Chapter One, Part 2
I’ve been pushing that thought out of my head for hours. However, it’s persistent and keeps coming back, like a wasp at a picnic. You know the one; it hangs out by your soda can. You swat it away, but it keeps coming back until you absently take a sip and get stung. I’m waiting for the stinger.
The only person I’ve confided in since Deputy US Marshal Fraser turned up dead, the only person who has seen me naked in almost a year, the only person I’ve wanted to see me naked in over a year, and the person who carries a badge and a big gun, is also the only person who knew where I was headed: Deputy U.S. Marshal Colby Marcus Jameson, III. Tall, mocha skinned, with vibrant green eyes, I knew I was in trouble the moment he arrived on scene. While I found myself attracted to Mike, it was strictly physical. Colby hit me straight in the heart. Unexpected, unnerving and unavoidable, every cell in my body said he was different, special. Before he even spoke a word, his eyes met mine and I knew. I knew he was that soul connection we are all looking for
and if I wasn’t so busy running from Scary Dudes, I’d be running from him at breakneck speed.
Of course, it could have been the adrenaline talking, because Colby was first through the door after I discovered Mike’s body. Without a word, he gestured for me to be still and quiet while he assessed the situation. He took control, offered comfort and looked down my shirt at my breasts without missing a beat. He was all that stood between me and the hysteria that threatened to overwhelm me, and before the day was out, he’d saved my life, twice. Last night when inspiration hit, he was my first and only call.
“Colby, it’s me. Where are you?”
He answered with is unmistakable deep growl of a voice. “On a stakeout with the State LEOS. Everything ok?”
“I’ve been going over and over the last night I was with Mike…Deputy Fraser. I think we missed something. I remember a flash drive on his keychain, but I don’t think it was there that last night. You didn’t find one when you went through his stuff, did you?” There was a beat, and I imagined him mentally taking an inventory.
“No. You think it’s important?”
“I do. Nothing concrete, just a nagging feeling.
“Women’s intuition?” he teased.
“Really, mocking? I’ve been threatened, shot at, used as an operative, a decoy and the man I was sipping wine with two days ago is dead. And you want to mock my idea?” I said, my voice unnaturally high. I was little on edge.
“Sorry TJ. I didn’t mean anything. Breathe,” he added gently, “I was trying to lighten the mood. Clearly I failed.”
“I’m sorry. I’m a little on edge.” To his credit, he remained silent. “I think I should look through his stuff at the funeral home, just to double-check. They have it locked down but no one has picked it up yet. Shouldn’t the Marshals have it?”
“Jurisdiction issues, it gets ugly. No one wants to touch it when it might be a dirty cop.”
“I don’t believe he was dirty. I don’t,” I said adamantly, fighting back tears as I thought of my last moments with Mike.
“I know. Look, as soon as I can get away, I’ll pick you up and we’ll check it out, okay?”
“Okay,” I agreed and he disconnected.
It can’t be him. It just can’t. Of course, I’m not sure my judgment in regards to men should be trusted. Maybe Mike was a dirty cop. Maybe my Soon-To-Be-Ex isn’t gay. Maybe Colby is not a man to be trusted. Then again, maybe I’m just jumpy because of everything that has happened over the last month. A month? It feels like a year.
Running out of money and unable to convince my Soon-To-Be Ex to sign our divorce papers – a divorce he asked for I might add – I took the only job I could find in a bad economy and with a Masters in art history and museum studies. I became the marketing director for Butterfield Funeral Homes. Making it clear to my lascivious boss that as soon as my divorce was final, I’d be leaving. Heading as far away from the Midwest as humanly possible and getting a job in the biggest museum I could find, preferably within driving distance of an ocean. It was win-win. They needed someone cheap and temporary, I needed the money.
Butterfield had recently acquired the second largest funeral home in a three funeral home town, Suggs-Haney. This now made them the largest funeral home in Peoria and earned them the ire of many in the community. They were seen as predatory, greedy and suspect. My job would be to put a compassionate, community-centered face on things. That would be more difficult than it sounded. Butterfield was now in the hands of Nick Butterfield, the son of Alton Butterfield, Jr. (semi-retired) and grandson of Alton Butterfield, Sr. (deceased) who founded the Butterfield funeral empire. Nick does not have the family passion for the dead nor the family work ethic. He has dreams of being a musician, can often be found in the basement of the old Victorian home that houses the business, smoking a fatty and rocking out on his electric guitar. Luckily, the overnight guests are dead. He’s also growing a small crop in the old carriage house at the back of the property. If that weren’t enough, he has a reputation for being hands-y with the help and maybe a few grieving widows. Yup, this is the guy I had to make compassionate and respectable. Good thing I liked a challenge.
“We interviewed quite a few people for this job, TJ, but you were definitely the hottest. It’ll be nice to have a pretty face here every morning,” he told me on my first day. “Coffee?”
“Did I mention in my interview I’m a first degree black belt?”
“You did. Think you can take me down?” he asked suggestively. To my credit, I did not slug him.
Two weeks into the job I knew I needed a raise when he told me I should wear my “skirts tighter and flirt with the old guys.” This was my penance for giving up painting.
It was that same day I watched a beautiful, dark haired man step out of a navy blue Hyundai. I was sitting in my office, an Impressionist’s dream, a lovely windowed alcove off the main floor, full of light and a nice view of the big porch that served as the front entrance. I had a perfect view as he walked up the front steps. I took notice because ever since my Soon-To-Be-Ex (okay his name is Peter) cracked open the closet and decided to let some light in -“honey, I think I might be attracted to men, now that doesn’t mean I don’t love you” – and asked for a divorce, I needed a beautiful man in my life. He walked through the big hundred year old double doors and into foyer. On my first day at Butterfield’s, I discovered that if I opened my door a crack, I could hear everything in the foyer, hallway and reception area. This came in handy on several occasions, as I was able to anticipate the next Nick centered public relations crisis. I was about to open said door in order to eavesdrop when there was a knock on it. I leapt like a startled cat, took a deep breath to gather myself, and opened the door to Deep Blue Eyes smiling at me. He was easily 6’2” with a badge and a big gun. He was no Michelangelo’s David, but then, who was? He was pretty fine on his own. He was there to see Mr. Arthur Shiedeger, a prominent member of the Peoria River Dogs minor league baseball management team. Mr. Shiedeger was currently in embalming room two, waiting for family instructions. The family was waiting on the report from the coroner. The coroner was waiting to meet with police. Seems Mr. Shiedeger was a victim of foul play. I was soon to learn that Deep Blue Eyes was Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Fraser, the man who was now lying next to me naked and dead.
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