Come to Me
Linda Winstead Jones

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Lizzie didn’t argue that she didn’t think of herself as a bomb of any sort. If she argued, Sam might change his mind. “Deal.” She stood and offered her hand across the table in a businesslike manner. Sam stood and took it. His hand was warm and large and strong, and she liked the way it felt around hers. To keep from sighing in delight, or perhaps jumping across the desk for a kiss, she asked, “So, how’s that bubbleheaded wife of yours?”

Sam dropped Lizzie’s hand. “I’m divorced.”

“Oh,” she said, blushing prettily.

“Six years now.” And the marriage hadn’t been good for two years before they’d ended it formally.

“That’s…” Lizzie stammered, she pursed her lips, her hazel eyes cut to the side and she shook her chestnut hair, most of which was currently caught in a long, thick ponytail. The bangs and wayward strands which had fallen out of the ponytail danced softly. “Heaven help me, I can’t say I’m sorry. I can’t force the words from my lips.” Her voice was quick, as if the words tumbled out of their own volition. “I can’t even say ‘that’s too bad’ because it’s not. Dottie Ann was nowhere near good enough for you. Gorgeous, yes, and heaven knows she had the kind of body you guys make yourselves fools over, but she didn’t have half a brain and she was so incredibly selfish. Dottie Ann, what a ridiculous name for a woman who’s under eighty. Dad told me she got weird on you after the shooting, which I completely understand. No, no, I don’t understand her reaction. I don’t get it at all. I understand what happened when you shot that guy, that’s what I was trying to say. Dad said you were totally justified. I don’t know why he didn’t tell me you got divorced. Six years.” She took a moment, perhaps lost in a flash of mental math. “I had just moved to Mobile and started school, and I guess Dad thought I didn’t need to know.”

Sam felt the ice settle in his gut. No one mentioned the shooting. That was in the past. Nothing had ever been out of bounds for Lizzie, though, and apparently that hadn’t changed. Her father had been one of the few who’d stood by him in those dark days, even though their official partnership had ended. Sam hadn’t seen Lizzie at all during that time. She’d been sixteen; he’d been angry and took to drinking too much, for a while. It was no surprise Charlie hadn’t taken him home during those bad days. He was surprised Charlie had talked about the shooting with his daughter at all. He’d always been determined to protect his little girl. Even from Sam, apparently.

Was that why Charlie hadn’t told Lizzie about the divorce? No, it was probably much simpler than that. Two years after the shooting he and his old partner had grown apart. They’d been busy; their lives had taken them in different directions. Later on—just a few years ago—they’d reconnected, but things had never been the same.

“He was so mad about that,” Lizzie continued. “That she didn’t stick beside you like any decent wife would’ve. That’s only one strike against her, in my book. That first time y’all were at the house together, not long before you got married, she told me that maybe one day I would be passably pretty if I lost some weight and outgrew my awkwardness and the rest of my face caught up with my nose and I grew or purchased boobs. Who says that to a fourteen-year-old?”

The conversation was not a happy one; it had stirred up a lot of memories best left buried, and still Sam smiled. “Same old Lizzie, I see. You never did have a problem saying exactly what you think.”

She pursed her lips together, as if physically trying to restrain herself.

Amy Elizabeth Porter had grown up to be more than passably pretty. She’d lost a little baby fat, though in spite of Dottie Ann’s cruel words she hadn’t had a lot to spare. Her face had most definitely caught up with her nose, and the long limbs that had once been awkward were now elegant and sexy—even though she obviously didn’t dress to call attention to herself. The jeans she wore were a little bit baggy, and the dark green button-up blouse was at least two sizes too large. Still, Lizzie had a model’s bone structure and legs that went on and on. She’d grown into herself very nicely—even if she didn’t have what anyone would call a curvaceous figure.

She’d changed dramatically, but for the mouth, which looked fine—more than fine, to be honest—but still opened too often and too freely.

Dottie Ann had been an idiot to say those things to a child. Why hadn’t he seen what she was like before it was too late? Ah, yes, thinking with the little head. His wife had always had plenty to say about his partner’s young daughter. She’d picked up on the crush Sam had been oblivious to, and for some reason she’d been jealous of a shy, gawky kid. Maybe Dottie Ann had seen what Sam had not; that Lizzie would grow into the beauty before him, that even as a child the barely teenage girl had something Dottie Ann never would. Quality. Character. Heart.

“I’ll read the letters and start doing some research.” Maybe Lizzie was right to be concerned. After his wife had run away from home like a petulant teenager, leaving her husband and her eight-year-old daughter behind, Charlie hadn’t exactly been the best judge of women. His heart had been broken and he’d pretty much given up. Some of his girlfriends in those early single-father years would’ve given Dottie Ann a run for her money, and Monica Yates had been among the worst.

“When can I start painting?” Lizzie surveyed his office, mentally dissecting the room.

“This weekend,” he said. The office would be pretty much deserted, so he wouldn’t have to worry about subjecting his employees and clients to paint fumes. By then he’d have all the information Lizzie wanted. He’d hand over the info, she’d slap some paint on the walls, and they could part ways one more time.

