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Shelby Morgen - The Marker

By Tom Knight,2014-11-14 18:39
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Shelby Morgen - The Marker

THE MARKER

SHELBY MORGEN

    ? Copyright Shelby Morgen, 2003.

    All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave.

    Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc. USA

    Ellora's Cave Ltd, UK

    Edited by Martha Punches Cover Art by Scott Carpenter

     All characters and events are fictional. No reference to any actual person or event, in whole or in part, is in any way implied by any scene or character representation in this novel.

     A heartfelt thanks to the West Virginia State Police, Jefferson and Berkeley County Detachments, and to the staff of the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, for answering endless questions with patience and attention to detail.

    Special thanks to Treva, Kate, Martha, J.D., Maryam and M.T. for endless hours and

    encouragement

    And to my husband, Bill, for introducing me to all things Irish... Erin Go Bragh

Prologue

    Monday May 1st, 1989

     "Just a little farther, now." The lantern cast a dim shadow. The air was thick, heavy with moisture. They were interlopers, intruders disturbing the silence with the sharp intake of their breath. The climb up had been steep, and all of them were winded. They stood, staring as far ahead as the sputtering lantern cast its miserly glow, awed by the scene before them. The only sound other than their breath was a slow drip of water somewhere toward the back of the miniature lake. "It's gorgeous," the woman whispered.

     A tiny metallic click was the only warning they ever had. The woman turned as a blinding flash of light split the dank air. The explosion echoed off the stone walls, a cacophony of sound in that still, quiet place. She had time to scream before the second shot rang out. *****

     Sam Callaghan bolted out of the bed, scrambling for his gunbelt. It took him a moment, hunched there in the darkness beside the bed, to realize the gunshots belonged to another world. The cold, dank world of a dream. His heart hammered out a rhythm that would have done a bass

    guitarist proud. The adrenaline shooting through his veins was certainly real. He stood up slowly, sliding his service revolver back into its holster. He ran a shaking hand through his hair and glanced at the clock. 4:30 AM. Too late to go back to sleep.

     Gunbelt still clasped loosely in one hand, he made a check of the perimeter, rattling the lock on each window and turning every doorknob before he slid the bolt home on the bathroom door and climbed into the shower. He stood there under the pounding spray until the water started to run cold, loath to return to reality. But with the towel and the lights came the reflection looking back at him from the mirror.

     "Second Sight," his mother had called it. "God's gift to the Irish." Well, God could have it back, Sam decided. That and all the rest of his Irish heritage. He wanted no more of these dreams that were more real than being awake.

    Hope hadn't even been in this one.

    Or had she?

    In his dream, the shooter had had both hands on the pistol. Who had been holding that lantern?

    Chapter One

    Wednesday, May 3rd, 1989

     First Sergeant Sam Callaghan pulled his cruiser to a stop outside the main gates of the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown. It was good to plant his feet back on the ground. He stretched, flexing one vertebra at a time until he stood erect, his stance military in its precision as he reached his full 6'5" in height. He took his time crossing the asphalt drive to the armory door. He was in no real hurry to check his weaponhe always felt naked once he'd surrendered his sidearm.

     The dream he'd had three days ago hadn't helped any. He could still hear the echoes of the shots ringing out whenever he closed his eyes. It didn't matter that it had happenedwhatever had happenedover

    eighteen years ago. The dream made it fresh, a raw aching wound, as if it had all been yesterday.

    Especially the part about Hope.

     These long drives left him a little stiffer now. He was starting to feel his age. He still volunteered for every out of town assignment that came along, though there seemed little point any more. It had been too longfifteen years. Fifteen years, and all he had was questions, and doubts, and fears, and a hollow ache where his heart should have been. Still he couldn't quite shake the lingering belief that somehow, somewhere, he'd find her again. He'd round a corner, turn the bend, open a door, and there she'd be.

     He was a fool. He was a cop. He knew how to find people. If he couldn't find her she didn't want to be found. What was worse, he knew he was

    a fool, and he still couldn't give it up. What was she to him, anyway? A suspect. Not even that, really. An innocent caught up in a world she'd barely comprehended.

     Her very innocence was what had captured him. Despite the filth around her, she'd remained cleanthe only clean, pure thing there was

    to remind him that no matter how far under he went, men like Jesse couldn't destroy all that was good in the world.

