New Orleans Finest - Book One - by Mallory Kane
The bodies pile up… and the game goes on
In New Orleans, the bodies of murdered homeless teens have started washing up on the shores of the Misssissippi River. For detective Deveraux “Dev” Gautier, these killings are way past being personal. Each one of these kids is a resident of his shelter – a kid who got a chance for a second start. And Dev’s only lead is held by the infuriating and undeniably sexy woman who flirted with him, kissed him, and then tried to ruin his life…
Investigative TV reporter Reghan Connor stopped believing in heroes a long time ago. But when she discovers a potential lead in the case, she can’t sit idly by. Even if it means working with a man who hates her… and who still makes her knees weak with need. But now, everything Reghan believed in is about to be turned upside down.
Because sometimes the whole story hasn’t been told.
And while the good guys are willing to die for their beliefs, the bad guys are willing to kill…
Title: No Hero
Author: Mallory Kane
Genre: Category – Romantic Suspense
Length: 309 pages
Release Date: June 2012
Imprint: Dead Sexy
Praise for No Hero:
“Mallory Kane never disappoints.”
- #1 NYT Bestselling Author Sherrilyn Kenyon
© 2012 Mallory Kane
New Orleans, Louisiana
The fog off the river swirled around the lone figure as he stepped onto the abandoned wharf. His baggy jeans bunched over his Converse sneakers and a hoodie shadowed his face from the few security lights that hadn’t been broken or burned out. As he walked past a pile of discarded crab traps, a rustling noise made him jump.
“Hey,” he said, taking a step backward and squinting into the shadows. The back of his neck prickled. His hand closed around the pocketknife he’d stowed in his hoodie. “That you?”
The rustling got louder. He backed up another step, stumbling over a frayed bit of rope. He held his breath. Don’t be a river rat, he thought. They were nasty-ass things.
Then he heard another noise—a muffled cough and a groan.
“Yo,” a rusty voice said. “Got a smoke, kid? Or a drink?”
“Naw,” he said, walking past the old fool. His scalp tingled. He didn’t like it down here, especially in the fog. You couldn’t see crap. At least the noise hadn’t been a rat.
He walked all the way to the end of the dock, where the planks had been battered and chewed by dozens of boats rubbing against them over time. He gazed across the water at the bridge. He didn’t know which one it was, but he liked looking at it. Its strings of lights reminded him of Christmas when he’d been little and dumb enough to still believe in Santa Claus.
He wasn’t sure when his mom quit trying to take care of him. Must have been years before the man she’d married had kicked him out of the house. His shoulders drew up automatically, as they did whenever he thought about home—or what had been his home before that man had moved in.
He heard footsteps behind him. Familiar footsteps. “Hey man, where you been?” he asked. “Did you see that homeless dude back there? Hell, I thought he was a rat.”
He turned, pushing the hoodie back off his head. “You got a smoke?” He felt something cold press into his neck. “What’re you—” His hand shot up as a deep stinging replaced the cold. He saw a flash of metal and a spurt of blood—his blood.
Shocked and suddenly weak, he tried to move, to get away somehow, but his foot slipped. He staggered backward and stepped right off the end of the dock into the unforgiving waters of the Mississippi River.
She knew who the killer was. The thought slammed into Reghan Connor’s sleep-hazed brain, bringing her wide awake. Her fist clenched around the cell phone she held.
“Reghan? Did you fall asleep? Hello?”
She threw back the bedcovers and squinted at the clock. Four-thirty in the morning. She flicked off the alarm, which was set for five o’clock, and rubbed her eyes. “No, Annie, I’m here,” she said on a yawn. “Where did they find the body?”
“Near an abandoned warehouse on the Alabo Street Wharf. That’s—”
“Within a couple of miles of where the first kid was found.” Ten days before, floating in the river, his throat slit. Annie had called her then, too. Not in the middle of the night. She’d called later in the day, once she’d found out that the dead teenager had been a resident at the Thibaud Johnson Center for Homeless Teens. “What about cause of death?”
“His throat was slit.”
“Oh Annie, are you sure? Just like the other boy?” A nauseating surge of adrenaline made Reghan’s fingers tingle and her scalp burn. The wounds were the same. Didn’t that make two kids from the Johnson Center who’d washed up by the river within less than two weeks of each other? It was no coincidence. Or maybe it was. Kids died all the time in New Orleans. It was tragic, a waste of young lives, but it was true.
Maybe the connection between the two deaths was a coincidence, or they were drug- or gang-related—dozens of those happened in New Orleans every year. But no. She couldn’t let herself off the hook that easily.
