Superior Collisions by C.A. Szarek
by C.A. Szarek
Colliding on the path to catch a killer…
Special Agent Taylor Carrigan takes “control freak” to the extreme. Her need for structured rigidity rules her life—and her job at the FBI. She doesn’t do emotion, so when her fiancé is murdered, she doesn’t know how to deal with the internal fallout.
Antioch Police Sergeant Shannon Crowley has been intrigued with the uptight FBI agent for months. When he looks at Taylor, he sees more than the mask she hides behind.
She doesn’t have time for the cop who won’t quit chasing her—she’s got chasing to do of her own. Taylor admits he calms her, but he’s a distraction she can’t afford. She’s playing a dangerous game, riding the line between revenge and justice.
Keeping Shannon close could give Taylor the balance she desperately needs, but it would put something more than her case in jeopardy: her heart. With so much on the line, is she capable of handling it?
“You have got to be kidding me!” Taylor glared at the little paper monster under the driver’s side windshield wiper of her government-issue black Dodge Charger.
It had the indecency of flapping in the winter breeze. Like it was waving—or laughing.
“A freaking parking ticket.”
Another freaking parking ticket. She hated to admit it, even in her own head.
It was obvious from one look at her car that she was FBI—which was exactly why the meter maid hated her. And, a little voice whispered, exactly why Taylor continued parking in the same spot outside her building in downtown Dallas anyway.
She shook her head at her pride and stubbornness. When working a case, it helped. When she was trying to prove a point she was obviously losing, it didn’t. Besides, breaking the rules wasn’t her at all. She needed to pay the two tickets—before they turned into something worse than just a fine.
“I’d never hear the end of it around the office.”
John would’ve laughed.
She jerked, her hand shaking as she reached for the thermal paper.
Stop. Right. Now.
She’d forbidden herself from saying his name since she’d found out who’d killed him, several months ago.
Taylor would get justice for her fiancé—and former partner—but she’d decided to move on. To stop mourning him and do things like she always had. Like she’d been trained to do.
Get justice for him because it was right, and not out of some sense of revenge.
Because the latter wasn’t only wrong, it wasn’t her, either.
She’d let the need for vengeance drive her for months, and had nearly killed the wrong man. Something she couldn’t have rectified if he’d died.
Guilt haunted her, even now.
Joe Pompa and what’d happened in that safe house in Antioch, Texas consumed her nightmares. Made her second-guess herself, too.
Taylor sucked in a breath and pushed the memories away.
Things to do.
She glared at the ticket one last time before she got in the car.
In about an hour, she had a meeting with the federal prosecutor on her case, Ross Catrone.
“Guess I’d better go to Muni Court instead.” She whipped the stupid ticket toward the passenger seat, and snarled when it floated to the floor.
It was laughing at her again.
The ten minute drive turned into twenty, due to the lunchtime traffic downtown. She cussed the whole way.
Her day was shit—had been even before the new ticket.
Negativity was her new friend, and she couldn’t seem to shake it. Her boss, Matthias Baker, had called her into his office first thing that morning to have the partner talk again.
How many times did she have to tell him she didn’t want a new partner?
Didn’t need one, either.
Taylor sighed and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as she waited for a massive Ford truck to move so she could park.
When she’d left the office, Baker had hollered that they weren’t done.
She groaned when she saw the waiting line to the window clerks. Everyone else had had the same idea of paying their tickets at lunchtime, too.
Taylor waited. And waited. At this rate, she’d be late for her meeting and starving.
She forced her hand down at her side so she wouldn’t stalk her watch anymore. Couldn’t stop tapping her leg while she waited. The ticket rustled in her palm.
The shout of “Next!” was forever away.
The clerk smiled in the ‘hurry, I’m busy’ way as she slid the new ticket in the little slot.
“Can I see your ID, please?”
Her FBI badge was closest, so she held it up to the bulletproof glass.
The woman’s overdrawn eyebrows rose, then her eyes moved from Taylor to her photo and back. She looked down at the ticket, typed something into her computer then looked up. “Ah. You got this today. I’m sorry, ma’am—”
“Special Agent.” Taylor tried not to bark.
