Book 2 in the Task Force Hawaii Series
Part of the Harmless World
As a cold case heats up, two former adversaries discover there is a thin line between love and hate.
Seven years ago, Dr. Elle Middleton’s world crashed and burned. She has rebuilt her life and found comfort in her work as the medical examiner for TFH. When a new case leads to a cold case, she is beyond excited for the challenge, until she finds out the one man she wants to avoid is her partner on the case.
Graeme McGregor isn’t any happier with the assignment. The doctor gets under his skin in more ways than one. He’s avoided her and his attraction by keeping his distance from her, but working with her has made it impossible to resist taking a little taste.
One kiss leads to another…then to a full blown affair. But even as they draw closer to each other, secrets from that long ago murder rise to the surface. The killer’s determination to stay free leads to a dangerous confrontation that puts both of their lives in peril and could leave TFH in shambles.
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Elle Middleton jackknifed in her bed, her heart beating against her chest, as she gulped in huge breaths of air. She could smell the dank basement where she had been trapped, the body odor of the bastard who had kept her there. Sweat dribbled between her breasts. She looked around her bedroom, and realized she was in her house in Hawaii. Safe.
It was dark in the room, so she knew it was well before she needed to be up. Going back to sleep was out of the question though. She had learned a long time ago, there would be nothing but nightmares for the rest of the night.
Scrubbing her face, Elle wished she could do the same thing with her memories. Even now, her pulse was elevated, her breathing erratic. The metallic taste in her mouth was from memory. She drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. There was no use laying in bed, so she slipped out of her bed. Raising her hands over her head, she stretched, trying to work out the kinks in her back.
She didn’t seem to be getting any better. She had been having these dreams for the last few months. Since they had found Jin.
Elle had known it would be a problem. When she had insisted on going, no matter if they had found Jin alive or not, the situation was bound to bring back the memories. The attack had happened almost a decade earlier, halfway around the world, but it didn’t matter. The last six months had been hard on her. Each night she fought her insomnia; because she knew there was a chance she’d end up in a nightmare. Still, she didn’t regret it, and she would do it again given the chance. She wished she’d had a previous survivor present when she’d been found.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, she grabbed her mobile and headed to the kitchen. She had help if she needed it. People she could call, and meds that she knew would dull the memories…at least for today. But, she had a job to do, and if she kept putting one foot in front of the other, she would be able to make it through the day. Maybe.
Yawning, she made her way through her tiny kitchen to the coffee machine. Before moving to Hawaii, she had always preferred a cup of tea in the morning. Less than two years, and she was an addict of the smooth Kona coffee that was served everywhere—even at McDonald’s. With a flip of the switch, she started brewing her drug of choice. She yawned again just as her mobile went off. Without looking, she knew from the ringtone it was work.
“Hey, Elle, it’s Dennis,” he said, his voice quivering a little.
Dennis Chin was a no nonsense ME for the HPD Medical Examiner’s office, with nerves as strong as steel. It was completely out of character for the senior supervisor. Her worries about the nightmares immediately dissolved, and her mind focused on the job at hand.
“Morning, Dennis. Is there something wrong?”
“Well, not really, but I was wondering if you could handle a case for me? I’m at the hospital with my wife, and she’s in labor. Mike is down with the flu.”
She smiled. “No worries, Dennis.”
He sighed, the worry and fatigue easy to hear in his voice. “I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
“First of all, it is part of the job, and it doesn’t really matter. I was up. Please don’t be sorry. I got your back, as you like to say.”
“Great. At least it is up in your neck of the woods. The Wiki Mart right by Schofield. There was a burglary.”
“Oh, damn, and I stop in there all the time.” She sighed. One thing about living and working on Oahu, there was a high chance she would come in contact with people in real life who ended up on her table. When she had worked in London, there was an anonymity to it that shielded her. There was always a slim chance an acquaintance would be part of an investigation, but the odds of that happening on the small island of Oahu were much higher.
She pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the current job—calming the expectant father. “Don’t worry about it. I have this, Dennis. Good luck, Daddy.”