“Is Detective Gautier there?” she asked Annie, trying her best to put a casual note into her voice. If she had talked to Dev Gautier last week, would there be one less dead kid in New Orleans tonight?
“I don’t know,” Annie replied. “I notified Detective Givens, since he caught the first case. But I’ll bet Givens called Gautier to ID the body because of the similarity of the wounds.”
Annie was probably right. “Call me if you hear anything else.”
“I can’t. This is my last break. And please. The cause of death is being withheld from the media, so please don’t say anything about it to anyone. I could lose my job.”
“Who am I going to tell? Givens?” Reghan put a smile in her voice. “No way. I’m not ratting out my best informant.” Through the phone, she could hear the metallic buzz of chatter from police radios. Annie was back at the switchboard. “I’ll let you go.”
“You’re not thinking about going down there, are you?”
“I guarantee you I won’t be the only reporter on the scene.”
“No,” Annie shot back. “Just the only one with a personal vendetta against Detective Gautier. Please, Reghan—”
“I do not have a personal vendetta against him. I just see him for who he really is. You see him as some kind of a hero. Apparently, it means nothing to you that his entire life was a lie.” She swung her legs off the bed and looked around for the jeans she’d taken off last night.
“You told me to call you with anything about him,” Annie said.
Reghan almost laughed. “And if he’d been spotted taking a bribe or roughing up a drunk, would we be talking right now?”
“What is wrong with you?” Annie snapped. “In the first place, he would never do that. And in the second, Detective Devereux Gautier is a hero to a lot of people. I’ll bet that poor boy they pulled out of the river tonight thought of him as a hero.”
“Okay, okay. I give up. I need to go. I’ve—” Reghan paused. “I’ve got to read over my questions and notes for my show this morning. I was planning to get up at five anyway.”
She knew that Annie had a thing for any man in uniform. Her friend positively worshipped cops. She also knew Annie was wrong about Gautier. He was no hero.
But he might be the target of a maniac.
She said good-bye, and for a couple of seconds after hanging up she looked at her smart tablet. But she just wasn’t able to concentrate. Annie had asked her what was wrong with her. It had been a frustrated rhetorical question, but Reghan considered it now.
What was wrong with her? Nothing. The better question was, what was wrong with the world? Annie’s outlook was pitifully naïve. She believed that men like Devereux Gautier became police officers for heroic, altruistic reasons. But Reghan knew better. There are no heroes, she wanted to tell her friend. Heroes and knights in shining armor were for kids’ fairy tales. In real life, people never lived up to expectations. That’s why they called it real life.
She headed into the bathroom, still arguing with herself about the coincidence of the two boys’ deaths. Was she going crazy, or had convicted murderer Gerard Fontenot actually told her back in February that these teenagers were going to die? She cringed, thinking about Fontenot’s eerie eyes and slithery voice. After brushing her teeth and splashing her face liberally with cold water, she buried her nose in a towel. The day had already promised to be long and stressful, even before Annie called. And Reghan still had to go over her notes before the morning’s show.
She was interviewing a city councilman about his outspoken opinions of what should and should not be taught in public schools. Her TV news program, The Real Story, was famous for being controversial, topical, with no punches pulled. But yesterday afternoon she’d gotten a tip that had ratcheted this segment up from merely contentious to downright scandalous. The councilman, who had run on a platform of decency and family values, was about to be sued for sexual harassment.
It had taken her hours to verify the information. She was comfortable with her research and sources, but before she confronted him on the air, she wanted to double-check everything one last time. She had no intention of being surprised by a single tidbit that she’d missed.
On her show, she did the blindsiding.
She tossed the towel down and pulled her hair back, anchoring it with a barrette. Back in the bedroom, she picked up her watch from the bedside table and checked the time. Almost five. She had to be at the WACT studio by six in order to be ready to go on the air at nine. She grabbed her tablet, and stuck it and her phone into her purse.
Who was she kidding? She hadn’t fooled Annie, and she wasn’t fooling herself. Her notes would keep until right before the show, because right now she was headed down to the Alabo Street Wharf. She needed to see for herself what had happened to the teenaged boy who’d been pulled out of the river.
She headed downstairs, a curious mixture of anticipation and dread hitting the pit of her stomach. It occurred to her that she’d been unconsciously waiting for Annie’s call. Because Gerard Fontenot had sat in front of her five months ago in the visitors’ room of Angola prison and told her it was going to happen. Getting the phone call from Annie was like hearing the other shoe hit the floor.
Was she crazy, for believing a crazy man?
