Cold Midnight

1

KENDALL FALLS POLICE DETECTIVE CHASE MANNING steered his SUV into the muddy parking lot of the construction site for McKays’ Tennis Center. He would have preferred to avoid this case like a bad sunburn, but he couldn’t not respond when it involved Kylie McKay, the woman he loved more than life before she walked out on him. As if Mother Nature shared his mood, lightning flashed against the backdrop of ominous dark clouds on the horizon.

Shoving bad memories out of his brain, he stepped out of the truck to the low rumble of distant thunder. His partner, Sam Hawkins, was talking to a group of four or five construction workers near a mobile home, so Chase headed in that direction.

The construction site was in the beginning stages of development. Freshly felled trees dotted the sandy dirt landscape. Two yellow, mud-caked earthmovers sat silent, as did a huge dump truck filled with tree branches and other debris. A chain-link fence with intermittent KEEP OUT signs surrounded it all.

His stride faltered when he saw her talking to another construction worker. She nodded at the man, her eyes shielded by sunglasses and her mouth set in a grim line. In red shorts, a white tank top and sneakers, and her long dark hair caught in a ponytail that shed curls around her face, she still looked every bit the professional tennis player: lithe, tan and toned.

His gaze locked momentarily on the black knee brace that extended from midcalf to midthigh, a harsh reminder of the violent and bloody assault that tore them apart ten years ago.

When dark rage boiled up inside him, he clenched one fist and looked away to see Sam striding toward him. His partner of five years looked rock solid as always, biceps and thighs bulging in a navy polo shirt and khaki slacks. A prematurely gray crew cut topped his heavy brow, making him look dangerous. Very few people messed with Sam.

“What have we got?” Chase asked.

“Maybe it’s best if you let me handle this one.”

“What have we got?” Chase repeated, his voice hard.

Sam hooked his thumbs in his belt and rolled his massive shoulders. “Construction worker found a bat.”

“As in baseball bat?”

“Kylie ID’d it as the one used to take out her knee.”

Chase couldn’t respond for a moment. Holy shit. Holy shit. Unable to stop himself, he glanced in her direction. She’d just looked upon the weapon that two unknown assailants had used to shatter her dreams, and yet she chatted with the construction worker as if they discussed nothing more major than the impending storm. Her calm facade eerily mirrored the aftermath of the brutal attack, he realized. But she’d been in shock then, pale and hollow-eyed, disoriented from pain medication and spinning from endless talk of surgeries and physical rehabilitation . . . and no more competitive tennis.

“Chase.”

He blinked and looked at his partner. “What?”

“You sure about this? I can take it from here, you know.”

“Like hell. This case has been cold for ten years.”

“Yeah, I know, and you’ve been itching for a reason to open it back up, and now you’ve got it. But there’s a major conflict of interest here.”

“I’ll be fine, Sam. Kylie and I have been over for a long time.”

“That was easier to buy when she lived on the other side of the country. She’s back now, and you’ve been wound way too tight ever since.”

“That’s bullshit—”

“Just let me handle it, Chase.”

Chase started to knead the back of his neck, where tension always settled into a giant, throbbing knot. Sam was right. He couldn’t possibly be objective on this. Not when the