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Authors: Linda Wisdom

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Romantic Suspense, #contemporary romance

Double Jeopardy (Entangled Select) (16 page)

BOOK: Double Jeopardy (Entangled Select)
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He rubbed his hand over his jaw, wincing as he thought about his heavy evening beard scratching Lauren’s still-sensitive skin. “Have you talked to Dana about this?”

“No, but I know she’d agree.”

“I’d still be interested in hearing her opinion.”

She couldn’t help but push a bit more. “And if she says it’s a good idea?”

“Then we’ll get together with Kevin and talk about it more. And only talk.” He held up a hand. “Lauren, this woman is turning out to be more dangerous than we could have imagined. I’m not taking any chances.”

She agreed to shelve the idea until talking to Dana, but she knew it wouldn’t stop her from doing whatever she could do in the meantime. Something she decided not to mention to Josh.

“Dana holds group therapy tonight, so I’ll call her in the morning. For now, we’ll play the parts expected of us. Why don’t you find a good horror film on TV while I fix some popcorn? We’ll share a nice, quiet evening.” She picked up the wineglass on her way to the kitchen.

“That’s not exactly what I had in mind for tonight,” he called after her.

“Too bad, because you’re lucky I don’t tell you to go home.”

“That’s because I wouldn’t go.”


Why did she close the drapes? She wanted to throw a tantrum right then and there, but she’d always been careful not to leave any signs of her presence out here. The open backyard was perfect for her to blend in with the shadows in the rear. Not having neighbors behind Lauren’s house helped even more. There was no one to get curious about her lurking around.

She sensed something was up the minute she drove past and saw Josh’s car parked in Lauren’s driveway. Seeing Lauren in those thin leggings and top that just skimmed her waist told her that she wore them to show off her body to Josh. Just as Celia used to wear skimpy clothing whenever a boy came to see her. Celia, who always got what she wanted. Lauren’s just like Celia. They were now rolling on the floor like two animals in heat. She knew she would have seen even more if Lauren hadn’t closed the drapes. They were probably having sex right there on the carpet. She could see Josh tearing off her clothes, and her tearing off his. A keening animal cry erupted from her throat before she could clap her hands over her mouth to stop it. She barely drew a breath as she waited to see if anyone had heard her.

“That bitch will pay for taking him from me.” She stared at the closed drapes as if she could see right through the fabric and watch them writhing on the floor, having the hot sex she was supposed to have with Josh. “She’ll pay. Just as Celia paid.”


“Would you please stop yawning!” Sophie dropped a typed report on Lauren’s desk. “All you’re doing is making me sleepy. I also emailed it to you,” she grumbled.

Lauren stifled another yawn as she skimmed the pages. She was pleased to see that Sophie now made use of the computer’s spell-check program. She was even more pleased to see that her clerk had forgone the bubble gum today. While the young woman’s attitude still bordered on insolent most days, she had worked on improving her office skills.

“Sorry, I had a late night.” She quickly signed her name on the last page. “Didn’t the detective in charge of this case ask if we’d let him know when the report was ready so he could pick it up?”

“I already called him.” Sophie turned a bright red under Lauren’s surprised gaze. “Well, he’s kinda cute, and…” She looked off in the distance, too embarrassed to say anything more.

Smothering a smile, Lauren handed back the report. “Then why don’t you take care of this for me? Tell him if he has any questions, he can call.”

Sophie remained standing by the desk. “Is it true you and Mr. Brandon are having an affair?”

Well, she knew gossip traveled fast.

“We’re friends, and we see each other.”

“When he found out you were at the hospital, he left his office right away because he was so worried about you. After all, some old girlfriend of his broke into your house and put ground glass in your face cream.” She wrinkled her nose.

Lauren leaned back in her chair and gestured for Sophie to sit down. “It seems the gossip chain has been having quite a time discussing what Mr. Brandon and I are supposedly doing. What else have they said?”

“I don’t tell anyone anything!” She turned red again.

“Sophie, I never thought you had. You’ve never seemed the type to spread gossip. I’m just curious about what you’ve heard.”

The young woman fidgeted. “You already know about Mr. Brandon’s secret admirer. I mean, everybody knows about her. How he started getting flowers and stuff from her. Then she broke into his house a couple times and cleaned it up. Except the night of his birthday, when she tore up all his clothes because he was out with somebody. As if he’d know she was there or that he’d even want to see her. If I knew who the woman was, I’d tell her to get a life. Why bother with a guy who doesn’t even know you’re alive when there are so many other guys out there?” She rolled her eyes.

