Cuff me, p.14

Cuff Me, page 14

 

Cuff Me
 


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  “Come on. You know you miss him.”

  Jill knew she was right. She could see it in his stillness.

  Jill didn’t know Vin’s other brother as well as she did Luc and Anthony. By the time she and Vin had gotten really close, and she’d been all but welcomed into the family, he’d already moved.

  But she remembered him being a good sort—just like the rest of the Morettis.

  Handsome as sin, too. Again, just like the rest of the Morettis.

  “When?” he grunted.

  “I was thinking next week. Enough time for us to get a plan together, but I don’t think we can wait much longer. The captain swore at me for at least an hour yesterday about how our asses were on the line if we didn’t give him an update he could, and I quote, “fucking do something fucking with.”

  “I hate California.”

  “Of course you do. All that sunshine,” she said sweetly.

  Vin flexed his fingers on the steering wheel and then tilted his neck from side to side as though trying to work out a kink, although whether it was in his neck or his attitude, she wasn’t sure.

  “We really have to go?” he asked.

  “No. But I think we should.”

  “Damn,” he breathed softly.

  Relieved to have dropped the bomb with relatively little fallout, Jill turned her attention to the world that was whizzing by at oh, twenty miles an hour. Vin hadn’t been joking about traffic being a total bitch.

  And it would be even worse in LA. Weren’t they supposed to have the worst traffic, like, ever? And crappy air quality, and…

  Oh, who was she kidding?

  Jill couldn’t wait to go to California, even if it was for work.

  With her mother living in Florida, most of her “sunny getaways” involved the Atlantic Ocean over the Pacific. She’d been to California… once. Her parents had taken her to Yellowstone as a kid.

  But she barely remembered it, and Yosemite, while lovely, wasn’t exactly the quintessential California described by the Beach Boys, or Katy Perry.

  But more than the destination itself was the chance to get away. A chance to get out of her routine, to get some distance from wedding planning and the looming changes in her future.

  A chance to… think.

  She didn’t know what she needed to think about. Just knew that she needed to.

  An hour later, California was the last thing on her mind, because she was too busy trying to stifle her laughter.

  Holly Adams was every bit as over-the-top welcoming as she’d been last time they questioned her.

  But she’d tweaked her approach, to play up her, um, assets.

  In all their years together, Jill didn’t think she’d seen Vincent Moretti quite so uncomfortable. Hell, until today, she hadn’t realized that he could be uncomfortable.

  But then, he’d probably never had an elderly femme fatale dressed in a red gown—yes, gown—draped all over him before.

  “Um, Ms. Adams,” Vincent said, making yet another futile attempt to shift away from the older woman. “You were telling us about the time that Lenora won the Moonlight Damsel role?”

  “Stole,” Holly said with a smile, setting her hand on Vin’s arm. “She stole my role. And my my, do you work out?”

  Yes. Yes, he does, Jill thought, remembering all too vividly that moment when Vincent had opened the motel door sans shirt.

  Holly’s arm ran up Vincent’s bicep. Squeezed. Vin gave Jill a panicked look, and she took pity on him.

  “Ms. Adams, when you say that Lenora stole your role, what do you mean by that? Did she bribe someone? Sabotage your audition?”

  Holly’s attention snapped to Jill and her eyes narrowed. “Why are you two so interested in forty-year-old films?”

  “You know why,” Jill said steadily. “It’s the same reason we’re here. Again. You have a murky past with Lenora Birch, and now she’s dead.”

  Holly leaned forward, her still-impressive bosom all but heaving out of her dress. Vincent’s eyes lifted toward the ceiling.

  “And your best bet is looking at aging film stars?” Holly asked. “I have arthritis. Lenora probably did too. Even if we wanted to try and push each other over the staircase, or however she died, it would take agility and coordination that we don’t have.”

  Jill kept her face impassive, but damned if she didn’t agree just a little bit with Holly’s assessment. This whole case was starting to feel like a farce.

  A geriatric version of Clue.