The clerk didn’t even look a little contrite. She narrowed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Special Agent. As I was trying to say, if you just received this today, you need to give the court time for processing before you can pay it. It can take up to two weeks.”
Two weeks? Seriously? So inefficient.
“Wish I woulda known that,” she muttered.
“It states it on the ticket, ma’am.”
She sighed and bit back her retort. Didn’t need to take her bad day out on the poor court clerk, even if the woman’s customer service skills needed a tweak. Taylor took the offending thermal paper back when the clerk passed it to her. “Can I pay the old one?”
“Yes, ma’am. Do you have the citation?”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
The woman threw her a look that said, ‘really?’ Or maybe, ‘you should know better’. That penciled eyebrow was arched as high as possible, and the clerk’s mouth was a hard line that shouted her patience with Taylor had come and gone.
It went downhill from there.
“Sixty-eight freaking dollars? Seriously?”
Since she’d have to go back for the other ticket later, it was really sixty-eight times two.
She grumbled all the way to the car. Glanced at her watch again when her stomach screamed.
Food or Catrone?
Not that she really had any news to share. Had tried to cancel the meeting, but the stubborn man had insisted on them keeping the appointment so Taylor could ‘update’ him.
That’d better not be code for trying to ask me out again.
He could hound her about anything but that.
She’d chased Carter Bennett—the bastard who’d killed her fiancé—to Oklahoma and back. There were rumors he’d headed out to California again, where he’d killed two of his own crew, but he hadn’t turned up, despite all the eyes she had looking out.
She needed him to hit a car train or something. If she could prove he was working again—stealing high dollar rides and fencing them—he’d be a hell of a lot easier to track. Even a single stolen Hummer would be helpful.
Taylor shook her head. Upholding the law was supposed to be her thing. Not wishing for someone to break it.
Maybe she should call Eddie Vasquez again. See if the LA-based agent had any new info. But the guy was pretty good about calling her, so he would’ve already if he had something, right?
She tapped the steering wheel then stopped when she caught the action. Nervous tics weren’t her deal, despite the few she’d caught herself doing lately.
Taylor refused to let this case rule her.
She would rule it.
Get Carter Bennett.
The judge’s gavel came down hard twice.
Shannon tried not to groan from his seat. His knee bobbed up and down until he put his hand on his leg. The polyester fabric of his dress uniform class A’s scratched his palm.
He hadn’t been called to testify yet.
Hated coming into Dallas for DWI trials, but it had to be done. The only alternative was not to haul idiots in for driving drunk.
That wasn’t an alternative at all.
He owed his sister more than that.
This particular piece of scum was looking at real time. During his third DWI, and he’d caused a bad accident. Three people hurt, one killed.
Shannon had been first on scene. He’d recognized the asshole, too. Had arrested the guy on DWI number two a year before.
This one was worse than the second. He’d never forget that sight, in front of the CVS on Main Street. The drunk’s POS Buick—circa 1980s—had been twisted up inside the hood of a late model minivan.
His heart had hit his combat boots when he’d heard the screaming toddler in the back seat. He’d rushed to the van and called for an ambulance even before backup had made scene.
Then he’d seen the little girl crying right beside her brother. Both kids were under five, and their car seats had saved them from serious injury.
Their mother had survived the accident with a collapsed lung and broken bones, but her best friend, a woman way too young to die, had not. The deceased wasn’t much older than Shannon’s sister had been.
The loser driver had been charged with Intoxication Manslaughter this time.
Too bad the first two DWIs, and their accompanying jail time, hadn’t been deterrent enough to keep him from getting behind the wheel the third time. God knew how many times he’d made it home without getting caught.
“We’ll recess until one,” Judge Newton announced. The older man knocked his gavel twice.
Shannon wasn’t the only one to groan.
The trial had only started that morning, and it already felt like weeks. There was no way it was going to be a one-and-done kind of trip into Dallas.
Nikki, his boss’s assistant, had booked his hotel for a week, but it’d likely take longer than that. They were playing it by ear, but he definitely wanted to go home to Antioch on the weekend. Wanted to see his mom and Cailey, even if only for a day or two. Being stuck at trial wasn’t his idea of taking time away from work. He’d rather be on shift, in his patrol car.
