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by Erica Abbott
C.J. St. Clair’s success as a police officer has brought her a new job and a fresh start with Internal Affairs in Colfax, Colorado. It’s a long way from her hometown of Savannah, and among the many welcome sights on her new horizons is Alex Ryan, the head of the Detective Unit.
Captain Ryan loves her department, her detectives and her family. Loving another woman isn’t in the game plan, but C.J.’s southern charms are difficult to ignore.
Romantic possibilities are crushed when a murder and scandal erupt within Alex’s command. The system they have both sworn to uphold makes them enemies separated by mounting evidence—and there is no honorable way to cross the divide.
Fragmentary Blue is a sizzling novel of forbidden attraction and heart-pounding tension from an exciting new writer!
Alice B. Readers
Erica Abbott: 2013 Lavender Certificate for Fragmentary Blue
CJ took off her high heels so she could run up the stairs to the second floor of the Colfax Police Department building. She was seven minutes late for her meeting with the Deputy Chief, and she had heard, more than once, that he was not a man flexible about time. She trotted to his office, shoes in hand, greeting the clerk seated at a computer outside the closed door.
“Hi,” CJ said breathlessly. “I have an eight thirty appointment with Chief Duncan.”
The clerk eyed her, missing the identification badge that had nestled inside the neckline of CJ’s silk blouse.
“And you are…?” the clerk asked suspiciously.
“CJ St. Clair,” she replied, still getting her breath, and thinking she was going to have to find a new gym soon. Or perhaps she should cut out the croissant with her morning latte. “I’m the new Internal Affairs Inspector.” She offered her free hand and said, “I’m pleased to meet y’all.”
The clerk reflexively shook the offered hand, looking surprised, as if no one ever bothered to be nice to her. She said, “I’m, um, Sharon. He’s expecting you, so you can go on in.”
“Thanks so much,” CJ said warmly, and started for the door.
CJ turned back. “Yes, Sharon?”
“You might want to put your shoes back on first.”
CJ looked down at her stocking-clad feet and laughed. “Great idea,” she said, slipping on her heels again.
Deputy Police Chief Paul Duncan, in full navy blue uniform, sat behind his desk, punching at the keys on his computer keyboard one at a time. CJ stood in the doorway, doing penance for her tardiness by waiting silently.
The deputy chief’s office overlooked the parking lot of the police building in the south suburb of Denver. Across the street was a pocket park lined with the ubiquitous aspen trees of Colorado, their bark starkly white against the grass, still yellow-brown from the winter. Spring was finally coming, and the leaves were beginning to unfurl from bare branches, a hopeful bright green.
CJ loved having four seasons of weather to enjoy, a far cry from the consistent humidity of Georgia. She’d been here eight springtimes, and loved it more every year.
Duncan finally looked up and said, “Inspector.”
“Sir. I’m sorry I’m late.”
He made a grunting sound, halfway between a reprimand and absolution. “Sit,” he said tersely.
CJ towered over him, six feet tall with her heels on, and she quickly took his visitor’s chair.
“I have a nine o’clock with the chief, so let’s make it brief,” Duncan said, running a hand over his shaved head, reflecting an ebony gleam in the overhead fluorescent lights. “How’s the orientation going?”
“It’s going well.” CJ ran through the department organizational chart in her head. The chief of police had set up a simple structure: three divisions, plus a separate office for Internal Affairs. The Patrol division and the Investigations division, which handled all investigations from homicide to criminal mischief, were each headed by a captain who reported to Deputy Chief Duncan. Duncan also supervised the third division, Administration, which handled operations such as their emergency call center, crime scene, and evidence room, which was in the charge of a lieutenant.
Internal Affairs, however, reported directly to the police chief, so that I.A. could act independently. The office supervisor held the rank of lieutenant, but the title of inspector. CJ had one sergeant assigned to her full-time, and the two of them would be expected to handle any allegations of professional wrongdoing within the department. As the Internal Affairs Inspector, she didn’t report to Duncan, but she understood that he was the chief’s liaison, and she would be meeting with him regularly.
She answered, “I’ve met Captain Robards and all three of his patrol watch lieutenants, Lieutenant Maggio in Administration, and a number of the civilian employees in Crime Scene. I also made it over to the county jail, met with the sheriff’s staff over there.”
She tried to sound conscientious, for she knew Duncan hadn’t been thrilled at the chief of police’s decision to hire her, a cop from another jurisdiction, to fill the inspector’s position at Colfax. She wondered if it was because she was a woman, or because of her age, or perhaps her looks.
