“You can’t go around sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong,” Gabe said.
“No one else will believe Grams,” Kristina asserted defensively.
“It’s difficult to believe such accusations without concrete proof.” He eased the car out of the parking lot and back onto the road leading to Boston.
“Well that’s what I’m trying to do, find proof,” she shot back.
“But you could get hurt.”
Gabe sighed. She touched his arm, drawing his gaze. There was no mistaking the sincerity in her eyes. “God sent you to protect me.”
Gabe’s stomach sank. “That kind of thinking can get you killed.”
At an early age Terri Reed discovered the wonderful world of fiction and declared she would one day write a book. Now she is fulfilling that dream and enjoys writing for Steeple Hill. Her second book, A Sheltering Love, was a 2006 RITA® Award Finalist and a 2005 National Readers’ Choice Award Finalist. Her book Strictly Confidential, book five of the Faith at the Crossroads continuity series, took third place in the 2007 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year Award, and Her Christmas Protector took third place in 2008. She is an active member of both Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. She resides in the Pacific Northwest with her college-sweetheart husband, two wonderful children and an array of critters. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, gardening and playing with her dogs.
You can write to Terri at P.O. Box 19555, Portland, OR 97280. Visit her on the Web at www.loveinspiredauthors.com, leave comments on her blog at ladiesofsuspense.blogspot.com or e-mail her at email@example.com.
Terri Reed Chasing Shadows
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
In loving memory of my grandmother Vida
and my grandfather William.
Thank you to Sherry Mundt, Marketing Representative for SpringRidge at Charbonneau Campus, for answering all my questions and taking me on a tour. Any mistakes or liberties taken in this story are purely mine.
Also, thank you to my editor, Emily Rodmell, for her patience with me. I really appreciate you.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
“People are disappearing!”
Kris Worth barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Her maternal grandmother had a flair for the dramatic, something that Kris had inherited, according to her parents. “Grams, what are you talking about?”
Sadie Arnold shut the door of her studio apartment in Miller’s Rest Retirement Center and shuffled across the carpeted floor in her soft leather shoes to point one thin, shaky finger at her granddaughter. “I’m telling you, people are vanishing in the dark of the night.”
Colored lights glowing from the small decorated Christmas tree in the corner cast a garish glow over Sadie, emphasizing the pallor of her complexion and making the elderly woman seem infinitely older than she had just two days ago.
Today was Sunday when they normally headed to the small community church at the nearby high school, but Sadie wasn’t dressed for an outing. And there was no disguising that Sadie’s shoulders hunched slightly more than normal beneath her powder-blue fuzzy sweater.
Her degenerative discs must be bothering her today. Kris made a mental note to talk with the duty nurse about her grandmother’s care. “You read too many murder mysteries.”
Sadie waved away the comment. “First there was Lena Street. One night we’re playing board games and the next day she’s gone. And then night before last, Carl Remming was here with us, having some of Mrs. Tipple’s delicious tea, and in the morning, he was gone, too.”
Kris remembered Carl pretty well. He was a big man with a big laugh, who had done some time in prison when he was young. Gangster stuff, Sadie had whispered.
A tidbit Kris had kept to herself, lest her mother find out and then insist that Sadie move into a more “selective” retirement community. Something Sadie had fought against because she had no intention of rubbing elbows with “uppity people.” Still, Miller’s Rest wasn’t exactly cheap.
As for Lena, Kris didn’t have a mental image of the woman. “Maybe they passed on?”
Sadie shook her head and frowned. “No. They didn’t die. They just disappeared.” Sadie fumbled with the pocket of her sweater before producing a man’s black wallet. “Carl wouldn’t go anywhere without this.”
“Grams, where did you get that?”
“I found it on the janitor’s cart, hidden beneath some towels.”
Kris couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What were you doing searching through the janitor’s stuff?”
“Looking for clues,” Sadie stated, as if it were obvious. “That janitor did something with my friends.”
“I’m sure there’s a logical explanation,” Kris said in a soothing tone, hoping to calm her grandmother’s growing agitation. “Maybe he found the wallet on the ground somewhere.”
Sadie pursed her lips for a moment. “I know what I know. Don’t patronize me, dearie.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Kris’s mouth. Her grandmother had always been a pistol. While growing up, Kris had loved spending as much time with her as her parents would allow. “I wouldn’t dream of patronizing you, Grams. I love you.”
To prove the point, Kris rose from the edge of Sadie’s bed and went to hug the only relative whose love she had never questioned. Sadie let Kris be herself. Kris thanked God every day for having blessed her with the best grandmother.
Sadie inspired a loyalty Kris didn’t feel for her own mother and father, who wanted her to be a cookie-cutter, clichéd socialite. But Kris wanted more out of life. She wanted to use her talent as a photographer to glorify God, not climb the social ladder of Boston society.
Sadie patted Kris’s back. “Don’t get mushy on me, Krissy. It isn’t polite.”
Kris chuckled as she released Sadie. “You sound like Grandmother Worthington.”
“Bah! Don’t be rude,” Sadie muttered with a grin.
Kris returned the grin. It was no secret that Emmeline Worthington and Sadie didn’t mesh well. Emmeline thought her son had married beneath him and Sadie had thought Meredith married a stuffed shirt. The only thing the two older women had in common was their love for their one and only grandchild.
Sadie took Kris’s arm and let Kris guide her to the oak rocker beside the window overlooking the lavish gardens, now dusted with a fresh coat of December snow, and spread across the back ten acres of the facility grounds. Trees lined the property, separating the retirement center from the Boston skyline. The township of Miller was a twenty-minute ride from Kris’s downtown loft and another ten from her parents’ Beacon Hill residence.
Charles and Meredith Worthington rarely visited, preferring that Kris bring Sadie to their home for occasional family dinners. Which, thankfully, were few and far between. Dinners with the Worthingtons were a case study in upper-crust dysfunction. Dress for dinner, no elbows on the table and certainly no talking about anything that even remotely resembled emotions. Something Kris had rebelled against most of her life.
After settling Sadie in the rocker, Kris resumed her spot on the bed, tucking her feet beneath her and gathering her long blond hair into one hand to lift the heavy mass off her neck. “What did Ms. Faust say about Carl and Lena disappearing?”
“You did ask Ms. Faust about them, didn’t you?”
For a moment Sadie looked confused. “Them?”
Kris frowned. “Carl and Lena?”
Sadie’s expression cleared and she scoffed with a gentle shake of her head. “That woman doesn’t know her knee from her elbow.”
“Grams,” she admonished lightly. Admittedly, Ms. Faust, the center director, wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type. But she seemed well organized and competent.
Sadie rocked. “Carl would not go on vacation with his rheumatoid arthritis acting up the way it has been or without his wallet, and Lena hates going outside for anything, let alone a cruise. And for them both to go on vacation at the same time without saying a word to anyone is ludicrous.”
The social butterfly of Miller’s Rest, Sadie made knowing everyone’s business her business. Kris didn’t want to point out that neither Carl nor Lena needed Sadie’s permission to leave the center, so instead she said, “I’m sure they’ll return soon with plenty of stories to tell and Christmas gifts for everyone. And maybe Carl just lost his wallet.”
Sadie’s sparkling, dark blue eyes regarded Kris intently. “Is that what you’ll be saying after I disappear?”
