Return to poughkeepsie, p.14
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.14

           Debra Anastasia

  Ryan pulled it off, read it, and grumbled before sticking it in his pocket. “I feel so cool right now. I mean, stand back and take notes.”

  “I’ll do that. Listen, I didn’t tell him you’re coming so…” She shrugged.

  “So he’s going to think we’re dating?” Ryan finished her thought.

  “Is that okay? I mean, crazy lady lures you to her dad’s just because you’re nice to her. Does that happen a lot?” Eve put her sunglasses on her head.

  “No. No, this is a first. But I’ll endure the thought of dating you if that’s what justice requires.” Ryan offered his elbow.

  Eve didn’t miss him taking a glance into her car. She met his eyes when he felt her attention.

  “Shall we?” He took a step forward.

  Eve led him upstairs to her dad’s door on the top floor, above all the apartments he rented beneath him. Once upon a time, Blake had been the building’s handyman, but now the position belonged to a single mom.

  “Dad?” Eve knocked and spoke close to the door. “I’m here, and I have company with me.”

  After a moment, her father answered the door with tremendous suspicion. “Eve. Everything okay?”

  “Yes, Dad. This is Ryan. We were in the area having coffee, and I wanted you to meet him.” Eve stepped inside and Ryan offered his hand. “Ryan, this is my dad, Dr. Ted Hartt.”

  Her father looked even more bewildered. After shaking hands, Ryan stepped past them into the apartment. Eve threw up her hands and mouthed to her father: “Be nice. I like him.”

  Despite his yellowing bruises and scabbed cuts, her dad looked downright pleased. Eve sighed. She’d never brought anyone home to meet him before. Perhaps he’d begun to worry she might never find a match.

  Ryan looked at the pictures on the table in front of Ted’s sofa with great interest. It took a few seconds and a fake cough to get him to put down the picture of her and Blake that her father had framed.

  “Right. Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but are you okay? I’m a police officer.” Ryan shifted his full attention to her dad.

  “I sure am. It was a nasty night, but I’ll go back to work tomorrow.” He motioned to his couch. The coffee table was stacked high with patient files.

  “You’re supposed to start work tomorrow.” Eve gestured to the giant pile of paperwork he had obviously squirreled home.

  “Eve, sweetheart, the paperwork doesn’t involve anything more taxing than thinking. And despite my age, I can still do that without hurting myself. So Ryan, how did you meet my Eve?” He sat back, wincing as his skin touched the couch.

  “Well, sir, she dropped her phone and things sort of went from there.” Ryan looked relaxed, but Eve noticed him cataloging the pictures in the room as they sat in matching chairs.

  “She’s usually not clumsy. You must have really impressed her,” her father said.

  “Hey, is it time for pain meds?” Eve stood, ready to get the pill bottle.

  “I can’t take them at work, so I’ve been doing without them for a while.”

  She exhaled in annoyance. “Dad, I don’t think you should have to—”

  “So what’d the guys look like?” Ryan leaned forward, patting her hand as he did so, urging her back into her seat.

  He was handsome. Ryan was a walking advertisement for fitness. Dark hair and dark eyes were matched with high cheekbones and a strong jaw. No doubt his vindictive ex was hating their break up more with every passing day.

  “The guys? Oh, ahhh…” Her father seemed to struggle internally for a moment. “You know I just fell, right?”

  Eve held her breath, wondering what Ryan would do in the face of such a lie. He said nothing, just waited.

  Finally her father sighed and looked at the floor. “I was so surprised and caught off guard, I really couldn’t tell.” He crossed and uncrossed his legs.

  Eve closed her eyes briefly. The urge to murder passed through her, and she physically had to stop herself from making a fist. Hearing her father made her reason crumble. Somewhere someone had hurt him so much and they hadn’t paid for it yet. She opened her eyes and saw Ryan looking at her. Chills shook her from head to toe. It was as if he could read her mind, feel her intentions. She refused to look away. Finally, he moved the inquisition along.

