Cory Marin woke to sunlight flooding through the glass doors that opened out onto the leafy green of the ravine. She took a moment to locate herself. Her father Jack’s house.
She felt Marty’s warmth beside her and turned to see him on his side, watching her, his gray-blue eyes serious. For an instant, she felt violated, as if he were stealing her soul by watching her wake.
He smiled slowly, warmly, and his eyes kindled heat that licked up from her belly.
“Good morning,” he said. The sunlight fell over his muscled, brown arm, and she could not stop herself from touching his shoulder as if to confirm his reality.
“Good morning.” She smiled, the warmth from her belly blooming in her eyes.
“What?” he asked.
She took a breath, letting it out slowly. “I’m happy,” she said simply. She turned onto her side, facing him, her face inches from his. “I can’t remember ever being so happy.” Her eyes held his, and she touched the side of his face tenderly. She wanted him to know this unassailable truth, no matter how much she might waffle or skitter away from him in the future. “Or safe.” These past months with Marty were the longest spell of sustained happiness she’d ever known.
His eyes smiled as if nothing could make him happier. “You know there’s nothing I want more than to—”
She held a finger to his lips, silencing him. There was no need for words. She knew he loved her, knew he wanted to marry her. They had been over it often enough. She hoped he understood she wasn’t ready and why. He seemed to have accepted her decision for now, and she hoped their agreement to focus on the present would hold.
“Show me,” she said.
He smiled as his strong arm came around her and pulled her close.
Afterward, she lay in bed, listening to Marty in the shower, imagining the water beating against his chest, running down his abdomen and thighs. She smiled, feeling buoyant, as if she might float up off the bed. Her happiness was a physical thing, emanating like warmth from her core, rising like bubbles that burst to the surface in a smile. She touched the unmistakable swell of her belly. She hadn’t realized how worried she was that because of her age, thirty-four, something might be wrong with the baby, but the amnio results had come back, and the baby was fine. For the first time since she had learned she was pregnant, she could relax and enjoy it. Her body was a miraculous machine that was creating a person inside her, building bones and organs and fingernails and eyelashes.
Until now, she hadn’t allowed herself to hope that this thing she had wanted but had given up on was coming true. She had wanted a baby when she was married to Mike. Then, in the instant she opened the bedroom door and saw Mike in bed with another woman, the possibility of marriage and family disappeared.
She had thought she had to give up the dream of having a baby with the dream of married life, but when she discovered she was pregnant, even if it were by Fletcher Manning, a man who had deceived her, she had known instantly this might be her only chance, and she had to take it. In that moment of decision, she had willingly surrendered her life to chance. As her friend Janelle was only too happy to point out, once she had the baby, she would never not be a mother, whatever heartbreak or joy that might entail. Once she had the baby, her heart would live outside her body for the rest of her life.
Marty appeared in the bathroom door, knotting a lightly-striped blue tie over his starched white shirt. She found his every move undeniably sexy.
“See you at the office,” he said, crossing the room to bend and kiss her.
They maintained the fiction that they were no more than colleagues even though several of the detectives on her squad had sussed out their involvement.
She showered and dressed for the office, her shirt untucked over elastic-waist pants. The belt with her holster and badge would not hide the bump much longer. Soon, she would have to announce the pregnancy to her squad, but she dreaded making this intensely private joy public.
In the kitchen, Jack was dressed and reading the paper at the breakfast table.
“Morning,” she said. She was still getting used to thinking of him as her father, his appearance in her life was so recent. It had only been three months since he swept into her life like a knight in shining armor, having found her through a news interview during one of her most disastrous cases. Jack had suspected Cory was his daughter because she had his green eyes and the face of the beautiful Puerto Rican girl he had an affair with in New York City as a freshman. Cory knew she had her mother’s face, her dark curly hair, and her permanently suntanned skin, but she had always wondered where she got the green eyes. The second she met Jack, she had recognized his eyes as her own. Jack presented himself as a genie who wanted to make her every wish come true. He wanted to make up for all the years he had not been there for her, and through some strange symbiosis, she had given him a new lease on life after the dual tragedies of his daughter’s death in an automobile accident and his wife’s death of breast cancer a year later, tragedies that had turned his once red hair white virtually overnight.
Jack made her feel safe in part because with his status and money behind her, no one could pull the rug out from under her or make her life disappear in the blink of an eye like a nightmarish card trick. That was what had so nearly happened when Fletcher Manning accused her of being a heavy drinker and a woman with emotional problems. In the glare of Manning’s press conference, most of the department had drawn away from her, and Cory had felt the very real possibility that she could lose her job in disgrace.
The tip of Jack’s paper dipped, and he smiled even though his eyes seemed troubled. “You look happy.”
She grinned and rested a hand on her belly. “I am. I feel like I’m listening to my blood.” For the first time, she felt confident that her body was growing this baby right. Everything would be OK.