Not gender, surely. Colfax had women in command positions. Thirty-three was a little young to be a lieutenant already, CJ knew, but she’d had the advantage of a master’s degree and eight years of solid work at the Roosevelt Sheriff’s Office before making the move to Colfax.
CJ had always tried to make her appearance work in her favor. Her soft Southern drawl helped, too. People usually liked her, and she knew she could be a good Internal Affairs officer. She was hoping to win the deputy chief over soon. But showing up late for meetings won’t help, she thought wryly.
He leaned heavily onto his desktop, his navy blue tie looping over the edge. “Have you met with Captain Ryan yet?” he asked.
She cleared her throat, smoothing the creases in her linen slacks. “She and I keep missing each other,” she answered, her voice carefully neutral.
He grunted again, and she knew she had to be cautious. She had discovered that Ryan was a special favorite of Duncan’s, and CJ didn’t want to criticize the head of the Investigations Unit to his face. Still, she’d been trying for the two weeks she’d been here to set a meeting with the elusive captain, and she was beginning to think the woman didn’t want to meet with her.
“I’ll call her,” he said. “She’s been up to her ears with a series of burglaries around the Hartman Park area, but she still needs to make time to see you. How’s McCarthy?”
“Sergeant McCarthy is fine,” she said. “He’s very organized, which helps me out a lot.” She cocked an eyebrow and said, “May I ask y’all a question about him?”
At Duncan’s nod, she asked, “Did he apply for the position as Inspector? I know he’s been here a long time. He told me he’s been in I.A. almost three years.”
Duncan cleared his throat and laced thick fingers together on the desktop. “He did apply, actually,” he answered. “McCarthy is a good officer, but he’s probably reached the height of his career. He may be organized, but he lacks…imagination, I would say.”
She nodded. Nothing Duncan had just said surprised her. No wonder they had looked outside the department for a new I.A. inspector.
“Is that it?” He glanced at his watch. “I’ll call you when I get a hold of Alex…ah, Captain Ryan.”
“Yes, thank you.” She stood.
* * *
As the Internal Affairs Inspector, she had a private office, tucked between a tiny space for her sergeant and an interview room on the first floor of the building. The office was very small, just about big enough for her desk, visitor’s chair and three filing cabinets. CJ did have a single window that looked out over the parking lot, and across the way she could see some of the small park that gave her a view of the aspen trees and grass between the cars and trucks.
Before she could sit down, her office phone rang.
“I just talked to Alex,” Duncan explained abruptly. “She’s at a scene. Couple of her people were serving a search warrant and there were shots fired.”
“Officers hurt?” she asked sharply.
“No, but the suspect is still at large. Why don’t you go out and see the unit in action?” He rattled off the address, and she repeated it.
“I’m on my way,” she told him.
* * *
CJ pulled her shiny black Lexus sedan onto the street as close to the staging area as she could get. There was a pair of Colfax navy blue patrol cars, light bars flashing, blocking the entrance to the block where the shooting had happened. Beyond them, a three-story apartment building, squat and painted an ugly gray-green, sat in the middle of a parking lot half-full of cars. There were more emergency vehicles scattered in the lot, including a couple of ambulances.
She took her shoes off again, this time replacing them with a butter-soft pair of leather driving flats. She knew there was often a lot of standing around at crime scenes, so she might as well be comfortable. She locked her purse in the trunk, made sure her Sig-Sauer .357 was secure on her left hip, and draped her badge around her neck on the department-issued lanyard.
The nearest uniformed officer had drawn the boring task of securing the perimeter and he was happy to have something to do when CJ approached.
“This area is restricted, ma’am,” he announced in his best command voice. The effect was somewhat ruined by a tiny smear of egg yolk on his chin.
She lifted the badge and said, “Lieutenant St. Clair. I’m looking for Captain Ryan.”
He eyed her up and down, and CJ waited, idly wondering whether he was admiring her linen suit, speculating on why she was here, or considering what she’d be like in bed. After a moment, she said, more firmly, “Captain Ryan?”
He jerked himself to attention. “Uh, command center is over there.”
“Thank you, Officer,” she said sweetly. She walked away, not looking back.
Under the sounds of traffic from Broadway a couple of blocks away, she could hear a few birds happily chirping from the trees around the parking lot. The air was beginning to warm a little, but it was still cool and crisp. The Rocky Mountains to the west looked sharp and bright, the sun dancing on the snow that still remained. She imagined a few spring skiers were up in Arapahoe Basin or Copper Mountain, enjoying the last of the snow for the season.
