Excerpt: Dare to Remember

Book 1: The Garrett Brothers

Prologue

What was she doing here? Despite the unease sliding through him, Mace Garrett couldn't take his eyes off the sexy brunette walking toward him.

He rose from his desk, appreciating the honeyed sway of her hips and the tantalizing flash of brown leg bared by the mid-calf hem of her skirt.

Though he'd kissed and touched her ivory, velvet skin only hours ago, his body hardened in anticipation, as it always did when he saw his fiancée. But his surprise at seeing Devon in the squad room took precedence over his physical reaction.

“Hi, Dev—”

“I need to talk to you.” Her gaze darted nervously around the room crowded with desks and chairs and detectives. “Now.”

“Sure.” Mace cautioned himself to remain calm. Something was bothering Devon, enough to compel her to come to the station. In the months since they'd met and become engaged, she'd never stepped foot in here.

He ushered her into the battered gray rest room shared by the entire unit and closed the door.

She stood in the center of the room, her back to him, her shoulders tight beneath the floral fabric of her dress.

Mace walked up behind her, sensing fear. What had happened? Concerned now, he slid his hands around her waist and locked them under her breasts, bringing her gently back against him. He pressed a kiss to her neck. “Hey, you all right?”

“Yes.” She leaned into him for a heartbeat, then pulled away. “No. Don't. I can't do this.”

He chuckled. “Babe, all I did was kiss—”

“I can't marry you.” Her words rushed out, cracking the air like a gunshot.

Mace blinked. “What?”

She turned to him, and he stared into her beautiful silver-green eyes, dusky now like clouds before a storm. He felt the floor tilt beneath him.

She was upset about his close call last night. That was all.

Pain wrenched her delicate features, and she tugged at the diamond solitaire on her left hand.

Panic jolted him like a shot of raw electricity and he gripped her elbow, stalling her movement. “Whatever I did, I'm sorry.”

His attempt at teasing only caused her eyes to darken with fear and desperation.

She looked exactly as she had a few days ago at the hospital emergency room, when he and O'Kelly had been involved in that shooting at the crack house. At the time, she'd been on the edge of panic, but she had calmed down. Or so Mace had thought.

Fear shifted through him. “What the hell is going on?”

“I can't marry you. I can't be a policeman's wife.”

“You're upset about last night. Look, I'm okay.” He spread his arms wide so she could see what she already knew, that he was indeed uninjured. “See?”

But instead of taking stock of him, she focused on the shoulder holster that held his .357 short-barreled Magnum, and he silently cursed. If he'd known she was coming up, he would've taken it off. But he hadn't known.

“I have nightmares, Mace.” Her voice, thin and brittle, bit at him like cold steel. “Horrible, real nightmares.”

“That's normal, hon.” He moved closer, still not touching, though he wanted to gather her up and give her his strength. “You were in the house when your father was killed. It's a lot to deal with. It's gonna take time—”

“The dreams aren't about him.” She lifted her gaze to his, terror turning her eyes to a flat void gray. “They're about you. You're the one who dies.”

He knew not to downplay her fears; they were all too real and faced daily by a cop's wife. But Devon's seemed more pronounced since Bill's death. Though dread hammered at him, Mace kept his voice low and gentle, soothing her panic with reason. “Don't you think I have dreams, too?”

“N-not like this.” She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, locked away from him, distant. She squeezed her eyes shut as if she were ashamed. “I can't eat. I can't sleep. I think…I'm losing my mind.”

“You just need time. I'm willing to give you that.”

Her gaze, agonized and bleak, lifted to his. “I couldn't bear to see you the way I had to see my father, lying there in a pool of blood—I couldn't bear it if you were shot like him.”

Denial pushed through him. Everything he'd ever searched for was represented in her—goodness, hope, the promise of forever. He couldn't lose her, couldn't lose them. “I'll leave the street. I can work a desk.”

“No! I would never ask you to do that. You love your job as much as I love mine, and you're too good at it. You should be able to do it without having to choose between it and your wife's sanity. I don't want that.”

Choking back her sobs, she slid the engagement ring from her trembling hand and held it out to him on her open palm. He refused to take it. The distance widened between them, pulsing with a combination of anger and rejection and humiliation.

“Dammit, Devon!” He grabbed her, trying to control the rage, the fear reaching for him. “You can't do this! I can't lose you. I won't give you up.”

