Andrew Whiteangel squeezed his eyes closed. Pain radiated from his elbow and knee where they’d collided with the stamped cement porch. His twist at the last minute had saved the woman he’d tackled from cushioning his weight. Although as far as cushions go, she was softer than he’d imagined. And wearing considerably more clothes than she did in his daydreams.
“What are you doing?” Ellen’s sharp elbow jabbed his stomach and her sandal raked his shin. She squirmed to get out from under him.
Unfortunately, her breast formed around Drew’s forearm. It was the soft, all natural kind. He grunted. What the hell was he doing? Tackling his next door neighbor wasn’t about to make the impression he wanted. He dragged his thoughts from the bedroom.
“That was a gun shot.” Referring to the loud noise earlier, he levered up and shifted his weight to the side, placing his body between her and the street. His joints twinged from the abuse. Heat wafted from the porch despite the early hour. He let it soak into him and relax his muscles. Thirty-five was too friggin old to play superhero.
“This is the posh suburbs.” She swept her blond hair out of her brown eyes. Dirt smeared her left cheek where it had rested on the ground. “We settle things with lawyers and lawsuits at high noon, not pistols.”
Yeah, right. Drew knew gunshots when he heard them. And he heard them a lot in his old Brooklyn neighborhood. He shut down the thoughts. He’d made his apologies to the past, now he had to concentrate on the present. “So what was it then?”
“Car backfiring.” She shivered and snuggled against the porch. Her eyes were glassy and drooping although he knew she’d risen only an hour ago.
He raked her from head to toe. It wasn’t drugs. He was intimately acquainted with drugs. Raising his hand, he cupped his palm over her forehead. “You’re sick.”
“Guess med school wasn’t wasted on you.”
Drew blinked. Med school? He had barely made it out of high school. “Why do you think I’m a doctor?”
She pointed to the tattoo on his chest.
A phoenix unfurled its wings while it perched on a caduceus. Okay, the caduceus was a medical symbol, but the phoenix meant there was life after drug addiction. A patient just had to walk through the fires of hell to get there. He’d made more than one trip to Hades. He opened his mouth then closed it. Should he correct her? Women were into doctors.
Her teeth started chattering. Planting her hands beside her shoulders, she pushed to her knees. “As fun as this has been, I think I’ll go inside now.”
Gritting his teeth, Drew shifted his legs underneath him. He had heard a gunshot. He knew it.
A chocolate lab pawed at the window pane. Muffled barks sounded within the two-story, Spanish style house. A pod popped on the nearby Mexican bird of paradise, sending seeds rattling into the bougainvillea climbing the off-white stucco.
Smiling, she dusted her hands on her gray sweatpants. “If there’s any more gunshots, I think I’ll be safer inside than out in the open.” She gestured to the green trunk of the mesquite tree and close-cropped rosemary bushes. “Even if we are flat on the ground.”
Embarrassment heated his ears. He rubbed the back of his neck before pushing to his feet. “About that—”
A loud pop split the air. A blood curdling shriek followed.
Drew caught Ellen about the waist and dropped them both to the ground. Her weight slammed his arm against the concrete.
The scream ended on another bang.
Light flashed in the picture window of the Murphys’ ranch house across the street two more times.
Ellen’s breasts heaved against his arm. “Ohmygodohmygod. Those were shots. Some one is firing at the Murphys.”
“Yeah.” Drew had figured that one out. Now, he just had to figure out how to avoid getting his and her asses shot. His thoughts whirled as if stuck in molasses. Damn, he’d never been this slow when he’d been using. He sniffed as if to recreate the high from a snort of cocaine.
Another shot, and red sprayed the Murphys’ picture window.
Swearing, Drew rolled over until they faced Ellen’s house. A pill bug crawled along the base before disappearing into a crack in the foundation. “Let’s try to get inside.”
She raised her hand and flattened it against the wall. “I’ll go inside and call the police. You have to go over there.”
“What?” Running toward the gunshots was just crazy. He’d given up crazy when he’d gone sober. The five year chip burned a hole in his pocket.
“You’re the doctor.” She wiggled her bottom against his groin. “Someone could be hurt.”
“Someone usually gets hurt when guns are involved.” He set her away from him. He couldn’t afford his blood flow to be diverted. “And lately, they’ve been dead.”
So many dead.
Suicides had become pandemic.
Every day the addicts he’d been scheduled to counsel had taken the high road to another plane of existence. The news hadn’t bothered to cover the numbers unless a murder was involved. And lately, they had stopped covering the murder/suicides. Drew glanced over his shoulder. Blobs cut tracks in the bloody spray as gravity did its job.
Squeezing his eyes closed, he tried to unsee the carnage. He exhaled and rolled onto his back. His head tapped the concrete. Maybe he could knock some sense into himself.
A palm pressed his chest. Something soft brushed his arm. “Andrew?”
Damn. Ellen knew his name. He opened his eyes and lost himself in hers. They would have to be his favorite shade of brown, the color of a roasted espresso beans. He set his hand over hers. Her skin was silk under his callouses.
