When a dangerous criminal targets those whom Sugarland detective Chris Ford holds dear, nothing will stop him from hunting down his man.…
Chris is one the best and brightest at the Sugarland PD, but lately a mysterious illness has him struggling to get through the day. When his symptoms land him in the care of brilliant and sexy Dr. Robyn Lassiter, Chris realizes that he is the latest victim in a rash of mysterious poisonings in the area—most of them fatal. Figuring out who’s causing the fatal outbreak has become a very personal—and deadly—race against time.
Despite battling her own personal demons and painful past, Dr. Robyn Lassiter can’t fight her attraction to her new patient. But as she struggles to help Chris track down the sick mind behind the deaths, she’s not only at risk of losing her heart but of falling headlong into a lethal plot that could take her life.…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR THE SUGARLAND BLUE NOVELS
ALSO BY JO DAVIS
The urgent yell from the front of the emergency room near the foyer jerked Robyn Lassiter from her exhausted stupor and got her moving.
Jogging toward the front, she met the three nurses who’d rushed through the double doors pushing a gurney. The patient was an older woman, perhaps in her seventies; her eyes were closed, her pallor gray, her lined face covered with a sheen of sweat.
“Take her to ER Two,” the doctor said briskly. As they hurried down the hall, she asked, “Where are the paramedics?”
“Husband brought her in.” Shea Skyler, one of the nurses, gestured behind Robyn.
Whirling, Robyn found herself with an armful of distraught husband. Catching him by the shoulders, she looked into his panicked face. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to remain outside.”
“But my wife! Please, Peggy needs me!”
Robyn kept her tone firm but kind. “What Peggy needs is for me to be in there helping her. I can’t do that until you let me. Please, go to the waiting area and I’ll get you as soon as possible.”
Another nurse appeared, gently taking his arm. “She’s in good hands. Come with me, Mr. Fields.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the man swallowed hard and said reluctantly, “All right. Take care of Peggy.” His eyes were watery, face etched with the miserable helplessness he surely felt.
“I’ll do my best, Mr. Fields.” She never made promises. That was one of the first unwritten rules she’d learned as a doctor.
As soon as he turned to leave with the nurse, Robyn joined her team, taking in the unconscious woman on the table. Peggy Fields.
“Do we have her age? Medical history?” she asked, grabbing the ophthalmoscope and shining a beam of light into each of the woman’s eyes. Shit. “Nonreactive.”
Shea spoke up as she attached the monitors. “Seventy-one. Diabetes controlled by diet. No heart problems, no other significant health issues, according to her husband. Though he did say she’d been feeling poorly the last few weeks.”
Robyn frowned, then set about taking her pulse even as she noted her blood pressure. “Vitals are unstable. Pulse is thready, BP falling rapidly. Ready the crash cart.”
The woman was about to train wreck; they’d all seen the signs before. So it was no surprise when, despite their attempts to prevent disaster, the heart monitor flatlined. With fast, efficient movements, her team prepped the patient, injected the necessary meds into her IV. Robyn attached the pads on the woman’s chest and waited for the all clear.
The first jolt did nothing to restart Peggy’s heart. Nor did the second, or the third. Numerous tries and almost half an hour later, Shea met her eyes and shook her head, expression sad.
She had no choice. Without a heartbeat, even life support wasn’t a viable option. Robyn blew out a breath and stepped back, dejectedly checking the clock on the wall. “Time of death, seven twenty-three p.m. Shea, would you take her husband to the private family room to wait for me?”
“You bet,” the other woman said quietly.
A nurse named Barb spoke up, glancing at the woman’s body. “Must be something in the water. That’s the fourth one in the last couple of months, at least that I know of.”
Robyn gave the nurse her full attention. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve seen two other cases come in like this over the past few weeks,” Barb said. “Gray pallor, sweats, nausea. Both of those died, as well as two others I heard about from some other nurses.”
“Most likely heart attacks.” She paused, frowning. “Though so many that close together is pretty unusual.”
“The thing is, a couple of those were young. One of my patients was a man who was only twenty-two.”
Staring at Peggy Fields, Robyn felt something unpleasant coil in her stomach. “That is unusual. I may take a look into our records of those patients and then give the medical examiner a call, see what she has to say.”
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’ve just got this feeling . . .” Barb shrugged. “But it’s probably nothing.”
But even so, it wouldn’t hurt to poke around a bit.
