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Bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, solo sailor, Katrina Hunter, thinks the mermaid twenty behind her boat is nothing more than a sailor’s hallucination. But everything she knows about floaters convinces her to take another look.
Now, alone and isolated in Ensenada's police station, she’s convinced that reporting a floater was a mistake.
Chief Inspector, Raul Vignaroli, is as surprised by the attractive solo-sailor as he is to discover that she’s a respected member of the SFPD, and now he’s sure that he’s found the perfect partner to help him solve a murder, if not the cure for his broken heart.
Held in solitary confinement since she was met at the marina dock by a fat, nervous Mexican police officer, she had every reason to agree with veteran travelers who made it their policy never to stick around after an accident in Mexico. He had her write it all down on a pad with a stub of an old pencil and then read it back to him as he slowly pecked out the letters on a manual typewriter. Then he had her sign it and, leaving her a copy, bowed out the door of the interview room.
Every hour or so he would pop in with a cold soda or offer to escort her to the ladies' room, which was depressingly dingy, and without any windows to tempt her with escape, she naturally followed him back into the room where he once again begged for her patience.
"The chief inspector specifically asked for your patience, please," he said, smiling and backing out again.
A dead girl had been found floating in the ocean. What was so hard to understand about that? Katy's passport said she was an American citizen, her driver's license said she was a resident of San Francisco and her police ID said she was a detective with the San Francisco police department. The ID photo sucked but so did her attitude about now.
Just when she was beginning to think she might be here permanently, her jailer whisked open the door for a broad-chested suit, a thick file under his arm. The uniform stood guard while his superior squeezed his big shoulders around his sergeant, loosened his tie, thumped the file down on the table, and with a heavy sigh, lowered himself into the chair across from Katy.
"I am Chief Inspector Raul Vignaroli and this is Sergeant Moreno," he said, as if she hadn't already become best friends with the sergeant. The Chief's basso profundo was clearly upper-class Mexican, but it was also intertwined with something akin to a Louisiana patois. Odd, and maybe she would find it interesting in some other situation, but this wasn't a social call and there was no offer of a handshake as one does when encountering another police officer, especially since that police officer has gone out of her way to willingly report a suspicious death.
The slight momentarily bothered her, but what she really wanted right now was to unstick her butt from the worn plastic chair she'd been occupying for most of her first day in port and leave for the marina and her boat Pilgrim. She had plans to get some deck work done while she was here then haul the boat back to the States, and with a little luck, she'd have a job to go back to. Today, however, was not going well at all. Kept in solitary for six hours and now she was getting the snub by the chief inspector.
She knew better than to initiate small talk; it only compounds the problem for suspects. Suspect? She sat up in her chair, about to open her mouth and ask if she needed an attorney, then reminded herself that she was in a foreign country. Maybe things were done differently here and, resisting the temptation to fold her arms in a defensive posture across her chest, instead calmly folded them onto her lap and did a quick assessment of the chief inspector.
The man in question pointedly ignored her and continued to study the folder in front of him.
Maybe forty, she figured, lifting first one cheek and then the other off the sweaty seat of her chair. Black wavy hair dipped over a high forehead patterned with a load of worry that wasn't any of her business. His skin was olive and the cleft in his square jaw said some Italian had splashed across his gene pool not long ago. Not so bad looking if you like the dark Latin type.Her eyes wandered up to the clock again. Jeez. Over six hours. Now, if it was just the sergeant, I could give him a quick hip shove, make it out the door and down the hall, through those swinging double doors faster than a jackrabbit…
Then she noticed the inspector idly appraising her from under long dark lashes. Is that amusement on his face? The bastard!
He snapped the folder shut and stared at her as if suspecting her of having bunny feet.
"You alerted the Mexican Navy at seven a.m. this morning, is that correct?"
"Correct," she answered, and straightening her spine on the chair, looked him in the eyes, hoping she sounded like the conservative, upstanding citizen her mother always wanted her to be. "If I'd been in the States, I'd have alerted the Coast Guard. But I understand that mariners here are to call your Navy. So, do I need a lawyer, Chief Inspector?"
"That won't be necessary, Miss Hunter." Then, as if he couldn't help himself, he gave her a quick dazzling smile, causing long dimples to bracket the wide mouth. Wrap it all together and the man was not just incredibly masculine, he was downright attractive. "We're not such a third-world country that we arrest tourists who report finding a dead body. At least," he added dryly, "not without cause."
"Of course. And, as an American police officer," she said, pointing out once again what he already knew, "I'm glad I was able to help. So, are we done here?"
A twitch, or was it a smirk, tugged at the corner of his wide mouth. But instead of answering, he went back to studying the pages in the thick folder while the clock on the wall slugged out another five minutes.
She clenched her hands together and stared at the clock, then rubbed her tongue over her teeth, trying for some moisture.
