DETECTIVE TREVOR WALTERS stared into the pair of big brown eyes and felt himself being pulled into her orbit. It wasn’t just physical; it was as though even his soul were being realigned.
He’d promised himself it wouldn’t be like this when he ran into her again, but here they were.
The woman who’d called herself Iris for a night.
She’d disappeared from his bed and his life. And now here they were, buggy to buggy, in the middle of the frozen foods section.
“Jimmy, clean up on aisle three,” a voice said over the loudspeaker.
That was enough to shake Trevor out of his trance. He had no idea what he should say or do. He’d played this moment out a number of times since the night she ran out on him. He still didn’t know what to say or what he wanted to hear.
“Sorry about that, ma’am,” he said and tipped an imaginary hat. They’d both been walking so fast their buggies had collided around a corner, bringing them to this moment.
“It was my fault.” Her neck flushed red, the color rising to her cheeks. It wasn’t the blush of embarrassment. There was something more behind her eyes.
She was afraid.
Trevor shoved his need for answers down deep and pasted on a smile.
“I had no idea you shopped in this part of town,” he said.
“Excuse me?” another woman said from behind Iris.
He straightened and gestured for his blast-from-the-past to go first. They were blocking two aisles between them and the widest part of the back thoroughfare near the meat section.
She scurried around the end cap with her shopping cart.
Iris. Kate. Long Legs. None of those were her real name if he had to bet on it.
He watched her yoga pant clad ass for a moment until she whipped down another aisle. She glanced at him and this time her fear was a bright beacon.
“Trevor, hi.” The next person turning out of the aisle was another face from history, but not one that gave him pause like his mystery woman.
“Peggy, hey. And who do you have here?” He leaned forward to peer into the carrier strapped onto the buggy.
A baby stared back at him looking none too sure about what was going on.
“This is my son. We’re here for the week, seeing grandpa and grandma. How are you? I heard you’re a detective now.” Peggy propped a hand on her hip, blocking both avenues of escape.
“Yeah. About five—no, six months now.” He tightened his grip on his buggy and rocked back on his heels.
“That’s fantastic.” Peggy’s mouth kept moving, but Trevor stopped listening.
They’d gone to high school together back in the day, though Peggy had been a year younger. She always knew how to talk someone to death.
Down the way a bit, Iris-Long Legs-Kate whipped around the end of another aisle.
What Trevor wouldn’t give to know her story.
He’d met her at The Watering Hole, the downtown bar that had been part of Ransom since the first days when it was a last chance stop for cowboys heading home after herding cattle to the stockyards in Fort Worth. There weren’t a lot of new faces that came into The Hole, but Iris-Long Legs-Kate was one that had captured his attention the moment she pushed through the swinging doors in those fuck me heels.
Peggy’s baby let out an ear piercing wail, bringing Trevor back to the moment.
“Oh, dear. I’ve got to run. Nice seeing you.” Peggy wiggled her fingers at him and turned her basket around, heading back the same way she’d come.
Saved by the baby.
He blew out a breath and glanced at his list.
Iris-Long Legs-Kate wanted nothing to do with him. When she’d disappeared from his bed and house in the early morning hours, he hadn’t taken the hint. If he’d just left well enough alone, everything would be fine. He did not need another girlfriend with problems to fix. He’d promised himself he was through with that. But her history combined with the fear he’d just seen beckoned him to dig deeper. To find out what was wrong.
He stopped by the meat counter and got a couple steaks. That was his whole mission for being in this tiny grocery store. The beef was locally sourced and another one of the guys had let slip that their resident rancher with the best beef had culled a few head of cattle. Trevor wanted to score the best cuts he could before the L.O.L. Gang got wind of it.
Something about this whole Iris-Long Legs-Kate situation sat wrong with him. Yeah, he had a complex about damsels in distress, his SWAT sister had pointed out his history enough times that he was aware of his problem. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that with the woman who’d called herself Iris, it was different.
He glanced at the aisle where he’d seen her last, but she didn’t make another appearance.