One man was sitting in the back of an ambulance, getting a penlight in the eyes from a paramedic. Another man was standing with a group of plainclothes and uniformed officers, gesturing. Describing what happened, she thought.
Next to the trunk of a patrol vehicle that served as a makeshift table, another group of three people stood, looking at some kind of map. One man, in uniform, wore sergeant’s stripes. The second man, wearing a slightly rumpled gray suit, was staring at the map. Neither man was saying anything that she could hear.
In between the two men was a woman, pointing and, from her tone of voice, crisply issuing commands. CJ stood a moment, a few feet away, to look at her.
CJ could see her profile as she bent slightly over the map. Medium height, very trim, with medium length, almost-black hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, she was dressed in black slacks, a pink oxford-cloth shirt and a gray wool blazer. As she leaned forward, CJ could see a flash of color: earrings with some bright blue stones.
She looked too young to be a captain, but there was no mistaking that she was in charge at the scene. The men were watching her and listening respectfully, and beyond that, she simply had an intense air about her that exemplified command.
As if the captain could sense the new arrival, she straightened, turned, and looked directly at CJ. She stepped away from the patrol car and approached her.
“Who are you?” she asked, challenge in her tone.
She was a little older than CJ might have guessed from her body. There were a few laugh lines around her eyes, a little gray just at her temples. Perhaps forty but not much past that, indeed very young to be in command of a detective squad. Her first impression of the fit-looking body was accurate, though: small, high breasts, flat stomach, gentle curve to her hips. CJ swept her eyes down appreciatively, then realized with a jolt that she was doing exactly what the patrol officer had been doing to her a few moments before. She brought her eyes back up to meet the captain’s gaze.
Lovely eyes. Somewhere between blue and gray, a bright contrast to the dark hair and pale skin. Not a beautiful face, but still attractive, all high cheekbones and interesting angles. It would be interesting to sketch her.
CJ felt a flutter in her stomach as Ryan leaned into her and lifted the badge away from CJ’s chest to look at it. CJ realized that she hadn’t answered the question and said, belatedly, “CJ St. Clair, Captain Ryan. I’m the new I.A. inspector.”
She stepped away from Ryan, ostensibly to offer her hand, but mostly to get a little distance away from her. She was wearing some subtle perfume—sandalwood?—and CJ found herself distracted by it.
Ryan took the hand and grasped it firmly. CJ was surprised at how warm the touch was, how strong her hand seemed.
“Inspector,” she said. “Is there a problem?”
“What? No, I’m not here on an investigation. It’s just that we haven’t had a chance to meet, and Chief Duncan thought it would be a good idea for me to come out here and—”
Ryan dropped the hand and shook her head angrily. “Inspector, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see you, but we’re just a little busy here. The suspect who took a half-dozen shots at my officers is wandering around the neighborhood somewhere with a gun, so if you’ll excuse me, we’re going to try to find him before he hurts a civilian or gets away completely.”
She turned away, but CJ asked, “May I help?”
Ryan looked back at her. “I don’t know. Can you?”
The frank response startled her for a second. Captain Ryan was a very focused officer, it would seem. CJ wished the flicker in her stomach would go away. More briskly than she intended, she answered, “I was in patrol for five years and a detective for three before I got here. I think I can ask a few questions competently.”
Ryan didn’t react to her tone except by looking her in the eyes again for a moment. Then she nodded and said, “Come with me.”
CJ followed her back to the patrol car, trying to regain her composure. Ryan introduced her briefly: the patrol sergeant was Thompson, the guy in the suit was one of the detectives, Sergeant Frank Morelli.
Ryan said, “Okay, Thompson, your people will do the door-to-door in the apartment house, get everybody out to make sure he’s not hiding or threatening anybody. And have some uniforms check the parking lot here, too, make sure he’s not hiding in a vehicle. If you don’t find him, start on the single-family houses. Frank, what’s the guy’s description?”
Morelli looked at his notebook. “Bobby Milton, male, Caucasian, five nine, three twenty, brown and brown, goatee. Wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt. They’re getting a driver’s license photo through.”
Ryan nodded. “Good. Distribute it to everybody as soon as you can. Everybody keeps in radio contact, clear? No heroics. This guy has already tried to kill some cops today, so let’s make sure he doesn’t get another chance.”
