Garren Alexander strode into the police station. His blue uniform shirt felt wilted from the summer heat. He was almost surprised his badge hadn’t melted out there. His partner walked in right behind him. He slapped Garren on the shoulder. “Pretty quiet out there today. Usually it’s a madhouse it gets this hot.”
It hadn’t seemed that quiet to him. Over the last eight hours, they’d had several traffic stops, a couple burglaries, and at least half a dozen assaults. That was quiet?
He’d been partnered with Wade Hellerman since he’d graduated from the Academy and joined the department just over a year before. He looked up to the older man, felt the need to prove himself to him. He still didn’t feel like he’d done that.
“Hey, Hell,” one of the officers called out to them.
His partner glanced up, his teeth flashing white against his darker skin. “Hey, Rosie.”
The other officer’s nameplate read Rosinsky, but Wade rarely called anyone by their actual name. He hadn’t come up with a nickname for Garren yet though.
“I’m going to get started on that paperwork, Wade”, he said, stepping away from his partner.
The man let out a booming laugh and slapped him on the back again. Garren was tall. He’d inherited his long, lanky build from his father. But, Wade was big and there was a lot of strength behind the move. It nearly sent Garren to the floor. “How many times I gotta tell you to call me Hell? Everyone else does. I’ve certainly raised enough of it.”
Garren shook his head, but he could feel his cheeks warm. “The paperwork, Wade.”
The man just laughed again. “You got a hot date or something, Gare Bear?” He grinned at the nickname.
Garren’s mouth twisted in distaste at it. “Seriously, Wade?”
And he laughed again. His partner did a lot of that. If he hadn’t gotten to know him better, he’d think the man didn’t take their job seriously. But, he did. Which was maybe why he made sure he laughed so much.
“Damn, Garren. A year on the job and you’re still so damn green. I thought the streets would have wiped that out of you by now.”
Garren just shook his head again and turned away. He had paperwork to file before he clocked out. His parents were expecting him at the ranch for dinner. He didn’t want to be late or his mother would worry. His sister would probably be out in the barn until dinner started and not even notice he was late. He started for the desk but stopped when Wade’s “oh shit” caught his attention.
“What is it?” He asked, noting that the man was watching a monitor playing a news report in the corner.
“That damn Jonah Wilkers just won’t shut up.”
Garren narrowed his eyes as he thought. The name sounded slightly familiar, but he couldn’t quite place why. He moved closer to the monitor as the news report flashed footage of the aftermath of a drive-by shooting. Then, back to a man in a well-pressed suit whose face was turning a darker shade of red. He remembered now.
“Idiot should have just laid low,” another officer commented.
The volume was turned low, but Garren had already heard the interview that morning. He had to agree the guy was an idiot. Of course, giving his witness statement to the police had been the right thing to do. So would testifying when it came to that. But, he should have laid low. As soon as the suspects saw this, they’d be after him.
It wasn’t his concern though. He had started to turn away then the desk sergeant set down the phone. “Alexander, get back here,” he called.
Garren spun on his heel and went back to the desk. “What is it, Sergeant?”
“You’re wanted up in the Commander’s office.”
Everything inside him went still. “Why?” He felt his hand tremble as he lifted it to tug on the collar of his shirt.
“Wasn’t privy to that, Officer Alexander. Just that you’re to get your ass up there.”
“Right,” Garren said with a nod. He felt like he was in a daze as he headed for the stairs. Had he done something? He couldn’t think of anything that would get him called up to the Commander’s office.
He felt a large hand come down gently on his shoulder. The concern he saw in Wade’s eyes didn’t help his nerves at all. “I’ll take care of that paperwork, kay?”
Garren just nodded again. He couldn’t stop his mind from racing as he headed up the stairs to the next level where the Patrol Bureau’s offices were located. Had he done something wrong? Sure he had a temper. But, he was never too rough when they took someone in. Well, there was that one time. But, the man they detained had been beating that poor girl nearly to death and had been as high as a kite. Rough was the only way to take him down.
That had been more than a month ago. He couldn’t be getting called out about it now. Could he? He couldn’t think of anything else he had done that would merit a call to the commander’s office. Until he reached the landing and remembered getting into a detective’s face on scene a couple days before. Shit. Wade had tore into him about that already. Was he going to hear about it again?
His stomach was twisted into a series of knots by the time he knocked on the door. He couldn’t lose his badge. He didn’t know what else to be besides a cop. He couldn’t be a rancher. He’d never wanted to stay on the ranch like his father. He’d always been moving toward this. He couldn’t lose it now.
Detective Michael McRoy sat straight in the chair no matter how much he wished he could slouch down and disappear. Just as he kept his gaze locked on the Commander across the desk from him. If he let it shift to the man standing behind the Commander’s chair or to either of the three men ranged around the room, he would lose it. Again.
His Sergeant and the Lieutenant of Violent Crimes stood behind him. They’d already warned him once to stay calm. No one was trying to take this case away from him.
They’d better not be. That was all he had to say about it. He couldn’t think of another reason to have the Deputy Chief and three men from the Marshals in here for this meeting. And what were they waiting for? “Can’t we get this over with?” He asked the Commander. “I know Wilkers is causing a stink, but that doesn’t mean I should be removed from the case.”
“No one wants to remove you from your investigation, Detective.” The commander was the third person to tell him that. He still had his doubts though.
“We’re waiting for one more person,” the Deputy Chief told him. “Once he gets here, we can start this meeting.”
He didn’t understand why they were having a meeting at all. He had leads to track down if justice was going to be found for that girl who now lay down in the morgue because she got caught in a drive-by.
At the knock on the door, everyone went still. Then, the Commander called out, “Come in.”
Michael turned his head as the door opened and swore as soon as the young man stepped inside. “Garren, what the hell are you doing in here?”
The officer’s head turned toward him, and he saw fear plain there before it slipped away to relief. “Mike. What’s going on?”
“That’s what I’d like to fucking know,” he said, turning back to the Commander. He just barely saw Garren jump at the curse. Damn, but he was still green. “He’s the one we’ve been waiting for? He’s still a rookie. What could he have to do with this?” He didn’t say it, but he didn’t want Garren anywhere near this case. If something happened to the boy, he wasn’t sure his friend would ever forgive him. He knew Brendan already thought it was because of him that Garren had even gone into the Academy. He couldn’t see any other reason his son wouldn’t have wanted to stay on the ranch. He could never convince him that this was in Garren more than ranching ever would be.
“I asked Commander Slade to comb through his files,” the Deputy Chief told him, “and give me the names of some of his best officers. This boy’s name was right at the top of the list.”
He heard Garren suck in a breath, knew what the boy was thinking. But, whatever had brought the marshals here was far from an offer of commendation for his good service. “But, why?” He asked, pushing up from the chair and ignoring the whispered warning from both his Sergeant and Lieutenant. “He has nothing to do with this case.”
“Sit down, Detective,” the Deputy Chief ordered.
He sucked air in through his nose but at a whispered order from his Sergeant sank back into the chair.
