I thought I’d share an extra chapter this weekend as I am marching toward writing the final chapters during the week. I shared Chapter 19 yesterday.
To catch up with the story click HERE.
If you would like to read the first books in this series, you can find them HERE.
Ginny looked at her watch for the fifth time in the last ten minutes. Where was he? He’d told her this morning he’d be here.
“Don’t stand me up this time, Stan.”
She did not want to have to tell Keith they’d have to reschedule because her husband was, yet again, too busy with work.
Oh great. There he was. Keith, parking his car in a space a few spots up from hers. She looked in the rearview mirror.
“Stan, come on.”
Maybe she could simply drive away and text Keith, telling him she’d have to cancel. That would work. It would be awkward, but no more awkward than having to admit her husband cared more about his job than his family, especially his wife.
She slid the key in the ignition, preparing to leave before Keith reached the sidewalk next to her car, but it was too late. Curse that man’s long legs. He spotted her and waved, sliding his sunglasses off and slipping them into the inside pocket of his leather jacket.
She forced a smile and waved back, opening the door to the car.
Keith reached out for her hand as she stepped up on the sidewalk and pulled her into a hug. “Hey, there. Where’s the ball and chain?”
Ginny breathed in the smell of his cologne, a pang of guilt stabbing at her for enjoying it, the manliness of it. She longed to have Stan hug her this way so she could breathe in his cologne while nuzzling his neck.
She pulled back from the hug and looked at her watch, frowning. “Running late, I guess. He should be here soon.”
Keith gestured toward the restaurant’s front door. “Shall we get a seat and wait for him? We can order drinks and an appetizer.”
Ginny chewed her bottom lip, hesitating. “Um. Yeah. Okay.”
She looked back over her shoulder as Keith opened the door for her, searching the street for Stan’s car.
Come on, Stan. Be here. Just this once. Please.
Inside the restaurant was warmly lit, tables set under lightbulbs casting off soft, orange glows.
“Two?” the hostess asked looking between Ginny and Keith.
“Three actually,” Keith answered. “The other member of our party is running late.”
When they sat, Ginny glanced at the empty chair and her jaw tightened.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as Keith placed his jacket on the back of his chair. How many times in the last two years had she attended events without Stan, making apologies, waiting for him to call and explain or make another excuse? Too many to count.
She was tired of it.
After hoping for a year to taste the food at this restaurant she was here, but not with the man she’d wanted to be with.
It didn’t matter. She was going to make the best of it and hopefully, he’d show up before the waitress took their orders for entrees.
Keith folded his hands on the table. “So, at the art class, you were telling me your daughter was trying to decide if she wanted to stay in California or not. What did she decide?”
Ginny pushed aside her thoughts of Stan and sighed. “I came home from the class and found her in my kitchen.”
Keith laughed. “Ah, I see. So she made up her mind to come home then?”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Yes, and she’s dropped out of school. She has no idea what she’s going to do and it makes me want to scream.” She laughed. “I love her and I love having her closer to home but all that money and she’s not even going to get a degree. It’s infuriating.”
The waitress approached and Ginny ordered a glass of water with lemon, Keith an iced tea, and an appetizer of blini with caviar. Stan loved caviar. Ginny hoped he arrived in time to have some.
“You know,” Keith propped his hand under his chin. “It might be good for your daughter to take some time off. She may decide she wants to go back and get her degree later on or she may not, but either way, she’s finding out what makes her happy.” He winced. “Of course, that doesn’t replace all that money you and Stan shelled out. What was her degree going to be in?”
“Social work.” Ginny’s phone rang and she looked at the caller ID. “It’s Stan. I should take this.”
“Of course.” Keith nodded toward the phone. “Definitely take it.”
“Hey, hon’, listen, I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
She’d known what he was going to say before he said it, but hearing it didn’t make it any easier.
“Yeah.” She didn’t even try to hide the annoyance in her voice. “Okay.”
The waitress arrived with her water and Keith’s iced tea.
“Are you upset?” Oh, how perceptive of him. “Listen, I’m sorry, but the client was running late. He just got here and this is a possibly big sale.” No surprise he didn’t even wait for me to answer. “The Henderson farm. They’re looking to make it into a commercial farm. It could mean jobs for the area.”
Ginny didn’t answer. She tapped her fingers on the table and scowled into her glass. She’d heard it all, this was no different.
“Gin, you still there?”
“Yep. I’m here.”
“Send Keith my apologies. I’ll find another date we can do this again. My treat.”
“That’s fine. I’ll tell him. See you later.”
Ginny slid her finger over the end button without even a goodbye. She was tired of faking cheerful goodbyes after he let her down. It was getting old.
Keith raised an eyebrow. “Not going to make it?”
