Cover by Suzette Vaughn
Deputy Marshal Marice Houston is back in Kansas, attending her college reunion. Staying at a small motel in town, she gets friendly with the owner, Todd Englund. Something about his name resonates with her law enforcement mind. She remembers he was tied to a rape case about ten years ago. Unable to believe he could have committed such a horrible crime, she is even more shocked when he’s accused of murdering the girl’s father. However, when she’s the one who finds him standing over the dead body, weapon in hand, there’s not much doubt. What really happened in Room 103? Marice is determined to find out.
“I don’t want the money!” the loud male voice boomed out from the motel owner’s apartment.
Eavesdropping shamelessly, I waited to see if it turned ugly, hand on my phone in case I needed to call someone. There was a lot of anger radiating from that room.
“I just want a letter of apology, acknowledgment of what they did to me.”
“Come on, Englund, he wants you to have the money for pain and suffering. A public apology….”
“Would simply open old wounds—mine. I do all right here. I make a decent living. If it’s all over the papers, it makes it fresh. Regardless of the apology, people are stupid and superstitious. I’ll be ruined—again. Only I won’t bounce back a second time.”
“At least take the money.”
“It feels like blood money.”
“It is. Yours. It took a lot of convincing to get old man Roberts to open his tight fist and give you this. I had hoped for more, would have settled for less. Please.” The other man’s voice was calm, conciliatory. “Please. You deserved a better shake, Todd. I couldn’t get it for you then, but you have it now.”
There was a quiet rustle as if an envelope were being opened. A sharp gasp followed.
“It’s still not enough. I tried to convince him that your salary would have increased over the years, but he determined a flat rate, based on your pay at the time. He’s not the most astute businessman in the state for nothing. Your salary, times ten. But I did get a bump to an even six.”
“Even with this money, I can’t afford to pay you, Regan.”
“The judge made Roberts pay me. I earned nearly as much as you, but I refused to take even a penny over. You’re the victim, you deserve the most. Oh, by the way, Roberts wants you to sign a letter of receipt.”
“Not on your life. Not until I get my apology.”
“Exactly what I said. To that end, he wants to meet at his office tomorrow.”
“Not on his turf. I don’t want the officious bastard to sneak in cameras for a photo op.”
“Also what I told him. So, he agreed to meet here, tomorrow at ten a.m.”
“That’s checkout time. Everyone will see him and I’ll be busy. Tell him either six a.m., or ten p.m. His choice. We’re making this easy for me, not him. And he can hand me the check personally, along with my letter.”
The paper rustled again.
“As you wish. I’ll call with the time.”
Their voices sounded closer. I rushed to the inner lobby door and opened it as if I’d just come in. Two men walked out of the back room, looking grim and determined. One was about six foot one, dressed in jeans and a Bob Marley T-shirt. His hair was black and carefully mussed to look casual. Or maybe he simply didn’t care how it looked. The other man was slightly shorter, broad shouldered, blond, clean cut, wearing an expensive suit. Both appeared surprised when they saw me, especially when their eyes took in details and noticed I was sporting a gun. It was clearly visible with my jacket open and my hand on the doorknob. Stopping in their tracks, they each took a step back. T-shirt guy started to raise his hands, his blue eyes riveted on my shoulder holster.
“I’m Marice Houston. I have a reservation. Sorry I’m late. Traffic from Kansas City was a bear.”
T-shirt guy relaxed, smiling. He moved easily to the computer on the counter. “Of course, Ms. Houston. Your room is all set. No feather pillows or duvet and no pets, as well as non-smoking.”
“The chairs are vinyl in this room. The blankets are washed weekly and the pillows are fluffed in the drier after every guest. I hope you’ll be comfortable.” He flashed a dazzling smile, his bright blue eyes twinkling behind black framed glasses.
I handed over my driver’s license and credit card. Tall-Dark-and-Blue-Eyes talked easily as he worked, his long, lean fingers stroking the keyboard as he typed. He was breathtakingly handsome and I wondered if he was aware of his own appeal.
The other man stood still, in the relative safety afforded by the counter. His hazelnut brown eyes watched every move I made. I nicknamed him Slick in my mind. He was also good looking and completely aware of it. He dressed for success and that probably carried over to the bedroom. I got the distinct impression that people never said No to this man—especially not women.
Blue-Eyes handed over my license and credit card, flashing another blinding smile. “You’re in room one forty-seven, in the next building down. Third room from this end.” He pulled over a laminated map of the small complex. “You’re here.” He pointed to my room. “The ice machine and laundry are here.” He pointed to the front end of the building. “If it’s out of ice, there’s also a machine here.” He pointed to another area of the map.
I wasn’t looking at the map, but at his hands. He had long, strong fingers, broad palms with a scattering of black hair on the back, and a dash on the lower knuckle. His nails were short and clean—not so much manicured as neatly clipped and filed. I looked up from the map to see him eyeing me questioningly.
“Have we met? You look really familiar. I have this feeling of déjà-vu, like I knew you long ago.”
I cleared my throat, shaking back my hair. I could hardly breathe when those blue eyes focused fully on me. “I—uh—I was in school here. Seems like ages ago.”
“Yes. Go Rillas!” I giggled, sounding like a little girl. Suddenly, I’d reverted to the breathless, silly co-ed of nearly 15 years ago.
He chuckled. “I know I’ve seen you before. A face like yours… I couldn’t forget.”
My fingers fluttered to my burning cheeks. His scrutiny was too much for a woman like me. I never did well with male attention. Even though I carry a gun and badge, a handsome, confident man can still make me revert to the shrinking violet.
“I hope that’s a good thing.”
He handed me my key card with a gentle smile, his blue eyes caressing my face. “It’s a very good thing. It will come to me. Enjoy your stay, Ms. Houston.”
The other man cleared his throat. “You got a license for the weapon, Miss?”
Slick struck a nerve. Glaring keenly, his square jaw jutted forward. He was ridiculously handsome, but cold. Not like Blue-Eyes, not at all. This was a man of authority who wielded it like a knife.
“I have something better.” I flipped open my jacket, showing the opposite side of my belt. A marshal’s badge glittered in the fluorescent lights of the office. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want a shower and a meal.”
Blue-Eyes, slightly taken aback by the badge, rallied quickly, handing me a menu. “If you want to order in, the places with a gold star give our guests discounts. Everything from pizza to Thai.”
“Thank you.” I gave him a tight smile, glared at the other man and turned on my heel, marching to the door.
“Did you have to do that, Regan?” I heard Blue-Eyes say as the door closed.
Todd, I reminded myself. Todd Englund. The name resonated in my memory for some reason. Vaguely, faintly, but with an abiding assurance that it wasn’t in a good way.
© 2016 Dellani Oakes
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