  “Who do you think did it then?” Jill asked.

  Holly sat back with a wave of her hand. “The help? Maybe the driver felt underpaid, or the housekeeper got sick of having to pick up Lenora’s dentures from the coffee table. Someone young and angry, not someone old and tired.”

  “I don’t think you’re quite so indifferent to old grudges as you’d have us believe,” Vincent said.

  Holly’s hand froze in the process of sliding up his thigh. “Oh?”

  Vin flicked his gaze to Jill, who picked up on the cue and reached into her bag. Pulled out a Ziploc bag.

  She held it out to Holly, who hesitated briefly. “What’s this?”

  “A letter you sent to Caroline Jones four months ago. One in which you said if any of the old crew deserved an early death, it was Lenora.”

  Holly touched the bag only for a moment before letting it flutter to the table. The corner dipped into the tea and Vincent plucked it back out again, wiping the moisture away before holding it up to the older woman’s face.

  “This is your handwriting, yes? Your signature?”

  “That bitch,” Holly breathed.

  “Careful now,” Vin said easily. “If Caroline Jones ends up dead, you’re going to wish you hadn’t said that in front of two homicide detectives.”

  She gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “All I’m trying to say is maybe you should look a little harder at the woman who gave you that letter.”

  “She’s not the one that wished an early death on Lenora Birch.”

  “How do you know?” Holly shot back. “Do you have her side of the correspondence?”

  Vin and Jill exchanged a glance. She had a good point.

  “Do you have it?” Holly pressed. “Well, of course not,” she huffed. “Her letters are rambling and boring. I throw them out after I skim them. But I can assure you there’s plenty of ranting about Lenora on her end as well.”

  Jill subtly blew out a breath without showing Holly how frustrated she was. Not that she’d put a lot of stock in the letter. Caroline Jones had called their office about a half dozen times with “crucial information to the case,” and had been just a tad too eager to send over Holly’s letter.

  It smelled more of aging, petty rivalry than it did useful evidence, but in a case that seemed to be nothing but aging, petty rivalries, they couldn’t afford not to act on it.

  Holly slapped her palms slightly against her thighs. “Oh, I almost forgot… I have something for you.”

  Holly brushed needlessly against Vincent as she stood, and he shot Jill another exasperated look. She grinned widely at him as Holly went to a small writing desk in the corner.

  Vin was just starting to stand—no doubt to move to safety—when Holly returned waving an envelope. “Here we go!”

  Jill watched Vincent’s face as he accepted the already-open envelope, his eyes scanning the return address with a slight frown before pulling out the paper inside.

  His jaw tensed as he read it, and when he lifted his eyes to Jill, she knew then… knew that whatever was in that letter meant that any hope they had of Holly Adams breaking down and admitting guilt had just gone out the window.

  He handed it across the coffee table to Jill.

  “You didn’t think to mention this last time?” he asked Holly.

  Holly sat down beside him once more, crossing her legs and blinking innocently up at him. “Well, you’ll pardon me if I’m unaccustomed to being questioned in a murder investigation. I wasn’t exactly t
hinking clearly.”

  Jill scanned the contents of the letter, taking in the seemingly official logo, the cookie-cutter phrasing of the letter that indicated it was a form letter, which in this case, made it all the more believable.

  The pages that followed sealed the deal.

  Jill looked up. “You called the cable company the night Lenora Birch was murdered.”

  “The Wi-Fi wasn’t working,” Holly said, almost proudly. She pronounced “Wi-Fi” just a bit too precisely, the way someone unfamiliar with the technology would be.

  Vincent pinched the bridge of his nose. “And all calls are recorded.”

  “Yup,” Holly said, sounding quite pleased with herself. “I wrote them a letter asking if they could provide a transcript of the conversation, and that’s what you see there.”

  Jill glanced down again at the transcript. A quick scan showed that it was exactly what one would expect from a tech-savvy customer service rep and a seventy-something woman who “couldn’t get to The Google.” Lots of, “I understand your frustration, ma’am,” countered with, “back in my day…”

  And Holly couldn’t know it, as time of death wasn’t common knowledge, but the time stamp meant that Holly Adams was listening to an explanation of the difference between modem and router at the precise moment Lenora Birch had been pushed over that balcony.

