When Savannah’s husband Rafe loses his position with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, Savannah gets excited about the prospect of them taking their new baby and moving back to their hometown of Sweetwater. Rafe has already received a job offer from the Columbia Police Department, and although he doesn’t seem terribly interested in accepting, Savannah would enjoy having her family around, not to mention Rafe’s grandmother Mrs. Jenkins.
But before they can make any decisions, Rafe’s former boss at the TBI turns up dead. And Rick Goins, the MNPD detective in charge, seems determined to prove that Rafe had something to do with it.
Detective Tamara Grimaldi, former colleague of Goins and now Chief of Police for Columbia, swears that while it might take him some time, Goins usually comes up with the right solution in the end. But with fresh victims dropping like flies, and someone seemingly doing their best to fan the flames of Goins’s biases, Savannah isn’t sure she can wait for the detective to come to his senses. Because while she’d like to move back to Sweetwater, she doesn’t want it to be because her husband is behind bars…
Rafe lost his job on the first business day of the new year.
We had no warning it would happen—although if we’d thought about it, I guess maybe we would have seen it coming. And the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations—for which my husband had spent ten years undercover, shedding blood, sweat, and tears, and risking his life on a daily basis—didn’t even give him thirty days’ notice, let alone sixty or ninety. Just told him they’d give him a two week severance packet, and to clean out his desk and begone.
“How rude,” I said, stirring chicken on the stove.
Rafe shrugged. “They don’t know what to do with me.” He reached up and loosened his tie, before flipping open the first couple of buttons on his shirt.
My mouth started to water, and I don’t think it was the smell of the chicken.
He knew it, too, because he grinned. “Hello, darlin’.”
“Hello,” I managed, as he came closer. And then I forgot about the chicken, and the spatula in my hand, and everything else while he kissed me. It was only his turning me away from the stove that prevented me from setting my posterior on fire.
We’d been married more than six months. We’d been in a committed relationship for more than a year. It was getting on for a year and a half since I’d first found myself in bed with him. And he could still take my breath away with nothing more than a look.
When the spatula hit the floor, he let me go, and bent to pick it up. I watched the black slacks pull snugly across his butt—much nicer than mine—and surreptitiously checked my chin for drool.
“Here.” He straightened and handed it to me.
“Thanks.” I moved the couple of steps to the sink and rinsed it. And thought about splashing cold water on my face, but decided that I’d already made enough of a fool of myself.
“Carrie asleep?” Rafe asked, and put that excellent butt against the edge of the kitchen island while he focused on rolling up his sleeves.
I nodded. “Last nap of the day. She’ll probably wake up in the next few minutes, and want to eat.”
By now, our daughter Caroline was six weeks old, and had a prodigious appetite. She wanted to nurse all the time. The good thing was, I was losing baby weight like crazy. The bad thing, of course, was that I was walking around like a zombie, because I was awake every couple of hours throughout the day and night, feeding the beast. Rafe could still get me stirred up, and probably always would, but between you and me, I would rather have eight uninterrupted hours of sleep right now, than sex with my husband.
Although, since the eight uninterrupted weren’t likely to come my way for another six months or more, the sex made for a very acceptable substitute.
But not right now. I was in the middle of cooking dinner, and Carrie was due to wake up any moment. And I wanted to know what had happened.
“They knew what to do with you last year,” I pointed out. “It may have taken them a month or two to get around to it, but they offered you a job after you’d blown your cover and couldn’t do undercover work anymore.”
“Only because Wendell twisted their arm,” Rafe said.
Wendell Craig was Rafe’s handler during the undercover years. Last December, when Rafe finally succeeded in breaking up Hector Gonzales’s South American Theft Gang and put Hector behind bars, Wendell went to bat for him with the TBI, and talked someone into hiring Rafe to train other undercover agents.
“I guess you’ve talked to him about it?”
Rafe nodded. “First thing after it happened. He quit.”
My mouth dropped open for a second, before I hiked up my jaw. “No kidding.”
Rafe shook his head.
“He didn’t have to do that.”
Rafe shrugged. After a second he added, “The boys are done training.”
