Last week I posted a sneak peek of my new novel Pocket Full of Posies (it will be released in October!) and everyone wanted a little more. So, today, just because I love all my readers, here is the second sneak peek (or, in other words, the rest of Chapter One.) (If you want to read the first half from last week, click here.)
Pocket Full of Posies
by Julie Coulter Bellon
All Rights Reserved
Bart was right behind him. They breached the door and immediately began to fan out, clearing the rooms as they went. It was Bart who found the woman, bruised and cut, but alive, near the back bedroom doorway. She was sitting there half in and half out of the room, staring at the corpse of Arturo Pérez.
Bart knelt beside her and touched her arm. Her skin was clammy, but she looked calm¾oddly calm. “Lucy, are you okay?” She turned to face him, her brown eyes dark and unreadable. He expected her to be in shock, but her expression was different¾more resigned than anything else. She glanced away, touching her hairline just above the large cut on her head that was bleeding down her face.
“I’m fine.” Her voice was scratchy and raw-sounding and she winced, betraying the lie she’d just told him. She wasn’t fine. Her petite frame curled into a ball and she drew her bare feet under her as if needing the warmth. She cleared her throat a few times, focusing on the body in front of her again.
He took in the rest of her appearance and his stomach dropped to the floor. She looked liked she’d been torn from her bed. Her hair was coming out of its ponytail, her yoga pants were now stained with blood and her loose t-shirt had been ripped down one side, far enough that he could see the familiar scar near her collarbone¾which was the confirmation he needed.
This was definitely the Lucy he’d known as a teen. She’d gotten that scar when they’d raced down a hill on bikes. He’d easily won, but Lucy had fallen off when she’d tried to stop and hit the ground hard. Her collarbone had poked through her skin and once it had healed left a scar in a sort of jagged “B” shape. There was no mistaking it. This was his Lucy. And she worked for one of the most notorious drug cartels in the world.
“Luce?” He reached out to touch the scar, but she recoiled. “Luce, it’s me.”
“Bart?” Her eyes widened in surprise. “Bart Gutiérrez?”
He pushed his helmet back a bit so she could get a better look at his face. Had he changed too much for her to recognize him? “Yeah.” He spoke gently, afraid of the nostalgic feelings that were surfacing for the girl he’d known years ago. Stay professional. “Let’s get you out of here. You need a doctor.” He bent down, reaching out a hand.
She pulled back from him. “What are you doing here? How did Nico get to you so quickly?”
Bart furrowed his brow. “I’m a detective with the Hartford PD. I’m here to help you.” She wasn’t making sense, but Bart had seen victims react to stress in different ways. From the bump on her head, she might have a concussion as well. “Let me help you up.”
He didn’t know exactly where to touch her to help her up. Even through her dark tan he could see bruises starting to purple on her arms and neck. Going for the one place that was usually safe in these situations, he took her by the elbow and gently raised her to a standing position. She was small, the top of her head barely reaching his chest. Her legs gave way as she straightened and she stumbled a bit, nearly falling into the room where Arturo lay. She caught herself by grabbing on to Bart’s vest. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“I’ve got you.” He put his arm around her shoulders to steady her. He couldn’t recall very many times she’d leaned on him when they were kids. Usually she was out to prove that she could do anything he could do. This Lucy had an air of fragility around her that made him want to shield her from anything hurtful.
Several other entry team officers crowded around them, and she shrank into his side, her head tucking into his shoulder. “He was going to kill me,” she stated, her voice still scratchy, but matter-of-fact. She stared at the bloody scene in front of her. “I had to do it.”
“I know,” he reassured her and pulled her closer to block her view of the body. “Can you walk or should I carry you?”
She looked around at the other officers and straightened her back. “I can walk.” Her tone was determined and he knew she’d walk whether she really could or not. Now that was more like the Lucy he remembered.
