This Good Man
(The Mysteries of Angel Butte)
Harlequin Superromance #1944 (Sept. 2, 2014)
A man of integrity...or not?
The moment Captain Reid Sawyer helps social worker Anna Grant with a sticky situation, she's hooked. He's gorgeous and clearly interested in her. Yet even as he pursues her, she senses he's holding back. For someone who prizes honesty and doing the right thing, how much of his evasion can Anna tolerate?
Her trust in Reid is further shaken when he confesses what he's done to protect his newly discovered brother. Is Reid really one of the good guys? Then he's involved in a hostage situation. Suddenly, she fears she could lose him before telling him how she truly feels!
"Don't tell me to wait twenty-four hours." Anna Grant gazed unflinchingly at the desk sergeant who was trying to make her go away. He should know he was wasting his time; he and she had butted heads before. "I'm not suggesting Yancey was abducted. He took off on his own. Twenty-four hours would give him time to disappear." She leaned forward over the counter to emphasize her words. "Right this minute, he's probably out on the highway waving his thumb. In case you hadn't noticed, it's cold out there." March was the dead of winter on this side of the Cascade Mountains. "He needs to be picked up now."
"Ms. Grant." Middle-aged and graying, Sergeant Shroutt looked exasperated and frazzled. "We've been through this before. You know there's nothing we can do yet. No crime has been committed. You have no reason to think this kid is in danger—"
"No reason?" She hoped her eyes were shooting sparks. "This kid is thirteen years old. He's so small for his age, he looks about ten. What if your own son that age was out on that highway, Sergeant?"
"Of course I wouldn't like—"
"Wouldn't you think the police should be concerned?"
"What seems to be the problem, ma'am?" asked a deep, calm voice from unnervingly close to her left.
Even as she swung around to face the newcomer, she took an involuntary step back. She hated the fear instinct that surfaced when someone startled or sneaked up on her. Anna prayed it didn't show on her face.
"Captain." The sergeant's relief was obvious. "I was just explaining to Ms. Grant—"
"—why no one in the Angel Butte Police Department can be bothered to help me find a thirteen-year-old boy who has run away from his foster home and has no place to go that any sane adult would consider safe," Anna concluded, even as she evaluated the tall man who stood on her side of the counter, but who was evidently a member of the department, and a senior one at that.
He was also an extraordinarily handsome man, his face all angles and planes, nothing soft about it except possibly his mouth, which she was annoyed at herself for noticing. His eyes were… She couldn't tell. A dark hazel or unusual shade of brown, maybe. A gray suit fit as if it had been tailored for his big body. The knot of the conservative tie he wore was just a little loose, as if he'd given it a tug recently. Only when her gaze lowered did she notice the badge clipped to a narrow black belt and a glimpse of what she assumed was a weapon. At the moment, his expression was mildly curious.
Wait. Captain. Could he possibly be the new hire she'd read about, the one who'd accepted the position vacated by Colin McAllister, who had defeated the incumbent county sheriff in the November election? That would make this man captain of Investigative and Support Services, not patrol.
Still…he was right here in front of her. And if he'd paused only to help the desk sergeant get rid of her, well, screw him. At least she wasn't likely to encounter him again.
"I'm Anna Grant." Inexplicably reluctant to touch him, she nonetheless held out her hand. "I supervise foster homes for Angel's Haven Youth Services."
His eyebrows flickered as if she'd surprised him, but that was the only change of expression she detected. "Ms. Grant." He engulfed her hand in his much larger one and squeezed before releasing her. "Captain Reid Sawyer."
"Unfortunately, I don't need an investigation. I was hoping—" she darted a look at the sergeant as she emphasized the word "—that I could get the city's patrol officers to watch for a missing child."
Captain Sawyer raised those surprisingly expressive eyebrows only a little, but it was enough. "Sergeant Shroutt?"
"He's been missing three hours!" the sergeant burst out. "He might be smoking weed out back of the high school—"
"Except that he's an eighth grader, not a high school student," Anna pointed out. She almost felt sorry for him.
"Or panhandling in the Walmart parking lot. Playing Gears of War 3 at some buddy's house!"
"Then why did he leave a note saying he was taking off?" she asked.
He glowered at her. "What note? You didn't say anything about a note."
"You didn't give me a chance."
"What did the note say?" interjected a too-reasonable voice with a velvet undertone.
