Chapter One

     Tyler Henderson decided that he’d had enough of Los Angeles. He’d been a cop all his life and a detective for the LAPD for the last five years. He’d loved it, but he’d finally grown weary of big city crime. Having seen the worst the city had to offer, he knew it was time for him to get out.
     It had been a difficult year for Tyler. His father had lost his battle with cancer, his partner was killed in a senseless car accident, and his fiancée decided she didn’t want to be the wife of a cop. It was the perfect time for a change of scenery.
     Though his captain had tried to convince Tyler to stay, he couldn’t fault him for wanting the simpler life. Accepting a job with the Emerald Lake Police Department, Tyler would be one of only two detectives and have a normal nine-to-five schedule. No more overtime. No more crazies. No more politics.
     Tyler sat on his back porch taking in the view. This is the life, he thought to himself. What could be better than enjoying a lakefront cabin, a fourwheel drive truck in the driveway, and a three-day reprieve from work? He lowered his feet from the railing and stood up to flip the burgers grilling on the barbeque. His phone rang just as one wrong move sent one of the burgers through the metal grate. Grabbing his phone from his pocket, he tried unsuccessfully to rescue the burger from a charcoal grave.
     “Yeah, Henderson . . .” Tyler said as he skewered the burger that was falling apart every time he grabbed for it.
     “Wow, I thought you’d be in a better mood than that!”
     “Hey, sis. What’s up?” His tone lightened up at the sound of his sister’s voice.
     “Just checking up on you. I’m making sure you don’t have cabin fever yet.”
     A huge grin covered Tyler’s face. “Not a chance. You should see it up here. It’s incredible. I’m never coming back.”
     “Sure, that’s what you say now. Just wait until you get the munchies at night or want to impress a date by taking her to a great restaurant. Then you’ll wish you weren’t in the middle of Timbuktu.”
    “No, that’s where you’re wrong,” Tyler said as he gave up on the mangled burger and chuckled at his sister’s obstinate attitude. “I’ve given up on women. In fact, I saw a sign for a kennel down the road. I’m going to get me a dog. Good company is just a pedigree away.”
     “Great. My brother is going to turn into a monk or some kind of sexual deviant.” Hailey laughed at her own joke. “So, you’re sure you’re all right?”
     “No, I’m a manic-depressive, hiding from the world,” he teased.
     “I’m serious, Ty. I’m worried about you.”
     “I’m fine, Hailey,” Tyler reassured her. “Couldn’t be better. So when are you going to visit me?”
     “Never,” she huffed. “I don’t do back woods. I’ll wait and see you at Thanksgiving.”
     “It’s your loss, Hailey. You know you shouldn’t knock something until you’ve tried it.”
   They talked a few more minutes before Tyler hung up and removed his now blackened burgers from the grill. He sat before his barbecued “masterpiece” with all the fixin’s and bowed his head in prayer.

