Authors: Jerrie Alexander
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
Till Justice Is Served
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Jerrie Alexander
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Cover Art by: Meredith Blair © Author's Angels
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and the resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the following people. Their support, advice, and enthusiasm were invaluable.
To my copy editor, Joyce Lamb, your guidance helped me polish this story until it shone. For that, you have my sincere appreciation.
To Brynna Curry, thank you for your attention to detail. You helped me write a stronger story.
To Alexa Pressley, your creative brain turns brainstorming sessions into bursts of brilliance. I appreciate every minute you spend with me.
Meredith Blair, cover artist extraordinaire, I'm grateful for your patience and talent.
As always, my advisor on all firearms and tactical matters, a retired Navy SEAL. He's a real-life American hero who prefers to remain nameless. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and for your service to our country. Any mistakes are my own!
To Jim, you always said I could do anything I set my mind to. Your love and support mean everything to me.
Last but not least, thanks to my readers. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I loved writing it.
Light from the full moon streamed through her window, illuminating her face. Her long hair fanned across the pillow in golden waves. The glow gave her an angelic look.
She didn't fool him for a second. Asleep, her true personality rested, hiding the fact that while awake, she was pure evil.
He lifted the hunting knife high overhead but paused to savor the moment. The time to silence her had come. He plunged the sharp blade into her heart. Her eyes and mouth flew open, but before she could cry out, he slammed the hard steel into her chest again and again. Silence filled the room except for the soft sucking sound of the blade each time it exited.
Adrenaline pumped through his system, flooding every cell and nerve ending in his body. An unexpected thrill raced up his spine. Not from killing the nasty creature, but for the message her death would send to the rest of her vicious girlfriends. They too would pay the ultimate price if they continued their attacks on the woman he loved. The woman he had sworn to protect at all costs.
Rivulets of blood and sweat slid down his face, soaking the front of his jumpsuit. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his eyes, and carefully put it away. There would be no evidence for the cops to find.
He slid his gloved hands under her arms, dragged her limp body to a sitting position, and propped her against the headboard. He dipped his finger into her blood and printed his warning on the wall.
He checked his watch. The neighborhood would be waking soon. He walked to her bedroom window, stopping long enough to strip off the bloody jumpsuit. Then he stuffed it, the knife, and the gloves into his backpack.
It was only when he reached the back alley and drove away that he sighed a breath of relief. Penny's lies had been silenced forever.
One good thing had come from this incident. Penny's death had afforded him the opportunity to show Erin the depth of his affection for her. In his heart, he knew she cared deeply for him. That she averted her gaze from his when they talked came from her insecurity. Soon, she would shed her inhibitions and be ready to embrace their love.
Erin needed him. Who else would kill to save her? Nobody. And that secret would bind the two of them. Forever.
Rafe Sirilli studied the family portrait in his hand. His mind drifted back to the day his mom and dad had spit-polished him, his twin, Nick, and their little brother, Luke, before insisting they sit still for the photographer. It had been the last time he saw his mother happy. Her depression had only gotten worse, and nothing or no one had been able to help. Rafe shook off the old memory and carefully placed the picture in a box. He'd returned to Westbrook Hills to dispose, donate, and liquidate his dad's belongings, not to analyze the past.
The doorbell rang, surprising him. His first thought was Luke, but it was too soon to be his brother. Luke had been notified of their dad's death, but like Rafe, hadn't made it home in time for the funeral.
Always cautious, Rafe walked to the window and lifted a wooden slat on the blinds with one finger. The tightness between his shoulders relaxed. His dad's old partner, Jeff Paulenski stood on the porch, his hand poised to push the ringer again. Rafe crossed the room and opened the door.
The older man's silver hair and deep-set wrinkles hadn't diminished his presence. Tall and straight-backed, he presented himself with an air of confidence.
"Jeff. It's good to see you." Rafe's words had rushed as Jeff's arms had engulfed him.
The old man's hands pounded Rafe on the back. For a few seconds, he was that kid with the tangled fishing line, and Jeff was helping unravel it. He stepped back, and his gaze scanned Rafe from his hairline to his boots. His fingers caught the hair hanging over Rafe's ears and tugged.
"You're looking a little shopworn, my boy. If the FBI doesn't appreciate your hard work, you can always come home. I'll put in a good word at the Sheriff's Department." The hint of the older man's Scottish brogue brought back memories of camping at the lake, loud laughter, and catching black bass on hot summer days.
"I'm good. Where I've been, poor grooming was expected, even fashionable." Rafe dragged a hand through his shaggy hair. He'd been undercover on an FBI and DEA joint task force for over a year. "We managed to shut down one stream of drugs into the US."
"A pimple," Jeff scoffed.
"Hey, one cartel at a time." Rafe ran his hand over his chin. "An unshaven face and long hair are acceptable in that world." Rafe led his guest farther into the living room, where he'd been packing. "Sit. Want a beer?"