Kris blinked. Way, way too many mystery novels. “Grams, you are not going to disappear.”
Shaking a finger at her, Sadie remarked, “Well if I do, don’t be believing I went on vacation.”
“Of course not, Grams. You wouldn’t go on vacation without me,” Kris quipped.
“Too true,” Sadie replied. Then her brow furrowed. “I just think something has happened to Carl and Lena. Something bad.”
“What can I do to ease your mind about them?” Seeing her grandmother so upset burned Kris’s chest.
Sadie slapped her palm on the rocker’s arm. “Call the police! Call the FBI! Find my friends!”
Kris could only think of one person who might be willing to humor her by looking into the matter on the strength of Sadie’s suspicions.
The man who’d broken her heart.
Homicide detective Gabe Burke hated the paperwork associated with closing a case. He wished the department would spring for a secretary to fill out the required stack of forms. And he made the suggestion every time he got a complaint about his illegible handwriting.
This particular pile of papers related to the murder of a prostitute by a john, who happened to be a married grade school teacher. Man, he hated cases like this. Just proved every human was capable of evil. With a grunt of disgust, Gabe gathered the forms and jammed them into the file folder.
His partner, Detective Angie Carlucci, stopped by his desk and regarded him with concern-filled dark eyes. “You okay?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s Christmastime,” he shot back, immediately regretting his harsh tone.
It wasn’t Angie’s fault he was on the brink of burnout. She was a good partner and friend. Though in those almond-shaped eyes he could see evidence of the signals she’d been giving off lately that she’d be open to taking their “partnership” to a new level.
No way. He didn’t date fellow cops. He only dated uncomplicated women who didn’t need anything but a good time. It was less emotionally taxing.
She shrugged and held up her strong, capable hands. “Just asking, Grinch.”
“Sorry.” He sighed. “This last case left a bitter taste.”
“Yeah, I hear that.” She took a seat at her desk across from him.
“Hey, Burke! Lady here to see you.”
He turned his attention to the front of the station where Sergeant Sean O’Grady had called from, but was instantly distracted by an attractive blonde gliding toward him. His senses went on alert. She was stunning. Her long flowered skirt flirting around her knee-high leather boots and a ruffled blouse were more appropriate for an outdoor party than a police station in the dead of winter. A more suitable, cold-weather wool coat and colorful handbag hung over her arm.
What was she doing here? They hadn’t talked in over eight years. He’d caught a glimpse of her at a friend’s wedding a while ago, but he’d done a good job of avoiding her. Now she was in his place of work.
Not the typical Monday morning.
Gabe automatically rose as she stopped in front of him. Kristina regarded him with a mixture of wariness and hope in her baby blues. The top of her head reached his chin. He’d always been partial to petite women. This woman in particular.
Keep it professional, Burke.
“Kristina, long time no see. Can I help you?” he asked as he studied her beautiful oval face.
“I hope so.” She glanced at Angie, who watched them with raised eyebrows. “Do you have a moment to talk?”
“Is this a police matter?” he questioned, ignoring the battering of his heart.
“Uh, well. Yes,” she replied as a blush brightened her cheeks.
Now why did disappointment nip at him so viciously? He fought to keep his expression neutral. “Then we can talk here. This is my partner, Angie Carlucci.”
Angie bolted up and held out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Mrs…?”
His unexpected visitor swallowed before reaching out. “Just Miss, Kris…tina Worthington.”
Using her interrogation face, Angie hiked a hip on Gabe’s desk and flipped her black ponytail over her shoulder. He smothered a grin at the display of female rivalry.
Kristina’s gaze returned to him expectantly, probably anticipating he would fawn all over her as he’d done so long ago when he’d foolishly tried to believe in love and all the trappings that accompanied the sentiment. He’d made that mistake once. Once was enough.
Feeling the need to expedite things, he prompted, “What can I do for you?”
She twirled one long strand of silky hair around a slender finger of her ringless left hand. A monster-size emerald pendant hanging from her slender neck twinkled in the fluorescent overhead light. A blatant reminder they came from different worlds. “I know it’s going to sound bizarre. I mean it’s a strange tale and you probably won’t believe me—”
He held up a hand, halting her as he pulled out a chair. “Here, sit. Just start at the beginning.”
With a nod, she sat and waited until he was seated before launching into her story. She told them of the retirement center and her grandmother’s insistence that people were disappearing. She was right. Her story did sound odd. Bizarre. And, yes, strange. But no worse than some of the stuff he’d heard before.
Life, he’d long ago acknowledged, was unpredictable. Anything could, and would, happen. Being prepared was half the battle.
When Kristina dug through her large tapestry bag and produced a man’s black wallet, Gabe held out his hand. “You found this…on the janitor’s cart?”
Kristina scrunched up her nose. “I didn’t find it. My grandmother did. Hidden beneath a stack of towels.”
He raised an eyebrow at that. “You two shouldn’t be snooping around. You might actually find trouble.” Gabe passed the wallet to Angie, who proceeded to pull out the contents.
“Driver’s license. Expired,” Angie announced. “Credit card, library card and a senior’s discount restaurant card.” She hopped off Gabe’s desk and settled in her own desk chair. “I’ll run these through the computer. See if we have him on file.”
“You probably will,” Kristina said. “My grandmother said he belonged to a gang when he was young.”
“Then maybe he wanted to disappear?” Gabe suggested. “It wouldn’t be unusual for an ex-gang member to need to vanish, if, say, someone he’d once crossed found out where he’d retired.”
Kristina’s eyebrows drew together. “I suppose. But what about Lena? She wasn’t in a gang. She was a sweet little old lady.”
“Maybe they ran off together,” he remarked drily.
“Not according to the center’s director.” Blue fire sparked in her eyes. “Something’s happened to them.”
She seemed genuinely concerned. Gabe took out a pen and paper. “I’ll do some checking and see if I can track Lena—what was the last name again?”
“Right.” He made a note. “And the janitor?”
“Frank Hayes,” she supplied.
After jotting down the name, he asked, “Where can I reach you?”
The pretty blonde hesitated long enough to make him raise an eyebrow.
She surprised him further by taking the pen and paper from his hand with just the slightest brush of skin against skin, but awareness zipped all the way to Gabe’s toes. He mentally shook the sensation off and focused on what she was doing. She wrote down her information and laid the paper on his desk.
Gabe sighed. “I’ll let you know the minute I have anything,” he said and motioned for her to proceed him. “I’ll walk you out.”
She didn’t move. “Aren’t you going to check into Frank?”
Slowly he nodded as a little bubble of irritation shot through him. He didn’t need her dictating his job to him. “Yes. And I’ll let you know what I find out.”
She arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest, her tapestry bag dangling from the crook of her elbow. “I’d rather wait.”
He shook his head. He’d rather she walked back out of his life, thank you very much. “That won’t be necessary.”
“I’ll wait,” she repeated.
Figured Miss Worthington of the Beacon Hill Worthingtons would expect to have her own way. Seems the rich, pampered socialite hadn’t changed. Though she’d tried her hardest to make him change when they’d dated, wanting him to be more like the rest of the people in her privileged world, his world consisted of Good Will purchases and Top Ramen. Like water and oil. Their lives didn’t mix well.
