The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming) (6 page)

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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She shook her head, as if finding the realization impossible to comprehend. “Are you saying he thinks
I
might have killed Steve?” she asked at last. “And...what about you? Do
you
think—”

“No. I don’t.”

When she caught her bottom lip with her teeth he had an almost uncontrollable urge to move nearer and wrap his arms around her.

Instead, he made himself stay right where he was and said, “Celeste...this is a tricky situation. I can’t really discuss the specifics of the case with you, but...let me talk in generalities, okay?”

“Okay,” she said, gazing at him.

Her eyes were a darker blue than usual—colored, he knew, by fear. And her skin had grown pale.

He gave her a reassuring smile before saying, “I know you’ve heard this a million times on TV, but I just want you to think about it for a minute.

“Until a suspect has been read her rights, nothing she says to a police officer can be used in a court of law. But once she
is
read her rights, it’s in her best interest not to say another word until she has a lawyer present.”

Hesitating one more time, he assured himself there was no such charge as “counseling a suspect.” Then he added, “And someone in a...potentially uncomfortable position might want to talk to a good criminal lawyer. Get a clear understanding of where she stands.”

“You’re saying I’m a
serious
suspect,” she whispered.

“I’m speaking in general terms,” he said, hoping his expression was telling her that was only because he had no choice. “But if anyone asked me to recommend a good criminal lawyer, I certainly could.”

“Oh, Travis,” she murmured. “This can’t be happening.”

He gazed at her for a long moment, aware that getting involved with her would only be begging for trouble. But she was so clearly distraught that he couldn’t stop himself from sliding along the couch and taking her in his arms.

“Oh, Travis,” she murmured again.

* * *

C
ELESTE
RESTED
her cheek against the solid warmth of Travis’s shoulder, acutely aware she hadn’t been held like this in a long, long time.

It felt good to have someone care. To have this
particular
someone care. This man whose scent started her thinking about autumn in the country.

She wished she could simply drink in his strength and pretend everything was wonderful in her little corner of the world. But she was nowhere near that good at pretense.

Detective Hank Ballantyne suspected her of murdering Steve. So even though Travis didn’t... Or was he only claiming he didn’t?

An unsettled feeling began snaking through her as she considered that.

NYPD detectives were a devious bunch. Her estranged husband must have told her a hundred different stories about sneaky things they did.

Not that Bryce had heard the stories firsthand. He was an estate lawyer, had nothing to do with the police. But the criminal lawyers in his firm would talk and...

And what if Travis Quinn’s “concern” was nothing but an act to make her trust him? So she’d confess to the killing?

What if he wasn’t actually off the case at all? If he’d merely told her that as part of a ruse?

She eased out of his arms, the thought that he might be trying to trick her making her cold all over.

“It’s going to be okay,” he said softly.

“Not if I get charged with murder it isn’t. Travis, I didn’t do it.”

“I know.”

“Then why does your partner think I did?”

“He only figures it’s a possibility.”

“But why? Because Steve had a female visitor on Saturday night and I was home alone? With no one to vouch for the fact? What kind of evidence is that? Doesn’t he need a motive? Some reason I’d have wanted to—”

“Look...I just can’t go into the whys. I—”

“Oh,” she whispered, suddenly realizing what must have happened. “You know about the survivor clause in my mother’s will, don’t you? That’s it, isn’t it?” she added when Travis didn’t say a word.

“But how could Hank think I’m the kind of person who’d—”

“Celeste, when you’re a detective...” He paused, shaking his head. “I can’t go into the whys,” he said again. “I was bending the rules by saying anything at all. Maybe I
shouldn’t
have said anything.

“It was just...well, I decided you had to know in advance that you might have a problem. On the off chance it materializes.”

Was that the truth? Had he simply wanted to warn her? Exhaling slowly, she recalled what he’d said about rights.

Until a suspect has been read her rights, nothing she says to a police officer can be used in a court of law.

Didn’t that mean he
couldn’t
be trying to trick her? Because even if she confessed, he wouldn’t be able to use... But he’d know for sure that she was guilty. And all he’d have left to do was come up with proof.