Probably for the best.
The hair on the back of Trevor’s neck rose and icy fingers slid down his spine.
The L.O.L. Gang had made him. He wasn’t entirely certain they wouldn’t jump him for the steaks.
He turned, keeping his backside to the meat counter, his buggy protecting his front side and pasted on his best smile.
It was the ring leaders of the bunch.
Three spry women not a day younger than seventy-five stood holding their freezer totes, one in each hand. He was willing to bet they intended to call in the rest of the L.O.L.s after they got their pick of the meat.
“If it isn’t the most beautiful women in Ransom.” He knew better than to let them get in striking distance. He’d been in his early twenties when the pinch tax became a thing and he had a lot of interest to pay off.
“You aren’t getting my roast, are you?”
“No, Bunny. I wouldn’t dream of it.” He shook his head.
“Here you are.” The butcher slid Trevor’s package of steak over to him.
“Thanks, man. You ready for these three?” Trevor thumbed at the trio of ladies.
“My favorite gals.” The butcher grinned at the L.O.L.s who were still watching Trevor closely.
“It’s just a couple of steaks, ladies. Nothing to fight over.” He placed the package into the basket.
“Who’s next?” the butcher asked.
Trevor shoved his cart forward and quicksteped out of the path of the L.O.L.s as they rushed the counter to place their orders. Bunny, Mimy and Sissy were the heart and soul of the old timer generation that still called Ransom home. Though the town had experienced a surge of growth in the last fifteen years there were still some aspects that made it seem like the sleepy little town he’d been born into. And to think, he used to dream about the day he could get out of here.
He made a stop to get a bag of potatoes before heading toward the beer aisle. With any luck he’d be done before the L.O.L.s were ready to check out. If they saw him buying beer on a weekday before noon his mother would hear all about it. He turned at the end of the aisle and stopped short.
Iris-Long Legs-Kate was crouched down, a bottle of something pink in each hand.
He’d managed to give her a wide berth for six months, but he couldn’t keep avoiding her. Ransom wasn’t that big.
She glanced up at him and froze.
“Sorry, I thought you were gone.” He held up his hands.
Six months wasn’t long enough to make him forget that night together. He’d tried telling himself that the only reason it stuck out was because she ran out on him, but that was a lie. There was something about this mystery woman that got at him. That kept her in his mind, unable to move on from her sweet taste.
DINA STARED UP AT her moment of weakness and felt the press of all her life’s bad decisions bearing down on her. She’d been lonely and fragile the night she’d gone to the local bar. Of course she’d told herself she was going to be around people, but if that were the case she’d have shut down the cute cops advances.
For one night she wanted to be normal again. To hear someone say her name, albeit her middle name, but it was close enough.
She should have never tangled with a cop. She was a Profaci, as much as she hated being one, it came with knowledge.
Trevor took a few steps. The wheels on his cart squeaked.
Dina straightened and placed both bottles of rosé into her cart.
“Look...” Trevor stopped a few feet away from her. “Iris, Kate, whatever your name is, if something’s going on and you need help—”
“Are you stalking me now?” Dina gaped at him. He’d traced her back to the alias. Kate was the name she’d picked when she moved to Texas in the hopes of finally being free from her brother.
“No. No, I’m not. I was just worried about you, okay? Pretty woman leaves my house late at night without saying goodbye, of course I’m going to want to know you’re okay.”
“It’s called a one-night stand.” God, she’d been so stupid.
“How did you find me?” And how could she fix it?
“Ransom is a small town.”
Her Kate identity only went back about five years before coming to Ransom. She’d been here for eighteen months. Long enough to relax into a false sense of calm.
“I have to go.” She turned and strode down the aisle, the spot between her shoulder blades burning.
This was all her fault.
She knew the risks involved with any kind of personal interaction, and she’d still made the decision to go out. Trevor had come up to her with a drink, a smooth line and a smile right when she was about to run back home. He’d seduced her with jokes and stories without ever doing more than placing his hand on her arm when he pushed her chair in. By the time he’d confessed to being a cop she hadn’t cared, she’d just wanted this connection to last.