Angie turned in her chair to say, “Carl Remming is an ex-con. Busted at nineteen for shoplifting and again in his early twenties for grand theft auto. Has a clean sheet after that. I’ll run his credit card.”
Gabe nodded his approval. “Check with the airlines, buses, trains for both Carl and Lena Street.”
“Righto,” Angie agreed and returned her focus to the computer.
Gabe gave in and sat back down. “Are you always this tenacious?”
Kristina lifted her chin. “I find it helps in certain situations.”
He met her gaze. Ah, there was the queenly stare he remembered so well. She was some piece of work; all beauty, brains and self-confidence. Lucky for him, she wasn’t his problem.
She shifted her gaze to the computer. “I noticed Frank had on very high-end tennis shoes and a Cartier watch.”
“The watch could be a fake,” Gabe cautioned, annoyed that she’d assume a janitor couldn’t afford nice things. “Or he could have saved up.”
“Of course the watch could be fake.” Her tone matched his growing irritation. “It’s just…well, you’d have to meet him.”
If the man checked out, Gabe wouldn’t have to meet him. He typed Frank’s name into the computer. Kristina came around the desk to peer over his shoulder. Her fresh, powdery scent teased his nose and brought back memories he’d thought long gone.
He gave her a sidelong glance. “Do you mind?”
She had the grace to duck her chin sheepishly as she stepped back. He forced himself to concentrate.
Within a few minutes, a rap sheet filled with petty larceny and misdemeanor assault charges came up. Okay, so Frank wasn’t a squeaky-clean janitor. Everyone had a past. But experience had jaded Gabe enough to know a criminal past usually never stayed in the past.
“So, he bears watching,” he conceded.
An I-told-you-so look bloomed in Kristina’s clear blue eyes.
“You’re not going to at least question him?”
“In due time,” he said, rebuffing her astounded expression. “First we have to establish probable cause to bring him in. And until we have more information about Carl’s and Lena’s whereabouts, I’m not jumping to conclusions.”
“But he had Carl’s wallet,” she pointed out. “That can’t be good.”
Was she kidding? “For all we know, he found it,” Gabe countered. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have some work to do.” He stood and pointedly waited for Kristina to precede him. “I promise to call you the second we’ve found something concrete.”
“Sure. Fine. I’ll just sit by the phone and wait,” she stated tartly before walking away.
Gabe had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Kristina Worthington didn’t ever sit around and wait. He could only hope she didn’t do anything to get herself in trouble or interfere with his investigation. Or his peace of mind.
“Just sit by the phone and wait,” Kris grumbled as she crouched behind a stack of crates at the far end of an alley in midtown Boston. “Fat chance.”
Somewhere in the distance a horn honked. Otherwise, the streets were quiet and freezing. Late-night air seeped through her black jeans, black turtleneck and black parka. She’d bound up her hair under a dark baseball cap. Her ears were getting cold. Thankfully it wasn’t snowing again. Her nose wrinkled at the many odd and unpleasant odors wafting in the air. She distracted herself the same way she had since the adrenaline rush of conducting her very own stakeout—by bringing her camera up to her eye.
The shutter silently captured Frank Hayes’s every move. She’d been following the janitor for the past hour, ever since he’d left Miller’s Rest in his little beat-up two-seater.
He’d eaten at a dive that served more booze than food before heading out the back door and down this alley.
Gabe wanted proof the guy was doing something he shouldn’t; well, she’d give it to him.
I’m not jumping to conclusions, he’d said. He’d “watch” Frank, he’d said. Ha! She didn’t see him anywhere around.
Why she’d ever thought herself in love with Gabe Burke she didn’t know. The man was even more stubborn than she remembered. And he’d acted as though he hardly knew her. Hurt rubbed at the wounds left by the summer they’d spent together. Obviously, she hadn’t meant much to him.
Well, good. He didn’t mean anything to her, either.
And contrary to his wishes, she was going to find out what Frank was up to. Then Gabe would have to act.
Frank, his shoulders hunched beneath his big down jacket, turned the corner, disappearing from her view. Kris hustled closer, her black boots squishing in the slushy snow. She paused at the edge of a brick building and cautiously peered around to the other side. There he was, ambling down the deserted street.
Just as she stepped around the building, a hand closed over her mouth and a strong arm cinched across her waist.
Her muffled scream echoed in her ears.
Frank Hayes whirled around. Body tense, his heart hammered against his ribs as adrenaline rushed to his brain, making the world shift slightly. He could have sworn he heard the scuffle of feet on the pavement. The echo of a muted scream. He searched the inky street for signs of being followed. He was alone. Or was he?
He backed up a few steps before turning and hurrying to the end of the block. Just a little farther and he’d be done with his business. He shivered. He loathed being outside in the dark. Too many shadows, too many possibilities.
Bad things happened in the dark.
Kris clutched her camera to her chest and used her booted heel to kick the person holding her. Please, Lord, save me! She whipped her head around, trying to loosen the grip over her mouth.
The harshly whispered command given in a familiar deep baritone registered. She went limp with relief. The arm around her waist held her for a moment before withdrawing. She sagged, using the brick building for support.
Taking deep, calming breaths, she allowed anger to replace her terror. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The moon bathed Gabe Burke’s hard expression in the muted light. He’d changed out of his suit into jeans and a dark leather bomber jacket. A knit beanie covered his honey-blond hair. “I’m doing my job. What are you doing?”
“Your job.” She pushed away from the wall. Anger warmed her face. Peering around the corner, she smacked the bricks with her palm. “He’s turning the corner.”
“You need to go home.”
“No way.” She darted forward. “We have to at least try to catch up.”
Gabe gritted his teeth. Short of hauling her over his shoulder and carrying her away, he had no choice but to follow. Frank was probably gone now, anyway. Gabe would let Kristina figure it out and then he’d escort her home. Though he’d like nothing better than to throw her in jail for doing something as idiotic and dangerous as following an ex-con.
After Kristina left the station, Gabe had done a little digging and found out that Frank hung out at the HogsHead Tavern. And sure enough, Frank had shown up. Gabe had intended to follow him when he’d seen someone else doing the same. It had taken less than ten seconds for him to recognize the lithe lines of Kristina Worthington. The fact that he could still do so didn’t say much about his ability to forget her.
He grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her out of the middle of the street and into the shadows where they would be less visible as they followed. Thankfully, this part of town quieted down at night. But in a few hours, when the bars closed, the story would be vastly different.
At the next corner, he pushed her behind him and looked down the street. The dim glow of the moon barely revealed Frank. Gabe debated for a second about lying to Kristina and saying Frank was gone, but lying never solved anything.
Besides, he had a strong hunch she would just do this again. And he may not be there to protect her.
Clutching her slender, cold hand, he pulled her around the corner and kept to the shadows. Ahead, Frank paused and whirled around.
Gabe reacted swiftly, pulling Kristina into his arms and angling his body to shield her from view. Gabe bent his head close, suspended inches from Kristina’s lips while keeping his gaze on Frank. He heard her sharp intake of breath.
The man either didn’t notice them or saw what Gabe had intended, a pair of lovers stealing a kiss in the moonlight. Frank continued on.
