The daddy pact, p.1
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       The Daddy Pact, p.1
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           Kristy K. James
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The Daddy Pact
The Daddy Pact

  Book 1 in the Coach’s Boys Series

  Kristy K. James

  Copyright 2011 by Kristy K. James

  All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be copied or reprinted without express written permission from the author.

  Other works by this author include:

  The Coach’s Boys Series (and **companion stories):

  The Daddy Pact

  A Hero For Holly

  A Harry Situation

  Her Best Friend Jon

  Code Red Christmas

  **Holding Out For Love

  Darby’s Dilemma

  The Detective's Second Chance

  The Casteloria Series:

  Laying Low in Paradise

  A Cool Summer in Paradise

  A Cold Day in Paradise

  The Men From the Double M Series

  Josh

  The Enza Series:

  Enza

  The Wishes in Time Series:

  Holding On To Yesterday

  The Accidental Wish

  And romance novels:

  Reluctant Guardian

  Erin’s Christmas Wish

  A Fine Mess

  For my kids...

  And in loving memory of Westside Deli and Chi-chi’s restaurant.

  CHAPTER 1

  Sitting at his cluttered desk filling out paperwork, Ed Winslow looked more like an office executive than an officer of the law. In his navy suit and nearly matching tie, no one would guess he lived life on the edge, putting himself in danger every day to solve crimes in Michigan’s Capitol city.

  Chalk another one up for the Lansing Police Department. For Winslow anyway. Working on the case for three and a half months, he’d made the long-awaited call yesterday. It was over, the trial to come a mere formality. Bruce Mulholland, for no apparent reason, had turned himself in, making a full confession. Yes, they had their man, and a guaranteed conviction. Still, he couldn’t help but wish-

  No matter what he wished, there was nothing to be done now. Nothing to change what had happened. Or what was to come. He’d never liked working on this case. Not from the moment he’d been assigned to it.

  The gold pen he held, moving across the page in front of him, stopped. Alerted by a slight sound or movement, or perhaps a sixth sense honed through twenty-odd years of police work, he knew he was being watched. Whatever the reason, he looked up, unable to hide his dismay when he saw her in the doorway.

  Running a hand through his short-cropped brown hair, beginning to show signs of gray – and receding more each day, he rose to his feet to greet her. This was the last thing he wanted to deal with now, but he should have known she’d come.

  “Mrs. Bentley. This is a surprise.” Though his smile welcomed her, he studied her, his thick brows drawn together in thought. “I’m afraid we weren’t expecting you today.”

  “Can I see him?” Jess Bentley asked, voice flat, her green eyes dull, almost vacant. Winslow swore she looked right through him.

  “You said you couldn’t identify him, even if we did need your help.”

  “I can’t.”

  “Can’t what? Identify him? I know. Look, why don’t you have a seat. I’ll get you a cup of coffee and we’ll talk.” He indicated a pair of worn leather chairs in front of his desk.

  “I want to see him,” she repeated, ignoring his attempt at social pleasantries.

  Winslow studied her like a germ under a microscope. The last time he’d seen her, at the funeral, she’d been a typical, run-of-the mill widow, dressed in black, hauntingly beautiful. Today, well, today there was little resemblance to the woman he remembered.

  The gray sweat suit she wore was several sizes too large for her slender frame. Wrinkled, it looked as if she’d had it on for several days, probably the same length of time since her hair had seen a brush. The dirty brown locks tumbled down her back in a tangled mess, and dark circles beneath wide-eyes, matched thick sooty lashes, contrasting dramatically with the pallor of her skin.

  He also sensed a tenseness emanating from her. From the rigid way she held herself as she stood in the doorway, to the desperate way she clutched a floral tapestry handbag to her chest, holding it so tight her knuckles were white. Something was very wrong here.

  “I don’t think that’s a good idea, ma’am.”

  “Maybe not, but I still want to.”

  “Why?”

  “Do I need a reason?”

  “I think so.”