One of the marshals stepped forward. He seemed to be the superior of the other two. “Earlier today Jonah Wilkers received a phone call threatening that if he didn’t shut the fuck up, the caller’s words exactly,” he added with a look to the Deputy Chief, “that he and his family would pay. He was scared and called requesting police protection for his family.”
“That man hasn’t requested a damn thing since this all started. He demands everything.”
“Detective, that’s enough,” his Lieutenant admonished.
Michael pursed his lips but his eyes didn’t leave the marshal’s. He thought he saw a glint of understanding in the other man’s. “We have agreed to provide this protection as his testimony could help put some very dangerous men away.”
Michael couldn’t fault them for that, but he was still confused. “What does Garren have to do with any of this?”
“Our office is limited in its resources right now. We want a few officers to help with the protection detail. Only until the culprit is apprehended, Detective,” the marshal added before Michael could even say anything. “It shouldn’t be more than a couple days.”
“And after that? Until he testifies? How long are we offering our protection?”
“Until this is over,” the Deputy Chief told him. “Detective, you were invited here as a formality. You have no say in this. Your job is to find the man responsible. Maybe you should concentrate on that.”
Michael seethed but attacking the third in command of the police department wouldn’t be a very smart move. So, he settled back in his chair. Then, the Deputy Chief turned to Garren. “What do you say, Officer? Your partner will be paired up with someone else until you return to your regular duty. And you’ll be compensated for this change in duty. You’ll work a rotating twelve hour shift with the other two men we’ve chosen. This could be a big step for your career.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Michael saw the boy tense at that. “I’m not interested in stepping up my career on a family’s lives, sir. But, I’ll take the assignment. It seems to already be decided anyway.”
Michael barely held back a grin at that. The boy always had been sharp.
“Good,” the senior marshal said. “Report for duty at six tomorrow morning at 1075 Prospect Street.”
“You’re dismissed, Officer,” Commander Slade told him. “Get your paperwork filed and clock out.”
“Yes, sir,” he said again then turned and walked out the door.
Michael turned back to the commander. “He’s a good boy, sir. But, he’s still young and green. He’s not cut out for a detail like this.”
“I think you’re wrong, Detective,” the senior marshal spoke up. “He’s sharp. He has a record to prove he can handle himself. He is young, but that can be a benefit. And I’ll have a man around to keep an eye on things. We just need to have someone else inside the house. And I can’t afford to put all my men on it.”
“If anything happens to that boy, I’m taking it out of you.”
“Damn it, McRoy,” his Lieutenant snapped. “Stand down. I know what the boy is to you, but he has to do his job. We all do. Now, go on and do yours.”
Michael got to his feet and just trembled for a moment before turning on his heel and walking out the door. No matter how angry he was, the Lieutenant was right. He had a job to do. And the sooner he found those responsible, the less time Garren would have to spend with this asinine assignment.
Garren hadn’t had to worry about the paperwork. Wade had already taken care of it. He just had to sign off on all of it and clock out. Now, he was sitting in his patrol car outside his parents’ house. He didn’t know why he hadn’t gone inside yet. That meeting was still weighing on him. Why him? He couldn’t stop asking that question. Despite everything the deputy chief and commander had said, he didn’t quite buy it. There was no way he was the best they had. Sure he was a good cop. But, the best? It couldn’t be.
What about Wade? He’d been with the department a lot longer than he had. He had more experience. So, why had it been him?
Garren shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. He needed to get it cut again. Maybe he could get his mother to do it for him while he was here. Of course he’d have to go inside for that. He took a breath and finally stepped out of the car. He’d been so preoccupied, he hadn’t noticed the other vehicle parked at the other end of the house. He recognized Michael’s truck. He hadn’t known he was coming out here tonight. It wasn’t unusual. He knew the detective had been friends with his father for a long time.
His parents probably already knew about his new assignment then.
He was surprised at the weight that took off his shoulders. Maybe that had been his problem. He hadn’t wanted to be the one to tell them. He knew his father didn’t like him being a cop. He’d made that clear when he’d joined the Academy instead of staying on the ranch. His little sister hadn’t been happy about it either. His mother had just hugged him. He knew she worried. He saw it in her eyes every time he came by the ranch. Which was most days. But, even more so when he talked about his job. He didn’t like to see her upset, so he didn’t talk about it too much.
He walked up onto the porch but didn’t knock before walking inside. He might have his own apartment now, but this was still home. His sister stood at the sink, another teenage girl next to her. Garren recognized her as one of Michael’s four daughters. Poor guy. He knew the oldest was married and the next was off to college. This must be the one Connie was in school with. He knew they were close. He walked up behind his sister and pulled on one of her long blond locks.
“Damn it, Garren,” she said, swinging around.
He laughed and shook a finger at her. “Don’t swear, Connie. I’ll tell Mom.”
She swung out and punched his shoulder. He winced and rubbed at it, but the smile didn’t leave his face. “I don’t understand why everyone thinks you’re so sweet.”
She stuck her tongue out at him then turned back to the sink and laughed at something the other girl whispered to her. “Where are Mom and Dad?” He asked.
“In the living room with Mike and Anna.”
He started to turn away but Connie asked, “Do you know if Geoff is coming for dinner too?”
He thought he heard something in her voice and narrowed his eyes as he looked back at her. “I don’t know. Why?”
She shrugged, but he was sure that had been disappointment in her eyes. “I was just wondering. You know, to see if I had to get another place setting ready.”
Garren hesitated then shook his head. He had probably imagined it. She was too young to be any thing other than a little sister figure to his best friend. He knew his friend hadn’t had any of his own. It was probably better than his mother bringing any other children into that miserable life. That thought brought a slice of sadness and guilt to him. Geoff had just buried his mother a couple years before. He knew his friend blamed himself. He’d left that house as soon as he turned eighteen, but he’d check in on his mother several times a week. It hadn’t been often enough. He found her at the bottom of the steps, bruises around her neck that couldn’t be explained by the fall.
His father was currently one year into a life sentence.
Garren shook away those thoughts. It wasn’t Geoff’s fault. It wasn’t his either. He hadn’t been at the Academy for more than a month when he’d gotten the call from Geoff. It was the first time he’d spoken to his friend since he’d told him he was going. Geoff didn’t like cops. His father had been friends with several, and because of them no one took him seriously when he said how much he and his mother suffered at his father’s hand. Every one had liked Ian Lawrence. Until his wife died.
Garren let out a shuddering breath and went to find his parents. He should have been here sooner so he could tell them. It wasn’t up to a fellow cop to do it. He stepped into the living room, and his parents turned toward him. By the smile on his mother’s face, he realized he’d been wrong. Michael must not have said anything.
“Garren,” she said, moving over to him. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t make it.”
He tried to push his worried thoughts away and worked up a smile for her. “Like I’d ever miss your cooking, Mom. I didn’t know it was a big thing though,” he said, his gaze skipping over to Michael again.
“It’s not.” She gave him a tight squeeze. “Mike and Anna just stopped by, and I invited them to stay for dinner.”