Gabe should have stepped back, far away from Kristina right then, but she was so soft and pliant in his arms. Her sweet breath fanned over his face causing a yearning to kiss her lips that gripped him in a tight vise. And suddenly he was back to those warm summer days when he’d been a rookie cop wild about a girl way out of his league, yet sure a future together wasn’t impossible. That maybe he’d found what his mother insisted existed.
But then reality had set in and he’d walked away.
And kissing Kristina now would only cause him more pain than he was willing to endure.
Using every ounce of self-control he possessed, he released her and stumbled back.
She blinked up at him with wide, confused eyes. “What was that?”
Refocusing on the situation, he put his finger to his lips. “Shh. We better hurry.”
Taking her hand again, they moved forward, keeping close to the buildings. Up ahead, Frank slipped down a side alley. Gabe and Kristina ran for cover behind a parked car where they had a clear view of the alley. They watched as a man stepped out of the deeper darkness. He was of medium height and build with short cropped hair and a goatee on his pointed chin.
Kristina raised her camera.
“Hey, be careful,” Gabe admonished softly.
“I will.” She snapped some shots.
In the alley, Frank was handing the man an envelope. The man ripped the envelope open and spilled the contents into his hand. From this distance, Gabe couldn’t see what had come out.
Just then, Frank spun in their direction, seeming to stare directly at them.
Gabe grabbed Kristina and pulled her into a crouch.
“I don’t think he saw me,” she whispered, her voice shaky.
Gabe clenched his jaw tight. He scrambled onto his belly and watched the two men from underneath the car. The two spoke for a moment more, then the man handed Frank something before Frank scurried down an adjacent alley while the other man disappeared back the way he’d come. Gabe listened hard, but he didn’t hear a car engine start. Which meant no plates to run. He shoved himself to his feet and brushed himself off.
“Aren’t you going to arrest him?” Kristina asked.
“For what? We don’t have any idea if he’s up to something illegal and I don’t want to spook him. Let’s see where he goes now.”
Cautiously they followed Frank back to his little car.
“I parked over there.” Kristina dug into her pocket for her keys.
Gabe took her hand. “We’ll take mine.”
He led her to his black 4x4. Once settled inside, he pulled out of his parking space and followed Frank’s car onto the tollway back to Miller’s Rest.
“Nice ride,” she commented, her tone bland.
Unsure if she was mocking him or not, he said, “I like it.”
“It suits you.”
“All of our choices in life reveal a little about us.”
She’d become philosophical in the past eight years. “And what does my rig say about me?”
“You like to be in control and have a lot of power. Black is the absence of light. It’s mysterious, serious and dramatic.”
He wasn’t sure exactly how to take that. “And you know this…how?”
She waved a hand. “Just one of the many things I learned in college.”
“Ah, yes.” She’d been enrolled at Boston University when they’d met. He couldn’t remember her major. “You a psychologist or something?”
“No. Just took some psych classes.”
“So what color car do you drive?”
She gave a small laugh. “Oh, my car won’t reveal anything about me. It’s my grandmother’s car.”
He glanced sideways, taking in Kristina’s profile, liking the straight line of her nose and the arch of her brows. Her cheekbones were high and her jawline strong yet feminine. She’d actually grown more beautiful over the years.
She’d taken off her black cap. Her long blond hair fell over her shoulders, the strands illuminated against her black clothing.
Gabe slowed the car as Frank parked at the retirement center and hurriedly entered the facility through a side entrance. “Investigation’s over tonight.” Unless Gabe wanted to break in and follow, which he didn’t. He made a U-turn and headed back the way they’d come.
“Did you find out anything about Carl and Lena?” Kris asked.
“Not yet.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “This isn’t some game, you know.”
“I’m not playing a game,” she said with a huff.
“You can’t go around sneaking through the night like some superhero looking for danger. Eventually you’ll find it, and then what?”
She batted her lashes at him. “I’ll call you.”
The mockery in her tone made his lips twitch but deep down he did want to be the one she turned to.
As she had today.
Pushing away that errant thought, he had to make her understand that putting herself needlessly in danger was not a good thing. “Listen, Kristina. I appreciate your loyalty to your grandmother and her friends, but you can’t go around sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“No one else will believe Grams,” she asserted defensively.
“It’s difficult to believe such accusations without concrete proof.”
“Well, that’s what I’m trying to do, find proof,” she shot back.
“But you could get hurt.”
She touched his arm, drawing his gaze. There was no mistaking the sincerity in her eyes. “God sent you to protect me.”
Gabe’s stomach sank. “That kind of thinking can get you killed.”
Through the slit in the curtains inside his apartment at the far end of the retirement center, Frank watched the dark vehicle’s taillights as it left the parking lot. His gut churned. What should he do?
After turning on every light, he grabbed the phone and punched in a number.
A few moments later a groggy voice answered. “Hello?”
“It’s me, Frank.”
“Do you know what time it is? What do you want?”
“I’ve got a problem. I think Sadie Arnold’s granddaughter followed me tonight. I think she saw me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know,” he whined. “She’s been at the center a lot lately. I don’t like the way she looks at me.”
“Have you been careless?”
He plopped down on the old blue couch that had come with the room. “No.” At least he hadn’t thought he’d been. “What should I do?”
“Stop worrying. She’ll be taken care of.”
“She will?” Frank breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t have to do anything. “Good. Okay, good.”
“Now, good night, Frank.”
He hung up and hugged his waist, trying to settle the gurgling in his stomach.
The headlights of Gabe’s SUV sliced through the dark to illuminate the road back into the city. Gabe glanced at Kristina’s pale hand still resting on the sleeve of his jacket. His words hung in the air. “He flicked a peek at her face and met her gaze.” With the faint bit of moonlight, he could see the stunned concern in her expression.
“How can you say that?” Kristina finally asked, tightening her hold on him.
He forced his gaze forward to the road. “You can’t count on God to send someone every time you get in trouble.”
“I trust He’ll provide what I need. Tonight, He provided you.” She tapped his arm before withdrawing her hand. “God takes care of those who love Him.”
He glanced her way. The earnestness in her expression made Gabe tighten his grip on the steering wheel. “You sound like my mother. She’s always saying things like that.”
“So I take it you don’t believe in God.”
Concentrating on the road ahead, he replied, “I don’t believe in anything I can’t see, touch, taste or smell.”
“What a Doubting Thomas you are. Don’t you put stock in gut feelings?”
He frowned. “Of course I do. I’ve had plenty and they’ve kept me alive. But that’s not God.”
“How do you know?” she challenged. “How can you be sure those feelings weren’t God warning you?”
“I just am.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Once his ex-partner, Brody McClain, had asked him the same question, right after they’d survived a shoot-out.
Gabe had felt something, an inner knowledge things were about to go bad, a feeling that had made him pull Brody back from the door just as the wood exploded in a spray of gunfire. The incident still puzzled him.
But God protecting him? No way. God hadn’t been there when Gabe had been a child and needed Him. Why would God suddenly take an interest in him as an adult?
“So after college…what?” he asked, needing to change the subject. He hadn’t divulged information about his childhood to her the first time around and he had no intention of doing so now.
“I’m a photographer and I love it.” She shifted toward him, her face animated in the moon’s glow. “I was fourteen when Grams gave me my first camera. I never went anywhere without that little Nikon.”
“I remember.” She’d carried the thing with her all the time. He hadn’t given it much thought then.
