“It hurts my heart, Lance,” she called out. “All that time I was told Tildy was nothing more than an imaginary friend. I might have only been five, but I remember crying myself to sleep in Mom’s arms, the frustration that no one believed me, being so confused, then finally accepting what everyone was telling me. I felt…lost.”
She walked his way as she slipped her arms into a fluffy pink robe, then tied it shut.
“Now I feel betrayed, then guilty because I know my parents had my best interests at heart. I want it all to go away.”
“Do you really?” He tucked his shirt into his trousers and zipped up. “This is new and a shock, but what about a year from now? We might not have known each other long, but I think I know you well.” Her
emotions were written all over her body in every movement and expression. “You can want her gone from your life, but she will always exist. At some point you’re going to want answers. You’re going to want to compare notes with her. As hard as it is, this is your chance to get off on the right foot with her.”
She sighed heavily. “I’ll get your coffee ready.”
End of discussion. He finished dressing, then grabbed the evidence bag and walked into her kitchen. Eileen leaned against the counter, coffee mug in one hand, brownie in the other.
“Don’t worry. I put a couple in a bag for you.” She jerked her chin to the travel mug and plastic baggie on the table.
“I’m thinking I might have to keep you around for a while.” He braced his palms on the counter on each side of her, kissed her quickly, then turned his attention to the envelope with the key. “Sure about this?”
He put it in the evidence bag, noted the information on the label, then tucked it into his jacket and picked up his breakfast.
“If your lunch plans fall through, call me.”
Another longer kiss said what he couldn’t find the words to express. That he couldn’t wait to see her again. That he’d play hell focusing on work because he knew he’d be thinking of her. That if he didn’t leave right this very second, he’d be buried so deep inside her…
“I’ll see you later.” He gave her tight ass a final squeeze and walked off.
Fingers wrapped around the doorknob, he looked her way. She stood in the kitchen doorway, arms tucked under her breasts.
“I want you to know that I really, really
like you a lot.”
He swore his grin split his face. “I really, really
like you a lot too.”
Her returning smile washed over him in warm waves. Not once in his career had he ever put pleasure before duty. Not even when he was married. Eileen might be the exception.
“Want me to flash you before you walk out the door?” Mischief danced in her eyes.
Lance laughed and motioned to his crotch. “I’ve got enough going on down here already. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Never.” She winked. “Talk to you later.”
When she ducked back into the kitchen, he hurried out the door.
Happiness put a bounce in his step. Lance couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this high on life. He was falling hard, and he was falling fast. There was no sense wondering about where this would lead. Living in the here and now was all that mattered. For the first time in forever, Lance felt like he was
living rather than merely existing.
His feel-good lasted through commuter traffic, morning greetings and bullshit at the station’s coffeepot, and his partner’s scowl.
“Where is my partner, and what did you do with him?”
Rick growled over the rim of his coffee mug. He’d never been a morning person.
Before Lance could reply, their lieutenant barked at them to come to his office. The tone of his voice didn’t mean good news. Lance’s instincts went on high alert, shoving his joy aside. He and Rick grabbed their coffee and walked into what had to be certain doom. Sure enough, a US marshal was standing to one side in their commander’s office, dressed to crisp perfection in a pinstriped suit, white shirt, and a gray tie. Lance wondered if he’d been pulled off courtroom duty to be here and how that affected him.
Lieutenant Baldwin sat behind his desk, hands laced together so tightly on his desk blotter, it turned his dark-brown knuckles a shade of caramel.
“Detectives, this is Marshal Dillon.”
Rick spewed coffee. Lance pressed his lips together to keep from laughing.
“Save it,” Dillon told them. “I’ve heard it a thousand times. And my first name’s not Matt, nor do I know anyone named Kitty.”
Lance didn’t feel sorry for him. He’d heard Sir Lancelot too many times in his lifetime.
Baldwin jerked his head toward him. “Mr. Dillon—”
,” Dillon said through bared teeth.
So the lieutenant was pissed Dillon was here. Good. They were on the same side. Not that it would matter.
“We’re to stand down from the murder at Store It Now. Marshals Service is taking over,” Baldwin said.
“Why?” he and Rick asked at the same time.
“Not your concern,” Dillon replied. “We’ve got it from here. I want all your evidence immediately.”
“Then you’re in the wrong place to get it.” Rick slurped his coffee, loud and long.
Dillon cringed. “I’m well aware of that. This was a courtesy call. We finished here, Lieutenant?”
“No, but you are, Marshal Dillon. A patrolman is waiting up front to escort you out. I’m sure you can find your way to the crime lab. I’d warn them of your arrival, but I suspect they’ve already been made aware through official channels.”
