Below is a sample from “A Dance in Time” which is the latest release in my latest series, the J.T. Leighton, Time Traveler Book 1. To find out more about my books, click here.
“Use your southern charm on her.” Ted’s mustache crooked up at the corner. “Don’t you shit-kickers have a lot of that?”
J.T. glanced at Ted with flat, unspeaking eyes. The man’s reference to his Texas heritage didn’t sit well with him at the moment. Still, what did you do when the guy was your boss? Besides, J. T. had a couple of pretty good references of his own for Ted. The man was so big that when he laughed, his belly shook like an earthquake. He reminded J.T. of a Pillsbury Doughboy stuffed in a cheap, pinstriped suit. “All I have to do is observe, right?” J.T. drawled in his best Texas twang.
Ted’s mustache twitched again. “Yeah, that’s right.” With a toothpick leftover from lunch, Ted picked at food still lodged in his teeth. “Hey, why don’t you impress her with the story behind how the town and you have the same last name? Leighton, right?” Without giving J.T. a chance to answer, Ted continued, “Your grand-pappy must’ve been the all-time shit-kicker, herding cattle from here to Kansas and all that crap. What a jerk!” Ted chucked absently and his whole belly quivered. “So you think you can manage this little job, Leighton?”
“I can manage,” J.T. answered blandly though he chafed under the strain of having to deal with Ted, the spineless prick! Leaning back in the leather seat of the Coup Deville he went over the plan. “She’ll go in to buy the necklace and I’ll follow her when she leaves. You want me to happen upon her and use my charm to convince her to go with me to the ranch where you’ll be waiting. I got it.”
“Good,” Ted said, wiping his fingers across his massive chest.
Oh yeah, he had it, all right. J.T. had also had about enough of his less than stellar traveling companion. Suddenly starving for fresh air, J.T. exited the flashy sedan. The car matched Ted’s suit color, he noted absently, pea green.
Ted leaned over and peered up at him through the passenger window. “Don’t screw this up, Leighton, or it’s your ass.”
“Right.” J.T. drawled, shoving his tightly balled fists into his jacket pocket, while he watching the car leave. Asshole! While he didn’t believe in playing dirty, he couldn’t help envisioning kicking Ted Burkett squarely in the balls. His new Agency boss was a lowlife piece of shit. He marveled at how the man had made it so far up the ladder in the elite group known only as the Agency.
J.T. had been recruited by Robert Leighton, J.T.’s uncle. He’d considered it a real break for his career in criminal investigation to be invited to join the secret society of retired military covert operatives. Robert had been J.T.’s commander when he had first arrived. Fresh out of the Marines and having just lost his father, J.T. found the work to be interesting. Keeping his mind occupied was something he needed at the time. The missions so far had been justifiable and legit, but there was something off about this one. Besides that, there were things Ted was doing within the Agency that didn’t add up. The whole thing stunk, making J.T. question the Agency’s legitimacy and his part in it.
The suspect, a twenty-nine year-old woman who grew up in the stellar town of Leighton Texas had left six years prior for the big lights of Broadway and New York City. Her name was Jessie Colter. She currently worked in an “off-Broadway” production. She’d returned to bury her parents after a mysterious accident had killed them both.
Regret hit J.T. square in the chest. He just didn’t feel right about his orders. Intrigued at first about retrieving stolen property, J.T. now found himself disquieted by the woman’s history and situation. He remembered the pain of losing his own father. She seemed harmless, but his orders were specific. Follow her until she buys the necklace; make contact and then smooth talk her into visiting his father’s ranch where Burkett would be waiting to take her in for questioning. He hadn’t been filled in as to why. His part in adding to her woes went against his code.
It made more sense to him to simply retrieve the necklace himself and leave the woman out of it. But Burkett insisted that they bring her in. Ted wanted the tag himself, J.T. mused. J.T. had already figured out that grandstanding and brown-nosing the hierarchy was Ted’s way of moving up the ladder.
The fact that John Thomas Leighton, the heir to the Leighton ranching legacy, had grown to hate his cover was inconsequential. J.T. had a job to do.
J.T. had been a Marine and loved it until one fateful night in Iraq. There had been an attack by Shiits, a band of Muslim radicals, with blood in their eyes. As his men patrolled near the Kuwaiti border in Iraq, the unit had been ambushed. Having suffered shrapnel wounds that forced him stateside, J.T. remained in a coma for two weeks and remembered little of what had happened when the night erupted around them in Iraq.