Anna stepped forward. “Liz, why don’t we go see how the girls are doing?”
His mother stepped back and smiled at him again then left with the other woman. Michael waited until they had left then turned to look at Garren. “You have some beer, right, Brendan. I could use one.”
“Sure, Mike, I’ll go get you one.”
“Naw, I can get it. You want one, Garren?”
He hesitated, knowing his father didn’t like it when he drank. He was of age though so he didn’t see what the big deal was. “Sure, Mike. Thanks.” He was pretty smart, he knew what the other man was doing. Giving him a couple minutes to tell his father what had happened. He’d take advantage of it.
He turned to his father. “I was called up to the commander’s office when my shift was over today.” Might as well jump right into it.
He saw the scowl disappear from his father’s face. “Why? Is something wrong?”
Garren shook his head. “They said I was at the top of their list of their best officers. I got a new assignment.”
“To where? Why would they move you out of your patrol district?”
He shook his head. “I’m not moving to another district.”
“What’s going on, Garren?”
He could hear a tremor in his father’s voice. “It’s nothing bad, Dad. You’ve heard about that drive-by and the witness, Jonah Wilkers, right?”
Brendan nodded. “Mike’s on that case. What about it? Are you working with him?”
Garren shook his head again. “Not exactly. Wilkers is demanding protection. The marshals unit doesn’t want to put out the manpower. So they want us to supplement what they’ll provide. They asked me to be a part of it.”
“What kind of thing is that to ask of you? You’re not a babysitter.”
The corner of Garren’s mouth twitched. “No, but the deputy chief asked it. I can’t really say no.”
Brendan rubbed a hand over his face then back over his head. “I don’t know what to think about this, Garren. You won’t be on the streets, but if this guy needs protection, I don’t see you being safe watching out for him.”
“I didn’t join the force to be safe, Dad. And I’m sure it won’t be a big deal. I’ll be rotating with a couple other officers. And there’ll be a marshal around. They just want someone inside with the family. A couple days and they’ll probably have the guy anyway.”
Brendan didn’t look too convinced. “So, you’re saying you probably won’t be around much.”
He gave a little nod. “We’ll be on twelve hour shifts. I’ll try to come by when I’m not on though.”
“All right. I’ll let your mom know.” He turned toward the kitchen just as Mike headed back in and handed them their beers. “Dinner ready?”
“Nearly,” Mike said.
“Good.” Brendan’s gaze shifted to Garren, narrowing as he took a swallow of the beer. Then, he turned back to his friend. “You gonna watch out for him?”
“Much as I can.”
“Good,” he said again.
Garren wanted to argue that he could take care of himself. He knew there was no point though. So, he let the beer slide down his throat instead.
Garren stepped out of the car and walked toward the house. He’d been told to come in plain clothes, but it didn’t feel right. It was summer, so it was harder to conceal his weapon. It wouldn’t bother him if he was in uniform. But, he didn’t usually carry a weapon if he was off duty. Being in plain clothes felt too much like being off duty. He wiped his hands on his pants before stepping up and knocking on the door.
Why was he nervous? He’d faced worse things than a family in an affluent neighborhood.
The door opened, and he saw the senior marshal, standing there. Garren let out a breath. At least he was here for the initial shift. The man had made him feel a little at ease in the commander’s office the day before. “Come in, Officer Alexander.”
He stepped inside with the marshal and saw another officer saying good-bye to a little girl. He knew the man’s name, Hersch, and his reputation. He’d never worked with him before though. But, he was known as a good cop. That’s all Garren needed to know. When he turned around, the officer seemed surprised to see him. “Why did they send you?”
Garren shrugged. “The deputy chief requested me. Do you have a problem with it?” He knew he was still considered a rookie even though he’d been with the department more than a year. Sometimes it rankled, but it just meant he had to work a little harder to prove himself.
The officer shook his head. “Not up to me. I’m out though. Officer Mackel will be by to relieve you in twelve hours. Then, I’ll take over from him. And on and on.” There was a slight smirk on the man’s face, but he didn’t look that amused.
“Right. I’ll see you in thirty-six hours then.”
The man’s smile widened slightly then he turned and left the house. Garren turned back to the marshal who led him forward. “Officer Alexander, this is Mary Wilkers.”
He smiled at the woman, who looked to be just a few years younger than his own mother. “Garren Alexander, Ma’am.”
She returned his smile and held out her hand. “It’s so nice to meet such a polite young man.”
He could feel his cheeks heat at her words. Then, a man was pushing forward. “And this is Jonah Wilkers,” he said, his voice changing, going a little harder.
Jonah barely even looked at Garren though. “A boy, Marshal Berenak? Seriously. Why would you send a boy here? I don’t need someone playing cops and robbers.”
Garren’s face paled, but he saw the marshal’s eyes sharpen. “Mr. Wilkers, you asked us for protection. We brought together three officers who have the kind of evaluations that would earn commendations. He may be young, but Officer Alexander’s name is right at the top of that list. He’s here for the next twelve hours, so you should get used to it.”
Something went through him at the officer’s words. Pride and a little bit of dread. Would he be able to live up to the man’s opinion of him?
“I’ll make a call and that will change.”
“Your friendship with the mayor will only get you so far, Wilkers. The deputy chief personally appointed him to this detail. You can call the commissioner if you’d like, and that’s not likely to change.”
“I’ll not count on a boy’s protection. I want a real cop here.”
Garren stepped forward. “You have me. And I am a real cop. I signed on to protect and serve. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Jonah turned his scowl on him again but turned away after a minute. “Insolent little brat,” he muttered.
“Right. I’ll be going then,” Marshal Berenak said. “I have a man staked out. We just need you inside with them.”
Garren nodded. They’d already been over this. When the marshal had left, Garren turned around and nearly toppled over the young girl.
“You shouldn’t talk to my daddy like that,” she said.
He studied her for a moment. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight braid at the back of her head. It set the rest of her features at a sharp angle. He thought she might be a cute girl, maybe ten years old, if she didn’t look so severe. Her green eyes were just as sharp, and they looked out of place in such a young face. Currently they were hard, as she glared at him.
“Your daddy shouldn’t be talking to me like that.”
“He can talk any way he wants.”
“Michelle,” her mom said, taking her by the arm. “Leave the officer alone. He’s just here doing his job.” She offered Garren a slight smile, but it felt off. It seemed like she was used to keeping the peace. “You need to finish getting ready for your piano lesson. Then, you have that play”— she broke off at a glare from her daughter — “meet-up with Vanessa and Hillary.”
The girl stared at him for another minute then spun away. “Can we go shopping before we meet Vanessa and Hillary. I need some new clothes.”
The mother looked resigned. “You have a closetful but sure, whatever you want.”
“Always.” She smirked before moving away.
“I’m sorry, Officer,” Mary said.
He waved her off. “It’s fine. I’m just here to do a job. Did you clear this lesson and date with the marshals?”
She nodded. “We have a driver. We’ll be fine.”
