Fatal Choice, A Dana Mackenzie Novella
Dana Mackenzie gladly helps out when best friend Jillian Brown calls at 3 a.m. after she wakes up alone and finds herself stranded at her date’s house. But when Dana arrives at the home of Brett Sinclair she discovers more than a distraught friend—there’s also a dead body in the kitchen.
Jillian becomes a suspect in the murder and Dana is determined to prove her innocence. Forced to turn to homicide detective Nick Travis for inside information, Dana realizes that his reluctance to commit to their relationship has reached the breaking point. She makes plans to leave Santa Flores for good.
But first she must find a killer. Her investigation uncovers disturbing information about the victim’s secret life and shady business deals. Dana knows she’s close to discovering the truth when she finds herself targeted by the murderer.
Will she catch the killer before it’s too late? Will she walk away and never see Nick again—and if she does, will it be another bad choice?
Two uniformed policemen charged into the bedroom, guns drawn. They yelled at me. I couldn’t hear them with my heart pounding in my ears.
While one of the officers kept his gun trained on me, the other holstered his weapon. He touched the arm of my blazer.
All right, I didn’t know much about police investigations, but this hardly seemed the time to admire my jacket, even though it cost a small fortune.
“Blood,” the officer said.
That word oozed into the confusion in my mind.
I looked down. Blood covered my fingers.
“Get on your feet,” the officer with the gun said.
It took a few more seconds but I finally realized what they were saying. They thought I’d had something to do with Mr. Sullivan’s death.
My brain refused to process this information. My life flashed before me. My heart thundered in my chest. My stomach squeezed into a knot.
And then Nick Travis walked into the room.
He did a double-take when he saw me, then waved at the uniforms to put away their guns.
Nick leaned down. “Are you hurt?”
I heard him but couldn’t seem to make much sense out of his question.
“Are you hurt?” he asked again, louder this time.
I looked up at him, and asked, “Where’s Mrs. Sullivan?”
We stayed like that for a second or two, him leaning down, me looking up, staring into each other’s eyes, with the horrible possibility of where Mrs. Sullivan might be arcing between us.
Nick spoke to one of the uniforms who hurried out of the room, then knelt in front of me. He picked up my hand and looked at my bloody fingertips. I realized he thought the blood was mine. He looked closer, then evidently satisfied I wasn’t injured, released my arm.
“Did you see who did this?” he asked, gesturing vaguely to Mr. Sullivan.
“I just got here,” I said.
I couldn’t seem to stop looking at Mr. Sullivan. Nick caught my chin and turned me to face him.
“What happened?” he asked.
I squinted my eyes closed for a second. “Somebody ran into me when I came into the house.”
“What did he look like?” Nick demanded.
“I—I’m not sure,” I said.
“Tall, short, white, Hispanic, old, young, male, female?”
The urgency in Nick’s voice prodded me to think harder.
“A man. Tall. White, I think,” I said. “I only caught a glimpse.”
“What was he wearing?” Nick asked.
“A hoodie,” I said. “Black, or maybe navy blue.”
Nick repeated the description to the other uniform who hurried away, then turned back to me.
“Would you recognize him if you saw him again?” he asked.
Right now I wasn’t sure I could pick my own mother out of a line-up.
“I didn’t see his face, just the side of it, I think. I don’t know.” I looked at the blood on my fingers and felt lightheaded again.
Nick caught me under my arms and pulled me up. He hustled me out of the room. I tried to cooperate but my feet seemed to be on backwards. At the doorway I turned back for a final look at Mr. Sullivan. Nick pulled me down the hallway before I could see him that last time.
Nick took me to the kitchen sink. He stuck my hand under the faucet and doused it with dishwashing detergent. .
“Breathe,” he said.
He washed away the blood, dragged a dishtowel over my hand, then yanked off my blazer and tossed it on the table. The room spun and I leaned against him. He pulled me out the back door and dumped me on the top step of the cement porch.
“Keep breathing,” he said and sat down beside me. He caught the back of my neck and pushed my head between my knees.
“Stay here,” Nick said, and went back into the house.
I kept breathing. Gradually my head cleared. Behind me, inside the house, I heard all sorts of commotion. More officials arriving, going about their duties. Probably a half dozen vehicles were out front by now, lights pulsing, drawing neighbors out of their homes to gawk, point, and speculate.
All because a sweet old man, whose only goal in life was to keep a 42-inch Sony television for his wife, was dead.
Sometimes life really sucked.
When I take over the world, I’m definitely changing that.