“I’m okay.”

“I’m sure Mr. Merit won’t agree,” he argues.

“No,” I concede. “I’m sure he won’t, but I’m still doing it.”

His jaw clenches and unclenches and he releases me, stepping to my side. “I’m going with you.”

“I talk to you alone, Ms. McMillan,” Detective Grant replies, as if I’m the one who made the declaration that Jacob is along for the trip, “or we bring Ralph back out to talk.”

My blood boils with the threat, but there’s no room to argue. I turn my attention to Jacob. “I won’t let Ralph be harassed over me. Stay here, please.”

“I’ll wait outside the coffee shop.”

“Fine with me,” Detective Grant says, and we start walking into a gust of bitterly cold November wind.

Hugging myself, I feel exposed to far more than the cold air. When Jacob steps away from me to open the shop door, I’m unnaturally chilled to the bone. “I’ll be right here,” he assures me.

“Thank you.” I intend to rush into the shelter of warm walls, but somehow my feet are planted and I’m sinking in the quicksand of memories. Ava’s smiling face, her laughter, her funny comments about Chris and Mark. Her raging anger when she’d held that gun on me and fully intended to kill me. I know she had. I’d seen it in her eyes.

“Problem, Ms. McMillan?” Detective Grant asks and something in his tone hits a raw, angry nerve.

My attention snaps to him and I shove Ava back into that hellhole I reserve for all the crap in my life. “You know very well there’s a problem, and what it is. And you, Detective Grant, are a familiar breed of manipulator. Very familiar.” I lift my chin and walk inside.

Passing the many displays of coffee and mugs, my nostrils flare with the rich, nutty scent of coffee brewing. I’d once eagerly inhaled and savored this scent in the past; today it burns my nose and throat, and turns my stomach.

Pausing to scan the dozen rather packed tables for a vacancy, my gaze settles on the counter, where an unfamiliar man with longish dark hair and heavily tattooed arms rings up a customer.

“Ava’s husband, Raphael,” Detective Grant supplies, stepping to my side. “The rock band he plays in calls him Raf, I believe.”

“Ava’s husband?” I ask, surprised. While good-looking in the rocker bad boy kind of way, he’s far from what I’d imagine for the refined beauty. He’s Mark’s polar opposite.

“Estranged husband, I guess you’d call him.”

“I thought he owned a bar?”

“He does but he plays in a band, too. And now it seems he owns a coffee shop.” He motions to a table. “Let’s sit. I don’t have time for coffee.”

Glad to get this over with, I follow the detective to the table and claim the seat by the wall. Feeling like I’m being watched, I look around and am locked in the beam of Raf’s stare, and choking with the unpleasant sensation of being naked.

Detective Grant slaps the journal down on the table and I nearly jump out of my seat. “Let’s talk,” he says, and now I’m stuck in his probing, always judgmental, stare.

“Should we do a read-along of your opinions of Mark Compton?” he asks. “Or do you care to simply share them with me?”

Angry with him all over again, I set my cell phone in my lap, and lace my fingers together on top of the table. “Why share them if you read them?” I challenge. “And is it even legal for you to show my personal items to Ralph?”

“Feel free to use all that money your boyfriend has and sue me, and I guess we’ll find out.”

“My rich boyfriend? Are you trying to alienate me, or is being a jerk so natural for you that you simply can’t help yourself?”

He chuckles. “Oh, Ms. McMillan. I think I see why all these men find you so appealing.”

“All these men?” I demand. “I’m with Chris, and only Chris. And for the record, Detective, you’re living up to my manipulation expectations. Even that comment was meant to lure me into saying something I’m not going to say.”

Unfazed, he taps my journal. “Let’s talk about Mark.”

“He’s not guilty of anything but loving Rebecca,” I say before I can stop myself.

“There’s a fine line between love and hate. You wrote that yourself.”

“Because Ricco Alvarez said that to me. He’s the one to be worried about. He loved her, too, and he was insanely jealous over Mark.” I lean back. “That’s all I’m saying. I’m done.”

“This isn’t about you or Chris Merit. I’ve cleared you both.”

“You have?”

“Yes. You both have rock-solid alibis.” He leans forward. “I need to find Rebecca, Ms. McMillan. Help me.”

“I want to, but I can’t help you without my attorney present.”

“I told you I’ve cleared you.”

“I know, but you think Mark is guilty. And I’m not helping you convict an innocent man.”

“How can you be sure he’s innocent?”

My phone vibrates and I know who it is before I even glance at the caller ID and see Chris’s number. Knowing he’ll be worried, I hold up a finger and say, “Give me one minute, please.”

He leans back in his seat. “By all means. Take your time. The only place I have to be is in court to testify against your attacker.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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