FREE READ: Deadly Fall, Chapters 1-3
“Damn it, Ethan,” Nick Markov muttered, trying to steady his drunken partner and keep him from falling flat on his face and doing permanent damage to it. “Your wife’s going to have my ass for this.”
Ethan Murtagh’s scowl bordered on a pout more suited to a two-year-old. “I can walk on my own two feet,” he said, his words only slightly slurred. He stumbled, nearly taking them both down.
Nick grunted and muttered, “Right.”
It was several frustrating moments before Nick managed to strap his partner into the passenger seat of the black SUV parked in front of the bar. Ethan had been, once again, trying to drink himself into a stupor. He didn’t handle disagreements with his significant other well. The current dispute was over the photographer who had shot his wife’s swimsuit spread the previous week in the Bahamas.
“You’d better hope Torie’s asleep when I get you home,” Nick said, getting behind the wheel.
A disgruntled sound came from the sprawled figure beside him. Nick answered with a grunt of his own as he pulled out. At almost one in the morning on a Wednesday night, it was relatively quiet in the Sixties on the Upper East Side, so it was a few short minutes before he was turning onto Fifth Avenue. Deciding it wouldn’t take long to get Ethan upstairs and into his nineteenth-floor condo, Nick stopped the SUV in front of the building, killed the engine and flipped down his visor to display his credentials. He released his seat belt buckle, then reached over for his partner’s. Ethan mumbled a protest, swatted at Nick’s helping hand and fumbled with the door handle. Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Nick grabbed a fistful of his partner’s jacket.
“Stay put,” Nick said. “You open that door, you’ll land on your pretty face and Torie will never forgive me.”
Ethan fell back in his seat, head tilted back, eyes closed. Satisfied, Nick opened his door, got out and made his way to the passenger side door. Ethan didn’t move when he pulled the door open. Nick silently groaned at the possibility of having to carry his less-than-petite partner upstairs.
Before Nick could reach for his semiconscious partner, small pebbles pinged the roof of the SUV and bounced off his head and the sidewalk. Frowning, he skimmed a hand over his hair and his gaze across the roof of his vehicle. The pebbles glittered faintly under the mellow glow of the streetlight.
Not pebbles. Glass shards.
Nick glanced up—and froze, his gaze transfixed by the body above him.
With a faint sense of incredulity, Nick stared, breath trapped in his lungs, as the blurred line of stark paleness grew larger and sharper as gravity closed the distance between its victim and the sidewalk. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the white face seemingly directly above him. For timeless seconds, that was all he saw, but his mind filled in the rest with disturbing clarity. He saw the wide open mouth and the rounded eyes, filled with the horrifying knowledge of one’s own imminent death.
Nick was wrong about two things—the body wasn’t directly above him, and the ground wouldn’t stop its free fall.
It was directly above the SUV.
His own eyes widening at this realization, Nick fisted his hands in Ethan’s jacket, hauled his partner from the vehicle and jumped back, grunting when the edge of the door caught his shoulder. Ethan stumbled and both men went down hard as the body met metal.
The sickening thud was nearly drowned out by the explosive crunching of metal and shattering of glass as the SUV gave like an aluminum pie plate under the sudden force.
As the squeaky sound of the SUV’s shocks being tested beyond their limits mingled with the other sounds of destruction, Nick, his heart somewhere in the vicinity of his throat, found himself flat on the ground, face first, his head covered with his forearms. The damp, industrial scent of the sidewalk filled his nostrils as he took in the heavy, metallic clinking sounds as parts fell off the vehicle.
Nick opened his eyes, lifted his head and pushed to his feet. Without conscious thought, he withdrew his gun and turned around. He stood on the street, the worn handle of his Glock comfortable and familiar in his grip, and took in the remains of his SUV. The new hood ornament had slammed onto it with enough force to bend the front hood into an imperfect V, partially obscuring the body from Nick’s view. The windshield, torn from the top of its frame, was split in two down the middle. The jagged, incomplete halves—spider webs of shattered glass held together by the thin, inner layer of plastic laminate—disappeared inside the SUV’s dark interior.
Nick took a step closer, his mouth tightening as his gaze dropped. A stark face stared at him from the dashboard. Dark hair topped glassy, unseeing eyes, a bent nose and a mouth opened wide in a silent scream. Blood, thick and dark, seeped from the matted hair to pool on the leather. There was no need to check for a pulse.
