HOT PURSUIT 1
By Jennifer Zane
A fun weekend at a friend’s wedding in Denver takes a bizarre twist for Anna Scott when her rental car is pulled over due to an “anonymous tip”. In her trunk…one dead body linked to warring crime families in Denver and New York. It should be easy for an innocent woman to be cleared for an innocent mix-up. But was it a mistake? The police aren’t so sure, and neither is the crime boss who wants vengeance for his son-in-law’s death. You see, Anna Scott didn’t exist a couple of years ago, she knows way too much about criminal procedures and about talking to cops. Anna Scott has a secret, and this twist of fate could not only expose her, but place her and anyone close to her in danger.
Jake Griffin is playing a dangerous game. He’s spent the last few months undercover in the Moretti crime family. Anna Scott is a big problem. Moretti assigns him to find out who she is, what she wants, and to kill her if she’s a threat. Jake needs to keep his nose clean and focus on taking down Moretti, not a sexy woman who is a complete mystery. He can’t stop thinking about her; her knowledge, her name, her dangerous associates, her fear, or the bone deep desire every time he sees her. Nick’s at war with the whole world over one alluring, yet vulnerable woman, and he can’t seem to stop taking dangerous chances where she’s concerned. The most dangerous of all might be trusting her with the truth.
© 2014 Jennifer Zane
If I had known how much fun it was to drive, how exhilarating it would feel, I would have done it sooner. Living in New York City didn’t require a car, but life required a government ID, so years ago I’d finagled a friend into loaning me his Prius long enough to take the driving test and obtain a license. I hadn’t been behind the wheel since.
Until now. My dark sunglasses shielded against the bright Denver sun, the lowered window caused my long hair to whip around my face, forcing me to tuck it behind my ear to keep it out of the way. The air was hot, but the unaccustomed lack of humidity made it easily tolerable in comparison to the mugginess of Manhattan. The radio pumped out some local rock station and the highway was wide open; everyone was at work at eleven in the morning. Everyone but me, and surprisingly, it felt good to take a break. It was Friday and, for once, I wasn’t sheltered in my little home office designing away. Safe.
It had taken my friend, Zach, weeks of cajoling to talk me into being his date for his sister’s wedding. He needed a date—a female one—to keep his family in the dark about his not-out-of-the-closet status. Cruising down the highway with the Rocky Mountains, snow-capped even in July, as a backdrop, I was glad he’d been persistent. Tentative when we’d first arrived late last night, afraid I’d made a mistake about going away, I told myself over and over this was Denver. Like New York, it was safe. No one would know me.
I tapped my just dry nails on the steering wheel to the beat of the music. The subdued French manicure I’d gotten—at the small shop suggested by the hotel concierge—would be perfect for the rehearsal dinner later and the wedding reception tomorrow. With most of the day until I had to be dressed and ready to meet Zach in the hotel lobby before me, I felt carefree. I had no doubt he felt the same way, spending the day with other men in the wedding party playing golf. Glancing at the speedometer, I gave my rental a little more gas and laughed to myself as I maneuvered around a slow-moving semi.
The sound of a siren startled me out of my carefree moment and I darted a glance in the rearview mirror. Glaring red and blue lights, almost throbbing in their intensity, confirmed the police were directly behind my car. What had I done? Checking my speed, I wasn’t going much over the speed limit to warrant a ticket. Was I? Panic instantly set in, adrenaline shot through me, making my palms slippery on the wheel. My heart hammered against my ribs as if trying to escape.
It wasn’t twelve years ago. I wasn’t eighteen anymore. I wasn’t even in the same state. But what, then? What could they want with me? My foot tapped the brake and I jerked against the seat belt, unfamiliar with the sensitive car. Trying to find the blinker, I accidentally turned on the wipers. The back and forth rub of blade against dry glass was loud once they turned off the siren. Flustered, I fumbled then switched the wipers off and maneuvered over toward the shoulder.