  Jess Bentley shifted her gaze away from him and let it drift around the room seeing, but not taking in the wanted posters and bulletin board on the wall. The huge window overlooking the busy street below might not have been there, nor the glass wall separating this office from the desks on the other side. What she did notice, and Winslow knew the exact moment she did, was the portrait of his former family. He sensed, more than saw, her resentment at its presence. Finally, she looked at him again.

  “Nice family.”

  “Thank you.” He rounded the corner of the desk, leaning against its edge, casually crossing his arms as he continued to watch her, waiting patiently for her answer.

  “He killed Frank.”

  “I’m aware of that.”

  “Isn’t that reason enough?”

  “Is that the only one?”

  “No, it’s not.” For the first time since her arrival, her voice betrayed the anger she felt. “I want to see the man who murdered my husband. I want him to see that, because of him, I’m alone now.”

  “It was an accident,” Winslow murmured, as though to himself.

  “What?”

  “It was an accident,” he repeated, louder this time. “Mulholland only intended to rob your husband. The shooting wasn’t intentional.”

  “Is that supposed to make everything all right?” Mrs. Bentley asked.

  “No, of course not. What I’m saying is if the purpose of this visit is to make him feel guilty then it’s a waste of time. You can rest assured, he feels guilty.”

  “Good. Then maybe I can make him feel worse, hmm?” she asked on a sob.

  “Mrs. Bentley,” Winslow sighed, “do you realize if he hadn’t turned himself in, we’d never have caught him? Not on the evidence we had. He could have gotten away with it, and no one would have been the wiser.”

  “So give him a medal. I still want to see him, face to face.”

  Sighing deeply, Winslow shrugged and crossed the room, coming to a stop before a filing cabinet next to where she stood.

  He pulled an enormous ring of keys from his jacket pocket, searched for the right one, and unlocked the top drawer. He saw her wince at the ear-piercing squeal as he slid it open.

  “Guess I’d better call maintenance,” he said by way of apology, holding out his hand. “Just let me lock your bag in here, and I’ll take you down.”

  “No.”

  “No?”

  “I’d rather keep it with me,” she stammered, holding it even closer.

  “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow you in the visiting area unless you leave it here,” he explained, his tone gentle.

  “It’s not like I’d try to help him escape or anything.”

  “I never thought you would. But that’s the rule.”

  “Can’t you bend them? Just this once?” Her eyes pleaded with him to make an exception.

  “No, ma’am.”

  She sagged against the door casing, tears streaming down her face. Winslow put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Mrs. Bentley, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain, the anger, you must be feeling. But I can understand how you might feel the need to take the law into your own hands. And I can’t let you do that.”

  “I knew you knew,” she whispered, wiping a hand across her cheeks.

 
“I don’t know anything. I do have my suspicions though. And if I don’t go with my gut on this, you’ll be the one to suffer.”

  “Can’t that be my choice?”

  “No. Mulholland and a witness both said the gun went off when your husband thought you were in danger. Your safety, your life, meant more to him than his own. I won’t let you do something that will put you at risk.”

  “My life?” she asked, laughing harshly. “My life ended when Frank’s heart stopped beating. And all that’s left is this, this pain and this aloneness.” Slender fingers covered her lips as she began to weep.

  “Mrs. Bentley.” Winslow felt a lump form in his throat as he put an arm around her shoulders. Few cases had ever touched him in this way, and he really wished this one hadn’t. He didn’t like feeling this helpless. Not one bit. “Ma’am, what you want to do won’t take those feelings away. Only time will help.”

  ‘No.” She shook her head at his lame attempt to comfort her.

  “I know it doesn’t seem that way now, but it will,” he promised. “You just need someone to help you through this. Someone you trust.” But who? If he remembered correctly, she had no family and her husband’s only relative blamed her for his death.

  Winslow couldn’t deal with this. It was easier if he could remain detached from a victim’s pain. From the perpetrator’s pain. He shouldn’t be wishing he could find a way to help. But there had to be something. Wait, there had been a friend. Manning? No, that wasn’t right. It was Lanning. Emmerald Lanning.