All of this was her fault, and it might have cost her this last safe refuge.
Dina left the store and went straight to her hatchback. She locked the doors and gripped the wheel to keep her hands from shaking.
Trevor didn’t know everything, but he knew enough. He’d matched Iris to Kate. If he’d done that, he could probably figure out that Kate wasn’t a real person. He hadn’t come hunting for her, but he’d dug around and that was enough for her to know that he could be a danger to her.
She started the car and connected her phone to the vehicle’s Bluetooth system.
“Call Rudy.” She hadn’t made this call in a very long time.
The line rang and rang.
“Come on, pick up.” She glanced in her rearview mirror at the David’s Market sign fading into the distance.
“Yo, this is Rudy.” He sounded a lot like he looked. Skinny, fast talking, deep dealing kid of a criminal.
“Rudy. It’s Kate.”
“Kate?” She could imagine his thin, teenage-like face twisting up.
“Kate! Baby, you don’t wanna do that.”
“I think a cop has made me. I need to get out of here.”
“Wow. What? Slow down and tell me everything.”
She gave Rudy the cliff notes version of her history with Trevor leading up to today’s interaction.
“Sounds to me like he’s trying to leave you alone. And look, I’m going to be unavailable for a while, so I can’t do anything right now. I think you need to lay low and stick to your story. You practiced your story, right?”
“Yes.” She leaned her head back against the headrest and watched the red light mocking her. “My name is Katherine Johansson, I go by Kate. The reason I changed my name is because my ex-husband beat me, it’s why I have the scars on my arm and shoulder. I came to Texas to start a new life, hiding from him.”
There was no ex-husband, and the scars were a present from her parents. But no one had to know that.
“Good. Look, stay close to home or go into Fort Worth and get a hotel if you’re that worried. If he hasn’t dug deeper in six months, chances are he’s not going to. You know the biggest risk for you is moving.”
“I know from first-hand experience.” She pulled into the drive of her little rental house. “Any word about my brother?”
“Same old stuff, he’s still got a bounty on your head and wants to know where you are. I have heard the FBI are paying attention to him now, so they might be an issue for you depending on what they want to know about brother dearest.”
“Thanks, Rudy. You’ve been a real friend.” Possibly the only one she had, but she couldn’t kid herself. Rudy was faithful to her money.
“Take care of yourself and call me in a week if something changes, okay?”
She ended the call and closed her eyes. The last thing she needed to worry about was the FBI. Her brother and the families were trouble enough. Back when she’d been powered by rage ad revenge, she’d been convinced there was a way out of this. A way for her to get her pound of flesh from her parents, break free from everything and live her life. Now, years later she knew the truth.
No one ever really left Cosa Nostra. For as long as she drew breath they’d hunt her for what she’d done and that meant she could never have a normal life. There would never be a man in her future. There was no family. She was alone.
TREVOR STOOD IN THE aisle staring at Iris-Long Legs-Kate’s basket.
Well double shit.
He’d obsessed about her for weeks after their encounter until he’d happened across her at a red light. It’d been complete coincidence. She’d been turning left. He was set to go straight. There was no way to follow her, but he’d remembered her plates. He’d run the car which was how he’d hit on the name Katherine Johansson, who went by Kate most of the time. He’d only wanted to make sure she was okay. His fear was that there was some dark history behind her that had chased her out of his home in the middle of the night. That was when he’d found holes and history that led nowhere.
As far as he could tell, she paid her taxes and bills, her vehicle registration and license were up to date. There was nothing suspicious about Kate Johansson. All kinds of people had reason to break with their past and start over. He’d told himself that and had dropped looking deeper into her story. He wasn’t the kind of guy who pushed himself on a woman that was done with him.
What was he going to do now?
Ransom was small.
Trevor had spotted her car around town and even opted to not eat at the grill or diner a few times because he knew she was there. He’d done his best to avoid exactly this situation, because now that they’d come face to face again the nagging voice was back. It screamed that something wrong.