Heart heavy, Robyn walked from the room. Detouring, she took a moment in the restroom to wash her hands and to pull herself together in order to face the worst part of her job. Then she made her way to the private family room and, taking a deep breath, pushed inside.
The elderly man’s expression as he stood, so hopeful and yet afraid, tore at her soul.
“Mr. Fields, I’m so sorry,” she said gently. “We did everything we could, but your wife has died.”
That night, after she’d let the sitter go and tucked Maddy into bed, the memory of the man’s sobs invaded her dreams, refusing to allow her to rest. Why? Why did bad things happen to good people?
Uneasy, she replayed the conversation with Barb in her head. Must be something in the water. That’s the fourth one in the last couple of months . . .
It was likely just a terrible coincidence, but now that the question had been raised, she couldn’t let the matter go without an answer. It wouldn’t help the dead, but if there was something else going on, maybe more grief could be spared.
Try as she might, she couldn’t always save them. Not even the ones she loved most.
Rolling over, she hugged Greg’s pillow and pretended she could still catch the beloved scent that was no longer there.
* * *
Christian Ford burrowed into the covers, savoring the warmth. He wasn’t wild about leaving his comfortable nest at oh-dark-thirty to head to the gym and then on to the station.
But that was only because of the pert, naked bottom his groin was currently nestled against. There was nothing in the world like a woman’s smooth body spooned with his, and his cock took a decided interest in gearing up for round three. Or was it four?
Cracking one eye open, he raised his head and peered over the sleeping blonde at the digital clock on the nightstand. “Ugh.”
Just enough time, if he hurried. With regret, he slid from the bed and padded quietly to the bathroom. He took a quick shower to wash off the pungent aroma of their sex-a-thon, even though he’d have to take another after his workout. He didn’t need more ribbing from his cousin Shane, or any of the other cops, about his carousing.
Yeah, like the shower would stop them when they already knew he’d taken this one home last night. But at least he wouldn’t stink.
After drying off, he dressed in warm-up pants, a T-shirt, and tennis shoes, and gathered a nice pair of dark pants, shoes, and a button-up shirt to wear to work. He folded the pants and shirt carefully, then placed them in his gym bag along with his shoes. Then he threw in his wallet and the badge he always clipped onto his belt, and headed for the safe in his closet.
Another peek showed that his one-night stand was still passed out. Satisfied, he spun the combination and opened the heavy door, removing his holster and pistol. Normally, he’d just toss the holster and ammo onto his dresser and keep the gun close to his reach—but never with a stranger in the house. He’d stashed them as soon as he’d brought her home.
Shutting the safe, he walked to the bed. Reached down and touched the woman’s arm. “Hey, time to get up.” She stretched, then stilled again. What was her name? Damned if he could remember. “Wake up, gorgeous.”
Better to stick with something general, anyway.
This time, her eyes opened and she blinked. Looked around, and then scowled at him as she sat up. “What the hell? The sun’s not even up!”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I did tell you I had to leave early.” She was clearly unhappy, a frown marring the expression on her narrow face. He realized that she wasn’t nearly as attractive as she’d been last night after a few rounds of Cuervo. Now that common sense had returned, he wasn’t that sorry about the hour or shoving her out the door. He guessed it showed.
With a huff, she rose and began to gather her clothes. She took her sweet time pulling on her panties and donning her bra, a smirk forming on her lips as she did.
“You sure you want me dressed?” Her attitude had gone from sulky to playful, as she obviously decided to try to persuade him to be late.
“Yep. Gotta go,” he said cheerfully, shoring up his willpower. Morning-after sex with this woman would definitely give her the wrong impression.
He was looking for forever—but not with the young lady who’d fucked him only after propositioning his cousin and getting turned down flat. Even the fact that Shane was married hadn’t been a deterrent to her. God, what had he been thinking? Chris forced back a shudder at the thought of how he’d allowed tequila shots and loneliness to cloud his judgment.
“Come on,” she purred, stepping up to trail a nail down his chest. “Fuck me against the wall again. Please?”
Any lingering trace of lust withered and died. Now he just wanted her gone.
He stepped back, still smiling, but letting his tone cool a bit. “Look, I’m running late, which means you have to leave. It’s been fun, but the real world is calling.”
Snorting, she grabbed her jeans and yanked them on. “Whatever. Call me if you want another round tonight, or drinks—”
“I won’t, but thanks for a great time.” He cringed at the seemingly heartless, but necessary, brush-off.