Thompson said, “Got it, Captain,” and peeled off toward his officers.
CJ said thoughtfully, “If this guy’s three hundred and twenty pounds, I bet he’s not running very far on foot. What’s the nearest commercial establishment?”
Ryan looked at her, in appraisal, and CJ felt the pull of the blue-gray eyes once more. She and Ryan leaned over the map together. CJ caught the sandalwood scent again, more strongly.
Ryan spread the map out with her left hand and CJ carefully noted the absence of a wedding ring, or any rings at all.
Stop it, she told herself firmly.
Alex said, “K-Mart three blocks away, on Broadway, looks like.”
“How about I go over there and see if there’s any sign of him?” CJ suggested. “He might shop there and maybe he’s gone to hide out. Let me have a radio and I’ll see what I can find.”
Ryan eyed her and said, “Frank, go with Lieutenant St. Clair. I don’t want anybody on their own until we get this guy.”
* * *
Morelli had an unmarked car, so they drove the three blocks to the department store. She was just as happy not to reveal her Lexus. Morelli asked CJ, “You just got hired, right?”
“Yes. Not quite two weeks ago. I was just making the rounds, trying to meet everyone.”
He had kind brown eyes, and a shy smile. “Didn’t expect to actually be in the field today, huh?”
She glanced down at her outfit and laughed. “You’re right. These are my office clothes. But don’t worry, Detective. I’ve made a few arrests in my time, if it comes to that.”
He parked the car and asked, “Anything really fun?”
As they got out of the car in a far corner of the lot, they checked out the nearby RTD bus stop on Broadway. Two women and a skinny teenaged boy, no one who looked like their suspect.
She wondered if Morelli was just making conversation, or if he really wanted to know. He seemed like a nice guy, so she answered, “I worked with the Feds once, on an undercover operation. The bad guys decided to shoot it out when we showed up with the warrants. I could not believe how many shots you can exchange in just a couple of minutes.” She shook her head.
Frank cleared his throat and said, “Sounds hairy. You get them?”
CJ wondered again how much he really wanted to know. “Yes,” she said quietly. “One of our guys went to the hospital. Two of theirs went to the morgue.”
She heard it sometimes, lying awake in the cold gray minutes before dawn, the sound of gunfire.
“Jesus!” he said, and she liked him because he didn’t try to sound cool about it. She considered whether it made him feel better or worse to be with her, knowing about the shooting, whether he thought she was bad luck.
They walked up and down the aisles in the parking lot, trying to look like they were a couple out for a little morning shopping while seeing everyone and everything. A young, harried-looking woman was trying to pry a stroller out of the back of her SUV while corralling a fussy toddler; a man with wisps of gray hair was pushing a shopping cart from the parking lot toward the store; a couple of girls who looked like they were skipping high school algebra were walking next to each other, each busy texting on a cell phone to someone else.
CJ caught a flicker of movement a couple of rows away. At first she thought it was someone wrestling shopping bags into a car, but a moment later she saw it for what it was.
“Frank,” she said softly.
He answered, “Yeah, I see him.”
A huge man was concentrating on maneuvering a wire coat hanger—where on earth had he found one of those?—into an ancient-looking hatchback.
Swiftly she said, “Call it in. I’m going to go over there and engage him in a little distracting conversation. Get behind him and let’s arrest his sorry ass.”
“You sure?” He looked at her in surprise.
“Absolutely.” She flashed him a reassuring smile.
She made sure Frank was out of earshot to radio their position, then she strolled casually over to their suspect, unbuttoning the top two buttons of her silk shirt, just enough to let the lace on the top of her bra show.
When she got close enough, she saw him look up. His face was running with sweat, soaking into his goatee. There were stains under his arms and across his chest, visible even on the black T-shirt.
“Hey!” she greeted him. “Bobby, right? You remember me, don’t you, honey?”
“Fuck off, bitch,” was his response.
“Now, honey, don’t be like that,” CJ purred. “You remember, that bar over on…where was it?”
“I said, fuck off!” he growled. “I don’t know you.”
“Sure y’all do.” She subtly shifted her position so that he would turn a little away from the side of the car to face her, exposing his back to Frank. She could see Frank moving up as carefully as he could. “I mean,” she cooed, looking at the faded Harley logo on his shirt, “the motorcycle and all…you were so hot.”
She leaned forward, just a little, to give him a glance at her cleavage. Fleetingly she thought: Hope he’s straight, or this is so not going to work.
He dropped his eyes and licked his lips.