Fontenot was a psychopath who had kidnapped and faked the death of Dana Maxwell, the wife of Dev Gautier’s ex-partner, Cody Maxwell. Fontenot had persuaded her producer to send her to Angola for an interview about the case, but then he had refused to answer any of her questions. Instead, he’d spent the entire time raving about his brilliance, his innocence, and his plan for revenge against Devereux Gautier, whom he blamed for putting him in prison. She’d come away from the interview confused and more than a little spooked.
But what if he hadn’t been raving? What if he really was exacting the revenge he had hinted at? Revenge on Detective Gautier. She had to know for certain. And warn him.
As she grabbed her keys off the coffee table in the living room, she paused briefly, her gaze sliding over her brag shelf where she kept the DVDs of her news segments. Looking at her watch, she ran a quick calculation in her head. Probably ten minutes to the wharf from here, maybe ten minutes to look at the body, then ten or twelve to get from the wharf to the WACT building. She had two minutes to spare. Did she want to keep them for cushion, to make sure she got to the studio by six?
Her hand went unerringly down the alphabetized shelf to the DVD labeled“Fontenot, February 24.” She hesitated. It would take her only a few minutes to listen to Fontenot’s disturbing words one more time and decide if his ravings sounded as ominous and prophetic as she remembered. She shuddered as she turned on the TV and inserted the DVD into the player.
When the screen lit up, the camera was on her. She watched herself lift her chin and look straight into the lens. Bert, the cameraman, flipped on a bright light, then proceeded to adjust its angle. She could hear the faint metallic whir of the camera.
“Lighting’s perfect,” Bert said. “We’re ready to go.”
As if on cue, the eerie wail of a metal door opening assaulted her ears. She watched herself cringe and hunch her shoulders. Bert swung the camera toward the door. A uniformed prison guard backed through it, pulling Gerard Fontenot’s wheelchair with him, then turned and rolled the chair up to the big, scarred interview table and set the brake as the metal door clanged shut.
Fontenot looked small and feeble in the industrial chair. He could be someone’s grandfather instead of the diabolical killer Reghan knew him to be. It was difficult to imagine the hunched man in a worn blue flannel bathrobe, his legs covered by a blanket, literally scaring his wife to death by putting snakes in her refrigerator, or forcing Dana Maxwell to lure her husband, Cody, into a deadly trap, or outsmarting the police for years before his own arrogance finally tripped him up.
She fast-forwarded. When she stopped the recording, the camera was in close-up on Fontenot’s face as she spoke. “—stated in court that you blame Detective Gautier for the accident that put you in a wheelchair.”
“Of course. With a careless brush of his hand,” Fontenot imitated the gesture, “he trapped me forever in this metal prison.”
“Mr. Fontenot, it was the justice system that put you in prison.”
“My dear Reghan. You are smarter than that. I’m not talking about the penitentiary. I’m talking about this damn chair. You know the story. During his oh-so-daring rescue of his partner, Maxwell, and his wife, Gautier slammed me against a marble-topped table and broke my spine. I will never walk again. That cretin stole my freedom. But I am not defeated. I have resources I have not even begun to tap.”
“Resources?” her voice queried.
Even now her scalp tightened and her stomach turned in anticipation of what he was about to say.
“I will reach out, Ms. Connor. I am the father, the child, and the spirit. No one can equal me. Your Detective Gautier will suffer much more at my hand than I ever did at his. He will know the hell of watching that which he values most, destroyed.”
She punched the off button and grabbed her purse and keys and headed out to her car, feeling no more sure than she’d been before she’d watched the disk. Fontenot’s words were ominous, yes, and she was certain anyone would view what he’d said as a threat to Dev. But a threat was a far cry from proof.
Maybe once she got to the crime scene and found out if the dead teen was connected with the Johnson Center, she could decide once and for all if Fontenot was behind the killings, or if his prophetic words had been just the ramblings of a maniac.
As she approached the docks of the Port of New Orleans, blue and red flashing lights guided her to the scene. Parking at the top of Alabo Street Wharf, she pushed through the crowd of onlookers to the area cordoned off by yellow tape.
There was a stark, surreal quality to the scene. Spotlights set up by the Crime Scene Unit cut a watery path through the haze off the river, and wispy spirals of steam rose into the relatively cool predawn air, off streets still warm from yesterday’s sun. Flashing strobes lent an eerie old-movie aura to the movements of the crime scene techs as they went about the gruesome business of photographing and cataloguing the murder scene.
She stood there for a moment, just watching, feeling goose bumps rise on her skin as rivulets of sweat trickled between her breasts. The air was heavy and humid, only a shade cooler than hell, and it smelled like fish and rain and automobile exhaust. She, like everyone who’d lived in New Orleans all their lives, had learned to deal with the weather, but had never really gotten used to it.
