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THE WOMAN HE USED TO KNOW
Heist Crime Thriller Romance
BY HELEN STARBUCK
Mistakes, Regrets, and Murder
Denver homicide detective Nick Ryan and Elizabeth Harper have a history of passionate mistakes and broken trust. She married a man he despised, and Nick hasn’t seen her in five years. Now, her husband is dead, and she may have killed him.
The woman he used to know wouldn’t have killed anyone. Now, she’s the prime suspect and has many reasons to want him dead. Hasty decisions have brought Nick, Elizabeth, and her husband to a strange and bloody crossroads. Nick is worried his feeling for her will help her get away with murder, and she’s worried they’ll land her in prison.
He lay on the floor in a pool of blood. She hesitated as she knelt next to him and watched his eyes open and close slowly, watched his breathing slow. She felt blood soak through her nightgown onto her knees and cover her hands as she braced herself to lean toward him.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she grasped the knife handle that protruded from his abdomen, pulled it out, and dropped it on the floor next to him. “This isn’t how I wanted things to end.”
The house where dispatch had directed him was in Cherry Creek North, an area that lay to the northeast of the wealthy, old money, Denver Country Club part of town. It was the area where people with new money lived. Whoever lived here had a lot of money, old or new, Detective Nick Ryan thought as he approached the uniformed officer standing by the entry.
Nick looked as if he’d forgotten to comb his thick black hair, his lower face was covered in a deep black stubble—he’d been too tired to shave—and his suit jacket was wrinkled from being tossed on the chair in his bedroom and not hung up. At two in the morning, it was cooler than it had been earlier in the evening. A slight breeze ruffled his hair and played with his tie as he approached the house.
A patrol car, lights flashing, sat at the curb. A few curious neighbors had come out in their pajamas to see what was going on. They were quiet, watchful, and curious but restrained. No one snapped photos with smartphones. This was an area of town where pushing and shoving, or questions or abuse shouted at the cops were unlikely. That type of behavior, as the residents would tell you if asked, was for less fortunate neighborhoods.
“What’ve you got…Officer Kelly?” he asked reading the guy’s name tag as he held out his badge and signed into the crime scene.
“We responded to a 911 call and found a dead husband and a distraught wife. My partner, Officer Jones, is with the wife. We secured the scene, called dispatch, they notified the ME’s office, and I had them call homicide. I’ve got Officer Gillis out back to make sure no one comes in or leaves that way. It looks like the only person here is the wife. Jones has her in the study off to the left as you enter the house. Body’s in the kitchen, straight back through the hall. Wife found him.”
“What time’d the call come in?”
“Twelve forty-two. We got here at twelve fifty-five.”
Nick nodded and moved through the doorway. He turned. “Don’t let any of the looky-loos near. Call for some backup to help control things if you need to and get an officer on the sidewalk to head off any press. Get a couple of uniforms to start canvassing the neighbors who’re standing around to see if anyone saw or heard anything or what they know about the couple. See what you can find out.”
The officer nodded and Nick closed the door behind him. He examined the front door carefully, no sign of forced entry. He pulled a pair of shoe covers out of his jacket pocket as he entered the foyer and slipped them on. Nice house, he thought, looking around at the graceful wood handrail that followed the carpeted stairs up to the second level. The cop had said nothing about any kids, just that the wife was the only one here. Seemed like a big house for two people, Nick thought.
The walls were paneled in expensive-looking wood, and there was a large flower display on the round, marble-topped table in the entryway. The scent of roses and lilies hung in the air, with a hint of something less pleasant underneath. He’d never cared for the scent of lilies, especially the white ones—they reminded him of funerals and Easter. Oddly appropriate seeing as there would be a funeral in the near future.
There was a bloody handprint on the inside door handle and a trail of bloody, barefoot prints on the slate entry floor that led up to the front door. He walked toward the hall, backtracking the footprints to what he’d been told was the kitchen and stopped abruptly near a side table on which rested a wedding photo and various other items. His heart rate jumped, and he swore softly.
“Ah, Christ.” Talk about the universe screwing you over. Of all the detectives that could have been on duty, he’d gotten the call. Go figure.
He leaned in close to get a better view, not wanting to touch the frame or pick up the picture. He knew them well. No, that wasn’t accurate—he’d known them. The photo showed Elizabeth on Oliver Harper’s arm outside the church where their wedding, which he hadn’t attended, had taken place.
He supposed it was Oliver who’d been killed and was surprised at the lack of regret or sadness on his part. If he’d been asked to guess, being murdered wasn’t how he would’ve imagined Oliver getting his comeuppance. The fact that it had happened at all surprised him. He hadn’t figured that Oliver would ever suffer any consequences for his behavior. As far as Nick could see, people like him were untouchable. Karma is oftentimes an extremely tardy bitch, but a bitch nonetheless when she finally shows up.
“Looks like you pissed off one too many people, Oliver,” Nick said.
He hadn’t recognized the house, but since their marriage he’d had no idea where Oliver and Elizabeth lived. He remembered the last time he’d seen Elizabeth. The memory left him as angry as he’d been five years ago. He stepped back and closed his eyes taking in a deep breath and exhaling it slowly. He shook himself, pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket, slipped them on, and walked toward the kitchen.
Probably should get someone else to handle this, Nick thought. He and his partner Rob Keller had been the ones up next for a call, but Rob was at the hospital awaiting the birth of his first child, and Nick had come alone. One of the other detectives would take over if he called, and if he was going to call, now was the time. He wanted to see what had happened, though, and there were things he didn’t want anyone else to know.
Helen Starbuck—no relation to the coffee bunch—doesn’t get free coffee, but she’s a Colorado native and a multiple award-winning indie author of the Annie Collins Mystery Series and Legacy of Secrets, Finding Alex, The Woman He Used to Know, standalone romantic suspense novels. She loves mysteries, suspense, romance, and any book that is well written, and is a huge fan of books with independent, strong, women characters.
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Thanks, Helen, for sharing your story with us!
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