Ethan’s shocked whisper brought Nick’s attention around to him. His partner swayed for a moment, then slapped one hand against Nick’s shoulder to steady himself. Blood trickled down the left side of his forehead from a gash that disappeared into his hair. He was sobering up by the second as he stared at the body. Homicide detectives they might be, but they’ve never had a case fall on them literally.
Nick swiveled his gaze back to the front of his SUV and blinked, but the image before him didn’t waver.
The male body was a tangle of arms and legs bent at awkward angles nestled in the damaged hood of the SUV.
There was nothing that he could do.
Something heavy settled inside Nick, as it did every time he saw a body. Not bothering to shake off the feeling, he peered up the high-rise—and caught a flash of pale color on the top terrace.
The suicide just became a homicide.
“There are easier ways to commit suicide,” Ethan murmured.
“I don’t think he jumped,” Nick said, head still tilted back. “He was helped over the penthouse terrace.”
“Jesus Christ.” Ethan’s voice was barely a whisper. “Penthouse? That’s Andrew Langan. No fucking way.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed, the corners of his mouth turning down even more. That hazy circle of paleness was gone. “Shit. The perp’s running. Come on.”
Nick raced inside the building, through the glass and brass double doors and into the lobby, Ethan on his heels. The uniformed concierge on duty, a part-time NYU student, was in front of the reception desk with his back to the front doors. At Nick and Ethan’s entrance, he dropped the phone in his hand, spun around and jerked his head up, rounded eyes darting every which way.
“What was that noise? Are we under attack?” he demanded, looking like he was on the verge of hyperventilating. “I was about to call nine-one-one.”
“Do it, Charlie. Then get under your desk and stay there,” Nick ordered, already moving toward the elevator bank. “Someone just took a plunge from the penthouse terrace.”
Charlie’s mouth moved, but Nick couldn’t make out the whispered words. Blood drained from the boy’s face, reminding Nick of the one he had just seen lying on his dashboard.
“Charlie,” Nick snapped.
“Nine-one-one and under the desk. Now!”
“Passkey first, Charlie,” Ethan said.
The concierge stared blankly at Ethan as if he was spouting Latin.
“We don’t have time, Ethan.” Nick jabbed the elevator button. “We’ll kick the door down if we have to.”
A ding sounded and the first set of elevator doors began to slide open. Nick stepped to one side, thumbed the safety off his gun and aimed it at the parting doors. The car was empty. He reached inside the open elevator and pushed the red STOP button. The elevator made a screeching protest.
With the first elevator out of commission, the perp would have to take the second elevator down to the lobby, where Nick and Ethan would be waiting.
Nick jabbed the elevator button again for the second car. If it was empty, he would take it up to the penthouse. Hopefully, he would apprehend the perp before he got creative and realized that he could hide in one of the other condos. Chances were, the perp didn’t even suspect two NYPD detectives were in the building.
Thanks to the lateness of the hour, the second elevator was swift. Nick aimed his gun at the widening opening in the doors. The car was empty like the first.
“Damn.” Nick looked over his shoulder. Ethan was riffling around under the reception desk. Charlie was still frozen. “Ethan, we don’t have time for that. Let’s move.”
His partner muttered something—most likely derogatory—under his breath, but he joined Nick in the elevator car. Nick punched the twenty-seventh floor button.
Before the doors slid shut, Nick said, “Charlie, get under the desk and don’t do anything stupid.”
It seemed to take forever for each floor number to light up. The atmosphere in the elevator car was thick with anticipation. At the periphery of his vision, Nick saw Ethan pause a moment too long with his hand inside his jacket before withdrawing his own weapon.
“Damn it, Ethan, you’re not up to this.”
“I’m fine,” his partner said, shaking his head as if to clear it. “I can still aim and shoot.”
“I plan on leaving the heroics up to you.”
“Maybe you should leave the shooting up to me, as well. I don’t want to explain to Torie why you’re missing body parts.”
Ethan shot his partner a disgruntled look but remained silent. Nick shook his head.
When twenty-four lit up, Nick’s fingers reflexively tightened around the grip of his Glock. The ding announcing arrival at the top floor finally came, and the doors began to part. Each man took a side, weapons ready. Nick stopped breathing even as the adrenaline pumped furiously through his veins and his heart threatened to burst through his chest.
