Bad Habit

By: J. D. Faver


St. Pius School, San Antonio, Texas

“Sister Bernadette, there’s a detective here to see you. He’s come all the way from New York City.” Mother Immaculata smiled encouragingly, drawing her into the corridor. “He’s waiting in the conference room. I’ll supervise your Art class.”

The moment she’d dreaded had arrived. Teri Slaughter’s stomach knotted up in fear. It’s over. They found me.

A deep breath released some of the tension in her shoulders. As she forced her leaden feet toward the conference room, the thought flickered through her mind of running outside and disappearing in the streets.

Get hold of yourself! She expelled a long breath. I’ve been so careful. Maybe he doesn’t suspect me.

Pausing with her hand on the knob, she weighed whether or not to continue her masquerade.

A muscle tightened in her jaw. Teri Slaughter wasn’t a coward. If this cop takes me back to New York, I’ll die. I have to pull this off.

She dusted the pastel chalk from her hands before running her fingers through her cropped hair. There was nothing to distinguish her from the others. Her plain white shirt and navy skirt were inconspicuous among the nuns.

Her heart raced as she stepped into the conference room. Her gaze seized on a man in a dark suit standing at the far end of the room, his back to her.

He turned around. His dark eyes assessed her, pierced her veneer, saw right through her. He was disarmingly handsome, well over six feet tall and with a lean muscular frame. He crossed the room, striding toward her with an athletic gait.

Frozen in place, Teri fought down a sense of panic, her breath trapped in her throat.

This man didn’t look like a killer, but rather, exuded an air of power and confidence. His strength reached out to her. “Sister Bernadette?” He extended his hand.

Taking a deliberately deep breath, Teri unblocked the log jam in her chest.

“I’m Detective Angel Garcia, from Manhattan Homicide Division.” His deep, articulate voice held no trace of a New York accent. “I’ve been looking for you.”

She tried to speak but her mouth was dry. Wordlessly, she surrendered her hand.

He enfolded it in his, clasping her with the right amount of firmness. Not too limp, not too tight. The perfect handshake for a man to give a woman when he threatened her very existence.

“Looking for me, Detective?” she croaked.

“At your former convent I was told you’d gone to Ireland on sabbatical and would be transferring to San Antonio when you returned.” He unclipped his identification from his belt beside the holstered weapon and handed it to her. “I have to ask you about your sister.”

Teri stared, unseeing, at his photo ID and gold shield, wondering if he was in on it, wondering if he knew her true identity. Running her fingers over the embossing, she forced herself to stay focused. “Which sister?”

He smiled for the first time, a broad flash of white, even teeth and his eyes, fringed with thick black lashes, momentarily softened. “I’m asking about your biological sister, Teresa Slaughter.” In spite of his smile, Detective Garcia’s eyes continued to dissect her.

Summoning her courage, she gave him a smile she hoped conveyed innocence. She returned his credentials; forced her feet to move. “Would you like to sit down, Detective Garcia?” She indicated a chair at the conference table and seated herself across from him. “What do you want to know?” Her fingers traced the decorative nails in the maroon leather armchair.

“How long has it been since you’ve seen her?”

She inhaled deeply to steady herself and his scent filled her nostrils. He smelled nice. She hadn’t noticed how men smelled in a while. A fresh pain sliced through her as she remembered rubbing sun tan lotion on Colin and later, in the cabana, when the scent of coconut transferred to her.

She jerked her attention back to the man who sat across from her, intent upon tearing her world apart. “Teri? I haven’t seen her in a while. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t mean to alarm you, Sister Bernadette but your sister, Teri Slaughter, seems to be missing.”

“Are you sure?” She feigned surprise. “She works for an international company. She often travels for business purposes.”