Lauren smiled. “Do you agree with what the others think? That she’s associated with the courthouse?”

She thought the subtle up-and-down motion of Sophie’s shoulders was meant to be a shrug.

“Beats me. But I could see where it could be. I mean, she knows nearly everything about him. I just don’t know why she’d want to bother with him.”

“Why not?”

“Well, he’s so,” she suddenly made a face, “so old! He’s got to be around forty, and my dad’s forty-three, and let me tell you, he’s ancient. And he’s not all that cute. And he’s got sorta grayish hair. Now, Ted Logan, the new lawyer they’ve got up in the DA’s office, he’s really cute. He just passed the bar a few months ago, and he drives this great car.”

As she listened to her Sophie’s chatter, Lauren suddenly visualized gray hair and a rocking chair in her near future.

Sophie stopped when she heard the phone ringing. She hopped up. “I guess I’d better get back to my desk.”

Lauren knew the moment she asked this question she was in trouble. “Sophie, where do you draw the line at where you consider a person old?”

She thought for a moment. “Oh, I guess twenty-five, twenty-six. I mean, when you turn thirty, your life is almost over, isn’t it?” She hurried out and grabbed the phone. “Coroner’s office.”

“Terrific, my life was almost over a good five years ago.”

“She’s a kid, what would you expect her to say.” Pete stood uncertainly in the doorway. “You got a minute?”

“Make it fast. It appears I’ll be ready for the rest home soon.”

He held up a brochure. “There’s a weekend seminar here that looks interesting.”

Lauren studied the titles of workshops offered. They all specialized in forensic medicine. Several she’d taken in the past and found very informative. “You’re thinking of gaining a broader background in forensics?”

“The way the times are going, cities will need forensic pathologists more than run-of-the-mill pathologists, and I figure I should be ready.”

“Good idea. Write up the request and I’ll authorize the payment for your registration fees.”

He looked uncertain. “That kind of thing was never figured in the department budget before.”

“It will be now. Go fill it out. I also want you to start accompanying me to more crime scenes.” She noticed the fleeting look of dismay on his face. “A lot of people have trouble handling them, Pete. You have to learn to distance yourself, not see the victims as people, just as another part of the scene. It’s cold and ruthless, but it helps. Just be grateful you’re not in LA or New York. Think what you’d have to deal with there.” She handed him back the brochure.

Pete rolled it into a tube between his palms. He kept his head down as he talked. “It was pretty obvious I didn’t want you here in the beginning. I guess I believed Harvey when he said I’d be replacing him. But I see what you can do and that you didn’t hold my attitude against me, even when I acted like such an asshole. I thank you for that. Most people would have gotten rid of me a long time ago.”

Lauren flashed him a wicked grin. “Never that. If anything, I just would have practiced my Y-incision on you. That’s usually enough to get an unruly assistant’s attention.”

Pete’s grin was too shy to be full-fledged. While he finally learned to relax a bit around his boss and her easygoing way of working, he still hadn’t gotten comfortable with the banter thrown around. He gave a jerky nod and started to leave.

“I heard you and Sophie talking about Josh. Funny, how the police think they can keep something like that quiet when everyone knows what’s going on almost as soon as it happens. There’s been talk about that woman for months now. When it went on so long that it started to seem weird, the cops tried to keep it under wraps, but secrets can’t be kept around here. I don’t know why they think someone wouldn’t notice what was going on and talk about it. Josh is pretty popular around here. It’s natural people would talk about what was happening. And then look what happened to you. Some women are almost afraid to even talk to Josh, in case this woman gets the wrong idea and goes after them.”

She nodded. “I can understand that. Did anyone come up with an idea of who it could be?”

“There’s quite a few people who think it’s Mitzi. She works in the PDs office. She’s had what you could call a crush on Josh ever since he helped her file the restraining order against her ex-husband. I can’t imagine her doing all the other stuff,” he gestured toward her, “but don’t some people say who you’d least expect is usually the one to watch out for? Maybe that’s why Josh feels safe with you. You weren’t around when this first started.” His smile disappeared when he looked at her face.