He scooped his items out of his buggy and placed them in Iris’. He grabbed two cases of beer instead of one and loaded those on the bottom of the buggy. If this was the way his week was starting, who knew how it would end?
Yeah, he knew where she lived and had even driven by once, but that was it. He knew he’d been treading that line between genuine concern and something else. After watching the trauma his SWAT sister had gone through because of a stalker Trevor was more aware of that line. And that was why he’d backed off the way he had.
He steered the cart up to the only checkout stand in action that morning, right behind the L.O.L. Gang with their freezer bags full of meat. Sunday dinner and the Bunco night potluck were going to be awfully good at their place this week.
“Happy shopping, ladies?” He leaned on the buggy, keeping a full length behind the gang.
“You’ve been busy.” Bunny eyed his buggy over the top of her reading glasses and sniffed.
Oh, boy. He was going to hear it from Mom.
“Who was that pretty thing you were talking to?” Sissy turned to face him. She had a cheerful charm that she often used to her advantage.
“You mean Peggy and the baby? That’s Richard’s daughter.”
“No, the one with that trendy hair cut.” Sissy held her hand at her shoulder.
Crap on a cracker.
Iris-Long Legs-Kate did not need the nosey Little Old Lady Gang poking into her life. If he didn’t answer it would make them curious. If he did answer they’d run with the story and make something out of it.
“She’s new in town, and I kind of made an ass out of myself.” He hung his head.
“Language,” Mimy snapped. She was the stern one of the three.
“I’m sorry, Mimy. But I really was a donkey’s behind. I was apologizing.”
“Well, that’s why you’re one of the good ones.” Sissy’s smile widened.
It was not an assuring expression.
“And buying her vittles, I see.” Bunny peered at the cart.
“Yeah, she had something she had to run and do. I offered to get this as an apology.”
“That’s no apology. Where are the flowers?” Sissy glanced around until she spied the bucket of flowers by the store entrance. “There, that’s what you really need.”
“You’re very right.” Trevor didn’t want to send the wrong message to Iris, but he wasn’t about to disobey the L.O.L.s to their face.
The trio of troublemakers finished checking out. He got his turn and made sure to keep his things and Iris’ separate, making sure to add on a bouquet of flowers to his bags. He wouldn’t want someone to snitch on him and say he hadn’t done it. Besides, maybe they would help make his case to Iris if it came to that.
He made sure the L.O.L.s were gone before heading out to his SUV. There wasn’t a lot of time before he needed to report in for his shift. Word was there would be a SWAT sting later this week, so he was eager to learn if he’d make the team or not.
Getting promoted to detective was good and bad. It was what he’d always wanted, but it meant he couldn’t be on the lead team for all the SWAT ops. If he was sidelined for this one, he may have to swing by practice so he could at least say hi to everyone.
Trevor drove the short distance to the house rented to Kate. It was in one of the older neighborhoods on what had once been the outskirts of town. The first new development added onto the city where he lived wasn’t even a mile away.
He parked at the curb and watched the front windows a moment.
The blinds were down and curtains drawn. He couldn’t see movement inside. If she was there, the car must be in the garage.
He’d leave the groceries on the doorstep, ring the doorbell and leave. She wouldn’t have to see him even though he wanted more than anything to know what her story was.
Trevor gathered up the bags, taking care not to crush his apology flowers.
A year ago he’d have stood there knocking on her door until he had some kind of understanding. That stalking case had changed him and made him think about things differently. Just because he wanted to force his way into her life and help didn’t mean it was the right thing to do. She had to want him to be there.
He set the bags down with the cold stuff up against the house and the rest around it to hopefully insulate them until Iris could take it all inside. The flowers went on top. That done he straightened and glanced at the bay window.
The blinds were parted and a pair of brown eyes stared out at him.
He couldn’t get anything right today.
Trevor waved and turned toward the SUV, ready to put this behind him. Normally he was pretty good about letting his damsels in distress go, but there was something about her that had stuck with him. For months. Maybe it was because prior to her he’d stayed away from female trouble, or maybe it was something else.
