The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming) (4 page)

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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He jotted them down, then said, “And she works...?”

“On Wall Street. For a law firm called Mitchell and Conlin. She has her own office, so if you wanted to talk to her there I think it would be all right.”

“Great. And thanks a lot for calling. I really appreciate it. By the way, just out of curiosity, what color is her hair?”

“Oh...about the same shade as mine. Why?”

Another blonde.

Resisting the temptation to ask if Beth owned a gray trench coat and a big black purse, he said, “Oh, it really
was
just curiosity.”

After saying goodbye, he put down the phone and glanced at the clock. If Beth Winston started work at nine, he had enough time to be there waiting when she arrived.

That would make him late meeting Hank, but he wouldn’t care. Especially not if this woman turned out to be their mystery blonde.

He phoned and left a message for Hank at the precinct, then got the coffee started and headed for the shower.

Barely half an hour later, he was climbing into the Mustang. Not many detectives drove their own cars on duty, but he’d had enough bad experiences with ones from the pool that he always did.

Despite the morning traffic, he arrived at the offices of Mitchell and Conlin before nine. Even so, Beth Winston had beaten him there.

“Is she expecting you?” the receptionist asked.

“No.”

“And your name?”

“Travis Quinn,” he told her, thinking he’d only say he was a police detective if he had to.

Since Beth Winston was the type of person who’d get upset at being questioned by the police, she’d probably get even more upset if her coworkers knew about it.

The receptionist didn’t press him. She just buzzed Beth, then directed him to her office.

When he reached its open door, the woman behind the desk said, “Travis Quinn? Should I know the name?”

“No.”

He handed her his card, then appraised her as she eyed it.

Maybe thirty-five and definitely “stylish.” She might well be their woman. And there was a gray trench coat hanging on the coatrack in the corner. Seeing it started his hopes climbing.

When she looked at him again, he decided Jill Flores had been right. He hadn’t asked a single question yet, and Beth Winston already seemed upset.

“Would you like me to close the door?” he said.

“Please.”

Once he had, she gestured for him to sit down and said, “I assume this has to do with Steve Parker.”

“You’ve heard, then.”

“Yes. One of his friends called me last night.”

“I understand you were seeing him.”

“I’d been out with him three times. And I...” She paused and shook her head. “I could easily have been with him on Saturday. He asked me to a movie, but I already had plans.

“My sister moved away from New York last year, and she was coming home for a week. So I’d asked a few of her friends over.”

“To your place, you mean.”

“Yes. Just an after-dinner thing. Drinks and catching up. You know.”

He nodded.

She had an alibi. He’d check it out, of course, but she was probably telling the truth.

“Except for that...” she said.

“You would have been with Steve Parker.”

“Yes. I can’t quite get over it.” She nervously drummed the surface of her desk for a couple of seconds, then murmured, “What time was he killed?”

“Sometime between nine and midnight.”

“Then if I’d been with him he’d still be alive. We’d have gone someplace after the show.” She shook her head, looking close to tears.

“I liked him,” she said at last. “It’s very sad.”

“Yes. It is. And I’m sorry I have to make you talk about it, but I need to ask a few more questions. Have you ever been in his apartment?”

“Only once. And just briefly. We stopped by because he had to get something.”

But she
had
been in it. So those blond hairs the techs bagged might be hers rather than the killer’s.

“Is there anything you can tell me that might help with the case?” he said. “Was Dr. Parker having problems with anyone? Did he ever say something was bothering him? Anything at all?”

Watching her slowly shake her head again, Travis wondered how many dead ends he’d hit since he’d earned his shield. But there was no value in dwelling on that.

* * *

T
RAVIS
TURNED
into the Manhattan North Precinct’s parking garage and began watching for a space. After he found one, he headed inside.

Hank looked up from his desk as he approached and said, “What’s been happening?”

“Jill Flores called me first thing—to tell me she actually
did
know who Parker’d been seeing lately. So I paid the woman a visit.”

“And?”

“She turned out to be a blonde with a gray trench coat. But she has a solid alibi for the time of the murder. I got the names of the people she claimed she was with and called a few of them on my way here.”

“And aside from that? She have any ideas for us?”

“Nada.”

Hank’s shrug said
You can’t win ’em all.
“So, what do you want to do now?” he asked.

Show time. Travis didn’t want to tell his partner about going to Celeste’s place, but he had to. “We’ve got to talk to Evan Reese again,” he began.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I had a call from Celeste Langley last night. Just after you headed home.”