People shouted back and forth, and every few seconds the sound of another siren split the air as an official vehicle arrived or left. Someone bumped into her from behind. She turned her head, the words “pardon me” automatically forming on her lips, but whoever had jostled her was gone, melting back into the faceless crowd. A fleeting smell of something sweet added an odd undernote to the other smells that wafted on the mist.
Then someone adjusted the beam of a spotlight, and she saw him.
Apprehension squeezed the breath out of her. The fact that Detective Givens had called him to the scene gave her the answer she’d been looking for. This dead teenager was also one of Dev’s.
She had no trouble keeping him in sight, even with the ebb and flow of the crowd of rubberneckers. He was a couple of inches taller than everyone around him, his harshly handsome face and confident bearing drawing every eye. Faded black jeans and a black T-shirt under a summer-weight sport coat that looked effortlessly wrinkled were molded to his lean, powerful body. He was standing, hands at his side, looking down. From the grim expression on his face, she knew he was looking at the body. He stood with legs apart, like a warrior prepared for any attack. As she watched, he brushed the tail of his jacket aside and slid his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. A flash of light on metal drew her eye to his belt, where his New Orleans Police Department detective’s badge was clipped next to the black leather holster that held his service weapon.
Without warning, a memory hit her—the slight scrape of the stiff leather of that holster against her abdomen when it caught a thread on her favorite silk blouse. She clenched her fist, digging her car keys into her palm, using the pain to cleanse the image from her brain. After all this time, after all that had happened, she should be past such a knee-jerk physical reaction to seeing him again.
Just then, he raised his head and looked in her direction, his face starkly planed like a sculpture in the harsh spotlights. The impact of those black, piercing eyes almost buckled her knees. But his gaze paused only for an instant, then moved on, sweeping the crowd.
She swallowed hard and glanced around sheepishly. He hadn’t even noticed her.
A tall, gaunt man with average brown hair and a detective badge pinned to the pocket of his jacket stepped up to Dev. Givens probably. The two of them spoke for a moment, then Dev made a sweeping gesture toward the river. A third man, almost a foot shorter and round with a dark brown comb-over, joined them. He nodded at Dev, then spoke to Givens. Dev took a half-step backward, rubbing the heel of his palm across his forehead, an unconscious gesture that spoke of his exhaustion. His cheeks were shadowed by a day’s growth of beard, and his midnight dark hair bore the furrows of a dozen passes of his fingers.
When he looked back down at the body, something changed in his bearing. It was subtle, but Reghan caught it. His broad shoulders slumped almost imperceptibly, his lips compressed, and a muscle ticked in his jaw.
Watching him triggered a familiar sensation inside her—a hyperawareness that flooded her senses when she was on the scent of a story. Her throat trembled and her fingers tingled. The breeze off the river, the smell of fish and garbage, even the subtle colors barely visible in the gray light of dawn, all intensified. Not only did Dev know the victim, he cared about him.
She had to get closer. She pushed forward and slipped under the yellow tape.
“Hold it, ma’am.”
A large uniformed police officer appeared directly in front of her. Football type, all thick shoulders and beefy arms that stretched the blue material of his shirt. “You need to stay behind the line. In fact—” He turned to address the onlookers. “—all of you need to go home. Excitement’s over.”
Reghan pulled her WACT identification badge out of her purse and held it up.
The officer waved it away impatiently. “You heard me—” he started as his gaze caught the name on her badge. “Hey, I know you,” he said, crossing his muscled arms and glowering down at her. “Aren’t you that reporter who caused all the trouble for Detective Gautier?”
“I’m Reghan Connor with WACT,” Reghan said, giving him her best close-up smile, although inside she groaned. There it was. The Blue Wall. She’d slammed into it when she’d begun probing into Dev’s past five months earlier. How could it not matter to the police that Dev’s entire life, even his fake Cajun name, was one big lie? She knew the answer—he was one of their own. She just didn’t understand it. He’d lied to them. Yet to a man, they had closed ranks around Dev to protect him from her. Even the captain, who had been blindsided by her revelations and been put in the position of temporarily suspending Dev until things were resolved, had taken his detective’s side.
Now she was persona non grata with the police department. Hardly fair. She’d reported the truth. He was the liar.
She lifted her chin and sent the officer her most commanding look. “I need to see Detective Gautier, Officer—” she glanced at his name badge “—Stevens.”