Coming to a stop, I put the car in park. The radio’s once fun tunes were now jarring and annoying. I jammed the button with my palm and the car went silent, leaving only the sound of passing cars and trucks. I watched as the cruiser slid in behind me, angled toward my far bumper, with the strobe lights continuing to pulse. I watched in the mirror for the police officer to get out as I focused on breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Now was not the time to panic. To let them see I was scared. What was he doing back there? Why was he making me wait? My fingers were in a death grip around the steering wheel and I tried to relax them, to relax my shoulders that had crept up toward my ears. The overwhelming need to put the car back in Drive and make my escape was all-consuming. I didn’t trust the police, didn’t like them, but knew not to make the situation—whatever it was—worse by making them angry.
After long minutes, the man got out of his car. His uniform was dark and crisp, all sharp creases and starched collar. Walkie-talkie, pager and mace circled the utility belt. And then there was the very large gun in its holster. The man’s hand was positioned just above it as he approached, as if ready to shoot with the least provocation. His hair was cut high and tight, his eyes obscured by reflective sunglasses. . I could see through the side mirror he wore a bulletproof vest beneath his shirt, giving him an appearance of a veteran linebacker. Positioning himself by the rear door behind me, he leaned in so his body was shielded by the car. He hadn’t moved his hand away from his gun.
“Ma’am, license and registration please.” His voice was deep and his tone serious. I didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t one of them. He couldn’t be. I was being silly. A tail light was out or something. No one had found me.
“It’s……it’s in my purse.” I licked my lips as I fumbled in my small bag on the passenger seat, only large enough for my wallet, my cell and a few other essentials. “Here.”
He took it from me, looked at it. Looked at me. “Registration.”
“Oh.” Right, registration. I shook my head to clear it as I reached over to open the glove box, pulled out a packet of papers, then handed them to the man. I pushed my hair back behind my ear with my fingers. Knowing they shook, I put them in my lap and clasped my palms together. Breathe.
“This is a rental car,” he stated.
“Yes.” I didn’t know why I was pulled over, but I knew to answer their questions succinctly and only provide the information they requested. I had firsthand knowledge of how they could use it against me.
While he was looking at the documents, a second police cruiser pulled up and parked in front of my car. Oh God. Why would two police cars be needed for a broken tail light? This time a female officer emerged, similarly garbed and talking into the receiver of a walkie-talkie strapped to her collar.
I swallowed down the bile that rose in my throat. It was hard to be calm when my heart beat so fast, as if I were given a shot of epinephrine. The sun blazed through the window and my shirt was damp against the seat back. “Turn off the ignition and step out of the car, please, ma’am,” the policeman said.
The female officer watched me from her position by the hood of my car, her hand poised on her service weapon.
With fumbling fingers, I did as requested, disconnected my seat belt and opened the door. The man moved back to make room, but once I stepped from the car, he loomed over me, blocking the sun, and I had to tilt my head back to look up at him.
“Please follow me around to the other side of the car.”
I had no choice but to follow, thankful to be away from traffic. I took a peek at the tail lights. Not broken.
The female officer joined us, looked me over in my sleeveless white blouse, floral skirt and strappy sandals. “Please take off your sunglasses.”
Their words may have been polite, but they were all business.
I complied, squinted in the sunlight.
“Do you have any weapons on you, any knives or drug paraphernalia?” she asked.
I shook my head as I looked her in the eye. “No.”
“I’m going to frisk you. Please put your arms up and out.”
“Am I……am I under arrest?” I asked, my fingers fiddling with my sunglasses. I knew they had to have reason and I had to know what it was.
“No, ma’am,” she replied.
The other officer watched passively as I lifted my arms to stand in the shape of a T. When the woman efficiently confirmed I wasn’t concealing anything dangerous, he said, “We have reason to believe you have a dead body in the trunk of your car.”
My arms fell back to my sides.
“A……a dead body?” I had imagined many things he might say, but that was not one of them. Sweat dotted my brow, my upper lip. I used the back of my hand to wipe at it. I knew they were both gauging my reaction to their words, assessing my threat of being dangerous and even guilty in my every move and body gesture. “My car?”
