“Deverall! Hey, hey…Ben!”
He ignored it.
The last person he wanted to talk to right now was a reporter. Not even Meredith Russell. Maybe especially not Meredith Russell. Maybe she was a decent reporter, and maybe she was a decent human being, as far as reporters went.
But he knew exactly what was going on in the department right now. He’d known what was going on for quite a while, actually. He’d been bypassed for promotions, but that was okay—he didn’t want to advance in a department like this one.
He’d waited, bided his time, collected his evidence, until he knew who he could trust.
Then IAB came to him.
He’d almost breathed a sigh of relief, although talking to the rat squad still left a bad taste in his mouth. Dirty cops, though, were no cops at all.
But somebody in the damn rat squad was a rat. He’d had a bad feeling about it for a couple of weeks, so he’d done his own investigation—leaking out information just to see what happened.
And fuck if he wasn’t right.
Now he had a target on his back. Anything he did or said now was only going to make it worse.
Meredith wasn’t the type to give up easily. As he headed down the hallway to speak to his witness, he could hear her high heels clacking on the floor behind him. He closed his eyes for a brief moment. A break, he thought. Just a bit of one, please.
He accepted the fact that he was never going to get out of uniform, not in this town. He had accepted the fact that he might not even survive the fallout once all was said and done and he passed on what he knew.
But he’d at least like to finish up and tie off some loose ends. A hand closed around his arm. He came to a stop and glared down at Meredith. “I’m working,” he said, slowly and clearly. “I’ve got a witness to talk to. I’ve got reports to file, a job to do.”
“Come on, Ben. Five minutes. You can give me five minutes. Off the record.” She gave him a charming smile, one that showed the dimple in her cheek. She leaned in as she spoke, offering him a view of something equally as charming as her dimple and her smile.
But it had been that smile, that dimple, among other things, that had landed him in this mess. Then he stopped and mentally adjusted his line of thinking. That wasn’t fair. It wasn’t her fault that three-fourths of the cops in this town were corrupt.
“Look, just a few questions…” She smiled at him—wide, winsome and pretty. “I’ll hold the answers until you say otherwise.”
He knew better. One of the things he’d leaked had been to her. She’d promised to hold those answers, too. He’d known she’d leak them, but it also proved one thing for certain.
He couldn’t trust her.
“Here’s a comment for you…” He leaned in, paused until she’d all but stopped breathing as she waited. “No comment. I’m done. Now please let me get my job done.”
He stepped around her and headed on down the hall.
“Come on. You know this isn’t over. You know it goes deeper. Give me more. Between us.” Now her voice sounded rougher, harsher. He stopped and looked back at her, and in her eyes he could see the frustration he’d been feeling the past few months. No, for him, it had been longer. What he didn’t see was the one thing he needed to see—fear.
Once more, he went back to her and held her gaze. “Yeah. I know it isn’t over. Maybe you’ll try to say it’s between us. But it won’t be just between us. Everybody knows who talks to you. And the target that has been on my back for the past few months just now went from red and white to neon green and white. Every single one of them are going to come gunning for me now. I was trying to get things settled up before that happened. Now there’s no time. Let me do my job while I still can.”
“Five minutes,” she said, her voice going flat. “I’ve got information for you, too.”
He went stiff and turned to look at her. “Don’t bullshit me, Meredith.”
“I’m not.” She cocked her head to the side. “Quid pro quo, Officer. You can decide to pass it on…or not. But it’s good info.”
He swore and tipped his head back, staring up at the ceiling. Then he nodded tersely. “I have to talk to somebody first. You can meet me outside. Probably in twenty minutes.”
She gave him a smile. “Excellent.”
She strode past him, heading down the hall.
* * * * *
I shouldn’t have eaten that chicken.
Please…please…please don’t let my mama be having a heart attack.
Why the fuck all these people gotta be here? I need to get this done and get back to work…
I hate the smell of hospitals.
That man had better be out there…
The voices were a roar in her head and Nyrene couldn’t block them out. Staring hard at the floor, she tried to focus on nothing but the little flecks of blue in the tile and the sound of her own breathing.
Click click click—a pair of murder-red heels cut across her field of vision. As though her gaze had been forcibly drawn up, she found herself staring at the blonde woman now walking away from her.
The blonde was beautiful, her coat red as blood, her hair falling in a smooth, straight curtain all the way down her back. She paused near the door and glanced back and Nyrene saw her face.
It’s News Reporter Barbie, some hysterical part of her brain said, a mad little giggle underscoring the words. Coming to you live from the edge of madness.
The woman glanced at Nyrene and Nyrene almost gagged on the bile that rushed up her throat as she gasped and nausea swamped her.
She knew her—
Please, please, I don’t want to die!
The voice screamed inside Nyrene’s head and she clapped her hands over her ears as images washed over her. The woman striding toward her car. Heels clicking on the ground. Somebody calls her name. She turns, looks, rolls her eyes. Irritated, so irritated. I’m busy. I’ve got a meet with a source in a few minutes. I already told you, I’m done with this.
