Lucky's Woman
Linda Winstead Jones

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“It’ll be a lot of work, it’ll be a huge hassle. I know that. But I want a big, traditional Thanksgiving in my new house,” Sadie insisted. “And you have to be here. It just wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Lucky hated to admit that he needed anything, but he needed Sadie in his life. He even needed Grant and Truman and the new baby. The situation was almost ideal. He could visit whenever he wanted, share their perfect little family life for a while and then leave the chaos and go back to his well-ordered life, where nothing ever stunk and he never had to say please to get what he wanted.

Crap. Maybe Heather was right.

“I gotta go,” Sadie said too quickly. “Spiderman is climbing on the kitchen table.”

In the background, Grant protested, “The Incredible Spiderman!”

“Thanksgiving!” Sadie ordered, and then she severed the connection.

Thanksgiving was less than two months away. He really should visit before then to see the new baby and take a present for smelly little Reagan, and maybe he would. But he suddenly hated the idea of showing up alone again, to be a fifth wheel in Sadie’s family life. Or worse, showing up with a woman who was exactly as Sadie had described. Gorgeous, shallow…and temporary.

When the phone rang he automatically checked the caller ID to see if Sadie—or maybe even Grant—had decided to call him back. But the number on the display was another familiar one.

Lucky answered with a crisp “Santana.”

Cal didn’t bother with niceties. “I’ve got a job for you.”

“I thought I was going to be training all week.” His suitcase was already in the trunk of his car, and he’d been planning to head south within the hour.

“You hate training,” Cal said, and it was a true enough statement. “Besides, this won’t even take a full day, I promise. You can be here torturing the new guys by tomorrow afternoon, no problem. Meet with the woman this afternoon or tomorrow morning, listen to what she has to say, tell her we’ll do what we can but it’s really not our specialty and get out. Easy, right?”

The jobs they thought would be easy always seemed to be the most difficult. “Why don’t you just tell her over the phone that we can’t help her?”

“I tried that. She’s very persistent.”

“What kind of case is this, exactly?”

Cal hesitated.

“Dammit, Calhoun…”

“Okay, she’s a kook. She had some sort of vision or something, and she claims she knows details about a murder but she doesn’t want to go to the police.”

Of course she didn’t. The police had probably had their fill of the local psychic. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“She’s a paying kook. She won’t rest easy until someone listens to her, and I figure she lives a couple of hours, maybe a little more, from your house. Call her, set up a meeting, get a statement and—hell—pacify her and get out as quick as you can.”

Maybe taking a statement from a kook would be more fun than sitting here staring out the window and fuming. Not because Heather was gone. Sadie had been too right when she’d said that he was pissed not because she’d left, but because he hadn’t been the one to do the leaving.

Everyone always disappointed him in the end. Family, friends, partners…lovers.

He grabbed a pad of paper and a silver pen. “Give me the kook’s address and phone number.”

Annie put the finishing touches on a special-order hat, placed it on her head and viewed the results in the mirror. She couldn’t help but smile. There was no accounting for tastes, but Teri Boyd was a good customer, and she was paying well for this hat and the matching bag. It wasn’t as if they’d actually be displayed in either of her shops. Annie’s Closet was trendy and her customers had fun browsing among the unexpected and unique. But this hat, feathers and all, was perhaps too unique. Looking at her reflection, Annie rearranged the silk sash. Maybe the hat was for a costume party, and Teri had neglected to tell her so.

The doorbell rang, and she jumped. Thanks to the dream, she’d been jumpy all day. Thank goodness she could work at home, when she wanted to. Each of her shops was capably run by a manager and a handful of part-timers, most of whom worked at Annie’s Closet simply so they could claim an employee discount.

Her hand was on the doorknob when she remembered to ask, “Who is it?” The door was solid wood. She really should have a peephole, but she’d never gotten around to having one put in.

