Here is more from my upcoming release, Open Season. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about Sarah, one of the central characters….
Sarah stirred her drink with the plastic straw, the ice clinking against the glass. She tried to remember if it was her fourth or fifth Rob Roy. Not being sure was maybe a good sign that she should stop. Wouldn’t do for one of Dallas’s finest to be stopped for a DWI.
“Shit,” she muttered, taking a big swallow of her drink. “Doesn’t matter anyway. If SIU doesn’t get me, the Review Board will.”
Normally, Sarah shied away from going to bars alone, especially in the late hours before night turned into day. She hated the mating ritual that was often triggered by a woman walking in alone. It created a veritable frenzy of anticipation, playing out in postures and expressions that said, “Maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.”
She wasn’t a virgin, or a prude, but she couldn’t reduce sex to the same level as buying a lottery ticket.
Tonight, however, was not a normal situation. The second week of her enforced exile had driven her to the point of near madness. Lieutenant McGregor had told her she needed the time away from the job for herself. Time to deal with losing John. Get her head on straight about the kid. But she also suspected that he wanted her away from the controversy. If she wasn’t accessible to the protesters lined up outside the Municipal Building, they couldn’t lynch her.
The waitress, who wore a tight, leather mini-skirt that restricted her movements to short, bouncy steps, paused by Sarah’s table and set a fresh drink on the scarred wooden surface. Sarah looked at the petite brunette, puzzled.
“From the guy at the bar.” The waitress nodded a mass of curls toward a man who raised his glass in salute when Sarah caught his eye. Ford truck ads with rugged cowboys flooded her mind, tempting her to rethink her position on the lottery.
Ignoring her usual caution, Sarah accepted the drink and waited, trying not to be too obvious about watching him.
Finally, he pulled his lanky frame off the stool and walked toward her table. Two things caught her attention. Well, actually, three. A dimple at the corner of his crooked smile, wisps of curly black hair escaping from the neck of his red cowboy shirt and tight blue jeans defining well-muscled thighs and . . .
“May I join you?” His voice was as smooth as rich leather.
Sarah blinked, wondering if he was just a drunken illusion. But he didn’t disappear. He didn’t sit down either.
He shifted his weight to his outside foot, and she realized he was waiting for permission. Maybe he really was a cowboy. The gallantry was a nice endearment.
Before she could respond to the man’s question, a large, beefy figure loomed behind him, and the voice of Lieutenant McGregor broke into the moment. “You’re a hard woman to track down, Kingsly.”
The sight of the men eyeing each other like junkyard dogs brought the first smile to her face in a long time. She offered an explanation before one of them drew blood. “This is my boss.”
After a moment’s hesitation the other man extended his hand to the Lieutenant, “Paul Barnett.”
“Thomas McGregor.” He accepted the handshake. “We just need to talk here a minute.”
Paul turned to Sarah and the depth of his eyes, the color of a midnight sky, held her. Then she gave a slight nod. He fished a card out of his shirt pocket and pushed it across the table to her. “In case you ever need help with your taxes.”
McGregor slid his considerable bulk onto the bench across from Sarah. “A casual bar pick-up? You?”
“Never had a chance to find out,” she mused, watching Paul stride back to the bar.
“I’m not sure.” Sarah dropped the card into her jacket pocket, then turned her attention back to McGregor.
“How’d you find me, anyway?”
“Simple deductive reasoning.” He motioned for the waitress. “After a couple of weeks of waiting to hear if I had a job or not, I’d try to ease the tension with a few belts. And I’d do it close enough to home that I could walk if I needed to. So I did a little legwork that paid off.”
“You come just to commiserate?”
McGregor paused to order a Johnny Walker Red, straight up. “No. I heard from SIU this afternoon.”
Nerves sent her heart on a wild drumbeat. “And . . . ?”
“They ruled it a clean shoot.”
Her sigh of relief came out in a loud whoosh. The Special Investigative Unit, what some still referred to as Internal Affairs, could have stripped her of her badge forever. “What about the Review Board?”
“They don’t run things at the station. They just like to think they do.”
“What if they decide the shoot was racially motivated?”
The question slammed into Sarah like a freight train. “I thought you knew the answer to that.”
“I do.” McGregor leveled deep brown eyes at her. “I just want to make sure you do.”
The waitress stepped up and set a glass down in front of McGregor. Sarah lifted her own and took a quick swallow. “When do I get to come back?”
McGregor eyed her over the edge of his glass. “What does Doc Murray have to say?”
“I thought you made the decisions.”
“I do.” He paused and drained half of his drink. “Just gotta make sure I don’t have any loose cannons around.”
Sarah twirled her glass on the table, concentrating on the intricate design of wet circles. “Murray said I’m coping.”
“And what do you say?”
She raised her eyes to his, gauging how much he wanted her to say. Did he want to hear about the nightmares that plagued her restless sleep, or the nauseating, heavy feeling in her stomach each time she saw that kid’s face in her mind?
No, she finally decided. McGregor had two shoots on his record. He already knew.
“I can do the job.”
“Okay.” He tossed the rest of his drink down, then set the glass on the table with a satisfied sigh. “I’ll put you on the schedule tomorrow.”
McGregor stood and dropped a ten on the table. “I never doubted you for a moment.”
Sarah savored his reassurance. Maybe if she focused on that, it would help keep the demons at bay. Despite what the shrink had said, she wasn’t always so sure about the coping business. Her grief and her guilt hovered in separate corners of her consciousness, coming out and facing off like boxers responding to the bell.
Only she never knew when it was going to clang.
In desperate attempts to avoid the bout, Sarah had given in to silly impulses, including falling victim to the plight of a stray kitten. When the pathetic little thing had scooted through her open apartment door, she hadn’t been heartless enough to throw him out on an empty stomach. But that was all she’d planned to do. One meal, then he’d be history. She’d never wanted anything to depend on her for life. Not even a houseplant. But the feel of prominent ribs poking out of a ragged orange coat had touched some soft spot in her that she usually kept well-protected.
Now, she was actually contemplating letting the cat grow up before she gave him the boot.
Boy, wouldn’t John laugh himself silly over that.
The thought stopped her rambling mind cold. She hated having to remind herself that John wouldn’t laugh anymore.
Searching for a distraction, Sarah let her gaze travel back to the now empty barstool. Had the guy been real or just a player in some wide-awake dream? Dropping her hand into her pocket, she fingered the edge of his very real business card. She pulled it out, recognizing Bordowsky, Smithers & Payne as one of the largest accounting firms in Dallas, but her eyes faltered over the title neatly embossed under Paul’s name.
It couldn’t be.
No CPA ever looked like that.