There wasn’t much he could do about it anyway if they’d cleared it. So, he nodded and turned away. From what he’d observed so far, this detail couldn’t end soon enough.
Irritation rode Garren’s shoulders as he exited the house. Twelve hours around that man was much more than he could take. His fingers tapped against the steering wheel all the way across town. He’d been so thankful when the other officer had relieved him of duty. He hadn’t been able to get out of there fast enough. Garren sighed as he pulled into the parking lot behind his building. He just wanted to get a shower and hopefully wash all the stress from today off of him. Maybe settle down with a bottle of beer in front of the tv.
He unlocked the door to his apartment and saw the light flashing on his answering machine. His face tightened with a scowl, but he closed his door and locked it again before walking over to push the button. Shit. He didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. But, when he pressed the button and heard that voice, some of the irritation lifted from his shoulders.
“Hey, Garren, it’s Ginny. I’m sure you’re working, but wanted to let you know a couple of us are meeting at Johnny’s. Didn’t know if you wanted to join us or not, but thought I’d let you know. It’s about six now. We’re meeting there around seven-thirty.” She paused then said, “Haven’t seen you in a while. I miss you.”
He could hear the wistfulness in her voice. Damn. He missed her too. They had dated for a while in high school. Then, she’d gone to Denver for college. They hadn’t seen much of each other then, but she’d come home a year ago. She hadn’t been able to get enough financial aid, and her father had gotten sick. They only had each other. Her mother had left long ago, and she didn’t have any siblings.
He didn’t have a relationship with her, but they hooked up whenever they were free. It didn’t seem to be too often between his hours and her working two different jobs. It had been almost a month since he’d seen her last. He thought a night out with some friends might be just what he needed. He didn’t have to be into work the next day anyway.
He still needed a shower though.He glanced at the clock. It was already after seven. Shit. He could take a quick shower and still be there before eight. They certainly wouldn’t leave before that. Probably not for quite a while after. He had time.
It was just before eight when he walked into the bar. Quite a few people raised their hand to him in greeting. They city of Gilbert wasn’t so large that a lot of people didn’t know each other. Especially in a place like this. He knew wearing the police department t-shirt helped. Even if they didn’t know him by name, they’d greet a police officer. Well, until the rougher clientele came in later. They’d probably be gone by then though.
There were a couple people who called out to him by name. It hadn’t even been a year since his twenty-first birthday, but he spent quite a few of his nights off here. So, he knew a lot of the patrons. He was focused on finding his friends though, so he only gave them a nod or a wave. He scanned the crowd for a girl with light brown hair, and an infectious smile.
He heard his name called again and recognized the voice this time. He smiled and turned his head in that direction, saw Ginny waving at him. He turned and started toward them. There was another girl beside her, someone he knew from school but couldn’t remember her name. Kyle and Geoff, his best friends from school, sat on the other side of the table.
He slid into the booth beside Ginny. “Young lady, I’m going to have to see some ID. You can’t be old enough to be in here,” he said, trying to use his most authoritative voice.
She just laughed. “You’re so full of it, Garren. Why don’t you order a drink?” She was studying his face. “It looks like you could use it.”
He gave a little laugh. “Yeah. I certainly could.” The shower hadn’t washed away all the irritation from his day with the Wilkerses.
He took the first sip of whiskey when the waitress brought it over, letting the burn of it push away some more of the irritation. Ginny’s hand on his arm helped even more. “Everything okay?” She asked him.
“Yeah,” he muttered. “Got put on a new detail. It’s bullshit.”
“What is it?” Kyle asked. “Thought you were out patrolling the streets.”
He shook his head. “Like I said, new detail. Get to play babysitter to an idiot who doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut.” He took a longer sip of the whiskey. Winced when it went down. He liked the taste of whiskey and the way it made him feel after the first one went down. But, it burned going down. He saw them all still watching him and shrugged one shoulder. “Special assignment from the deputy chief. Not much I can do about it until it’s done.” He just hoped his next shift went smoother than this one had. It wouldn’t take much.
Ginny nudged his thigh with her hip. “Why don’t you dance with me, Garren?”
He knew she was trying to get him out of his head. And he was willing to let her for the night.
Garren tried to keep his arms around Ginny’s upper back while they danced. She had her arms over his shoulders and kept trailing her fingers along the back of his neck. Every time they trailed down, she pressed his arms down so his hands slid toward her lower back and the top of her snug jeans.
He could never get them as high as they’d been.
She pressed her hips against his, resting her head in the crook of his neck. It pulled a groan from deep in his throat, and he pressed her closer. “You’re killing me, Virginia,” he murmured, burying his face in her hair.
She smiled against his neck. “Can’t have that. I don’t want you to have to arrest me.”
The laugh burst from him. “Wouldn’t be able to if I was dead.” Ginny could always make him laugh more than anyone else.
The song ended, and he pulled back from her. He needed some distance, or he’d lose it. “Want another drink?” He could certainly use one.
He glanced over to their table and saw it was empty. “Looks like we’ve been deserted,” he said, slipping his arm around her waist as they headed toward the bar.
She looked that way and frowned at the empty table. “I rode here with Kyle. Can’t believe he just ditched me.” Then she turned back to him. “Guess you’ll have to take me home.”
He knew they would never make it to her father’s house. “Maybe we should skip that drink.”
She laughed and looped her arm through his. “One more drink won’t hurt either of us.”
Two more drinks and several pressed-too-close dances later, they were finally leaving the bar. She clung to him as they weaved their way through the parking lot. He had a nice buzz going, but it had been long enough since his last drink, and his steps weren’t that unsteady. He was safe to drive. His apartment wasn’t far anyway.
But as they approached his car, her hand slid down his hip and over to his thigh. Her mouth trailed over his shoulder and across his collarbone to his throat.
He let out a groan and turned her so her back was against the car. He nudged her legs apart with his knee and leaned into her. “Killing me,” he murmured against her ear before nipping at it.
Her back arched, and her leg pressed up between his. He would have sworn his eyes rolled back in his head. Her lips pressed against the center of his throat. Then, her teeth grazed the same spot.
He tightened his hands on her hips as she continued to kiss around his jaw then down his throat to his chest.
“Keep it up, and I’m going to have to arrest both of us for public indecency.”
He felt her smile against his skin then start to move back up him. “You going to handcuff me, officer?” She purred the words.
“Ginny,” he groaned.
Her hands were moving down his stomach though, right for his belt buckle. “You could do anything to me then. Taste me. Touch me however you want.”
Everyone thought Virginia Hunter was sweet, a good girl. She’d gotten good grades in school, had been every teacher’s favorite. Never got in trouble. He didn’t think very many ever saw her like this. She had her mouth next to his ear now. “Remember the way I screamed when you slid your tongue in-”
He only knew one way to shut her dirty mouth. He kissed her.
Garren rolled over and groaned. It felt like someone was taking a pick-ax to the inside of his skull. Why did he let himself drink like that? He should have switched to beer after the first whiskey. It didn’t seem to affect him as bad.