“Please go check.” Her eyes widened in supplication.
He caught the coconut scent of her shampoo and the mint of toothpaste. So different from Miranda’s smell. Drug addicts weren’t big on personal hygiene.
“They have a newborn.”
The statement sucker-punched Drew. He’d let Miranda down and ended up losing her and their unborn baby. He swallowed the bile in his throat. “Go inside. Lock the door.”
Ellen jerked her head. She focused on the red window before dragging her gaze away. “The nursery is the middle bedroom on the left side. We stenciled it with farm animals and…”
She sucked on her bottom lip.
“I’ll check on the baby.”
A smile curved her lips before it crumbled. Her fingers tightened, tugging on his chest hair. “Be careful.”
She launched from the porch like a sprinter then dashed inside. The dog left the window.
Drew leapt to his feet. Bending double, he ran for the hedge separating Ellen’s property from his. He hurdled it with ease, landing with a crunch of gravel on the other side. Morning sunshine glinted off his black SUV. He plowed his fingers into his pocket and hit the unlock button. The tumblers thunked. After yanking open the passenger door, he dove inside and closed himself in.
He was being an idiot. A huge, thinking-with-his-pecker idiot. Nothing in Ellen Duncan’s pants could be worth getting shot. Scrambling over the center console, he stabbed his key in the slot and started the engine.
Except, this wasn’t about being a hero.
Or getting laid.
It was about redemption—his.
A baby had gotten him sober. That child may be beyond his help now, but the Murphys’ child wasn’t. While his phone synced to the car’s computer, he twisted on the driver’s seat and shifted the car into reverse. The Murphys’ driveway was directly across from Drew’s. He’d hated it, but now thanked his lucky stars.
If the shooter hadn’t blown out his brains, he would have to fire through the SUV, the spare tire lashed to the back, and several seats to hit Drew. Those odds beat jogging across the street. The computer linked with his smartphone.
“Call Detective Dogooder.” The sound of the dialing came through the speakers. Drew checked both ways then slammed his foot on the gas.
The SUV laid rubber down his driveway. He bounced in his seat down the curb. Gravel from the gutter peppered the undercarriage. He took his foot off the gas halfway across the blacktop. His teeth rattled when he hit the next curb. The Murphys’ garage door filled his smoky back window. Drew stood on the brake.
Black smoke accompanied the screech. Damn, he might as well have rung the bell announcing his arrival.
Slamming the SUV into park, he rolled out the driver’s door just as the phone in his pocket rang. Dropping onto the gravel beside the driveway, he squat-walked to the back of his idling truck. He tucked two fingers into his pocket and pinched his cell between his fingers. The call completed on his phone.
“Dogooder?” Heart drumming in his ears, Drew checked left around the bumper. Nothing. He leapt toward the garage door, then flattened himself against it.
“What? Speak up.” Detective Blackmoor barked through the smartphone. “I can’t hear you.”
Of course, Detective Dogooder wanted Drew to speak up. His brother-in-law probably wanted to make certain their conversation was recorded. The man was a stickler like that. Drew crept closer to the house entrance. “Dogooder, I think my neighbor just shot himself.”
Blackmoor sighed. “You gotta get a better class of friends, Whiteangel. I thought avoiding addicts was in one of those steps to recovery.”
“I’m a counselor. Addicts go with the territory.” Helping others kick the drugs like Dogooder had helped Drew. “And this isn’t one of mine. This is a neighbor. Came home with tires squealing, then we heard a shot, screams then more shots.”
Drew held his breath. The end was here. He sucked in his stomach and peeked around the corner. The sun glistened on the bloody window. Through the red pane, he spied one body slumped on the chair before pulling back. So far, so good, but no point pressing his luck.
Blackmoor sighed. “Give me the address.”
Rattling off the information, Drew sprinted for the column holding up the twelve foot high portico. Stucco scratched his bare back. He skirted to the right, craning his neck to see inside. “They have a child. A newborn.”
“What happened to Miranda and your child wasn’t your fault.” Blackmoor swore. “I’ve got too many corpses on my hands to sponsor you through the dark times again, Whiteangel.”
Drew’s hands shook and he swept his tongue between his teeth and gums. He wanted a hit badly. A hit would make all this go away. Through the red filter on the window, he saw the white satillo tile of the open dining and kitchen area.
A green Keds sneaker lay next to a bare foot. A woman’s open hand floated in the spreading puddle on the tile. She held a blood-soaked bundle in the crook of other arm.
Drew’s knees buckled. Gravel dug into his knees. He was too late.
“Whiteangel! Whiteangel, do you hear me?”
“Yeah.” His tongue thickened on the word. The accent was proof he couldn’t leave the past behind. Once a failure, always a failure. “Don’t bother with an ambulance. No one here needs one.”
His eyes burned and his nose prickled. He wouldn’t cry. He was out of tears.
“Go home, Whiteangel.” Steel-laced Blackmoor’s order. “You’re not in my jurisdiction, but I’ll swing by and run interference with whoever draws the short straw.”
