Excerpt: One Silent Night

Book 3: The Garrett Brothers

Prologue

“Dammit, Kittridge! Where are you?” Detective Sam Garrett tried to ignore the hard squeeze of alarm in his chest as he stalked up the driveway, past the For Sale sign in the yard, the moving company's truck and through her front door.

The calm Oklahoma day mocked the churning turmoil inside him. He completely disregarded the stack of boxes he'd seen in the back of the truck, the furniture already loaded and covered, but he nearly tripped over the two suitcases in the entryway. June sunshine slanted through the mini-blinds of the living area, pushing strips of light into the now barren room.

His gut told him she was still here. And even if his gut hadn't told him, her spicy, intriguing fragrance would have. That smoky floral scent penetrated his lungs and settled into a hard knot of regret.

He saw her then, standing rigid in the hallway, those normally serene gray eyes freezing him out. She wore her black U.S. Marshals windbreaker over a white T-shirt and faded jeans that molded those long, lean legs like snakeskin.

“That's it,” she said to a burly man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt stamped with the name of the same moving company as on the side of the truck.

“Yes, ma'am.” He glanced at Sam, then scurried around him, plucking up the two suitcases and one last box in the living room

“What the hell's going on?” Sam demanded.

She stooped, picked up a briefcase and a small overnight bag. “If you'd return my phone calls, you'd know.”

He winced. In the past two days she'd left at least six messages, but he hadn't been able to make himself face her yet. Not after their night of paradise that had lashed him with guilt ever since.

“I've been busy.”

“Uh, yes, I met—what's her name? Mona?”

Mandy. It made him sick to know that Dallas had seen Mandy this morning and known that Sam had been trying to forget what he and Dallas had done.

A tight heaviness sat in the middle of Sam's chest just as it had since they'd made love two nights ago. “Look, I wasn't thinking. I lost my head—”

“Would that be with her? Or with me?” Her cool, too-sweet tone chipped at him like a pick.

“Dammit, Dallas!” His sharp cop's gaze took in the empty bookcases, the soft ivory walls now bare of the delicately framed prints of various city skylines that she collected

Through the hallway he could see the gleaming wood top of her dresser. The other night it had been littered with scrap paper, dainty crystal perfume bottles, her gold U.S. Marshals badge, and her 9mm Taurus. Now it, too, was empty. There was nothing left in the house that spoke of the soft edginess of Dallas Kittridge.

He clenched his teeth, fighting to keep the anger from gnawing away his control. “After I found out that you'd come by my house this morning, I went to your office. One of the other marshals told me you were getting a transfer.”

“Yes.”

Rage erupted with a numbing fear, and yet there was also the sting of betrayal. Why hadn't she told him? “The marshals have just as much red tape as the PD. You had to have requested a transfer right after Brad died back in April. You must have known before we made—before we were—” He swore, fisting his hands at his hips. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“I wasn't sure I was going to get it.”

“And when you were?”

“I thought about saying no.” She started to edge past him. “I was going to talk to you about it the other night.”

But she hadn't. They hadn't talked at all, just clutched desperately at each other He shifted, crowding her against the doorjamb. “You don't have to go. You can stay—”

“That night convinced me I shouldn't.” She looked at him then, her gray eyes stormy. “That was the biggest mistake of my life.”

“It wasn't the smartest thing I ever did, either,” he retorted.

“Then we should both just walk away.”

His heart thundered against his ribs. “We've been friends for a long time, Dallas.”

Her strong, stubborn chin trembled slightly. “Brad's dead. There's no link between us anymore.”

“That's bull and you know it!”

“He's gone, Sam. Things will never be the way they were.”

“That's not because he's gone.” Sam shoved a hand through his wavy dark hair, fighting panic and a crushing sense of helplessness. “He's always going to be here between us, isn't he? Because of what we did.”

“I don't know. I only know that I can't be around you without thinking of him.”

The self-loathing in her voice triggered his internal alarms. He tensed, flashing back to the night they'd made love.

He should never have given in to the impulse to hold her. It had led him straight to heaven, then dropped him into hell.

Afterward, she hadn't said a word. She'd just rolled away from him and faced the wall. Even as guilt had slashed through him, he'd felt rejection. And then she'd reached toward the nightstand, for Brad's picture.

That same rejection hit Sam now like a sniper's bullet—vicious, unexpected, nearly disabling. “Who the hell were you thinking about the other night? While you and I were—”

“I need to go.” She looked away, positioning the travel case between them like a shield.

“Answer me.” Sam grabbed her arm, disbelief and horror crashing in on top of the rejection he felt. “Who were you thinking of that night, Dallas? Him or me?”

She yanked away from him. “I've got a plane to catch.”

“Dallas—”

She fixed her gaze on the opposite wall; her throat worked.

He closed his eyes as denial screamed through him. He wanted to shove her up against the wall, kiss her until she melted against him the way she had that night. The air grew thick. Sam couldn't breathe. Searing pain bloomed in his chest, arrowed down his arms, his legs.