  “With all due respect, sir, I’m wondering if a meticulous surgeon wouldn’t be a bit more observant.” Ryan clasped his hands and touched his nose with a knuckle.

  Ted gave Eve a sharp glance.

  “Maybe if you think of your attackers as prospective patients you might come back with more,” Ryan suggested. “You know, that first assessment you make when you have someone in front of you at work.”

  Eve stood and moved to the couch, her heels sounding loud in the awkwardness in the room. “Dad, you can trust Ryan.”

  Her father stood, and Ryan did the same, reaching a hand to steady the man when he teetered.

  “What is this? Am I meeting a new boyfriend or being interrogated?”

  Silence crowded into the room. Eve walked back over to Ryan and put her hands on his cheeks. She kissed him gently on the lips. He responded just enough to let her know the kiss was welcome.

  “I care about him. And he cares about me. You’re safe to tell him what happened, Dad. He’s very good at what he does.” Eve turned to face her father, and Ryan slipped his arm around her waist. She smiled gratefully. He seemed to want an answer from her father as well.

  “I might want to let it just be a memory, Eve. I mean, they weren’t after money. I still have my wallet and phone. Maybe I just pissed someone off?” He gave a cough of embarrassment.

  Eve bit her tongue.

  “Sir, that actually brings up more questions than it solves. Do you have anyone in your life who’s been angry with you?” Ryan leaned forward.

  “Of course he doesn’t. My dad is the best man there is.” Eve narrowed her eyes at the cop.

  Ryan winked at her. “Listen, I’m sure you’re a little biased. All I’d like is for Dr. Hartt to think about this with me for a moment. I won’t file a report, but I can check to make sure there haven’t been similar crimes in the area.”

  Eve sat back and let the Ryan do his job. The man was good, she had to give him that. His careful questioning revealed that two of the three attackers smelled like smokers, and one had a surgery scar on his hand. All three were over six feet tall and fit. It was more than she’d had to go on before.

  Ryan closed his notepad and put it in his pocket. “When I have a quiet moment at the station I’ll see what I can do to put this all together.”

  “I’ll find them,” Eve mumbled before she could stop herself. The tone she’d used was not one her dad would recognize. He had no idea she was a stone-cold killer. And she needed to keep it that way.

  Her father sighed. “I was coming out of the hospital. It was late. In the parking garage I saw a man collapse. As I ran over to help him, I was hit from behind. They knocked me unconscious. When I woke up, I was in a room I didn’t recognize. They proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about who had been treated at the hospital—what kinds of injuries. I honestly don’t remember everything they asked me about. I have some holes in my memory from that night. What I can piece together would have fit in about fifteen minutes, but I know I was with them much longer than that.” He looked at the floor. “I do know they said that if I got a call from anyone with the last name Barker I was to follow their directions immediately. One of the last things they told me was that people I loved would die if I squealed.” He made the air quotes around the word. “I was instructed to say I fell. The next time I woke up, I was in a gutter.”

  Eve covered her face with her hands, squirming. She felt as if she might burst into flame. It took some deep breaths before she could actually hear Ryan questioning her father again.

  “So they never took off their masks?” Ryan jotted down the negative answer. “And did you investigate the surveillance video from that morning?”

p; Her father watched her. “They got me in a blind spot.”

  “Do you have an approximate time the attack began?” Ryan was being sweet with her dad, despite the tough questions.

  “About two thirty in the morning. My surgery had run long. It was a heart transplant that was delayed because the organ transport had difficulty.” He looked spooked.

  All the things she’d done in her past, the way she could make a man cry for his own death, nothing had prepared her to see this man diminished. He’d been scared, and he was still upset.

  Eve walked over and sat with her father, gently pulling him into a hug. “Did they mention any other names? Or people?” She looked into his face.

  “No. They just generally threatened the people I love if I did the very thing I just did for you.” He hugged her back.

  “Okay. Ryan’s going to investigate this quietly. He knows how to do undercover work, and he’d never do anything that would hurt me. You did the right thing, Dad. I love you.”