Of course, there wasn’t any. Because she hadn’t killed Steve.

Sometimes, though, innocent people got railroaded.

She gazed uncertainly at Travis, her intuition telling her he was on her side but her brain warning her not to risk making a dreadful mistake.

“I’ll be back in a sec,” she said at last, pushing herself up from the couch and heading for her office.

CHAPTER SIX

Tuesday, October 5, 4:12 p.m.

C
ELESTE
FIRMLY
CLOSED
her office door, then grabbed her cordless and the card Travis had given her. Along with his cellular number, there was an office number on it. She punched that one in, then held her breath.

“Manhattan North Homicide,” a man answered. “Detective Ovner speaking.”

“Detective Quinn, please.”

“Sorry, he’s not here. Can someone else help you?”

“No, I need to talk to him. Do you know when he’ll be there?”

“Just a minute. I’ll check.”

She waited, her heart beating fast, until Ovner picked up again.

“Detective Quinn’s on leave for a couple of weeks.”

“Oh.”

“You sure no one else can help you?”

“No. Thanks, but it’s not urgent.”

Just as she clicked the phone off, she realized the call hadn’t actually gotten her anywhere.

If Travis had come up with a devious master plot, he was smart enough to have covered all the bases. He wouldn’t have left things so she could trip him up with a simple phone call. But there had to be
some
way of determining where he really stood.

Closing her eyes, she began to systematically review everything he’d said from the moment he’d arrived. When she got to his suggestion about talking to a lawyer she felt as if a light had just been switched on inside her head.

An attorney who intentionally violated lawyer-client privilege would be risking disbarment. So even though Travis had offered to recommend someone, he couldn’t possibly have been hoping the lawyer would repeat anything she said. In fact, if he was trying to set her up, the last thing he’d want was her getting legal advice—whether it was from someone he knew or a stranger.

She carefully thought through her reasoning a second time, afraid she’d find it was faulty. But it still made perfect sense, which meant that she could trust Travis Quinn.

“That’s a relief,” she whispered.

Knowing that he really had to be on her side didn’t make her problem go away, but it made her feel immeasurably better. It also gave her a serious twinge of guilt about suspecting him of plotting against her.

Telling herself it was only prudent not to trust someone until you were sure you could, she headed back to the living room—where Snoops was now perched on the far end of the couch from Travis, staring at him.

“She doesn’t seem too sure about me,” he said.

“She’s a he. Or maybe I should say an it. Whatever, you should be flattered. He normally hides from company.”

Picking up the cat, she sat down with him on her lap.

“Everything okay now?” Travis asked quietly.

“‘Okay’s’ pushing it, but I’ve recovered from my initial shock.”

“Good.”

Assuring herself once more that she could trust him, she said, “When you mentioned criminal lawyers? You really think I should talk to one?”

“Uh-huh. Just to be on the safe side. So that if the guys do decide to bring you in for questioning there’s someone who already knows the basic story. And knows you.”

“All right. Then I’ll do it.”

“Would you like a couple of names?”

“You won’t get in trouble for giving them to me?”

“Not as long as nobody finds out,” he told her, scrolling through his phone.

“They won’t find out from me.”

He smiled briefly, then said, “Celeste, this is going to end up just fine. Even if they officially question you, that’s a world away from charging you. And we simply don’t charge the wrong people with homicides.”

“Never? Wasn’t there something in the news, only a week or two ago...?”

“Yeah...well...it
almost
never happens. And it won’t happen to you.”

She nodded, although if he was
certain
of that, would he be advising her to see a lawyer?

Forcing the question from her mind, she went to get the cordless out of her office.

The first man she called was upstate, in the midst of a trial. The second one’s assistant informed her that he just couldn’t fit any new clients into his schedule at present.

Celeste almost mentioned Travis’s name, thinking it might help, but stopped herself in time. If they didn’t want the wrong people learning that he was behind her getting legal advice she’d better be careful what she said.

“You know the old saying,” he told her as she punched in the last number he’d given her. “Third time lucky.”