     Jesse had called her Hope. Sam knew it wasn't her real name, but no matter how hard he'd tried, he couldn't find out who she really was or where she'd come fromor where she'd gone back to. It was partly his own fault. He'd wanted to keep her name out of his reports. The less he knew about her back then, the better it was for her. By the time he wanted to know more it was too late. She'd vanished without a trace.

     Men like Jesse used women like Hopeused them and broke them and

    left them along the roadside like yesterday's trash. For a while, Sam had been fortunate enough to share some little part of Hope's life. He'd made a difference.

     Just not enough of a difference. Because when it came right down to it, the case always came first.

     Now, fifteen years later, all he had to show for his dedication was a few extra pieces of brass on his collar, an empty place beside him in his bed at night, and an unclosed homicide nearly two decades old. Still he couldn't let go. Some jobs you just couldn't leave at the office when you went home at night. He'd never been able to get Jesse out of his head. He'd never been able to get Hope out of his heart.

     Fifteen years had come and gone, and he was no closer to finding Hope than the day she left. Maybe it was time to let her go.

     The asphalt felt slightly sticky with heat under his black oxfords. The air in the Administration Building was already stuffy, though summer wasn't officially here yet. Sam stood waiting at the front desk while the receptionist called for a junior officer who would escort him back to the operations building.

     Brenda, his dispatcher, had asked him out a few weeks ago. A man couldn't help noticing how well Brenda filled out that uniform. She wasn't Hope, but she'd been there, been part of his life, every day for the last fifteen years. If she hadn't given up on him yet, Sam decided, he'd accept. Hell. Maybe he'd ask her. He wasn't getting any younger. Besides, there was that betting pool the squad had going. He wasn't supposed to know about it, but there was little in his barracks that escaped his notice.

    "Can I help you, Officer?"

     Sam pushed his smoke colored sunglasses to the top of his head long enough to let his eyes adjust to the relatively dim interior florescent

lighting. He looked downand down again.

     The woman who stood behind the reception desk now had to be less than five foot tall. She stood admiring him with pale blue eyes that were just a little too friendly.

     Where had she come from? How had she managed to simply appear right in front of him? He really was losing his edge. "I'm already signed in and stamped," Sam explained. He held out his fist so she could see the ink that looked like a temporary tattoo across the back of his hand.

     Her warm appraisal made him uncomfortable, like a piece of meat in a butcher's display case. He always got a sick, guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach when women looked at him that way. He slipped his hand into his pocket, fingering a worn silver chain.

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord art with thee...

     He shifted his gaze away from direct contact with the woman at the front desk, studying the pictures on the wall behind her. Anything but meeting the woman's watercolor eyes. Anything not to encourage her.

     The pictures held the usual faces. The Governor. The Commissioner of Corrections. The names changed from one institution to another, but the faces stayed pretty much the same. "Sam Callaghan, West Virginia State Police. I'm waiting for"

     Except that one. Sam stopped mid-sentence as his eyes scanned the picture again. Employee of the Month. "Kristina J. Donovan." The woman blinked twice. "Excuse me?"

     He was hardly aware he'd read the name aloud. Sam rallied himself, forcing his breathing back under control, willing his pulse rate back to normal. He turned his most charming smile on the little woman. Her badge said she was a Unit Manager. Doris White. "I'm waiting for an escort back to Interview, Ms. White, but I'd really like to see Kristina Donovan while I'm here if you could arrange that for me."

     Doris studied him for a moment longer, her smile fading. "Tina's in records, pulling some case files for me. I'll take you back."

     Sam nodded curtly, dismissing the woman as if she didn't exist. Because, for him, she didn't exist. His mouth went dry. His chest felt tight, as if there were some great weight pressing on it. He slid his hand back into his pocket. Hail Mary, full of grace...

     The hall seemed like the longest walk he'd ever taken. You're just imagining the resemblance. You've been wrong before.

    The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women...

     Why would she be here? He'd thought to find her in a restaurant, or a shop somewhere oror anywhere else. Anything but actually working in law enforcement.

    Hope? A caseworker named Kristina Donovan? That can't be Hope. Not here.

     Doris waved at a doorway where a sign on the wall said records. "I'll be around the corner in the copy room if you need me," she offered.

Hope...

    His heart was beating so fast it was bound to explode.

    Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

     He stood staring, drinking in the sight of her, waiting for her to feel his eyes watching, waiting for her to look up, recognize him, call his name.