The elevator doors opened fully and no gunfire greeted them. In fact, no one was standing around anxiously awaiting the elevator’s arrival.
Cautiously, Nick and Ethan stepped off the elevator. Two sets of eyes took in the double doors to 27A. They were ajar, and no sound was coming from behind the heavy slabs of wood. The corridor was empty, a fire door on the far left side. Nick’s eyes narrowed on the dark stain on the wall beside the doorframe. It was a palm print—and Nick would bet anything that it was in blood.
“The stairs,” Nick said softly, as he hurried to the fire door and listened. Nothing. He grabbed the doorknob, the back of his mind registering the slick wetness on the steel, twisted and pulled, opening the door a fraction. The heavy sounds of feet falling rapidly on the steps came from below him. Two sets of feet. The suspects were in a hurry and were already at least three floors down. Nick cursed.
He heard Ethan come up behind him and said, “You have the penthouse.” With his current blood-alcohol level, his partner would probably slip on the stairs and break more than just his face. “I’ll go after the suspects.”
The heavy, steel fire door was closing behind Nick before his partner could protest.
As the door closed with a decisive click, Nick dismissed a niggling thought in the back of his head and nearly threw himself down the carpeted stairs, taking the steps three at a time.
“Stop! Police!” When did that ever work? Still, he had—
“Fuck!” Nick hit the stairs as the bullets whistled by him and plaster exploded above his head. In that one instant, he would swear he could hear the blood rushing through the atria and ventricles of his heart.
On his back with the carpet-covered edges of the steps digging into him, Nick extended his arm, pointed his gun down over the side of the stairs and squeezed the trigger.
Without a suppressor, the report of his Glock was deafening in the enclosed space, seeming to reverberate through the stairwell.
Then the footfalls below him started up again, faster than before.
Nick got to his feet and began taking each set of stairs in two bounds. The rapid, heavy footfalls just ahead of him rang in his ears, accompanied by his own rhythmic thumps.
After leaving the eighteenth floor behind—heart jack hammering, adrenaline pumping, the air in his lungs burning—indecipherable voices drifted up to him. Instincts he’d learned never to question had him hitting the stairs again just before several more soft pffts sounded and more plaster exploded around him.
Nick heard a door slamming back against the wall. Shit. They were going for the elevator.
He inched forward—and flinched when another bullet dug into the wall high above him.
Correction: only one of them was going for the elevator. The other was keeping him pinned down until it arrived.
Another two bullets, and Nick heard the maddening sound of the fire door hitting the wall again. He shot to his feet, jumped two more landings and wrenched the fire door on the fifteenth floor open, running for the elevators in the middle of the floor.
The steel doors were closed.
Nick could see the floor indicator on the second elevator descending. Frustration beat at his chest and he cursed, loudly and colorfully. He pounded his fist against the wall and kicked the baseboard. In an ideal world, the cavalry would be ready and waiting to greet the suspects on the ground, but Nick had never been one for idealism. He glared at the first set of elevator doors and cursed his own damned foresight. Then he glanced at the fire doors at the end of the corridor. He had no chance of making it to the ground before the elevator, but he had to try.
Jumping the stairs in one leap from landing to landing, he soon burst from the fire door on the main floor and into the lobby. It was empty. He ran for the entrance, but by the time his shoes slapped the concrete, the wrenching frustration constricting his lungs told him he’d lost. He whipped his head back and forth. Central Park, ominous in the dark, stretched out in front of him. No movement. Nothing. Only a handful of curious passersby stood at a cautious distance from his SUV. A few looked at him, but none offered any assistance. Jaw and fists clenched, Nick stalked up to the battered vehicle and banged the fist clutching the gun on the roof. Hard. Another dent wouldn’t matter now.
* * * * *
Nick found Charlie sprawled behind his desk, where he had fallen after receiving a vicious blow to the head that had knocked him unconscious. He hadn’t even seen it coming, he’d told Nick after he came to. After making sure the boy was not suffering anything more serious than a bump the size of a chicken egg, Nick left him at his post to wait for the cavalry. He then went up to the penthouse to join his partner.
Ethan met him at the door. Bright light spilled from the foyer behind him. Nick gave him a recap in short, succinct sentences.
