Tess fought back a yawn as she walked into her aunt’s hospital room. Excitement had kept her awake half the night.
“I told you that you didn’t need to come,” her aunt said when she saw Tess. But she smiled.
“I wanted to.” She bent down and kissed her cheek. “You’re my favorite aunt.”
“I’m your only aunt.” “Still my favorite.”
Tess pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and set the tote bag she carried on the floor. “What did the doctor say?”
“No concussion. But I have to stay another day for observa- tion. Doctors,” she muttered, her mouth turning down at the corners.
Tess studied her aunt’s pale face. Sometimes when she looked at her she missed her mother so much it hurt. She didn’t know what she’d do if she lost her, too.
She shook off the thought. Her aunt was just in her late fifties and in good health. There was no reason to believe she wouldn’t be around for a long time.
“Big day today, huh?”
“The biggest. It’s what I’ve been working toward since I graduated from the police academy.”
Her aunt reached for her hand and squeezed it. “I’m happy for you.”
“Brought you something.”
“You shouldn’t have. You look tired.”
“Gee. Thanks.” She pulled the makeup bag from the tote and her aunt pounced on it.
“Oh, thank goodness!” Kathy cried. “They gave me a comb but a girl needs her lipstick to feel human.”
She pulled out a compact, opened it, and grimaced. “Oh, my, it’s worse than I thought.”
Using her forefinger, she dabbed some concealer cream on the delicate skin under one eye, then shook her head.
“Going to have a bit of a shiner there,” she said with a sigh. She patted on some powder, applied some lipstick, then smiled at her appearance. “Not bad.”
“You look great. No one expects you to look like a beauty queen in the hospital.”
“One must keep up one’s appearance,” Kathy said, folding her hands primly on top of the blanket covering her.
Aunt Kathy had always reminded Tess of Grace Kelly, that icy blond actress in the old movies they’d watched together on TV years ago.
Tess was the opposite. She wore her shoulder length blond hair in a no-nonsense twist or ponytail, hated makeup, and instead of being dainty had been five-foot-ten since high school. Oh, and there were those ten unwanted pounds that persisted in sticking around no matter what she did.
Her aunt turned the mirror on Tess. “Forgot something?” She wanted to roll her eyes, but decided not to. With a big sigh, Tess pulled a tube of lip gloss out of her pocket and swiped it across her mouth.
“My, my, don’t be primping so much,” her aunt said with a touch of sarcasm as Tess tucked the tube back in her pocket.
“Makeup just slides right off my face in this heat.” “I like your new look.”
Tess stared down at her lightweight navy jacket and slacks worn with a crisp white shirt. She liked what it represented more. Not that she’d ever minded wearing a uniform. It was what had gotten her to this point. Now, she simply wore a dif- ferent one.
“You’re young,” Kathy said. “I guess you don’t need as much makeup as an old lady like me. And you’ve got those high, high cheekbones that don’t need blush for emphasis. Some blue shadow would really bring out those eyes, though.”
“You’re not old. And I’m twenty-eight. That’s not exactly young.”
Tess reached down and withdrew a blue quilt from the tote bag and placed it on her aunt’s lap. “I thought you might like to have it here to remind you of home.”
Her aunt tried to sit up. Tess sprang out of her chair, helped raise the bed a bit and adjusted the pillow behind her aunt’s head.
Tess watched as Kathy unfolded the quilt and stroked it. “It’s my favorite.”
She raised a corner of it to her cheek and her eyes closed, then opened. “I’ll never forget the day Gordon walked into my shop.”
“He was this big, burly police officer,” Tess prompted with a smile.
“So you’ve heard the story, eh?”
Tess laughed. “About a million times,” she said.
Kathy nodded, but she smiled and didn’t take offense. “But tell it to me again.” She leaned back in her chair.
“I thought he was coming to tell me I was illegally parked out front or something,” her aunt said, her eyes beginning to take on a faraway look. “It was so hard to find parking because they were working on the street for the longest time. But he had this bag of clothes in his hands. Fabric scraps.”
“Things that had been worn by his sister and his mother.” “Um-hmm. He thought his mother would enjoy having a
quilt made of them. Mother’s Day was coming up.”
“So he brought in a few pieces each week and you made the quilt.”
“That’s right.” She examined the stitching on one square and then, apparently finding it satisfactory, tucked it around her. “Something just clicked into place. We had coffee a couple of times in February, began dating. We were married by the time Mother’s Day rolled around.”
“So Gordon’s mother got two presents.”
“I don’t think she saw it that way. We weren’t very good friends at first. Gordon could have been a little more diplo- matic about letting her know our plans to get married.”
Tess felt his presence before she saw him. She wasn’t sure why but it had always been so.
“What’s this talk about I’m not diplomatic?” Gordon asked in his booming voice.
He strolled into the room, a tall, big-boned man. Like his wife, he was in his fifties and worked out often so his white dress shirt stretched tightly over his barrel chest.
Her aunt jumped. “Gordon! You startled me.”
He just laughed, removed the toothpick dangling from his mouth and bent to kiss her head. “Oh, stop the fussing’, Kathy,” he drawled.
“If you hadn’t done that—” she stopped, pressed her lips tightly, and plucked at the quilt.
Gordon turned to Tess. “So, hear your new partner’s due in today. Big city guy, eh?”
“That’s what I hear.”
She watched him as he prowled around the room, peer- ing at the bouquets her aunt had received. When he passed a mirror that hung on one wall, he peered into it critically and checked his crew cut. The short strands stood at attention on his head as if not daring to lie down on the job.
Then he began moving around the room again, as if restless. He pulled a card from an arrangement of daisies and frowned at it. “Who’s this Lee?”
“A woman at church.” “You sure?”
Kathy sighed. “Yes. You met her once. Lee Weatherby.” “Hmm. Yeah. I remember. Old biddy.” He tucked the card
back in the bouquet and glanced at his watch. “Gotta go. I’ll check in on you later.”
“You can’t stay for a few minutes?”
He shook his head. “Have to see the chief. We’re still work- ing out the details of my promotion. It’s a big deal to be second in command, you know.”
“I know. I just haven’t seen you much later.”
“It’ll settle down soon. I’ll check in on you later.” He patted her head and turned to Tess. “You working today?”
“You know I am,” she said mildly.
He grinned, removed his toothpick, and tossed it in the trash. It missed, but he didn’t slow down to pick it up on his way out of the room.
Tess turned to her aunt and saw she watched her husband’s exit with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment.
“Aunt Kathy?” She waited until she turned to look at her. She hesitated, then plunged ahead. “Is everything okay with you and Gordon?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Of course. Why do you ask such a question?”
“I still don’t know how you got hurt.”
“Oh, it was so silly, really,” Kathy said. “I just tripped over
Prissy, that’s all. She always seems to be underfoot.”
Prissy was a very spoiled Persian her aunt had had for many years. Tess had never known her to hang out anywhere but the sofa and around the food bowl.
“You’re sure?” Tess asked quietly.
“Of course.” She looked over the side of the bed. “Now, I don’t suppose you have anything else in that tote bag, do you?” Laughing, Tess picked it up and handed it to her. Kathy grinned as she pulled out the quilt she was currently working on. Tess helped her spread it out, find her needles and thread in the sewing basket she’d brought. Then she sat back as her aunt happily began working. “You didn’t bring yours?”
Tess shook her head. “I knew I wouldn’t have enough time. But maybe tomorrow. I’m off.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m sorry, but I need to get going. Anything you need before I leave?”
“Not a thing. Oh, did you feed Prissy when you went by the house? Gordon forgets when I’m not home.”
“Sure did.” And Prissy had simply looked at her disdain- fully from her place on the sofa.
Kathy held out her hands and Tess took them. “Father, walk with Tess and protect her and keep her safe. Help her to do her job to the best of her ability. Thank you. Amen.”
Tess squeezed her hands and smiled, then stood and hugged her. “See you tomorrow. Call me before then if you need anything.”
The heat hit her like a wet blanket the minute she left the building. Another July in St. Augustine, oldest city in the country. She was that rare thing—a native Floridian —and in all her twenty-eight years she couldn’t remember a hotter one.
As much as she wanted to hurry into the air-conditioned haven of the unmarked car she’d been assigned as a detective, she forced herself not to rush. Hurrying just made it feel hot- ter and besides, she’d likely be out in the heat for much of the rest of the day. She started the car, turned the a/c on high, and knew that she’d probably be at the station before the interior cooled off.
A sightseeing tram pulled in front of her at the light beside the police station. The driver recognized Tess and she waved.
Tess smiled and muttered, “Hurry up,” beneath her breath. Nothing was slower than the tram. Except for the horse-drawn carriages. Thankfully, none of those were in sight.
With time to spare, she pulled into the parking lot, gath- ered her things, and walked inside.
Maria from Records sat eating a sandwich in the break room. Tess stowed her lunch in the refrigerator.
“First day on the new job, huh? How’s it feel?” “Pretty good.”
“Met the new guy yet?” “Not yet.”
Maria fanned herself with her hand. “Hot.”
Tess chuckled and shook her head. “You’re bad. See you later.”
Two men stood just inside the roll call room, their backs turned to her.
“Ever had a female partner before?” she heard one of them ask. Tom Smithers. Figured.
Tess froze, wondering what Smithers was going to say next. “Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you, buddy,” Smithers said and he laughed.
The other man turned and he saw Tess. Her training had taught her to capture an impression quickly and what she got was intense: his eyes were green and honed in on her, his posture military straight, and his stance at attention. He looked to be in his early thirties. Tall, probably six-two, and like Maria had said, he was hot: male model pretty with black hair and an easy grin.
“Aw, heck, she’s right behind me, isn’t she?” Smithers asked when the man grinned.
He laughed. “What do you think?”
Stepping forward, he offered his hand. “Detective Villanova. Nice to meet you. I’m Logan McMillan, your new partner.”