Acting Sheriff Ben Logan hasn’t heard from Leigh Somerall in a very long time, but it doesn’t mean he can get her—or their whirlwind romance of ten years ago—out of his head. When she calls out of the blue it is with a strange request to protect her brother, Tony. But when Tony dies just days later, Ben is charged with a different task—protecting Leigh and her nine-year-old son, TJ, from the killers. But how can Ben keep an eye on Leigh if she’s doing everything in her power to avoid him? And could the secret that Leigh is keeping change Ben’s life forever?
Tony Jackson shouldn’t be dying in a ritzy hotel room in downtown Memphis on a hot July night.
He shouldn’t be dying at all.
“Who shot you?” Sheriff Ben Logan pressed a blood-soaked towel against the victim’s chest. The left sleeve of Tony’s Armani suit had bullet holes where he’d lifted his arm in defense. Otherwise the bullet would have killed him instantly.
This meeting wasn’t supposed to go this way. Tony would show up, deliver his information. Ben would save the day.
The coppery scent that hung heavy in the air turned his stomach as Tony’s life drained away, his blood staining the plush white carpet. Ben cradled Tony’s head and glanced toward the opened door. Where was that ambulance?
Tony wrapped his fingers around Ben’s wrist, and Ben leaned closer to the man he couldn’t keep from dying. “Stay with me, man.”
“Tell Leigh . . .” Tony’s breath grew shallow. “I’m . . . sorry.” The grip faltered.
“Hang on, buddy.”
Sirens. Ben snapped a look behind him to where a few people had gathered in the hallway. “Tell them to hurry.”
“Your dad . . .” Tony closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath then coughed, blood gurgling in his chest.
Ben jerked back to the dying man. “What about my dad?”
“I’m sorry . . . should’ve told . . .” He coughed again. “Something . . . got to tell . . . Blue . . . dog . . .”
“Don’t die on me.” What did Tony know about his dad’s shooting?
“Both know . . .” Tony’s voice faded.
Ben eased the man’s head up. “Stay with me. Tell me who did this to you.”
Tony closed his eyes, then his lips moved, and Ben strained to hear.
“Protect . . . Leigh.”
“Come on, man, you’ll—”
Tony’s eyes popped open, the light in them fading. “Promise . . .”
Ben couldn’t escape the haunting gaze. “I . . .” The words lodged in his throat.
Tony tightened his fingers on Ben’s wrist. “Say it.”
“I . . .” He swallowed. “I promise.” The grip eased as Tony slumped in his arms and slipped into eternity.
A low moan escaped Ben’s lips. He dropped his head, sending a prayer heavenward as Tony’s death settled in his chest like lead. He’d let him down. Just like with Tommy Ray. Ben pushed the thought aside. Revisiting the past wouldn’t bring either back.
He pulled his arm free from under the body and stood. What a waste. Tony had been only a few years older than Ben, thirty-five at most. He’d liked what he’d known of Leigh’s brother, even though they hadn’t run in the same circles. By day, Tony worked at Maxwell Industries as the chief financial officer, and by night he gambled with the high rollers.
Tonight, he’d gambled and lost.
Ben’s hands curled into fists. Tony’s death was wrong on so many levels, but now the living became his priority. Unclenching his fists, he tugged his cell phone from his pocket and dialed his chief deputy. “Wade, what’s your location?”
“I’m at the Thunderbird.”
“Get over to Bradford General and shadow Leigh Somerall.”
“Come on, Ben, it’s my night off. I have a date.”
“I don’t care if you’re in the middle of proposing, get over there. Someone murdered her brother. They may be after Leigh too.”
“Tony’s dead?” Shock rang in Wade’s voice. “How?”
“I’ll fill you in later. Just get over there and keep her under surveillance.”
“Do you want me to tell her about Tony?”
Ben fingered a small Boy Scout medallion in his pocket. It’d be so easy to let Wade take care of this. He could even plead he needed to stay and aid the Memphis Police. Coward. “No. I’ll tell her. Just keep your eye on her until I get there.”