Ginny shook her head, sipping her water.
“I’m guessing by your demeanor this isn’t a new thing?”
Looked like Keith was perceptive too.
“No,” she said. “Not at all.” She pushed her hand back through her hair, enjoying the feel of it soft against her skin. She’d used a new conditioner Liz had suggested, hoping Stan might finally notice her new haircut, or at least comment on it. She’d caught him starring at her one day, thinking he might have finally noticed, but then he’d told her he’d sold a property that had been on the market for three years and walked away.
“Well,” Keith spread his hands out. “We’re already here. The appetizer is on its way. We might as well have some dinner.”
Ginny felt insanely uncomfortable agreeing to have dinner with a man who wasn’t her husband, but Keith was right. They were already there, seated, with appetizers on the way and she was hungry. She was also antsy for a night out. Between the fundraiser, planning for Clint and Tiffany to come home, helping Liz with Bella and her new job. She was ready for a break. It wasn’t her fault if Stan couldn’t be bothered to show up. She was tired of waiting on him to live her life.
“Remember that night we climbed the water tower?” Keith asked the question ten minutes after they’d sampled the caviar and ordered their entrees.
Ginny looked up with furrowed eyebrows. “Oh, my goodness. I had forgotten about that.”
The dimple in the cheek popped up again as Keith smiled. “You were terrified and kept saying, ‘Keith, no. We shouldn’t be doing this. Won’t we get in trouble?’” He laughed. “You pressed your back against the tank, closed your eyes, and it took me five minutes to convince you to look out over the town.”
Ginny laughed. “Oh, I remember. I was so scared. I’m glad I finally opened my eyes, though. It was beautiful.”
“You should open your eyes more often.”
Her gaze met his, noticed the way the candle in the center of the table reflected in the light brown iris. She’d forgotten how hints of green blended into the brown. “What do you mean?”
Keith kept his eyes on her. “It’s just, I’m afraid you’ve forgotten how to live Ginny.”
She pulled her gaze from his, dropped it to her hands folded in her lap. She opened her mouth to speak but he continued. “Be honest with me. There’s been something missing your life, hasn’t there? That spark. The spark for life. Don’t you want to get that back again?”
She rubbed her fingers along the edge of the tablecloth. He was right. She did want to get that spark back again. How to do it was the question that had been poking at her for months now.
The server bringing the entrees was a welcome sight and a welcome interruption. She changed the subject to the food, to how long it had been since she’d eaten out a restaurant like this and he, thankfully, followed her lead and began to talk about his new love of cooking.
The server’s appearance came as they finished their entrees and he was describing how he had discovered how to cook the perfect pot roast.
“Desert for the lovely couple?” The server was a young man who looked like a seventh grader to Ginny. He’d been attentive the entire time, asking every ten minutes if they needed anything or if he could refill their drinks and each time she felt like asking him if his mother knew where he was.
She raised a hand in response to his question. “Oh, no. We’re not a —
“Sure.” Keith smiled at her and winked. “We’d love some dessert.”
“Keith, I —”
The dimple appeared again, his eyes sparkling. “Have some fun for once Ginny.” He ran his index finger down the desert list. “How about the Mont Blanc Chocolate Pavlova. That sounds good, right?”
His French accent when he pronounced the desert impressed her, she had to admit. She smiled and propped her chin in her hand. “Yeah, actually, it really does. Even though I have no idea what it is.”
Keith winked. “Then that is what we’re having.” He handed the list back to the server. “We’ll take two. One for each of part of this lovely couple.”
Ginny sipped from her water, the word couple lingering in her thoughts, apprehension sneaking along her senses.
Matt stretched his legs out and propped his feet on the coffee table. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes, pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Normally at this time he’d be pouring coffee into his thermos and grabbing a slice of toast on his way out the door to work.
There wasn’t a job to go to this morning, though, so all he could do was sit and think about the last 24-hours.
He’d expected it, of course, but the meeting with Reggie had still been uncomfortable.
“I can’t stand that I have to do this, Matt.” The man shook his head, leaned bag in his chair, and huffed out a breath, his gaze on the top of his desk. “You’re the best cop I’ve ever had in my 25 years on this force.” He shook his head, leaned forward with his hands folded in the shape of a triangle on top of the desk, and looked up at Matt. “What in the world happened, boy? Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be suspending you for excessive force.”
Answering Reggie had been even harder. How did he explain that what Gabe had said about Liz had incensed him, left him mentally black for several minutes, and when he came to his senses Gabe was already bleeding on the sidewalk?
In the end, he’d simply said, “I lost my cool. I was out of line. I’m really not sure what came over me.”