Which was how they should have been notified as well. The only reason Lance could see for Dillon coming here personally was to flex his muscles.
“Thank you for your time.” Dillon shot glares at Lance and Rick, then stormed off.
“What the fuck’s going on, Lieutenant?” Several theories were running through his head, and Lance didn’t like any of them.
Baldwin leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled under his chin. “All I managed to get from the chief was that your shooting victim was a US marshal.”
It had to be a witness-protection issue. Something in that storage unit would expose whoever was in WITSEC. Why else would Carter tell Tildy to leave it alone? But according to Eileen’s father, there were only family pictures and albums. Or that’s all that had
been in there twenty-five years ago. Things could have been added over the years. The unit could be empty now, for all they knew. Or it would be soon. The marshals wouldn’t leave evidence like that behind.
“I recognize the look in your eyes, Driscoll,” Baldwin said. “We are off this case. There’s not a damn thing we can do.”
“Not regarding the murder,” he replied slowly. “But all things considered, wouldn’t you agree that Miss Moore might be in some measure of danger and need of protection? She’s clearly stumbled upon something of which she was unaware. We cleared the crime scene last night. Once the facility is open, she’ll want to retrieve the items inside. Already she’s been threatened. Do we want to take the chance that will happen again with fatal results?”
Standing beside him, Rick tapped his finger against his mug but said nothing. Neither did Baldwin.
“The least we can do is give her protection while she gets her things.” They had to move fast. There was no doubt in his mind that unit would be Dillon’s next target.
Baldwin leaned forward. His steady gaze pierced through Lance’s.
“Who is Eileen Cronkite?”
So much for that little secret. Damn patrolman had blabbed about his misstep at the scene—confusing Tildy for Eileen. Word trickled up the chain fast. Baldwin hadn’t gotten where he was without having an ear to everything around him.
“My girlfriend.” Lying wasn’t going to get him anywhere, and there was no way in hell he was going to deny his relationship with Eileen. He was damn proud of it. Damn proud of having her in his life. “Eileen and Miss Moore are twins. They were adopted out when they were five. Eileen knew nothing about any of it until last night. You can imagine her shock.”
Baldwin nodded slowly.
“You know this has to be a WITSEC issue,” Rick said. “Though I can’t for the life of me understand why the girls were split up and adopted out.”
“For their own protection, according to Eileen’s father. Because when Eileen’s parents learned there was a twin, they tried very hard to get her as well and were refused for that reason,” Lance told them.
Baldwin sighed and rubbed his wrinkled forehead. “Could be their parents were found and killed.”
“Maybe by now, but not when the girls were adopted. According to Miss Moore, their mother gave them keys for the unit with instructions to use them when they were thirty. Tildy had hers. Eileen didn’t.” He wasn’t about to reveal he had her key tucked in his pocket.
Baldwin’s eyebrows met. “She remembers this from when she was five? And kept it all these years?”
Lance raised his palms. “I agree it’s far-fetched. I’m around kids enough to know they can’t find anything even if it’s only two feet in front of them. And I’d call her on it if it wasn’t for the fact that Eileen’s father had her key. He brought it over last night after she confronted her mother about the adoption. Even better, he was in the unit twenty-five years ago and indicates it held only photo albums and baby pictures. Nothing more. He took the baby pictures of Eileen and left the rest.”
“Odd that he was able to get into the unit without being challenged,” Rick said. “I would have thought, if anything, that the items would have been more protected back then.”
“I didn’t say it made sense. But if the women were separated for their own protection, and now one of them is in the middle of a murder—”
“All right.” Baldwin slapped his palm on the desk. “I agree. It’s logical to presume that under the circumstances, they’re in danger once more.”
Rick snorted. “But not enough for the Marshals Service to take watch over them.”
“We’re not investigating the crime,” Lance said. “We’re merely providing protection while the ladies retrieve their property.”
“Set it up.” Baldwin stood. “I want them there when the place opens. I’m going with you too. Make your calls to them in here.”
“Yes, sir.” Now to convince Eileen. He pulled his phone from his pocket.
“Put it on speaker. I want to hear these women so I can get a read on them.”
Oh, hell no.
“With all due respect, Lieutenant. You might have a death wish, but I don’t.”
“Then blame me. I need a handle on this situation, and the best way for me to get that is by hearing their reactions.”
“You’ll be able to judge when you see them.”
“Forewarned is forearmed. On speaker, Detective.”
“Remember, you asked for it.” There was no telling what would come out of Eileen’s mouth. Lance looked forward to the exchange and the men’s reactions.