Finally getting the message, she finished dressing, pulled on her spiky heels, grabbed her purse, and stormed out. Following, he winced as the front door slammed with no little force. He took a moment to be grateful she’d driven her own car, preventing the awkwardness from being any worse.
Shit, he hated hurting people’s feelings. Even so, it never ceased to amaze him what some women expected from a man versus reality. Under the circumstances, was hooking up with her supposed to mean more to him than a great roll in bed? Especially when he’d been her second choice to begin with? Jesus.
With a sigh, he let himself out through the garage, where his Camaro waited. Climbing in, he stowed his bag next to him, hit the door opener, and then fired up the engine. Once he was on the road, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Christ, that sucked. No more one-night stands.”
Until the next time he got so lonely his control vanished.
At the gym, he walked inside and immediately spied his new partner, Tonio Salvatore, jogging on one of the treadmills. Tonio had moved from Texas to Sugarland, Tennessee, the year before to be closer to his brother, Julian, a firefighter and medic at Station Five. Tonio was a good guy, if a little serious—unlike his brother, who was a former womanizer of the first order.
Tonio avoided women like the plague. Badge bunnies in particular drove the guy nuts, and not in a good way. He was totally devoted to his siblings, his mother, and his job. And as far as Chris knew, he never took part in the off-color jokes other officers bandied about to blow off steam, didn’t drink much, and rarely smiled. The man was an enigma, and Chris wished he’d open up some. The guy definitely had a story to tell.
But Tonio pulled his weight as a cop and had your back. That was what counted.
Leaving his partner to the treadmill, Chris did some stretches to warm up. Then he started with some easy curls, and worked up to crunches. Next came some weights to work his thighs. Last, he headed over to do some bench presses for his arms and chest. He never did too many reps, not wanting to bulk up, just enough to keep fit and toned.
“Spot you?” Tonio asked, walking over as he wiped his face with a hand towel.
As Chris began, falling into a comfortable rhythm of lifting the heavy bar from his chest, he could feel Tonio’s penetrating gaze. He figured the third degree wasn’t far behind.
“You feeling okay today?”
“Come on, man.” He huffed, pushing the bar upward again. “You’ve asked me that every day since I came back to work.”
“It’s only been three days, amigo. Just answer the question.”
“I’m fine.” Another rep.
“Your color still isn’t good. You’re too pale.”
“Everybody’s pale next to you,” he joked. Tonio was half Hispanic and half Italian.
“Smart-ass. You know what I mean. First you’ve been sick, and then you got into a wreck during that stupid fucking chase, got yourself banged up.” Annoyance had crept into his tone, which Chris knew actually masked his worry. He’d heard his partner talk the same way to Julian. “You haven’t even been out of the hospital a week, and—”
“Tonio? Give it a rest, man. Seriously.”
“Fine. But if you so much as break a sweat, I’m going straight to Rainey.”
Austin Rainey was their captain, and he wouldn’t hesitate to put Chris back on leave if he suspected he wasn’t up to par. The idea of being cooped up again, out of the loop at work, wasn’t a fun one.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to fuck up and do anything to ruin your rep as the department superhero.” Heaving the bar back into the holder, he sat up and caught Tonio’s fierce scowl. “What?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Reaching for his own towel, Chris rolled his eyes, then wiped his face and neck. “Come on, everybody knows about the busload of kids in San Antonio. How you jumped onto a speeding bus and saved them all, like a regular Keanu Reeves or something.”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Tonio narrowed his dark eyes and ignored the repeat of the story. “I’d never put my reputation above my partner. And don’t try to change the subject. I’m concerned about you.”
“I wasn’t trying to change the subject. Just letting you know I’m fine, but thanks.” Wow, two lies in one shot.
He’d definitely been trying to steer the conversation away from himself, and the nausea he’d been striving to ignore since he’d started his workout was becoming worse. The headache was starting as well, building as an awful pressure in his skull that promised to be a screamer before long.
Not again, goddammit! I had this beat! What the fuck is wrong with me?
Squinting up at Tonio, he realized the man had uncrossed his arms and was starting toward him in alarm. Pushing up from the bench, Chris stood, ignoring the sudden weakness in his legs and pasting on a cocky grin.
“Aww, you care. That’s so sweet.”
“God, you’re such a moron. I don’t know why I bother.”