     “HEY, MIKE, ARE YOU READY TO RELEASE the remains of John Kemper?” Nathan, Mike’s lab assistant, asked. Michal “Mike” Madigan was the county medical examiner and a force to be reckoned with. She was tops in her field and recognized for her expertise. She was equally as passionate about her job as she was private about her personal life. Only the few who really knew her understood the demons she battled.
     Mike looked over her shoulder as she snapped off a pair of latex gloves and tossed them in the trash. “Yeah, I signed him off last night.”
    “Well, I just wanted to make sure. You know the son is still sticking to his story.”
     Mike laughed. “I don’t care what he says. His father was not murdered by his stepmother. John Kemper died of liver disease. End of story.”
     It was a family feud that had John Jr. accusing his stepmother of murder. But he knew as well as anyone that his father had finally succumbed to his long years of drinking.
     Mike went back to the lab and got ready to work on her next case—a victim of an apartment fire. What first looked like an accident now appeared to be a cover-up for another crime. The vic had no I.D. on him and wasn’t a resident. All the apartment tenants had escaped the fire and were accounted for. The body wasn’t found until the next day when the fire department overhauled the site.
     Nathan walked back into the lab and started laying out the instruments Mike would need. “I already took x-rays. They should be ready in just a minute.”
    “Thanks, Nathan. You’re too good to me.”
    “Well, one good act deserves another. What about dinner at my place? I could throw some steaks on the grill, get some wine coolers, and maybe fire up the jets on the Jacuzzi. How about it?”
     Mike just laughed. “No . . . no . . . and absolutely not.”
    “Come on, Mike, why are you so uptight?” Nathan asked with a smooth voice and a sensual bounce of his brow. “You’ve heard the talk; you know I’m very accommodating. Why do you keep turning me down?”
     “Because I’ve heard the talk, I know you’re very accommodating, and you also have the reputation of wanting a little dessert at the end of each date. Look, Nathan, I don’t do that, and you don’t take rejection well. You’re a great assistant and a good friend. Let’s just leave things the way they are.”
    Nathan reached for the x-ray film and punched it onto the viewing wall. “Man, Mike, you are one hard nut to crack. Are you sure that’s just a nickname? Maybe I’ve been barking up the wrong tree.”
     “I’ll bring in my birth certificate if that will make you feel any better. But then again, maybe you’d prefer to have an excuse.” She looked at him with that can we get back to business look before turning her attention to the light board. Nathan turned on the back light. The x-ray revealed exactly what they were looking for.
     “Bingo!” Mike said as she pointed to a spot on the screen. “We’ve got lead.”

     TYLER WAS UNLOADING A BOX of personal items at a desk across from his new partner. Jim Thompson was a veteran with the Emerald Lake police force and the only other detective. He was a great guy and someone Tyler was looking forward to working with. Tyler had only been at the station a week when Jim informed him he was having a second desk moved into his office so they could work together. Tyler was surprised. Jim was the senior officer at the station and had every right to have his own office. But Jim didn’t seem to take his title too seriously and welcomed the company.
     “Hey, Tyler, how are ya doin’?”
    Jim came in with a cup of coffee in one hand and the classifieds in the other. Hanging his jacket over the back of his chair, he took a seat behind his weathered desk and threw his large Dexter loafers on the desktop.
    “Good. Now that I have my own space, I thought I’d bring in some of my personal stuff.” Tyler looked over at Jim, who seemed to be studying the paper. “What’s so interesting?”
     It took a minute before Jim realized Tyler had asked him a question. “I’m looking through the classifieds for a puppy.”
     Tyler laughed. “A puppy! What on earth do you want with a puppy?”
     “Not for me, dummy, for my grandson. He’s turning six on Friday. I’ve been wearing my daughter down for a whole year, and she’s finally caved in. I’ve got exactly three days to find the perfect pup.”
    “Hey, there’s a kennel down the road from where I live. I’ve been meaning to check it out since I moved here. How about we take a look at it together?”
      “What kind of dogs?” Jim asked, sounding uninterested as he continued skimming the ads.
     Jim’s eye caught Tyler’s. “You’re on.” He lowered his feet to the floor and took one last swig of his coffee before grabbing for his jacket and following Tyler out to the parking lot.

     LATER THAT AFTERNOON IN THE BREAK ROOM, the appearance of Bridges, the chief medical examiner, caught both Mike and Nathan by surprise.
     “I just wanted to let you guys know the work you did on the Cumming’s case last week was exceptional.”
     To Mike it had been routine stuff. She had been able to remove the bullet from the burn victim and send it to ballistics. The victim’s fingerprints were undistinguishable, but the dental imprints she had taken and DNA extracted from the femur had been enough to I.D. the victim. It had been basic forensics for Mike, but she had heard through the grapevine that the victim had been someone on the FBI’s most wanted list. The captain was garnering many kudos for solving the case. The fact that he was making sure to pass the “that-a-boys” down the line was commendable.
     Mike sat in the break room for a few moments longer. Nathan had already moved on to his next subject for the day—not a person to examine, but someone he was trying to secure a date with for the weekend. Mike couldn’t understand why Nathan insisted on being such a lady’s man. He was very attractive and a pleasant guy when he wasn’t delivering pickup lines. It was a shame. He would never find someone to settle down with if he didn’t do something about his developing reputation as a player.
     Mike glanced at her watch and decided to call it a day. She had put in enough overtime in the last few weeks to justify getting off a little early. This was one of the few times she was caught up on her workload and decided to take advantage of it. She locked up her office, let Nathan know she was leaving, and walked out to her car, pleased that she would actually be getting home before dark. Sliding into her truck, she slipped in a CD, cranked up the volume, and headed for home.