While it had been healing nicely and she’d applied a light coating of makeup base that morning, the many tiny scabs were still visible. From the time she’d arrived early that morning, people had been teasing her with comments about odd rashes and asking if she realized she was a bit old to come down with chicken pox. With a brief wave of the hand, he was gone.

“Of course. The one you’d least expect,” she murmured to herself, leaning back in her chair. As she mulled over Pete’s words, she absently tapped her pen against the edge of her desk. She stared at the gray metal filing cabinet as if the answer might be found in there. She only wished she could be that lucky! “Terrific. That probably narrowed the list by one or two people.”

Chapter Fifteen

“Do you realize how crazy you are even to think you can succeed with a dangerous stunt like that?” Dana shook a cigarette out of the pack, picked up her lighter, and quickly lit up. She looked around for an ashtray, then, ignoring Lauren’s frown, pulled the saucer out from under her coffee cup and tapped her ashes into that.

“Is that a professional opinion or a personal one?” Lauren glared at Dana’s cigarette, then at her friend. “If all you wanted to do was insult me, you could have done it just as well over the phone instead of driving all the way out here to do it. Then I wouldn’t have to put up with your smoking.”

“Yes, but I believe in giving my diagnosis face-to-face. Especially when I’m dealing with someone who’s more stubborn than a mule.”

Lauren should have known better than to contact Dana for advice. But she’d promised Josh she would run it by the psychiatrist first. The moment she told her friend her idea, Dana told her she wanted to think it over and would get back to her. Instead, she showed up on Lauren’s doorstep that evening, saying this was something that needed to be discussed in person instead of over the phone. Josh was already there and put in a call to Kevin, suggesting he come over to Lauren’s house to offer his input on their plan.

“I guess we’re all in agreement that this woman’s mental health has taken a turn for the worse.”

“I’d say it was obvious after her contaminating your facial cleanser,” Dana interjected.

Lauren wasn’t about to give up the fight just yet. “Then maybe what she needs is one good push to force her out into the open.”

“Yeah, and she might be so pissed off at you she’d have a gun on her the next time,” Kevin spoke up. “What will you do then? Pull out your gun and have a showdown with her? We’re still checking out Heather’s and your ex’s alibis, Josh. Some aren’t washing at all.”

“That wouldn’t do any good, and we both know it.” Lauren snatched Dana’s cigarette out of her mouth and dropped it in Dana’s half-filled coffee cup. “You know very well this is now a nonsmoking household.”

“Are we feeling hostile tonight, Lauren?”

“I don’t want to hear any psychobabble from you, Dana, or so help me, I’ll show you what true hostility looks like. Why aren’t you all listening to me?” She looked at each one. “Something has to be done, and it has to be done now.”

“We’ve thought that from almost the beginning, Doc, but this lady is too smart for a trap,” Kevin argued. “If she can sneak in and out of your houses without getting caught, she isn’t going to walk into anything we set up.”

“All right, then we handle it another way.” She turned to her friend. “Tell me something, Dana. People want to believe Josh and I are having some hot-and-heavy affair. What I would like to know is, what if we have a public battle where I tell him I never want to see him again? There’d be a good chance she’d find out about it or even be present to see the fight for herself. Do you think she’d leave me alone after she realizes I’m no longer a threat to her? She’s done that with the others.”

Dana shook her head. “I doubt it. The more that’s happened along with her using the name Celia instead of yours makes me think you’ve triggered some hidden memory of hers. Either you remind her of someone she hates a great deal, or she hates you for bringing back that old memory.” She tapped out another cigarette and held it up. “If you take this one away from me, I promise I will drown you in your own coffee cup. Just because you’ve become a fanatical ex-smoker doesn’t mean you have to make the rest of us suffer. If you don’t like it, start smoking again and leave us smokers in peace.”

“Ladies, please.” Josh held his hands up to forestall the battle he could see coming. “Let’s get back to the subject at hand.” He grabbed Lauren’s hand and pulled her down beside him onto the couch. When she tried to get up, he kept hold of her hand and refused to release it. “I can understand the frustration Lauren’s feeling. She wants this whole damn thing over. I know I do. Maybe we’re leery of her idea, but she could be right. Maybe the only way we can stop this woman is to force her hand and, hopefully, bring her out into the open. The problem is, we don’t know exactly how she’ll react, or what methods she’d use. She’s been so unpredictable every time she’s struck against us, we can’t even hazard a guess as to what she’d do next. Her actions now have turned very unpredictable.”

