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David Willis glanced up at the man leaning into the cubicle surrounding his cluttered desk. Detective "Tiny" Wyman, his best friend on the force and a damn good cop, was even larger than he was, with skin like burnished copper and a ready smile that always seemed at odds with the depth of sadness in his brown eyes. He took his crime-fighting seriously; he also wasted few words. When he talked, most people listened. Including David.
"Heard what? That I'm behind on my paperwork again?" he joked.
Tiny shoved giant hands into the pockets of his khaki pants, but the casual pose didn't make him look any more comfortable in his clothes. Tiny just wasn't the kind of man who was meant to wear slacks and a sports jacket, let alone a tie. "You're always behind on your paperwork," he grumbled with a crooked grin. "You think I'd waste my valuable time pointin' that out?"
When his smile didn't linger, David knew he hadn't stopped by to spar with him. "No," he said. "What's up?"
Tiny yanked at his tie as if it were choking him. "'Member that guy we put away for attackin' that little blond woman in the middle of the night?"
David had handled enough cases over his thirteen years with the Sacramento PD that, with such a sketchy description, he might not have instantly recalled this particular assault. But Tiny's mention of "that little blond woman" brought the details immediately to mind. Probably because those details hadn't been that deeply buried to begin with. He hadn't talked to Skye in a few months, but she was never far from his thoughts. "Yeah, I remember. Burke got eight to ten."
"Turns out it'll be closer to three."
Rocking back in his chair, David tossed his pen on the stack of paperwork he'd been forcing himself to complete.
"I knew he was coming up for his first parole hearing. But last I heard, there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell he was going to get it."
"He shouldn't have gotten it," Tiny responded. "Burke is dangerous. But " He gave up fiddling with his tie, his attitude one of surrender to another day at the office. "I guess he ratted out a fellow inmate, which meant San Francisco PD could close two previously unsolved homicides. They recommended him to the parole board."
David shot to his feet. "Didn't anyone read my damn letter? Why didn't they call us first? Check this guy out?"
"Apparently they contacted Chief Jordan several weeks ago."
"Did he tell them the body count along the river stopped once our friendly dentist went to prison?"
"Of course. And they said it could just as easily be a coincidence." Tiny finally cracked his usual broad smile.
"I say they can bank on our intuition. But they want more."
More. That was why the chief had questioned him about the unsolved cases, wanting to know if he was any closer to developing a solid connection to Oliver Burke. Jordan had been looking for something tangible to contest San Francisco's opinions. And David hadn't been able to give it to him. But their meeting hadn't concerned him too much. He hadn't realized what was on the line. He'd figured he'd have at least two more years to uncover the missing link.
"This is bullshit." David nudged his friend aside as he squeezed through the opening of his cubicle, intent on finding Jordan. But Tiny grabbed his arm.
"Save your breath, man. There's nothing he can do. The decision's been made. Dr. Burke walks next week."
"Next week? Doesn't anyone care what he might do?" Two other detectives in the violent crime unit stuck their heads out into the hall. David used a pointed stare to encourage them to mind their own business and shifted his attention back to Tiny.
"Seems that San Francisco cares more about closing old cases," Tiny said. "By rewarding Burke, they give others an incentive to step forward. There're some gangbangers in there who know a lot of shit. I think the SFPD would've fought this all the way to the governor, trying to get a pardon if they had to."
Obviously, it hadn't been necessary to go that far. Burke's early release had been far easier to accomplish than David would've believed possible. "But if he attacks again, he'll know better than to leave his victim alive to testify against him. He made that mistake once and it landed him in prison."
"Which was Chief Jordan's argument."
"He was told we can't take every 'might' into account or we'd never be able to do our jobs."
"Skye Kellerman is a 'might' that should matter!" Tiny ran a hand over his bald head. "She matters to you, right?"
As usual, Tiny's voice was a low rumble, but David couldn't help noticing the subtle inflection. He ignored it, as well as the memory of Tiny warning him that he was getting too emotionally involved with Skye. Then, as now, he'd been trying to reconcile with his ex-wife.
"I wouldn't put it past Burke to seek her outto take what he couldn't get from her, along with an extra measure of revenge." The image created by his own words made him sick.
Tiny's gaze remained steady. "Neither would I."
"We have to do something."
"What? Unless we find the proof we're missing on those old murders, or he commits another crime, there's nothin' we can do." He released a long, laborious sigh. "You want me to call her?"
David wished he could let Tiny deliver the news. Or someone else. This was the last thing he wanted to tell Skye. But he refused to take the easy way out. It had to be him. "No, I'll do it."
"I'm sure." With a curse, he smacked the divider as Tiny left. Tiny didn't bother to look back. He knew David too well, shared his frustration. But several heads popped into the hall again.
"What are you staring at?" David growled.
Everyone disappeared, but intimidating his coworkers didn't make him feel any better. How was he going to tell Skye that the fear she faced dailyafter surviving Burke's attackwas about to get a lot worse?
Skye Kellerman's shoulder blades tensed as she heard tires in her gravel drive. It was a cold morning in early January, not dark, but a thick blanket of fog made her feel completely isolated. Cut off from the rest of the world.
Hurrying to the antique secretary she'd inherited, along with the house, when her mother passed away a year earlier, she selected her Kel-Tec P-3AT semiautomatic handgun over her Sig P232because it was lighter, thinner and easier to conceal. Carrying it with her, she ran to get a T-shirt from her bedroom. She wanted to cover the cleavage and stomach revealed by the jogging bra and Lycra shorts she wore while working out. She was self-conscious about her breast size, which drew more attention than she felt comfortable with.
A car door slammed and footsteps approached the house. Heavy footsteps. The footsteps of a man.