“I called it in,” Ethan said when Nick was done. “We have less than ten minutes before it becomes official.”
“Did you find anything?” Nick asked as he followed Ethan into the foyer, pushing the front doors nearly shut with his foot so as to not mess up any prints.
“No signs of forced entry. He either knew his visitors or didn’t bother to check the peephole. I did a quick walkthrough. Langan was worked over in his office before he went through the French doors leading to the terrace,” Ethan said. “But I haven’t checked out the rooms upstairs, yet. It’s a damned big penthouse.”
Andrew Langan’s penthouse was a two-story apartment that only took up half of the entire floor. Nick got the impression of thick walls, high ceilings, airy rooms, hardwood floors, sleek furnishings and money. Mountains of it. No less was to be expected of the CEO and Executive Chairman of the Board of Langan Shipping Incorporated.
What wasn’t to be expected was that he just took a twenty-seven-story plunge to his death.
“Andrew Langan,” Ethan said softly, a trace of disbelief in his tone. “Poor guy. All that money and his wife still left him, and now this.” He shook his head. “Jesus Christ. Torie’s not going to believe this.”
“Yeah, especially with her sleeping only eight floors below.”
Ethan moved his shoulders in a circular motion in his jacket. “It’s chilly in here.”
“How many entrances are there into this building from the ground floor?” Nick asked, moving into the formal living room.
“Two. The front entrance and the service entrance. The service entrance door is locked at all times and the tenants don’t have the keys for it. Or rather, they shouldn’t.”
“Charlie said he didn’t recall two men coming in together since he started his shift.”
“You think they got in through the back?”
Nick shrugged. “Can they get in through the basement parking?”
“Possibly.” Ethan drew out the word as he considered it. “They could’ve tailgated someone in.”
“The security cameras in this building aren’t just for show, right?”
“I sure as hell hope not.”
“Good. You go search the upstairs. I’m going to check the office.”
Nick followed the draft to the home office that was nearly as big as his entire condo unit. Ethan had left the overhead lights on, flooding the room with an institutional white glow. Nick zeroed in on the source of the cold air. There was a big, gaping hole in one of the French doors that led to the terrace he had seen from the ground. Broken glass and splintered wood carpeted the hardwood in the room and the concrete terrace floor. A black leather executive chair stood a few feet away from the French doors, looking battered. Nick spotted dark stains on the floor around the chair. The muscles across his shoulders bunched. Not all of the blood was dry.
He scanned the rest of the room. Only the desk was clean. The floor was littered with papers, folders, books and a wide assortment of office accessories. The file cabinet had been nearly ripped apart, with each drawer in varying degrees of openness. They were mostly empty. The built-in bookshelves had been equally violated, with most of their contents piled on the floor in front of them.
Another scan of the room, but he didn’t spot a computer. Nick’s gut tightened and the back of his neck tensed.
“The bedrooms don’t even look lived in,” Ethan said, coming into office. “All the closets are empty except for the master bedroom. And that walk-in’s only half full. It’s like a freakin’ museum.”
“There’re bloodstains all over the floor by the chair over there,” Nick said, nodding in the direction of the chair across the room. “Computer’s missing. Someone like Langan would have one at home or bring his work one home.”
“Bloodstains on the walls, too,” Ethan said. “Or at least on the light switches. I see a lot of smudges and no prints.”
“You didn’t get close enough to see their faces?”
Nick’s jaw clenched. “No.”
“You need a paramedic?” Ethan asked, his glance dropping to the dark smears on Nick’s hand.
Nick shook his head. “Got the blood from the doorknob.” He returned his attention to the scene. “I see duct tape on the arms of the chair.”
Ethan propped his hands on his hips. “Langan had information they wanted. Could be safe location, combination…whatever.”
“Maybe. Did they get what they wanted?”
“They wouldn’t have sent Langan to meet his maker otherwise.”
“Maybe,” Nick said again, and did a slow three-sixty. “But there are better, more subtle ways of killing someone than throwing him over a terrace.”
Ethan fixed his gaze on Nick. Quietly, he said, “We can’t rule out suicide just yet. Langan might’ve decided it was the lesser of two evils. If he was tortured, a quick death might be tempting. You chased two people down the stairs but that doesn’t make them killers.”
“They took seven shots at me.”