She dearly hoped the old saying was right, because it was almost five o’clock.

When Walter Namouth’s secretary said it would be the end of next week before Celeste could see him, she decided things were getting desperate. So, as much as she hated associating herself with Bryce, she gave it a shot.

“I’m sorry, but I forgot I was supposed to tell you that my husband, Bryce Wayland, spoke to Mr. Namouth about seeing me. Bryce is an attorney with Price, Whitechurch and Hoskins, and...well the thing is that Mr. Namouth assured Bryce he’d fit me in as soon as possible. I’m afraid the problem’s urgent.”

“Oh. He didn’t mention anything to me, but...let’s see...I could probably squeeze you in tomorrow morning.”

“That would be wonderful.”

“Fine. Ten o’clock?”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

Clicking off, she said to Travis, “Ten o’clock tomorrow. The only problem is that if she repeats our conversation to Namouth they might throw me out on my ear. I’ll bet he’s never even heard of Bryce.”

“But Bryce is actually a lawyer?”

“Yes.”

“Then I guess you could have gotten him to recommend someone.”

“No, I wouldn’t ask him for help.”

After a few moments of silence, Travis said, “The other night you mentioned that you left him. If I asked why, would you tell me it’s none of my business?”

She shook her head, thinking she was so grateful to him that she’d answer just about any question he asked.

“He had a girlfriend,” she explained, surprised to discover it no longer hurt to say the words. “An off-Broadway actress named Donna Rainfield. And I found out about her.”

“Some guys are idiots,” Travis said quietly. “And I don’t mean for letting you find out.”

“Yes...well...it hurt a lot at first. He tried to convince me she didn’t mean anything to him, that it had been a mistake and would never happen again, but I knew deep down it would. We...

“Bryce isn’t really an awful person. When my mother died he offered to do whatever he could to help. And he called me yesterday, about Steve—again, saying that if I needed anything all I had to do was let him know.

“So it’s not as if he’s the Devil incarnate. We just shouldn’t have ended up together.

“If we’d taken things more slowly, gotten to know each other better, I doubt we would have. But...well, after the initial glow wore off it wasn’t the marriage of the century. Not by any means and...the truth is that he hurt my pride as much as my heart.”

She hesitated, then decided she might as well finish the story. “A few days after I moved out Donna moved in. So much for her having meant nothing to him.”

* * *

C
ELESTE
SPRINKLED
more cheese on her spaghetti, then snuck a glance across the table at Travis.

She was glad he’d stayed, because otherwise she’d be dwelling, utterly and exclusively, on her problem. Whereas with him here, while she’d made dinner he’d talked about what a brilliant lawyer Walter Namouth was—which had started her believing that things weren’t nearly as bad as they might have been.

Surely, between Namouth’s brilliance and the fact she was innocent, there was no possible way she’d end up charged with murder.

“Terrific garlic bread,” Travis said, reaching for another slice.

“Glad you like it.” She let her gaze linger on him a little longer this time. She wasn’t entirely certain what had prompted her to invite him to stay, but...

Oh, who was she trying to fool? She liked him.

Merely focusing on those laugh lines around his eyes was enough to make her smile, and she loved the way his square-cut jaw proclaimed he was a tough guy, while his quiet manner of speaking said not
too
tough. And his country-autumn scent was so enticing that she actually found herself breathing more deeply when she was near him.

Most of all, though, she liked the way he’d taken her in his arms to comfort her when she’d been upset. Until those stupid suspicions had begun tiptoeing around in her head, his holding her had felt perfectly right.

But regardless of that, the last thing she intended to do was get carried away.

As she’d reminded herself before, her life had been a series of upheavals this past year. And she knew enough psychology to realize she should be treading very carefully when it came to anything involving her emotions.

Even at the best of times, peoples’ feelings for one another could change. What seemed perfectly right, here and now, might feel completely different a few months or years down the road. She’d learned her lesson on that score, and was never going to repeat her mistake.

Of course, Travis was nothing like Bryce. Still, she wasn’t about to rush into another relationship. Especially not when she suspected that she and Travis didn’t really have a lot in common.