Once he’d elaborated, Hank said, “You figure that was a smart move? Going to see her without me?”

“What should I have done? Called and told you to turn around and meet me there?”

“No,” Hank said slowly. “But you could have just gotten the details over the phone.”

“We know Reese is a nut bar. And he scared the devil out of her.”

Hank shrugged again.

“So I stopped by. Her apartment was practically on my way home, anyhow. You’ve got a problem with that?” he added when Hank said nothing.

“How long did we work yesterday? Twelve hours? Thirteen?”

“More or less.”

“Well, if anyone else had called at that point, I doubt you’d have headed right on over just because she was scared.”

“I might have.”

“Travis...man, I could say a lot of things you already know. But only one of them really matters. That woman is our prime suspect.”

“She’s
your
prime suspect.”

“And who’s yours?”

“I’m not there yet.”

After a moment’s silence, Hank said, “Hey, buddy, you realize you’re not acting like yourself, don’t you? It’s as if you met Celeste Langley and something short-circuited in your brain.”

Ignoring that, he said, “Let’s go.”

Hank shook his head. “There’s no point in both of us wasting our time with Reese.”

He bit his tongue to keep from saying he didn’t consider it a waste of time.

“So why don’t I take care of some other stuff while you go talk to him. We can start in on the rest of the people on our Parker list later.”

“Yeah. Why not. Good idea.”

Travis turned and started away, unable to stop himself from thinking about what Hank had just said—and worrying that he was right.

Scientifically improbable as it might be, maybe meeting Celeste Langley really had short-circuited something in his brain.

What else would explain why he couldn’t stop thinking about her for more than two seconds straight?

CHAPTER FOUR

Tuesday, October 5, 11:31 a.m.

E
VAN
REESE
LIVED
on the Upper East Side, in an apartment not far from Steve Parker’s, which meant that by driving through Central Park Travis made the trip from Reese’s to West Seventy-fourth in only a few minutes.

Even so, by the time he reached Celeste’s block he’d told himself twelve dozen times that he shouldn’t be going to her place. He could keep his promise to “get back to her” simply by phoning.

Of course, the problem with that was he wouldn’t get to see her. And he wanted to—despite knowing it was a bad idea.

He shook his head, thinking how his sister was forever telling him that sooner or later he’d meet a woman who’d knock him off his feet. And that the longer it took, the harder he’d fall.

His response was always just to laugh, yet now he was wondering if she’d been giving him a female version of Hank’s short-circuit theory.

Maybe so. But regardless of anybody’s theory, he knew that if he was smart he wouldn’t go near Celeste again without Hank along. Not until they’d established who killed her brother.

After that, he could see as much of her as he liked. Assuming he was still interested. However, until then...

He
almost
managed to make himself drive straight past her building. He would have, except for the empty parking space directly across the street. In Manhattan, if that wasn’t an omen he didn’t know what would be.

He wheeled into it, cut the ignition and got out of the car—glancing up at her living room window, half expecting to see her standing there.

She wasn’t, but she
was
home. And just the sound of her voice, when she responded to his buzz, was enough to make his pulse skip.

Telling himself he was here on police business, he started up the stairs to the third floor.

She was waiting for him in the doorway again, wearing a pale yellow sweater and jeans.

As absurd as it might be, the mere sight of her warmed him. Then she smiled and his temperature rose another couple of degrees.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi. I’ve been to see Evan Reese, so I figured I’d stop by for a minute.”

“I’m glad you did.”

As he passed her on his way into the apartment, he caught the faint scent of her perfume. It put him in mind of a sultry summer night—which did absolutely nothing to cool him down.

“Coffee?” she asked, gesturing him toward the living room.

“No, thanks. I won’t stay long. I just wanted to tell you about Reese face-to-face, because...”

He paused, gathering his thoughts. There was a fine line between warning someone to be careful and scaring the wits out of her.

“Because?” she prompted.

“Because he told me it never even occurred to him that he’d make you nervous by calling. And that since he had, he wouldn’t do it again. But I don’t think you should count on it.”

“Ah. And is he...should I be seriously worried about him?”

“It’s hard to know. He lied when I asked why he’d told you we gave him your number. So we obviously can’t believe anything he says.”

“What was
his
story?”

“That he didn’t say a word about how he’d gotten it.”

“He
did.

“I know. But that’s not what he said this morning. He claimed he simply got it from Information.”

“Did you tell him it’s unlisted?”