“You have to.” She pulled away, her eyes filling with tears. Then she squared her shoulders and walked out the door. Her steps echoed on the city-issue, aged linoleum, hollow clicks that drove into him like spikes of pain.

Without being aware that he'd moved, Mace found himself in front of the water cooler, staring blankly at what she'd left behind.

Her ring. His ring.

Anger began a slow burn inside him, rising to an icy rage. His hand closed over the diamond solitaire, embedding it into his palm, and he punched his fist through the wall.

 

Chapter 1

“You look like you've been rode hard and put up wet,” O'Kelly commented.

Mace snorted as he dug through the files on his desk, looking for the 211 that Burglary had collared last night. The prints on one Gordon Dale Jens, aka Diamond Dale, matched a set found at the Wadley scene, and Mace thought he might have a hunch where the trail led from the two-bit thief.

Reid O'Kelly slumped down in the chair across from Mace's scarred desk and groaned, rubbing his right shoulder.

Mace's partner had survived the shooting at the crack house last year, though his muscle had been as shredded as used tissue. He'd come through his physical therapy on pure stubbornness.

All things considered, O'Kelly had weathered the incident a hell of a lot better than Mace. O'Kelly's arm might hang like that of a used-up, worn-out pitcher, but at least his mind hadn't gone to mush because of a female.

“No luck on the Landry lead?”

“Nope.” Mace slammed the door on further thoughts of the opposite sex. Especially of one particular female.

“So, you didn't tell Marilee Landry about the latest?”

“That lead was a dead end, just like the others. Didn't want to get her hopes up.”

“Something'll turn up, man.”

“Yeah, right.” Mace grabbed the Wadley file and eased back into his chair. Held together with duct tape and a hardwood base, the chair groaned and creaked with Mace's weight.

“What about that other set of prints from the Wadley job? Don't you think those could belong to someone in the Martressa organization?”

“Hell, they could be the president's for all it'll get us.” It had been over a year since Bill Landry's murder, over a year since Devon—

Nothing had turned up. O'Kelly knew the probability of evidence surfacing, especially now and especially on this case. Evidence concerning Martressa and his organization seemed to evaporate like rain in a hot Oklahoma wind.

“If you want Marilee to know things are still open, I'll talk to her. If you don't feel like it.”

“I don't mind talking to her.” Mace leveled a flat stare at his partner that plainly said “Drop it.” “Besides, she knows the case is still open.”

Mace continued to have a close relationship with Marilee Landry. And though they never discussed her daughter anymore, he knew Marilee had wished, like he had, for a wedding last year.

He also knew, thanks to Marilee, that if there were a wedding this year, it wouldn't be Mace wearing the monkey suit and saying “I do.” Despite attempting a reconciliation with Devon, he had been unsuccessful. And now she was involved with some pantywaist nine-to-fiver. An accountant, dammit. A wuss. A wimpy bean counter.

“You still think there's a connection between Martressa and Diamond Dale?”

“I know we've never found a link, but yeah, I think so. Bill discovered the person who was leaking information to Martressa, but wouldn't say who over the phone.” Mace shoved his hands through his hair. “Hell, I don't know! If I'd been with Bill like I was supposed to be—”

“You might be dead, too,” O'Kelly said flatly. He leaned across the desk, his green gaze drilling into Mace.

“Hey, man, it's not your fault. Bill got too close and Martressa had him taken out. You know the risks.”

Yes, Mace knew them. And it wasn't exactly guilt he felt over Bill Landry. It was more a sense of responsibility to his friend, the man who'd showed him the ropes when he'd first started in Homicide. That January night last year, Bill had been expecting Mace, and by the time he'd finally arrived, Bill had been dead.

Mace had had no control over that situation, but he could damn sure stay on Martressa's case. He shoved his hands through his hair again. “Who is Martressa's connection? Every time we try to jump on the slime, he closes up his gambling ring, shuts down his drug operations for a month or so. Then he's back in business again. It has to be somebody inside the PD who's giving Martressa the info.”

“Bill was going down the list of every employee working Vice and Narcotics. We'll just keep on it.” O'Kelly had never blamed Mace for being late to meet Bill. And neither had Devon.

Because she hadn't known, Mace told himself. She hadn't known that Mace was due to meet her father at the house to get some new information. She hadn't known that Mace had been late due to his own bachelor party.