From the corner of her eye, she caught the efficient movements of the crime scene techs. They were pulling a black body bag from their van. If she didn’t make her move now, she’d lose her last chance to get a look at the body.
“No, you don’t,” the officer said. “Now why don’t you—”
Just then, a scrawny kid with a shaved head, several piercings in various places, and a large nick out of one ear pushed another teen into the police tape and jostled Stevens, who whirled, his hand reaching for his nightstick. Reghan took her opportunity. She slipped past him and headed for Dev.
She dreaded speaking to him. She didn’t want to see the hatred in his eyes when he looked at her. She deserved it, she supposed. From her point of view, she’d done a news story, telling the truth about him. But she knew he didn’t see it that way. From his perspective, they’d met three times. The first time they’d flirted, the second time they’d kissed, and the third time she’d ripped open the secrets of his past and torn a hole in his life.
For a second she lost sight of Dev, but as she got closer she realized he’d crouched down to examine the body more closely. When she was within a couple feet of him she stopped, hoping to blend into the background long enough to get a good look at the body. It was a young black man, probably just shy of twenty years old. His clothes were wet, and he had a dirty high-top tennis shoe on one foot. The other foot was bare and—Reghan swallowed hard—the toes were missing.
The photographer crouched next to Dev. “We’re done with this side, Detective,” she said.
Dev snapped a glove onto his left hand. “Then get a good close-up of his neck.” He reached out and gently turned the boy’s head. About one-and-a-half to two inches of flesh was laid open on the left side of the boy’s throat and angled downward. There was no blood, just pink, ragged tissue gaping like an obscene open mouth against his dark skin. Dev’s right hand clenched into a fist against his thigh, telegraphing his tight control.
The camera flashed, throwing the gaping neck wound into sharp focus for an instant. Reghan’s mouth went dry and her ears buzzed. Annie had told her the victim’s throat was slit. But seeing it now, for herself, she felt like she might faint.
This was one of Dev’s homeless kids—she was sure of it. Just like the boy who’d been found the week before. Fontenot’s eerie voice echoed in her head. Your Detective Gautier will suffer as he made me suffer, but worse, much worse. He will know the hell of watching that which he values most, destroyed.
She must have subconsciously known last week when she’d heard about the first death that another teenager would die, even if she hadn’t wanted to believe Fontenot’s crazy talk. She hadn’t done anything about it then. Her hand went to her mouth as if to muffle the scream of denial she felt pushing at the back of her throat. She couldn’t make the same mistake now.
She must have made a sound, because Dev spun and stood in one fluid motion. He glared at her as he ripped off the glove. “What the hell are you doing here?” he bit out, then angled his head toward the crime scene tech without taking his eyes off her. “Get him bagged and out of here before the scene gets any more contaminated.”
Reghan winced. She’d been on the receiving end before of that black, intimidating glare. Back then it had been tinged with haunted pain and a touch of fear. Right now, it was a lethal combination of anger and frustration. “Detective, I need to—”
“Somebody escort Reghan Connor back to wherever she came from,” he said, making it sound as if she’d crawled out from under a particularly slimy rock.
Suddenly Officer Stevens was beside her, wrapping a massive hand around her arm in a punishing grip. Dev started to turn away.
“Wait!” she cried. Desperate not to lose her one chance to talk to him, she caught hold of his wrist. Her fingers barely fit halfway around it, but touching him sent a shiver through her, and called up the smell of soap and coffee and warm skin, and the remembered feel of his hard, erotic kiss.
Dev looked down at her hand, then efficiently twisted out of her grip. “You’re contaminating a crime scene, Connor,” he said coldly. “You should be over there with the rest of the talking heads.” He nodded toward the group of reporters being held back by police. He glanced at Stevens and inclined his own head in that direction.
“Let’s go, Ms. Connor,” Stevens said as he jerked on her arm.
She bit back a yelp of pain, struggling to keep her footing, fighting not to break eye contact with Dev. “Please,” she insisted. “This is important. I have information about the victims.”
Dev’s glare changed almost imperceptibly, a flicker of interest filtering in under the hostile skepticism.
Encouraged, she did her best to stand her ground as Stevens tugged her toward the police tape. She craned her neck and managed to hold Dev’s gaze. When he ran his hand around the back of his neck and shook his head, as if arguing with himself, triumph swelled her heart.
“Hold up,” he said to Stevens. “I’ll handle her. Break up the crowd and get the rest of the reporters out of here.”
Dismissing Stevens with a toss of his head, Dev glowered down at Reghan, his black eyes burning into hers, daring her to waste his time. “This better be good, Connor,” he growled. “In fact, it better be spectacular.”