Joanna was about to dispose of the printouts still scattered over her desk when her phone rang. She half feared it could be Grace again, half hoped Theo would get back to her with news, but of course it was too early for that. The connection was too vague for him to get a warrant, so he’d have to tread carefully.
Much to his credit, he hadn’t commented on the fact that she couldn’t give him a last name. There was no name on the door, and in her emails and text, it only said GracieL. Theo would have to do the rest, but she figured it wouldn’t be too hard.
“You apartment isn’t that big,” Kira said. “Why aren’t you picking up the phone?”
Because I’m afraid it could be a serial murderer on the other end…
“Sorry,” Joanna mumbled. “What can I do for you?”
“Call every once in a while? You’re doing it again.”
Kira had been the closest she’d had to a friend in prison, and surprisingly, she’d kept in touch, even after being released eight months earlier. Life could take surprising turns, and not all of them were bad, at least for people other than Joanna. Kira had found a kind man, the father of two boys, and married him less than two months ago. She often tried to convince Joanna to come to dinner, but Joanna wasn’t comfortable around all that newfound happiness. Mostly, she thought her presence made others unfomfortable. Not Kira—she knew her friend understood completely what her reality looked like. The husband and kids, Joanna wasn’t so sure. She felt like every time she was over, he was beyond wary.
“I’m not doing anything. In fact, you’ll be glad to know that I reconnected with an old colleague.”
“Vanessa doesn’t count. You two have a sick relationship.”
“Thank you so much, and no, I wasn’t talking about Vanessa. I saw Theo, my old partner. He’s talking to me again, which is a major improvement. Another officer let me talk to a witness once I laid on the charm.”
“I don’t understand. What are you doing with a witness? You unload trucks and lift palettes for a living—which, I’d like to say, is not such a bad thing. I thought that part of your life was over, and you were okay with it.”
“It’s a long story.”
“You could come over and tell it to me.”
“I don’t think Coby would approve.”
“Coby likes you,” Kira protested. “Besides, he’s not here tonight, and neither are the boys. I’ve got Merlot and chocolate chip ice cream. As much of it as you like.”
“You’re trying to bribe me?” Joanna didn’t need much more. She was already in her coat.
“Works every time, doesn’t it? I miss you.”
“Miss you too. I’ll be over there in ten.”
Instead of staring at the walls, waiting for Theo’s call and hoping her gut had betrayed her, she would see Kira, and toast to the future.
Sticking to her promise, Kira greeted Joanna with a hug and then served her ice cream and wine. It had become something like a ritual for them after Joanna’s release, even after it became clear that Kira and Coby were serious, and moved in together.
“This is so good. Thank you. I needed that.”
“I’m glad I could help. You said you had a story to tell.”
Joanna figured that halfway through her glass, she couldn’t back out now.
“All right. You heard about the woman who ran away from a man who abducted her, and was found by a truck driver?”
“Yeah, I heard about it. What’s that got to do with you?”
“I saw her in the hospital today.”
“You did what?” Kira exclaimed. “Are you crazy?”
“The case is similar to one I once worked. I had to speak up.”
“Going to the hospital is not the same. Honey, do you realize that any defense lawyer will just love to jump on the fact you were anywhere near her? You’re famous. You killed a murderer. As unfair as that might be, I don’t think your colleagues want to be seen with you, and sadly, they have a point. Someone will make the connection.”
“Theo said something like that,” Joanna admitted. “Damn, I had hoped for some support from you.”
“This is the way I offer support,” Kira indicated the delicacies on the table with a sweeping gesture, “and by telling you the truth. You can’t be involved. I don’t want you to put yourself in danger.”
Joanna finished her glass and reached for the bottle.
“It might already be too late for that.”
Before she could elaborate, the vibration of her cell phone indicated the arrival of a text message.
Once upon a time, she had known what to do, without hesitating, without doubt. After the brief conversation with Theo, Joanna felt confused. Relieved, too. Grace had apparently fully cooperated, told the cops she’d broken up with the boyfriend and apologized again for the text messages. More important, she had an alibi for the night Christina Danvers had hooked up with the couple.
Christina had confirmed that she’d never seen Grace before.
Something had been off about her. Joanna didn’t think her instincts would betray her so badly. She shook herself. She should be grateful that she had avoided adding another nightmare to the ones that never went away.
“Are you okay?” Kira asked when she returned to the living room.
“Yeah. It’s actually good news. Forget what I said earlier—it’s not all that dramatic. All of you were right. I should stay far away from that case.”
Kira poured them both another glass.
“Hey, better late than never. Let’s drink to that. You should fall in love too.”
“Uh, no. It’s doesn’t work that way for everyone.”
“Because you have commitment issues. You panic when someone calls you back.”
“That’s not true.” Was it? Was there a possibility that there was something wrong with Joanna instead of Grace? Oh, the possibilities were endless. “Look at my life. Who would want to get caught up in that mess?”
Kira laid an arm around her shoulders. “Last time I checked, you cleaned up that mess pretty nicely. Back on the inside, you could’ve gotten caught up in all kinds of bad stuff, but you stayed out of it. You have a job that pays for a roof over your head and more booze and cigarettes than you should have.”
“I sense some criticism coming on.”
“Just give it a chance sometime, won’t you?”
Joanna took another spoonful of ice cream.
“I like fewer complications in my life. Simple pleasures, you know?”
“I really don’t know. You hook up with some bizarre people. That’s the only part you haven’t quite figured out yet.”
You don’t know the half of it, Joanna wanted to say. Then again, she hadn’t been so great at relationships before she and Decker crossed paths. For some things, she had no one to blame but herself.
“Maybe there’s nothing to figure out. I get by.”
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Author Barbara Winkes Bio:
Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.
Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.