“Uh-huh. He just shrugged and said they must have given it out by mistake.”

“Is that possible?”

“It’s very unlikely. And...look, he didn’t mention anything about why he was seeing a psychiatrist. And I can’t go rummaging through your brother’s medical records without a search warrant, but...”

“Should you get one?” she asked quietly.

He’d love to. But it wasn’t really an option.

“That’s not as easy to do as TV makes it seem,” he told her. “I’d need a good reason. One specifically related to the case, I mean. But even without knowing exactly what his problem is... Well, I think he’s pretty unbalanced.”

“Then I
should
be seriously worried.”

“You should be seriously careful. If you notice anything suspicious... He’s in his late thirties, short and slightly built, with dark hair and glasses. If anyone who fits that description shows up here or seems to be following you, phone me right away.”

“Following me,” she murmured.

“I’m not saying he will. I’m only saying it’s possible he’ll call again. Or try to see you. With any luck, though, you’ve heard the last of him.”

Celeste slowly pushed her hair back from her face. “What about his saying he’s a writer? Is he? Or was that just part of his
cosmic
gibberish?”

“It might be true. At least it’s consistent with what he told Hank and me yesterday. He said his work’s published in small, esoteric magazines.”

“They don’t pay much.”

“No, we already thought of that. He probably tips the concierge in his building more at Christmas than that sort of writing would bring in. So whether he actually writes or not he must have another source of income. A trust fund or something was our best guess.”

Celeste said nothing more, and as the silence grew Travis made himself say, “I’ve got to go. I just wanted to bring you up to speed.”

“Thanks,” she said, rising when he did. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. And...I did what you suggested and made the basic arrangements for Steve’s service. But until I can tell them...I guess you still haven’t heard when the autopsy will be?”

“No. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”

“Thanks,” she said again. Then she led the way to her door.

“I’ll call you.” He stepped out into the hallway. “Take care.”

“I will,” she promised, giving him a wan smile.

He started away, silently congratulating himself. He’d handled that pretty well for a guy with a short circuit in his brain.

After closing the door, Celeste watched through the peephole while Travis strode down the hall. Then, unable to resist the temptation this time around, she walked over to the living room window and stood waiting for him to appear on the street below.

When he did she felt a funny little flutter in her chest. She liked the man. Really liked him.

As he reached his car, he turned and looked up at her.

Her face suddenly felt warm. Then he raised his hand and smiled, making her a little less embarrassed about being caught watching.

Once he’d driven off she headed for her office, glad she had that deadline looming. It was forcing her to work, and even though she’d been having trouble concentrating, once she finally managed to lose herself in a manuscript she stopped thinking about other things.

Like her mother’s accident. Or Steve’s murder. Or the fact that her husband had been screwing around on her for who knew how long before she’d caught him at it. All in all, this hadn’t been the best year of her life.

Telling herself dwelling on that would be a bad idea, she sat down at her desk. She hadn’t even reached for her pencil when the phone rang.

The caller ID display was reading Caller Unknown, which made her hesitate about picking up. And as soon as she did, she wished she hadn’t.

“This is Evan Reese,” he announced.

A chill ran through her as she said, “Yes?”

“Why did you tell that cop I scared you?”

She thought rapidly, trying to remember precisely what Travis had said he’d told Reese. Something about his call making her “nervous.” That was it.

“I didn’t say you scared me,” she said. “I only mentioned that you made me a little nervous.”

“Sure you did.”

She swallowed uneasily, suddenly suspecting that what Travis had said to her wasn’t quite what he’d said to Reese.

“I don’t really recall the exact words I used. But maybe I said you made me kind of anxious. I’m not used to strangers phoning and—”

“Kind of anxious? If that’s all you told him, then the guy’s a wacko. Listen, Celeste, I didn’t like the way he talked to me this morning. And I didn’t like the way he went racing to your place afterward, either.”

He’d followed Travis here! The cordless still to her ear, she pushed back her chair.

“So you tell him that, huh? Tell him I’m wise to his tricks and I don’t like them.”

“Yes, I will,” she said, hurrying out of her office.

“Don’t forget. And tell him he hasn’t heard the last about his visit here. Tell him I’ve got friends in high places, and he’s going to be very sorry he tried to lean on me.”

“I’ll tell him.”

As she reached the living room window, Snoops scurried down off the window seat and ran to hide, clearly sensing her fear.

Cautiously, she peeked out. No one was standing on the street, but the man could be hiding just out of sight. Or maybe he’d even gotten into her building. That thought sent a fresh ripple of anxiety through her.

