Her own father had killed her mother. Afterward, Elena Segura Jackson had been adopted by a loving Santa Fe family. For years she'd tried to focus only on the present and future--not the past. But now another murder, in her family's antique shop, brings the old memories rushing back. Detective Daniel Stillwater, widowed father of a little girl, vows to find the killer. In Daniel's presence, Elena dares feel safe. Yet the killer keeps coming back, wreaking havoc in the shop, looking for...something. Like a moment when the good detective isn't by Elena's side.
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August 11, 2008
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Excerpt from Hidden Deception by Leann Harris
Something was wrong.
Elena Segura Jackson stared at the open back door of her family's antique shop.
"Hello." Her voice echoed in the empty room. A shiver ran up her spine. "Joyce, are you here?" This was Joyce's night to lock up. Elena listened for a moment more. Nothing.
"Don't be silly," she chided herself. "You're acting like a five-year-old."
Shaking off her apprehension, she moved inside. Where was the inside security light? Reaching for the switch, she flicked it on. Nothing happened.
Her stomach sank. Taking a deep breath, she called out again, "Joyce."
The outside light did little to penetrate the vast darkness of the store. It was like walking into a cave, wondering what she'd find with her next step. She bumped into several pieces of furniture. Slowly, she made her way from piece to piece moving toward the stairs in the center of the room. The papers she needed were upstairs in her office. Halfway across the room, she stumbled and caught herself on the back of a chair.
"Wha--" She looked down. Her eyes followed a pair of legs up to a skirt and a blouse. The body lay against the large Spanish chest.
Slowly she approached the body. "Joyce?"
Kneeling, she shook her shoulder. "Joyce? Are you okay?"
Elena turned the woman over. It was Joyce. Her eyes were open, staring into nothing. Elena shook Joyce's shoulders, but there was no reaction.
Releasing her, Elena's fingers skated over Joyce's chest and encountered a wet spot. Elena jerked her hands back. Although she couldn't see the color of the liquid, she could smell the coppery scent. Blood.
Stumbling to her feet, she turned. A figure materialized out of the darkness, and before she could react, something crashed into her head turning the world black.
* * *
Detective Daniel Stillwater and his partner, Raul Rodriguez, climbed out of their police-issued sedan. Two police cruisers and the evidence van dotted the area around Amarillo Plaza in old town Santa Fe, closing down traffic on the street.
"Hey, Stillwater, you get this case?" Patrolman Mark Sanchez called out.
"We did. You the first responder?"
"Yeah, Icenhour and I caught the call. He's inside with the lady who found the body. She's not in too good a shape, crying and blubbering, but you know what a talker Icenhour is. He can soothe things over."
Daniel stepped into the antique shop and looked around. The overhead lights beat down harshly on the old furniture and elegant collections in the room. He couldn't figure out what folks saw in this old stuff. It looked like some of the stuff in his aunt's house. The evidence lieutenant looked up from his evidence kit.
"Find anything?" Raul asked.
"No." The tech stood. "There was a collection of smudged prints on the doorknob, but there's nothing I've discovered in the shop. The vic was stabbed several times in the chest and bled out."
"Thanks, Greg," Daniel replied. He scanned the shop and didn't see anyone else. A set of wooden stairs divided the room, leading to the second floor. "Where's the witness?"
"She and Icenhour are upstairs in the office."
Daniel and Raul climbed the stairs, their shoes echoing heavily on the worn wooden treads.
"Is there anyone I can call for you?" Icenhour's voice floated out the open door at the top.
When they reached the top riser, they scanned the area. To the right, the space opened out to a storage area piled with boxes, chairs and carpets. To the left was a door marked Office. Looking inside, Daniel saw Icenhour sitting in a chair next to a woman. She held an ice pack to her left temple. In her late twenties, she had shoulder-length straight black hair with a sprinkling of bangs across her forehead. Those bangs brought a man's gaze to her golden-brown eyes. Twin tracks of tears ran down her pale, smooth cheeks.
She looked up, and Icenhour turned.
"Detectives, this is Elena Jackson, who found the body." He finished the introductions then stood. "I'll go downstairs and see if they need any help."
Raul took Icenhour's seat. Daniel grabbed a chair in the corner and pulled it close. He took a notebook and pen from his coat pocket. "Tell me what happened this evening, Ms. Jackson."
She set the ice pack on the desk. "I forgot some papers I needed and was coming back to the shop." She looked from him to Raul. "I found the back door to the shop unlocked, which alarmed me. Joyce is--was always so reliable about store procedures. But--"
Daniel waited for her to continue. He knew when to push a witness and when to back off and let them proceed at their own speed.
She wrapped her arms around her waist.
"But..." Raul prompted after several seconds.
Daniel threw him a look and Raul shrugged as if to say "someone had to."
"Joyce seemed to be distracted lately. I should've been more diligent and asked her what was wrong."
"So you think something odd was going on in her life? Did she have any family issues?" Daniel asked.
"I don't know. I think Joyce might have been divorced. She never talked about her past and wasn't looking for another relationship."
"Why do you say that?" Daniel asked.
"I've seen a couple of customers try to flirt with her. She shut them down. Politely, but she discouraged men. This last week, though, she was remote, as if something was bothering her."