Home > The Innocent Wife (Detective Josie Quinn #16)

The Innocent Wife (Detective Josie Quinn #16)
Author: Lisa Regan

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

DECEMBER

 

 

Josie’s heart lurched into her throat as she watched a man on a bicycle fly along the sidewalk, headed directly toward seven-year-old Harris Quinn. She cursed herself for letting Harris run so far ahead, but it was almost Christmas and the storefronts lining Denton’s central business district were awash in lights and the kind of person-sized decorations that no seven-year-old could resist touching—or sometimes climbing. In fact, it was a six-foot-tall lighted snowman that had caught his attention, its glow more pronounced in the waning daylight. Harris stood on the pavement, staring up at its top hat, his mouth agape, completely unaware of the cyclist coming at him.

Surely the cyclist was aware of Harris. But Josie couldn’t see beneath the brim of his helmet. His head was lowered, body compact and pointed at Harris like a missile. An older woman stumbled to the side as he pedaled past her, nearly catching the sleeve of her coat with a handlebar. A tinsel-wrapped parking meter saved her from kissing concrete.

“Get off the sidewalk!” she shouted after the guy.

Josie picked up her pace, one hand waving, trying to catch the attention of either Harris or the cyclist. “Har—” His name lodged in her throat.

The entire thing took seconds but felt like an eternity. Harris took a step backward, firmly in the center of the sidewalk, and turned to look at Josie.

Josie yelled, “Stop!”

Harris’s face creased with confusion. The cyclist must not have heard her because he made no attempt to slow down. He was only a couple of feet from colliding with Harris. Josie’s throat constricted. Why weren’t her damn legs working? There was a flash of red as a woman sprinted from the street and onto the sidewalk, directly into the path of the cyclist. She seemed to come from nowhere. In one fluid movement, she closed the distance to Harris, scooped him up—no easy feat at his age—and stepped out of the way of the cyclist, bumping against the lighted snowman. For a second, it appeared they were going to make it out of the way unscathed. But then the cyclist’s handlebar caught on a brown paper bag swinging from the woman’s wrist. Like a dancer twirling away from her partner, she let go of Harris, who slid to the ground, and her arms flailed in the air as the impact of handlebar on bag spun her. The bag tore, its contents splaying all over the sidewalk. Glass shattered. The woman fell.

The cyclist kept going.

Josie ran after him, screaming obscenities, until she felt a small, familiar hand tugging at hers. Harris’s face was flushed with cold and the excitement of what had just happened. “JoJo,” he said. “That lady saved me. Did you see it?”

Trying to rein in her rage, Josie sucked in a deep breath. In through her nose for a four-count. Out through her mouth for another four-count. She did two more, but she still felt apoplectic. Stupid breathing exercises. They never worked for her. She should have tried to catch and arrest the guy. After all, she was a detective for the Denton Police Department. She was off duty, but she could have called dispatch and had a uniformed officer come take him into custody.

Nestled among the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, a great deal of the city spanned the rural areas on its edges. However, bicyclists were becoming more problematic in the central part of the city where the buildings were crowded closer together. The inconsistent weather—feeling like spring one day and winter the next, with more warm days than cold—meant that they were out in force even in December.

Harris pulled at her hand again, this time drawing her back to the scene of the incident. “JoJo, you have to put a whole bunch of dollars into the swear jar. Also, I think that lady needs help.”

The woman—Josie’s new hero—was still on her ass on the sidewalk, a broken high heel in her hand. Around her were fragments of something ceramic, a tan cashmere scarf with the tags still on, and a wooden box that had cracked open, golf balls and tees spilling out. Harris rushed over and dropped to his knees, gathering up the balls. A pair of women came out of the store. They offered to help but Josie waved them off and knelt beside Harris.

Pushing her long sandy hair out of her face, the woman smiled. Up close, Josie noticed how the corners of her eyes crinkled. Mid-forties, probably. She was dressed expensively in a pantsuit and a coat that probably cost more than Josie made in a month. She said, “Thank you.”

Josie helped Harris get all the golf balls and tees back into the wooden box. “Please,” she said. “I’m the one who should thank you. That was amazing.”

Harris tried to close the lid, but it wouldn’t sit right. One of the hinges was broken. Josie took it from him to see if there was any way for her to fix it.

The woman said, “I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time.” Turning to Harris, she asked him, “Are you okay?”

He picked up the scarf, dusting it off. “I’m not hurt at all!”

“I’m so glad,” she said, slowly getting to her feet. “That gave your mom a scare!”

Josie stood as well, holding the box closed with both hands. “Oh, I’m not his mom. I’m his—”

She broke off. There wasn’t really a word for her relationship to Harris. Her first husband, Ray Quinn, had started seeing Harris’s mother, Misty, after he and Josie separated. Both Josie and Ray had worked for the Denton Police Department. After Ray died in the line of duty, Misty gave birth to Harris. Josie had been helping Misty raise Harris. The two of them had started out rivals but their love for Harris had bonded them for life.

With a sigh, Harris said, “She’s my aunt. Pretty much.”

The woman laughed. “My name is Claudia… Claudia White.”

Harris handed her the scarf. “My name is Harris Quinn, and this is my Aunt JoJo. Her last name is Quinn, too.”

Josie held out the box. “I think it’s broken. I’m so sorry. I’d love it if you’d let me replace it, together with whatever broke.”

Claudia took the box from Josie, putting her broken heel on top of it. A large diamond ring sparkled on her left ring finger. The light from the standing snowman glanced off the huge emerald-cut center diamond, as well as the many smaller diamonds wrapping halfway around the band, sending reflective sparkles dancing across her face. Beneath the ring was a thinner band with even more diamonds. Josie tried not to gawk, but her mind was already calculating. That ring and band had probably cost more than her car. Claudia shifted her weight onto her stockinged foot and with her other heel, kicked the broken ceramic pieces behind the snowman. “It’s fine, really,” she said. “I was returning the mug anyway.”

“JoJo, I’m freezing,” Harris complained, grabbing her hand again.

With her free hand, Josie opened the door to the store and ushered Claudia inside. “Let’s at least get out of the cold. Listen, they’re not going to let you return any of this stuff. I’m happy to replace it for you. It’s the least I can do.”

The store was called Heartfelt Treasures, owned and operated by a local couple for the last fifty years. It was large and carried all kinds of merchandise, including some apparel. Mostly, they styled themselves as an upscale gift shop. Their slogan was “Rare Finds for Discerning Minds.” Just inside was a park bench with a life-sized Santa figure seated on it. Claudia dropped down beside it.

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