“Attempted murder. You didn’t actually witness them throw Langan off the terrace. And as for Langan, they can plead assault and unlawful confinement.” At Nick’s irate expression, Ethan threw up his hands. “Hey, I’m just thinking like a good defense scum-sucker.”
Nick made a sound of derision and went to the bookshelves. The rich ones always thought having secret hiding places behind bookshelves and paintings was ingenious. “Roll up your sleeves, Ethan, and make like a good detective. We’re down to five minutes.”
The banging on her front door pulled her from sleep into semi-wakefulness. Augusta Langan could hear it despite being buried beneath two blankets in her bed in the third-story bedroom. From the heavy pounding on her door, she knew her visitor wasn’t going away and rubbed at her gritty eyes. They felt puffy, the aftermath of a day and night of crying. She managed a shuddering breath that couldn’t quite fill her lungs.
The musical ring of the doorbell drew her attention. Whoever was at her front door was trying for tact. She rolled to her side and glanced at the clock radio. It was well past noon. Normally by this time, she would have finished her first two lectures and would be reviewing her notes for the afternoon session. But normal went out the door after a visit from an NYPD officer yesterday morning.
Augusta drew in a deep breath and blinked rapidly, trying to moisten her eyes to relieve the sudden sting. Pushing back the covers, she swung her bare feet to the floor and shoved her hair back from her face. She groped for the eyeglasses on the night table, put them on and, unmindful of her attire, hurried downstairs. The ringing continued incessantly until she fumbled with the locks. When she pulled open the front door, she found herself face to chest.
“Dr. Augusta Langan?”
She looked up at the man filling her doorway. She didn’t step back to let him inside. She couldn’t. She could barely breathe. Oh, God. It was a replay of her nightmare. Except it wasn’t simply a bad dream. It was yesterday morning all over again.
The man before her reached inside his jacket and withdrew a black leather wallet. She blinked once and glimpsed a gold badge. After yesterday morning, however, she didn’t require more than that.
“This is about my hus— Drew.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’m afraid it is. I’m Detective Ethan Murtagh and this is Detective Nick Markov,” he said as he removed his dark sunglasses and motioned to the man behind him, “of the NYPD. May we come in?”
As if she actually had a choice. “Of course,” she said quietly, evenly, stepping back to let them into the narrow foyer.
“We tried to find you at the university, but one of the other professors said you were taking a few days off.”
Augusta nodded absently, as if she was actually hearing and processing the words.
“Is there somewhere we can sit down?”
She blinked, taking a moment to understand his question. “The kitchen?”
“Lead the way.”
Without looking back, Augusta drifted through the double doors just to her left and into the sunlit kitchen, aware of each step, feeling each grain and fiber in the cool hardwood that gave way to chilling tile in the kitchen.
“If you’ll excuse me, I-I’m just going to wash my face.” She swept her hand toward the small breakfast table and high-backed chairs nestled in the nook, which flowed from the long kitchen and looked out on the quiet, tree-lined street. “Please make yourselves comfortable and I’ll be back shortly.”
Without waiting for their response, she ignored the half-bath on the first floor and made her way to the master en suite, locked the door behind her, propped her elbows on the cool marble counter and buried her face in her hands, her eyes shut tight.
After the panicky, suffocating feeling subsided, she lifted her head. She was too tired to cringe from the reflection of the worn woman who was much too young to be feeling so damned old.
A short burst of laughter escaped her. Dear God, she was reaching the point of hysteria if paraphrased Garth Brooks lyrics were running through her head.
The splash of lukewarm water on her face did nothing for the lavender bruises beneath her eyes or for the red puffiness, but it did make her feel better. Augusta rummaged in her drawer and found a silver hair stick to secure her mass of hair in a loose bun at the top of her head. She rinsed out her mouth, took a few calming breaths and left the bathroom.
* * * * *
When Augusta returned to the kitchen, the men rose as if they were there for a social call. She retrieved a pitcher of orange juice from the refrigerator and a glass from a cupboard.
“Juice?” she asked them while pouring a glass for herself. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any coffee.”
They declined but didn’t return to their chairs. Instead, they waited silently while she finished off half the juice, then clutched the glass with all ten fingers. She leaned back until the edge of the counter dug into the small of her back, but she didn’t move away, suddenly conscious of the New York Rangers jersey ending inches above her knees and how the two men dominated the room with more than their physical presences. Augusta set aside the glass, wrapped an arm about her waist, hugging herself and fingered the hem of the jersey, pulling it down discreetly and failing. Her fingers faltered. The jersey was soft from countless washings because it was her first gift from Drew.