With that, Tonio gave up and strode for the door at the back leading to the showers. Stung, Chris watched him disappear into the other room and wondered why he and Tonio couldn’t have the same relationship as Shane and his partner, Taylor Kayne. Shane and Taylor constantly traded barbs, gave each other no end of shit, but were as close as brothers.
Every time Chris tried to joke with Tonio, his attempt fell flatter than a pancake. The guy was strung tighter than a fucking banjo.
Yeah, and it didn’t help that you mocked his concern. He knows something is wrong, and now he likely thinks his partner doesn’t trust him.
With a sigh, Chris followed and headed to the showers. Tonio was standing in one of the stalls, only his bronzed upper body showing as he turned this way and that, rinsing off the soap. Chris took a stall next to him and made short work of cleaning up. By the time he was done, his partner was dried off and getting dressed by the lockers. Grabbing his towel, Chris dried off as well and then joined him, opening his own locker to retrieve his work clothes.
“I’m sorry,” he began. “I was an asshole.”
Tonio eyed him, and nodded. “Yeah, you were. But I get it.”
The man’s expression softened in understanding. “You’re still not well, and you don’t want anybody to guess. Am I right?”
“How do you know that?” he asked in exasperation, pulling on his boxer briefs. “It’s not like I’ve broadcast it.”
“You don’t have to. You’re my partner, Chris,” Tonio said earnestly. “I see more of you than even Shane does. He doesn’t work by your side all day, so he doesn’t see that you have little appetite and your energy is past gone by the end of shift. He’s not always here at the gym to notice your workout gets slower every day. That yesterday you did twenty-five reps and today you only did fifteen.”
Chris blinked at him, heart sinking. “Damn. You’re an observant son of a bitch.”
“Occupational hazard.” A hint of a smile was there and gone in a flash. “I get that you want to keep this quiet, but I’m your partner and the last person who should be in the dark when it comes to your health. The same applies to me keeping you in the loop, too.”
He looked away, guilt spearing his gut. “I am sorry. The last thing I want to do is put you or anyone else at risk on the job.”
“You won’t, because I’m not going to let that happen. You’re going to be honest with me and let me know before it gets that far.”
Blowing out a breath, he stared at the floor. What choice did he have? He’d just have to power through as long as possible. “All right. I will. But please don’t say anything to anyone, including Shane.”
“I’m not going to lie to your cousin if he asks me point-blank.”
He knew Tonio wouldn’t budge on this, so there was no point in arguing. “Fair enough.”
“Are you feeling well enough to work today?”
“Yes.” But just barely.
“Good. Now let’s get to the trenches, slacker.”
“Was that you almost making a joke?”
“In your dreams.”
From the man’s tone, his mood was much improved by Chris’s promise. As far as his stubborn partner was concerned, he’d spoken on the matter and that was it.
If only it was that simple.
They drove to the station separately, Chris arriving right after Tonio. They walked into the crowded briefing room and took seats next to each other, waiting for Rainey to get things rolling. All around them, their friends and colleagues on the day shift, including the two female officers, were laughing and joking, sipping coffee. Spirits were high today.
Shane and Taylor strolled in, the latter in the middle of telling Shane a story, apparently about Cara, his girlfriend.
“. . . and she says to me, ‘Do these jeans make my butt look fat?’”
“Uh-oh,” one of the guys interjected. “The loaded gun of all questions.”
Taylor nodded and gestured with one arm, almost sloshing his coffee. “Right? So I say, ‘They make your ass look like a ripe, juicy peach,’ and she gets all pissed off and tells me peaches are fat! I said peaches are plump and sweet, but—”
“Plump?” Shane repeated, laughing. “Oh, man. Hope your couch is comfy.”
“I meant it in a good way! Who wants a skinny, shriveled-up peach?”
Chris laughed along with the guys, and even Tonio cracked a smile. The upbeat mood was almost enough to make him forget how awful he felt, and by the time the captain walked into the room, he figured he could make it.
“All right, people,” Rainey yelled over the noise. “Quiet down so we can get going.”
The first part was so boring Chris almost fell asleep listening to the captain drone on and on about quotas on traffic tickets and the city being up the chief’s ass like a bad enema because the number of citations was down.
Blah, blah, blah. Same shit, different day.