Pretending the sight and sound of Reid Sawyer didn't make her quiver, Anna held herself stiff. "That we shouldn't worry. He knew a good place to go." Guilt and a shimmer of fear erased her momentary sexual awareness. "His stuff is all gone."
Captain Sawyer had been reading every expression as it crossed her face. She couldn't seem to look away from his eyes, which she concluded were an unusual shade of deep green.
"The boy's name?" he asked.
"Yancey Launders. And no, his name doesn't help. Kids make fun of it. He was born in Alabama. I'm told Yancey is a more common name in the Deep South."
"He likely to be heading for Alabama?"
"I'm afraid so," she said wearily. "He has a grandfather down there. That would be the one who kicked his mother out because she was pregnant and he didn't want anything to do with her kind of trash. After she died, the grandfather was contacted. In his own words, he refused to have anything to do with some bastard kid whose father could be an ex-con or even racially mixed for all he knew." The captain made a sound in the back of his throat. "The boy know this?"
"His mother apparently believed heart and soul that her daddy would relent eventually and let her and Yancey back into Eden. Yancey said she talked all the time about the farm."
"We're a long way from Alabama."
She knew what he was saying. "She drifted. Yancey has been in a dozen schools or more already. I guess there was always a man, and wherever the current one went, she went, too, and dragged her son along. Whoever the last man was, he didn't want a twelve-year-old boy once she died."
"So this Yancey became a ward of the court."
"Yes. This is his second foster home. He has struggled," she admitted. "The other boys in the home make fun of him."
The police captain merely looked at her.
"I was trying to find something more suitable," she said defensively, even as guilt dug in its claws. She'd known that poor, sad boy was ready to crack. She'd just believed she had longer.
The unnervingly emotionless gaze switched to the desk sergeant. "Do I need to involve Captain Cooper?"
Sergeant Shroutt sighed. "No, sir."
Reid's pleasant and yet disquietingly inscrutable eyes met Anna's once again. "You can give a description, I assume."
"Good." He nodded. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm afraid I have a meeting."
The words almost stuck in her throat, but she got them out. "Thank you."
His mouth curved into a smile that was oddly sweet, even if it didn't reach his eyes. "You're very welcome."
She watched as he strolled away, seemingly in no hurry but, with those long legs, crossing the lobby quickly and disappearing into an elevator that seemed to sense his approach and open for his convenience without him so much as pushing the button.
Anna turned back to the desk sergeant and realized he had been watching the new captain, too.
She could feel his resentment when he produced a form from behind the counter and said, "Please repeat the boy's name, ma'am."
At least he was apparently planning to be polite, probably because he was afraid of Captain Reid Sawyer. Who could blame him? She'd been intimidated, and she was willing to take on anyone to protect the children who were her responsibility. Thus her unpopularity in too many quarters.
"Yancey Launders," she repeated and began to give a description.
Fortunately, she was unlikely to have anything to do with Captain Reid Sawyer in the future. Even if one of her kids was murdered—or murdered someone—she'd be dealing with one of Captain Sawyer's detectives, not the great man himself. She hoped. Anna didn't like anyone who made her feel vulnerable, however fleetingly.
Interesting woman, Reid thought as the elevator doors closed, shutting off his last view of Ms. Anna Grant, social worker. It was her voice as much as what she had been saying that had caught his attention as he'd passed by the front counter. It had been an intriguing combination of martinet and seductress, both crisp and throaty. On hearing it, he'd had a fleeting fantasy of a school principal who ruled her fiefdom with an iron will, but went home to shed the gray suit and reveal black lace. He had been compelled to find out what the owner of that voice looked like.
Now he knew, although he kind of doubted she wore black lace, or whether it would suit her if she did. She looked about seventeen, although she must be in her late twenties to early thirties to have the kind of job she did. He wondered if she ever used her apparent youth to disarm opponents. His mouth curved at the thought. No, he thought it was safe to say Anna Grant was a woman who would despise the idea of employing subterfuge to get her way.
The elevator doors glided open and he strolled down the hall toward his office, nodding at a couple of people as he passed, but still thinking about the social worker.
