by Jamie Hill
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With a couple of dead bodies thrown in, Detective Brady Marshall's stolen goods case has just become a lot more interesting. His love life takes a turn for the better when he meets Gina Morris, a feisty waitress at the club where the latest victim has surfaced. A happily unattached ladies' man, Brady isn't looking to settle down. But after meeting the beautiful Italian spitfire, his thoughts are shifting in that direction.
Gina Morris doesn't date cops. Until she meets Brady, that is, and gets won over by his dogged persistence and winning smile. With things in her past that are best left unspoken, Gina hesitates to get too close, but can't resist the handsome detective's charm. When his case runs smack dab into her past life, both of them are forced to make choices they never dreamed possible in an attempt to salvage their relationship, and possibly even save their lives.
Judging by the smell of the bloated body, it'd been lying in the alley for at least a day.
Brady Marshall stepped around a stack of trash cans and squatted next to the corpse. He held his fingertips to the pulse points in the man's neck. As expected, there was no pulse. The gesture was a formality done for the benefit of the crowd gathered outside the Pink Banana Club. "Did anyone call 911?"
"I did." The petite blonde waitress, whose terrified screams had summoned him moments before, stepped forward. "Aren't you a cop?"
"Yeah." Brady stood up and glanced around the alley. "But I'm not a homicide cop."
"Homicide?" The woman repeated.
Her boss moved up behind her. "He's a vice cop." The club owner didn't hide the disgust in his voice. He screwed up his face, making the pock marks stand out more prominent. Brady flashed a personable smile and raised his hands. "Just here for a couple of drinks, Warren. I'm not looking for trouble."
Warren Clifton snickered and shook his head at the dead body. "Trouble has a way of finding you, Marshall."
"What a thing to say!" Brady feigned indignation. "That hurts, Warren, it really does. What do you think about getting these nice people back inside the club, and I'll wait out here until someone comes to take over the scene?"
"Yeah, all right." Warren ushered the gawkers back into the building. He looked at Brady one last time, muttering, "Can we try to keep this out of the club, Marshall?"
Brady lit a cigarette and shrugged as he blew a puff of smoke into the air. "Not my case, man. I'll put in a good word for you, but there'll be questions."
"I know." Obviously irritated, Warren tossed one last look at the body and stepped inside.
Watching him go, Brady thought about the club owner for a moment. Warren was a decent guy. He ran a clean establishment, seemed to treat his help respectably and didn't have many run-ins with Brady's section of the law. There were plenty of clubs in town whose owners couldn't say the same. It was one reason he chose to frequent the Pink Banana on his occasional evening off.
Wailing sirens pierced the air. They brought his attention back to the body on the ground in front of him. He didn't have much information to pass along, but he'd tell them what he knew. He wanted to head back inside, finish his drink and catch a little more of the show.
Two cars, their red lights flashing, pulled into the alley, one a marked police car and one unmarked. Brady took one last drag, before dropping his cigarette and crushing it under the toe of his boot. He approached the unmarked car and smiled at the tall, buxom brunette who emerged. "Hey, Mel. Looks like your lucky night."
Detective Melanie Curtis glanced at him before she sought out the body. "What are you doing here, Marshall?"
"Having a drink. A waitress took out the trash and hollered when she found our friend, here. I had her call it in, and said I'd stay with the scene until you showed."
"What's it look like?" The detective took a step closer to the corpse. "A bum, a drunk?"
Brady shrugged. "Dressed pretty nice to be a bum, but he doesn't smell so great. I didn't touch anything other than checking for a pulse on his neck, but I believe I detected a small bullet hole in front of his left ear."
Curtis dropped to one knee and peered at the body. "Son-of-a-bitch! So much for getting home at a decent hour." She looked up at one of the uniformed officers awaiting her orders.
"Cordon off the area and start searching the alley." To the other uniform she said, "Get the medical examiner over here. You'll need to knock on the doors of surrounding businesses and take statements. See if anybody saw or heard anything. Find out the last time anyone from the club was out here." She looked at Brady. "You're welcome to stay and help."
He grinned at her and shook his head. "No, thanks. It's my night off, and I've had a couple drinks." He extended a hand and pulled her to her feet. Mel was a good looking woman, though she usually wore nondescript, dark pant suits when she worked. She kept her thick brown hair pulled into a ponytail.
Brady had worked several cases with her, and they were friends, nothing more. She sometimes gave him the feeling she'd be interested in pursuing a relationship, but he'd never thought office romances were a good idea. He faced the door to the club. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have a couple more drinks."
"Thanks for nothing, Marshall," Curtis called after him.
Brady didn't turn around, just waved as he walked back inside the club. He felt a twinge of guilt, but it was unnecessary. Off duty and drinking, he had no business working a case. "Speaking of drinking," he muttered to himself, noticing his clean, empty table. There was a brand new bourbon and seven in front of him before that waitress—what was her name?—Julie,
that was it, before Julie discovered drop-dead Fred in the alley. He scanned the room, but Julie was nowhere in sight.
"Excuse me." He reached for the arm of another waitress.
The dark-haired woman whirled around angrily, jerking away from his grasp. "What's your problem, buddy?" Fury sparked from her shiny brown eyes.
Brady was floored. He'd never seen such an attractive combination of goddess and hellcat as the woman standing before him. She was tall, just an inch or two shorter than his six-two build. Her curly black hair, fair skin and rose-colored lips reminded him of a gypsy princess. But the scorching look she flashed made him think she might deck him at any moment. "Whoa!" He lifted his hands. "No problem, really, other than I left the table for a few minutes and my drink
She narrowed her eyes and looked him up and down. "You a cop?"
"Is it stamped on my forehead, or something?" He tried to flash her one of his patented smiles but she continued to glower.
"Yeah, actually it is." She took a step closer. "Oh, sorry, that says 'asshole', not 'cop'."
Brady crossed his arms and looked at her patiently. He realized waitresses in places like this, must get groped and hit on regularly, especially ones who looked like her. "I'm sorry I grabbed you. I didn't mean anything by it."
She stared at him another moment, then licked her thumb and ran it across his forehead. "Well, I'm sorry, too. That was a smudge. Maybe it didn't say 'asshole' after all."
Brady laughed and the woman's lips curved up, seemingly against her wishes. She was pretty when she scowled, but she was a knockout when she let herself smile.
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