She cleared her throat and blinked to clear the blurred edges of her vision. “I was already questioned yesterday by another police officer. Is there something he forgot?”
It was Detective Murtagh who replied, “We just want to go over a few things again, Dr. Langan.”
“I’ve told the other officer everything I know, answered every question he asked.”
“You might remember something now that you didn’t yesterday.”
Augusta rubbed the line between her brows. She took a slow, deep breath. “All right then. What do you want to know?”
Detective Murtagh pulled out a chair. “Do you want to take a seat? You might be more comfortable.”
Augusta took the proffered seat and the two detectives sat down across from her. She looked from one to the other. Ethan Murtagh was movie star-handsome despite the disheveled blond hair and bloodshot gray eyes. Good cop, she thought.
His partner looked more like a thug than a cop. Nick Markov’s hair was blacker and thicker than hers and cropped close to his head. His eyes were deep set and startlingly blue in his tanned face. His features were rugged, with a broad forehead and cheekbones and square chin. There was a break in the line of his nose, suggesting it had been broken at least once. His sculpted mouth was oddly, erotically sensual in his hard face. Bad cop.
“Dr. Langan?” Detective Murtagh asked.
Augusta gave a small shake of her head. “Sorry.” She lifted her fingers to run them through her hair, recalled it was tamed into a bun and dropped her hands onto the table top. “Where would you like to begin?”
“We can start with your relationship to Andrew Langan,” he said. “But before we start—” Detective Murtagh reached inside his jacket, pulled out a digital voice recorder and placed it on the table. “Do you mind if I record this conversation?”
Is that what it’s called these days?
Augusta waved a dismissive hand. “Of course not.”
He checked the device, activated it and rattled off the date, time and their names. Finally, he looked at her and said, “Describe your relationship with the deceased.”
Her mouth tightened. “Please don’t call him ‘the deceased.’ His name was Drew. Andrew James Langan.”
Red stained the tops of Detective Murtagh’s cheeks. “Sorry.” He cleared his throat. “Please describe your relationship with Andrew Langan.”
“We are—were—” She broke off, took another deep breath and tried again. “We were friends who made the mistake of getting married. Things didn’t work out and we filed for divorce.”
“‘We’?” Detective Markov repeated, startling her with the sound of his low voice and the note of doubt in that single word. More than doubt. Bad cop.
Nick kept his expression bland as he studied the woman across from him. She looked small and vulnerable, except for the eyes that told him to go to hell and made him wish they were alone. However, he had a homicide to solve, and she was a suspect. She was their best suspect, in fact.
“You’re right. I filed for divorce but Drew didn’t contest it.”
“He did at first,” Nick said.
She tilted her head. “You talked to Adam.”
Nick let her read the suspicion in his eyes. “What was the exact reason for the divorce?”
She stiffened, then her large, brown eyes went as carefully blank as her expression. “If you talked to Adam, you already know.”
“Irreconcilable differences,” she said finally.
“Which can mean any number of things.”
Her eyes narrowed and her lips thinned. “Drew came to me six months ago and confessed that he had a brief affair with…someone.”
“How brief was brief?”
“A week—not even. Maybe a one-night stand.”
Her gaze slid away from him and she shook her head. “I don’t know. He never said.”
Augusta Langan was a terrible liar, Nick thought, pleased despite the circumstances. “Was this the first time?”
“Yes.” He could see her delicate throat muscles flex and ripple as she swallowed. “Drew said it would never happen again.”
“But you didn’t believe him.”
“No. I did believe him, but I realized then he and I shouldn’t have married in the first place.”
Augusta leaned back in her chair. “A lot of reasons. His family didn’t approve, which created a lot of tension. They thought I married Drew for his money, which wasn’t true, but I didn’t marry him for love either. I love…loved him, and he loved me, but we weren’t in love with each other.”
She paused, waiting, and after Nick nodded, continued. “We thought we could make it work. It didn’t, and after four years and his affair, I realized that it wasn’t fair to either of us to be tied to each other.”
The corners of Nick’s mouth dipped down further. “We have statements saying that the de—Andrew Langan didn’t want the divorce.”