Dana quickly inserted, “Which shows how well she can mask her hostility when she’s among others, so no one’s ever gotten an idea how she really feels. It’s only when she’s alone that she allows her anger to fester and get out of control.”

“Then it sounds as if we’re in a Catch-22 position. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t do something,” Kevin said. “Maybe we should just say the hell with it and let Lauren try out her idea. We could map out a plan that keeps them all safe, make sure there’s a backup figured in.”

Considering the serious conversation going on around them, Josh couldn’t help smiling at Lauren, who was occupied shooting poisonous darts in Dana’s direction as the psychiatrist pointedly lit up her cigarette and blew smoke rings in the air.

“Fine. Then we go in the other direction,” Lauren said. “Josh and I go away for a weekend. We all know that word will get out about it.”

“Especially if they hear that Lauren and I are getting real serious,” he added.

She looked at Josh. “That wasn’t part of my plan.”

“No, it’s part of mine. You want to push her. That will do it.”


You two are nuts
!” By now, Kevin seemed like he was ready to retract his part of the plan. “We just want to smoke her out. Not have her go ballistic on the two of you!”

“She considers Josh her property,” Dana interjected. “Seeing Lauren as a repeat of a previous threat makes her hatred for Lauren that much stronger. She won’t let up.”

“Celia,” Lauren murmured. “I feel as if this Celia’s the key in this.”

“Exactly. I agree with Kevin that it’s dangerous and needs to be handled carefully, but at the same time, what do you have to lose?”

“I don’t think I want to get into that,” Lauren said wryly. “How soon can we put this into effect?”

“Weekend after next?” Josh suggested. “I’ll have Ginnie make the arrangements and tell her she won’t have to be real discreet about it.”

Lauren stopped him with a touch of her hand. “Better yet, I’ll have Sophie make them. She doesn’t mean to gossip, but she can’t help herself. Word will be out in five minutes. Ginnie will be discreet because she’ll feel the need to protect you. And she isn’t known for gossiping, so some people would wonder why she started talking openly now. Sophie will announce to one and all I’m nuts to do it and they’ll believe her.”

“You’re right, Sophie is the right girl for the job
.”

Kevin finished his beer. “Why do I feel we could be making a mistake?”

“Because you’re a cop and you tend to look on the dark side of life.”

Dana looked from one to the other. “When this is all over, I intend to hold a group therapy session, because we’re all going to need it.”


“I don’t like leaving you tonight,” Josh murmured, when Lauren walked with him out to his car more than an hour later. Kevin had left a few minutes before.

“Dana’s here, so I’ll be perfectly fine,” she assured him. “She has a black belt in karate and is a better shot than most cops. No one in their right mind would dare mess with her.”

“That’s the problem. It’s clear the person we’re dealing with isn’t in her right mind.” He looked around, but the moonless night didn’t give him much chance to see anything. He was relieved to see the house closest to Lauren’s had its floodlights illuminating the area. One less hiding place to worry about.

“I don’t think she’s here tonight,” Lauren said softly, not bothering to look around as he did.

“How do you know?”

“It’s more a hunch than anything. If she drove by here, she’d see Kevin’s and Dana’s cars in the driveway, along with yours, so she wouldn’t feel threatened. Hopefully, she went home and stayed there.” She drew her sweater more closely around her. “Josh, go home.”

“All right, I’ll take the hint, although I doubt Dana would be shocked if I spent the night.” His kiss started out light, but quickly turned into something a lot deeper. “Purely for protection.”

“Josh, go home.” Lauren’s order wasn’t as strong this time.

He unlocked his car door and held it open as he turned back to her. “Call if you need me.”

“I promise I will.” She pushed his arm. “Now go so I can hurry back inside before I turn into a Popsicle. Just think, you’ll have all that peace and quiet and I’ll get to listen to Dana’s lecture that I must be crazy to think I can pull this off single-handed. And we’ll soon end up in those battles we had all through high school.”

“Don’t tell me. Opposites on the debate team?”

She nodded. “It left us pretty much evenly matched.” She hesitated. “Josh, I know I stole your plan for us to go away later on, and I’m sorry for that. I started thinking about our going away for a few days and how it would affect her right now and I realized it could work in our favor.”