Reggie had scoffed, flopping back in this chair. “A woman came over you, that’s what. Women will be the death of us and our careers, I swear.” He winked. “Don’t tell my wife I said that, of course.” Reggie slid a sheet of paper across to him. “This is your written warning and suspension conditions. You’ll be reinstated by the council after a full investigation and pending the outcome of any criminal legal proceedings against you.”
After that had been the call from the State Police Academy
“Mr. McGee we regret to inform you that due to a criminal complaint filed against you while on duty as an officer with the Spencer Police Department, we are going to have to rescind our acceptance of your application to join the state police academy.
The entire situation was surreal, yet he knew it was all entirely his fault. Those ten minutes with Gabe were still a blur. Looking back, he realized he must have had some kind of mental break. He’d heard the term blind with rage but never thought of it as a real occurrence until that moment. Then there was the saying “I saw red,” and he supposed he could say he had seen red, figuratively anyhow, when Gabe said he’d forced Liz into sleeping with him that night.
“Don’t tell Liz about this,” he’d told Jason and Alex when they’d met him outside the police station later that night.
“It’s a small town, dude, she’s going to find out,” Alex reminded him.
“Just – maybe she’ll be too worried about finding a new job or too busy with her classes to hear,” Matt said, dragging his hand through his hair. He really didn’t know, but he didn’t need to add more stress to Liz’s life.
Would she feel like it was her fault that he’d been suspended from his job and lost his place at the academy?
He hoped not.
Maybe she’d be angry instead. At this point, he had no idea. Liz was hard to read at times, especially recently. He wished they had more moments like they’d had at the bowling alley that one time or during movie nights when she laughed and joked with him, forgetting about her worries. She let her guard down during those moments and he wanted more of that, more moments of the real and unhindered Liz. The Liz he remembered from high school and before she hooked up with Gabe.
Those were the moments when he could see himself reaching over, laying his hand behind her head, clutching that beautiful dark hair, and kissing her mouth the way he’d imagined doing for years now.
Wouldn’t that shock her? Knowing he had thoughts like that. Thoughts of kissing her, thoughts beyond being a police officer or teaching young boys about how to live a good, righteous life. No, he didn’t think imagining kissing her was inappropriate, but he wondered if it would shatter her preconceived notion that he was some kind of saint.
Someday he’d have to tell her and find out if she was shocked that he wasn’t so perfect after all, but right now he had to figure out what he was going to tell her when she eventually found out he’d been suspended for slamming her ex-boyfriend off the hood of a patrol car.
He yawned and stretched. Doing nothing sure was exhausting. He hadn’t done nothing for years now. Even his days off were normally filled with activity. This time, though, he didn’t have the mental energy to keep himself busy. Plus, the idea of going into town or anywhere people could see him wasn’t appealing right now. If Liz was right and everyone thought so highly of him, they probably wouldn’t as word got around how he’d treated Gabe.
He clicked the TV off and stood, stretching again. A series of cracks sounded up his back and he reflected how that had gotten a little better since he’d started going to the gym with Jason and how he hadn’t been to the gym with Jason for a week. Lifting a few weights and a few rounds on the stationary bike might be just what he needed to lift his mood.
He turned toward his bedroom to change out of his t-shirt and sweatpants when a knock on the door stopped him. Alex was still at the farm and he had a key, so it couldn’t be him.
The sight of Bernie standing at his door sent a shiver of uneasiness sliding through him and he kept the door partially closed.
“Bern?” How did he even find his cabin? “What’s up?”
“Hey, Matt, sorry to bother you like this, and I hope you don’t mind I asked Evan Starks if he knew where you lived.” Matt had graduated with Evan. He’d have to remember to talk to Evan about handing his private information out to people he’d arrested. Bernie pushed his long strands of dirty blond hair back from his face and laughed softly. “I probably should have told him you’d arrested me once. He might not have been so forthcoming with the information.” He winked. “I’m not here about that, though. Really. Can I talk to you about something?”
Matt hesitated then opened the door wider. “Um, yeah.” It was too cold this morning for them to stand on the porch and have a conversation. “Come on in.”
Bernie looked around the inside of the cabin as he walked in. His gaze drifted upward to the high ceiling and second story. “Nice place. Didn’t this used to be just a cabin you and your dad used?”
Matt walked to the kitchen and reached for the coffee pot. “Yeah. I decided to remodel it a few years ago and turn it into a house. I was tired of living in an apartment over the hardware store.” He held the pot toward Bernie. “Coffee?”
Bernie nodded. “Yeah. That would be nice.”
Matt gestured toward the chair at the kitchen table. “Have a seat if you want. Sorry the place is a bit of a mess. I’ve got a new roommate and he’s not the cleanest guy around.”
Bernie laughed. “I hear you. Chrissy isn’t the best housekeeper and the kids trash our place pretty good. This is nothing compared to what it looks like there this morning.”