     Control. Get yourself under control. Slow, deep breaths. Can't let her see you falling apart like this.

     Her name was different, her hair was shorter, just past shoulder length, but she couldn't change her facethe face that had haunted his

    dreams. She looked a little older, naturally, but not so much older. Not as much older as he'd been feeling lately. She'd gained some weight, but only enough to give her curves a fuller, softer line. He'd have recognized her anywhere. His arms ached to hold her. He had to try three times before he could find the voice to speak her name.

    "Ms. Donovan?"

    Tina looked up, startled by the voice from the doorway. "Ms. Donovan? I'm Sam Callaghan. I'm here for Kelly?"

     The voice was rich and deep, flavored with the taste of the South, warm and almost intimate from across the room. Memories came flooding back. Warm breath against her neck in the night. Hot lips pressed against her skin. Promises whispered in a soft southern drawl. Tina closed her eyes, trying to push back the pain.

    Spike...

     She almost whispered his name, but she knew he wouldn't respond. He'd said his name was Sam. Sam Callaghan. She was imagining the resemblance.

    She'd been alone too long.

     The Trooper took up the entire doorway, filling it like the moon eclipsing the sun. Tina glanced back down at the files Doris had requested, trying to hide her confusion. The man's voice had sounded so familiar for a moment. It took her back, to another time, another place. But he couldn't be Spike. He was a cop...

     "Kelly?" Tina quickly reverted to her professional shell, shutting down her emotions with the ease that came from years of practice. "Doris pulled quite a few files. This may take me a few minutes."

     "I don't mind waiting." Although the ghost in the doorway answered with a smile that dimpled his chin, he didn't disappear. He just stood there, one hand in his pocket, staring at her. Maybe not staring. That wasn't quite right.

    Waiting.

    She just didn't know what the hell he was waiting for.

     He settled against the doorframe, one shoulder hiked slightly higher than the other, as if he were planning to wait right there all day.

    Spike used to carry.. .No. He was a cop. Just another cop doing his job.

    But that voice....

    If she could just get a good close look at his eyes...

     She couldn't begin to concentrate on the paperwork in front of her with a uniformed State Trooper standing in her doorwayespecially one

    who looked like a Greek god and who reminded her so much of a ghost from her past. "There are chairs out front, just as you come in," she offered hopefully.

     "I'm fine. Unless I'm disturbing you." He added it almost as an afterthoughtwhich it probably was.

     There were chairs right here in the records room. Chairs and desks where you could, normally, sit down and read the files you'd just requested. But if he sat down across from her, which she knew he would, that would place the man at her eye level and only four feet away. She'd be able to get a better look at his eyes. "Have a seat, Officer Callaghan."

    "Thank you, Ma'am."

     Tina tried not to stare as she searched through the files Doris had pulled, even though he was worth staring at. But just as he got close enough for her to really see his eyes he did the oddest thing. He put his sunglasses back on.

    Damn.

     He moved with the sure, strong, confident rhythm of an athlete. "Baseball?" she asked absently.

    One eyebrow raised behind the dark glasses. "Was that just a lucky guess?"

     Tina hadn't meant to say it out loud, but since it seemed she had, she explained. "You're very athletic, but you don't look like the football type," she reasoned, trying to keep her glance impersonal.

     "I used to play baseball, in high-school and college," he admitted. "Now it's softball on the weekends with the guys from the department. We have a charity league. Helps to keep in shape. The bad guys are getting younger and I'm not."

     As if he needed to worry about aging. He was the kind of man who would just get better looking with age. Tina found such injustices annoyed her more now that she'd hit forty-something. "I'm sorry," she muttered as she frowned at the stack of files in front of her. "Give me that name again please."

     "Kelly," the Trooper repeated. No, not a Trooper. He was an Officer. First Sergeant Sam Callaghan, according to the nametag over his breast pocket. "Liam Kelly."

    Liam Kelly? Why did that name sound almost familiar?

     Tina frowned down at the stack of paperwork in front of her. She

    knew that name, damn it, but it wasn't here. This wasn't going well at all. "I don't have that file. The records clerk will have to pull it for you. It'll take her a couple of minutes." Or longer. The nosy old battle-ax was in no hurry these days.

     "I'm here for an interview," Callaghan explained. "We may need Kelly to give us a deposition in a double homicide case back in West Virginia."

     "West Virginia?" Tina grabbed at the edge of the desk for something to steady herself with. "Where in West Virginia?"

    "Near Charleston, Ma'am."

     The subtle hint of a Southern drawl did nothing to calm her nerves. There was an angry buzzing noise coming from somewhere at the back of Tina's skull. She stood up too quickly and nearly lost her balance as she circled the end of her desk, only to find herself scooped into the sturdy grasp of one Sam Callaghan, from Charleston West Virginia.

     His head tilted toward her. Those full, sensual lips opened just a little. For a moment she was sure he was going to kiss her. For a moment she wanted him to. "Whoa, there. Are you all right, Ma'am?" "I'm fine," she insisted, hoping she really was. "I just stood up too fast, and" "Tina, I can't find" Doris stopped in the doorway, her

    mouth agape.

     Suddenly realizing where she was and how this must look, Tina tried to extract herself from the powerful grip that held her captive. "Doris, I need"

     "Not so fast," Sam Callaghan interceded. "Ms. Donovan says she's all right, but she nearly pitched headfirst into that desk a moment ago. I'm a mite nervous about trusting her on her own pins again." "Tina!" Doris exclaimed. "What happened?"

     "It's nothing, really," Tina assured them both. "I just stood up too fast and lost my balance. If you'll kindly let go of me, Officer Callaghan?"

     "Well, if you're sure you're all right," Callaghan agreed reluctantly. "You can't expect a man to be in too much of a hurry to let a pretty lady escape his grasp, though."

     Doris laughed. "You're from West Virginia, too," she observed. "Tina used to live in West Virginia."

    "Really," Callaghan replied with evident interest. "What part?"

     "Southern." Tina abruptly sat back down. "Doris, can you ask Nancy for the file on Liam Kelly, please?"

    "Liam Kelly?" Doris questioned. "Then you're not here about the land?" "What land?" Callaghan's eyes still focused on Tina.

     Doris explained, ignoring Tina's look of frustrated warning. "Your Highway Department is taking a piece of land Tina owns down there. Some sort of bypass or something."

     "Doris, I'm sure Officer Callaghan doesn't want to hear about my

fight with the State of West Virginia."

     "Actually, it sounds interesting," Callaghan assured her with an award-winning smile.

    "Doris?" Tina repeated.

    "I'm on it." Doris flashed another smile at the officer.

     "I'm sorry," Tina mumbled, watching Doris head for the file clerk's window. "I'm sure Doris will find your file. Just give her a few minutes." "So tell me about your fight with the State over this land," Callaghan prompted.

     That voice was driving her crazy. She'd almost be willing to believe her past had walked right back into her life. But he couldn't be Spike. Not now. Not after all these years.

     She had the most ridiculous urge to cross around to his side of the desk and pull him into her arms, just to be sure. One kiss and she'd know.

    She'd likely also make a complete fool out of herself.

     Tina wished he'd take off those damn glasses. "It's nothing, really. I haven't been back to the mountain in fifteen years. I just hate to see the land spoiled to build another

    road. I've turned it all over to an attorney. He's supposed to file some sort of injunction to stop the construction."

     Callaghan shook his head. "Unless you have an Indian burial ground or something to protect, you're likely wasting your money."

     The irony of that suggestion hit Tina hard. She bit her lip to keep from laughing hysterically. "Maybe I'll have to dig one up. Thanks for the suggestion."

     Doris chose just that moment to return, a manila file folder in her hands and a junior officer in tow. "Liam Kelly is waiting for you in interview three and Officer Emeret is here to walk you back," she announced, presenting the folder with a flourish.

    "Thank you, Ma'am." His drawl got just a little thicker. So did the dimple in his chin.

     Only when Officer Callaghan had been escorted out of the building did Tina relax just a little. Callaghan was right, and she knew it. Nothing would stop the State. She was running out of time.

     "Are you all right?" Doris sounded so worried. "You've never had a dizzy spell as long as I've known you."

     "I just stood up too fast," Tina repeated her favorite new lie. "Doris, I hate to do this to you on such short notice, but I'm afraid I'm going to need to take a few days off." The worst Doris could do was fire her. It wouldn't be the first time Tina went searching for another job. Though she'd been here the longest. Five years, now. She had allowed herself to feel too secure. She bit her lip to keep from crying.

     Doris tried to look stern. "I'm very disappointed you feel that way,"

    she managed before her grin broke through. "Take two weeks, you goose. You haven't used so much as a day of sick leave in years. You only use your vacation days because they're use it or lose it. Something that good looking showed up on my doorstep looking for me I'd take a month off! Go after him, girl."

