR
, then resisted the temptation to head straight to the window so she could watch Travis as he left the building.

Instead, she sat down with her still half-full glass and asked herself what on earth was going on.

Her life had been heavy on emotional turmoil lately, and until she started feeling a lot closer to normal she’d be crazy to even contemplate getting involved with a man. Yet she couldn’t deny the tug of interest she felt toward this particular one.

Likely, she decided, that was the “something” she’d been trying to put her finger on all day. Last night, she’d been so upset she hadn’t consciously realized she found him attractive. But tonight had been a different story.

After he’d said there was nobody waiting at home for him, the statement had lingered in her mind. And she doubted he routinely asked people he was interviewing to call him Travis.

Snoops skulked into the room and leaped onto her lap, deciding it was safe to come out of hiding now that the company was gone. She began to stroke him, her thoughts turning back to Travis.

She felt immensely better than she had earlier, and that was entirely due to him. She’d told him what was bothering her and he’d come up with a solution. He’d talk to Evan Reese and set things straight.

It had been a while since she’d had someone offer to take care of a problem for her. And clichéd as it might be, she really did feel as if he’d lifted a weight from her shoulders.

Of course, as he’d said, it was part of his job. But even so, she had the distinct sense that he was going above and beyond for her.

I just hope you have somebody you can lean on.

Thinking of Reese’s words again made her wonder if that could be what she was doing with Travis. Was she
leaning
on him? When he was a virtual stranger? Who’d only come into her life because he was investigating Steve’s murder?

After considering the possibility, she decided she’d better give a lot of thought to exactly why she was attracted to him. Because not doing so could be very dangerous.

* * *

W
HEN
HIS
PHONE
rang at seven-thirty Tuesday morning, Travis groaned and pulled his pillow over his ears.

He hadn’t gotten home from Celeste’s until midnight. Then he’d tossed and turned, unable to sleep because visions of her kept wandering through his brain.

That had started him wondering whether someone could have hypnotized him without his knowing—and given him a post-hypnotic suggestion that was keeping her constantly on his mind.

Deciding whoever was calling wasn’t going to give up, he grabbed the phone from the bedside table.

There was a moment’s silence after he answered, then a woman said, “Detective Quinn, this is Jill Flores. You and your partner came to see me yesterday. About Steve Parker.”

“Yes, of course.” He sat up in bed, trying to force away his grogginess. “What can I do for you?”

“First, I should apologize for calling so early. But I wanted to do it before I left for work. I don’t have much privacy on the job.”

“That’s okay.”

She didn’t continue immediately, so he said, “Did you remember something that might help us with the case?”

She cleared her throat. “It wasn’t really something I remembered. I just didn’t mention it yesterday.”

So his sense that she was holding out on them had been right.

“Then I started thinking I’d better tell you,” she added.

“Good. You never know what will prove useful.”

“Yes...well, your partner asked if Steve had been seeing anyone since we broke up. And I said I had no idea, but that wasn’t exactly true.

“A couple of weeks ago, he asked one of my friends out. One he met through me. I only knew about it because she called to check that I wouldn’t mind.

“At any rate, she’s seen him a few times. I didn’t say anything about her last night because she’s the sort of person who’d get upset about being questioned by the police. So since I knew she couldn’t possibly have been involved, I didn’t see the sense in putting her through it.

“But after I’d had time to think, I realized Steve might have said something to her that would give you a lead.”

“I’m glad you reconsidered,” Travis said, grabbing a pad and pencil from the bedside table. “And her name is...?”

“Ah...do you think you could avoid saying that
I
told you about her?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks. Her name’s Beth Winston. I’ll give you both her office and home numbers.”

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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