  “You two don’t seem happy,” Holly said, looking between Vincent and Jill.

  “Of course we are,” Jill said with an automatic, not-entirely-genuine smile. “Just because we like to solve crimes doesn’t mean we enjoy finding people guilty.”

  Vincent’s expression said otherwise.

  “No, that’s not what I meant,” Holly said, fiddling with the oversized ruby around her neck—just a tad overdressed for entertaining homicide detectives on a random Wednesday. “I meant that you aren’t happy. Soul happy.”

  Vincent glanced at Jill and mouthed soul happy? with a lift of his eyebrow.

  Jill kept her smile firmly in place. “I assure you, everything is just fine with us. Just the usual exhaustion from trying to solve a case.”

  Holly pursed her lips. “No. That’s not it.”

  “Excuse me?” Jill said, her smile slipping. She knew better to engage with a woman who’d proven she loved nothing more than to play games, but without knowing it, Holly Adams had hit on a nerve.

  Or hell. Knowing Holly, she probably had known it.

  “How’s the wedding planning coming along, Detective Henley?” Holly’s voice was sweet as sugar.

  Jill kept hers just as sweet, even as her body went on high alert. “So great, thanks for asking.”

  “Mm. Your young man, he’s handsome?”

  “Very.”

  “More handsome than this young man?” Holly asked with a speculative look at Vincent.

  Jill nearly laughed at the obviousness of Holly’s ploy. She leaned forward. “Ms. Adams, the time to be matchmaker is before one of the people has a ring on her finger.”

  Holly mimicked Jill’s posture, leaning forward with dancing, mischievous eyes. “You didn’t answer the question, Detective.”

  Jill’s eyes flicked to Vin, even as she told herself not to humor the interfering older woman.

  He was watching her with barely concealed amusement. Not exactly helping her out, but then, she supposed that was fair for the way she’d smirked at him earlier when Holly employed her best flirting techniques.

  Then he lifted an eyebrow.

  Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be.

  She shifted her attention back to Holly, her voice even more sugary than before. “I’m sure plenty of women would find Detective Moretti perfectly handsome.” Jill let her shoulders lift in a little shrug. “But he’s more like a brother to me. I really can’t see him like that.”

  “Mmm-hmm,” Holly said, sounding skeptical as she shifted her attention to Vin. “And you, Detective. Do you think of your partner like a sister?”

  Jill looked at Vin, a little smile on her lips as she waited for whatever his one-up would be on her jab.

  He stared at her for what seemed like an uncomfortably long time.

  “No,” he said finally. “No, I’ve never thought of Detective Henley as a sister.”

  Jill’s smile dropped. Not so much because of the words. But the look on his face. The heat in his eyes.

  And irrationally, she felt angry. At him.

  “Oh really?” Holly said, her eyes wide, her hand laying against her heart in a forced, oh-my-goodness-me manner.

  Jill stuffed the printed transcript back into the envelope not as gently as she should have, and held it up. “Can we take this?” she asked.

  “Of course,” Holly murmured, her attention still locked on Vincent’s steely profile. “Detective Moretti, how did you feel upon learning your partner was getting married?”

  “Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Jill muttered as she stood. “Vin, let’s head out.”

  He didn’t stand with her, although he didn’t stop looking at her as he answered Holly’s question. “I don’t love it. I don’t love the fact that she’s getting married.”

  Her jaw dropped. “Seriously? We are not doing this here.”

  And then she completely contradicted herself by sitting down once more. “What do you mean you don’t love it? It’s not for you to love. Or decide. You get no say.”

  He shrugged. “I didn’t say I did. Just said I didn’t like it.”

  “Well that’s just… that’s just…” Unfair.

  She had nothing to say to Vincent, so she shifted her attention to Holly. “What are you doing?”