There was a moment of silence, then he laughed. “Thanks.”
She clicked off the mobile just as her coffee finished brewing. She had wanted to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. It was something that soothed her after a night like she’d had. It was one of the reasons she had bought the seriously tiny house just a block away from the beach. When the nightmares had started again, Elle had developed the habit of watching the sun rise every day. It soothed the terrors that had crept back into her conscious the last few months.
But that was not happening today. She had a dead body to process. Fate had always been a bitch to her.
With cup in hand, she headed to her bedroom. She could make it there in under thirty minutes this time of day, and still be able to get into the office just in time to miss rush hour.
It took her less than twenty-five minutes to get to the Wiki Mart. It was still early—even by military standards—so she hadn’t hit any traffic on her way to the scene. Two HPD cars were still sitting out in front of the store. Thanks to the time of day, there wasn’t a crowd. She would really hate for the neighborhood to see this. If she worked fast, they could get him out of there before many of them did.
After grabbing her bag, she slipped out of her car. She set the bag on her car, retrieved a pair of gloves, then grabbed it up again and headed to the door of the store.
When she stepped in, her mind went back to the first day she had walked in, and the smile that Joe Alana had offered—always offered, in fact. With a sigh, she pushed those thoughts away and concentrated on the job in front of her.
“Hey, Elle,” Rome Carino said. Tall, lanky, but still solid, the HPD detective worked hand-in-hand with Task Force Hawaii as their liaison with the department. Even at this time in the morning, he was dressed in a suit; although, he’d finally stopped wearing ties all of the time.
“Could be better. Hate when stuff like this happens.”
She nodded. “I called and was told they sent a bus to pick up the body.”
Drawing in a deep breath, she pushed everything out of her mind, and set about her task. Joe was laying behind counter. She squatted beside the body. It was easy to see what killed him, one gunshot wound to the chest.
She retrieved her tools and got to work. After checking the liver temperature, she figured that he had been dead for at least six hours.
“So, I take it was the gunshot wound?” Rome asked from behind her.
She nodded. “Although, official COD will not be determined until I do the autopsy. Has anyone found a bullet?”
“No one was allowed to touch the victim until you showed.”
She smiled. “You are a good guy, Rome. Want to help me roll him?”
Rome stepped over the body, then they rolled him.
“I’ll find it during the autopsy, and have Charity test it. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
Rome nodded, as they laid the body back down. “Thanks. I take it the victim is going back to your lab?”
She looked up at him. “Yes, if you are okay with that?”
“No problem, sistah.”
She smiled and stood to face him. “I’m going to go in and prep for the postmortem.”
“And I have video to look at. I know that Joe had a good system for such a small place.”
“Good, because this guy needs to be caught. No one, and I mean not even the Yakuza, messed with Joe. This was a safety zone no matter what. Whoever did this, did it without thought.”
“Yeah, we’re thinking it was a robbery gone bad, maybe a junkie. I’m sure we’ll find prints too, but the video proof will be more helpful.”
She nodded and started out of the shop when she ran into Mike Charles, Dennis’s morgue assistant.
“Howzit, Mike?” She asked, looking up at him. She was a tall woman, but Mike was a massive man, with a little Polynesian in his blood. His usual smile had been replaced by a grim expression.
“Any word on the baby?”
He shook his head, as a small smile curled his lips. “Not yet. Doc is kind of a mess.”
She nodded. “Make sure you get it to my lab.”
“Doc told me. See you in a few.”
She watched him go to the back of his vehicle, then shook herself back awake. More coffee was definitely in order if she was going to make it through the day.
She’d skipped breakfast, and the morning was slipping away from her fast. Again. It wasn’t done on purpose. She just got so busy. First, the autopsy on Mr. Alana. Then, a sixteen-year-old on vacation from the mainland drowned in high surf. With half the HPD ME staff out, thanks to the flu, she hadn’t had time to think about eating.
She slid the drawer that held the teenager into the wall and sighed. Her back ached, her head pounded, and worse, she felt as if she could eat three plates of shrimp from Geovanni’s Shrimp Truck. She was definitely going to treat herself this week.