The days had been long and lonely following his medical discharge. Too compound his pain, his father had died. They’d been planning a trip after his return from active duty. They never got the chance. Growing isolated and depressed, J.T. had seen a military psychiatrist, but the doctor hadn’t been able to help. Time, great chunks of it, went missing from his memory after the attack. The psychiatrist predicted that J.T. memory would likely return at some point. His reluctance to reconnect with the men in his unit had something to do with the loss of that time.
Then he had begun to see dead people. The final straw had come when he began to speak to them like he had Jessie’s parents. He’d always been realistic and rational, so seeing dead people had to have a logical answer. Telling himself, he wasn’t crazy, instead, he kept his focus on a solution for the situation. It was simply mind over matter. After deciding to treat the incidents as catalysts to solving problems, he got his private investigator’s license. So far, he’d solved two cases using the talent of seeing as well as speaking to dead people.
When Jessie’s parents had been waiting on him near their graves in the Leighton cemetery, J.T. hadn’t freaked like he’d have done before the Iraq attack. They had some heavy shit to tell him that night in the cemetery. Granted he had some doubts about a dark lord and black magic, nevertheless, their daughter was in trouble with the agency. J.T. decided he would protect her. So far, it had worked.
The Agency couldn’t find out he was working undercover. Besides, he’d decided it was about time to un-ass them anyway. This assignment had him doubting his own sense of right and wrong, because the agency instructed him to go against the law in bringing her in. She’d done nothing wrong as far as he could tell. Apparently, the Agency wasn’t concerned with her rights, only what they wanted.
It became more important to protect Jessie. The info he’d come by unexpectedly from her dead parents shed a different light on the woman. He glanced again at her snapshot that came with the Agency info.
Jessie’s picture didn’t do her justice, he decided, as he glanced up to watch her stroll down the street. Regal was a word to describe her gate. She held her head high with her nose tilted just slightly upwards. He smiled at her haughty expression. She was slender, dark and fiery with glowing eyes that pierced his restraint. Her long, slim dancer’s legs went all the way up. Having enjoyed a few long legs in his time, J.T. had to admit that those in front of him were mighty special. Feeling the warm tingle travel up his spine, he swore under his breath as he envisioned those legs entwined around his back.
Wearing black boots over black leggings and a thigh skimming dress, she made heads turn. Long, glossy black hair swung loose, cascading down her back. A man didn’t see kick-ass women like her in Leighton, Texas. She was all New York and had plenty of attitude to boot.
J.T. had stationed himself about a half a block away on a bus bench. On the outside, he remained cool behind his dark shades. But on the inside, he smoldered. The blood rushed to his loins and J.T. swore low again. Easy, cowboy. She’s not your type. Despite the coaching, his body remained totally unconvinced. Unable to move at the moment, J.T. watched helplessly as she strolled into the Easy Cash Pawn and Gun. Get a grip, man. You can’t help like this.
Entering the shop a few minutes behind her, J.T. found Jessie asking the East Indian owner about the necklace.
She exuded confidence. Holding her head high, Jessie looked the storeowner in the eye. With a thin-lipped smile, she pointed to the necklace as she said, “I’d like to try that piece on.” Her voice, all smooth and sexy, flowed like Bourbon over rocks.
Pretending interest in the rodeo belt buckles in a nearby case, J.T. watched her out of the corner of his eye. Her glossy black hair fell forward as she too checked out what was behind the glass.
J.T.’s eyes followed her perusal and he waited a beat before turning on his pin-sized lapel recorder. With it rolling, he went in.
Heading casually down the line of display cases holding everything from air-tools to diamond encrusted pinky rings, J.T. eased within a few feet of where she stood. Part of his cover was to pretend interest in what he found there, so he took his time examining a man’s gold nugget ring and even asked the assistant to show it to him. Acting as though he might buy, J.T. even inquired about the price, but all the while, his real attention was on Jessie.
Shoving at the notion he’d started out all wrong on this one, J.T. sauntered up to her and took a moment to admire her profile.
She skillfully ignored him.
J.T. noted the slender fingers and the absence of a ring on her left hand. The Agency had been thorough and he already knew she had a boyfriend back east, but she was here now.