  “Oh, I’m sorry, dear, am I stirring the pot?”

  “You know perfectly well that you are,” she said quietly. “Vin. Let’s head out.”

  “If you don’t mind me asking,” Holly said, holding out her hand.

  “I do,” Jill snapped, knowing that she wouldn’t like what was going to come out of Holly Adams’s mouth next.

  Seriously, why the hell was Vin just sitting there?

  He didn’t let his own mother ask questions about his personal life, and here he was letting a meddling stranger just have at it.

  And then it hit her… that sense she’d been having all week that a storm was coming. This was it. This was the storm she’d been fearing.

  Holly had shifted all of her attention to Vincent now, who had a placid, you-can-ask-me-anything look on his face, and abruptly Jill realized that they’d somehow just switched roles.

  She’d become the snippy bad cop, and he was the cooperative one.

  “Have you and Detective Henley ever dated?” Holly asked Vincent.

  Vin didn’t look at her as he responded with a clipped “No.”

  “Hmm, that surprises me,” Holly said, leaning forward and pouring both herself and Vincent more tea from a porcelain pot. She didn’t offer Jill any.

  “How’s that?” Vincent asked.

  “The way you look at her.”

  It was a good thing Jill wasn’t offered any more tea. She would have dropped the cup just then.

  Vincent, on the other hand, went perfectly still. Nothing except his eyes moved.

  Eyes that found Jill’s.

  “How do I look at her?” His voice was low. Gravelly.

  This was, without a doubt, the most bizarre, the most insane, the most painful interrogation she’d ever been on.

  “You’re letting her take control of the conversation,” Jill said. “This is beyond inappropriate.”

  “I don’t give a shit about appropriateness,” he said.

  “Well, I do!”

  “You do not,” Vincent said, leaning forward and setting his teacup on the table. “This isn’t about what’s appropriate. This is about you not wanting to have this conversation.”

  “I didn’t even know there was a conversation to be had!” she said.

  “That’s bullshit,” he shot back. “You’ve been goading me every chance you get. The other day I told you I was
happy for you. And yet still, you keep poking at me with your talk of meatballs and honeymoon locations and black tie versus cocktail attire.”

  “I wasn’t goading, I was asking you because you’re my friend.”

  “Am I? Really? Because a friend doesn’t disappear for three months, come back engaged with not so much as a word of warning.”

  “Well, pardon me for assuming that my gruff, non-talkative partner would care about my love life.”

  “I cared!” he roared. “I’ve always fucking cared!”

  Jill stared at him, speechless, both of them breathing too hard.

  Holly continued to sip her tea, looking pleased as punch with herself. No doubt this was the best entertainment she’d had in years.

  “We shouldn’t be having this conversation in front of a suspect.”

  “I’m still a suspect then?” Holly asked petulantly.

  “Yes,” Jill snapped at the same time Vincent muttered, “No.”

  There was a long, pained silence, before Jill took a deep breath and looked at Holly. “We just need to verify the authenticity of the letter is all.”

  “Well then!” Holly said, all chipper-like. “You’d best get on that! I’d like my name cleared as quickly as possible.”

  Should have thought of that before you decided to stir the pot.

  This time when Jill stood, Vincent did as well. But he didn’t look at her.

  Not when they walked to the door and bid a terse farewell to a far-too-chipper Holly. Not when they got into the car.

  Not on the entire drive back to New York.

  They rode in ice-cold silence.

  Protocol demanded that they stop by the station. File some paperwork, put Holly’s letter into evidence…

  But Vincent was apparently far beyond protocol, because he drove them straight home to Queens. Which Jill was just fine with. She didn’t think she could be civil to him right now if someone paid her.

  It will be better in the morning, she told herself. We’ll cool off. He’ll realize he was just trying to piss me off.

  He pulled up in front of her apartment, and Jill knew it was rude, but she didn’t say a word to him as she grabbed her purse.

  She slammed the door as she got out because it felt good.

  It wasn’t until she reached the front door that she realized Vin was right behind her.

 
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