Assigned a missing persons case, Lieutenant Jake Carrington investigates a local Mob boss. The trail goes cold, but the Mafioso isn't taking any chances, and soon the heat turns up from another quarter. Turns out there's more than one dangerous suspect . . .
Kyra Russell is drop-dead gorgeous and Jake is only human. But despite their mutual attraction, Jake's suspicion deepens when he learns about her gambling problem-an addiction that cost her both husband and son. Even more disturbing is Kyra's day job. She runs a crematorium-and it's tied to the Mob. Now Jake will have to navigate a firestorm of treachery to get to the truth . . .
Previously published as Burn in Hell
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"What's bothering you about the file, Jake?" Sergeant Louie Romanelli, Jake's partner, asked.
"There's nothing in it." Jake held out one piece of paper with only the initial information jotted down in chicken scrawl. "I can't find the CSI's report or lab reports, or for that matter, any interview reports. Stack's a seasoned detective. After two weeks of investigating a case there should be more in the file."
"So he screwed up," Louie said.
Jake studied his partner. He had an inch or two on him. Louie's olive complexion, dark eyes and hair was the complete opposite of his brownish-red hair and green eyes. They'd been best friends since childhood and partners for the last twelve years. He didn't trust another soul as he trusted and respected Louie.
"No, it's more than that. Something's off. I'm going to run with this one and shadow Stack and his movements." He shouldn't be discussing personnel issues with Louie.
"What, he's purposely not trying to close the case?"
Instead of responding, Jake stared Louie down.
"Son of gun! Are we going to find ourselves in another dirty cop case?" Louie asked.
"We might. You can stay clear of this one in case it is. That way when the shit hits the fan it won't land on you." As if Mondays weren't hectic enough, now he'd have to deal with Detective Stack.
The invisible "Wall of Blue" shunned the good cops by treating them as traitors for turning in a bad one. It didn't make sense. But he wasn't going to worry about it. He hated dirty cops. They gave the whole force a bad name.
"No, I'm your partner. We investigate together. Why the hell did they give you the Missing Persons' Department to begin with?"
"It's a temporary assignment I was told, while the brass interviews for a new lieutenant for the department."
Jake had his hands full. His recent promotion to lieutenant of the Homicide Department was enough to keep him working thirty-six hours a day. Now handling Missing Persons, he'd need to invent a forty-eight-hour day.
"Do you want to update me now or later?"
"Later. I need to get a handle on it. Why don't you run with the other case for now. And when you stop by with LJ tonight, I'll fill you in."
Jake wasn't going to speak about it here. He hoped Louie understood. Lately, the walls seemed to have ears. After Louie left his office, Jake spent the rest of his day looking through Missing Persons' personnel records. He wanted to familiarize himself with all the detectives from the department. But mostly, he wanted to see what opinion Carl Stack's retired lieutenant had about the detective. As acting lieutenant to the Missing Persons' Department he had to understand who was reliable and who wasn't in a pinch.
Next on his list, he had to review the cases of his own men in Homicide. Brown and Lanoue had closed their recent vehicular homicide case, but were still working the school shooting. He'd given his approval last week for them to bring in and start interviewing all of the students of interest in the hopes of shaking something out of the tight-lipped kids. From the team's reports on the incident, the victim had been a saint — straight-A student, class president, honor society pledge, and he held a job to boot. In his experience, all you had to do was dig deeper to get the shine to fall off. Only this time it hadn't. Thurston Crandall's secrets were rooted so deep down that a backhoe hadn't unearthed them.
Jake hit the intercom. "Brown, I don't see Crandall's parents' interview in the file."
"It should be there. I'll be right in, LT."
Kirk Brown walked into his office. At five-feet-eleven, Brown wore his brown hair in a military cut. He looked on the young side of his thirty-one years until you looked into his brown eyes. Jake handed him the Crandall file. While Kirk shuffled through it, Jake picked up Burke's file on the suspicious death of an elderly woman. Al's conclusion was the same as the one he'd come to: the woman hadn't died of old age. Someone had helped her along. Best bet was the sole heir who was knee deep in debt.
"LT, it should —"
His cell phone rang. Jake plucked it off his desk and hit the talk key. He held up a hand to quiet Kirk.
"Dina, how are you?" He hadn't heard from her in a while. A friend, one he had dated once or twice, until she got too serious. A nice woman who collected husbands like boys collected trading cards.
"I'm having a small gathering tomorrow night and I'd like for you to join me."
"I'm not sure. What time?"
"If I can, I'll stop in."
He hung up and turned his attention back to Kirk.
"I don't see it in the file. I'll check my desk," Kirk said.
Jake emailed Al Burke, agreeing with his take on the suspicious death. He spun his chair around and looked out his window at the downtown area. Across the street from the station the staff of the Town Hall Café had started setting tables for the lunch crowd out on the terrace. The restaurant offered American cuisine with an Italian flair and stiff drinks. The owners, when they had remodeled, kept all the old wood crown moldings. Refinished, it gave the place a days-gone-by charm, while offering a classy atmosphere. It was one of his favorite places to dine.