  “Did you drive yourself here, Mrs. Bentley?”

  “I took a cab.” Most likely she hadn’t planned on returning to her apartment, he guessed.

  “Then I’ll take you home. Let me just go and clear it with my boss. It’ll only take a minute.” He hesitated for a moment before asking, “Which door did you come in?”

  “I waited at the side of the building until someone came out.”

  He’d known it had to be something like that, because she for sure hadn’t come in through the front door. Not with security being as tight as it was. Obviously it left a little to be desired if she’d gotten in another way.

  “Wait here. We’ll leave that same way.”

  Winslow spun around, hurrying down the hall to his captain’s office, rapping on the glass with more force than necessary and, when the command came to enter, rushing inside and briefly explaining the situation.

  “Her home and work numbers should be in the file. Tell Lanning to get to Mrs. Bentley’s A.S.A.P.”

  For the first time in as long as he could remember, Winslow wasn’t cussing as he caught almost every stop light on their slow trip across town. He didn’t even mind the miles of lunch hour traffic today. The longer the drive, the better the odds were that Mrs. Lanning would be waiting when they arrived.

  And that would be a good thing because Mrs. Bentley hadn’t uttered a word since climbing into his inconspicuous black sedan. It worried him. If he had to make a guess, he would say that she was in shock. At this moment, he figured, she had probably counted on being in a jail cell, or dead, not riding beside him headed back to her empty apartment. Not with the man she hated alive and well.

  He was disappointed to note the absence of the tall black woman waiting on the landing outside her door. Now he didn’t know what to do but offer, as they ascended the stairs to her apartment, to stay with her a while.

  “No,” she said.

  “Are you sure?” It wouldn’t be any trouble,” he assured her. Just until the friend got there.

  “I’m sure. I’d really rather be alone.”

  Stopping at her door, she turned to look over the railing. There it was. The spot where it happened. He knew because there was a faint stain marring the otherwise light-colored pavement. A bloodstain that hadn’t washed away after all this time. Her husband’s blood. The landlord had obviously tried to clean it up after the investigation, but faint traces still remained.

  “I hate leaving you like this,” Winslow muttered, rubbing his chin and staring at her hard.

  “I’ll be fine,” she murmured, turning to put her key in the lock. Suddenly she looked back at the detective and asked, “Could you do something for me?”

  “Name it.”

  “Tell him for me that Frank was a good man. Tell him we were happy.”

  “I can do that,” he promised, turning away, hoping she hadn’t noticed the lie he’d just told her. “Could you do something for me?”

  “What?”

  “Take care of yourself.”

