Want a sneak peek of what’s to come? Check out Chapter 1 of Second Shield II: The Return
Chapter 1 – Mack
I drove back to the station in a daze: one minute giddy with happiness, the next quivering like a lone leaf in the eye of the storm.
Oh…my…god…What was I supposed to do? I mean, come on, let’s take a look at this: I turned forty a few weeks ago; I am a career-oriented person who lives and breathes for the adrenaline rush of the job; there was no way I could change my work hours. Who ever heard of a detective on duty for select hours? Yeah, right. I was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year! I was the unit supervisor, for Chrissake!
I leaned my head back against the leather headrest of my brand-new Mustang—my new car. My eyes clenched shut to fight the radical sway of emotions. This wasn’t a car meant for a woman lugging around a baby! This was a vehicle meant for a woman who craved freedom and speed—a woman like me! The groan that escaped sounded like a wounded animal even to my ears. What the hell was I going to do with my car, trade it in for a minivan? That thought alone brought on hysterical laughter that rapidly switched to tears.
That’s how Jose found me: my hands wrapped around my steering wheel, attempting to hold on to my sanity, while my head rested on the back of my hands. My shoulders shook with each sob. I could only imagine what my face looked like when I lifted it at his swift knock on my window.
I was so out of it that I didn’t even hear him at first. When I did finally hear the rapping and his muffled voice through the glass, I struggled to lift my head which now felt like it weighed a hundred pounds.
I swiped at my cheeks and used my fingertips to wipe under my eyes as I peered into the rearview mirror. Oh god, I looked horrible. My cheeks were splotchy, my eyes red and swollen.
“Mack, are you alright?” Jose was bent over, staring at me through the window.
Am I alright? I started to laugh again and stopped abruptly in case I reverted to a hysterical crying jag again.
No! I was not alright! Absolutely not, but I had to suck it up and do my job. Yep, that’s what I had to do. I had to pull up my big girl panties and deal with it. A leftover bubble of laughter burst out as I reached for the ignition key.
Big girl panties! What I wore now was nothing compared to those huge monstrosities I had seen my sister wear when she was nine months pregnant. The memory of my sister standing in the doorway and almost filling it from her butt to the end of her belly brought a chill to my spine.
I was going to get fat! Oh god! The freaking waterworks were turning on again! I snagged the keys out of the ignition and shoved open the door.
Jose stood so swiftly, he looked like a Jack-in-the-Box. His eyes were wide and he appeared to brace himself for who knew what. I closed my door with a quick shove, pushed my key fob to lock it, and took off toward the building.
“Mack!” he called before taking a few fast steps to catch up to me. “What the hell is wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.” I quickened my pace and he matched me step for step.
“No, you’re not. You were crying in the car.”
I knew he was scrutinizing me, but I didn’t look his way; I scanned the parking lot instead. “I wasn’t crying, I was laughing, and I laughed so hard tears came to my eyes.” We reached the back door of the station and I unlocked it with the small plastic transmitter on my key ring.
“That was not laughter, Mack. I know what laughing-so-hard-you-cry looks like. Did you forget that I have a wife?” he asked dryly as he followed me through the door and up the stairs.
I snorted as I reached the top step. “Well, I don’t care what you think. I was laughing,” and crying, but I wasn’t going to admit it.
Ever since Drew had left, Jose and I had grown closer, so close that once a week I went to his house for dinner. Not only was our friendship strong, but I had developed a tight relationship with his wife, Tina.
“Fine, you don’t want to admit it, whatever. I’m not going to push you, but if you need to talk, you know where I am.”
I glanced at him and gave him the closest thing he was getting to a confession: “Thanks.”
As we rounded the corner into the unit, Gordon practically plowed us down. “Sorry, Sergeant,” he said as he leapt out of my personal space.
“Where’s the fire, Gordon?” I asked.
His aged face lined further as he studied me. Unlike Jose, Gordon knew better than to ask anything personal.
“We just got a suspicious death. Thirty-six-year-old woman found dead by her neighbor; she’s been there for at least twenty-four hours.”
“No idea how she died?” I asked as I pondered his words.
He shrugged. “No clue. There is no blood at the scene as far as they can see.”
I stepped around him, “Okay, well keep me updated.” I started to move towards my office, Gary’s old one, but spun back around to him, “You taking anyone with you?”
His shoulders dropped and I immediately knew the answer. I scanned the squad room and saw Chad at his desk and one of our new guys watching me intently.
“I wasn’t sure what we had, so I was going to go check it out first,” Gordon responded softly, already knowing that was the wrong answer.
“And you know the rule for suspicious deaths: two investigators. Take Monkey with you.” Gordon flinched before he nodded mutely.
Before I could look back at the new guy, whose real name was Frank Monkers, I heard him approaching us. He was over-the-top eager. We had given him the nickname Monkey when he had gone to a scene the first week he was with us and scaled a fence in record time. Did I mention it was a twelve-foot fence?