The three young men he’d been working with for the past year, under Wendell’s supervision.
“Doesn’t the TBI have anyone else who needs training?”
“Not till they see how the first three do,” Rafe said, which I guessed made sense.
“So the boys have been given new assignments? Where are they going?”
“The Memphis office for José,” Rafe said. “Lotta Latino gangs in Memphis.”
And José would fit right in. “His girlfriend is going with him, I assume?”
“I guess,” Rafe said. “Clayton’s going to Chattanooga.”
The towing capital of the world, where Clayton’s knowledge of cars, and boosting them, would come in handy.
“Alexandra’s pregnant,” Rafe said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen to the two of’em—she’s just seventeen, right?—but for now, he’s stepping up and taking some responsibility. He asked if he could stay in Nashville.”
“Good for him.” And good for Rafe, who had probably put a little pressure on Jamal to do the right thing. Alexandra Puckett, the mother to be, was by way of being a friend of mine, and since the two of them had met at Rafe’s and my wedding, I felt a slight responsibility for what had happened. “Wendell didn’t want to be Jamal’s handler?”
“Jamal’s gonna be in narcotics,” Rafe said. “At least for a while.”
“Why not gangs?” That was what had made Jamal want to be a TBI agent in the first place. His brother had been killed, and he wanted to make a difference in that area.
“We blew his cover pretty good last fall, remember?”
Now that he mentioned it, I did remember. My husband had taken a last undercover assignment of his own, long after it was safe for him to do so, because Jamal had gotten a tip about a gang war about to go down, and they didn’t want to send Jamal into the breach on his own quite yet. So Rafe donned a head of dreadlocks and a fake gold tooth, and became Jamal’s cousin Ry’mone for the duration. The thought of it was enough to send a reminiscent shiver down my spine.
“Wendell isn’t interested in narcotics?”
“It ain’t that he isn’t interested. But narcotics is a different field. With different people in it.”
“Different side of the same department,” Rafe said. “If Jamal woulda wanted to leave Nashville, they woulda put him into the gang trade in Memphis. That’s what McLaughlin wanted to do. But he asked to stay here. So he’s gonna spend some time in narcotics.”
Fine. I guess it made sense. Although something else didn’t. “Any reason the TBI didn’t ask you to be Jamal’s handler?” Or José’s or Clayton’s? “You trained all three of them.” And he could use another job.
“I don’t imagine they trust me overmuch,” Rafe said.
“You can’t be serious.” He’d sweated and bled for them. “Why on earth wouldn’t they trust you?”
He shrugged. “Once a criminal…”
I rolled my eyes and put the spatula down. “Oh, please. You’ve more than paid for that.”
Not only had he spent two years in prison, but he’d spent the decade afterward risking life and limb for the TBI. How dared they not trust him?
“It don’t matter.” He tilted his head as a soft squeak from the baby monitor on the counter signaled that Carrie was awake. “Want me to go get her?”
“Be my guest,” I said. I spent enough of my day carting the baby up and down the stairs and changing her diaper. He was welcome to his share of the baby duties.
So Rafe took himself up to the nursery, and I turned the heat to low under the chicken. When she came downstairs, Carrie would want to eat, and the fact that our dinner would get dry while I nursed her wouldn’t mean squat.
I settled into the sofa in the parlor, and waited for Rafe to bring her down. She was all nice and clean and sweet-smelling, and rooted like a piglet when I lifted my shirt. Rafe sat down on the ottoman across the table and watched, his expression partly fascinated, partly amused.
“So Wendell’s leaving, too,” I said, picking up the conversation sort of where we’d left it. “What’s he planning to do now?”
Rafe had a job offer from the Columbia PD. From our old friend, Nashville homicide detective Tamara Grimaldi, who had taken the position of chief of police down there, effective yesterday. Her Christmas present to Rafe this year had been a job offer. But that didn’t extend to Wendell, or not that I knew.
“Fish,” Rafe said.
Excuse me? “Where?” Was there a living to be made in fishing? In Alaska, sure. But in the middle of Tennessee?
“He’s talking about selling his place in Hermitage and buying a shack on a river somewhere. And spending his time fishing and sleeping.”
