J.T. Hawke banged his fist against the dash. “She’s not going to cast her spell on me. Not this time.”
“That’s good to know, pal,” Miles chuckled in his ear.
“Damn it, Miles!” J.T. scowled at the phone. His mentor already knew about the memories and the stakeout. But he’d lied about being over Dana Taylor, and now Miles knew that as well.
“Misery comes with the territory of a fugitive investigator, Hawke,” Miles reminded him. “And like it or not, at least for now, this miserable territory is all yours.”
“You think I don’t know that?” He forced himself to loosen his grip on the phone. It wasn’t somebody’s neck. “I’ve got to do this for Liz.”
“I know, son.”
The quiet and immediate acceptance in Miles’ voice meant more to him than the old man would ever know.
It meant he was doing the right thing. Something he hadn’t done often enough in his life.
J.T. swallowed past the lump in his throat and ended the call. Without Miles, who would have his back? Who would make sure he was thinking clearly, and not simply reacting?
He slouched and tugged the brim of his ball cap a little lower, trying to ignore emotions he didn’t want to feel, let alone think about.
Reacting was his M.O. in life — react first, think later. He’d been doing it since he was a kid. He’d thrown punches when bigger kids bullied him, paying the price with cuts and bruises when they’d whipped his butt. When girls ignored him, he’d hopped in his car and burned rubber. That got their attention, but never got him the girl. Who wanted to ride with a hot-head?
Nobody, until he met Dana. She didn’t care about the hot-head, bad-boy image. Everybody else missed what she’d seen in him – a tortured soul seeking something beyond his grasp. With her friendly smile and caring attitude, she’d tamed the wildness in his heart.
Then there’d been Miles. The dad he wished he’d had. Instead, he’d had Bud Hawke. Bud might have been his father, but he’d never been a dad. Somewhere along the line, J.T. had given up trying to please him and gotten himself in trouble. It was the only time the elder Hawke paid any attention to him. If not for Miles, first steering him back to the right path, and later serving as his law enforcement mentor…well, he wouldn’t be where he was today.
J.T. shoved the cap back and stared out into the night. He couldn’t hide forever. Mentally, he was in a much better place than he had been then. Purpose burned deep within him.
For eight years, he had carried the burden of his sister’s injury on his shoulders. Now her recovery depended on him. This was his chance to finally make a difference.
If only he didn’t have to face Dana to be Liz’s hero.
He rubbed his hand across his face. Dana Taylor. The best thing that had ever happened to him, and he’d walked away from her. But Liz was his sister, and she’d been hurt. She took precedence. He’d realized too late that Dana could have helped him.
J.T. moved restlessly. Maybe the outcome would be worth all the hell he’d been through. Maybe. But he had to get it right this time.
He shifted, banging his knee on the dash and biting back several curses before the pain subsided. His 1971 MGB wasn’t the most comfortable car for a stakeout, but it was still better than fighting the ghosts that would have ridden with him had he kept the sedan he and Miles shared for their investigations.
He peered through the darkness, studying Dana’s house. It was time to move. He’d already wasted too much time trying to avoid her. With any luck at all, he would find some evidence of Bobby’s whereabouts and she’d never be the wiser.
Old feelings of inadequacy accompanied him across the street, beating in time with his pounding heart. Tall, thick hedges lining her yard warned him to “Keep out”, much as they had when he was a 17-year-old kid coming to pick up his date. He’d ignored the warning, but his father’s words had been harder to shake. You’re not good enough for her.
Damn his father for making him doubt Dana’s love, and for making him doubt himself, even now. For God’s sake, he was a successful investigator. He could do this.
Pushing his doubts aside, he crept up the driveway. He’d come too far to quit now.
He paused in the shadows of the house to listen. The breath he’d been holding floated briefly in the cool air, a cloud of white against the dark of night, and then it dissipated into nothing. He shivered and pulled the collar of his leather jacket up around his neck, an uneasy feeling gnawing at his gut.
Staying close to the house, he kept moving. There was no time for second thoughts.
The windows at the back of the house were chest high, allowing him to peer inside. Neon blue lights from some type of clock shouted at him from the darkness. 10:37.
Ignoring the niggle of doubt telling him it was too early, J.T. darted from the house to the side of the garage a few feet away. Someone had painted the small windows of the big doors with black paint, and the side door was padlocked. He glanced around as he dug his lock picks out of his pocket.
Bobby Morris had been sighted all over town driving an old fixer-up motorcycle, but he hadn’t been alone. No, that would have made J.T.’s life too easy. Instead, the pretty girl seen with him was Dana’s younger sister, Christy.
He released a breath of frustration just thinking about it. Of all the girls in Centerville, why had Bobby chosen her? Even though he hadn’t been around to influence his nephew, he feared the boy was too much like himself—both of them suckers for the Taylor women. He shook his head and focused on the lock.