"Have you been offered anything cold to drink?"
She jumped at the sound of his voice. Was he trying to make her look guilty?
Ignoring the crumpled paper cups littering the table, he snapped fingers at his sergeant and said, "A couple of cold sodas, por favor?"
Turning back to Katy, he added, "Regular Coke okay with you? We don't have diet."
Katy sighed. Standard police tactics. "What do you want from me, Inspector? I've told your sergeant everything I know. But now that I've been here for six—oops, make that six hours and fifteen minutes, I'm sure by now you know more than I do. So, did she fall off some party boat or what?"
He gave her a noncommittal stare. His eyes, she noticed, were the color of burnt sugar and there was some kind of golden ring around the edge. Wolfish eyes combined with that low, threatening voice and she would've considered him a very sexy package—except for the wedding band on his left hand. She did like her bad boys, just not married bad boys.
"Sure, a cold Coke would be nice, thank you."
Peering at her over imaginary reading glasses he said, "You have a husband, a friend, anyone who can account for your whereabouts?"
She knuckled her tired eyes. "Inspector, if that fat file says anything about me, you already know that I'm on sabbatical from the San Francisco PD, I'm single, I live in a studio apartment in Columbus Street. There are ten, maybe twelve people who know where I was this morning at seven a.m. because I checked in with them after I called your Navy." Then she added with a tilt of a smile, "But, whatever you do, please don't call my mother."
He answered her smile with one of his own, and this time it appeared genuine. "As a dutiful son with a constantly worried mother, I can assure you we will not call your mother."
Sergeant Moreno backed into the room with two cold cans in his hand. He set the cans down on the table, and giving her a timid glance, bent to whisper in his boss's ear.
The chief inspector blinked. Then suddenly purposeful, he scraped back his chair and stood. "Señorita Hunter, we will detain you no longer. In the course of your brief stay here in Ensenada, I hope you will not hold this unfortunate incidence against us. Please enjoy the rest of your vacation and thank you for your cooperation." He nodded once to his sergeant and turned to leave. When he saw that Katy wasn't standing, the black brows went up a notch.
"So, nothing to share, Inspector? Like, was she murdered?" Katy asked in a voice that quavered from the pent-up emotion of the last six and a half hours.
He looked down his long Roman nose at her as if he'd just encountered something smelly. And she probably was, too. Her last shower being now almost twenty hours ago.
"I can only give you the standard reply; I am not at liberty to divulge anything at this time. And, as they say in Mexico, Que le vaya bien. It means—"
"I know what it means, Chief Inspector. As for having a good trip, I think that boat already sailed."
She waved a floppy hand to indicate she had no intention of explaining American slang to him and stood up. And, with as much dignity as she could muster, marched past him out the door and down the hall, trailing the sergeant behind her. At the lobby, she turned to the sergeant. "Will you call me a cab, please?"
"Oh, that is not necessary, señorita. I will personally drive you to the marina."
Baja Naval was expecting her. It was a good working marina and she was looking forward to the respite. Scrub the boat, get the teak work done and leave Mexico and its troublesome problems behind. She nodded thankfully to the sergeant. She could almost taste the late afternoon sun, the fragrance of tacos frying in local stalls. Oh, and there was the fish market. Maybe she could persuade the sergeant to stop long enough for her to pick up some fresh fish, or better yet, some fish tacos. Her stomach rumbled at the thought.
She was still thinking about those wonderful fried fish tacos as the double doors of the police station slammed open with such force that the ceiling fan stuttered in its lazy rotation. Two policemen marched in, dragging a listless prisoner between them.
A thick, sun-bleached blond head of hair flopped over half-closed eyes, the buttonholes missing their mark on a faded Hawaiian shirt.
Katy judged him another drunk American giving Mexicans cause to believe everything they've heard about privileged Yanks with their big wallets and bad manners.
He was a good foot taller than the two Mexican officers, but with his hands manacled behind his back, it was obvious that he wasn't going to give them any trouble. But before Katy could dodge around him for the exit, he raised his head and a startling pair of aquamarine eyes met hers.
He straightened his back, wincing at the angle of his cuffed wrists. "What the… Whisper?"
Suddenly, the sound of the ceiling fan was terribly loud. Blood pounded in her ears, her mouth went dry, her palms were damp and her feet were nailed to the floor. In a knee-jerk reaction, she hissed, "Don't call me that!"
Then realizing her mistake she backed up and bumped into Inspector Vignaroli.
His brief nod to his sergeant indicated there would be a detour in the prisoner's march for the holding cells and Katy's freedom.
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I sort of fell into the job of running a crop-dusting business when my dad decided he’d rather go on a cruise than take another season of lazy pilots, missing flaggers, testy farmers and horrific hours. After two years at the helm, I handed him back the keys and fled to a city without any of the above. And no, I was never a crop-duster.