But Mace knew. He'd had hours and hours to think about it—over endless stakeouts, tall cold longnecks and lonely, infinitely long nights. “Maybe the Wadley job was a one-time job Dale pulled for Martressa, but there's a connection somehow.”

If O'Kelly thought Mace was reaching, he didn't say so. And he'd never advised Mace to close the file, like Lightsey and Palmer had. Mace would never close the file, even though he'd once offered to quit the case. A year ago. A lifetime ago.

But Devon hadn't wanted that—she hadn't wanted anything from him. Mace had spent his entire adult life dealing with crises, handling traumas, solving crimes, but he hadn't been able to do a damn thing to avert his own crisis.

After Devon had broken their engagement, Mace had given her, and him, a day to cool off. He'd tried to talk to her again, but her arguments were just as vehement.

“I can't live with the fear, Mace.”

“You need someone who can be your partner. Not someone you have to baby. You would hate me. I would hate myself.”

“Maybe I don't love you enough.”

“The fear won't go away Mace. I'm afraid, no matter how much I want us. I can't be a policeman's wife.”

And she'd been right, Mace could admit now, almost without rancor. She wasn't cut out for this kind of life. Thanks to Bill, she had been too sheltered to have any real idea of the fear and uncertainty faced daily by a cop's wife.

Bill and Marilee Landry had divorced when Devon was a child. Though Bill hated being separated from Devon, he was glad she wasn't involved in that part of his life. He had always flatly refused to share any aspect of his job with Devon or Marilee.

It was Devon's naiveté about Mace's job that had first intrigued him at the beginning of their relationship. And in the end it had caused their breakup. They didn't discuss his job. Period. If the subject ever came up, she shied away. And even though Mace thought Bill too overprotective of his daughter, Mace, too, had taken it upon himself to shelter her in the same way.

Hell, why was he thinking about her? Even O'Kelly knew not to bring up her name, despite talking about her mother and dancing around the details of Bill's case.

Down the hall someone pounded on the soda machine and cursed. A few desks away, Palmer slammed down his phone, then walked past Mace, muttering.

Mace spied the Wadley file and slipped it from under the stack.

O'Kelly leaned back and stretched his long legs on top of the desk, grinning. “How'd things work out with that redhead last night?”

“They didn't.” Mace flipped through the file.

“You passed on her?

“Wasn't in the mood,” he warned in clipped tones. Feeling O'Kelly's probing gaze, Mace glanced up.

“That's twice in a row. I still can't believe you turned down that sweet little blonde last weekend at the lake.”

“Just how sweet was she?”

O'Kelly grinned.

Mace had dated in the last year, but no one more than once. O'Kelly had paraded an endless number of women in front of him, but Mace wasn't interested. Not yet, anyway.

Only in the last few months had he gotten over Devon Landry.

Totally, completely. He wasn't looking for another woman to use his heart as a dartboard.

He'd always enjoyed women, too much to settle for just one. Until he'd met Dev. And now, after his broken engagement, no woman could hold his attention for longer than a drink or a dance. He resented that, just as he resented other things.

Yes, he was over her, but it still didn't dim the pain, the rejection he felt that she had walked away from him. He hadn't been enough for her—not his love, not his strength. Damn, hadn't he told himself he wouldn't think about her? He'd become a pro at dismissing thoughts of her, but sometimes they ambushed him and he couldn't escape. Like now.

It had been over a year, and Devon hadn't changed her mind, hadn't contacted him or even happened across his path. Nor would she.

Frustration burned and he reached over to flip open the case file. An old gum wrapper, caught inside, fluttered at the movement. Not one of Mace's leads on Bill's murder had panned out. No witnesses in or outside of the house; no prints anywhere. According to the report, Devon and her mother had both been asleep upstairs.

For a while after Bill's murder, there had been threats on Mace's life, but even those had stopped, which was more telling than anything else. If they were close to anything on Martressa, the slimy drug dealer would never have called off his goons.

Maybe he should close the file. Or turn the case over to someone else.

But at the thought, guilt pricked him and the need for revenge rose up. Mace had failed both father and daughter. And even if O'Kelly didn't agree with that, Mace knew his partner would agree to press hard on this case. Martressa had killed the man who was not only Mace's future father-in-law and a friend, but a cop. That was reason enough to nail the criminal.

Mace had to solve the murder. Even though he would have to deal with these raw maverick thoughts of Devon, keeping the case open was the only way he could put her behind him and move on with his life.

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