Sergeant Frank Harmon let his patrol boat drift a few feet off the eastern shoreline of Lake George. The crystal blue waters danced under the hot summer New York sun. The only waves on the lake were those created by the unusually high volume of boaters. He loved summers, but not ones that seemed to go on forever, and were so hot. Too hot, which always seemed to make his job more difficult. Right now, he simply needed rest and to have the summer months end. Being on the lake had proven to be more difficult than he’d imagined.
He lifted his sunglasses and peered into the rearview mirror mounted on the center console. The dark circles under his blue eyes glared back, reminding him of the lack of sleep caused by a single haunting nightmare. One, that no matter how hard he tried, he could not shake. He pushed the dark glasses back over his eyes and sat down on the driver’s stool. Normally, he loved lake patrol. It had been his favorite aspect of the job, but not lately. He couldn’t stop thinking about his mistake and the life it had cost. He took a deep breath and tilted his head toward the sun, removing his trooper hat. Even with a fresh buzz, his forehead beaded with sweat.
The noise of girls screaming and laughing caught his attention. Two jet skis circled the boat the girls were on, spraying water at the boat as they maneuvered way too close. He watched as the girls did their best to fend off the water balloons that were flung at them. “Damn stupid kids.” He stood and put the boat in gear. Fun he could let go, recklessness he couldn’t.
One of the boys on the jet ski gunned his watercraft, swerving in front of Frank, nearly missing the bow. He flicked on the siren to his patrol boat. Time to teach this kid a lesson. The boy glanced over his shoulder and shot Frank a smug grin before gunning the jet ski and heading across the channel where rock formations in the water made it impossible for him to follow. “Damn it.”
The boatload of girls yelled at Frank and pointed to the other shoreline where the other jet ski with what appeared to be a much younger boy bolted out of the channel, heading toward the east shore. “Gotcha.” Frank maneuvered his patrol boat to cut off the reckless driver between the shoreline and the islands.
He peered over his sunglasses at the young blond boy. Too young, he thought as he tied the jet ski to his boat. “Get in,” he commanded. “And bring your license with you.” He shoved his glasses back up on his nose. The kid couldn’t be more than five feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds.
Frank took the license, barely looking at it as he scanned the area. Boats hummed by in record numbers, causing waves to crash against his patrol boat. His body beaded with perspiration. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“I didn’t do nothing wrong,” the kid said with a snide tone. His body was rigid, and he gave Frank a cold stare through squinted eyes.
Frank lifted his uniform hat and ran his arm across his damp forehead. “Listen,” he started as he placed his hat back on his head wishing it was his baseball cap and this day had already ended. “A boating license doesn’t cover a jet ski. You have to be fourteen to get that kind of license, which you are not. In addition, I also saw you giving those girls a hard time, not to mention the reckless driving.”
The sun scorched high above the lake, casting a blinding glow across the still, crystal clear water. The ability to see more than five feet beneath the surface made it just a tad easier to be back out on lake duty. He reminded himself that the department shrink said it would get easier with each patrol. Frank wondered if the haunting memories of pulling a lifeless body from the cold lake would ever completely go away.
The temperature was unseasonably hot for an August afternoon in New York, and all Frank wanted was a cold beer and a warm, feminine body. Not a juvenile delinquent.
“Where do you live, kid?” The first sign of fear appeared on the boy’s face. Frank glanced down at the boating license. “Andy, right?”
“If I tell you the truth, will you let me go?”
“What’s the truth?” This should be interesting.
“I had to do it.” The boy’s eyes darted around.
Frank raised his brow. “I didn’t see anyone holding a gun to your head as you tossed water balloons at those girls, almost causing a few accidents.” He looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Andy’s accomplice. The other kid was one Frank knew to be trouble.
“You can’t tell my aunt, promise?”
“Shouldn’t you be more worried about your parents?” Frank adjusted his sunglasses lower on his nose, making eye contact.
“My mom’s dead,” Andy said with very little emotion, his face hard and his jaw set.
“I’m sorry, kid.”
“Yeah, well, shit happens.”
“I can arrest you for saying stuff like that to me.” Frank planted his hand on his weapon. Kids these days were getting harder and harder to keep in line. He hoped he wouldn’t be arresting this troubled young soul in the years to come.