He pushed himself up to a sitting position then cradled his head in his hands. He didn’t drink like this every night. Hell, he didn’t even drink every night. But, he’d lost count of the number of times he’d woken up like this. He realized he was naked and groaned again. Ginny. Where was Ginny? He remembered bringing her back here to his apartment. Remembered them undressing each other. Then, it went blurry beyond that.
“You sleep like the dead, you know that?”
He jerked his head around, and instantly regretted it. The room spun around him, and he lowered his head back to his hands. “Here,” Ginny said, shoving a glass of water and some ibuprofen into his hands. “I know how you are when you wake. I had them ready for you.”
She’d been here most of the times he’d woken up with those other hangovers. “What happened last night? I know we got back here, but-” he finished the statement with a shrug. He caught the edge of her smirk as he lifted his head to swallow the pills.
“We got back here. You did that thing with your tongue again.” Her own tongue reached out to lick over her lips, and he could see the heat in her eyes. We had sex, and you passed out.”
He felt heat flush his cheeks. He couldn’t even remember that much. Why did he let himself drink so much? He felt the bed shift and lifted his head to look at Ginny. She smiled at him and brushed her fingers over his cheek. “It’s not a big deal, Garren. You just had a little too much to drink.” Her lips joined her fingers. “It’s not like you do it every night.”
That’s exactly what he’d been telling himself since he’d had his first drink on his birthday. But, he found it so hard to stop with just one. Or even two. That didn’t make him a drunk though, did it? He could stop. He didn’t drink himself into oblivion.
Although what else could he call what happened last night? He didn’t even remember it.
She leaned over and brushed her lips over his then. “Stop brewing over it,” she murmured.
His brows drew together, and she laughed as she pulled back. “I’ve known you a long time, Garren. I know how you are.” Then, she stepped away. “I have to go. I need to be into work in a couple hours. I don’t work tonight though if you want to get together again.”
He shook his head, instantly regretting the movement. “I have to work. The new assignment. Three of us on rotating twelve hour shifts.”
He saw a shadow pass through her eyes, then she was smiling again. “Well, another time then. Maybe you should try to get some more sleep before you go in.”
He nodded. “You’re probably right.” He pulled her closer and kissed her before letting her go. She smiled again then turned and left his apartment.
Garren dropped back onto the bed. He didn’t know if he’d get any more sleep, but he needed to do something to take his mind off everything. His first thought was to pour himself a drink. He pushed that thought away though. More alcohol was the last thing he needed right now. Maybe a trip out to the ranch would do the trick.
God, he could smell the whiskey on himself. He’d better get cleaned up before he went out there.
Garren stepped out of his car and shielded his eyes against the sun. Again he wondered why he’d let himself drink so much. His eyes watered against the glare of the sun, and his head pounded. It was still early so he’d probably be able to find his father in the barns. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to though. He knew his father would recognize the symptoms. He’d had more than one lecture about drinking too much. He really didn’t want another.
Instead, he turned toward the house. He didn’t usually get judgment from his mother.
He stepped into the kitchen, and she turned from the sink. Her smile instantly faded. “Oh, Garren, what did you do?”
“What makes you think I did anything?” He asked, but slumped into a chair at the table.
She didn’t answer him. “Is your head hurting? Did you already take something?”
“It’s fine, Mom. I’m fine,” he said when she came toward him. “I met Kyle, Geoff, and Ginny for a couple drinks last night. I just had one too many. I’m fine. It’ll pass.”
She stepped back, but he could still see the worry on her face. Maybe he should have just gone to see his father. The lecture would have been better than this. He heard heavy steps on the porch and cringed. Never mind. Dealing with his father’s lecture and mother’s worry all at once were the worst possible outcome. He should have just stayed home.
He dropped his forehead into one hand as the door swung open. “Elizabeth,” his father said as soon as he stepped inside, “I saw Garren’s car. Is he-?”
Either she had stopped him, or he had seen Garren sitting at the table because he stopped mid-sentence. The silence that followed was almost smothering. “I hope you didn’t drive in that condition.”
The words sounded hard, but when he looked up, his father’s face was tight with worry. “I’m not drunk, Dad. Just a little hungover. And I was fine last night when I drove home.”
That only made his father’s face pull even tighter. “You shouldn’t drive when you’ve even had one drink. Are you ever going to learn that? Or am I going to have to bury you too?”
Garren sucked in a breath. His grandfather. He’d never met the man because he’d demolished his truck against a brick wall, killing himself in the process, more than a year before Garren was born. “Dad-”
His father stopped him with with a wave of his hand. Then, he ran that same hand over his face. “No. I’m sorry. I really wish you wouldn’t drink so much though, Garren. I really wish you wouldn’t drink at all.”
His stomach twisted and turned. Was his father trying to say he was an alcoholic? No, he couldn’t think that, could he? “I was just having a good time with some friends, Dad. It’s not like I do it all the time.”
“No, just a little too often. What are you going to do if it costs you your job?”
His face blanched at the question. “That’s not gonna happen, Dad. I have it all under control.”
His father was silent for a moment then he turned away. “Is lunch ready, Elizabeth.”
“Almost.” She rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment then turned toward the counter. “I hope you’ll stay too, Garren.”
He cast a look at his father then turned his attention back to her. “Of course. Better than whatever I’d fix.”
Garren rubbed his eyes as he walked across the room. He’d been on the night shift before without any problems. Of course he hadn’t had a night of drinking before that. And he’d gotten some sleep before going to work. Not so much this time. Even when he’d gone back to his apartment after lunch, he hadn’t been able to relax. His father’s words were haunting him. Was he really going to end up like his grandfather?
He shook away those thoughts. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He liked to go out with friends. He liked to drink. That was it. It’s not like he got wasted every night. It didn’t affect his work. He wasn’t an alcoholic.
He ran a hand over his face. What was wrong with him? He let out a breath and moved toward a window. He was here to do a job. He needed to do that instead of obsessing over his father’s words. He glanced outside then turned from the window. He knew standing in front of it with the light at his back could make him a target. That was something he couldn’t seem to convince Jonah about. He continued to do just that several times a night. Not to mention walking outside and standing on the sidewalk in broad daylight. Sometimes he wondered if the man was trying to get them to mow him down in front of his family.
He drilled fingers into his eyes. Enough with these morbid thoughts. He’d do a check around the perimeter of the house then settle in until it was time to do another check.
He stepped outside, keeping his hand on his gun. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness before scanning the surrounding neighborhood. He didn’t see anything. Nothing out of place, no one moving along the street. It was quiet and calm. He moved toward where he knew the marshal on duty was parked and gave a quick knock on the window. When it rolled down, he asked, “Seen anything out here?”
The marshal shook his head. “It’s a quiet neighborhood. Honestly, I’m starting to think we’re not even needed here. No one’s coming after this family. If he really did get those threats, that’s probably all they were.”
Garren wanted to agree with the man, and he was probably right. He just couldn’t quite bring himself to though. “Hopefully they’ll find the ones responsible soon. I want to get back to my real job.” He glanced back toward the house, saw Jonah standing at the window again. He had to fight back the growl that rose in his throat. “And away from the idiot who makes himself a target.”