“So, all we have is this bullet,” Drew Franklin said. She glanced at her assistant with a frown.
“That’s more than we sometimes have,” she said, taking the evidence bag from him.
“They are analyzing the security camera. I bet we will only need the bullet to tie the shooter to the weapon.”
Drew nodded. A local boy, he was one of the many people who had known Mr. Alana. Over a quarter million people lived on Oahu at any one time, but people who had lived there all their lives all seemed to know each other, or knew of each other in some way. Drew always said there was three-to-four degrees of separation between each local on the island.
“I’ll get this down to Charity,” he said. Charity Edwards was their forensics tech, and if anyone could find a lead on the bullet, she could. The former Georgia resident had a reputation as being one of the top ten techs in the country.
“Don’t forget to take the other swabs and fingerprints as well. There might have been more than just one person.”
“You got it. You know Charity will find something.”
Elle nodded absentmindedly, her mind already drifting. Her lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on her.
She blinked and realized Drew was still there.
“Sorry. Need anything else from me?” She yawned. “Oh, pardon me. I don’t think I have ever been this tired, even during my residency.”
Drew nodded. “You should take the rest of the day off.”
“I have to talk to Carino about my findings, then I might just do that.”
“You work too hard.”
She offered him a smile. “You should talk. You work as many hours as I do, and you help your folks out at the restaurant every now and then.”
Drew wasn’t just a local boy; he was part of a legendary family who ran a well-known restaurant on the island. While he had always wanted to play with dead bodies, his words not hers, his family had insisted he at least learn the ropes of the business. She would often find him working behind the counter or cooking in the kitchen on his day off.
As she watched him head off to Charity’s lab, she walked over to wash her hands. She would call Rome instead of going over. It was the best way to do it. If she went over to HPD, she would get pulled into some meeting or other. She just didn’t have the patience. It was one of the reasons that when she had her choice to go with HPD or Task Force Hawaii, she had jumped at the chance to work with the TFH.
Elle was drying her hands, when her door opened. Of course, Rome would come to find her.
“As you thought. Shot to the chest. He wouldn’t have made it to Tripler or Queen’s.”
“From what I hear, there was no reason. Joe gave all of his money to the man.”
Senseless. “Charity has the bullet. She’ll run it through the system, and maybe we can give you a name with the face you most likely have now.”
“Thanks a lot. Just between you and me, I wish you worked over at HPD.”
She smiled as she pulled off her overlay scrub and tossed it into the hamper.
“No thanks. Too much drama over there. We have it easy over here.”
“Yeah, like catching a psychopathic serial killer.”
Six months earlier, TFH had been on the search for a serial killer, but what they found out in the end was that a couple of sadistic bastards were working together to abduct, torture, rape, then kill their victims. In the process, they had almost lost one of their own.
He nodded. “So, your thoughts are sure it wasn’t premeditated?”
Elle shrugged. “More than likely not premeditated, but that’s your job to figure out, right?”
His mouth twitched. “Always a hard case, Doc.”
“I know your wife. She wouldn’t let you get away with that either. But they did send some fingerprints over, and I have some from Joe’s shirt. If the subject touched him, we might get something. Plus, I swabbed some matter off the shirt, could be nothing, but it looked like ICE.”
“Great. I was pretty sure it was a junkie. Did you have anything else for me?”
She shook her head. “Charity has orders to ping us both when she has any results.”
“Thanks. Thought I would stop by to see Del on my way out.”
She chuckled. “Have fun with that. Avoid his bride-to-be. Emma is a little…overwhelmed at the moment.”
He nodded. “Thanks, Elle.”
“Just get the bastard. I really liked Joe. He always had a smile for anyone who stopped by, and he contributed a lot to that neighborhood. He is definitely going to be missed.”
“Give my best to your wife and that pretty little girl of yours.”
He waved as he walked out the door. She looked down at her clothes and realized she needed to change out of her scrubs. Since the early call had ruined her chances at a shower, she felt grimy. Threading her fingers through her hair, she decided that she would grab a fast shower. It was the first time that morning she wasn’t busy doing something. Her stomach growled, and she made a face. She hadn’t brought her lunch because of the call this morning, which meant she had to go somewhere to pick something up. But she didn’t want to go far. There could be another call, so the coffee stand out front would work.
