Excerpt

 

CHAPTER ONE

Nick Westin’s stride hitched as he passed the alley at 9th Avenue. Hoping the pause hadn’t been detected, he continued across the street where he leaned his shoulder against the outside wall of a Kosher deli while scanning the crowded street.

What had caught his attention?

Down the alley, a light flipped on behind the third floor window curtain, fourth apartment from the left. His heart pounded, though he forced his body to appear relaxed. The weight of his sidearm against his ribs reminded him of his responsibility, the one that never eased.

As he cast another surreptitious glance toward the apartment building, a group of people crossed the street he had only a moment before.

A faint clanging noise rang in the direction of the alley, but the group didn’t pause, didn’t stop talking-- though they gave him a casual once-over. It was NYC, after all. You didn’t walk by anyone at one a.m. without taking their measure.

After they strolled off, Nick ducked into the alley shadows. He kept close to the wall of a building, out of sight of street illumination and security floodlights. The recent rash of break-ins at Midtown apartments and boutique hotels appeared unrelated on the surface, but he knew there had to be a connection. Odd things had been stolen--a brass candlestick, a silver letter opener, a golden plate. Cash, credit cards and original paintings hadn’t been touched.

And who used sterling silver letter openers anyway? Who got snail mail significant enough and on a regular basis for such a dandy ceremony?

Strange.

This whole case was seriously strange.

He darted under the metal staircase outside the apartment building where he’d seen the light. The place didn’t boast a doorman, so he knew he could slip in the front, but an instinct honed over nearly a decade on the force urged him to stay put.

Intruders often entered through the front, planning a discreet exit via the back.

And this intruder, burglar… whatever he was, had discreet down pat.

She was, he corrected, as the distinct outline of a female dressed in all black appeared in the opening of the ground floor back door.

His heartbeat surged, but he kept absolutely still. He watched her creep around the corner of the building. He followed, expecting her to notice him any second.

Surprisingly for a wily thief-- at least up til now-- she seemed completely unaware of his presence. He was absolutely certain he’d know if someone was behind him in the shadows, but then he--

“Identify yourself!” she commanded, whirling to face him, her long, flaming hair catching a sliver of moonlight as she moved. She extended, not a gun or knife, but a foot-long stick.

His pistol inches from her weapon, he smiled. “NYPD,” he said casually. “You?”

The stick disappeared as quickly as it had been wielded. “You can see me?” she asked in an astonished voice.

“Red hair, black turtleneck, long black coat, black jeans, black boots. You might want to cover that hair on your little excursions. It ruins the cat burglar effect.”

“Strange.”

Yep. Strange was the word of the night.

And where had she tucked her weapon? It must be a baton of some type, he decided, one that collapsed to pocket size. He wasn’t lowering his gun until he had her in full restraints. “Put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest.”

An audible sigh escaped her. “For walking around a building?”

“For breaking and entering. Turn around.”

Most perps either ran or did as ordered-- especially with a nine millimeter semi-auto pointed at their vital organs. She, once again, sighed.

Suddenly a pool of light appeared over them. He glanced up, wary of the source, then back at her when he saw nothing to explain the illumination. “Where-- ”

Viewing her face for the first time, he stopped. She was stunning. The dark flaming hair surrounded fair skin and pale green eyes that stared into him like lasers. “Name?” she demanded.

“Nick Westin,” he found himself answering, though he hadn’t made a conscious decision to do so.

“Rank?”

“Lieutenant.”

“Orientation?”

“I-- ” Huh? Was she some kind of activist? He was all for personal rights. But gay, straight or bi, you couldn’t break into apartments without consequences. “S-straight,” he finally answered, again wondering why he had.

“Oh, good grief,” she muttered. The pool of light vanished.

Squinting to see via the pale moon while his eyes adjusted, Nick’s clenched his pistol tighter. “Turn around.”

“Why?”

“I’m arresting you.”

“I don’t think so.”

He kept his gun pointed at her. “Please turn around,” he said, though his patience was long gone.

“I really don’t have time to-- ”

“I can add resisting arrest to the burglary charge.”

“Burglary? I was merely visiting a friend.” She extended her arms. “I haven’t stolen anything.”

As if offering assistance, the clouds overhead parted, and the light glinted off a round object sticking out of her pants pocket. He cocked his head. “How about if you, very slowly, remove the item in your front pocket?”

Her hand immediately covered the object. “It’s mine.”

Keeping one hand wrapped around his pistol, he gestured with the other. “Let’s see it.”

On another annoyed sigh, she complied, holding up the object by her index finger and thumb.

It was a steel dagger with a large, blue stone the size of a golf ball decorating the knobbed handle.

He returned both hands to his Beretta.

“It’s purely ceremonial,” she said, as if sensing the suspicious direction of his thoughts. She jabbed the tip into her finger, then held it up for him to see her unblemished skin. “See, not even sharp.”

Still looked like a weapon to Nick. “Drop it.”

She didn’t follow his order.

The situation was going from strange to dangerous, but no way was he calling for backup for a slip of a woman with a bejeweled blunt knife and a collapsible bat. His rep as a kick-ass investigator would never recover.

He grabbed her wrist, but at the same time, she reached behind her and produced the stick, making a slashing motion. Before he could blink, he was jerked into darkness.