Love by Association

By: Tara Taylor Quinn

CHAPTER ONE

IT FELT WEIRD being in an interrogation room out of uniform. Not that thirty-two-year-old Chantel Harris spent much time interrogating suspects. She was a street cop, not a detective. But in the twelve years she’d been a cop, she’d been called in to sit with suspects on occasion and to help with questioning a time or two.

Even worse than being out of uniform was entering the room on stiletto heels, with makeup on her face and with her blond hair, which usually lived in a ponytail, cascading down her back in artfully curled waves.

“Excuse me, miss, but... Chantel?”

She almost turned and walked right back out as Detective Wayne Stanton—a friend from academy days—whooped. And grinned.

“Impressive, Wayne,” Chantel said, trying not to become too fond of the way the silk lining of her pants slid along her legs as she sat. Cops couldn’t afford Italian-made silk-lined clothes. Shrugging out of the matching slate blue jacket, she drummed her blunt-cut fingernails on the table. “Let’s get through this.”

“Actually, you’re the impressive one,” Captain Reagan said, coming in behind her and closing the door. “You clean up nice, Harris.”

“Thank you, sir.” The undercover assignment had been her idea. Hers and Wayne’s. She had no doubts about her ability to do the job. Or her desire to catch the rich scumbag who thought his money and power gave him the right to knock his wife around.

“I might make one suggestion, though.” The captain was holding back a smile.

“What’s that, sir?”

“Before you go to the fundraiser tonight, stop off at one of those walk-in nail salons—I believe there’s one on the corner of Dunbar and First. Get yourself some acrylic nails. No rich society woman’s going to show up with fingers that look ready and able to pull a trigger.”

He had a point. “Yes, sir.”

“The money you received was enough to buy you the clothes and things you need to see you through a six-week stint?”

Six weeks had been the operation’s initial approval window. Chantel hoped she could either get proof in that time or enough evidence to warrant an extension on the assignment.

“Yes, sir. I found a secondhand shop in LA that sells high-end designer clothes.”

“So just to be clear—” the captain looked at her and Wayne “—you’ll work your regular tour, with pay. For this operation you have your project budget, but your time spent is on a volunteer basis.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, sir,” Wayne echoed. While the detective wouldn’t be undercover, he was not only going to be the person to whom she reported, but he would also be doing follow-up, including information dissemination.

The captain shook his head. “You’re both really committed to this High Risk team.”

“Yes, sir,” they said in unison. By bringing together members from all professions that came in contact with victims of domestic violence, creating an information pool that ensured that doctors and schools and legal aid and child protective services were all on the same page, the team was preventing domestic-violence deaths. Chantel had seen firsthand evidence...

The captain sat back. “You know, when I first read the memo on this team, I thought the folks in charge were nuts.”

Chantel’s jaw tightened as she bit back the ready defense that sprang to her lips.

“But I have to admit...domestic violence statistics, even here in Santa Raquel, are down remarkably.”

She relaxed.

“And you.” He nodded toward Chantel. “You know better than most...”

“Yes, sir.”

She’d first visited Santa Raquel from San Diego two years before, as a favor to a friend who believed his wife had been taken by her abusive ex-husband. Wayne, who’d been a member of the Santa Raquel police force, had helped her—also on his own time—and they’d saved a woman’s life.

As far as anyone knew, it had been Chantel’s first personal experience with domestic violence. And while she’d always known that what had happened with her stepfather had been a crime, she’d only in the past months begun to realize just how hideous his treatment of her had been. Helping Max and Meri Bennet had changed her in a lot of ways. Not only in how she viewed love. Through them she’d found her calling, found a way to put her own past to good use. To make lemonade out of her lemons. She was meant to help other women who, though they may have the strength of Hercules, couldn’t always fight their battles on their own. Innocent women who’d been betrayed in the vilest ways by the one person they were supposed to be able to trust above all others.

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