A hand reaches out—touches her cheek. Skin, soft…
She smacks him, irritation bleeding into anger…then stark, cold fear.
What are you doing— No!
The scream, muffled against a hand. Please, please, I don’t want to die!
The gunshot, also muffled—a loud pop instead of a booming ricochet.
Eyes wide, stunned. Then, as if in slow motion, a bullet piercing her just between the eyebrows, the hole small and neat, then bloody.
Her eyes went glassy and blank.
Whimpering, Nyrene curled into a ball and hugged her knees to her chest as the pain and shivering spread through her, overtaking her entire body.
The sound of her name had her whimpering, sinking even deeper into the unforgiving seat as the pain sliced and cut through her. She felt like her brain was being fed through a meat grinder, and all the while a reel of the images she’d just seen played through her mind over and over and over.
She started to rock, moaning under her breath. No, no, no, nonononono…
A hand touched her arm.
Another flash echoed through her mind and she struck out and blinding pain flooded her.
Another hand grabbed her.
Then another, as voices rose all around her.
Dev heard the commotion.
He closed his eyes, let his head fall back. The last thing he wanted to do was respond to the shouting and the voices he heard coming from around the corner.
Just go. Just walk away.
A hospital security guard ran by him.
He could walk away, right?
But the badge he carried, the reason he had decided to carry that fucking badge, wouldn’t let him walk away, so instead of heading out that door to meet up with Meredith, he headed out to see what all the shouting was about.
It involved a woman, struggling on the floor in the waiting room.
Two—no, make that three—of the hospital staff held her down.
She was sweating and panicked. Her olive skin had an odd tinge to it, her raven hair fell into her face. Familiarity pricked at him. It hit him then—the wreck. Last night.
Somebody grabbed her quivering leg and she tensed, whimpered again.
He moved to help and her head swung. “No, no, no, no…”
Kneeling, he touched her arm. She immediately stiffened, then turned her head blindly toward him.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Fucking crazy,” somebody muttered from nearby. It wasn’t one of the medical personnel, but the doctor across from him had a look in his eyes as he met Dev’s gaze. Yeah, that about sums it up.
He frowned. “I know this woman. She was in a car wreck last night. She’s not—”
She arched, thrashed. Somebody came rushing up with a cart. He recognized the look of it, even if he’d forgotten the name. Instinct kicked in and Dev reached up and caught the doctor’s arm even as he reached out.
“She’s not crazy,” he said softly. “She was in a wreck and hit her head on the window, pretty hard from what I could see. I tried to get her to come in, but she wouldn’t. You sure you should go pumping her full of something if you’re not sure what you’re treating?”
“I know a hallucination when I see one,” the doctor snapped.
“A hallucination?” Dev looked down. What he saw was a terrified woman, and the more people struggled to hold her down, the more terrified she became. “I see a scared woman. Why don’t you try having them let go for ten damn seconds?”
“That scared woman hauled off and kicked me,” a nurse said, struggling to hold down the woman’s legs.
“For no reason?” Dev demanded, his hands still on the woman’s arm. She was tense, whimpering, but not trying to fight. Just…trembling. Terrified.
“The woman scared her.”
The voice came from the side. An old man sat in a wheelchair, an oxygen mask in his hand, a disapproving look in his eyes as he stared at everybody. “Poor girl been sittin’ there,” he said, his voice thick with an accent that made his words almost indistinguishable. “Over two hours, she been sittin’ there. Cryin’ like a broken doll and shakin’, shiverin’. I don’ think she even know where she is.”
He nodded at the nurse. “That one, she come out, call her name. The girl don’ even hear her.”
The nurse opened her mouth. “Sir, this doesn’t concern you.”
“Ain’t none of us concern you,” he sneered. “I sit here for over an hour, can’t hardly breathe and nobody come check on me. That girl, cryin’ and shakin’ and holdin’ her head like it done split apart. Then you scare the shit out of her, grabbin’ her like that and you wonder why she kick you? Somebody grab and shake me like that, I kick ’em, too.”
As the nurse went red, Dev looked at the doctor. “It sounds to me like she reacted, not like she attacked.”
Slowly, he nodded and then looked at his staff. “Everybody, let go.”
The next sixty seconds were tense. But all she did was lie there, trembling.
She didn’t open her eyes, didn’t move. She just lay there.
When the doctor spoke, she flinched, as though even the sound of his voice hurt.
Under the warm gold of her skin, she paled and Dev felt his heart twist. Why hadn’t he insisted she go to the hospital? How much damage had that hit to her head done?
“Do you remember her name?”
“Yeah. Nyrene. Nyrene Goldman.”
The doctor looked at him. “Good memory, Officer Deverall.”