He knew she felt guilty about Brad, about what she and Sam had done together. It was his own unrelenting pain and rawboned guilt over his partner's death that had caused Sam to go to another woman, had kept him from facing Dallas, until now And now it was too late.

He was losing her, just like two months ago he'd lost Brad. And just like with Brad, it was his fault.

He looked up and realized she was gone.

“Dammit!” He raced outside in time to see her pull out of the driveway and peel rubber down the street.

Damn her! Damn her for leaving, for thinking of Brad while she'd made love with him, for ripping out his heart. She was right. What they'd done the other night was the biggest mistake of their lives. Now he had to live with it.

 

Chapter 1

Eighteen months later

Less than two weeks until Christmas and he was up to his kneecaps in dead bodies.

Detective Sam Garrett stared at the latest victim who lay limply on beige carpet, and a wave of deep fatigue washed through him. He'd been on the job since four o'clock this morning, but he needed the work. And there was no shortage of it here in Oklahoma City.

In the eighteen months since Sam had requested, and received, a transfer from Vice to Homicide, he'd needed to stay busy. Needed to keep his mind screened from the memories of Brad and the insidious direction those thoughts always took. Not that Sam had been able to shake thoughts of his former partner for a single day. And this month—today—marked the twenty-month anniversary of Brad's death.

Sam had been on the Oklahoma City Police force eleven years, five of those with Brad. And the last twenty months without him. Almost two years.

As always, guilt and regret accompanied his thoughts of Brad. And as always, his efforts to ignore memories of her were futile. But Sam was tired and angry and determined not to think about Dallas Kittridge. At least not tonight.

His partner, Virgil “Rock” Moody, an old bull who'd served on the OCPD for over twenty years, was out with the flu, as was half the department. Sam forced himself to stare at the brutal sight of the newest victim's slack features—or rather, the uniform marks imprinted on her throat.

For the first time, he wished he had his partner's callous acceptance of whatever they found. Something about this homicide already chewed at his gut like acid and he wished he could just dismiss it, the way Rock always did.

He rubbed his burning eyes and tucked his notebook into the back pocket of his Levi's. Jamming a stick of gum in his mouth, he sighed, feeling tired and for an instant, hopeless. Hilary Poole, a homicide they'd caught about two months ago, had had marks on her neck similar to the ones on Audrey Hayes, tonight's victim.

Poole had been picked up at a country-western bar called Calhoun's. Sam would start there, see if Audrey Hayes had been at that bar last night.

He turned toward Mark “Hutch” Hutchinson, the medical examiner who was directing the removal of the body, now enclosed in the black body bag. Poor lady. Sadness swept through Sam, followed by a surge of determination He'd find this slime who preyed on women.

If this was the same guy, he'd killed two women in a couple of months. Sam was growing increasingly frustrated. He had no prints, no description, no weapon. Nothing. With a last glance at the instant photo one of the lab guys had snapped, he slipped it into the pocket of his sheepskin coat.

He walked outside, needles of rain stinging his cheeks. He buried his chin in the coat and hurried to his dark blue pickup

As he reached for the driver's door, sensation fizzled down his spine. It was the same feeling he got whenever he confronted a suspect. He snapped to attention and slid his hand into his coat pocket, feeling the cold steel of the .45 Smith & Wesson he carried as backup to his holstered .357 Magnum.

His gaze raked across the wet pavement to the hazy mist ringing the streetlight, but he saw nothing. He glanced behind him, narrowing his eyes to probe the slippery shadows between the trees and bushes and the eaves of the house. Nothing. He waited, straining to pick up any wayward sound, something out of place. There was nothing. The hum tickling his spine disappeared as quickly as it had overtaken him.

He shook his head. Maybe he'd been up too long. Or maybe Brad's ghost was saying howdy. His lips twisted ruefully.

Climbing into his truck, Sam started the engine and blew on his hands to warm them. After a few seconds, he shoved the truck into gear and drove toward Pennsylvania Avenue. From there, he took I-40 east toward Calhoun's.

Thoughts of Brad and Dallas circled through Sam's mind, but he pushed them away, refusing to have his attention swayed from this case. He cranked up the stereo, losing himself in the throbbing strains of Mickey Gilley's “Stand By Me.”

Less than twenty minutes later, he pulled into the parking lot of Calhoun's, which boasted “The World's Largest Dance Floor.” It was still early for most of the bar traffic, but the parking lot contained a healthy number of cars. The truck stop across the street was well-lit and packed full of truck cabs and trailers.

He nosed into a space close to the door and slid out of his pickup. The swoosh of passing semis on the highway sounded behind him. From inside, the dull roar of the jukebox blasted the air. The live music wouldn't start for a while.

As he walked, he glanced around the parking lot. It was empty of people. Cars passed by on the street, their lights glimmering against the wet pavement The icy rain misted his hair and eyes and he ran a hand over his chilled face as he reached the door.

Inside, welcome warmth wrapped around him. A pale blue haze of smoke hung over one corner of the bar. Multi-colored lights on a lopsided Christmas tree winked from the same corner. The stale odor of cigarettes undermined the scents of food and perfume. Fishing the photo of Audrey Hayes out of his pocket, Sam walked over to the bar.