“Green is your color.”
Jessie’s head snapped up and dark, chocolate-brown eyes pricked him before he could blink. She gave him a faintly absent smile. “Thank you, but I prefer blue most of the time.” Her words were chilly and reflected a lack of concern in anyone else’s opinion. J.T. had to admire how she effectively dismissed him before turning her attention back to the case in front of her.
A cool operator, J.T. mused. She may have grown up in Leighton, but she wore New York brashness well. He turned his attention back to the display case.
The emerald encrusted necklace lay in a lovely yellow-gold setting and rested on a golden velvet display stand the owner obviously thought was appropriate for the antique piece. Elegant in design, the necklace boasted a large teardrop stone of exceptional clarity while smaller emeralds encircled it emphasizing the gem’s beauty. As J.T. admired how it high-lighted the creamy complexion of her skin when the owner held it near Jessie’s neck, J.T. had to agree it resembled the picture he’d been given by Ted. The Agency’s estimation was that the piece was over three hundred years old and appraised at more than a million.
Wondering if the pawnshop owner had a clue, J.T. inquired, “How much for the emerald necklace?”
Jessie glared at him frigidly. He saw he’d set off her alarm bell and it took a second more to cloak the shock he read in them. After that, the only visible sign she was irritated came with the clinching of her fists on the counter top.
He already knew she was after the piece. So why did her reaction tug at his heart? Because the necklace had belonged to her great-grandmother, her grandmother, and finally her mother before her death, that’s why. It had gone missing after that and only recently resurfaced here in the pawnshop. The necklace was special to her and he was simply doing a job.
“It is a good piece, yes?” The East Indian owner gave Jessie and then J.T. a big toothy smile. “Two thousand dollars.” Without any visible response from either of them, the small man amended hurriedly, “It would be my humble pleasure to sell it to you. You’d like to hold it, yes?”
Nodding, J.T. accepted the piece from the owner. He caught Jessie watching him out of the corner of her eye. J.T. examined the stone set carefully in the very old setting. “Do you have an appraisal?”
The owner anticipating his question handed him an embossed certificate. The gold seal stamped at the bottom looked official. After his winged brows dipped fractionally over his nose, J.T. gave the owner a satisfied nod of his head and handed the piece back.
Grinning, for J.T., the owner held the necklace near Jessie’s face once more and asked, “See how it sets off her eyes, yes?”
Apparently, they looked like a couple. J.T. couldn’t help himself and smiled sideways at Jessie. “Yes, definitely stunning.” If he had her pegged correctly, she wouldn’t mistake his reference to her instead of the necklace.
J.T. definitely had her pegged, as the temperature in the room plummeted. Jessie’s only reply was an ice incrusted glare. Taking out a jeweler’s eye, she dismissed him before leaning in closer to examine the piece. “How much did you say?” Her tone was all business as she eyed the owner who continued to grin winningly.
“Two thousand, yes.” His jet-black hair gleamed almost blue in the harsh lighting as his head bobbed up and down.
“I’ll give you a thousand, but it’s not worth two.” Pointing to the necklace, Jessie indicated her concern. “See the occlusions in the smaller stones? The clasp needs work as well.” With knowledge, whether real or contrived, Jessie firmed her chin as she smoothly handed the piece back to him.
The owner’s mouth parted momentarily before he was able to turn on the charm once more and said, “One thousand fifty dollars. That is my bottom offer, yes.” Watching Jessie expectantly, the man’s beaming face fell again when she shook her head decisively and took a step backward.
“I may be able to swing a thousand twenty-five dollars, but that would be it for me. Too steep.” Shaking her head as a frown played out on her warm completion, Jessie shoved her hands into the pockets of the light jacket she wore and gave him the time he needed to consider her words.
A smile teased the edges of J.T.’s mouth as he observed her skills at dealing. Then remembering his cover, he slipped quietly to the other side of the small shop as he listened to the two continue to haggle over the jewel. Pretending interest in other items, J. T. wandered among the cases as Jessie told the owner he should be glad she’d come along, that this would be his lucky day. J.T. covered his grin by examining a chunky gold chain more closely.
Agitated now, the owner glanced from Jessie to J.T. and back again. Having taken them for a couple and assuming J.T. would be doing the negotiating, the owner had to rearrange his tactics. “Will you excuse me, please? Yes?” He bowed to Jessie and then to J.T., who continued to smile as he watched from a safe distance.