“Yes, ma’am. The description matches the vehicle we’re looking for. We are going to need to search the car.”
I glanced over my shoulder and stared at the bland, maroon four-door sedan. As with most rentals, it was American-made, newer model and boring. It didn’t look like a car that would have a dead body in it, but then again, what one did?
I recognized my coping mechanism: humor. I needed to squelch that down so they didn’t think I was being blasé about something so serious. They had no idea how serious this was to me. I couldn’t panic, couldn’t get upset. I’d learned to hide my emotions, shield them so they couldn’t be used against me.
When I was seven, I’d learned quickly that it would bring me nothing but trouble. When I was eighteen, I’d refined the skill even more. Now, I had to override the panic, focus on something else besides what was happening to me. That’s when I noticed little yellow wildflowers in the dirt shoulder. I stared at them as they shifted in the soft breeze.
It was happening again. It was like twelve years ago. Someone was up to something. Out to hurt me. This couldn’t be a joke. Nothing was ever a joke.
I stared at the yellow flowers as I replied, “Search warrant?”
“Don’t need one. Probable cause,” the police officer shouted above the roar of a passing eighteen wheeler. He didn’t offer explanation. I didn’t need one.
They must have a credible enough source to eliminate the need for a search warrant. Time was obviously of the essence. No doubt they couldn’t wait all weekend for a judge to sign one with the vehicle in question being a rental. Obviously the owner—me—would be considered a flight risk.
It was time to switch my mind off. I needed to put the mental walls up, to remember how it felt to shelter my mind behind them, protecting myself from whatever was happening to me. I could only nod and watch the stupid flower.
The woman remained by my side while the man went around the car to the driver’s door, leaned in and popped the trunk. At the sound, I turned around. Watched him walk to the back, lift the lid and stood. Staring.
Giving a little shift of his head, the woman joined him. So did I.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, my throat closing up at the sight. There, in the trunk of my full-sized rental, was a dead man. Forty-something, receding hairline, overweight, suit and tie. Glazed eyes stared up at me. There was a bullet hole in his forehead. And he was starting to smell. God, the horrific scent lifted up in the breeze. It wasn’t powerful, yet. I assumed the only way I didn’t notice it was that the windows had been open.
I felt the blood rush out of my head. Little black dots danced in front of eyes, making it look like flies were crawling on the body. I pivoted on my heel as I felt my stomach revolt, vomiting all over the concrete. Once the dry heaves subsided, I stayed bent over, one hand on my knee, trying to catch my breath. I wiped the back of my hand over my mouth, wishing I had some water to wash away the acidic taste in my mouth. All this time neither officer hadn’t moved, the woman’s black work shoes and creased pants in my periphery.
The police probably thought I’d thrown up because of seeing the dead body. I hadn’t. I’d thrown up because I knew I was in big trouble. It was happening again. All my fears, all my worries over the past twelve years had come to life. Or death, like the body in the trunk. God, I knew I shouldn’t have left New York, shouldn’t have left the safe structure I’d made of my life for a little fun. I didn’t do fun. I wasn’t allowed. Because the moment I had some fun, just a tiny lit bit, this was what happened.
Keep up-to-date on the Hot Pursuit Series!
Join Jennifer Zane’s mailing list:
Jennifer Zane has lived all over the country–from Georgia to Maryland, New York to Colorado. including an exciting five years in Montana. Her time in Big Sky country was the basis for this book. When she’s not writing, she savors the insanity of raising two boys, is figuring out how many meals she can make with a pressure cooker, and teaches a pretty mean karate class. She currently lives with her family in Colorado.
Links to Jennifer’s website, blog, books, etc.
Also available for pre-order on Apple.
**SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Jennifer is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card so be sure to enter her Rafflecopter giveaway below! Don’t miss this chance to read this great story. Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing your book cover reveal with us!