“Are you still there?” Reese demanded.

“Yes,” she said. “But I’m afraid I have to go now. Someone’s at my door.”

Without another word, she broke the connection. Then she took a few deep breaths, trying to stop her heart from pounding. After it had slowed to somewhere near normal, she pressed in Travis’s number.

* * *

C
ELESTE
SOUNDED
as if she was terrified but was doing her utmost to hide it, and each word she spoke made Travis feel more like killing Evan Reese.

“Want me to head back to your place?” he asked when she’d finished.

She hesitated, the silence lasting long enough to tell him she did.

Just as he was about to make a U-turn, she said, “No. Thanks, but I’ll be fine once I calm down. And I’m sure holding my hand isn’t in your job description.”

That was true, although the thought of doing so was far more appealing than anything that
was
in his job description.

“But what about you?” she asked. “He really seemed intent on causing trouble.”

“Let him try. The C.O.’s used to complaints. But, look, is your phone a cordless?”

“Yes.”

“Then take it with you into the hall. Make sure he isn’t there. Check the staircase, too. I’ll hold on.”

“All right.”

While he listened to the faint clicks of her locks turning he had a horrible vision—her discovering that Reese was standing just beyond where she’d have been able to see him through the peephole.

“All clear?” he demanded at the sound of the door opening.

“Seems to be.”

The vision took so long to fade that he almost told her to forget about the staircase. Then he stopped himself. If Reese
had
gotten into the building, better she discovered it now than later.

His chest strangely tight, he imagined her walking down the hall, its carpet swallowing the whispers of her footsteps. She should be about reaching the stairs and—

The stairway door creaked faintly.

“I still don’t see him,” she said.

“Good.” Of course, that didn’t guarantee he wasn’t there someplace. However, her cordless couldn’t have much more range, so going further wouldn’t be safe.

“Should I head back to my apartment?”

“Yeah. He’s probably home by now. But if anything else worries you, just call.”

“Thanks,” she murmured.

He began picturing her again—with her brilliant blue and eyes and pretty smile. It was enough to make him reconsider the idea of going straight back over there.

“I’m just locking my door,” she said after a few moments.

“Okay. I’ll check in with you later.”

“Thanks, but you don’t have to.”

“Following up
is
in my job description.”

“Ah. Well...I wouldn’t want you not doing your job.”

Her tone made him suspect she was smiling, although that might only be wishful thinking.

“Talk to you later, then. Bye.”

“Bye, Travis.”

After pressing the End button he began thinking about paying Evan Reese yet another visit. However, that wouldn’t be a wise move. He was too mad to face the guy.

Besides, leaning on him obviously hadn’t helped matters. Instead of scaring him off Celeste, it had only made things worse.

He was still mentally kicking himself about that when he reached Manhattan North Homicide. And it didn’t improve his mood to find that Hank wasn’t there, ready and willing to discuss the situation.

According to the other detectives in the squad room, he’d left shortly after Travis had headed for Reese’s place.

After fishing out his phone, he was about to press the speed dial for Hank’s number when Len Espizito, C.O. of Homicide, materialized.

“My office, Quinn,” he said, turning on his heel.

Travis stuck the phone back in his pocket and followed the lieutenant, wondering what was up.

It didn’t even occur to him that the problem was Evan Reese until Espizito shoved his door shut behind them and said, “Okay, let’s hear
your
version of the visit you paid this Reese character.”

“You mean the one yesterday or the one this morning?” he asked, buying himself a few seconds to think.

“Which do you figure I mean?” Espizito snapped. “The guy phoned me ten minutes ago, screaming police brutality.”

“What? I didn’t touch him.”

“Maybe not, but did you threaten to?”

“I told him to leave Parker’s sister alone. That was basically it.”

“Then you headed directly to the sister’s apartment? On your own?”

He shrugged, glad he’d already known that Reese had followed him. Otherwise, Espizito would have caught him even more off guard.

“Did you?” he demanded.

“Yes.”

“And Reese says you were at her place last night. And that since it was after he called her it had to have been late.”

Crap. Instead of implying he’d merely talked to Celeste on the phone, he’d specifically told Reese he’d gone there. As a way of emphasizing how upset she’d been. But it looked as if he shouldn’t have gotten specific.

“Is that true? Were you there alone with her last night, too?”

“Lieutenant, the guy had called and scared her. Hank was already on his way home, and I just wanted to—”

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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