At the mention of the drug dog doing a sweep through a middle school and the high school, he perked up a bit. But while interesting, handling the K-9 unit wasn’t his assignment and there were no plans as of yet to put someone undercover in the high school. Then the talk turned to something about the yearly presentation on Stranger Danger to the local first graders, so he drifted again and concentrated on deep breaths. Calming thoughts of the nearby Cumberland River, lazing around on the bank, anything to ease this damned headache—
“You good with that, Detective Ford?”
Blinking, he looked around and realized Rainey was speaking to him, not to Shane. He scrambled to save face. “You bet, Cap.”
“Great. Thanks for volunteering,” his superior said with a smirk. “You and Salvatore can pick up the suit from storage anytime.”
“Suit?” Crap, what the heck had he gotten himself into now?
Beside him, Tonio groaned. “I’m not wearing that smelly fucking thing—you are.”
Snickers sounded around the room, and Shane elbowed Taylor in the ribs, the two of them turning red from stifling their laughter. Jerks.
Austin strode forward with a folder in his hands and tossed it onto the table in front of Chris. “I don’t care who wears it. Just follow the program and be at each school on time.”
With dread, he looked down at the folder and his worst suspicion was confirmed—smiling up at him was a cartoon rendering of Valor the Crime Dog wearing a police hat.
He and Tonio had just been stuck giving the one-hour Stranger Danger program for all of Sugarland’s elementary schools.
“Fuck.” The others lost it, not even bothering to hide their laughter any longer, and their relief that they hadn’t gotten the assignment this year. “You guys suck.”
Fantastic. Other than the fact that they got squirmy if they had to sit too long and had the attention span of mayflies, what he knew about little kids could fit onto the head of a pin. Oh, he loved kids; he just didn’t know what to do with so many at one time.
Tonio grabbed the folder and opened it, peering at a typed sheet of paper inside. “We start next week, one school per week.”
“Like we don’t have real jobs to do or anything,” he grumped.
“Come on, it won’t be so bad. Besides, teaching people about crime and safety is part of our job—even if they’re small people.”
“Thanks, Pollyanna. I’m sure it’ll be a blast.”
“If you’re done bitching, we’ll continue.” The captain shuffled some papers on his podium. “Burglaries have risen dramatically in the last three months, most of them homes. I’m assigning Ford and Salvatore to look into these since they’ll be out of the building a lot anyway.”
Beside him, Tonio spoke up. “Cap, why us? I mean, the responding officers usually follow up on those.”
“Good question, and you’re right. Actually, they have followed up, and found these aren’t typical burglaries. For one, there’s been an entire string of them, not just one or two. Second, in the majority of these cases, little if anything was taken.”
Chris frowned. “Well, that’s weird.”
“Yes, it is, and it raises a red flag. If the perps aren’t breaking in to steal, then they’re doing it for another reason. What that reason might be is what we need to find out.”
“We’re on it,” Tonio said earnestly. “If there’s a connection, we’ll find it.”
“Good. Next, I want to point out . . .”
Chris resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his partner as Rainey droned on. Nobody was that much of a goody two-shoes. Except Tonio, apparently. He was about as much fun as a box of rocks. Jesus, what was this guy’s damage?
Finally, the briefing was over and Chris went to see Rainey for a moment, taking the report from him that contained the names and addresses of the victims of the break-ins. Bracing himself for boring grunt work, he also had to admit it was better than wearing a dog costume.
“May as well get started talking to some of these folks,” Chris said to his partner as they left the room.
He didn’t argue. It didn’t much matter to him who drove, and Tonio liked to be behind the wheel. He gri- maced inwardly, though, at the sight of his partner’s serviceable 2010 Taurus sitting like a dark blob in the parking lot. Not everybody was into American muscle like Shane, Taylor, and himself, but damn. Even though nobody was getting rich on a cop’s salary, surely the man could afford something less grandfatherly.
In a rare moment of common sense, Chris kept the thought to himself.
Sliding into the passenger’s seat, he laid the crime dog folder and burglary list on the seat between them and buckled his seat belt.
“What’s the first address?” Tonio asked.
He picked up the sheet and read it off. “Home belongs to George Fell. His was one of the earliest break-ins, almost three months ago. Honestly, I don’t know what we’re supposed to get out of investigating these.”
“That’s why we’re called detectives, Sherlock.” Tonio tossed him a rare grin. “We’ll figure it out.”
“Better than being a dumb-ass.”