The short fellow scurried into the back of the shop. Within minutes, voices with urgent but muted tones seeped through the curtain hanging in the small doorway. A woman’s exclamation in Indian rose above the rest and soon the little owner returned with another smile pasted on his tawny face.
Laying the necklace gently on the counter, the owner gave Jessie an apologetic expression. “I am but a humble owner, yes. This necklace is worth a great deal more than you offer. But I have been unable to recoup my purchase for a long time. You can appreciate my position, no?” He clasped his hands together in front of his argyle-vested chest and gave Jessie a pitying smile. “With the clasp repaired and the whole piece cleaned will you take it for a thousand, thirty-five?”
Jessie firmed her lips as she peered at the piece in the man’s hands. Finally nodding, she extended her hand across the counter. “You have a deal.”
Audibly relieved, the owner accepted Jessie’s hand and then left to fetch the tool necessary to repair the clasp.
Jessie turned, propping a hip against the counter and folded her arms. Her eyes narrowed on J.T as she finally gave him her full attention. “Do you always interject into other people’s business? Or am I just lucky?”
Her grave stare coupled with the cynicism didn’t affect him in the least. Guilt and apologies were for those burdened with a need to maintain a social protocol. J.T. wasn’t that much of a cowboy.
“No, I just admire beautiful things, whatever the circumstances.” He eyed her seductively with a lazy up and down perusal. When his eyes finally met hers, he saw a flicker of something that could have been mutual interest. Within that brief exchange, J.T.’s blood hummed. Even though her expression transitioned into irritation at his meaning, he decided then that he had to know more about Jessie Colter. The owner reappeared, drawing Jessie’s attention back to the necklace.
“You pay with cash or credit?”
“Cash,” Jessie said.
He didn’t flinch. Instead, he smoothly extended his hand with the palm up, toward her. “I verify bills and wrap your purchase, yes?”
The woman had street smarts. J.T. could agree with his Intel on that. No credit cards for this little lady and no paper trail. She didn’t bat an eye as she handed over the required cash. Ted had said the Agency had been tipped off that the money would most likely be counterfeit bills. J.T. found that dubious, but watched her hand them over anyway. If they weren’t real, they were exceptional replicas. Maybe this was why the Agency found Jessie interesting.
J.T. decided it was time to leave ahead of her rather than follow her out. He wandered toward the door and left the owner and Jessie alone to complete their transaction. The metal bench at the bus stop still held enough heat from the day to be uncomfortable, but he sat down and waited.
A few minutes later, she walked out into the late afternoon sun. Jessie slipped on her dark shades and headed in his direction. At this angle, he could admire her slender, lithe build. Her long dark hair that cascaded down her back glimmered in the approaching twilight.
Jessie came closer toward him. His pulse kicked into high gear. Her scent preceded her, something exotic and sultry. It was all J.T. could do to remain seated. Fighting the temptation to jump up and try to engage her in a conversation, he watched her walk. The woman glided, he mused. From the ear bug humming in his ear, J.T. heard the voice of his own personal nemesis, Burkett.
“Could you remember to observe only this time? Maybe without talking to her for Christ sake! Copy?” Ted growled through the earpiece.
“Copy,” J.T. ground out under his breath.
Watching Jessie enter the hair salon situated a few doors down from the pawnshop. J.T. did remember to flick a latch on his lapel to snap a quick picture for the file with his micro-camera. The fact that he expected her to visit the salon reminded him of his surveillance last week. Her best friend, Yolanda Graves, worked at the salon and was on the clock right now. Since he had no good reason for following her into a veritable fortress of female rituality, J.T. remained where he was on the bus bench. A likely scenario played in his head as he sat slumped against the graffiti emblazoned metal.
Jessie had probably gone in to show off her latest acquisition and brag a bit. A lot of cooing and pawing would ensue and finally someone would ask to try on the piece so everyone could admire it. J.T. flicked the latch on his lapel camera and captured the shot. “Suspect is talking with the manager.” A minute passed. “She’s slipping the necklace and something from a chest the manager brought out into her jacket pocket now.”