Ben broke the connection and slapped the phone against his palm. He didn’t have a clue how he’d tell Leigh her brother was dead. He knelt one last time by Tony’s body.
Protect Leigh. Tony’s dying request.
How could he protect someone who hated his guts?
Ben rocked back on his heels. Tony had mentioned a flash drive when he’d called earlier in the day. On the off chance the killer hadn’t taken it, he wrapped his hand in a handkerchief and checked Tony’s pockets, not only for the USB drive but for his cell phone. Knowing who Tony had talked with today might help in the investigation. His eyes widened when he pulled out an almost-inch-thick wad of folded one-hundred-dollar bills. Maybe Tony was going over to the casinos in Tunica after their meeting.
But there was no flash drive and no cell phone. Just like there’d be no information on what Tony knew about Ben’s dad.
Getting that information was why Ben had driven to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, room 5210, where he’d discovered Tony dying in a pool of his own blood.
Rising, he glanced around the room. From what he could see, Tony hadn’t brought luggage or clothing. The black duvet cover appeared untouched, and the gold damask draperies were closed. An unopened bottle of Scotch sat on a corner table beside the wingback chair. On the floor, a silver ice bucket lay near the doorway.
In his mind’s eye, Ben saw Tony set the Scotch on the table and pick up the ice bucket. The killer must’ve been waiting for him when he opened the door. Backed him into the room, then “Bang! You’re dead.” Probably used a silencer. Then all he had to do was close the door and walk down the hall like any other guest.
Ben stepped out into the burgundy-carpeted hall as the elevator dinged and paramedics spilled out. He held up his hand. “You’re too late.”
Another elevator opened, and Detective Olivia Reynolds emerged, flanked by two uniformed cops. He groaned. A homicide detective with the Memphis Police Department . . . and his cousin. She was not going to be happy he’d brought a murder to her doorstep. “I don’t remember saying anything about a homicide when I called 911.”
“I was in the neighborhood.” Livy’s mouth quirked upward. “And hello to you too, Ben. What brings you to Memphis?”
“Checking out a lead.” He jerked his head toward the open door and then followed the petite detective inside the room.
His usually unflappable cousin caught her breath. “Tony Jackson? He’s the victim?”
“Oh, man, this is bad.” She stared at the body. “I just saw him at church on Sunday.”
Even though Livy lived in Memphis, she still made the thirty-minute drive to church in Logan Point each Sunday.
“Tony was coming to church?”
She eyed him. “Yeah. But you’d have to be there to know.”
Heat crawled up his neck. “Hey, by the time I ride herd on those nine- and ten-year-olds in Sunday school, I need a break. Was Leigh with him?”
“You didn’t need a break before Pastor John started his series on forgiveness. But to answer your question, no, Leigh wasn’t with him. Does she know what’s happened?”
“I don’t envy you, having to tell her.” She gave him a thoughtful stare. “Didn’t you and Leigh have a thing for each other in college?”
He shot her the flintiest stare he knew how. Yeah, they’d had a thing, and hearing from her this week had almost blown him away. “Ben, Tony needs your help.” Even now, his heart thumped a little harder, remembering her voice. That was why he’d kept his distance since she returned to Logan Point six weeks ago, a widow with a young son. He’d stayed just close enough to know she still had that chestnut hair framing her face. His memory supplied the rest. Green eyes. Porcelain skin. A smattering of freckles across her nose.
“What happened?” Livy flicked her hand. “Oh, I forgot, you’re Mr. Love ’Em and Leave ’Em.”
“She did the leaving.” He squared his shoulders. “Let’s get my statement over with so I can go. I don’t want someone else getting to Leigh first. She may not be safe.” Wade should’ve called by now.
“What are you talking about?”
“Tony’s last words . . . he told me to protect her.”
“You think whoever did this might go after Leigh?”
“I don’t know. Tony didn’t live long enough for me to find out. I’ve sent Wade to shadow her at the hospital, but he hasn’t checked in.”