Jack smiled. “I think I understand.”
Pretty Boy popped out from under the table, cocking his head and eyeing her. “‘Ello,” he chirped as he crab-walked toward her, his gray claws clicking on the tile. She stooped to extend her hand, allowing him to side-step up to her shoulder, where he let out a caw that said king of the mountain.
Jack turned back to the paper and frowned.
“What is it?” she asked even though she knew that if whatever was bothering him was the news, she didn’t want to hear it before she had a chance to eat something to settle her stomach. “Maybe let me get some oatmeal first.”
He nodded and went back to his paper.
She stirred milk into her oatmeal and set it in the microwave for two minutes. Surprisingly, she didn’t feel the slightest bit queasy. She felt herself grin. Maybe the worst of the morning sickness was behind her.
She carried her oatmeal to the table, took a breath, and felt her heart catch with happiness.
Jack lowered the paper. “There’s a nutcase preacher threatening to burn a Koran because it’s a book of the devil.” He shook his head in disgust. “Along with the Talmud and the Hindu Vedas and the Buddhist sutras, all books of the devil.” Jack waved the paper in annoyance and dove back in. “He’s also going to burn books that advocate homosexuality and miscegenation. Oh, good,” he said in disgust. “Harry Potter is on the burn list for advocating witchcraft.”
Cory shook her head and took another bite of oatmeal.
“Aren’t you worried?” Jack asked.
“About what?” For the first time since her doctor had told her this was a high-risk pregnancy due to her age, she was too happy, too focused inward to worry about anything.
“About a repeat of what happened last time. Wasn’t Terry Jones, the guy who threatened to burn a Koran for every person killed in the World Trade Center, from Gainesville?”
She nodded reluctantly, remembering only too well the incident that had exploded into international headlines. Despite appeals from the President and the Secretary of State, Jones had persisted in his threats. The police department had been helpless to stop him because burning books was protected as freedom of speech. The strategy that stopped the event was denying him a burn permit, but tempers had been so inflamed that riots broke out in Afghanistan and Pakistan that left dozens dead. The Jones incident had cost GPD several hundred thousand dollars, an amount they billed to him, a ploy that recovered no money but drove Jones out of the county.
“I don’t think it could happen again,” Cory said, willing it to be so.
“We may be about to find out,” Jack said as he folded the paper.
By the time Cory crossed Sixth Street to police headquarters, she felt moisture bead on her forehead and between her shoulder blades. Her jacket was too hot, but the idea of crossing the street in her shirtsleeves seemed undignified somehow. She glanced at her watch. It was before eight and already too hot. Maybe her pregnancy made her sensitive to the heat, but if it was this hot in March, what would it be like in July?
Cory slung her jacket over the back of her chair and looked up to see Marty in her open door, one hand raised to knock, a coffee cup raised in the other.
She felt herself warm like a teenager at the sight of him, remembering him in bed beside her. Marty was six two and broad shouldered, still as graceful and agile as when he played basketball for Tulane.
“Help yourself,” she said, aware of the edge of flirtation in her voice and the current that passed between them.
He glanced up from pouring his coffee and smiled, acknowledging the flirtation. Then his eyes and voice changed, signaling all business. “Did you see the story about the book burning?”
She nodded. “Jack told me. He’s my personal twenty-four seven news feed. Let’s hope it’s nothing.”
Marty looked skeptical but didn't say anything. Turning, he glanced back, giving her one of his devilish, sexy smiles. “See you in briefing.”
He had a way of making her want him, especially when they were out of each other’s reach here at work. Now, if she could just maintain that desire to pull him close instead of pushing him away. Marty put up with a lot from her, trying his level best not to get his feelings hurt when she pulled one of her insensitive moves like when she asked Janelle to accompany her to the amnio appointment.
When she told Marty, his eyes flinched as if she’d slapped him and his brow furrowed as if to ask, Why not me?
She’d said, “I’m not sure I can explain it. I just wanted to be with a woman,” feeling a twinge of resentment. She shouldn’t have to explain herself, not about something as personal as the amnio. This was her baby, her problem, not his, even though he had made it abundantly clear that he was all too happy to make it his problem. If he had accompanied her, everyone would have assumed he was her husband, the father of her baby, that the decision, if any decision needed to be made, was theirs to make together. But it wasn’t. It was hers alone. She didn’t want him asserting his rights, however symbolically. It was too soon for that.
As he headed back to his detective cubicle, Cory saw Mackena Neal, Mac, her newest hire, crossing the pit, looking, as always, like a teenager.
Mac was slight—she couldn’t weigh much over a hundred pounds—and pale. With her blond hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck, she managed to seem young and androgynous, which had the effect of making her disappear. Although Cory had worried when she hired Mac whether she would have the authority to pull her own weight in investigations, that concern had proved groundless. What at first appeared as a disability turned out to be one of her strengths. Mac was perceptive and clever and had proved herself an invaluable team member. Cory glanced at her watch. Mac just barely made it in time for briefing. The drive from Ocala must be kicking her butt.