  She didn’t answer, only closed the door between them as Winslow walked away, hoping the friend would come soon.

  ~~~~~

  Daniel Mulholland stood at the patio door staring vacantly at the rolling hills behind his home. He didn’t feel pride of ownership like he usually did when standing here. In fact, Dan didn’t feel anything, except numb. At least it was an improvement over the devastation that had overwhelmed him when he got the news.

  How was this possible? To go from a carefree existence, to having his life shattered in the space of a few short moments.

  He’d prayed hard. That it wasn’t true. That it was a nightmare he’d wake up from, laugh at himself over the ridiculousness of it all, and go on with his day, knowing everything would be okay. It was a nightmare all right. But when he woke up tomorrow, it would still be there. His brother was-

  Oh God, he couldn’t even bring himself to say it.

  He swiped at the tears that had been falling off and on all morning, and wished he could erase the memory of his mother’s sobs. When she’d called to tell him, he hadn’t been able to understand a word she’d said, but he remembered being scared. That he hadn’t wanted to know what she was trying to say, because he knew it was going to be bad.

  Then his father had taken the phone and broken the news as gently as he could. Did people really think that delivering bad news in that gentle tone would make it hurt less? Less than, say, shouting it? Or screaming it?

  Dan’s mother had screamed, over and over, “My baby, my baby.”

  His family ripped apart at the seams.

  He should be doing something. Go into the office maybe. Keep busy. Except his mind didn’t seem to be working quite right. When Molly and her family got here, they would all be meeting at the folk’s house, but that wouldn’t be for a couple more hours yet. What was he supposed to do until then?

  He stared at his reflection in the window. The black slacks, white turtleneck, and tweed sports jacket he’d dressed in looked the same as when he’d gotten ready to go in to the office this morning. Those were the only things about him that looked normal. In anger, sometimes frustration, he’d run his fingers through his short dark hair so often it looked worse than when he’d crawled out of bed. His blue eyes gazed back at him, vacantly, as he continued to stare.

  “Dan?”

  Dan whipped around and saw his three best friends in the world standing in the dining room doorway, looking ill at ease.

  “Is there anything we can do?” Cal asked quietly, moving forward and slinging a hand up to clasp his shoulder.

  “You know?” Dan asked, and then shook his head at the absurdity of the question. Of course they knew. Everyone within a fifty-mile radius of Lansing knew that his brother was a murderer.

  “Yeah,” Jon muttered gruffly, “we heard about it on the news this morning. You okay?”

  “I’ve been better.”

  “I’m sure. I’d like to say I’m surprised but…” For all that Jon cared about Dan, his longtime dislike of Bruce had never been a secret. In fact, no one had much cared for Bruce and his less than stellar lifestyle.

  “What can we do?” Sam interjected, echoing Cal’s earlier question. “Do you have a lawyer yet?”

  “Lawyer?” Dan sneered. “Bruce deserves whatever he gets. He murdered that woman’s husband.” He turned back to the French doors, filled with rage. “You saw her on television. We all did. And we all felt bad for her, too. The Hone
ymoon Widow. My brother did that. He ruined that woman’s life.”

  “I wouldn’t say that he ruined it,” Jon pointed out. “It’s hard right now, but she’ll get over it.”

  “You can be such a jerk,” Cal muttered, glaring at him.

  “Yeah, but you love me anyway.”

  “What about the lawyer?” Sam asked, pulling a chair from the table, whipping it around and straddling it. “You’re going to want the best. We can kick in if you-”

  “No. Thank you anyway,” Dan sighed, raking a hand through his hair. “I could hire fifty lawyers if need be. But Bruce won’t hear of it.” His laugh was bitter. “For once in his good for nothing life, my brother has developed a conscience. He’s settled for a public defense attorney because, in his words, he deserves everything he gets. And he does.” Cal moved quietly to the counter, and started a fresh pot of coffee while Dan ranted on.

  “How many times did I put him through rehab?” he demanded, smacking the doorframe. “How many times?”

  “More than I can count,” Jon said, sliding into one of the thickly padded chairs. “More times than you should have. He didn’t want help, Dan. He didn’t want to change. You can’t blame yourself.”

  “I do blame myself.” He cursed softly and turned to face them all. “Do you remember the day Frank Bentley was murdered? We had just closed on that property west of Lansing, and were celebrating at McGinty’s? Bruce found me there, and we went outside for a while.”

  “I remember,” Cal murmured, while Sam and Jon nodded in agreement.

  “You were furious when you came back in,” Jon added. “But Bruce usually manages to tick you off.”

  “He wanted money. A couple hundred dollars – and I wouldn’t give it to him. I knew he wanted it for drugs, and I wouldn’t give it to him. So he killed Frank Bentley instead.”

  “I don’t think he actually intended to kill him,” Cal reminded him. “The witness reports said things got out of control when Bentley’s wife came out. It sounds like it was accidental.”

  “Whether he meant to or not, an innocent man is dead. If I’d just given him the money-” That memory had been haunting him since he got the call. If only-

  “Don’t even try to take the blame for this,” Sam said, coming up out of his chair, and staring hard at Dan. “You weren’t responsible for supporting Bruce’s drug habit, and you sure aren’t responsible because he did something stupid. The only person who can take the blame for this is Bruce.”

 
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