Livy took out a notepad and pen. “Let’s step out into the hallway, and you can tell me why a Mississippi sheriff is involved in a Memphis murder. But first, are you carrying?”
He pulled out the .38 Smith & Wesson holstered in his front pocket and handed it to her. “Hasn’t been fired since I cleaned it two days ago.”
She took the gun and sniffed the barrel before handing it back to him. He followed her into the hallway, where the two uniforms stood guard. “Why were you meeting Tony here? Why not in Logan Point?”
Ben slipped the gun back in his jeans. “No clue. He called me on my cell phone this afternoon. Said if I’d meet him at the Peabody, he’d give me information on Dad’s shooting and a flash drive he said the U.S. Marshals would be interested in.”
“What was on it?” Ben glanced toward the door, the taste of disappointment bitter. “Not a clue—he didn’t get a chance to tell me anything, and he doesn’t have the flash drive on him. His cell phone is missing too. But he does have a wad of hundreds.”
“You went through his pockets?”
“You would have done the same thing.” He rubbed the knotted muscles in the back of his neck.
“You know better than to—”
“Look, Tony was from Logan Point. I’m sworn to protect the people there, and I let him down. I thought I might find something to help me catch whoever did this.” He pulled himself up to his full six-one height. “I want to work with you, Olivia, but either way, I’ll get the person who did this. His murderer will be brought to justice.”
She pursed her lips. He felt heat rising in his face, but he held her steady gaze.
Livy gave him a hint of a nod. “We’ll work together.” She scribbled in the notepad then tapped her pen against the page. “Why would he be carrying so much money?”
“Tony liked to gamble.”
“Did he say anything other than the bit about Leigh?”
Ben replayed the scene in his head. “Something about blue and a dog, but I have no idea what that’s a reference to.”
“Was she aware you were meeting Tony tonight?”
“I don’t know. She contacted me a couple of days ago, said Tony wanted to talk to me, but not on the jail line. I gave her my cell phone number.”
“Why didn’t he want to talk to you on the land line? Did he suspect your phone is bugged? Have you checked it?”
“Do you think I’m totally incompetent?”
“Don’t get testy. What did he say when he called?”
“He wanted me to get in touch with the U.S. Marshals Service. Said he had information they would be interested in, and he was bringing it tonight.”
“Why did he come to you instead of going straight to them?”
“It’s no secret I have friends in the U.S. Marshals Service. Guess he figured I might have pretty good connections.”
Livy paused in her note taking and glanced up at him. “Didn’t you interview with them about a job?”
“They filled it.” He avoided her gaze, instead stared at the gold numbers beside the door to the hotel room. His dad would still be sheriff of Bradford County if Ben had been with him instead of in Memphis on that interview. “All I’m interested in now is keeping my town safe and finding out who shot my dad. And Tony.”
The corner of Livy’s mouth turned down as she put the pen in her purse. “I stopped by the house the other day to see Sheriff Tom. He tried to talk, so I think he knew me. He just couldn’t say my name.”
The stroke had happened on the operating table while the doctors dug out the bullet. “The speech therapist doesn’t give us much hope that he’ll get a lot better. Appreciate you stopping by—visitors do him good.”
Ben’s cell rang, and he jerked it from his pocket. Wade. He didn’t bother with preliminaries. “Is Leigh okay?”
Wade cleared his throat. “I can’t find her.”
Patricia Bradley lives in
North Mississippi and is a former abstinence educator and
co-author of RISE To Your Dreams, an
abstinence curriculum. But her heart is tuned to suspense. Patricia’s romantic
suspense books include the Logan Point series—Shadows of the Past and A Promise
to Protect—and Matthew’s Choice a Heartwarming romance. Her workshops on writing include an online course
with American Christian Fiction
Writers and workshops at the Midsouth Christian
Writer’s Conference in When she’s not writing, she
likes to throw mud on a wheel and see what happens. Collierville,
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Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart