TWENTY-FOUR

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Cap was the kind of man who always seemed angry, even at the best of times, but Virginia had never seen him like this. Steve and Bruce had left after giving him their account of the morning's events, and Virginia had filled him in on the rest. He hadn't uttered a word since they started talking, but his face had said it all.

He was standing at the bedroom window, staring out to the gate. "I am so sorry for what you had to go through today," he spoke into the glass. Then he shook his head as if plagued by his own thoughts. "Thank God they were here."

Virginia, however, couldn't just shake away hers. Threatening tears set her chin to quivering. "He killed Jack. How could I have not sensed that?" She frowned, thinking of the unease and guilt she had often felt around Walt. "Maybe I did," she muttered. Had she been so caught up in Mark, so quick to blame that unease on her feelings for him, that she hadn't paid heed to her own instinct?

"I feel like I've let Jack down"—her eyes skittered around the room and the tears became too hard to hold back—"in so many ways."

Cap turned and took her into his arms, holding her tight, "Don't go blaming yourself. Walt was a liar and a sick man. He had us all fooled. And, if you are referring to your relationship with Spinelli, you're wrong. Jack would have told you to follow your heart. You know that." He stepped back, holding her at arms length. "You have had one hell of a couple of days. How are you holding up?"

"I could use a vacation." She smiled a little as she wiped at her cheeks with the back of her hands.

"That might be a good idea. You should take some time off. We can cover for you." He pulled her in for another hug. "I want you to stay away until you feel back to a hundred percent. Got it?"

She nodded into his shoulder.

"Where is Spinelli? Does he know what happened here?"

"He went out early this morning. I'll wait until he gets back." She stepped out of his embrace to sit on the edge of the bed.

"Do you think that's wise, making him wait?"

"You know what his temper is like. And what can he do now? Walt is dead"—the names rolled out like a death scroll in her mind—"Jack is dead, Simon is dead, and I'm . . . fine." Am I? Even though Walt had not been the person she had thought him to be, another friend had just been erased from her life.

The captain left with the coroner. Virginia turned away from the window when the stretcher carrying the body bag was being rolled to the awaiting van. She made her way into the shower, focusing on all the areas Walt had come into contact with. But soap could not wash away the pictures in her head. Her ankles were swollen and bruised, but luckily, there were no lacerations from the tight restraints.

Wrapped once again in a towel, she gathered up her clothes from the floor and got dressed. Having succeeded in doing something normal, she was feeling a little triumphant. Brushing her hair was the next item on her list. Making sure to avoid the bloodstain on the carpet, she walked up to his dresser to look for a brush.

A rectangular box inked with a delicate scroll spelling out MARK caught her eye. It had to be from a woman—no man would take the time to write on a box in such a feminine and painstaking way. She studied it for a few seconds, rubbing her fingers over the letters forming his name, debating on whether to look inside.

Oh, for God's sake, just open the damn thing.

She held her breath until the hinge reached its limit. Inside there was a gold Rolex, and though she was no expert, she knew in her gut it was the real thing. A picture had been stuffed into the lid. It was the young actress she had seen him with on television when he had gone to New York, the white dress memorable. With her hand on his cheek, the woman's face tilted toward his, they looked on the verge of—

Stop it, don't assume.

A small card sat atop the watch. She opened it, reading the handwritten note:

For the man with the insatiable appetite. Thank you for a wonderful night, lover. Next time, we will have to spend more TIME together.

Love Mariah

Insatiable. She read the word five times. That had been the night Mark had first told her he loved her. Did he really crawl out of this woman's bed and into hers?

You think you know him, but you don't, Simon's voice repeated from beyond the grave.

She pulled the picture from the lid. After studying the woman's features, her eyes slid up to the mirror. The face looking back at her was pale with puffy eyes and the early stages of a bruise shadowing the left side of her mouth. The hair on her head stuck out at odd angles. After three showers with no attention in between, it was a mess.

She looked exactly the way she felt—on the verge of breaking apart.

Her eyes shifted back to the picture. The brunette smiling up at Mark looked like the "after" shot in Extreme Makeover compared to her "before" image in the mirror. Bit by bit, she tore the picture in half, just as she felt her heart was being ripped down the middle. After throwing the two pieces on the dresser, she moved through the room, gathering up the rest of her things in haste. The much-needed brush was found in the bathroom and yanked roughly through her hair. She welcomed the stinging pull of every uncooperative tangle.

Outside, she headed to her car, paying attention for the first time to the vastness of the damage from the previous day. Had it only been one day? The front push-bumper was grotesquely angled at one corner, the side of the car scratched and dented all the way along from front to back. A circular ripple on the window showed where the bullet had hit.

Getting in, she touched the badge hanging from the rear view mirror. "Don't worry, Jack, I'll fix it," she whispered. "I'll fix everything."

)l(

Bruce heard the rumble of a car engine and looked over as the Mustang turned and headed toward him. Virginia stopped and stepped out, reached into the back, and came at him cradling a submachine gun. "A gift." She pushed it into his chest with a smile. "You'll have to get your own ammo, though."

"Aren't these illegal, Lieutenant?"

She rolled to her tiptoes, put her hands on either side of his face, and kissed him full on the lips. Shocked into stiffness, it had to be the worst kiss she would ever receive in her lifetime.

Idiot! he screamed in his head.

She laughed—either from the crappy kiss or the stunned look he had to be wearing—but it was brief, overtaken by a weariness that was out of place on a young woman's face. "I will never forget what you did today," she said, placing a warm palm over his cheek.

Bruce followed her back to the car. After settling in, she looked up at him with eyes that were far too sad for his liking.

"Where are you going?"

Virginia hesitated, pulling her brows low. "I don't know yet. I need some time to get this head straight again." A finger circled in the air by her ear.

"I understand. I guess I'll be seeing you around . . . bitch." He winked.

For a moment, her eyes lit up as she uncurled her middle finger. Then she was pulling away, heading down the driveway.

Steve walked up to him, frowning. "Where's she going?"

"I don't know," Bruce murmured, watching her turn onto the road. "Tell me something, though," he tacked on. "Where do you find a woman like that?"

Steve shrugged. "The police station?"

Bruce gave him a hard shove. "Call the boss. He's going to kill us."

END OF CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Here we go. How do you think Mark is going to react? Does this spell trouble for Bruce? Will Mark realize Bruce has feelings for Virginia?

Please remember to hit that little star. As always, thanks for sticking with me!


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