Pulling on a baggy T-shirt that said The Last Stand: Where Victims Fight Back, she went to peek through the wooden shutters of her front windows, then the peephole she'd drilled in the door. But the fog was too thick, the morning shadows too murky to make out more than a large, dark shape coming toward her.
The metallic taste of fear rose in her throat and soured her stomach. This was probably just someone who was lost and needed directions. Sherman Island, which only had 175 residents, sat in the heart of the Sacramento River Delta. Few outsiders were familiar with the sloughs, natural waterways, drawbridges and levees that made the wetlands so unique. But she would no longer assume that strangers were safe. Not since she'd been startled awake in the middle of the night by a man wearing a hood and wielding a knife.
Burke was now in prisonthank Godbut because of The Last Stand, the victim's support organization she'd started with her friends Sheridan Kohl and Jasmine Stratford two years ago, she'd made a lot of enemies. This could easily be Tamara Lind's husband, a wife-beater who blamed Skye for Tamara's recent desertion. Last week, he'd threatened to bomb The Last Stand. Or it could be Kevin Sheppard. Kevin had appeared at their offices after a flurry of newspaper articles praising TLS for financially backing an investigator who'd uncovered new evidence on a high-profile murder. Kevin had wanted to help out as a volunteer, but Skye turned him away when a background check revealed accusations of stalking, at which point he'd grown unreasonably angry and stormed out. No one had seen him since.
The doorbell sounded, followed almost immediately by a sharp rap.
She imagined turning off the alarm and opening the door as far as the chain allowed, only to have it kicked wideand felt her palm begin to sweat on the butt of her gun. Calm down.
She had damn good aim. But nerves could wreak havoc on the best marksman in the world. So she wouldn't open the door. She'd pretend to be gone and hope he'd go on his way.
Holding her breath, she pressed her spine more firmly to the wall, wondering what the students from her various shooting classes would think if they could see her now sweating and shaking over some fog and an unexpected visitor. Most viewed her as indestructible when she had a gun in her hand. They acted like their own guns made them invincible, too. But they didn't understand what it was really like in a desperate standoff, didn't fully grasp that a woman could own a million firearms and still be vulnerable. Unless she was prepared to pull the trigger.
Was she willing to kill Kevin Sheppard? Or Tamara's estranged husband?
If she had to
She hadn't made a move or a sound, but her visitor didn't seem to be buying that she wasn't at home. He rang the doorbell again. Knocked. Then his body blocked the window as he tried to see in.
"Skye? Skye, are you there? It's me, Detective Willis." Exhaling slowly, she consciously released the pressure of her fingers on the gun. David She wasn't in mortal danger. But knowing he was standing on her front step certainly didn't slow her heart rate.
"Your car's in the drive," he yelled. "You gonna answer?" Taking another steadying breath, she flipped the safety on her gun, dropped it in the pocket of her coat, which hung on the hall tree by the door, and dashed a hand across her moist upper lip.
"Coming." After shutting off the alarm system, she slid the chain aside, turned the dead bolt and opened the door.
He was wearing a green shirt and tie and looked good too good. His tie was a little dressy for his shirt, but his style was as unique as it was appealing. Sort of James Dean "cool" mixed with Johnny Depp "different." Briefly, she remembered the time, nearly a year ago, when he'd brushed his lips against hers, then kissed her more deeply, pushing her up against the wall. In that moment, their volatile attraction had overcome reason and common sense.
"Hi." She smiled, hoping to appear unaffected, but their relationship was so complex, she couldn't take any encounter with him in stride. Especially an unexpected encounter.
"What brings you out to the delta?"
His manner suggested this wasn't a social call. She almost wondered if he'd forgotten the night he'd come by to help her move and they'd nearly made love. "I need to talk to you. Can I come in for a minute?"
He was being so formal, so aloof. And he hadn't called. He'd shown up at her door. What was going on?
Stepping aside, she beckoned him past her, telling herself there was no reason for the knot in her stomach. The worst was behind her. No matter what happened from here on, she'd never have to go through the same hell again.And that was all that mattered. "Can I get you a cup of green tea?"
"Green tea?" he echoed, arching a dark eyebrow.
"Sorry. I don't have any coffee. I don't drink it anymore."
"I'll pass on the tea. I'm afraid my body wouldn't know what to do with something that healthy." His light green eyes seemed to take in every detail of her face and figure which, in turn, made her far too aware of him. But he didn't indicate whether or not he liked what he saw. He kept whatever he was thinking locked behind an implacable expression. And a second later, he shifted his attention to his surroundings.
For the first time in a long while, Skye saw the inside of her house from someone else's perspective. In the living room, she'd removed her mother's dated "for company" couch, the walnut veneer side tables, the curio cabinets and vases filled with silk flowersgiven them all to Jennifer and Brenna, her two stepsisters, who lived in southern California near their father. She'd replaced the furniture with free weights, an exercise bike, a treadmill, an aerobics step and a mat for yoga. Only a slice of kitchen could be seen from their vantage point, but it showed the small indoor garden where she grew herbs and wheat grass.
"Wow, I like what you've done to the place," he said. His sardonic smile let her know he didn't consider it an improvement. She knew that in his view it served as further proof that her past was taking control of her life, which was something they'd argued about the last time they'd talked.
"Thanks. Seemed a pity to waste so much space."
She hadn't been practical at all. Until the early-morning hours of July 11th nearly four years ago, breaking a freshly manicured nail had been classified as a catastrophe. "Having to stab a rapist tends to change a person."
The muscle that twitched in his jaw revealed his displeasure. Evidently, she'd just reminded him of the purpose of his visitif the scar on her cheek had ever let him forget it in the first place.
"Maybe you should sit down," he said.
Excerpted from Trust Me by Brenda Novak
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