“I think I have bigger problems to worry about.” Andy shifted his gaze across the lake before bringing his attention back to Frank. “I owe Ricky, big time, and if I don’t pay off my debt, he’ll…” Andy looked around again and then added, “Well, you know.” He raised his finger to his throat and made a slashing motion across his neck.
The gesture was a little bit on the drastic side, but Frank couldn’t ignore it either. He took in a deep breath, catching the smell of dead fish. Not a pleasant aroma on a record-breaking hot day. “No, I don’t, so enlighten me.” A few boats flew by, but no sign of Ricky. And, what in the name of heaven could this kid owe—big time?
“Forget it. I live in Hague, Hometown Trailer Park. My aunt should be home. Tell her whatever you want.” Andy’s face contorted as though someone had punched him in the gut.
Deciding it wasn’t worth digging for more information on what the issues between these two young boys were, Frank decided to escort the kid home. “Lead the way.” Frank dangled the license in front of Andy. “And if you try to take off, trust me, I won’t be escorting you home. I’ll be taking you in and letting juvie deal with you.”
Andy rolled his eyes, and then leaped from the Trooper boat to his personal watercraft.
Frank tilted his sunglasses back on the bridge of his nose. He followed Andy up the western shoreline. Two more hours, then his shift was over. As much as he loved being out on the lake, the closer it got to nightfall, the harder it was to keep the memories at bay. He glanced at his watch. He’d have just enough time to go home, shower, and head over to The Lake Pub and try to find that brown-eyed waitress he’d been flirting with for the last few months. The only thing he had on her was a name. Lacy. She worked part-time, and he’d increased his visits just to find her. He needed a distraction, and she would provide a good one, even if it led to merely flirting.
She wasn’t much of a talker, but every time he stopped by, she’d sit and chat for a moment or two. They never really talked about anything much. He’d found out they had the same taste in music, and her favorite color was green. Every time he asked her out, she said no. At first, he figured it was because she had a boyfriend or something, but she assured him she was indeed single. She’d always say ‘if it were another time, another place, maybe.’ Whatever that meant. Hopefully he’d have the opportunity to change her mind about that date tonight. The last time he saw her, she’d actually said ‘maybe.’ He enjoyed a good challenge. Anything to keep his mind in other places.
He allowed his mind to wander to her long legs, great ass, and breasts that would fill the palm of his hand perfectly. Yeah, her body was probably near perfect, but her eyes had caught his attention more than anything else had. He’d never seen eyes the color of dark chocolate before.
He shook his head, remembering Andy. Stupid kid. Hopefully, his aunt would be able to keep him on the straight and narrow. This kid screamed I need attention.
Andy maneuvered the watercraft into the boat launch next to the public beach in the town of Hague. He waved to some punk kid who gave Frank the evil eye. The unidentified teen then meandered toward a beat-up old Chevy with a jet ski trailer.
Frank eased his boat into the right side of the launch, mentally taking note of the registration number. He’d run it later. “Tie her up, and then go get your aunt,” he said tossing Andy the bowline. Just as he looked up, he noticed Lacy was heading his way, and she didn’t look too happy to see him.
“Andy, where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you. I never gave you permission to go out on the lake, much less alone on that thing,” she said, and then did a double take when she spotted Frank.
“Hi, Lacy,” Frank said, looking around. A few children pranced in the water while their parents watched from chairs on the beach. It wasn’t a big park, but it served the small town of Hague and its occupants quite nicely.
“You know my aunt?” Andy stood on the dock, rope in hands, and stared at Frank as if he were the Grim Reaper. “How do you know my aunt?” Andy narrowed his eyes, squeezing the bowline.
“The Lake Pub,” Frank said, taking off his glasses and shoving them into his breast pocket. His plans for the evening had probably just gone up in smoke.
“Frank?” She stopped at the edge of the dock with one hand shading her eyes from the sun and the other one on her hip. Her light brown hair swayed in the wind just above her shoulders. Her shorts and tank top didn’t hide a single sexy curve. It was damn near impossible not to check out the toned legs that seemed to go on forever.
“Is this your nephew?”
“Is he in trouble?” she questioned, taking a tentative step onto the dock. “Andy, what did you do?” she said under her breath.
“Just screwing around.” Andy’s gaze dropped to his feet. “I’m sorry, Lacy, but we were just having some fun. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“What kind of fun?” She hovered over Andy, her own eyes blaring with anger. “Obviously it wasn’t too harmless, or Sergeant—” She shifted her glare to Frank.