Chris was quiet for a minute, watching the town roll past his window. As was typical, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut for long. “How’s your mom and sister?”
Chris knew Tonio and Julian’s family still lived in San Antonio and that their mother hadn’t been happy that both of her sons had moved so far away.
“They’re fine. Mamacita may come for a visit soon, but I don’t know if Sis will come with her or not.”
“That’s good. At least you can see your mom.”
“I suppose. I miss my mother, but she’s a bit overwhelming.”
“I miss mine, too,” he replied before he thought the better of it.
“Why don’t you invite her here?”
“She’s dead. Cancer, when I was twelve.”
“Shit, I’m sorry.” His partner glanced over, his expression contrite.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t talk about it much. My dad’s still alive, but we don’t keep in touch.” He could feel his partner’s unspoken question, so he decided to keep it simple. “He’s an asshole. I don’t know how Mom stood him as long as she did.”
The rest of the ride was quiet, Tonio forgoing any more questions. Chris honestly wouldn’t have minded answering, because that meant he could ask a few more of his own. It occurred to him that was probably why the man didn’t probe further.
Ten minutes later, Tonio parked in front of a modest frame house and killed the engine. They got out and walked up to the front porch, and Chris knocked. After a few moments of silence, footsteps creaked on the other side of the door, then paused as though the person on the other side was peering out of the peephole.
The door opened slowly, and an older man’s face appeared in the crack. “Can I help you?”
“Mr. Fell?” Chris inquired.
“That’s me.” The man eyed them suspiciously.
Chris gestured to the shield clipped to his belt, and nodded. “I’m Detective Chris Ford, and this is my partner, Tonio Salvatore. May we come in for a few minutes?”
“Sure, I suppose,” the man said warily, then stepped back to allow them inside.
Once they were in, he tried to give the man a reassuring smile. “We’re just here to follow up on the break-in you had a few months ago. There’s been a rash of them since then, and we’d like to speak with you about what happened here, see if we can find any similarities.”
“Oh.” Fell scratched his balding head. “I haven’t thought much about that in a while. My wife passed away about a month after the bastards broke in, and it just didn’t seem that important anymore.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” he said sincerely. “If you prefer, we can come back some other time.”
“No, no. Might as well stay. There’s not that much to tell anyhow.”
“All right, if you’re sure.”
Tonio took a small notepad and pen from his pocket and got ready to write while Chris questioned the man.
“Mr. Fell, when did you first notice your home had been burglarized?”
“Oh, one morning after I’d been out running errands with my wife, I guess it was. No, it was afternoon, because we stopped and ate lunch before we came home.”
“Do you believe the break-in took place during that morning, or could it have been the previous night while you were both sleeping?”
“It was that morning while we were out—I’m positive. The house was fine when we left, and when we came back there was glass all over the front porch. Son of a bitch had broken out the side glass and reached in to unlock the door.”
“Broad daylight, entering from the front? Pretty bold.” Chris exchanged a look with his partner before returning his attention to the other man. “Okay. And when you looked around, was anything missing?”
“If he did take anything, it wasn’t valuable. All of our electronics, our stash of cash in the bedroom—everything was still there. But there was something weird.” He paused, as though remembering.
“What was that?”
“Stuff was moved, just slightly. We could tell because of the dust on the furniture. The lamp, some pictures, things like that. Like whoever broke in picked up certain items, examined them, and then put them back. But he didn’t care if we noticed, because he didn’t put them back exactly the same way.”
“That’s really odd,” Tonio put in with a frown.
“Tell me about it.” Mr. Fell sighed. “It really upset us, especially Sarah, God rest her.”
There really wasn’t much else George Fell could relate to them, so they politely took their leave a couple of minutes later.
“That was strange,” Chris said as they climbed back into the Taurus. “Not Mr. Fell, but the burglary.”
“Yeah. That’s a pretty ballsy way to commit a break-in, during the day when he couldn’t be sure how long they’d be gone, right on the front porch. And then to not take anything? It doesn’t make sense.”
“And if it’s the same guy, there’s a whole list of them just like that one.” Chris lifted the sheet of addresses. “What the hell is he after?”
“Got no clue. Maybe he’s a voyeur? Like, one of those underwear sniffers.”
Chris barked a laugh. “God, I need bleach for my brain.”
Tonio smiled, shook his head. “Next address?”
“Pauline Nicholson, one block over.”