After a slit-eyed stare at Sam's badge, the bartender, who identified himself as “Danny,” said he'd never seen the Hayes woman. He also told Sam he hadn't worked the late shift last night. Sam needed to talk to Theo, who'd be in after nine. Sam remembered the burly bartender from his previous visit. Only one of tonight's waitresses had worked the night before and she, too, told Sam to speak to Theo.

Resigned to returning in a couple of hours, Sam lifted a hand in thanks and started for the door. His cell phone shrilled.

He pulled it from the pocket of his coat. “Yeah, Garrett here.”

“What a coincidence,” a familiar voice drawled on the other end. “Here, too.”

“Hey, Mace.” Sam moved next to the front door, grinning at the sound of his brother's voice.

“Where are you? What's the music?”

“I'm at Calhoun's.” Sam's gaze traveled over the sawdust-riddled floor to the stage, which presently stood empty except for several microphones and some loops of electrical cord.

“Calhoun's? Work or play?”

“Work.”

“Really?” Mace's voice sharpened with interest. “Are you checking out a lead from that homicide tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“You think it's related to the one you caught before?”

“Yeah. Both strangulations with similar marks on the victims' necks. I need to talk to the bartender who was on last night, but he's not here right now.”

“Well, come on by. Devon and I want you to have supper with us.”

“I was just over there two nights ago,” he protested with a laugh.

“For some reason, my wife likes you,” his brother teased.

And his sister-in-law was mothering him. Sam's gut twisted. Mace and Devon were well aware that the holidays were bringing up painful memories. They'd tried to include him in something at least twice this week. “Devon's got to be sick of me by now.”

I sure am,” his brother drawled. “Naw, come on. It was her idea. We're having chili.”

“Aw, I was really hoping for week-old pizza.”

Mace chuckled and Sam smiled.

“Linc and Jenna are coming, too. We'll see you in about a half hour.”

Sam hesitated. In his mind, his partner's death was his fault. He didn't deserve the comfort of his family—tonight or any night. He should be alone, go home and sit in the cold darkness where he couldn't hide from what he'd done to his best friend. Or with his best friend's wife.

“We're expecting you, Sam,” Mace's voice cut through his thoughts. “We're not taking no.”

With that, the line went dead. Sam grinned. Mace had a way of getting things on his own terms.

“Right.” Sam turned off the phone and jammed it back in his pocket. As much as he'd tried to dodge the past, the phone call from Mace blew the lock on his self-control.

Standing in the bar, surrounded by a cowboy-cryin'-in-his-beer love song and the shuffle of boots, all the emotion that Sam had tried to corral burst free like water from a geyser.

The whole day had been hell. One endless chain of regret and pain and guilt. An infinite sidestepping of memories of Dallas Kittridge—of what he'd done to her…and what she'd done to him.

Finally he allowed himself to wonder how she was doing today; this month. Hell, how she'd been doing in the eighteen months since she'd left. He knew her transfer had taken her to Denver, but he'd never called her. After all, she was the one who'd left.

Was she working today? Was she remembering? Had she even considered coming back to Oklahoma City and going to the cemetery, as Sam had done? Had she ever gone to Brad's grave site?

He muttered a curse and pushed through the door. Sharp air bit at his cheeks. He buried his chin in his sheepskin collar, stalking toward his truck.

He didn't want to think about her. Didn't want to remember her throaty laugh. The way those smoky eyes flashed wickedly. The feel of her long lean legs tangled with his. The soft stroke of her fingertip against his eyebrow.

He shrugged his shoulders against the memories, tried to shove them away. They lingered like her perfume—tantalizing, torturing.

He reached his truck and awareness zapped down his spine like a jolt of electricity—the same feeling he'd had back at the murder scene

His body tense, he slowly turned, his gaze scouring the parking lot. That little patch low in his back went numb the way it did when he faced an armed suspect. Floodlights from the parking lot danced through the drizzle. Then he saw her.

His breath wedged crosswise in his chest, arrowing pain out to his arms.

Moving from the shadows of the large country-western bar, Dallas Kittridge materialized out of the night like a shimmering mirage. She came slowly toward him. Guarded yet purposeful.

A black leather duster hid legs that he knew were slender and muscular and long enough to rival a supermodel's. Black boots clicked softly on the wet asphalt; fine diamonds of moisture misted her black turtleneck. Even her tawny hair was dark with rain.

She stopped a few feet in front of him and slicked her hair back out of her face, gazing at him head-on. Garish light from the flood lamps skipped over her, gouging deep hollows of shadow beneath her high cheekbones. He thought he saw pain in her gray eyes, a second before they were transformed into flat pools of nothing.

Disbelief shot through him. She couldn't be here! But she was. She looked tired. She was beautiful.

“Well,” she said softly. “Hello, Detective Charm.”

That crushed-velvet voice wrapped around him, torched the guilt he'd tried to quash all these months. His gut knotted with instant desire—an unwelcome reminder that only his best friend's wife had ever affected him this way.

Because he itched to touch her, to make sure she was real, he crammed his fists into his pockets “What'n the hell are you doing here?”

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