Under normal circumstances, their paths would never even have crossed. She’d only met him because he was a cop doing his job and...

But did that really matter? It was the man behind the badge she was falling for.

Falling for.
As the words echoed in her mind, she told herself that trying to deny them would be pointless. Her attraction to him was very rapidly developing into something more.

The question was, how should she handle that? She was going to have to do some serious thinking about—

“Dinner was great,” Travis said. “I’ve always thought my mother makes the best spaghetti and meatballs outside of Italy, but now I’m not so sure.”

His smile started a funny little fluttering around her heart.

“You should see what I can do when it’s not a spur-of-the-moment invitation,” she teased.

“I’d love to.”

When he caught her gaze there was warmth in his eyes.

Searching for something to say that would stop him watching her, she settled on, “You know, you’ve never mentioned anything about your family before. I guess we’ve been so focused on all the bad stuff... But tell me a bit.”

“Well, let’s see. I’ve got a mother, a father, a sister who’s three years younger than me, a niece who’s two and another on the way.

“Actually, we don’t know whether it’s a girl, but it’s definitely on the way. Then there’s the regular assortment of other relatives.”

“And...? You could give me a
few
more details.”

When he smiled again, the funny little flutter returned.

“Okay. My parents live in Queens, which is where I grew up. My sister, Denise, and her family live on Staten Island. My father has his own business—basically manages some small apartment buildings. My mother was a teacher, but she retired a few years ago. Can I stop yet?”

She laughed. “Yes, that’s probably all I can absorb at once.

“Besides,” she added, pushing back her chair, “as glad as I am that you could stay, I’ve got to throw you out now. I promised to have a manuscript ready for pickup tomorrow afternoon, and that appointment with Namouth means I’ll have to finish working on it tonight.”

“You seem to spend a lot of evenings working.”

“I think there’s a special rule for the self-employed. Usually, you’re either in the midst of a dry spell or swamped.”

“And right now you’re swamped?”

“No, right now I’m just pressed for time on this manuscript.”

“Then we could do dinner again tomorrow. My treat.”

She hesitated, wondering if, by then, she’d have had enough thinking time. “Well...yes,” she finally said. “That would be nice.”

“Good. I’ll come by around seven, okay?”

“Fine.”

When she walked him to the door, he simply gave her another warm smile and said, “See you tomorrow.”

“Right. Around seven.” She locked up behind him, then once again wandered over to the front window so she could see him when he appeared on the street below.

As she waited, her thoughts returned to the subject of what was happening between them.
Why
was she so drawn to this particular man at this particular time?

Was it a straightforward, Cupid-shot-an-arrow sort of attraction? Or was it something a whole lot more complex?

She’d pretty well come to terms with her marriage breaking up, but her mother’s death was still giving her a lot of sleepless nights. And now Steve had been murdered and she was a suspect.

Man, if anyone could use an emotional anchor it was her. So was that what Travis represented to her subconscious?

It could well be. The fact that he was a cop, an authority figure... The way he’d come riding along like the proverbial white knight, doing battle for her with Evan Reese... And, most important, he believed in her innocence despite his partner’s suspicions.

She stood looking down at him as he walked out of the building and headed across to his car. When he reached it, he turned and raised his hand the way he’d done earlier.

This time, she didn’t feel embarrassed. This time, she smiled and raised hers in return.

* * *

H
E

D
BEEN
ROAMING
West Seventy-fourth, getting a sense of how many people were on this block of it in the evening.

Very few, it turned out. And that had started him thinking that if he
did
end up having to whack the Langley woman in her apartment, then coming to do the job under the cover of darkness would be a good idea.

It was about then that he’d spotted her staring down at the street.

For a moment he’d imagined her in his gun site. Centered in the window, a perfect target. One shot, instant death. But when the time came he wouldn’t be standing around waiting for her to show her face at a window.

Curious about why she was looking out, he’d stepped into the sheltering shadow of a staircase and watched the scene unfold.

BOOK: The Shelter of His Arms (Harlequin Heartwarming)
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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