For a moment no one answered, and then a deep male voice grumbled, “I thought you were psychic. Why do you have to ask who’s at the door?”

Had to be someone from the Benning Agency. No one else—and she did mean no one—knew about her too-real dreams. Annie opened the door slowly and looked up at what had to be the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen up close and personal. The man on her doorstep had dark hair—almost black but not quite—which had recently been neatly trimmed. Extremely prominent on his handsome face were amber eyes which were striking and powerful. He had a sharp jawline that looked as if it wouldn’t dare to sprout stubble, humorless, perfectly shaped lips and wide shoulders.

He wore an expensive black suit that looked as if it had been made for that fine body. Even the white dress shirt seemed perfectly fitted. If the tie wasn’t slightly loose and crooked, she’d think him too perfect to be real. She detected a hint of Hispanic heritage in his features, which was at odds with his honeyed Southern accent.

As he stared down at her, a smile tugged at his lips. “Nice hat,” he said.

Annie yanked the wide-brimmed and much-festooned hat from her head. “I thought you would call first.”

“Sorry. I figured you’d know I was coming.”

He didn’t believe her. Well, what had she expected?

“Come in.” She took a step back and invited him into her home, a very nice cabin with a fantastic view of the mountains from the back deck. The cabin was small, but just right for one person. The great room doubled as a work area, on most days. The kitchen was small, but functional. Her bedroom was on the main floor, as was a smaller spare bedroom, and there was an open loft for extra guests, if she ever had them. It was used for storing supplies, most of the time.

When her visitor was inside and she’d closed the door behind him, she offered her hand. “Annie Lockhart. Thank you for coming.”

He looked at her hand for a moment before taking it and shaking briefly and professionally. “Lucky Santana. Benning Agency. I dearly hate it when someone wastes my time.”

He obviously thought this trip was a waste of time. “Well, then, I’ll be as brief as possible,” she told him.

Santana’s eyes raked over the cabin quickly, taking in everything with an emotionless and seemingly bored precision. In the great room many of her supplies were scattered here and there—feathers and netting and sequins, felt and silk flowers—but there were two empty chairs sitting just a few feet apart, and they claimed them. Santana then turned his inquisitive amber eyes to her.

While he watched her with calculating eyes, Annie wished she’d chosen a different outfit this morning. The worn hip-hugger jeans were comfortable, and the beaded T-shirt was one of her favorites, but at the moment she’d give almost anything if her belly button was fully covered and her shirt didn’t cling to her breasts. Shoes would be better than the toe ring—which was all she wore on her feet. This man just studied her too damn hard.

“A man and woman from just south of Mercerville were murdered a couple of months ago,” she began. “Well, on the news the sheriff said it was a murder-suicide, but he’s wrong. There was no suicide. A man broke into their house and…” She shook her head as an image from the dream assaulted her. “He murdered them both.”

“Who is he?” Santana asked, still openly suspicious.

“I don’t know. In my dream it was like I was in his head. I couldn’t see what he looked like.”

“In your dream,” he repeated without emotion.

“Surely Mr. Calhoun explained to you why—”

“Yes,” Santana interrupted. “He explained that you’re a psychic of some sort, but he didn’t tell me what you expect us to do for you. What did the sheriff say when you told him about your dream?”

She tried not to look guilty. “I didn’t tell the sheriff, and I won’t. Surely Mr. Calhoun told you that I don’t want to go to the authorities. That’s the reason I called your company.”

“Yeah, he told me. I just wanted to hear the ‘why’ from you.”

“The ‘why’ is very simple. They won’t believe me.”

“Miss Lockhart,” Santana said in that deep and emotionless voice of his, “I don’t believe you.”

“I’m paying you to believe,” she snapped, and then she reined her temper in. “Look, I can tell you what I know about the killer and how he killed those poor people. Then you can look for concrete evidence, find the killer and turn him in. You can be the hero, he’ll be off the streets as he should be and no one needs to know that I had anything to do with it.”
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