Morning briefing included every detective under the umbrella of the Criminal Investigation Division. That included Cory’s Major Crime squad, Benny Field’s Property Crime squad, and her friend Janelle Ramos’s combined Sex Crimes, Crimes Against Children, and Internet Crime squad.
Janelle flounced in to the briefing room, causing an electric disturbance in the air as always. Janelle was an exotic bird with her plumage tamped down for work. Her dark pants and pastel yellow GPD polo, the approved casual wear for those who didn’t want to wear the traditional coat and tie most of the older detectives wore, did nothing to disguise her Beyonce curves. Her shoulder-length mass of electric curls was held back by a yellow headband but fell in wild abandon over her shoulders, giving her a rock star air.
She gave Cory a wink as she slipped into her seat.
Jordan Bennett, head of CID, cleared his throat. “Let’s get started.” He removed the trademark matchstick from the corner of his mouth and smiled. “I’ve got a couple of general items on the agenda before we get to roll call.” During roll call, each detective outlined his work plan for the day. It keept everyone apprised of what everyone else was working on so they could see possible connections.
Bennett, tall, lean, and tan, had always struck Cory as something of a cowboy, in part because he owned a forty acre cattle farm he had inherited from his father, and in part because he wore a tan straw cowboy hat when he left the office. She liked and respected him since he had been her sergeant when she was promoted into Major Crime squad.
“Number one,” Bennett said, “counsel has advised the city commission that holding a sign asking for money while standing on a city street is protected speech under the constitution. Therefore, the city will no longer be ticketing, arresting, or otherwise interfering with panhandlers.”
Dick Casey let out a groan and leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “Might as well announce we’re giving out free money in Gainesville. This is going to draw them like flies.”
Bennett gave a slight shrug. “Florida Supreme Court made some decision and this is the result. You got a problem, talk to them.”
“That’s a load of malarkey. We’re putting out a welcome mat. We offer ’em Grace Marketplace, where they can get just about anything they want, and Dignity Village where they can camp and drink and smoke and drug to their heart’s content. Not every city lays out the welcome mat like us. It may be a state ruling, but plenty of cities enforce it differently. You can bet Ocala finds ways to make it plenty clear bums aren’t welcome.”
Cory had to bite her tongue to keep from saying, Why don’t you go work for Ocala PD if you like it so much?
“Take it up with the city attorney,” Bennett said, ready to move on. “Item number two is,” he slapped the Gainesville Sun on the table, “this story about Rev. John Lord threatening to burn every holy book known to man, except the King James Bible, of course. We know what happened last time a nutcase threatened to burn the Koran, and we do not want a repeat. Marin, I want your squad to start looking into this guy. Find out how much of a threat he is.”
She nodded. “Yes, sir. When is this book burning supposed to take place?”
“He hasn’t announced a date. He’s got to give himself enough time to get the publicity he needs.” He shook his head. “We do not want our resources wasted on every loudmouth with a penchant for self-promotion.”
“I suspect the only way to avoid that is to keep the media from blowing it up into a national story like they did the last time.”
He scoffed. “You might as well ask me to make it snow here on St. Patty’s Day.”
“There must be something we can do to keep the press from having a field day with this,” Cory said. “They’re the ones who make it into a story.”
He waved his hand. “Talk with the reporters you know. See if it does any good.” He turned to the table. “All right, let’s get started. Who’s working on what?”
As usual, Bennett ended the briefing with, “Be safe and have fun.”
Cory spoke up. “I’d like Squad A to stay, please.” When the other detectives had filed out, she said, “We need to do a quick assessment of John Lord.”
“This is bullshit,” Casey complained. “If panhandlers are protected by freedom of speech, then some poor schmuck preacher who wants to express his beliefs should be, too. I’m not keen on gathering intel on some local preacher and his flock.”
Cory faced him. “You know how much the department spent last time this happened, and even though we managed to stop the actual book burning, people were still killed in the riots that broke out in Afghanistan.”
“There’s no controlling people who have been at each other's throats for centuries and whose religion endorses violence,” Casey said.
Cory took a breath. “We’ve got a job to do. If you don’t feel you can do it, maybe you should take a couple of days leave.”
Casey glared at her as if willing her to catch fire. Luckily, he didn’t possess superpowers.
“I’m hoping everyone can spare a couple of hours to start putting together a profile of this guy. Who is he? What’s his story? What’s the story on his church? Who are his parishioners?”
Casey shook his head. “Sandy and I have a pre-trial review with Joey this morning.” He smiled, pleased that their assistant district attorney gave him an excuse to back out of the assignment.
“Fine. Alex, why don’t you and Mac see what you can find out about this guy. I don’t want to go in blind when we talk to him.” As the detectives rose to get started on their day, Cory said, “Mac, you got a minute?”