Matt set two mugs of coffee on the table and sat down, sliding the sugar bowl toward Bernie.
“Listen, Matt, I know this weird, but despite everything I trust you and I need to tell you about something that’s been going on.” Bernie sipped the coffee. “I’m in some trouble and before you ask, it’s not what you think. I did something for somebody, but I didn’t know I was doing something illegal, you know? When I found out, I panicked. I can’t go to the police about this, for obvious reasons. I mean, officially go to the police.”
Matt leaned forward, brow furrowed. His stomach clenched. Where was this going? “Hey, I understand. This is between you and me for now. Let’s figure out if we even have to go to anyone else.”
Bernie cleared his throat. “Okay, so I did this job for Gabe Martin. He wanted me to deliver a package for him. I knew it was wrong, but I needed the extra money. He told me if I didn’t do it, he’d find a way to pin something on me. He knew the police wouldn’t believe me. I couldn’t risk getting sent away again so I agreed.” Bernie stared into the mug. “I know it was stupid. I should have just told him to get lost, but, again, I needed the money. The mechanic business isn’t going great yet and we were running out of food.” He shook his head slowly. “So, I picked up the package and I delivered it for him about two hours away. I met some guy that just gave me the wrong vibes, you know? I didn’t ask any questions. Just took the package to him.” Bernie took another sip of coffee, winced. “The guy starts asking me if this is the good stuff. I’m thinking, the good what? I don’t know, right? Because I’m just delivering it for Gabe. I’m like, ‘yeah, I guess’ and the guy goes, ‘because I don’t want any of that fentanyl mixed crap you sent last time. It got one of my customers killed and I’m not messing with that again. If it’d got linked to me, I would have been sent up to state.’”
Bernie chewed his bottom lip for a few seconds and then looked at Matt. “I didn’t know, Matt. I didn’t know about the drugs, okay? I shouldn’t have done it. The cops are never going to believe me.” He pushed a hand back through his hair, clutched it at the top of his head, and drew in a breath. “Do you even believe me?”
Yeah, for some reason Matt did. Not only because he knew the real Gabe Martin but because if Bernie was guilty he wouldn’t have walked into the lion’s den this morning. Unless — he didn’t want to think it. Unless Bernie was trying to frame Gabe.
Gabe wasn’t a great guy, no doubt about it, but was he a drug dealer?
Matt studied Bernie for a few seconds then nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think I do. I mean, as far as I know, burglary is more your thing. I never really pegged you for messing with drugs.” He rubbed his hand across his chin. “Of course, as much as I dislike Gabe, I didn’t peg him for that either.”
Bernie nodded. “Yeah. I didn’t either, to be honest. I don’t know if this is his thing or if he’s just transporting like I was. The guy is a jerk, but a drug manufacturer and dealer.” He shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t see it either. All I know is he is the one who sent me the package.”
The state police hadn’t released a report about the discovery at the abandoned building. They didn’t want it in the newspapers until they knew more. Alerting the media might tip off the owners. Matt wondered if Bernie knew anything about it.
“Where did you meet Gabe for the package pick-up?”
“Outside some building about five miles out of town. Looked abandoned.”
“Did you go in?”
Bernie shook his head. “No. Gabe met me outside at his truck. About 1 a.m.”
“Anyone else around?”
“No, not that I know of. Place was dark. Creepy actually.”
Matt took a swig of the coffee, swished it in his mouth. “You tell anyone else about this? Even Chrissy?”
Bernie laughed. “No, and especially not Chrissy. She’d kill me.”
Matt leaned back in the chair, arm hanging off the back of it. “Good, keep it that way for now. Let me look into some things and I’ll get back to you.”
Bernie cupped his hands around the mug. “Is it true that you got suspended for decking Gabe?”
Matt grimaced. “Yeah. That’s around town huh?”
Bernie tipped his head down slightly. “Dude, it’s Spencer. Of course it’s around town. You think people aren’t going to talk about the town’s saint police officer kicking the crap out of a guy on Main Street?”
Matt ran his hand across his face and laughed. “Saint police officer. Sounds like how someone else described me. Yeah, it wasn’t my best moment. Not in the least.”
Bernie grinned. “I thought it was cool.” He lifted the mug and peered over it. “Showed me you’re not as uptight as I thought you were.”
And it showed you I might be the prime person to help you set up Gabe if that’s what you’re doing. Matt hated even having the thought and he hoped it wasn’t true. While hoping Bernie really had started a new chapter in his life, he also hoped he was right that Gabe hadn’t known what was in the package either. He didn’t like Gabe, that was for sure, but the last thing he wanted was for Bella’s biological father to be a drug dealer, for the sake of her and Liz, and for Gabe.