The ear bug crackled a second time. “There she is, the suspect is leaving the beauty shop.” Ted’s voice yanked J.T. from his musings. “Keep a close eye on her. You look like you’re daydreaming again, Leighton.” His boss’s incredulous tone had the hackles on J.T.’s back rising.
Shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, J.T. jammed the receiver on his micro walkie-talkie before speaking under his breath. “Copy, sir.”
Muting his mic, J.T. mimicked Ted’s northern Maine accent as he spoke to the emptiness around him, “Fuck you, sir.” A needling tension had him getting up from the bench with hunched shoulders as he followed Jessie once more.
Trailing behind, J.T. slipped into a storefront alcove to observe. Jessie slowed to a meander as she gazed into yet another shop’s display. J.T. pondered the Agency’s information about the manager of the beauty shop, Yolanda being a witch in a local Wiccan coven. Strange, but she hadn’t looked like a witch, just a dancer. The Agency’s Intel had stated she danced in New York in the same show as Jessie. J.T. felt the vibration of an incoming on his walkie-talkie and cursed low. Turning slightly from his location he whispered shortly into his lapel, “What?”
“When she takes the next corner, keep her in your sights and I’ll pick you up at the curb,” Ted ordered.
“Okay, okay, I’ve got her.” J.T. didn’t try and hide his irritation.
Jessie picked up the pace now and briskly walked to the next corner turning right.
“She’s on the move and headed west.”
“Copy. Get to the curb. Hurry and I’ll snag you,” Ted’s voice blared.
As Ted’s pea green sedan slid up to the curb, J.T. glanced around to make sure no one was watching him before diving into the passenger’s side. He hated the thought of being seen getting into such an ugly car so he took it out on Ted. “Don’t let her get away, damn it.”
Frustration spilled out of Ted in a huffed breath. “Hell, Leighton, if we lose her, it’s your fault. I told you to observe only!”
“Yeah, right.” Sarcasm dripped from J.T.’s next words. “We’re the only two in the pawnshop which made me too conspicuous.” Motioning to the curb where Jessie stood waiting on the light to change, J.T. channeled his impatience into focusing on the suspect. “She’s good, real good. When she makes it to the other side I’ll take the path on foot again.” He didn’t want to lose her either, J.T. mused. Scanning the opposite side of the street where Jessie strode, seemingly unaffected, he wondered what she had planned for him this time. She’d pull something, he mused. He just didn’t know what.
Traffic up ahead snarled and the light changed on them. She disappeared down Emerson before they could follow her any further. Yanking open the door, as Ted double-parked, J.T. jumped out. His long legs ate up the pavement as he hoofed it after Jessie.
Once she came into view, he slowed to work the window-shopping angle while doing his best to keep her in his sights. Gradually, J.T. moved to within feet of her position. Confident he had her he pretended to admire a flat screen TV in a display. J.T took a deep breath and released it quietly.
Then the unthinkable happened. Ted’s voice blared from J.T. lapel mic. J.T. flinched, but recovered quickly. Still, not quick enough as he saw Jessie make him. He’d forgotten to mute the stupid thing! Spewing his Marine brand of foul language, J.T.’s mouth went dry. Moving first at a clipped pace, then at a dead run he searched the sidewalk, then the other side of the street and the shop front he’d last seen her at. Damn it! She’d disappeared without a trace.
He swore again at the rookie mistake as he began to sprint, eyes ever vigil. “Lost visual, lost visual,” he snarled into his lapel. “Burkett, do you copy? Stay alert. Suspect last seen at the north end of Emerson. I’m in pursuit.”
With his gun drawn beneath his leather jacket, J.T. raced to the corner. Luck was on his side because down the block, he spotted a black high heel for a second before she disappeared around the next corner. “All right!” Suspect turning onto Palmer,” J.T. yelled. “Where’s that backup?” he growled into the tiny Agency issued device. His heart pounded in his ears as he rounded the last corner he’d seen her take. Up ahead, he saw a black boot lying sprawled in the middle of the sidewalk followed by its mate a few feet further down. He released the breath he didn’t remember holding and came to a dead halt.
She’d vanished! The only thing left in the middle of the sidewalk was that damn pair of sex on a stick black leather boots lying as if they’d been flung in a hurry. She’d shed their high heeled encumbrance on the run. He cursed their lone presence like a cold slap in the face.
Copyright 2012 Catherine Wolffe