She placed a huge and heavy purse on her shoulder, thanked him, and then turned to leave his office. Near the closed door she stopped and turned, pinning calculating eyes on him. Hell, she had Charlie’s eyes, and they saw too much. Always had. Did she see too much now?

“You’ll call me if you find anything before Saturday?”

“Yes. I have all your information.” Address, phone number, cell number.

She nodded. “If I don’t hear from you before then, I’ll see you Saturday morning. Sevenish?”

“In the morning?”

She laughed, and it was nice. Lizzie had a real, unfettered, no-holds-barred laugh. “Yes, in the morning. Too early for you? You have big plans Friday night?”

“No plans,” he said. Though he did like to sleep in on the weekends, if he wasn’t working a case.

“Interesting,” she said, rocking back on her heels a bit. “Sam Travers with no plans for Friday night. My, my, how the world has changed.”

He ignored the bait. “Sevenish it is.”

Maybe if he hadn’t been so strangely intent on Lizzie, he would’ve realized sooner that something was wrong. In the outer office a voice was raised. A door slammed.

And then something crashed. Lizzie’s head snapped around.

Sam rushed to the door and instinctively placed Lizzie behind him. Raised voices in the front office joined yet another crashing, crackling noise. He reached for the semiautomatic he wore in a leather shoulder holster.

“A gun?” Lizzie sounded surprised. She shouldn’t have. Maybe his jacket was cut to hide the fact that he was armed, but she knew what he did for a living. He found people and uncovered secrets. Most people wanted their secrets to remain buried, and now and then they got upset when he dug them up.

“Stay here,” he ordered, but it was too late. He heard quick footsteps in the hallway, as well as his receptionist Marilyn’s crisp order for the man to stop. Sam looked down at Lizzie, hoping she minded better than she had as a child. “Get under the desk.”

“Are you joking?” she asked.

“I don’t joke.” He gave Lizzie a gentle shove that sent her reeling back, and with a sigh she obeyed his order and turned for the desk.

Sam opened the door, the gun in his hand down and casually concealed behind his thigh. He didn’t intend to use it; hadn’t actually shot at anyone for years. But there was no threat like a confidently wielded firearm. “What’s all the commotion?” he asked calmly, his eyes pinned on the man who was striding toward Sam’s office with a baseball bat clutched in one hand.

Jim Skinner, who’d tried to scam an insurance company after “falling” in a chain store in a new upscale shopping center, had not been happy with Sam’s photographs and testimony. You’d think a man who was pretending to be laid up with life-altering injuries would know better than to take his girlfriend out dancing, but some guys weren’t bright.

“You meddling son of a bitch,” Skinner mumbled.

Sam maintained a calm voice. “I was only doing my job, man. Take it easy.”

“Take it easy? How can you tell me to take it easy?”

He raised the baseball bat, and Sam made an easy, smooth move that revealed his weapon. At the sight of the sleek semiautomatic, Skinner went still. At least he wasn’t stupid enough to think he could take on an armed man with a bat. “Big man with a gun,” he said softly. “Not that I’m surprised, you lowlife. I’ll bet there are hundreds of people in Birmingham alone that want you dead. You sleep with that thing?”


Frustrated, Skinner raised his bat and took aim at the hallway wall.


Sam and Skinner both went still at the sound of Lizzie’s commanding voice.

He was going to kill her. Hadn’t he told her to hide under the desk? She was just like her father. If anything happened to her…

“Who are you?” Skinner asked, obviously annoyed. His eyes flitted from Sam to Lizzie and back again. “Is this your girlfriend?”

“Good heavens, no. I’m the painter,” Lizzie said. “If you put a hole in that wall I’m going to have to patch it, and trust me, that’s not a fun job. Have you ever tried to patch a big hole in the wall? Little holes are no big deal, a bit of putty and sanding and you’re good. But you can never really get a big hole to look right again, no matter what you do.”

“He ruined my life,” Skinner said, his focus on Lizzie. “If I’d gotten that money, my girl wouldn’t have left, and I could’ve paid all my bills and started over. No one would’ve been hurt. These big companies have all kinds of money, and I just wanted a little bit. They never would’ve missed it.”

Lizzie snorted. She was so close behind Sam he could feel her body heat; she all but pressed up against him, glancing around his body to speak to the intruder. He made sure she remained behind him, shielded as much as was possible, given the circumstances.

As usual, she spoke her mind. “If your girl left over money, then she didn’t love you and you’re well rid of her. You look like a healthy, intelligent guy, so I’m sure if you try hard enough you can find a legal way to pay your bills.”

Marilyn and Danny crept up behind Skinner. No one else was in the office this afternoon, just one receptionist and one investigator taking care of paperwork. In the distance, sirens sounded. Marilyn had surely called the police as soon as she’d realized there was going to be trouble.

Skinner heard the sirens grow closer, too, and he panicked. Sam could see the fear on his face. “I don’t want to go to jail.”
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