“Drove my family crazy because I was always snapping off shots.” She looked out the front window. “Every summer my parents sent me away to Camp Greenleaf. The only thing that made camp bearable every year was my camera and Meg McClain.”
“That’s how you two met?”
“Yep. She liked going there.”
“And you didn’t like camp.”
She plucked at a wayward strand of hair. “Not really. I wasn’t used to the rustic life, which earned me a lot of teasing.”
“I can imagine,” he murmured, thinking back to the days they’d spent together. She’d liked restaurants and the ballet. He’d preferred sidewalk vendors and baseball games.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He shrugged. “You’re a Worthington. Used to the good things in life.”
She sighed. “We’re back to that old argument?”
“No,” he stated firmly. He didn’t want to rehash the past. “I saw the picture in the paper of the new hospital wing named after your family. Nice.”
The derision in her voice made him curious. “You don’t like hospitals?”
“I don’t like my family putting their name on a building. It’s too…”
“Pretentious?” he teased, expecting to ruffle her defensive feathers.
Interesting. This was a different side to the woman he’d known. He pulled up alongside her car. “You’ve changed.”
She titled her head, her hand on the knob. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
She laughed and stepped out. When she opened the door to her car, he called out, “I’ll follow you. Make sure you get home safely.”
“No need. I’ll be fine,” she said before slipping inside.
True to his word, Gabe followed her.
Kris thought that was sweet, really sweet. Her senses still struggled to accept how she’d reacted to his near-kiss earlier. One second they were following Frank and the next—wham. Gabe had been so close, she could breathe in his aftershave, could see the darkening stubble where his beard would grow in and his strong mouth drew her like a beacon on a stormy night.
And being held that close felt so…right.
Even more so than before. At age twenty, she’d been in awe of Gabe. He was older, handsome and the opposite of everything her parents expected for her.
In retrospect, his “unsuitability” had been part of Gabe’s appeal. He’d been exciting, dangerous and forbidden. And for three glorious months that summer, she’d felt alive.
Until her parents demanded to meet him.
Then everything fell apart and Gabe had walked away, taking her heart with him.
She’d nursed her wounds while she finished her education and then finally decided she had to get over Gabe. She’d dated several attractive, appropriate men and had even become engaged to a nice man whom her parents approved of.
But she’d broken it off because even thinking about spending the rest of her life with Tom Roberts had given her anxiety attacks. Tom had liked her family’s prestige and power too much and he hadn’t wanted Kris to continue with her photography once they were married.
She knew then that she was done looking for Mr. Right. God was going to have to bring the right man to her.
She parked in her usual spot and got out, just as Gabe halted beside her and rolled down his window.
“This is where you live?” His dubious expression was priceless.
With a sweeping gesture at the two-story warehouse converted to loft apartments, she said, “Home sweet home.”
“I’d have expected you to live in Beacon Hill near your parents.”
She gave him a tight smile. “This is what I can afford and it’s a safe neighborhood.”
He leaned an elbow on the window ledge. “What? Mommy and Daddy don’t pay?”
Anger swept through her. This was exactly why she went by Kris Worth for her professional work, because people like Gabe expected her to live off her parents. “No. They don’t. Everything I need is close at hand. I have easy access to downtown and the park is within walking distance. And I have lots of space for my business. The other residents are a good group of people. We’re very close-knit.”
“Interesting,” he commented with a bemused half smile.
Uncomfortable with the focus on her, she asked, “What are you going to do about Frank? And Carl and Lena?”
He shrugged. “Nothing tonight. I’ll look into the situation more tomorrow.”
At least he wasn’t blowing her off. “Good. Let me know what you find,” she said and hurried inside.
Before turning on her lights, she went to the front window of her living area. Gabe sat in his car, his gaze trained on the building. Probably waiting to see which floor was hers. If she didn’t turn on the light, would he come charging up to see if she was okay? The thought intrigued her and made her heart pound. What would she do if he did?
She reached over to the table lamp and flipped on the light.
Gabe drove away. Yep, he’d been waiting to make sure she got into her apartment safely. A pleased rush filled her. It was kind of nice having him worry about her like that. Of course, he was just doing his job, she reminded herself. Protecting people was what he did for a living. She was just one of those people.
She took her camera to the back half of the apartment, which had been converted to a photography studio. She’d had walls removed, the floor redone with hardwood and had lighting equipment mounted in strategic places. The remodel had used her entire savings, but the space worked well. And she loved her life here.
In one corner was her processing station. Gabe may not think there was anything more they could do tonight, but Kris knew otherwise. She hooked up the camera to the desktop computer and downloaded the pictures she’d taken.
Within a few minutes she was viewing the shots of Frank and the mysterious man in the alley. She had a clear shot of Frank handing an envelope to the man. Another of the man sliding the contents into his hand. She zoomed the picture in.
“Gotcha!” she stated to the photo. With satisfaction and anticipation, she grabbed the phone and called BPD and asked for Gabe, figuring he’d be back at his desk by now.
She was told he was off duty. So he’d been investigating on his own time. She liked that. She insisted the desk sergeant get a message to him as soon as possible. He couldn’t promise her anything.
Deciding she’d have to wait until morning to further the investigation, she readied herself for bed. Her sleeping area was cordoned off by a sliding divider. A four-poster bed, brought from her parent’s home, sat in the center of the room. A small vanity and chair sat beside the window that overlooked the courtyard behind the building. A flowered love seat with a fat tabby cat curled on a cushion took up the rest of the wall space. Just as Kris was crawling beneath the down comforter, the phone rang.
“Kristina, it’s Gabe. I got a message you called. What’s wrong?”
Kris smiled at the concern in his voice. “Nothing’s wrong. But I have something to show you. Can I e-mail some pictures?”
“Can it wait until morning?”
Anxious to show him her find, she hesitated. “I suppose. It’s just you said we needed proof that Frank was doing something illegal before you would question him, right?”
“Right,” he replied cautiously.
“Well, I think I have the proof you need.”
“Kristina, listen to me. Don’t do anything or say anything about this until I get there in the morning.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You want to come here?”
“Okay.” A thrill of anticipation skipped over her skin. “First thing?”
“First thing. And, Kristina?”
“Make sure you lock your doors.”
“I always do,” she answered before hanging up. But just to be sure, she double-checked. Sure enough, locked.
Back at her bed, she snuggled beneath the covers, convinced that tomorrow she’d be able to put Gram’s mind to rest.
Hopefully, with Gabe’s help.
The next morning, Gabe pulled his wool sport coat shut against the brisk air as he left his car and walked to Kristina’s apartment building. He still couldn’t believe she lived here.
He pushed the buzzer next to K. Worth. A moment later the door unlocked and he went inside. The large entryway was sparkling clean. The tiled floor shone with polish and the silver row of mailboxes looked brand-new. So much for slumming.
An elevator took him to the second floor. Kristina’s apartment was at the far end. A large wreath sporting a red bow hung around the peep hole. He knocked on the steel door.
The door slid open. She stood there with a smile on her face. “Hi.”
“Good morning,” he managed to say past the tightness in his throat.
He shouldn’t feel this pleased to see her. This was police business, not a social call. Yet he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He really should have just had her e-mail the pictures, but he’d been curious. He wanted to know more about the woman she’d become.
Her faded jeans rode low on her hips. A bright coral, formfitting, long-sleeved sweater accentuated her curves. Her long blond hair was pulled back into a strange-looking rope with multicolored beads hanging down at the end. Mascara darkened her lashes and her lips were glossy. Inviting. His mouth went dry as memories of last night’s escapade stormed through his mind. He should have kissed her and not worried about the consequences.
“Come in,” she said with a sweep of her hand.
Forcing himself to focus, he stepped into her apartment and realized he’d misjudged her. He’d expected a contemporary setting with high-end furniture and expensive decorations. His gaze cataloged the interior. The walled-in, small living room looked cozy with well-worn leather seating and a scarred coffee table strewn with photography magazines. In the corner stood a small Christmas tree, the lights twinkling.
A beautifully carved, yet beat-up armoire sat against one wall. Its opened doors revealed an older television, a stereo and lots of books. To his right was a small eating area and an even smaller kitchen. And he assumed the closed, sliding partition led to her bedroom and bath.
“This way.” Kristina walked toward a curtain, which she pushed aside and motioned him through.
The enormity of the loft-style photography studio surprised him. A large bay window dominated the far wall. Light stands and a stack of props took up one corner. A changing area and a workstation occupied the other two corners. The middle was open and a tripod with a camera sat at the ready.
Large photographs in minimalistic frames were stacked in a corner.
“Great space,” he commented. He walked over to the framed pictures. The one face-out was of what looked like an African village.
“Thank you. It took me a while to get it the way I wanted.”
“You did a good job.” He motioned to the photos. “Did you take these?”
She nodded, her expression a bit apprehensive, as if his opinion mattered.
Flustered by that thought, he flipped through the stack of images. More of Africa, others looked to be in an Eastern European setting, while a few were definitely South American. All third-world communities. Impressed by both the pictures and the fact that she’d gone to these places, he said, “These are great.”
Her pleased smile zinged through him, creating a wave of unexpected yearning that tightened his chest. He moved away from the photos and back to business. “So, what did you have to show me?”
Her eyes gleamed with excitement. She rushed to the workstation and picked up several pictures. “Check these out.”
Gabe studied the images. The first two were of Frank as he walked away from the camera toward the dark alleyway. The second showed the man in the shadows, his face unfortunately obscured by darkness. The third showed Frank handing over the envelope. The fourth was of the man emptying the contents into his hand. And the fifth was a zoomed-in shot of a dozen pills in various shapes and sizes.
Gabe raised an eyebrow. “Looks like Frank’s into drug trafficking.”
“See, I knew there was something off about him,” she gloated, looking quite delighted with herself.
Gabe liked her enthusiasm but he couldn’t let her think she’d done a good thing. The thought of her getting hurt made his shoulder muscles tighten. “Yes, you were right. But you took a risk.”
The enthusiastic light faded from her blue eyes. “Didn’t we have this discussion already?”
“Never hurts to reiterate. Besides, this doesn’t mean he had anything to do with Carl and Lena. We still haven’t established anything has happened to them.”
“When will you?”
“Soon.” He hoped. Then he could stop torturing himself with her company.
He moved toward the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Christopher Columbus Park. The fountain shot water in the air and a woman with a dog jogged along the winding paved path. Beyond the park, the blue water of the Atlantic sparkled in the winter sunlight. Sails ruffled in the morning breeze. Die-hard sailors in this cold weather. He shivered.
Kristina halted beside him. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Very.” So was she.
“On summer evenings I can watch the performance artists,” she stated softly. She turned her gaze on him.
Gabe found himself staring into eyes darker than the ocean and alive with intelligence. She regarded him frankly, with no guile or coyness.
So unlike the woman she’d been.
He could like this new person. He didn’t want to. He couldn’t risk that kind of pain again. “I should go.”
She nodded slightly, opened her mouth as if to speak but then seemed to think better of it.
“What?” he asked.
“Would you mind if I took your picture?” she asked.
A dry laughed escaped him. “I don’t know…”
She moved to her camera and detached it from the tripod. “You don’t have to do anything. Just be.”
“Just be?” How did one “just be”?
She held the camera to her eye, the round dark lens trained on him. The soft snap of the shutter was the only sound as she moved around him. He wasn’t sure if he should move or stay still, so he just stood there trying not to tense. She angled the camera and clicked away. He wondered what she saw worth photographing.
“Do you like ice cream?” she asked.
He arched an eyebrow. “Yes. Doesn’t everyone?”
The click of the camera echoed in the loft. “What kind?”
She lowered the camera. “Just plain old chocolate?”
He shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Okay. What are you doing tonight?”
“Tonight?” An unexpected rush of anticipation arced through him.
“I plan to take Grams for ice cream. I think she’d like to meet you. Considering.”
She wanted him to hear her grandmother’s story about people missing from the retirement center. “I don’t think that’s a good idea considering the last time I met your family.”
She frowned. “This is my grandmother. Not my parents. I think it’s important for you to meet her and see for yourself that she’s not some loony person.”
“I don’t know.” Social events with the Worthingtons weren’t high on his list of repeat experiences. The last time he’d met Kristina’s family, they’d made their feelings about his unsuitableness loud and clear. But this wasn’t her parents, just one elderly woman. And it was his job.
“Please,” she said, her blue eyes direct and earnest.
What happened to the haughty woman who’d interrupted his life yesterday? Kristina was a puzzle, one he wasn’t sure he wanted to solve. But he’d gone this far, and who knew what other kinds of trouble Grams and Kristina would get in. “Okay.”
She beamed. “Great. Meet us here about seven?”
“That’s fine,” he agreed as he walked toward the curtain.
Kristina followed him to the door. “Thank you for taking care of this,” she said, indicating the pictures in his hands.
“Not a problem. Promise me you won’t do any more amateur sleuthing.”
She grinned. “I don’t make promises I’m not sure I can keep.”
He groaned. “Just stay out of trouble, okay?”
Her words weren’t convincing. Gabe had a feeling that trouble and Kristina would be meeting again. And he could only hope he’d be there to protect her.
Kris had picked up Sadie early in the evening and brought her back to the loft, where they waited for Gabe. She still couldn’t believe she’d invited him for ice cream. And was even more surprised that he’d said yes.
Why would he say yes?
She doubted he harbored any residual feelings from their short time together that summer many years ago.
But what a summer. She’d thought she owned the world when she’d met Gabe. He had just started working for the Boston Police Department. He’d been to-die-for in his uniform. She hadn’t stood a chance. Of course now she realized how foolish she’d been to think they could have a future together. He’d taken one look at her family and bolted in the other direction, leaving her heart in tatters.
She’d seen him once since then. At Meg’s wedding last year. Gabe looked even more dashing in his navy pinstriped suit and tie than in his uniform. Kris had left as soon as she politely could to avoid having to talk with Gabe.
And then what did she go and do? Seek him out, hoping he’d solve the mystery of the missing residents. Brilliant. Not.
“Krissy, stop fidgeting,” Sadie commanded from her spot on the couch as Kris continued to tidy the already neat room. “The boy will be here in due time.”
With a sheepish smile, Kris refrained from straightening the magazines on the coffee table. “Sorry. I’m just anxious to find out if Gabe talked with Frank and, if so, what happened.”
Sadie’s gaze narrowed. “From what you told me about those pictures you took, it sounds like Frank is doing something illegal. Maybe he harmed my friends because they caught him taking their drugs.”
Taking a seat beside her grandmother, Kris gathered Sadie’s arthritic hands in hers. “I’m sure Gabe will figure out where your friends have gone.”
“You trust this boy?” Sadie’s blue eyes bored into Kris.
“Grams, he’s not a boy. And please don’t call him that when he gets here. And yes, I do trust him.” With the mystery of the missing retirement residents. Definitely. But not with her heart. She’d tried once. Wasn’t going to repeat that mistake.
Sadie grinned. “Protective of his feelings, are we?”
Kris kept her expression dispassionate. “No, of course not.”
“Ah, so you just don’t want to be embarrassed by your old grandmother.”
Trapped, Kris shook her head. “You calling him a boy would be embarrassing. But I’m never embarrassed by you.”
Sadie squeezed her hand. “At least you aren’t. Your mother, on the other hand…very embarrassed.”
Kris frowned, hating that her parents weren’t as loving toward Sadie as she’d wished they’d be.
The doorbell rang, sending Kris’s heart pounding. Taking deep breaths, she walked slowly to the door though her feet wanted to rush. But she wasn’t going to let Sadie see her eagerness to see Gabe. Eagerness born out of curiosity to know what he’d found out, not because she longed to see him again. Or kiss him.
Wait a sec! Where had that thought come from? She flashed to when he’d pulled her into his embrace and shielded her from view with his body. Okay, so maybe she did want to kiss him. But only to see if kissing him as a grown-up would be different than when she was a naive girl mooning over a handsome uniformed police officer.
She tugged on the hem of her shirt and smoothed a hand down the silky fabric covering her stomach, wishing she could as easily smooth her nerves. With a smile she hoped didn’t look too eager or too contrived, she opened the door.
Gabe held a bouquet of colorful flowers in his hand. Kris blinked back the sudden mist in her eyes. When was the last time a man had brought her flowers?
A very long time.
Gabe smiled but didn’t offer her the flowers. “Hi.”
Should she reach for them or wait until he presented them? “Hi, yourself. Come in.”
She moved aside so he could enter. He slid out of his overcoat and hung it on the peg beside the door. He was so tall and good-looking in his navy slacks and red shirt stretching over his chest and flat stomach. His honey-blond hair had been tamed, revealing the slight graying at the temples. She resisted the urge to reach up and release the riot of waves.
Gabe headed straight for Sadie and, to Kris’s amazement, handed her the flowers. Even as disappointment cascaded through her, her heart sighed at the sweet gesture. Sadie’s face lit up with delight as she gathered the blooms close and breathed in.
“These are lovely,” Sadie said, her eyes watery. “Thank you, young man.”
“You’re welcome,” Gabe replied. His gaze sought Kris.
For a second she thought she saw a question in his eyes. Was he seeking her approval? She smiled and nodded her thanks and was gratified to see him relax. Interesting, and something to definitely think about later. But she had some other questions and wanted answers.
“So, what happened with Frank? Did you arrest him? Did he admit to selling pills? Did he do something to Carl and Lena?”
Gabe held up a hand. “Hey, there. Slow down. I did bring Frank in for questioning. He said the pills were over-the-counter stuff he was giving to a friend who couldn’t afford any. He claims not to know anything about Carl or Lena. And since we haven’t established anything has happened to Carl or Lena, or that the pills in the photo aren’t what he claims they are, I had to release him.”
Kris’s shoulders dropped. “Well, what have you found out about Carl and Lena?”
“Not much. I visited the retirement center again and spoke with Ms. Faust. She’s sticking to her story that both left on vacation. I saw their rooms, still full of their stuff. Ms. Faust said she’d fax over their itineraries as soon as the center’s computer system came back online. Apparently they’re shut down for some upgrades.”
Sadie sighed, though her eyes looked troubled. “Maybe she is telling the truth. I mean, she wouldn’t risk lying to the police, would she? I’m just a senile old woman who is reading too much into things.”
“But you found Carl’s wallet in Frank’s cart. What did he have to say about that?” Kris asked.
He shrugged. “Found while cleaning the dining hall and was going to turn the wallet over to Ms. Faust but it disappeared.”
Kris hated thinking that they’d really been chasing the shadows of Sadie’s imagination. But that’s how it looked. And by the sympathetic look in Gabe’s eyes, he thought so, too.
Needing to lighten the mood and distract Sadie, Kris said, “These are such beautiful flowers, Gabe. It was very thoughtful of you. Let me put them in a vase.”
Sadie handed over the flowers with shaky hands. Kris put them in a green ceramic vase and added some water before setting them on the coffee table. “Perfect. How about we go get that ice cream?”
Gabe met her gaze, approval flashing in the warm depths. “Good idea.”
“Sounds like a very good idea,” Sadie agreed as she struggled to stand.
Kris and Gabe both rushed to help. As they left the apartment, Gabe supporting Sadie, he said to Kris, “Who knows, I might even try a new flavor today.”
Kris arched a brow. “It will be good for you.”
Once they reached the street, Gabe jogged over to his black vehicle to move it closer to the curb for Sadie.
“He’s a keeper, Krissy girl,” Sadie said, with a grin.
Sadie gave a delicate shrug of her thin, hunched shoulders. “I’m just saying.”
Heat burned Kris’s cheeks. A keeper indeed.
Later that night as Kris worked in her studio printing off the latest batch of photos for a sportswear ad campaign, her phone rang. She glanced at the clock. Who’d call at this late hour?
There was a brief moment of silence before Sadie spoke in a hushed, frantic voice. “Krissy, there’s something strange going on here. I saw a body being wheeled into the infirmary. You have to come quick!”
Kris tried to let the words register. “Is an ambulance there?”
“No, Krissy. There’s no ambulance. Would I have called you if there was?”
“I suppose not,” Kris muttered.
Was this just another shadow in Sadie’s mind? Sadie probably had a nightmare and was confusing her dream with reality.
But she sounded so upset.
“I’ll be right there.” Kris hung up, quickly dressed, then grabbed her purse and ran out the front door to the old Honda Civic parked at the curb. She started the engine and as the motor heated up, she used her cell to dial Gabe.
“Hi, it’s me.”
Warmed by the sudden edge in his voice, she said, “Sadie just called me all upset. She…” What? Saw a dead body? “I’m on my way to see her.”
“It’s kind of late for visiting hours,” Gabe commented.
“Yeah, well, Sadie needs me.” She decided to be straight with him. “She thinks she saw a dead body.”
“I’ll meet you there. Don’t do anything until I arrive.”
Emotion clogged Kris’s throat. “Thank you.”
She hung up, glad to know that Gabe was on his way.
At this late hour, Kris saw only one other vehicle on the road as she drove to Miller’s Rest. Thankfully, the van that pulled up behind her and whizzed past as she rounded the bend right before the retirement center wasn’t a police car, or she’d have been ticketed for sure.
Kris didn’t usually break the speed limit, but Sadie’s agitation formed a ball of concern in Kris’s chest. Sadie was relatively healthy, but you just never knew. Kris’s heart squeezed tight.
She parked and hurried toward the front entrance. She glanced around, expecting to see the security guard patrolling the grounds.
“Psst. Over here.” Sadie waved from a side entrance. She wore the thick terry robe Kris had given her for her eightieth birthday this past fall and rubber-soled bootie slippers. Her gray hair was a mess, as if she’d just rolled out of bed.
Kris hurried over. “Shouldn’t this door be equipped with an alarm?”
Sadie shrugged. “It didn’t go off when I opened it, so I’d say no. Come on.”
“Wait. Gabe’s on his way here.”
Sadie’s eyes widened. “Who?”
Kris’s stomach clenched. She couldn’t have forgotten him, could she? “Detective Burke.”
“That’s good thinking, Krissy girl. But I have to show you. Now.”
Sadie rapidly shuffled away, leaving Kris no choice but to follow. The darkened center sent a chill creeping up Kris’s spine. Dim lights along the edges of the floor illuminated the hallways.
Sadie took Kris to the infirmary. “They wheeled a body in here.”
“A body?” Kris repeated, not sure she really wanted clarification.
“You know. A body under a sheet. A dead body.”
Kris swallowed back the distaste that image brought and told herself it was just another of Gram’s shadows. A nightmare she mistook for reality. Sadie pushed open the door and Kris peered over her head into the medical room. Glass-paned cabinets lined the walls, a desk with a stiff-backed chair occupied one corner. A gurney had been pushed against the far wall.
Kris sighed with relief. No body. “Well, it’s gone now. And who are they?”
“Ms. Faust and a man.”
Odd. Ms. Faust hardly seemed the type to go sneaking around at night. “Grams, you probably had a nightmare.”
Sadie’s chin jutted out slightly. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Kris raised an eyebrow. “So you went wandering.”
A door slammed. Sadie shuffled quickly to a window facing the service entrance. Reluctantly, Kris followed. A white van had backed up to the double doors off the kitchen. The rear doors of the van were open, but at this angle Kris couldn’t see the contents. Ms. Faust and two men stood talking.
“Hey, that’s the van that passed me on the way here,” Kris whispered.
“I’ll bet they put the dead body in there,” Sadie said. “I wish the detective would hurry up.”
“He’s probably out front. Come on,” Kris urged Sadie away from the window.
One of the men shut the doors before rounding the vehicle and getting in on the passenger side. The other man climbed into the driver’s seat. Ms. Faust waved curtly and disappeared inside the center as the van drove away.
“We better get you out of here before she sets the alarm.”
Sadie’s urgent whisper galvanized Kris into panic mode. “Let’s get you to your room first.”
“I can take care of myself,” Sadie groused. “You need to leave before we’re caught.” She shuffled back toward the side entrance.
With a rueful shake of her head, Kris followed. Just as Sadie reached for the handle, Kris noticed the black box on the wall next to the door. The green light hadn’t been flashing when they came in. Now the light seemed as bright as a camera flash.
Sadie pushed the door open and a loud screeching siren filled the air. Kris’s warning came a second too late.
Sadie groaned. “Rats!”
“Busted,” Kris said and sagged against the wall.
For the next several minutes chaos reined as the security guard, the night nurses, Ms. Faust and several blurry-eyed residents flooded the hallway. Ms. Faust turned off the siren. The ensuing peace was welcome.
“What is the meaning of this?” Ms. Faust bellowed, looking decidedly uptight. Her gray eyes flashed behind square-framed glasses. Her brown wool dress hung on her broad shoulders. Her stiff posture revealed her distress.
Before Kris could explain, police sirens and flashing lights brought more chaos. Perfect. Gabe rushing to her aid. How embarrassing.
Her glower deepening, Ms. Faust instructed the staff to take the residents back to their rooms. With the security guard standing watch over Kris and Sadie, Ms. Faust motioned for them to follow her to the foyer.
Two cars came to a screeching halt. One a police cruiser and the other, Gabe’s SUV.
Gabe stalked forward. The thunderous expression on his face let Kris know she was in deep trouble.
“Detective Burke, whaddya doing here?” asked the older of the two officers who’d responded to the alarm.
Gabe held up his hands, palms out. “Just observing.”
Kris flashed him a frown. Great, he was going to stand by and watch her humiliation. He raised an eyebrow in return.
Ms. Faust introduced herself to the officers and then turned to Kris. “Please explain what you are doing here in the middle of the night.”
Sadie spoke up. “There was a—”
“Grams was having trouble sleeping and wanted some company,” Kris interjected, hoping to save them from having to explain everything. She avoided making eye contact with Gabe.
Ms. Faust’s hairline rose along with her dark eyebrows. “You know the rules. No guests after visiting hours.”
“I apologize,” Kris said in as contrite a tone as she could muster. Needing to change the subject, she took a more direct approach to the question burning in her mind. “What was that van doing here?”
Ms. Faust hesitated for a fraction of a second. “Delivering food. Now I suggest you leave, Miss Worthington, and let Sadie get her rest.”
Before Kris could stop her, Sadie sidled up to the officers and explained to the two men about Carl and Lena disappearing.
Ms. Faust huffed. “I’ve already explained to Detective Burke—” she gestured toward Gabe, who stood off to the side “—that the residents in question have gone on vacation.”
“What about the body I saw you wheel into the infirmary tonight?” Sadie pressed.
Kris cringed, wishing Grams hadn’t mentioned that. But since she had…Kris watched Ms. Faust closely. A little tick started over her right eye. Was she angry, nervous or guilty?
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Ms. Faust stated.
The older officer hitched up his utility belt, glanced over at Gabe before saying, “We’ll just take a look around. Won’t take but a moment.”
Throwing Sadie and Kris a nasty glare, Ms. Faust preceded the policemen down the hallway.
Gabe stepped forward and took Kris by the elbow. “I told you to wait for me,” he said in a harsh whisper.
“I’m sorry, but Grams was so agitated. I couldn’t wait,” she whispered back.
He released his hold on her and ran a hand through his hair. “Are you trying to make things more difficult for Sadie?”
Guilt and concern gripped Kris by the throat. “Of course not. Help me get Grams to her room, would you?”
Gabe nodded, though his expression said he wanted to be anywhere but there. They flanked Sadie and led her to her studio.
“Grams, promise me you won’t do any more wandering about at night,” Kris said as she helped Sadie on the bed.
“Only if you promise to come back tomorrow.”
Tucking the bedcovers over Sadie, Kris said, “I’ll be here after breakfast.”
“You do believe me, don’t you, Krissy?” Sadie’s gaze sought Gabe. “I know I didn’t imagine that body.”
The unreadable expression on Gabe’s face didn’t fool Kris. He didn’t believe Sadie.
She hesitated. How did the Bible describe faith? The verse in Hebrews rushed to the forefront of her mind. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Kris stroked back a lock of Sadie’s hair. Love filled her heart for this woman who’d taught her about the love of Jesus, who taught her to have faith in God. Shouldn’t she put some faith in Sadie?
“I believe you, Grams.” She kissed her papery-thin cheek, then she and Gabe quietly slipped out of the room.
Gabe stopped her in the hall. “You really believe her?”
“Yes, I do. If she saw a body, then she saw a body.”
Gabe frowned. “You said she had a nightmare.”
“She said she wasn’t asleep.”
“You’re both nuts.” He shook his head, clearly exasperated with her and Grams. Capturing her hand, he said, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” Gabe led the way toward the front of the center.
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