The marshal glanced in the rearview and shook his head. “He certainly is something. All the protection we can give him won’t help if he puts himself out there like that.”
“I’d better get back in there. So, he can tell me how I’m not a real cop. See you on my next check.”
He turned and started away but the marshal called out to him. “Hey, Alexander.” He stopped and turned back. “Don’t let him get to you. You’re young, but I’ve been on the force nearly two decades. I know a good cop when I see one.”
Something bloomed in him at the praise. He wasn’t sure what to say though so only nodded before moving back to the house. As soon as he stepped inside, Jonah stepped out of the living room to confront him.
“What good are you going to do my family by standing outside chatting.”
With the marshal’s words echoing in his head, Garren stepped right up to Jonah. “You’re the one not doing them any good offering whoever’s after you an easy target. I was speaking with the marshal as I’m supposed to on my rounds. So, back off.”
“Look, you little-”
“Jonah.” Mary stepped into the room, interrupting him. “He’s just doing his job. Let him be.”
The older man was still bristling, but he did step away. “Just do your job. If anything happens to me or my family, it will be on your head.”
Mary stood where she was while Jonah left the room. She offered Garren a slight smile. “Don’t listen to him. He gets gruff when he’s stressed.”
Garren lifted his shoulders in a shrug. His personality didn’t make a difference. He was only here to do a job. Mary stepped back. “Well, I’ll see you in the morning, Officer.”
He nodded at her then settled on the couch once she was gone. He’d rest until time for his next rounds. He couldn’t wait until this assignment was over though.
Garren stepped out of the shower and reached for his towel. He felt like he’d just come off the longest shift ever. He’d gotten a reprieve from Jonah during the night, but he’d started right back in first thing this morning. Too bad first thing was before four a.m. Three hours of his berating talk had been more than enough. He’d been so glad to see Officer Mackel come to relieve him.
Now, all he wanted was to get as he headed to his bedroom to change, was to get something to eat and drop off for at least eight hours. Maybe even ten or twelve. He slipped on some athletic shorts and a tank top and headed for the kitchen. He had just poured a bowl of cereal and was reaching for a banana when the phone on his counter rang. Fuck. Even thinking the swear word had his face heating. His mother had pounded it into him not to swear. Even with other influences in his life now, he found it difficult to forget the early learning.
He set the banana on the counter and grabbed the phone. “Hello.”
“Officer Alexander.” Fuck, again. Not his mother at least. As if she could hear his unspoken thoughts.
“Marshal. I just got off duty. What do you want?”
He heard a smothered chuckle. “I knew you’d be a straight shooter, Officer. And I understand you just got home and are probably ready to get some sleep. Which is why I didn’t want to call you.”
Garren felt something twist in his stomach. “Did something happen? Is everyone all right?”
“Nothing happened, exactly. The Wilkers are all fine.”
“Then, what are you calling me for?”
The marshal was silent for just a moment, then he said, “We need you to come in again tonight.”
“What? What don’t you understand about I just got off duty? I’m supposed to have twenty-four hours off.”
“I know, Officer. And trust me, I’d like to give it to you. But, Hersch just called in sick. It was his shift, but he can’t do it now. Mackel is on right now, and we won’t ask him to stay on for twenty-four hours. You’ll at least have a chance to sleep and recharge.”
Garren sighed and ran a hand over his face. He was right. And he couldn’t be pissed at a man for getting sick. Even if it was just sick of their charge. “All right. I’ll be there for the shift change. I guess I don’t really have much choice in the matter.”
The marshal chuckled again. “There’s the positive attitude.”
He couldn’t quite fight the smile either. “Can I please eat now so I can get that rest?”
“Of course, Officer. Again, I’m sorry to have to do this.”
“Right,” he said and hung up the phone. He barely restrained himself from swearing again, out loud this time.
So much for that ten or twelve hours he’d hoped for.
Garren attempted to push down his irritation before he even stepped out of the car. He hadn’t even gotten eight hours of sleep. What he had gotten had been broken. This was going to be a long night. Maybe tomorrow he would just sleep all day.
Finally he stepped out of the car. He didn’t have any more time anyway. When he reached the house, he was surprised to see Marshal Berenak standing just inside the door. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”
“I figured it was the least I could do with having to pull you in like this.” He seemed to study Garren for a moment. “You get any sleep at all?”
The marshal nodded. “Well, I’ll be getting out of here.” He started away then paused. “Oh, your detective was by earlier.”
“Mic-” He stopped himself. “Detective McRoy.”
There was a slight smirk on the man’s face. He’d caught the slip. “You two know each other away from the job?”
Garren wiped his hands on his pants. He always hated when this came up. Like it had any bearing on anything. “Him and my father are friends. I’ve known him since I was a boy.”
“That explains his concern for you.” He didn’t notice any judgment in the man’s face, like he thought it got him any sort of special treatment on a case. Obviously it didn’t if he was here. Michael’s concerns had just been brushed aside. “Anyway, he was here and seems to be getting closer to closing this.”
“Good.” Then, he could get back to his real job.
The marshal nodded. “Like I said, I’ll be going now.”
Garren waited until he’d left before turning around. Jonah and Michelle stood in the doorway to the kitchen. Both seemed to be sneering at him. “I don’t like you,” the little girl said.
I don’t care much for you either. The words were right there on the tip of his tongue, but he bit them back. Instead he ignored her and moved to the windows, checking to make sure they were secure. He did the same with all the windows, making sure the shades were pulled, throughout the first floor, as well as checking the locks on the doors. He’d been told on the first day that the second floor was off limits. There wasn’t anyway for someone to get in there anyway.
When he returned to the living room, he saw Jonah standing in front of that damn picture window again. He cold feel the growl building in his throat. He started to think the man did it just to annoy him. He started forward but stopped when Mary stepped into the room with Michelle.
“Tell your father good night, Michelle. It’s time for bed.”
“I don’t wanna go to bed though,” the girl whined.
Garren couldn’t keep his lips from twitching. As much as she had been a pain in his ass since this detail started, she was just a little girl. Not too much different than his sister a few years ago. A lot more spoiled, but overall not that different. And he couldn’t blame her for the way her father acted. Or even for the fact that she seemed to share his opinion. At that age, he would have been the same way.
“I know you don’t want to, but we have a big day tomorrow.” The girl made a face as her mother added, “School shopping.” Then, the woman laughed. “Come on, Michelle. You know you love it. And we’ll go out for lunch. Wherever you want. But, right now, it’s time for bed.”
He’d have to check and make sure they’d been cleared for the shopping trip. There wasn’t much point in him being here if they were always going off somewhere. Michelle dragged her feet, but moved over to her father and waited for him to bend down. He only stooped long enough for a brush of lips over his cheek before standing and turning back to the window. No embrace, no wish for a good night. That had never been the routine in his home.
Garren shuddered at the coldness of it.