Ghost-gray eyes were her greatest beauty. She'd probably been blonde as a kid, but her hair had darkened to a shade between honey and brown, straight and worn shoulder length and tucked behind her ears, nothing unusual except that it was thick and shiny. His fingers had tingled for a moment as he imagined the texture, a reaction he'd tamped down quickly. Ms. Grant was medium height or taller, but with a slight build. Almost…delicate, which contradicted a personality he judged to be bossy, even abrasive. Maybe caring, too, or maybe she was just the rigid kind who wanted everyone and everything in their place, and who didn't accept no as an answer. She had definitely terrorized Sergeant Shroutt. Amusement awakened again; Reid doubted she'd needed his intervention, but as he'd walked toward her, he'd heard enough to ensure he gave it. Whatever her motivation, she was worried enough about that boy to raise hell and keep raising it until he had the help he needed.
Satisfied by his conclusion, Reid greeted the temp serving as his personal assistant until he hired a permanent one. He entered his office, stripping off his suit coat, and was surprised to realize he hadn't succeeded in dismissing Ms. Grant from his thoughts. Instead, he wondered what she did wear under her businesslike slacks and blazer. Serviceable white? Scarlet satin? Sweetly feminine petal-pink with tiny lace flowers?
He grinned as he sank into his desk chair. Probably not sweetly feminine anything. That'd be like dressing a Doberman in a tutu.
But, damn it, he'd gotten himself half-aroused imagining her slender, pale body next thing to naked.
He booted up his computer and frowned at the lit monitor. He knew what his trouble was; he hadn't hooked up with a woman in… He couldn't remember, a bad sign. Six months? Eight months? He cast his mind back. Good God, longer than that. This was the middle of March. It was last spring when he'd been seeing that assistant prosecutor. Courtney something. Coulson. That was it. Unlike Ms. Grant, Courtney had had generous curves. Like most women, though, she wanted more than an occasional dinner followed by sex. She'd hinted, he had pretended to be oblivious, and eventually she'd told him she was seeing someone else. He hadn't much minded. He never did, except for the inconvenience of no longer having someone he could call when he wanted sex.
He should check email. He got as far as reaching for the mouse but didn't move it. Instead he kept frowning and thinking about the woman he'd just met downstairs. No ring; he'd noticed that. Was she the type to be interested in something casual, assuming she wasn't already involved with a man? Once Yancey Launders was picked up, Reid could call her and ask how the boy was doing. Suggest a cup of coffee.
He remembered those eyes, though, and felt uneasy. He hadn't thought ghost-gray because of the color, he realized belatedly. It was more as if, in looking into those eyes, he'd seen her ghosts. He tended to stick with uncomplicated women. The scrape of his own scars against someone else's would be…uncomfortable.
Reid shifted in his chair, unhappily aware that he'd remained aroused because he was thinking about her. He hadn't reacted this strongly to a woman in a long time, and couldn't understand why he had now. Anna Grant didn't advertise her sex appeal, that was for sure. And, truth was, she might not have much, as skinny as she was.
He mumbled a profanity, relieved when his internal phone line rang. What he needed was a distraction.
Once the caller identified herself, Reid said, "I'm free now, Lieutenant. If you are, too, why don't we get an early start?"
She agreed, and he was finally able to turn his mind from Anna, thinking instead about Lieutenant Jane Renner, who supervised detectives and whose rank placed her immediately beneath him. They'd planned this time to talk. She was bringing personnel files to help him familiarize himself with the investigative division. He'd already met with several key people in the support division he also headed—crime-scene technicians, clerical and records staff, fleet maintenance and more. That was the part of this new job most unfamiliar to him, where his learning curve would be steepest.
He was curious about the young woman with a bouncy ponytail who'd risen to lieutenant over an entirely male group of detectives. So far, he was reserving judgment, although she'd seemed sharp when she participated in his initial interviews. Police Chief Alec Raynor had spoken highly of her. Reid knew she'd recently married a sergeant with the Butte County Sheriff's Department. Passing some of his female clerical staff in the hall yesterday, he'd overheard whispered gossip that made him wonder if Lieutenant Renner might be pregnant. Of course, he couldn't ask her; HR would have his hide if he did. Assuming it was true, he had to trust she wouldn't wait until it was painfully apparent, especially if she intended to quit. He hoped there was someone under her who was competent to step in while she took maternity leave, at the very least.
At the knock on his door, he called, "Come in," and rose to his feet with automatic courtesy. When he was done with this meeting, he decided, he'd drive out to the Hales' place and spend a little time with Caleb, however awkward that time would feel for both of them.
On the way out, he might stop at the front desk and ask Sergeant Shroutt to let him know when Anna Grant's wandering lamb was safely back in her care.