  Eve looked at Ryan’s now-suspicious face as she relished her father’s hug. They never really showed this type of emotion. It wasn’t her style, despite his attempts. She vowed to hug him more in the future.

  “Rest,” she told him as she stood. “And you can take Tylenol and Motrin.” She went into his kitchen, and her hands shook as she got the pills and a glass of water.

  He accepted the Tylenol. “I’m okay, Eve. Please don’t worry. I know it will be hard after all you’ve heard here.”

  She patted his hand. “Dad, Ryan’s going to help us both. I’ll be in touch again soon.”

  Eve held out her hand and walked Ryan out the front door, taking the time to use her key to lock the door behind them. As she headed for the elevator, all pretense of being Ryan’s loving partner dropped. They were silent on the ride down, and he jogged to keep up as she slipped out of the building and into her driver’s seat. He caught her door before she could close it, but she avoided his eyes and slid on her glasses.

  “What the hell is this?” Ryan crouched and stopped her from putting her keys in the ignition.

  “Nothing. Great. Thanks for your help.” Eve turned and faced him, her dark glasses preventing him from seeing pure death in her eyes.

  “You don’t just get to leave. I need to know why I was just used in there. Talk to me, Eve.” Ryan was imposing now, his form blocking her whole doorway.

  “Everything’s fine. Here, give me a piece of paper, I’ll give you my number. We can get together.” She nodded encouragingly.

  Ryan didn’t look convinced. But he slowly stood, reaching into his pocket for his notebook. Eve jammed the key in the ignition and took off without closing her door.

  It was stupid. She knew she was coming unraveled. Using Ryan was supposed to extend her knowledge—look what he’d been able to do with her father. If she’d played her cards right she could’ve worked him and gotten every bit of knowledge he had about Mary Ellen and what the hell was going on around here. Now she was driving like an asshole, narrowly missing cars at the intersection, and Ryan was not even four car lengths behind her.

  She wasn’t going to outrun him. After four quick lefts, she parked at a dead end. The road turned into dirt and rocks that fell off into the Hudson River. She sat back in her seat and rolled down her window. Ryan parked his truck behind her car as if it was a police stop. He followed the same procedure he would have if he’d pulled her over for speeding.

  “Ms. Hartt? Driver’s license and registration.” He stood off to the side, watching her hands.

  “This is a hell of a first date.” Eve opened her door and stepped out.

  “I do believe I asked you for your information. I did not ask you to step out of the vehicle.” Ryan wore sunglasses now too.

  She faced him, and the wind blew over the Hudson, whipping her black hair around her face.

  “And I haven’t asked you why the hell you’re creeping around the shittiest parts of town looking to get bought.” Eve crossed her arms.

  Ryan rocked back on his heels. “So the lady works for the enemy?”

  Eve shook her head and walked closer to the edge of the water. “I don’t work for anyone.”

  “I’m confused.” Ryan stood next to her.

  “That makes two of us.” She bent down and picked up a handful of rocks, tossing them at the river.

  “Do you have no clue how to skip a rock?” He reached down and got his own handful, then skipped one after another in a spectacular show of gravity defiance.

  She tried, and her rock sank.

  “It’s all in the wrist. Watch.” He showed her again, slowing down the movements.

  After a few more fails, Ryan wrapped his arms around her and helped her throw the rock. She did one more on her own, and it hopped twice before sinking.

  “So this is weird.” Ryan stood in front of her when she was out of rocks. “You did take me to your actual father’s place. And I do believe he got the crap kicked out of him, gangster style. And then you take off driving like your tailpipe is on fire, and now we’re skipping rocks. I think I’m going to need some explanations so I don’t drag your ass down to the station.”

  Eve grabbed her head, trying to make sense of what to do. “Those men that hurt my father? I want to kill them. They should feel every bit of pain he felt.” She felt tears coming to her eyes.

  “I’m sure that’s the way anyone would feel.”

  Ryan didn’t see it coming. She disarmed him so thoroughly he was at the business end of his own gun before he could even reach for it. Her heel was on his throat. He stilled.

  “What are you?” His sunglasses and hers were victims of the tussle, lying nearby.