He carefully led her away, keeping his arm around her. She leaned into him a few times as they picked a path through the trashed home and all sorts of protective feelings rushed to the surface. He caught sight of overturned furniture and broken glass, so he gingerly lifted her in his arms, trying to be cognizant of her injuries. She protested the action, but he nodded toward her bare feet. “You don’t want to cut up your feet. I’ll just get you outside.”
“Okay,” she murmured as she slipped her arm around his neck, but it didn’t really sound like it was okay. “I just can’t believe you’re a part of this.”
She still wasn’t making sense. Her body was tense, nearly rigid in his arms, and her skin felt like ice. He hoped she wasn’t going into shock. “Relax,” he said into her ear. “I won’t hurt you. I’m here to help.”
She didn’t reply, but she did relax slightly, resting her forehead on his shoulder for a moment. His grip on her tightened. What had happened in that house before they’d gotten to her?
Once they got outside there was a crowd of men waiting for them, joining the group of officers that had followed them out. Every cop and agent within a ten-mile radius had descended on the scene.
“We’ll take it from here,” the Special Agent-in-Charge said tersely. Bart tensed. This wasn’t just an op to take credit for. Lucy had a name, she was more than a mission. The crowd of men surrounding him surged forward and Bart’s arms tightened around her. This was wrong, but he didn’t know how to fix it. He reluctantly set Lucy down and handed her over to the SAC.
When the guy got out the handcuffs, Bart protested. “She’s hurt. Are those really necessary?”
The SAC didn’t even look at him, just pulled her arms forward. He tightened the cuffs around her wrists and then led her back toward the staging area where the cars were parked. Lucy glanced back, her brows knitted together, as if she wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Every instinct in Bart wanted to keep her at his side, to make sure she was okay, and then ask her what she was doing with Arturo Pérez. What had happened to being a veterinarian? What had led her to this life? Bart steeled himself, shoving down his emotions. Do the job. She’s not my concern now.
Yet he still watched her in the middle of the crowd, the only person not in a suit. She held her head high, though she was barefoot, bleeding, and her clothing torn. Hopefully they were taking her to the hospital. Even with that delay, it would be a long day of questioning for her. He closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if he should try to do something to help her. What can I do? Call her drug boss to come get his employee? Disgusted, he turned away.
Colby walked up to him. “Was it her?”
Bart nodded and took off his helmet. What else could he say?
“I’m sorry. I heard Homeland say they’re taking her back to the station for debriefing. Captain Reed’s trying to figure out where to put everyone since they’re traveling with a freaking entourage.”
Bart looked at him in disbelief. “She needs to go to the hospital before they question her. Did you see her head wound? She definitely needs stitches.”
Colby agreed. “Yeah, I saw a bit of the fight through the scope and that girl has some moves. She’s small, but quick and deadly.”
“Probably a good thing in her line of work,” Bart said.
“Yeah.” Colby wiped a hand over his face. “Everyone’s pretty anxious to question her and see what she knows.” He let out a breath and stared at the front of the house. “We don’t have to worry about that, though. We’re on clean-up duty. Guess all the bigwigs are better at bragging and questioning than doing the actual work.”
“No glory for the little guy, just grunt work,” Bart commented. “What are we looking at crime scene-wise?”
“A lot of drugs in the house, and the body of Arturo Pérez, which means we have to do this by the book. Number two guy of the Castillo cartel dead on our turf means whatever we do will be scrutinized as high as it goes. If we screw up, that’s pretty much our career.” He bent over to set his rifle case on the ground. “Too bad we couldn’t take him alive, but better him than her, right?”
Colby’s words rang through Bart’s ears and he nodded. “Better him than her,” he murmured. He believed that, but after working narcotics, he’d seen what addiction could do to a person. Was a drug life any life at all? And just because Lucy worked for a cartel didn’t mean she was an addict, right?
He’d never imagined anything like that for the Lucy he’d known, but life had a funny way of not turning out how it was supposed to. He straightened and faced the doorway of the house he’d just come out of with Lucy. Focus. “Better get started. It’s going to be a long day for us,” he said to Colby. And for Lucy, too, he thought as he went inside.