A faint smile lit her eyes briefly, making Nick want to reach across and feel her smile with his fingers, and then taste it with the tip of his tongue. It was strong, this urge that had stealthily sneaked up on him.
Nick reigned in the absurd impulse, but it was already too late. His heart was beating double time, pumping blood to his lower body and raising his temperature. Nick shifted subtly in his seat, trying to ease the tightness in his jeans—a tightness that had started since the first moment she opened the front door and he was teased with a vision of a tousled mane of inky hair and a body and face still flushed with sleep. Her half-lidded eyes brought to mind that satisfied exhaustion that comes after a bout of hot, sweaty, dirty sex. Nick had instantly become hard, and his erection showed no signs of subsiding any time soon. Thank God she hadn’t bothered to look down past his chest. He hadn’t returned the courtesy. He could still see the long, slim, smooth legs below the masculine jersey. The hockey jersey was much too big for her—at least four sizes too big—yet she didn’t look childish at all. Instead, she appeared fragile…extremely sexy and very, very fuckable. Hell, even her toes were sexy.
Nick shifted again in his seat, trying to control the laughter that threatened to erupt at his sudden absurdity.
She was nothing like the usual women he slept with. First of all, she was too…little. That was the only word for her. His last girlfriend had been a tall, leggy blonde. She had been a perfect thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-six. Actually, it had been more like thirty-six, thirty-two, thirty-six, but Claudia had always insisted on that twenty-four. Nonetheless, she had been a boyhood fantasy come true. Augusta Langan, on the other hand, looked as if he could break her with one hand even if he only exerted the slightest pressure. But he could just imagine how tight she’d be. How snug. How hot. How wet. Ah, hell.
“Drew doesn’t—didn’t—like to give up,” Augusta said, drawing Nick out of his wholly inappropriate erotic reverie. Admiration and amusement colored her tone. Then her smile died. “But he eventually did on the divorce.”
“So everything was amiable between the two of you?” asked Ethan, his expression a studied mix of concern and professionalism.
“Now it is. Was.” Her brows drew together. “I was hurt and angry for two months after he came and confessed, but that’s in the past. I couldn’t stay mad at him for long.”
Nick snorted. It was a sound of clear disbelief.
As if she just had a shot of caffeine to her system, Augusta’s spine went rigid and she lowered her knees, her hands coming to rest on the edge of the breakfast table. She steadily met his eyes.
“What you have to understand, Detective,” she began coolly, “is that Drew Langan and I were friends long before we got married. We were friends for almost half our lives, which is a lot longer than a great number of marriages these days. It was something neither one of us wanted to lose.”
Nick lifted a brow. “Despite the cheating?”
Augusta froze, and Nick watched while she fought with herself. Then she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose without looking away. “Despite the cheating.”
The haunted look that came into her eyes made Nick wish he could take back the question.
“Lifestyle choice,” she said finally.
Nick pushed on with his role. “What kind of settlement were you going to get, Dr. Langan?”
Her expression didn’t change, but any traces of sleepy softness that remained were ironed out. “Nothing.”
“No. Drew and I trusted each other. Besides, I don’t need a man to provide for me, nor do I want one, despite what Drew’s family would have people believe.”
“You teach art, correct?”
She gave a terse nod. “European art history.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I also consult,” she added.
Ethan cleared his throat. “Dr. Langan, did you see your husband regularly then?”
She waited until her breathing was even once more before she replied, “Not really. He’s been busier than usual lately, but we talked at least once every week.”
“Did you notice anything unusual about him the last couple of weeks?”
“Unusual?’” she echoed. “Not really. I don’t…think.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Three days ago. Monday night, I believe.”
She nodded. “Yes, he came to see me. He needed to get away from work and his family, he said. It’s peaceful for him here. No one calls for him here, except his brother, Adam, and Adam rarely does.”
“How was Andrew Langan that night?”
“Drew was…” Augusta frowned, voice trailing off. Twin lines appeared between her brows.
“He was agitated.”
“He looked exhausted, like he hadn’t slept in days. He seemed nervous, tense. He kept drumming his fingers on the armrest and running his fingers through his hair, and he couldn’t seem to sit still for longer than five minutes. So…unlike him.” She paused. “I asked him what was wrong, but all he said was that it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle. He said that it was nothing.”