Then, Mary led Michelle out of the room and toward the stairs. Garren turned back toward Jonah, saw the man was staring out the window again. He took a few steps forward. He had long legs, and it didn’t take many strides to cross the room. “Get away from the damn window,” he said, reaching again for the shades.
Jonah reached out and pushed him away. “Don’t tell me what to do in my own house, boy.”
“I’m only here because you asked for protection. You’re making it damn hard to do that.” As his anger rose, he forgot his usual reluctance for swearing.
“And don’t swear at me in my house. I don’t have to stand for that. If you were more of a cop, you’d-”
Garren wasn’t listening to him anymore. Something wasn’t right. He didn’t know what it was, but there was a tingling at the back of his neck. It had the hairs there standing on end. “Get away from the window,” he growled.
Jonah cursed as he turned on Garren. “Don’t you dare-”
He couldn’t even finish the threat as the world exploded.
As the first bullet shattered the window, Garren lunged forward. He wrapped an arm around Jonah’s body and felt it jerk against him. As soon as the man’s body hit the ground, he pulled his gun from the holster. But there were no more shots.
His breath was heaving out of him, his heart racing from the rush of adrenaline. It took him a moment to realize something was soaking into his shirt and his pants. He glanced down, saw the spreading stain of red. And stopped breathing for a second. There was no pain though. He ran a hand over his chest then down his side. Nothing. Not his blood.
That brought his gaze downward. Jonah stared up at him. But, he wasn’t blinking, and his eyes were vacant. Curses ran through Garren’s head, and his hand shook as he knelt down next to the body. He didn’t know why he bothered to check for a pulse. He knew he wouldn’t find one.
He heard a scream then steps running down the stairs. More screaming. His ears were still ringing from the gunshots, so it took a moment to realize it was Mary screaming her husband’s name. Garren stepped away from the body and held her back. He needed to make sure the house was secure, the threat gone. And he needed to check in with the marshal on duty. See how the hell that man even got that close.
He pulled on her arm. “Go upstairs. Stay with Michelle until I tell you it’s safe.”
“Jonah.” She choked on his name. Is he-? He can’t be-” She kept trailing off and shaking her head.
“Go upstairs,” he said, not willing to answer her question.
But before she could do that, the door crashed open. Garren heard the curses in his head but didn’t know if they passed his lips. He raised his gun again as a man stepped through. “Stop where you are,” he said, taking a step forward and reaching behind him for his handcuffs. “You’re under arrest.”
The man didn’t even seem to hear him. He kept coming, and Garren dropped the hand from his cuffs, leaving them on his belt. He tightened his grip on the gun. “I said stop.”
But, the man was already tightening his finger on the trigger of his gun. Garren released a breath and squeezed off a shot. It took the man in the chest just a moment before two shots came from the man’s gun. Mary dropped to the ground with hardly a sound, blood spreading over the front of her dress. Garren choked on a breath, but he moved over to the gunman first. There was still a flutter of a pulse. Not dead. Not yet. That wouldn’t last long if he didn’t get an ambulance here soon though.
Where the hell was the marshal?
He moved over to Mary. He needed to see if she was still alive, then he would call that ambulance. He knew before he’d even put his fingers to the side of her neck though. There was nothing. No breath, no pulse. No heartbeat. He hung his head and swore.
“You killed them!”
He hadn’t even heard Michelle’s steps on the stairs. But, there she stood staring down at him, hate darkening her eyes. “Michelle, I didn’t-”
“You did,” she screamed again. “You did this. It’s all your fault. You hated them. It’s your fault.”
Even from there, he could see the tears streaming down her face. He wanted to brush away the words she said in grief, but some of them hit home. It was his fault. He should have done a better job of protecting them. “Calm down, Michelle,” he said, moving over to her. “I have to call for an ambulance and report this to my superiors.”
“Why? They’re dead. They don’t need an ambulance.”
“He’s not,” he said, looking over to the gunman.
“Then, let him die. He killed them.”
“I can’t do that,” he said, reaching for his phone. “It’s not for me, or you, to play judge and jury. He’ll pay for this if he lives though.”
“I hope he doesn’t.” She spat the words out.
Garren wasn’t even sure what to say to that. So, he called in the ambulance then moved into the kitchen. He stood in the doorway where he could keep an eye on Michelle and still be afforded some privacy. “Marshal Berenak,” he said when the other man answered. “It’s Officer Alexander. We have a problem here.”
Garren sat on the stairs, his head resting in his hands. He’d already given his report to the marshal and Michael. The marshal who was on duty had been taken away in a body bag. That made three. He’d killed the man before approaching the house. Obviously their surveillance hadn’t been that hidden.
Garren scrubbed his fingers through his hair. Michelle was gone. Social workers had come to take her away. He didn’t know where. He hadn’t had the strength to ask them. He’d find out later and make sure she was doing okay. Right now, he just wanted to get a drink. He couldn’t leave yet though.
He heard the creak of steps on the stairs but didn’t lift his head. Then, a large hand rested on his arm. “This isn’t your fault, Garren.” Michael. Garren let his head sink farther down.
Michael didn’t leave though. Instead he nudged Garren over and sat beside him on the stairs. “You can’t take this on yourself. It won’t be the last time someone dies on your watch. Especially if you ever want to go into Homicide.”
A shudder ran through him. “Not quite sure I’m cut out for that.”
Michael was silent for a moment, then he said, “I think you’re wrong about that.” Then, he clasped Garren’s shoulder. “There was nothing you could have done tonight. He got the drop on the marshal. He shot through the window. You couldn’t have seen that one coming.”
“I told him to stay away from that damn window.” The words burned coming out.
“And he never listened. That’s not your fault either.”
“She blames me.”
“Michelle? Hateful little-” he broke off with a growl. “She’s hurt and grieving. And probably scared. You can’t let that get to you.” He stood up. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. There’ll be a briefing tomorrow. Right now you should probably get home.”
“Yeah. Right,” he mumbled. Going home was the last thing he wanted to do.
Michael walked with him out to his car, but they didn’t say anything else. Garren waited until he had left for his own vehicle before he grabbed his phone. It rang twice before Ginny’s sweet voice came over the line. “Garren, what is it? I thought you were working tonight.”
He closed his eyes. “Not anymore. Do you want to meet at Johnny’s for some drinks? I could really use a drink right now.”
She was silent for a moment, and he thought she would turn him down. They didn’t have anything serious going on, but the possible rejection still turned his stomach sour. “Yeah, Garren, I can do that,” she finally said. “Are you all right?”
No. Not even close. “Fine. I’ll see you in half an hour then?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll see you there.”
Garren ended the call and tossed the phone onto the seat beside him. He rubbed his hand over his eyes, as if that would erase the memory of Jonah and Mary laying dead at his feet. Or the one of Michelle throwing all that blame at him. He let out a long breath then jammed the key in the ignition. He needed to get out of here. Maybe a drink would help him erase the images.
Garren was just ordering his second whiskey when he felt her walk up behind him. He didn’t turn around though while the bartender slid the glass over to him. He only closed his eyes when she put her hand on his shoulder.