Graeme McGregor was parking his truck when he saw Elle Middleton sitting on a bench out in front of the TFH headquarters. He turned off his vehicle and watched her for a moment. The woman should have looked out of place, the English rose sitting amongst the tropical flowers. But somehow, she fit.
If anything, she added to the surroundings. Her pristine appearance enhanced the wild fauna that surrounded her. Of course, lately, she had started to take on a certain look. More local than haole. She’d let her short hair grow out just a little, and the humidity had added some curl to flaxen hair. More and more she had been wearing colorful tropical shirts like the one she had on today. The deep coral color brought out a glow to her skin.
He wanted to avoid her. They didn’t get along at all, but while he told himself to walk on, he found himself wandering over to her.
“Out early this morning.”
She blinked, then her eyes seemed to focus. “Oh, McGregor. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Sort of zoned out there for a bit.”
He nodded, as he studied her. She held a cup of coffee in her hands, and an unwrapped sandwich sat on her lap. She definitely looked like she had been staying up late. In fact, she looked bloody awful. The dark bruising beneath her eyes was getting to be a regular sight on her. It had been that way since they’d found Jin months earlier.
“Did we catch a call?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’m helping fill in with HPD. Flu is wiping out their folks, and then Dennis’s wife went into labor yesterday.”
He nodded and, before he could tell himself not do it, he sat next to her. She didn’t physically move away, but he felt her pull away just the same. She had been like that since the first time they’d met, and he didn’t know why. He had thought with him being from Scotland, and she being a UK transplant, they would have had a lot in common. Apparently, the doctor thought otherwise.
“Was it a tough one?”
“Yes. You know the Wiki Market there right off of Schofield Barracks?”
“Joe Alana was shot in the chest, bled out at the scene.”
“Well, damn. Joe was a bloody good guy.”
She glanced at him, as she sipped at her coffee. “You knew him?”
“Yeah. I live up near the North Shore.”
She frowned. “I didn’t know that. I live in Haleiwa.”
He knew where she lived. Not exactly, but the area. He wasn’t a stalker. But he knew they lived closer to each other than any of the other people on the team.
“I live in Laie.”
She nodded and looked out over the lawn. “It was completely senseless. If you know Joe, you know they have the video of the kid.”
He opened his mouth, but her phone rang with “Georgia on my Mind” ringtone. He smiled.
“I’m assuming that’s Charity?”
She nodded and turned on her mobile. “Been waiting on the ballistics. Hey, Charity, what do you have for me?”
He watched her expressive face. Graeme had an idea that Elle thought she was cool as an English cucumber, but he knew better. When things really got to her, it was easy to see how it affected her by her facial expressions. He watched as whatever Charity was saying hit home for Elle.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t that I don’t believe in your abilities.”
“Bloody hell, I promise never to ask again. I’ll be right in. I was just grabbing a bite to eat outside.”
Graeme noticed that Elle hadn’t eaten the sandwich, but he knew better than to say anything about it.
She clicked off her mobile.
“Got a lead on the bullet?” he asked.
Elle nodded, her eyes sparkling with excitement. Damn, she was beautiful when she smiled—something he shouldn’t be thinking about. He forced himself not to be drawn in by the twinkle in those green eyes, or the way her dimples showed when she smiled.
“Of course she got a hit, and it is linked to a crime from almost thirty years ago.”
End of Excerpt
Jan 5, 2016
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Perfectly balanced romance and suspense, HOSTILE DESIRES intrigues the reader and makes them want more. Graeme and Elle are perfect for each other and watching them get there was worth every page. Our friends of the Hawaii Task Force add to the humor, wit and drama making HOSTILE DESIRES a fabulous suspenseful read with more emotional depth than you would expect.
This may be Melissa Schroeder ‘s best book yet!...Hostile Desires is romantic suspense at its finest.
I'm really loving this series!
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