Scraping a hand down his face, Drew stood. He staggered a couple of steps toward his SUV before his legs firmed up and carried him the rest of the way. “I’ll have the brandy waiting.”
“The good stuff?”
“Yeah.” A hundred year old bottle of France’s best sat in his downstairs wine cellar. “Aren’t you glad I’m not an alcoholic?”
“Hell, I’m glad I’m not. Although if the bodies are stacked any higher I might have to lock myself in your basement and drown myself.”
“It would be a hellavu way to go.” Ending the call, Drew collapsed onto the bucket seat. The tan leather swallowed him whole. His arm was heavy as he shifted into drive. The SUV coasted forward. The door thudded closed. He wanted to go back to bed and redo today. Maybe he’d just go to sleep and never wake up.
So many others had.
A horn blared.
A woman with white hair flipped him off as she zoomed past.
“I wasn’t anywhere close to you, Granny.” Drew shook himself and straightened in the seat. One day at a time. He could do it. He checked for traffic then floored it across the road. His head skimmed the roof before he bounced to a stop on the seat. He braked in front of his open garage.
Metal glinted despite the gloomy interior. Band saws, drill presses, and lathes claimed rectangles of space. Boards filled the nooks and crannies. Wood shavings drifted over the finished floor of the garage and overrode the pungent scent of machine lubricants. Chisels hung like iron icicles from the pegboard on the wall. His woodworking man-cave. He could barely make a toothpick.
Why did he bother?
His projects ended up feeding his fire pit. Turning off the SUV, he slid out of the seat. The keys jingled from his fingers. The sofa table only looked presentable because he’d purchased it from an unfinished furniture store. Anything to observe his neighbor without the risk of being stained a stalker. The alarm on his door chirped and he slogged forward.
Today was the most he’d talked to her in six months.
He sucked the spit from his teeth. And there were three dead bodies to show for it. Dropping his keys in his pocket, he grasped the sides of the table and wrenched it from the driveway.
The hair on the back of his neck rose.
Dropping the table, Drew whipped about.
Ellen faltered mid-step. Her hair parted over her right eye and was tucked behind her left ear. She surveyed him from toes to scalp. “Oh thank God you’re alright.” She rushed forward and threw her arms around his shoulders. “I saw you go down. I thought for certain you’d been shot even though I didn’t hear a shot.”
Her cell phone dug into his back.
His arms closed around her. A hug. He hadn’t been hugged in… in forever. Ducking his head, he inhaled her shampoo and soap.
“The baby?” She sniffled.
“I’m sorry. They’re all gone.”
She leaned back to look at him and clutched his shoulders. “I was so stupid to insist you go over there. You’re a doctor, not a police man. For all we know, the burglar or whoever could still be there. I didn’t even think about it until I saw you go down.”
Warmth spiraled through him. She’d been worried about him? Well, he’d be damned. Still, if the events of the last few minutes had taught him anything, it was that honesty was part of narcotics anonymous for a reason. “I’m not a doctor.”
Her arched blond eyebrows met above her nose. “You’re not? But…”
Her attention drifted to the firebird tattoo on his chest. “I’m a counselor.”
“Oh.” She covered her mouth and retreated. “Oh, God, and you went over there…”
She glanced at the Murphys’. Green tinged her translucent complexion.
“I had to. For the baby.” And for what? Nothing.
She plowed into his chest. “I tried calling 9-1-1, but the message said all lines were busy and to try again.” Her nails scratched his back and she buried her nose in his chest. “I’m sorry. I just can’t think of a baby…”
“Yeah.” Drew laced his fingers behind her back. She just wanted comfort, besides she liked to touch. He’d watched her with her children. She was always caressing them, as if afraid they were soap bubbles that would soon burst. He held her a little tighter. The touch thing was nice.
Sniffing, she produced a handkerchief from her sweatpants’ pocket and swiped at her nose. “I can see why you make a great counselor. You listen.”
Huh? He made a great counselor ‘cuz he’d invented half the excuses the addicts used. And he knew if they were talking, chances were good they were spewing one-hundred percent grade A bullshit. He’d been in their spot; he knew the routine.
Up and down the neighborhood, garage doors opened. Car engines started. Two doors down, a man yelled at the sky because his sprinklers had drenched his paper. A woman chased her husband’s Honda into the street, yelling at him and shaking her fist.
Drew shook his head. Anger and sadness were everywhere. And they seemed to be contagious. Thunder rumbled overhead. A shadow swallowed the neighborhood. Could there be something in the water? Either way, he should keep an eye on her. She was already sick; she might also be depressed. He never wanted to find her lifeless body. But how to keep her within sight?
“Will you wait with me while I keep trying to call the police?”
Drew blinked. Honesty was important. And she was sick. He should tell her he’d contacted Detective Dogooder. He clamped his lips together. Nah. He’d risked his life to look in that window, and she needed him. He would even make sure she drank lots of fluids. Leaving his garage door open, he clasped his hands behind his back. “Your house or mine?”