“You get started without me?”
The words should have been joking, but he could hear the worry behind them. “I’m only one ahead. I’m sure you can catch up.”
He saw the glass shake as he brought it to his mouth. Ginny moved to the stool beside him and gave the bartender her order. Then, her hand slid along his leg. “What happened, Garren? You said you were working all night.”
“Not now,” he said then drained the rest of the whiskey before gesturing to the bartender for another.
“Damn it, Garren,” she said, her hand coming up to his arm. “Drinking is one thing, but you need to slow down. What the hell happened tonight?”
Her hand fell away from his arm for a moment then quickly returned, and she was tugging him away from the bar stool. “Come on. Let’s find a table, and you can tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said but let her lead him away. “I just want to forget.”
“This isn’t the way.” She nudged him into the booth then slid in beside him rather than taking the other side. “Can you tell me what happened? Or is it classified or something?”
He shook his head, but her question brought a hint of a smile to his lips. “I don’t know what details they’re releasing, but I think I can tell you. You won’t run to the media with it, will you?”
“Of course not, Garren.”
He’d been teasing her, but by her response, he didn’t think that had come across. He opened his mouth, but the words didn’t want to come. He dropped his head back into his hands. “God, this has been a miserable night.”
She ran her fingers in circles over his shoulder. “What happened?” She asked again.
He drew in a shuddering breath. “One of the marshals is dead. Two of the three I was supposed to protect are dead. Only their daughter is left.”
He lifted his glass again, but his hand shook so bad the ice rattled against the glass and some whiskey splashed over the side. Ginny took the glass from him and set it back on the table.
“Why are you blaming yourself for that? You kept her safe obviously.” Her gaze did a quick scan down and back up him. “And yourself, it looks like.”
He could hear the relief in her voice at that. But, it didn’t get all the way through the ice surrounding him. “Because it was my job to protect them. And I failed.” His forehead thunked against the top of the table. “She blames me, and I can’t fault her for that.”
“Why, Garren? You’re a patrol officer. You’re supposed to be out on the streets, not in someone’s house making sure someone doesn’t break in. What could you have done differently?”
“I don’t know. Something. There had to be something.” He reached for the glass again and brought it to his lips despite the shaking of his hand. When he had drained it, he waved a waitress over for another one. He heard Ginny’s curse but ignored it.
“I like going out for drinks with you, Garren, but you don’t usually do this.”
He lifted his eyes to her then. “Then, why are you still here?”
He saw her face pale and felt a prick of guilt over it. But, he didn’t apologize.
“Because you need me here. And it looks like you’re going to need someone to take you home.”
“I don’t need you for that,” he said, looking up at her, his words slurring together already.
He didn’t know what to make of the look in her eyes. It wasn’t happy though. “I doubt you’ll be up for that by the time I get you out of here. But, I’ll take you home.”
He brushed those words off and raised the drink the waitress brought over. All he wanted right now was to forget.
Garren slid his sunglasses down over his eyes as he left the church. The marshals and Michael had been in there too. But, he’d kept away from them. He stayed in the back of the church, dressed in his starch-stiff uniform, his dress hat tucked under his arm. At least inside, the lights had been kept dimmed. No one had thought to put a dimmer switch on the sun though.
He felt Ginny’s arm slip through his. She hadn’t wanted to come into the church with him. She hadn’t known the Wilkers at all, so didn’t think it was her place to be there. She had wanted to be with him though. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d left his side, except for when she’d had to go to work. He didn’t think it was devotion. They’d never been devoted to each other. He wouldn’t delude himself to think that. They’d always cared about each other, but it wasn’t much stronger than that.
She was scared. He’d seen it in her eyes. Afraid he’d get so drunk, he’d get himself into a fight. Or so drunk he couldn’t make it home. Or worse, drunk enough to hurt someone else. He shuddered at just the thought of it.
He hated to feel like he was losing control of this. But, it was slipping right through his fingers. He hadn’t gone back to work yet. Damn shrink had to clear him before he could go back on the streets. He felt like he was barely holding it together for his sessions with the uptight older man. Then, he went and joined either Kyle or Geoff, and sometimes Ginny, at the bar. The other guys usually left before he did. Ginny didn’t leave his side.
He’d taken to keeping a bottle in his kitchen. It helped soothe the nightmares that visited every night.
He stayed sober during the day. That seemed to be the most he could ask of himself. He just needed to get back to work. The job would help keep his mind off of things, and he wouldn’t feel this need to drown himself in alcohol.
He stopped at the edge of the crowd and saw Kyle making his way over. There was no need for him to go any farther. He could still hear the minister from here and see the two coffins resting over the holes in the ground. There wasn’t much in the way of family around the gravesite. He thought there were more cops there than family members. Everyone else looked more like business associates. Then, he saw Michelle standing in front of the grave, two people in suits on either side of her. Just behind them, he saw a young man in scrubs. Something clenched tight inside him. Had she been in the hospital? He tried to get a closer look at her.
Her face was pale, her eyes shadowed. She didn’t look anywhere but right at the grave. And he realized the social workers weren’t just standing at her side. They were holding her up. He needed to know what had happened.
He slipped Ginny’s arm out of his and started around her. She tried to stop him, but he just shook her off. He kept his eyes on Michelle as he started around the gathered crowd. She looked more like a ghost than a girl, pale against the black of her dress.
He stopped next to Michael. “What happened to her?” He asked. Michael’s wife looked back at him, a soft smile on her face. He nodded back at her while he waited for Michael’s response.
“Breakdown,” he finally said. “Heard she screamed all that night. Wasn’t responsive at all the next morning. Been in the hospital since. I imagine they’re taking her back there once this is over.” He gave a quick shake of his head. “Poor girl. Keeping her drugged up instead of letting her grieve. Shouldn’t be dealing with this.”
“No, she shouldn’t,” he murmured. And he needed to get out of here.
He stepped back but didn’t return to where he’d left Ginny and Kyle. Instead, he turned and walked to his car. He was almost there when he heard steps coming up behind him. He just hunched his shoulders and reached for the door handle. Then, Ginny’s hand slid along his arm.
“Garren, where are you going?”
“Home. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have even come.”
“Then, let me come with you.”
He heard the quiver in her voice, knew it meant she was worried about him. That wasn’t what he wanted. He turned to her and took her hands. “No. Go on with Kyle,” he said, seeing the other man headed toward them. “I’m really piss poor company right now.”
Her face tightened at that. “You have been for the last week, Garren. I’ve stuck with you. Because you needed me.”
“I don’t,” he said with a quick shake of his head. “I don’t need anyone.” He didn’t want to drag anyone down with him. “Just go, Ginny. You don’t need to be stuck with me.” He stepped away from her and opened his door.
As he climbed inside, he heard her murmured, “I want to be.” He couldn’t let it faze him. He just needed to be alone right now. Work this pain out of his system. Then, he could deal with things again.
Yes, that was all he needed. He just needed one more drink to start that.