     Tina blinked twice, trying to regain her equilibrium. "Callaghan was looking for me, specifically? Are you sure?"

     "Asked for you by name," Doris assured her, a worried frown puckering her brow. "I was trying to find toner for the damn copy machines. I saw the uniform and figured Callaghan must be a friend of yours from back home. He wasn't?"

     "No," Tina admitted. "But when you mentioned the fight with the State, he said I was wasting my money on the injunction. I guess I've known all along. I just want to wrap up a few loose ends and say good-bye to my mountain before they bulldoze it all."

     "Well, you do that, Honey. Take whatever time you need. You be sure to look up that Sam Callaghan while you're down there. That man's too handsome for his own good. I've never seen such gorgeous eyes on a man. They're almost cobalt, you know? A woman could lose her soul in eyes like that."

    "His eyes were dark blue?"

    "Dark as a three carat sapphire," Doris confirmed. "How could you not notice?"

    "I was concentrating on other things," Tina admitted weakly.

     "Well, there were other things to look at in that package, too, I guess," Doris acknowledged with a lazy smile. "But I always go for the eyes first. They tell you a lot about a man."

     She'd known, as soon as she heard that voice. That soft, southern drawl, with a hint of laughter behind every word. But when she looked up and saw the uniform, the clean-shaven face, the short, almost military haircut, she hadn't been able to put the pieces together. Spike.. .couldn't you have said something to me? Anything? Did I mean so little to you?

    But he was a cop. A cop.

    "What about Kara?" Doris was asking, yanking her back to the present. Tina glanced up, startled. "Kara?"

    "Kara's mature, but I wouldn't leave any teenager alone in my house for a week."

     Tina sighed. "No, I can't leave her alone. I'll just have to take her with me. This should be an interesting discussion. Maybe I can get things finished up by the weekend, and she'll only miss tomorrow and Friday."

     "Kara won't be happy about that. Not this close to the end of the semester. She'll miss her hours at the hospital, too. You do not want

    to spend six hours in a car with a pissed off teenager."

     Kara's after school "job" at the hospital. It was a volunteer position, but she took the responsibilities seriously, and she always worked Thursday and Friday after school. This week she was working Saturday morning as well. Tina kicked herself mentally. She wasn't thinking clearly. Officer Callaghan had rattled her more than she was willing to admit, even to herself. "Shit. What the hell am I going to do?"

     "Let Kara stay with me. Then you can spend as much time as you need working things out with your Trooper. Well, within reason. Can you be back by next weekend?"

     Ten days. If she had to search the whole side of the damn mountain for a new hiding spot ten days should do it. "Yeah," Tina agreed. "Yes. That's enough time. I should be back before the end of next week, but at the worst I'll be home next Saturday." She stepped around the desk to give the older woman a quick hug. "Doris, you're so good to me!" she offered by way of thanks. "I owe you so much. How can I ever repay you?"

     "Bring in more scenery like Trooper Sam Callaghan," Doris replied with a sigh. "Looking up to see him coming down the runway made my mouth water."

    "He's a First Sergeant," Tina corrected automatically.

     "First Sergeant?" Doris repeated in puzzled confusion. "What on earth is a First Sergeant doing taking an assignment like this himself?" Looking for me, Tina thought, though she didn't say it out loud. They both looked up as Officer Emeret knocked on the door. "Ms. Donavan? "Yes?"

     "That trooper from West Virginia asked me to give these to you." Looking slightly embarrassed, Emeret dropped a worn set of silver and onyx rosary beads into Tina's hand. "He said they were yours?" Tina fingered the beads she hadn't seen in over fifteen years.

     The fear settled in. Spike was a cop. A First Sergeant with the West Virginia State Police, no less. "Thank you," was all she could manage out loud.

    "I didn't know you were Catholic," Doris observed with a frown.

     "I was half a lifetime ago," Tina replied with a laugh, hoping her attempt at humor would cover her fear. Her smile faded as soon as she was out of Doris's sight. She was absolutely certain she hadn't seen the last of First Sergeant Sam Callaghan, West Virginia State Police. As certain as she was that her past had finally caught up with herand

    that certainty frightened her to the core of her being.

     She fingered the worn beads, still warm from his hands. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee...

    * * * * *

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