Gordon tried to minimize his sigh, but I heard it and fought off the evil grin that threatened my lips. On second thought, I flashed it towards Monkey as he passed me. His hazel eyes were bright with excitement.
He was a seasoned officer, and sometimes too zealous to get involved in the investigations. More than once in the last two weeks I had sat him down and told him to take a chill pill.
I called out to Gordon as he turned the corner, “Keep me updated.” Gordon ignored me, but Monkey grinned with a nod.
“That guy is wound like a top,” Jose said from beside me.
I shrugged, “Hey, it’s good to have someone excited to do his job.”
“It’s not natural,” Jose retorted as he followed me into my office. The light on my phone blinked that I had messages, and I leaned over and saw I had six of them. A peek at my watch told me it was one forty-five, I had been gone longer than I had expected, damn. I sat and scooted myself under my desk as I shook my mouse to wake up my computer screen.
“You sure you’re alright?” Jose stood sentry at the edge of my desk.
Leaning back in my chair, I met his questioning gaze. No, I’m not, but I sure as hell can’t tell you why. That’s what I wanted to say, but I didn’t. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you for asking, Jose. It means a lot.”
He eyeballed me carefully, “Okay, well you know Tina and I are here if you need anything.”
“I do, and thank you.”
He nodded a final time and went back to the squad room. Unlike Gary, my previous boss and ex-husband, my door was rarely closed. I had nothing to hide. The only time I closed it was when I had someone in here that needed to speak to me privately or if I was counseling someone. Otherwise, I had an open-door policy.
Unfortunately, Gary was now doing time in jail for his part in the BMW theft ring that we had busted. That’s how I had met Drew in the first place when he came undercover into the unit to find out who the rogue officer was. Little did we all know Gary, Bria and (???) were all involved.
I listened to my messages, checked to see if there was anything urgent in my e-mail, and then returned a few of the calls I’d gotten while I was out learning my entire life had just been flipped upside down like a half-cooked pancake on a hot griddle.
Pancakes, hmm, that sounded good. Wait, are you kidding me? I don’t eat pancakes! But they sounded so good, maple syrup, butter. No! I forced the thoughts out of my head and focused on the tasks I needed to accomplish.
Gordon called me later and told me that the woman probably had a hidden medical problem because, other than one window that looked like it could have been jimmied, there was nothing at the scene to make it look like a homicide. We would have to wait for the autopsy.
“I’m heading home,” Jose said as he popped his head into my office while I was going through shift reports.
Focused on what I was reading, I mumbled something to him and didn’t even notice him leave. When I glanced at the clock on my computer, it was almost six-thirty. I yawned.
Now I understood why I had been so tired at the end of the day. I had chalked it up to the new position and still recovering from being shot and almost dying in a fire. I leaned back in my seat and laid a hand over my stomach.
I had a child growing inside of me, a child that Drew and I had created together. How was I going to tell him? He had so much going on at home with Annabelle and his two other children that I almost felt like I shouldn’t tell him.
I pushed away from my desk and turned off the light before I closed my door and locked it. While I kept it open during the day, I didn’t trust leaving it unsecured at night when most of us were not in the squad room.
The parking lot was empty compared to during the day with all the administrative personnel there. The forensic lab guys were gone, as were most of the traffic unit officers.
The sun was setting, the sky filled with soft pinks and blues. The days were getting shorter, and I thought about the coming winter and how much I dreaded the cold weather. I eyed my Mustang as I approached it. How strange would the dealer think I was if I went in and traded it for a four-wheel-drive SUV?
Pain radiated through my chest. I loved this car, and besides, it was gift from Drew. I had tried to pay him for it when my insurance check arrived, but he had refused to allow me to do that.
As I climbed into the driver’s seat, I suddenly knew what I could do with the money: a college fund. That seemed logical; the child was Drew’s, so why not use the money I was going to pay him for the car and put it towards our child—our child. My heart skipped a beat.
How was I going to tell him? What was he going to say? Would he be happy, or would he get upset? Did he even want more children?
For that matter, did I even want a child myself? No one knew; I could have an abortion and no one would know. A sudden heaviness filled my heart, no one but me, that is. I’d know and there was no way I could do that.
My whole life was about protecting people, so how could I even consider taking the life of an unborn child. I decided right then and there that it was not something I would ever consider. If for some reason I didn’t want this child, I would put it up for adoption.
Yeah, right. Like I would allow a piece of me and Drew to leave my controlling hands! I clenched my eyes. I was going to be a mother whether I wanted to be one or not. It was no longer a choice to make. It was a responsibility. My shoulders felt so heavy, and my eyelids wanted to stay closed.
I shook myself alert and put the car in gear. I needed to get home and eat—maybe those pancakes I had thought about earlier—and then get to bed. I dwelled on the fact that Drew and I usually talked around ten when he got off work out west, and I knew that tonight was going to be the first night I missed his call. I just didn’t know how to tell him, not yet.