“Sergeant Frank Harmon,” he responded. “He can’t be on a jet ski without a licensed driver over the age of eighteen,” Frank said. “Just a warning this time.”
“Andy, run up to the trailer and change. We’ve got a doctor’s appointment.”
Andy stomped his foot. “I’m not going,” he said behind gritted teeth. “You can’t make me.”
“Then you’ll end up back at the foster home.” Lacy stared the young boy down. Her rigid body never wavered. Frank had to admire that, even though he didn’t care for her comment. Or understand it.
Andy’s lip quivered, but he held his ground. “You can’t make me talk and stuff. I won’t do it.” He bolted past Lacy, practically knocking her into the lake.
Frank leapt forward and caught her with his forearm. “Whoa, I got you. He always this testy?” he asked, holding her strong mid-section with his hand. Being in uniform demanded he be professional, but he couldn’t help the desire swirling in his gut. This woman got to him, on more levels than he cared to admit. Something about her soft chocolate eyes made him want to comfort whatever pain lurked in her mind. Or maybe it was his own pain. He cleared his throat.
“Some days are worse than others.” She brushed her long, straight hair from her face and took a step back from him, pushing his hand from her warm body. “What else did he do?”
“I’m really more interested in picking up the kid he was hanging out with.”
“That would probably be Ricky something-or-other. I’ve only met the boy once or twice and I’ve basically told Andy to stay away. Obviously, he’s not listening to me.”
“I think Andy is a bit young to be around a kid like that.”
“He’s a bit young in general, but that doesn’t change the facts.” She bent over and began to untie his patrol boat. “Thanks for bringing him home. I’ll see to it he stays off the jet ski and out of trouble.”
The moment Frank slid his fingers around her bicep, her arm tensed. “Can I help?” Something about this situation was familiar. Too familiar, but Frank couldn’t figure out why he was so hell bent on finding out what was really going on with Lacy and her nephew. Other than the physical attraction, there was no real reason for him to be so concerned, except the gnawing of his instincts, which he used to trust. Well, not anymore.
“Anything. Him.” Frank swallowed. Was he nuts?
The rope coiled at her feet. Slowly, she turned toward him. “I don’t need your help.”
“How did his mother die?” Frank asked, feeling a pang of guilt for the life he couldn’t save.
“She drowned in May.”
The misery of the last few months pelted him in the face like a hailstorm. This couldn’t be happening. Oh, shit. “Hannah DeGeorgio. I’m sorry. I had no idea you were her sister.” Frank removed his hat, playing with the brim. He couldn’t find any words that would make sense. “Andy’s last name is different. Why?”
“He has his father’s name.” She tilted her head. “Did you know my sister?” A tear formed in her right eye, but never rolled down her cheek.
“No,” he lied, although he’d met Hannah once before he had pulled her body from the bottom of the lake. How could he not know who Lacy was? Andy? He’d been studying the case for months. He glanced at the sky. “It’s a real shame what happened.”
She let out a dry chuckle. “Oh, yeah, real shame. The shame should be with you guys.”
“Excuse me?” His heart raced. Could she know who he was? His screw up?
“She didn’t just drown, you know.”
Oh, Frank knew all right, but he couldn’t prove anything. Not yet, anyway. “I think the police have done everything in their power to figure out what happened to Hannah,” Frank said, but even he didn’t hear any conviction in his voice. It must have shown.
“Do you know what really bugs me about the way you guys have handled my sister’s death?” Her eyes tore into him. He could barley manage a headshake. It appeared she didn’t know who he was, but that didn’t change the fact that she had it in for his profession in general. “The cop who showed up the day before she went missing didn’t do a damn thing to help her. Cop just let Taylor walk away.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t that simple.” Frank had done what he could, but when Hannah had refused to press charges against her ex-husband, she’d left Frank with no choice. There were laws and rules about these things and he’d followed them. At least that is what his shrink and all his fellow officers had told him. Even Jared said he’d done the right thing. Then why did he feel so damned guilty?