He pondered the personnel files he'd recently reviewed. A couple of detectives from Missing Persons were a problem for him. Their service records were dismal at best and their politics left him cold. He wondered which one he'd have to deal with first.
Jake left the station at four and headed home. The dog he'd recently adopted needed tending. It hit as he walked in the door. It's like having a kid.
"What am I going to do with you, Brigh?"
Jake Carrington stared down the brown-eyed beauty, then bent to wipe the floor with the cleaner and paper towels. The dog had a nervous bladder, which let loose every time the doorbell rang. Adopting a dog now wasn't one of his brightest decisions. He didn't regret it.
Oh, he knew what he was doing. We each understand cruelty. They made quite the pair. Brigh learning to trust again, and him, trying to keep his mind occupied while dealing with the possible release of George Spaulding, the man convicted of killing his sister. Add to that, the loss of Mia, the woman he had fallen for. It had taken one look into Brigh's big, chocolate eyes for the dog to own him lock, stock, and barrel.
The bell rang again. Jake pointed to Brigh before he started toward the door. "Go lie down." Trembling, she inched her way to her bed. With one last look at the dog, Jake turned and opened the door.
"Why didn't you answer the door?" Louie Romanelli asked.
"Me and Brigh were having a much-needed conversation. You're early."
Louie scratched his chin, staring first at Jake then at Brigh. "Sophia's on the warpath with the kids. Before she turned it on me, I left."
The two constants in Jake's life were Louie and Sophia. He learned years ago not to get in the middle of their arguments.
This is all Louie's fault anyway. He pushed Brigh on me. Jake studied his friend and partner as he walked in the house. Brigh turned her big doe eyes up at him as if she knew what was running around inside his head. Not for one minute did he regret his decision to adopt her, but ... it was going to take some big- time adjustments for both of them before they got used to each other. At least the dog kept him occupied and pushed Mia out of his head. And what was he going to do about her? Jake bent and gave Brigh a rub between the ears.
The two men went into Jake's comfortably furnished living room.
"Brigh and I need to get to know each other," Louie said. "LJ will be over after dinner to play with her. He figured with you here, the dog'd be more relaxed. He wants to avoid any trouble when he comes over to walk her."
Louie's teenage son had jumped at the chance to make money. Jake had hired him to walk the dog after school to keep Brigh from getting lonely. It was also insurance he'd have no surprises waiting for him when he got home from work.
"I'm glad he's agreed to walk her every day after school. Brigh's one skittish dog. She hates to be alone."
"Anything more you want to share on the Missing Persons' case?"
"Gee, Louie, it's only been a couple of hours since I last saw you. What, I'm now a miracle worker?"
After dealing with the last two cases, Jake had hoped for some downtime. Instead, he got another department and several murders to deal with. And what looked like a deliberate attempt to botch an investigation.
"You got something in your head," Louie said.
"I do. Who benefits if the missing guy never turned up?"
"Yeah, anything interesting there?"
"I believe he'll be one of our murder victims if he's ever found."
Jake sat on the couch. Brigh inched over, laid her head upon his lap. He stroked a hand over her coat.
As Louie approached, Brigh backed up, squatted and turned toward Jake. Pointing at her, Jake said, "Don't. It's all right. Louie, sit for a few minutes here but don't touch her."
"Have you heard from Mia?" Louie asked, changing subjects.
"No, and I told you the subject's off limits."
"Now start to pet Brigh while I'm holding her. Once she gets used to you, I'm going to head to the pet store."
"You want me to babysit your dog?" Louie tossed him a pained look.
"Yes, until LJ shows up."
"Jake, it's a dog. She'll be fine on her own. Besides, I have to get home to dinner before I'm on Sophia's list along with the kids."
"Then I'll take her with me."
Louie cocked his head to the side, studied him and the dog, then left without another word. Alone, Jake and Brigh gauged each other.
"I'm not going to baby you." Brigh licked his face. Crap, the dog already has me wrapped around her paws.
On the ride to the store, Brigh stuck her nose out the window. Before heading in, Jake opened the window wider, then poured some water into the dish he'd brought along for her. It'd been a hot June and he didn't want Brigh getting dehydrated. Inside the pet store he picked up a few chew toys and more dog food. If he didn't get control, he'd buy out the whole damn store for the pooch. He decided he had enough stuff and got in line to check out.
A riot of red curls greeted him. He wasn't usually one for redheads but ... he wanted to see the face all that hair belonged to. A small boy darted between him and the woman.
"Mom, can I get this for Zelly?"
He got his first look of the woman's face when she turned to speak to the child. Deep green eyes stared down at the boy. Her bowed mouth firmed as she spoke. "Trevor, we have enough stuff for the cat. Put it back. And apologize to the man for pushing by him."
"He's fine," Jake said.
The kid pushed past him. Jake smiled at the woman before she turned toward the clerk to continue checking out.
