Fish Out of Water

By: Amy Lane

To Mary. There’s not enough knitting in the world to show you how very blessed you’ve made me. And to Mate, because we read Lee Childs and I might get him to read Kathy Reichs. And to the kids, for being proud of me, even when I don’t talk a lot about what I do.





Acknowledgments





THANK YOU so much to Kim Fielding, who read this and said, “Uh, they’d be having this discussion in a jail cell, not an office,” and “You know, lawyers don’t type up nearly so many briefs.” And basically made me feel like I had a life preserver in the deep end of action/suspense fiction, because while I’m used to being neither fish nor fowl, I do like knowing how to swim.





Prologue: Good-byes in Smoke





“SHE WOULD have hated this,” Jade said, pulling hard on a cigarette.

Jackson Rivers glared at his ex-girlfriend, the sister of his best friend, and one of four—no, three—people he actually cared about in the world.

Jade had promised her mother she’d quit, just like Jackson had.

“She would have hated you smoking,” he muttered.

“Yeah, well, if she didn’t like smoking so much, she should have quit before it gave her cancer.” Jade took an angry drag and tossed him a scowl. She usually wore microbraided extensions, but her mom had been sick for a long time while all of her “children” had been dealing with college—or, in Jackson’s case, the police academy. She hadn’t had any fucking time to get her hair done, so it was scraped back into a severe bun on the back of her head. Jackson hoped she’d have time again. She’d always loved shaking her braids back in high school, and he’d always thought it was sexy.

“Hey,” Jackson said, determined to do what Toni Cameron had asked of him. “I quit.”

Jade rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, you only started to get with me, so that’s fair.”

Hell of it was, she was right. Jackson would have done anything to fit in with Jade and Kaden’s family. Smoking was no big deal.

“Dammit, Jackson, make her quit smoking.”

Jackson turned his head and looked over the headstones in the old graveyard off Auburn Boulevard.

And smiled. “I couldn’t make her stop when we were together,” he said mildly, and then he went in for the hug.

Kaden Cameron, his oldest and best friend, and Kaden’s wife, Rhonda, whom he’d known almost as long, stood there, and God, it was good to see them. Especially the granite presence that was Kaden. Six feet five inches of solid family man, with brown eyes so limpid and wide, Jackson used to think he could see the future in them.

And that was before Jackson realized he was bi.

He’d never crushed on K, though. Jade, yes, because Jackson and Jade were birds of a feather. But K represented something bigger, more important to Jackson than a potential lover.

In sixth grade, Jackson had been forging his mother’s signature on the free-lunch form when Kaden had asked him to pass up his math. Jackson had accidentally passed up the form instead.

No big deal—in their school, 98 percent of the students needed that form, and the other 2 percent were too stupid to forge the signature.

But Kaden had passed the paper back and said, “Your math, idiot. And don’t get too excited about lunch—they’re serving mystery enchiladas today.”

Jackson closed his eyes and fought a groan. “Man, last time I had the runs for a week!”

“No shit.” They both looked nervously up at the teacher to see if she’d heard the profanity, but she was too busy dealing with that one kid who always freaked out and started throwing chairs.

“Well, thanks for the warning. At least I’ll get some bread and milk.”

Kaden grunted. “Yeah, me too. But hey—my moms is cooking a chicken tonight. Come knock on our door at six. But she’s gonna make you pray. You can’t get mad.”

Jackson blinked. “Who gets mad at praying for food?”

“I don’t know. Don’t care. Just, you know. Be nice to my moms.”

“Course.” Even Jackson knew that when someone’s moms was doing a good thing, you showed respect.

That night Jackson left his mom in a cloud of smoke—tobacco and something else that made his heart race and his eyes blur—and walked up the shaky concrete stairs to the apartment four units over. He knocked on the door and wished he could wash the smell out of his hair.

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