He hadn’t seen Taylor hit her, threaten her, or anything that night. Then, forty-eight hours later, Frank pulled her frigid body from the murky waters of Lake George. Her death was ruled suspicious, but not a homicide. Frank blinked a few times, adjusting to the brightness of the sun and the memories that haunted his dreams. “How are things going for you and Andy?” What a stupid and lame question, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
She turned, dropping the rope and letting the bow begin to float away. “Just great.” She stormed off the dock.
Quickly, Frank secured his vessel and followed Lacy to a grassy patch near the beach. “Okay, let’s start over.”
She shook her head. “Look. My sister is dead. Her ex-husband Taylor is probably responsible. He’s threatening me, and your good-for-nothing police department is doing diddly about it.” She waved her finger around in front of him. Her sweet eyes grew dark.
Frank clamped down on his emotions. He’d been living with this for months, and he’d be damned if someone was going to tell him he didn’t give a shit. “Taylor is threatening you?” A few people muddled about near The Beach Side Motel just to the left of the park and headed toward the pier on the opposite side of the launch.
Her eyes widened. “Why do you care?”
“I’m a cop and I know about this case,” he said, trying to hide his guilt for the role he had played in Hannah’s death. “Have you filed a report against Taylor?”
“That’s a joke. My sister had a restraining order and that didn’t stop Taylor.”
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He knew all about that restraining order—now—but he hadn’t known the night he’d been called to Hannah’s trailer. If he had, things might have been different. At least then, he could have arrested Taylor for just being there, even if Hannah didn’t want him to. Why hadn’t she told Frank about the order?
“What? Cat got your tongue?”
“A restraining order can help if the officer knows it exists, otherwise—”
“It’s a useless piece of paper,” she finished for him.
He knew that, but hated admitting it. He wanted to tell her that he knew Andy’s father, Taylor Pratt, and he had questioned him personally after the accident. More so, he wanted to tell her he didn’t believe one word Taylor had said.
Instead, he said nothing, like an idiot.
He collected his thoughts and asked again, “Did you call the cops when Taylor threatened you?” According to most of the reports, Hannah got on a boat, hit a rock in the middle of the lake, and subsequently drowned. Simple. However, Frank didn’t buy it.
Lacy tossed her hands to the side and rolled her eyes. “I’ve called you guys twice now, but no one is willing to do anything.”
“Who came? A Trooper? Sheriff? Local P.D.?”
“Does it matter?”
“In a way. If it was someone from my office, the report would’ve ended up on my desk.” She opened her mouth, but he just kept talking. “But if the report was filed with the sheriff’s office or the local police, I might not have gotten it.”
“It was a local guy, but don’t you guys work together?”
“Most of the time, but there are jurisdiction issues here and there, and when a case is considered closed—”
“That’s the problem. My sister didn’t die accidentally. She was murdered, but no one wants to deal with that.” The fire in Lacy’s eyes sputtered out as she fell back into the chair she’d been sitting on when he’d first pulled up.
“What did Taylor do to you?” Frank took a chance and sat down next to her. She didn’t protest, so he stayed put.
“The trailer has been broken into twice, but I can’t prove it’s him.”
“Anything missing? Damaged?”
“You believe me?” She looked at him with a blank expression.
“I believe you’re scared and Andy’s in trouble. I know the case and think your concerns should be looked into.”
“But the other cops that have been here think the break-ins are the hoodlums Andy’s been hanging with, or possibly Andy looking for attention. They all think I’m nuts.”
“And that could all be true.” Frank wiped his brow, then quickly added, “I’ll do some checking around and get back to you. In the meantime, keep Andy out of trouble.” Frank rose and adjusted his hat on his head before slipping his sunglasses on. “Are you going to be at The Lake Pub tonight?”
She titled her chin, covering her forehead with her hand as if it were a visor. “You have got to be kidding. You’re hitting on me?”
“Just asked a question.”
“I work very little there since it’s not always easy for me to get a babysitter.” She stood up. “Thank you for looking into things. That, I do appreciate, but you’re a cop, so forget it.”
He pulled out his business card and jotted his personal cell number on the back. “Call me day or night. Only call 9-1-1 if it’s a dire emergency, and even then, still call me directly.” He tipped his cap and headed for his boat. “I’ll do what I can.”
First, he’d make a few phone calls and then pull all his files on Hannah’s case so he could figure out if his hunch had been correct. He couldn’t argue with the medical examiner, since they’d ruled the death a drowning, but no one had ever ruled out that someone might have drowned Hannah on purpose.