“Come on, pretty thing, ‘Save A Horse, (Ride A Cowboy’) like the song says.”
Give me a break.
Number one, Gino Bernardi would never be mistaken for a cowboy in his designer jeans and silk shirt, and number two, she hadn’t ridden a horse in years, around about the same time she’d actually ridden a cowboy.
She was beginning to regret coming to work tonight. Her measly salary was so not worth having to babysit an obnoxious perv like Gino Bernardi. Most days she didn’t have to deal with his kind. Still trying to wrap up her last few college credits at night school, she normally worked the morning shift. Tonight she’d offered to switch with Jeff Flanagan so he could enjoy his kids over the Thanksgiving holidays. Something had come up unexpectedly, and his ex had asked him to keep them overnight.
She had a soft spot for kids and their daddies, especially since her own ten-year old had never seen hers. With Jessie at her grandmother’s for the weekend, Maddy had volunteered to take Flanagan’s shift.
She jumped when Bernardi slid the empty tray through the opening. “Sugar, I swear I’ve never seen a police woman who looks like you, and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of them. You could be the cover on one of them naked cop calendars.” He lowered his voice. “And just between you and me, I’m about to become a rich man. If you treat me right, I might be tempted to spend a little of it on you.”
Maddy frowned as she pulled the tray through. “Try to get some sleep, Bernardi. I’ll be out front if you need anything.”
He smirked. “Oh, I need something, all right. And you do, too, if you’d ever admit it. Come on. Ten minutes. That’s all I need.” When she started toward the door, he called after her.
“Okay, five minutes.”
Just shoot the sonofabitch and put him out of his misery.
Maddy screamed, jumping back as the tray clattered to the concrete floor. “Tessa! What are you doing here?”
“Who’s Tessa?” Bernardi asked, leaning as far as he could to see through the bars. “Maybe we can do a three-way.”
Sounds good, big boy. Why don’t you go ahead and get started? Slip into something more comfortable—like a coma!
Maddy blinked twice, then ran from the cell area. She lowered her body into her chair, letting out the breath she’d held while she ran. She had to quit burning the candle at both ends. Even her mind was starting to go just like the rest of her stressed-out body.
Surprised to see me, sis?
Maddy shot straight up when her younger sister plopped down on the edge of the desk. Her dead younger sister! “It’s really you?”
In the flesh, Tessa said, her eyes scanning the empty police station, before settling back on Maddy. Okay, maybe not in the flesh, but here, nonetheless.
Maddy tried to calm down enough to think rationally. “Why are you still here? I thought you were finally at rest after we found your killer.”
Yeah, you may have found him, but he got off too easy when Colt put a bullet in his back. The SOB didn’t suffer nearly enough.
Maddy sighed. “Would you have preferred that he kill our sister instead? Colt did what he had to do to save Lainey.” She poked her finger toward her sister but felt only air.
Give it up, Maddy. You can’t feel me.
“Thought you’d gone off to wherever dead people go for eternal peace, or whatever.”
Yeah, that eternal peace thing is overrated, if you ask me.
Tessa sniffed. I was sent back to help you.
“Help me with what?”
Beats the hell out of me. I just go where they send me. Tessa giggled. St. Peter’s old lady wanted me out of there in a hurry.
Despite herself, Maddy laughed. Her younger sister had always had a penchant for pissing off other women, usually over a man. But St. Peter? She didn’t even want to know what Tessa had done. “So, really, why are you back? You told Lainey your work here was finished.”
I know. I know. Like I said, I have no idea why I’m here.
Tessa scooted off the desk and walked around to face Maddy.
What’d you go and do?
“Nothing,” Maddy said, indignantly. “My life’s fine. My daughter’s fine.”
Seeing her dead sister had been quite a shock but not totally a surprise. When Tessa was poisoned the year before, she’d come back to help find her killer. At first, Maddy and her three sisters had freaked out, but they’d finally accepted it to be true when Tessa began spouting off secrets only she could have known. Back then, Lainey was the only one who could see or hear the ghost, and they’d all assumed Tessa had gone off to the big condo in the sky when her murder was solved.
“You look good,” Maddy finally managed to say.
I do, don’t I? No wonder that old bag didn’t want me around Pete. Tessa’s grin faded, and she eyed Maddy curiously. Are you sure you’re not in trouble?
Just then, a loud rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun pierced the quiet of the room. Maddy’s eyes shifted toward Tessa, unable to squelch the apprehension that suddenly washed over her. She glanced down to the source of the music and slowly opened the desk drawer. A cell phone skittered across the bottom as it vibrated.
Taking a deep breath, she scolded herself for being so paranoid. She picked up the phone and flipped it open, ready to razz one of the guys for leaving it at the office. She’d bet money it belonged to Landers. The kid would forget his head if it wasn’t screwed on.
“Looking for your phone?” Maddy asked with a laugh.
“Madelyn Castillo?” the voice on the other end asked.
“Yes,” she stammered, not recognizing the weird voice as any of her co-workers. Silently, she prayed her sister’s sudden appearance was only a mistake.
“Checked on your daughter lately?” the computer-enhanced voice continued.
Panic set in the minute Jessie’s name was mentioned. “Who is this?”
“You might want to take a look at the text messages.”
Maddy jerked the phone from her ear and held it out in front of her as she pounded the menu button. Her fingers were shaking so badly she hit the wrong one twice before finally getting to the right page. The minute she clicked on the massage, a photo popped up. “Oh my God!” she said, almost inaudibly as she dropped the phone on the desk.
Tessa leaned over and stared at the picture, her facial expression turning serious as she viewed the image of a hooded man standing over Jessie’s bed, a gun pointed directly at her head.
Find out what they want.