Jeff gave a quick headshake. "Don't have time. I have a question."
"You in a hurry to get back to an assignment?"
"No. I'm on a leave of absence. We wrapped up my part of the operation. Unless there's no plea bargain, I won't even have to testify." Rafe's curiosity piqued. He'd expected a lecture for not making it home before his dad died. It was beginning to look like he'd been wrong. Something was troubling the old man. "I understand you were with Dad when he passed. I appreciate it." It was the truth, and Rafe had spoken from his heart.
"Not necessary. He was damn proud of you boys. He understood why you weren't here."
Rafe nodded, trying to ignore the heavy weight sitting on his shoulders. Jeff's comforting words didn't ease his guilt. "If there's something of Dad's you'd like to have, anything, it's yours."
Jeff shook his head, stared at the floor, and then cleared his throat. His gaze scanned the area, seemingly taking in the state of disarray that comes when somebody dies and their belongings are boxed up to be carted off.
The hair on Rafe's arms stood up. "What's wrong?" He'd move mountains to help this man. His dad had considered Jeff the best partner and friend a deputy sheriff could have had.
"You remember Erin Brady, the girl Lotty and I adopted?"
"Tall, skinny, with a mouth?" That hair standing up on Rafe's arms started to vibrate. Damn right, he remembered her.
"Yeah." The old man's eyebrows drew together, resembling a silver caterpillar. "She's in serious trouble. I need your help, she—"
Rafe held up his hands in the universal timeout sign. Helping Jeff was one thing, getting involved with Erin was entirely another. She wouldn't want to see him, and he was fine with that. Sure, their dislike for each other was old news. Way old news. High school news. She'd been a surly brat back then and probably hadn't changed.
"I can't imagine she'd want my help." Rafe returned to his project of clearing the many bookcases lining his father's living room wall. "Dad was my last tie to Westbrook Hills. As soon as I get everything packed or donated, I'll turn the house and property over to a real estate agency. The joint effort between the FBI and DEA worked well in Florida. We're going to try it again in Mexico."
Jeff stared at his shoes again. A wave of guilt hit Rafe. He shoved it from his mind. Erin could handle herself.
"What do you hear from Lucas?"
Rafe had to smile at that. Nobody called his little brother Lucas anymore. "He goes by Luke now," Rafe said, hoping like hell the kid was all right. "Last I heard he was on some secret mission. I'm hoping he'll be home soon."
"Think he knows about your dad?"
"I was assured he'd be told."
"You really don't know where he is?"
Rafe laughed. Luke was the baby of the family. At twenty-six, he was four years younger than Rafe. He and Nick used to sneak off and leave Luke behind. Hell, his accomplishments in the military had eclipsed anything Rafe had ever achieved. He felt great pride in the man the kid had become.
"I have no idea. Ass-deep on some black ops mission."
"From the look on your face, I'm guessing you wish you were still in the military."
"I enjoyed my time, but standing at Nick's grave I made a promise. I had to be stateside to honor it."
"You promised you'd be a fed?"
"Not exactly. I promised I'd join the fight against the cartels. The drug pusher fucked with my family. Now it's my turn."
"Family trumps everything." Jeff's eyes had taken on a sympathetic glow. "And that's why I'm here. My family needs help."
Rafe knew what he had to do. If Jeff needed help badly enough to use the family angle, he couldn't turn his back.
"I get that you want to get back to work," Jeff said, "but this is important."
"I'll do whatever I can." The delay sat on Rafe's shoulders like a heavy boulder. His work was important to him, but this was an obligation he couldn't refuse.
"Thank you." Jeff's words came out with a whoosh. Without further explanation, he moved to the front window. Rafe decided not to push. Jeff had always been one to think before he spoke.
What the hell had Erin had gotten herself into? She'd been the talk of Rafe's senior year when Jeff and Lotty had enrolled her. At the time, Rafe hadn't known or cared whether the rumor that she'd been found living on the street was true or not. His dad had encouraged him and Nick to accept her, assuming the rest of the kids in high school would follow their lead. Erin couldn't have cared less.
Rafe remembered hard edges softened by hair the color of caramel and eyes so green you could almost smell the ocean when you looked into them. She'd had a tough exterior, but behind all that bravado, he'd seen a frightened fawn. His mistake had been asking her to the prom. She'd accepted, and then she'd made a fool of him. A fool the entire school had laughed about.
Shit, he was a grown man now. Who cared what happened twelve years ago?
Jeff turned to face Rafe. In the span of seconds, the old man had aged. The sadness in his eyes was painful to see. "Did you see the news about the dead high school girl?"
"The teenager who was stabbed multiple times?"
Rafe's jaw unhinged. He didn't like where this was heading. "Erin killed her?"
"Hell, no." The words fired from Jeff's mouth. "But she's a suspect. The police are interrogating her."