He glanced at his watch. It was almost noon anyway, so a lunch break couldn’t hurt.
Onlookers started to rise and file out.
Shannon stood, resisting the urge to stretch. When he was about to go, the prosecutor called his name. He closed the distance to her, trying not to show his irritation at the way the morning had gone.
Veronica Wesley had been the assistant district attorney on a few of his cases. She was competent and seasoned, but the pretty thirty-something attorney wasn’t as good as Nate Crane.
Damn, Shannon missed the guy. Brother to one of APD’s finest, Detective Pete Crane, Nate had up and moved to New York City a few years ago to be an ADA there. He’d married an FBI agent, to boot.
The prosecutor smiled, and he forced one in return. Her blue eyes were friendly. “Sorry about the long morning, Sergeant.”
He shrugged. “It happens.”
“I was sure they’d take a deal, but Barry wouldn’t hear of it. He’s confident his case is airtight.” She tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. It’d escaped her curly updo.
Shannon studied her.
Was she nervous? Or was it something else?
Barry Whitmore, the defense attorney, was no better than an ambulance chaser, but he was too polite to point it out.
“Airtight? Against our case?” he asked.
She shifted in her stilettos. Her gray pinstriped skirt suit drew his attention. It stopped just above her knees. Her blazer was tight, and the pink blouse she wore beneath revealed cleavage. Her outfit was just the right combination of sexy and professional, but Veronica Wesley wasn’t his type.
“Our case is just as tight,” she said finally.
The prosecutor didn’t say anything.
“Is there an issue?” Shannon asked.
Her brow furrowed, but she shook her head. “No, just expect it to be long and drawn-out.”
He nodded, but didn’t like the look on her face. “Why didn’t he want to take a plea?”
Was she trying to imply that he or APD had done did something procedurally wrong?
She hadn’t mentioned any concerns in their pretrial conference.
As much as Shannon might’ve wanted to, neither he nor his guys had laid an inappropriate hand on the piece of scum on scene, or afterward when he’d been booked.
“Because we’re proceeding on Intox Manslaughter. The deal was more years than they’d agree to.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and scoffed. “Please. It’s no less than he deserves. It’d be murder, if I had a say.”
Ms. Wesley nodded. “I don’t disagree. A DWI Three on its own is bad enough.”
“I don’t care how long it takes, as long as he goes to prison. It won’t give Jenny Kinkaid her life back, or return her to her family, but it’s closure for them.”
“You sound like you speak from experience, Sergeant Crowley.”
He grunted. “Yeah. My sister. Same sitch. She was only twenty-three and left a two-year-old for my mom to raise.” Shannon didn’t like talking about his sister. Eleven years ago felt fresh, especially when he had to deal with a drunk at trial.
The prosecutor’s gaze was sympathetic. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago, but it’s why I’m all for keeping drunks off the road.”
“Well, as long as you crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s, we’ll be fine. Your reports are great, as is the video footage. We’ll be fine.” She seemed to relax with every word. Her shoulders loosened and she smiled again.
“By the book, Ms. Wesley. Like always.”
“Sounds good, Sergeant.” Her expression was pleased. “Are you going to grab lunch?”
“Yes.” Shannon glanced at his watch. “We have an hour.”
“There are lots of places within walking distance.”
Her tongue darted out, moistening her bottom lip, highlighting her pink lipstick. Blue eyes locked onto his.
He paused, waiting for her to speak.
“Do you have a place in mind?” the prosecutor asked.
Shannon tried not to blink.
Is she asking to come with?
Ms. Wesley answered by looking him up and down.
Wow. Didn’t see that coming.
He smiled and reached for his cellphone. “I have to make a call, but I’ll see you after lunch, Ms. Wesley.” Feigning busyness was easier than letting her down. No one liked to be rejected. Besides, if she was into him, it wasn’t professional. That didn’t work for him.
Disappointment darted across her face, but she schooled her expression fast and gave a curt nod. “Be ready, I’m going to call you to the stand when we reconvene.”
“You got it.”
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