OFFICER STONE PETTY was having a shit day.
It started with some type of brownout that killed his alarm and made him late. He despised tardiness in all forms and enjoyed a morning routine that set him up for the day. Hot, black coffee. Toast with butter, and real bacon. None of that turkey junk. Reading the paper, a quick shower, and taking his damn time.
Instead, he raced to get cleaned up and dressed, forced to skip everything and stuck with the horror that was called coffee in the station. Not even officially on duty, he’d been forced to stop a teenager speeding, dealing with his general mouthiness and hormonal idiocy that hadn’t taught him yet not to talk back to people in authority.
After a few hours on his beat, a foul smell in his squad car drove him crazy. He finally pulled over, trying not to gag, and discovered a pile of dog crap buried in a paper bag in the trunk. Sons of bitches. It must’ve been a boring night at the station, since one of his coworkers had decided to liven things up by pulling the literal tiger’s tail. He loved his job, but sometimes he wanted to beat the hell out of them all. Boredom was the worst crime in the police station, and drove the guys to entertain themselves. On a slow fall night in Verily, guess he’d been the victim.
Plotting his revenge, he got rid of the poop, decided to skip lunch, and proceeded to roll over a busted glass bottle and pierce his tire.
Stone realized the Fates were against him today. He was desperately trying to quit smoking, but the thought of the sweet smoke filling his lungs killed him. He dragged in a breath and tried to concentrate on the nicotine patch on his arm, working overtime. He didn’t need it. He was strong. He could beat the nasty habit, even though he loved it so hard, he’d pick smoking over anything else.
Finally, the awful craving eased. Good. His best bet was just to clock in enough time to get the day done, lay low, and try again tomorrow. He changed the tire, tearing a small hole in the knee of his uniform, and sweating profusely. It was one of those weird Indian summer days in October, and he’d worn his long sleeves today. Sweat trickled down his brow and under his arms, making him crave another shower. His temper frayed, but he held tight and swore to have patience. Anger got him in trouble every time. Like some kind of downhill roller coaster ride, it descended him into disaster. He was on a tight leash to begin with and needed to chill and ride out the rest of the day.
His partner had taken the morning off and should be hooking up with him within the hour. Devine always settled him with his easy humor. They worked well together, and long enough to call him his friend.
When he got back in the squad car, his speaker beeped.
“Car forty-three. Possible domestic abuse on Two Sycamore Street.”
Stone reached for the radio. “Car forty-three en route.”
“Backup is needed. Officer Devine on the way.”
He eased onto the road and headed toward the house. Any type of domestic abuse required two officers on the scene, which he respected. Hell, it had always been his hot spot anyway, and they did very well with bad cop/good cop. With Devine’s movie star looks, and his own rough appearance, everything balanced.
He drove past Main Street in Verily, enjoying the small-town charm and sprawling river views. A bit eclectic and weird for him, with the crazy artists, cafés, and mass of organic food, clothing, and wellness centers, but Verily called to him in some strange way. He always wondered what it would feel like to be one of those people. Centered. Calm. Happy.
He dealt with such intense emotions, and a dark, brooding anger inside of him, that living in Verily was like stepping near the light.
Stone frowned at his sudden poetic thoughts and refocused. He’d reached Sycamore.
He pulled to the curb a few feet away and studied the scene. No nosy neighbors out, but it didn’t mean people weren’t watching from their windows. He checked his watch. Devine should arrive in a minute. Climbing out of the car, he strolled around the house, scanning for clues and straining his ears to catch any type of noise.
The white Victorian seemed a bit shambled. Peeling paint. Broken step. Porch sagged. The windows were dirty, but he noted a small vegetable garden on the side that was neat and weed-free. Someone had cared and maintained it well. A pink tricycle with streamers that had seen better days lay abandoned in the driveway. Was that crying? His muscles tensed.
The female scream turned his blood cold. A crash echoed through one of the half-open windows, and a child joined in with the screaming.
Stone shot to the door. Knocked. “Police, open up.”
Another crash. Stone grabbed his radio. “Officer entering premises at Two Sycamore. Still awaiting backup.” No time to wait for Devine. Enough suspicion of bodily harm to break in.
The door was open so he shot through.
The scene before him was out of his worst nightmare.
A big, meaty guy dressed in jeans and bare chested beating the crap out of the woman, probably his wife. She was trapped in the corner, hands over her face to protect it while he punched her. Her screams punctured the air, but that wasn’t what made him lose it.
It was the child.
A pretty girl, probably around five, sobbed and clutched her father’s leg, begging him to stop hurting Mommy. Stone had almost reached him, ready to scoop up the girl so she was safe and get the asshole off, but he was too late.
The guy paused in bashing his wife’s face, turned, and picked up the child.
Then threw her across the room.
The girl hit the wall with a bang. Slumped to the floor in a crumpled pile of delicate bones. Her soft blond hair covered her face. She didn’t move.