He ran the back of his knuckles down her cheek. “Lauren, I’d be stupid to be mad at you moving things up a bit. You were right; she’s had her way for far too long now. Either we start to fight back, or God knows how long it will take to catch her. In case you didn’t notice, I didn’t object to anything you said in there.”

She managed a brief smile. “I’ll have Sophie make the arrangements tomorrow and let you know.”

“I bet Igor will be ecstatic to have the place to himself for a few days.”

“Actually, Pete and I get along better now. Probably because I found out he just needed to have some direction and the assurance he wasn’t going to be confined to doing routine posts. He’s even decided to take some seminars on forensic pathology to broaden his experience. I was lucky. I had a wonderful mentor for several years. Maybe I’ll be able to return the favor.” She smiled. “I’m sorry, Josh, I’m now beyond freezing. Good night.” She gave him a quick kiss on the lips and retreated before he tried to draw it out again. “No, we’re dangerous enough without starting something out here where we can’t finish it.”

He had to grin at that. “I’ll remember that.” He climbed in his car. “Go in before I leave.”

Lauren walked back to the door and stood just inside until Josh turned down the street.

“And you thought you were only friends,” Dana drawled from behind her. “Still, he’s 100 percent better than Ron. He obviously cares a great deal for you, so I give you my seal of approval. Although, if the two of you are going away for an illicit weekend, I doubt you’d care if I did or not. Although I do hope you’ll think safe sex.”

Lauren closed the door and punched in the alarm code. “No jokes, Dana.”

“Then you do have strong feelings for him.”

The two women stopped in the kitchen for two glasses and a bottle of wine before they walked into the family room. Out of habit, Lauren checked to make sure the drapes were securely closed.

“Let’s just say I’ve revised my opinion of the man.” She poured wine into the two glasses and handed one to Dana. “I told him about the rape.”

“Good. It’s something you need to feel you can speak openly about. Obviously, it didn’t frighten him off.”

“He understood it’s been rough for me to get over what happened back then, and he’s been patient, of sorts.”

“So now you’re ready to dive back into the battle of the sexes.” Dana beamed as if Lauren was a precious child who’d done something spectacular. “It’s about time.” She held up her wineglass in a toast. “Now that I’ve assured myself that you’re all right and most definitely in good hands, I’m going to head back to Los Angeles in the morning. I’m sorry, sweetie, but I don’t know how you can survive out here in all this clean air. Honey, I can’t breathe properly in anything but heavy-duty smog.”

Lauren couldn’t resist inserting, “It probably has something to do with all that smoking you do.”

Dana’s laughter stilled. “You must be very careful, Lauren. This woman has nothing to lose. I don’t want to hear that you’ve ended up on your own autopsy table.”

Lauren thought of the stainless steel table, the trays of instruments beside it, and suppressed a shudder. “Dana, with that kind of visualization, you should write murder mysteries.”

“Better to write one than be part of one.”

Lauren had trouble sleeping after Dana’s voiced worries. Admittedly, she’d smoothly changed the subject and the two women stayed up late catching up on each other’s news.

Even the knowledge that Dana was down the hall in the guest room and that a patrol car drove by on a regular basis didn’t relax her enough to sleep. And then, when she did, dreams of glass flying through the air, endless perfume bottles dancing around her, and a woman’s maniacal laughter piercing her ears disturbed what little sleep she could get.


Lauren called Sophie first thing in the morning to say she’d be coming in late. She and Dana treated themselves to a leisurely breakfast out before Dana started her drive back to Los Angeles and Lauren drove on to work.

After parking the car, she sat there a moment, taking deep breaths until her heart rate slowed.

“All you have to do is stick with the plan. You can do it.” Chanting the words like a protective mantra, she got out of her car and headed for her basement office.

“Detective Thomas called about the post on that hit-and-run. A Dr. Williams asked you to call him about a talk you agreed to give after the first of the year. And,” Sophie frowned as she searched through the pink message slips, “somebody else called, but I don’t remember who. I’ll find it.”

“Good idea.” Lauren picked up the other message slips and walked into her office. When she reached the door, she snapped her fingers and turned as if she’d suddenly remembered something. “Oh, Sophie, could you do me a favor?” She pulled her cell out of her pocket and pulled up her contact info. “Would you call the resort and make a reservation for two for the weekend after next? If it’s available, I’d like bungalow number twelve.” She rattled off the number.

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