Not so much. I just remember because some sick part of me was wishing I hadn’t met her because I was working a scene, that I wasn’t in the middle of the biggest mess of my life.
Then there was the dream he’d had last night.
She’d starred, front and center, with that porn-star mouth and her wide, dark eyes.
It was the only dream he could recall having in months that hadn’t ended with blood and screams…or him staring down the barrel of a gun.
Nudging the memories out of his head, he remained where he was, keeping his hands away from her as the doctor reached out. Although her eyes were shut, she immediately twisted away as though she’d sensed his intention. The doctor stilled. “Ms. Goldman, do you know where you are?”
Her lids came up.
Dev found himself caught in the gold of her eyes. Wide-set, that impossible shade of gold, and right now, cloudy and fogged by pain. Fear.
“Hospital,” she said softly. “At hospital.”
“Good. Good…” The doctor nodded and then gave Dev a look. “I need some room. We need to—”
She shot out a hand, caught Dev’s arm. “Help me,” she said, her voice suddenly clear, urgency underlying it.
Caught off guard, he stared at her. “You’re at the hospital, Nye— Ms. Goldman. The doctors will help you. We should get you up, back to a room.”
She opened her mouth, looked around. Then snapped it closed. “You.” She swallowed, as though it hurt to do so. “Help… Can you help me up?”
Nyrene was almost certain she’d lost her mind.
That part—the part that was still capable of rational thought, the part that had been appalled at the way she’d kicked and screamed and bucked when people were touching her, just trying to help—was sitting back, quietly shaking her head. That part of her mind was like a passenger in her head—just along for the ride now. She’d gone from shrieking Are you crazy, calm your ass down to just…sitting there while her mind processed everything.
The nurse inside her coolly processed it. You’re having a dissociative break. You’re going crazy, but it’s okay, Nye. There’s help for this.
The cop with the ice-blue eyes continued to watch her and she stared at him as though he was the only person in the room. For her, he might as well have been.
She had to keep him with her.
Even as that calm, cool voice in her head assured her that everything was fine, despite her break with reality, it also insisted that keeping this sexy cop, with his pretty blue eyes, with her was of utmost importance.
Every time she closed her eyes, she understood why, too.
The woman hadn’t been found yet.
She was already dead.
Nye didn’t understand how she knew that.
But when he’d appeared in her line of sight, those awful, unreal images had begun to spin through her mind. This man, moving out of the garage, an impatient look on his face. He caught sight of the woman and started to rush to her side…and then he was surrounded by cops.
Four of them, two who wore the same uniform he did, two in suits.
Drop your weapon, Deverall. Don’t make us do this. He’d smiled as he said it.
Dev had just stared at him, a grim look of acceptance on his face.
Then he’d turned around and just stood there. If you’re going to do this—
The noise in her head faded and even the pain ebbed briefly.
Now there was only nausea.
She wanted to believe she was crazy, but she had a bad, bad feeling. No. It went deeper than that. She had a gut-deep assurance that there was a dead woman in the garage, and men with guns waiting…for this man.
She jumped at the sound of his voice and looked up at him.
He gave her a gentle smile. “I’m going to let the doctors take over now, okay? They need to—”
She laced her fingers with his, gripped tightly, so tightly her hand hurt, but she wouldn’t let go. “You can’t leave! Don’t leave me!”
“Where is he?”
The low voice came from the shadows, raspy from years of cigarettes, years of alcohol. Although he was all but shaking with fear, he didn’t let that show in his voice. This was all under control.
Even if the dumbfuck in front of him had jumped the gun.
“He’ll be here.” Said dumbfuck gave him an irritated look. “Why are you so worked up? The cameras are out. She parked about as far out of the way as she can be and still be in the damn garage and nobody can see here, where she is. He’ll be here. He just sent her a text saying he was on his way. If he says he’s on his way, he’s on his way. Fucker is practically a Boy Scout.”
“The times aren’t going to match if he isn’t here soon.”
Idly, he entertained the idea of shoving his gun into the idiot’s side, pulling the trigger, saving himself, his boss, and taxpayers a lot of grief. In the long run, this man was going to be trouble. He’d already been investigated twice—idiot criminals, complaining that they’d been mistreated. His partner, though, he liked to use force, and a lot of it. He’d cross the line at some point. If he just ended it now…
Another minute ticked by.
As the five-minute mark approached, he realized he was starting to sweat.
If they couldn’t get Deverall here, on the scene with Russell, they had problems.
His phone buzzed.
Not his official one, but the cheap, untraceable piece of shit he carried for business he didn’t want traced back to him. He pulled it from his pocket. A headache began to pulse and once more, the idea of just eliminating the problem some people called his partner started to appeal to him all over again.
He flashed the display. “We have a problem.”
The message was short and simple. But it spelled out what was going to add up to a lot of shit heading their way, all because his partner hadn’t been able to wait.
He was still inside—some sort of problem with a patient.