“Hmm. Pretty close to Mr. Fell’s address. Maybe we should take a city map and place pins on the location of each home. See if there’s a pattern.”
“Now that’s good thinkin’, Sherlock,” he drawled, throwing the term back at his partner.
The visit with Mrs. Nicholson and the next two victims as well turned out pretty much the same—not much info, and what there was didn’t compute. Like items in the house being moved and the lack of theft . . .
All in all, it made for a long, tedious day. At the end of their shift, Chris was tired, but at least his headache had subsided.
By the time he fell into bed that night, he’d managed to convince himself that today had simply been a slight relapse.
Dragging himself out of bed the next morning before sunrise, Chris ignored the aches and pains he shouldn’t have been feeling and slipped on his warm-up pants and a T-shirt.
Today he decided to forgo working out at the gym in favor of going for a walk through his neighborhood. He felt fine, he told himself. He could do something more strenuous if he wanted to, but walking was just as good. And he liked his peaceful neighborhood of modest homes with their trim lawns. Taylor lived a few streets over, so maybe he’d even walk that far and bum a cup of coffee.
As he went along, he let the peace and quiet seep into his bones. He’d like to get a dog to walk with him. But while he loved animals and a dog would make a great companion, he worked too much and his hours sometimes ran long. It wasn’t fair to a pup to leave it alone so often. The knowledge made him a little sad.
The sun began to peek over the horizon, and the streetlamps shut off. He hadn’t been out all that long, but his limbs were starting to feel heavy and sweat trickled down his back. The headache returned as a low, ominous throb and his stomach lurched.
“Shit.” Disappointed, he cut his walk short and turned down the next street he came to so he could head back home.
But with every step, the symptoms got worse. This didn’t bode well for the rest of his day. Damn, he couldn’t afford to miss any more work. His body didn’t get the message, however, and halfway down the street he was forced to stop. Thrusting out a hand, he braced himself against a light pole and stood with his head down, panting, desperately trying to stave off being sick. Or passing out.
“Hey, mister! You okay?”
Straightening, he looked for the owner of that sweet little voice and turned. His gaze drifted downward to the cutest kid, a girl who appeared to be about seven or so. She had her brunette hair in a ponytail held on top of her head with a pink scrunchie thing, and wore a matching pink top, a backpack that was way too big, and jeans. Her small face was frowning at him, her concern clear.
“I’m all right, sweetheart,” he said, mustering a smile. “Just got a bit winded.”
“Oh.” She seemed to consider this very seriously. “You want my mommy to take your temp-ra-ture? She’s a doctor!”
What an angel. “Oh, no, that won’t be necessary—”
“Madeline Jane, wait for me! And you forgot your lunch box again!” a woman’s voice called. “I swear— Oh. Who are you talking to, honey?”
Chris raised his eyes to peer over the child—and forgot to breathe.
Staring back at him, holding a pink lunch box, was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was about five foot seven and had straight, silky auburn hair that fell to her shoulders. A fitted black shirt hugged her curves, emphasizing a mouthwatering busty figure that tapered to a small waist. Gray dress pants showed off long legs with just a hint of the strong thighs underneath.
As she approached, locking gazes with him, he took in the wariness in her vivid blue eyes. “Maddy, who’s this?” she asked mildly, but with an unmistakable hint of warning directed at him.
“I don’t know, Mommy. But he doesn’t feel good,” Maddy informed her mom. “You should take his temp-ra-ture.”
“Maybe so.” The woman stopped, handed over the lunch box, and wrapped her arms around her child, pulling Maddy’s back against her front. A clearly protective stance. “But what have I told you about talking to strangers?”
Maddy dipped her head. “Sorry.”
“We’ll talk about it more later.” She hugged her daughter in reassurance, then addressed Chris, holding out a hand. “Hello, I’m Robyn.”
He shook it, a bit disappointed that she didn’t share her last name. He decided to share more in his introduction. As he let go of her hand, he reached into the pocket of his warm-ups, removed his badge, and held it up. “Chris Ford. I’m a detective with the Sugarland PD.” He smiled. “You and Maddy are both perfectly safe in my presence. Honest.”
With that, the steel in her expression softened some. “Nice to meet you, Detective.”
She nodded, but made no commitment either way. “So, you’re not feeling well? Would you like to sit down on my steps? I can take a look at you or call someone to come get you.”