The front door lock scraped, and the hinges creaked.
He glanced over his shoulder at the narrow opening and Iris looking back at him.
“I’m sorry. I felt bad about chasing you out of the market. This was the least I could do.” He gestured at the bags.
“What do you want from me?”
“Nothing.” He winced. That was a lie. “I just... I wanted to know you were safe. That you are safe.”
“I’m fine,” she said.
No woman who said I’m fine was really fine.
“I can see that.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Look, Iris or Kate or whatever you go by, if you ever need something—help, moving boxes, hanging shelves, whatever—let me know?”
It was probably a lost cause. She was pretty clear about wanting nothing to do with him, but his conscience wouldn’t allow him to turn his back on her. He dropped his business card into the mail box attached to the porch railing.
“You should forget about me.” She stared down at the flowers and if he wasn’t mistaken, there was something warm in her eyes.
“That’s not likely going to happen any time soon. Have a nice day, Iris. Try to stay cool, okay?”
He turned and walked back to his SUV, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something still wasn’t right. But unless she wanted his help, he couldn’t cross that line. He was learning even if he didn’t like it.
DOMINICK PROFACI STARED down at the body clad in navy blue. The face was unrecognizable after the beating the cop had taken.
“Fucking—fuck.” He slammed the trunk shut and wished the body would disappear.
He did not need this right now.
“He had it coming, I swear.” Phillip held up his hands and took a step back. “The guy pushed Little Tony. What was he supposed to do?”
Little Tony continued to stand there, staring straight ahead, the overhead light shining off his freshly shaven dome.
“Shut up,” Dominick snapped.
He needed to think. He could control this, but how?
Ever since his snitch of a twin sister had turned rat on their parents, it seemed like Dominick couldn’t catch a break. The other families had swooped in to divide up their territory and absorb the Profaci businesses. Dominick had barely kept a toe-hold because he’d been eighteen at the time. Now, eight years later, he either had to bring it or the other families would devour him. He couldn’t afford to screw up now that he had a profitable business going.
“Okay.” He pounded his fist on the back of the car. “Here’s what you’re going to do. Take the body and the car to the dump. See Franco. Pay him a bill. If he can’t take the car—burn it.”
“Man.” Phillip groaned.
“Don’t you fucking start with me, bro.” Dominick glared at his best friend. This was family business, and he called the shots. “I want you both out of the city tonight.”
“I’ll hit up Atlantic City.” A slow smile spread across Phillip’s face.
“No. No, you will not. You’re going to Texas.”
“Texas?” That was the first word Little Tony had said since he’d pulled into Dominick’s garage.
“Yes, Texas.” He glared at Little Tony. “I got a lead on Dina. You need to go see a guy named Rudy. I was going to wait, feel the tip out a bit more, but you two need to get out of town.”
If he could bring Dina home to face the music, it might help erase some of the blemish she’d left on the family name. It would also mean finally removing the threat of Dina breaking her silence on the rest of the story. That had been hanging over his head since the day the feds broke down their door to arrest their parents.
Dina had always been soft. Weak. He must have gotten the best genes in the womb. Still, she should have understood the bonds of family and her responsibility to them. Instead, the first time the feds put even a little pressure on her she’d crumbled.
“You think you found her again?” Phillip asked.
“Maybe. My guy in WitSec said she went solo two years ago.” Dominick had been too busy staking his claim to their corner of the business to worry about Dina. Now, she could be the key to his future. “Get out of here and don’t call me until you have something good to tell me.”
He backed toward the door leading into the house. It was the same place he’d grown up in, alongside his twin sister.
Phillip and Little Tony climbed into the low riding car.
Dominick turned off the lights and tapped the garage opener.
This was terrible timing. His profits had taken a hit. The other families wanted to squeeze him out. The cops were going to be on him for the missing officer.
What else was going to go wrong?
About the only thing that could save him was finding Dina. He’d done it before, and if he could do it again, he might could handle this.