OK, then. To my mind he was a bit on the young side to retire—in his fifties, by my gauge—but after ten years of handling Rafe, maybe fishing and sleeping was exactly what he needed. “Let me know if he needs any help buying or selling.”
When I’m not cooking dinner or feeding the baby, I have a real estate license. I don’t use it much, but I’m always on the lookout for people I can inveigle into becoming clients. And this would be a double whammy, both a sale and a purchase, which would be extra sweet.
“I’ll do that,” Rafe said. “But you can tell him yourself. I told everybody we’d have’em over for a meal on Friday, before they go off.”
Today was Tuesday. That didn’t give me a whole lot of time to plan a dinner party. “I’m sure I can throw something together.”
Rafe grinned. “I’m sure you can. But we can order a dozen pizzas and buy some beer and be just fine.”
Of course we could. And everyone might enjoy it a lot more than anything I’d pull together, anyway.
I was brought up to be the perfect Southern hostess, from a combination of my mother’s tutelage and attending finishing school in Charleston. Mother would have been aghast at the idea of me serving delivery pizza and store-bought beer at a get-together in my house. I was tired enough from dealing with Carrie to think it sounded like an excellent idea.
“I’ll take care of everything,” Rafe said. “Not like I got anything else to do.”
“They don’t even want you to finish out the week?”
He shrugged. “A couple of meetings. An appointment to hand in my gun and badge. Paperwork to sign. But no. No work.”
“Huh.” I unlatched Carrie with a little pop, and shifted her from one side to the other before she could complain. “What about Wendell and the boys?”
“Wendell’s finishing out the month,” Rafe said. “They’re prob’ly hoping they can change his mind.”
“Maybe so.” And who could blame them? Wendell had been with the TBI a long time. I had no idea how long, but he’d been around to recruit Rafe back when my husband was eighteen, so it had been a while. The least they could do, after more than a dozen years’ faithful service, was to give him his thirty days’ notice. Hopefully his severance package was a lot better than Rafe’s, too. “And the boys?”
“Getting their affairs in order,” Rafe said. “Lots of paperwork for them, too. José and Clayton have to pack and say goodbye to their families.”
“It’ll be nice to see them one more time.”
We sat in silence a moment.
“Have you called Grimaldi?” I asked.
“No,” Rafe said.
“But you’re going to take the job, aren’t you? With the Columbia PD?”
He didn’t answer.
“Rafe?” I said.
He sighed. “I imagine so. A man’s gotta do something. I have a family to support now. And no skills for nothing else.”
“You have skills.” A lot of skills. Quite excellent skills, in fact. Although some of them—the ones that made a corner of his mouth curve up—weren’t skills I wanted to share with anyone else, even if he could have made a fortune going into the gigolo trade.
“Not those skills,” I said. “That’s not to say that you aren’t very good at certain things. Which I will let you show me later, if you want to. But I was thinking more of ten years undercover, and the fact that you’ve spent all your adult life in law enforcement.”
“Living your life deep undercover ain’t exactly law enforcement,” Rafe answered. “It’s more like being a criminal with a get out of jail free card.”
Fine. “All the years you spent as a criminal have made you well equipped to catch other criminals.”
“I suppose,” Rafe said, sounding dissatisfied.
We sat in silence a moment. Carrie indicated that she had finished eating, so I lifted her up on my shoulder and patted her back. She emitted a very unladylike belch, and a tiny trickle of milk I could feel soak into my blouse. Rafe’s lips twitched, but he didn’t say anything.
“We should go have dinner,” I said.
He nodded, and I think he looked relieved. “I’ll take the baby.” He pushed to his feet.
I handed her over, and Rafe cradled her expertly. We’d both gotten pretty good at baby-handling over the past month and a half. Neither one of us worried much about dropping her anymore. “Why don’t you put her in the bouncy seat until we’re done eating, so we’ll have our hands free, and she’ll be out of the way.”
Rafe nodded and moved toward the bouncy seat. With it in one hand and the baby in the crook of his other arm, he headed for the kitchen. I rearranged my clothing and followed.
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