  “I’m angry.” She exhaled and turned his gun around, handing the butt to him.

  He took it and stood, holstering his weapon. “I can tell.”

  He was a good cop, she realized once again. The exact kind of man who did what he had to so regular citizens could stay safe from each other and themselves. She hoped she wouldn’t regret what she was going to do so much that she’d have to kill him.

  “I’m here to stop people from stirring up trouble in Poughkeepsie. I’ve been in and out of that work for a while now. My family lives here. I should’ve been paying attention. But I was off licking my wounds in the city, and my father paid for that.” Eve looked into his dark eyes.

  “That’s some dramatic shit right there. Why’d you throw your iPhone at my feet this morning?” Ryan leaned against the Audi, watching her carefully.

  “I’m working for the woman who’s trying to claim this place. And she wants to buy you. I’m here to facilitate that. Which I’m sucking at.” Eve pulled her hair out of her face and held it in a ponytail.

  “Well, my job is to get bought. Maybe we can work something out.” Ryan crossed his arms and looked her up and down.

  She bent down to retrieve her sunglasses and tossed his to him. She used her glasses to hold her hair like a headband.

  “But if you ever point a gun at me again, woman or no woman, I will kill you.” Ryan smiled.

  Eve smiled back sweetly, until her phone sounded an incoming text. Then she nodded at Ryan and turned her back on him completely to look at her phone’s screen. “This might take a minute,” she said.

  Ryan took the opportunity to step a few paces away and adjust. He could pretend he wasn’t hard as a rock, but his pants were not helping him a bit. He now knew she’d been a plant, but she’d twirled real life into the pretend version of herself. That sucked. Black and white was so much easier to see than gray. And damned if he could trust her. He didn’t know. He scanned the water and turned to scan the rocky horizon behind him. Nothing. Then he sensed Eve’s movement and found her appraising him coolly. Her phone had disappeared.

  “So we’re clear, you screw me over and I’ll get your dad involved on every damn level,” he told her. He watched as her eyes sharpened to attention. She was a fucking tiger. Still hard.

  “You have your leverag
e, what’s mine?” she asked. Her black hair was all over, making it hard to read her expression. He reached in her car and found a hair tie. He tossed it to her, and she twirled her unruly tresses into a ponytail.

  “Well, if you really work for some kind of organized crime outfit, there’s that.” He hoped he was playing it cool, even as he listened for car tires and footsteps. This girl could have lured him here for her boss.

  “Trust is hard to come by.” She looked at his fucking crotch, emphasizing the word hard.

  “Eve, we were strangers this morning, and I think we’ll die strangers, but I need information, and you’re in a good place to get it. And I can help find who played piñata with your dad.”

  For now that was all he was willing to share. The most important thing about this woman was the picture of her in her dad’s apartment. The cross, knife, and music clef had damn near sang to him from the picture of a blonde Eve standing next to a man with Beckett’s tattoo on his forearm.

  “Okay. I won’t point your gun at you again,” she agreed. “Mary Ellen will want me to date you, so that can be the ruse for now—unless it’ll drive your ex up a tree.” She turned and looked at the river again.

  “My ex can drive off a cliff, for all I care.” Ryan kept his hand near his holster. “So when do we meet next?”

  “How about here in two days? Same time as right now.” Hugging herself, she suddenly looked slight.

  “If we’re supposed to be dating, how about I treat you to a decent dinner? We don’t have to keep meeting down here by the river. It’s a little too Mark Twain for my style.”

  Eve didn’t meet his eyes, but her smile curved on one side. “The gentleman reads. Ten points for Gryffindor.”

  “Hey.” Ryan took a step toward her. “I wish you’d been a regular girl.”

  A humorless laugh accompanied her turning around again. “You and me both.”


  Two Lines

  THE TWO LINES APPEARED. Pink and pink. Pink and pink. Kyle’s hand shook. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Pregnant. For the love of everything holy, she was knocked up! She jumped and shouted and cried and screamed. She’d promised to wait to test until Cole came home. But she couldn’t friggin’ wait.

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