Nick saw the color seep from her face and the shiver that ran through her, and he hoped again that she wasn’t one hell of an actress.
Ethan continued with the questioning. “What did he do while he was here?”
“For the most part, he sat on the sofa in the living room upstairs while I graded papers on the floor.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Nothing. Nothing important.”
“Does he do that often?” Ethan asked. “Come here and do nothing?”
“No. He usually brings work with him or he watches television, news or hockey. That night, he had his briefcase with him, but he never opened it. He wouldn’t talk about what was bothering him. I thought he would tell me about it eventually, if it was important. He left early that night—at around 9:30.”
“And you didn’t see him after that.”
“Did he call you or try to contact you in any way?”
Another negative answer.
Nicked lean forward slightly in his chair as Ethan leaned back in his.
“Do you still have a key to the condo, Dr. Langan?”
“I…ah, yes. Drew insisted upon it.” She shrugged, the movement almost jerky. “Just in case, he said.”
“Just in case of what?” asked Nick?
Her mouth tightened. “I’m not quite sure, Detective. You’ll have to ask…” She slowly, quietly blew out a breath. “I don’t know. I guess Drew wanted me to know that I still had a place to go to if I needed it.”
“Do you also have a key for the building’s service entrance?”
“No,” she told Nick, before shifting her gaze to Ethan. “Detective Murtagh, you know the building residents don’t have a key for that door.”
Ethan shrugged. “I thought with your husband owning and renting out half the building, it might’ve been different.” He tilted his head to one side. “I didn’t think you recognized me.”
“I ran into your wife a few times in the lobby and on the elevator,” she explained.
Nick decided to get things back on track. “Where were you two nights ago between midnight and 1:30 a.m., Dr. Langan?”
The curve to her lips wasn’t a smile. “I was in bed, Detective, like most people.”
Before he could ask the next logical question, she added, “And no, I don’t have an alibi. I went to bed alone, but you only have my word for that, don’t you?”
He gave a small nod.
“Is there anything else, Detective?”
“What happens now that your husband’s dead before the divorce’s finalized?”
Her eyes gave off sparks. “Be specific, Detective.”
“Are you the primary beneficiary?”
Her knuckles whitened before she hid them in her lap. “I really don’t know. You’ll have to ask Drew’s lawyer, Peter Donovan.”
Nick smiled, but it was little more than a baring of his teeth. “We will.”
Ethan cleared his throat. Loudly. “Did Drew have any rivals, enemies, anyone who would want him dead?”
“He was the CEO and executive chairman of LSI. He had a number of business rivals, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of them enemies. He was very well respected and liked. No one would’ve wanted…” She broke off, eyes moist, and blinked rapidly. “Nobody who knows—knew—Drew would’ve wanted him dead.”
She took a breath. “Have you reviewed the surveillance tapes?”
“They’re missing,” said Ethan.
Even though she didn’t move, she seemed to shrink in the chair. “Then it wasn’t a random burglary gone wrong.” She shook her head slowly. It wasn’t a question, and neither Nick nor Ethan responded.
“We can’t share that information,” Ethan explained, tone almost gentle.
She closed her eyes briefly, shoulders slumping. “Is that all?”
“Two more questions,” said Nick. “Do you own a firearm?”
“No,” she replied swiftly, as if the mere question offended. “I don’t believe in them.”
“Did Drew own a firearm?”
“Not that I know of.”
“That’s it for now, then,” Ethan said, pushing his chair back and rising to his full height. He reached down to turn off the tape recorder and replace it in his jacket.
Augusta stood. “Th—”
The sound of the front door being unlocked and opened cut off her words. Her eyes widened, and Nick saw the flash of fear. Instinct kicked in and he moved in front of her, shielding her with his body as he faced the door, firearm in hand.
“Augusta?” a male voice called out. Nick recognized it, and so did the woman behind him. She skirted around him and hurried into the foyer, and Nick didn’t stop her. A tall, dark-suited figure was closing the front door behind him. He saw them and paused momentarily. Then, to Augusta, he said, “You know.”
Augusta nodded and walked into his open arms that wrapped around her tightly. Irritation flicked through Nick, making him wish he didn’t play bad cop so well.
Copyright © 2005, 2011 by Ann Bruce. All rights reserved.
Read more on Deadly Fall.