He shook his head. “No, thanks. I just needed to catch my breath. I’ve been out of commission and this is only my fourth day back at work. Guess I’ve got to build up my strength again.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she seemed to see right through him. “You don’t look well. You’re pale, and you’re holding on to that light pole as though it’s the only thing keeping you upright.”
Abruptly, he pushed away from it as though it had burned him. “No, really I’m fine. But I’d better be on my way if I don’t want to be late.”
“Well, if you’re sure . . .” She wasn’t convinced. “I was just about to take Maddy to school. Would you like a ride home?”
He opened his mouth to refuse—and then thought better of it. One, he wasn’t sure he’d make it. And two, he really wanted more time in Robyn’s presence. “Sure, that would be great. Thanks.”
“No problem.” To Maddy, she said, “Would you run in and get my purse and keys? They’re on the table.”
The girl ran inside, and Chris took the opportunity to speak privately. “I’m sorry if I scared you when you saw her talking to me. I was just resting for a minute and she surprised me.”
“It’s all right. No matter how I caution her, Maddy is a social butterfly.” The woman gave him a real smile, and almost blinded him. “I’m Dr. Robyn Lassiter, by the way.”
By God, she was gorgeous.
His mouth stretched into a wide, answering smile. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Lassiter.”
He was getting the feeling there was no Mr. Lassiter in the picture, but he couldn’t be sure. How could he subtly find out?
All too fast, the little girl returned, swinging the purse and keys, and handed them to her mother.
“Ready, sweet pea?”
“Yep!” To Chris, she proudly said, “I’m in first grade!”
“Is that so?” He widened his eyes, looking impressed. “You’re a big girl, then.”
“Yes, sir,” Robyn corrected the little girl.
Maddy sighed. “Yes, sir.”
Something about these two made him feel warm inside. Better than he had in a long time. Maddy scrambled into the back of the car as though she was used to riding there, which was safer given her size and the air bags in the front. Chris climbed into the passenger’s seat and buckled up. Once they were on their way, he gave directions to his house.
“You live pretty close by,” Robyn commented.
“Yeah. I feel stupid catching a ride when I live five streets away.”
“That’s not what I meant. I don’t mind at all.”
When she pulled up in front of his house a few moments later, he turned. “Speaking of strangers, my partner and I are giving the Stranger Danger program to each of the first-grade classes starting next week. Maybe I’ll see you and Maddy there.” To Maddy, he turned and said in a conspiratorial voice, “I’m bringing Valor the Crime Dog.”
“Yay! Can you come, Mommy?”
Put on the spot, Robyn bit her lip. “I can’t promise, but I’ll try.”
Thank Jesus for this shitty assignment and even the smelly suit.
That was the best he was going to get, so it was time to bow out gracefully. “Thank you for the ride. Hopefully I’ll see you two soon.”
She smiled, but the shadows were back. “We’ll see. Good to meet you, Chris.”
“You, too.” Winking, he got out and headed inside, glancing back once as she drove away. He wanted to know more about this gorgeous lady, and he didn’t want her to go. Too bad they hadn’t had time for coffee.
On the bright side, she’d called him by his first name. They lived nearby, so he could just happen to walk her direction again. And he’d be at her daughter’s school soon.
It would do for a start.
* * *
Robyn’s cell phone buzzed in her coat pocket and she pulled it out, leaning back in the chair in her office. Every second of the day had been packed, so it figured she’d get a call the one time she sat down.
On the other hand, looking at the display, she saw this was one call she had been waiting for. She answered quickly. “This is Dr. Robyn Lassiter.”
What People are Saying About This
“Really moving. . . amazing story and I loved every bit of it. Four and a half stars!”—Night Owl Reviews (Top Pick)
PRAISE FOR THE SUGARLAND BLUE NOVELS
“With her descriptive storytelling and sharp banter, Davis’s way with words will keep the reader hooked...Davis hits it out of the park.”—Romantic Times
“Scorching hot.”—Publishers Weekly
“Romance suspense at its best. . .A wonderful series that has it all: exciting stories, superhot couple, romance, danger, suspense, friendship from a great group of secondary characters, and hot hot hot sex.”—The Reading Cafe
“If you like romance, action, and mysteries, then you will love this book.”—Once Upon a Twilight
“Jo writes stories that keep you hooked until the very last page and clamoring for the next book to release.”—Book Monster Reviews
“A smart, sexy, and fast-paced read.”—Fresh Fiction