There are many places you don’t want to be at zero dark thirty, but I’ve got a personal top three. One is the ER. Second is a police station. The third is your ex-boyfriend’s bedroom.
Thank God Almighty I was not in number three. Stupid does catch me occasionally, but not this night. I was nowhere near an ex-boyfriend’s bedroom.
At two forty-five in the morning, I found myself in number two. The Forks County Sheriff’s Office to be accurate. My cornflower blues were a bit bloodshot and blurry, but my grin matched Shep Peterson’s, who also found himself in a similar location. However, Shep had a drunk tank grin. Mine was more of a self-congratulatory grin, born from knowing that finally someone in Forks County had recognized my accomplishments in the art world. Never mind the phone call that woke me from a dead sleep and near gave me a heart attack. Or that I had to drive my sister’s Firebird because her vehicle was blocking my driveway. Or that I now sat in the junior officers’ room with a cold cup of coffee and had just realized I had forgotten to comb my bed-head designed blonde cowlicks in my bleary-eyed haste.
And to put on a bra.
The Forks County Sheriff, Uncle Will, needed my expertise. That’s all that mattered. And I was going to get paid.
Needed me for what was still a bit vague. I hoped nothing needing brushed hair and a bra.
“Wha’cho in fer?” called Shep from two desks over. “You a D and D, too?” He pitched forward in his seat, but righted himself before his arresting officer could shove him back in his chair.
“No drunk and disorderly tonight,” I said. “I’m here in an official capacity. As an artist.”
“Artist? You wanna draw my picture? Wha’s your name, darlin’?”
“Cherry Tucker,” I grinned. “Mr. Shep, you know me. I’m Ed Ballard’s granddaughter. He buys bait from you. I’ve been to your tackle shop.”
“Is very hard to meet new people in Halo,” he said, attempting to bow. “My apologies, darlin’. Think I’d remember a pretty, young thing like yourself. Look like my first wife. Even with that crazy hairdo.”
I surreptitiously finger-combed my hair. Not that I was trying to impress Shep.
Deputy Wellington slapped him back in his seat. “Shep, stop hitting on Cherry. You’re about fifty years too old for her anyway.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying,” he said and hiccuped.
Deputy Wellington fanned the space between Shep and his desk. “Just sit there and be still while I finish this paperwork.”
“That Shep again?” drawled a deep bass. “Wellington, throw him in the drunk tank and let him sleep. This room smells bad enough.”
I turned in my seat and saw Sheriff Will Thompson’s massive form filling the doorway. Before I was born, Uncle Will had made an easy transition from University of Georgia linebacker to Forks County crime buster with his quick wits, easy smile, and powerful handshake. Some would think having a close family friend as a sheriff would keep you out of trouble growing up. However, the Tucker kids were boundary testers. For Uncle Will, raising my family was as much of an act of community service as his dedication to the law.
As a twenty-six-year-old woman, I felt it my duty to make up for any of the gray hairs my teenage self might have added to Uncle Will’s head. Which is why I had no problem tumbling out of bed and driving across the county to sit in a chair and allow seventy- year-old bait shop owners to flirt with me.
That and I hoped to make a few bucks.
“Hey Uncle Will,” I called. “Are you ready for me yet?”
“Bring your paper and pencils,” he said.
With my messenger bag bumping my back, I hugged my chest, figuring it best not to give an extra show to Shep and the boys. I followed Uncle Will down the hallway, waiting while he unlocked a door. The door opened and two faces turned to look at us. One I didn’t recognize, but judging by his despondent expression, I figured he was probably in a mess of trouble. The other person, an- other deputy, I identified immediately. Hard not to recognize those brown ochre curls with the highlights I had decided were transparent oxide-red lake. Or the lean, muscled body, much like Michelangelo’s David. Or by the strong jaw buttressing two adorable dimples that made a rare showing.
Unfortunately, I knew Deputy Luke Harper a little too well.
He gave me a scant nod and turned back to the perp.
My hand snuck back to my hair and yanked on a particularly tall cowlick in back. I gritted my teeth and gave myself a quick lecture not to make a scene. We had aired our irreconcilable differences behind the local roadhouse, Red’s County Line Tap, a few months ago and I had not quite recovered.
“That’s Tyrone Coderre,” said Uncle Will. “He’s going to give you a description to draw. We need a composite sketch.”
Uncle Will stopped me before I entered the room and pulled me to the side. “Can I leave Deputy Harper in there with you or do I need to call in another officer? Harper’s the one who picked up Coderre, so this is his investigation.”
“I’m quite capable of separating my personal and professional life,” I said, tilting my chin so I could eyeball Uncle Will. “You might want to ask the same of him.”
“I trust Luke not to screw up his job. You are another story.”
I gave him a “why, I never” gasp.
“I’m going to be watching through the two-way.” He tapped my messenger bag. “Lucky for you, I don’t know other artists to call during the middle of the night. Wouldn’t want to be accused of nepotism. But I want a sketch while the memory is still fresh in Coderre’s mind. Don’t disappoint me, Cherry.”
“So, this is an important investigation?” Excitement zipped through my veins and made my fingers tingle. “I won’t let you down. You can even deputize me if you want.”
Uncle Will chuckled. “Just draw us a good picture. That’s plenty helpful.”
“Yes, sir,” I said and snuck by him to enter the room. I nodded to the man in the black sweat suit behind the table and held out my hand. “Hello, Mr. Coderre. I’m Cherry Tucker, a local artist.”
“Don’t shake his hand,” barked Luke. “Are you crazy?”
Tyrone Coderre’s cuffed hands retreated below the table, and I blew out a hard breath.
Looked like it was going to be a long night. At least the criminal had manners. Couldn’t say the same for the cop.