He paid the kid at the counter then headed to his car and put his purchases in the trunk, except for the chew toy, which he unwrapped and placed in front of Brigh. Once he was sure Brigh was okay, he walked across the lot to the grocery store. He had to eat too.
* * *
Kyra enjoyed the last two days with her son. Yesterday, when the school nurse called her, she rushed over to pick Trevor up. Tom was unavailable and should've never sent the kid to class. The poor child was running a fever. But after two unscheduled days with Trevor, Tom had insisted she bring him home.
She stood on the top step of the place where she used to live, and at the insistence of the law, she handed her son over to a conniving bully. Tom's house, not hers. Each time she dropped Trevor off the fissure in her heart widened.
"You're welcome to come in," Tom Russell said.
"Trevor, give Mommy a kiss. And I'll see you tomorrow if you're up to it." She wrapped her arms around her son, ignoring her soon-to-be ex.
"If you'd get help, we'd be a family again."
She swallowed the barb that jumped to her lips. Instead, she said, "It's a dead issue, Tommy. Leave it be." She hugged Trevor one last time before she turned away and headed to her car. With each step, a knife jabbed at her aching heart.
She didn't remember when she'd given her soul to the devil. But she had. Leaving Trevor behind proved it. Her life, her son, her marriage, had been destroyed by no one but her. She pulled the car from the curb. Heading home to her cold, empty condo dragged her mood further into despair. Without her son, the place always reminded her of the morgue. Noise and people were what she needed. Turning the car around, she headed to the casino.
As she stepped off the garage elevator into the lobby, the cheap glitz, the noise, the thick smoke seeped into her bones and relaxed her. Ah, she was home, and better yet, her favorite machine stood empty. Slot machine therapy was better than any shrink.
* * *
"Son of a bitch," Kyra whispered, two hours later.
Since she'd been here she'd dumped over three thousand dollars into the freakin' machine. I can't believethis bitch sits down right next to me and hits the jackpot on the first spin. I'll never get Trevor back this way.
Kyra Russell pushed her long, curly hair back over her shoulder. Why did the jackpot escape her? Ten grand would pay for the lawyer to fight Tom for custody. She stuffed another hundred-dollar bill into the machine and banged the maximum-credit button. Her stomach jumped with excitement as the wheels spun. Each time, her mind cheered This is it!
As the wheels rolled into place, a cold chill raced through her veins. One by one, they landed. By the time the second symbol stilled, Kyra realized she'd lost again. Her heart banged in her ears like a jackhammer on concrete, spiking her anger. It's the next one, she told herself, banging the maximum-credit button again. She needed to take a pee break, but didn't dare leave her machine for fear someone else might hit the jackpot after she'd primed the machine.
Kyra counted along with the attendant as he paid the woman next to her, seventy-five big ones. The attendant turned to leave. Kyra waved him down.
"Excuse me," she called.
"I need to use the restroom. Can you watch my machine or lock it down?"
"I have to call a supervisor over. It'll be a few minutes."
He pressed the button in his earpiece and whispered into it. After ten minutes, the supervisor came over and locked down the machine for her, and told her she'd need to be back within the hour or they'd release it.
"Not a problem, Kyra," the supervisor said.
He had read her name off her reward card, addressing her like he knew her. Well, screw him.
She pushed off her seat and rushed to the ladies' room. Kyra didn't want to stay away too long, giving them a chance to reprogram the machine against her or reset it. She hated the new system with the tickets. Since they'd installed it, she hadn't won like she used to. Kyra was convinced the new system worked against her. She believed it was the reason she lost all the time.
Winning had been the norm when she first started playing. One night she'd won eight thousand dollars, and the next night twenty-five thousand dollars on one spin. The zing was indescribable when those wheels had rolled into place and the bells went off and the crowd surrounded her. On the night of her big win she'd gone home with twenty thousand dollars — she'd blown five grand trying to win more. Greed always took over. Winning excited her but not as much as the rush, the euphoria, she got while waiting for the wheels to fall onto the pay line.
The casino had treated her like royalty, had even given her a host. He'd gotten her into the popular shows or restaurants anytime she wanted. Nothing was too good for Kyra, as long as she showed up and put her money into the machine. She became a regular at the players' lounge — eat and drink for free. Yeah, free, her ass. The cost was extreme. Somewhere along the line, she'd lost her self-respect — along with her marriage, her son, and her savings.
As time went by, she'd put more money into the machines, hoping for bigger payouts. How it had gotten out of control she didn't know, but soon everything she loved would disappear. The bastard doesn't want custody of Trevor — he wants to bring me to my knees.
She'd rather die than lose Trevor. He needed her. She needed him more. Money the root of all evil — solved problems — her problems — if she just had some of it. Tears rolled down her face as she sat on the toilet. Not caring who heard her cry, she whispered, "Please, God, give me one big win and I promise I'll never gamble again."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All the Hidden Sins"
Copyright © 2018 Marian Lanouette.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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