Frank had his handcuff on one wrist before the guy even knew he was there.
“Colfax P.D. You’re under…”
He never finished the sentence. Milton swung his free arm back and Frank bounced off the hood of the hatchback.
Milton took off across the parking lot, running like an offensive tackle, not fast, but with determination. CJ, dodging people and parked cars, sprinted after him, alert to any movement he might make toward a weapon.
He just kept running, but he was already exhausted, and she brought him down with a dive that took out his legs.
He rolled, trying to kick her off, but she had a good grip on his belt and hung on. He tried punching her. She ducked the first one, but the second blow caught her in the mouth, stunning her for a moment.
He pulled her off, tried to scramble to his feet. CJ reached out with one arm and wrapped it around one of his legs, thick as a tree stump. He grabbed at her blouse, yanking it to try to get her off him. She felt it rip, but she held on.
He tried punching her again, battering her shoulders and chest as she moved, trying to protect her head.
She winced as one giant fist connected solidly with her ribs.
I hope that one hurt his hand, at least. Come on, Frank!
She tugged at his leg, got him off balance, and he went down heavily.
She grabbed one of his arms, tried to get it behind him, but it was like wrestling a steer. He was still trying to punch her, and she was ducking and twisting as he tried to throw her off.
Then suddenly help was there, another set of arms grabbing the man and helping CJ get him onto his stomach. It took both of them to bring his arms close enough together for CJ to fasten the handcuff onto his other wrist.
Finally he gave up, sagging into the pavement.
CJ sat back heavily down on the ground, breathing hard. She looked up into Captain Ryan’s face.
“I don’t know where you came from,” she gasped, “but I’m really glad to see y’all, Captain.”
“Glad I could drop in,” Ryan said, breathing hard herself.
CJ could see her face was flushed. “What did you do, Captain,” she joked, “run all the way?”
As soon as she said it, she realized that was exactly what had happened. The sirens came screaming into the parking lot behind them a few seconds later.
The first uniformed officer to reach them got an earful of instructions.
“Get the ambulances here, now,” Ryan snapped. “They need to check Frank right away. And search the suspect and the immediate area for the gun.” She looked down at CJ. “Did you see a weapon?”
CJ shook her head and then wished she hadn’t. Everything from the elbows up hurt.
Ryan knelt down and touched her shoulder lightly. “You’re hurt,” she said, a statement rather than a question.
Carefully CJ answered, “Not too much.”
She realized her chest was cold and she looked down. Her blouse was torn open to the waist, and the circle of officers around her had a nice view of her ivory lace bra.
She looked at the nearest uniformed officer staring at her, apparently transfixed by her breasts. He looked to be all of twenty-two, and she said, lightly, “Bali. Thirty-eight C. You can put it in the report.”
Ryan snapped her head around and said, “Get a blanket from your unit for the inspector, Officer. Now.”
Every man suddenly had something else to do, three of them picking up the suspect and putting him to a very thorough search.
“Got the gun, Captain,” one of them called. “Looks like it’s empty.”
“That explains why he didn’t take a shot at me,” CJ said. “How’s Frank?”
“Bleeding,” Ryan answered, looking over CJ’s shoulder. “Paramedics are with him. Broken nose, I’m guessing. What happened?”
“Our suspect put an elbow in his face. Definitely a personal foul. Frank should get the two free throws.”
Ryan sat back on her heels and said in faint amusement, “Do you always make jokes when you’ve been assaulted by a suspect?”
CJ lifted an eyebrow and answered, “I’m not sure. It’s only happened a couple of times before. Hard to establish a pattern from that.”
A dark blue blanket stenciled with Colfax P.D. appeared. Ryan shook it out and draped it over CJ’s shoulders, closing it over her chest with surprising gentleness.
CJ closed her fingers over the blanket, brushing against the captain’s wrist. It felt surprisingly good, comforting to be wrapped up by her. CJ shivered. I’m just coming down from the adrenaline rush, she told herself.
“I want you to go to the hospital, get checked out,” Ryan said briskly.
“I don’t think I need to do that,” CJ answered. “I’m just a little bruised.”
“Hospital, Lieutenant,” Ryan repeated, in a voice that did not invite argument. “Think of it as gathering evidence. I’m going to charge this son-of-a-bitch with ten or twelve counts of assault. Nobody tries to hurt my officers.”
It occurred to CJ that, technically, she wasn’t one of Ryan’s officers, but she decided she liked being treated as if she were.