    JIM AND TYLER PULLED INTO THE HEAVILY RUTTED driveway of the kennel. Though they had left the station hours ago, they’d been radioed about a suspicious package left in front of the Quick Mart. It turned out to be nothing more than a bag of trash, but the store owner had let his imagination get the better of him. He insisted he’d heard the package ticking, only to realize that his own wrist watch was the culprit. Well, one thing led to another, and before Jim and Tyler knew it, the day was shot. It was almost 5:00, and they were just now getting the chance to see what the kennel had to offer. Jim was glad that Tyler had volunteered to drive, knowing that his sedan never would have been able to handle the potholes in the old asphalt.
    They could hear the dogs barking even before the kennels came into view. Tyler pulled up next to another truck and crossed the driveway to the fenced kennel. There were at least ten different Labs of various colors and sizes. Tyler was immediately drawn to a chocolate colored, full-sized Lab that was running the length of the enclosure. Jim craned his neck to see if he could spy any puppies when he heard a robust voice behind him.
     “Can I help you, gentlemen?”
     Both men turned around to see an older man in jeans and a flannel shirt.
     “Why, Jim, you old son of a gun,” the kennel owner said with an outstretched hand.
     “What brings you out here?” Jim grasped his hand and gave it a hearty shake.
    “I wanted to get a puppy for my grandson. When Tyler told me about the kennel down the street from his place, I didn’t even put it together that it was you.”
     They talked like old friends while Tyler played with the chocolate Lab through the fence.
     “Frank, this is my partner, Tyler. Tyler, this is Frank Madigan.”
     Tyler stood, wiped his wet, dog-kissed hand on his pants, and shook Frank’s hand.
     “So, Frank, got any pups?” Jim asked.
     “Three females.”
     “Can I see them?”
     “Sure thing. They’re in the inside pen.”
     Jim followed Frank around the back of the fenced kennel. Tyler squatted down next to the chain link running cage and extended his hand to the Lab that had already connected with him. The dog wiggled and whimpered, excited by Tyler’s attention. Stroking his silky coat for some time, Tyler could feel himself getting attached. He wanted to get in the pen, but there was an alarm on the gate and the other two men were nowhere to be found. Tyler walked around the back of the house and knocked on the door, but no one answered. He poked his head inside the large ranch-style kitchen and yelled to see if he could get anyone’s attention. Still nothing. Finally, he stepped inside and took a quick look around. Walking a few steps across the kitchen, he could see what looked like a family room. He took a swift glance from side to side before stepping back into the kitchen.
     “What do you think you’re doing?”
    Tyler turned around to see a petite blonde standing in the doorway with a gun in her hand. She was out of breath but didn’t seem the least bit nervous. Tyler decided he wouldn’t take any chances. He put his hands up and started to explain who he was.
     “I’m Detective Tyler Henderson. I work for the Emerald Lake Police Department. I’m going to reach inside my jacket to get my—”
     “Bull! Don’t move!”
     “Excuse me?” Tyler said confused.
     “You’re messing with the wrong chick, mister. I’m quite familiar with the ELPD, and you’re not one of them.”
     “But I can show you my badge.” Tyler tried for a second time to reach inside his jacket.
     “Uh, uh, uh. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
     “This is ridiculous! I have I.D.”
     “Mike, is that you?”
     Tyler was relieved to hear Jim approaching.
     “Who’s there?” she yelled but didn’t take her eyes off Tyler.
     “That’s my partner, for cryin’ out loud!” Tyler shouted.
     Jim came into view over her shoulder but instead of calling her off, he started laughing hysterically. Tyler was ready to explode. “Grab the gun, Jim, before she blows my head off!”
     “You know this perp?” she said, still holding the gun on Tyler.
     “Yeah, he’s my new partner,” Jim said still laughing.
     The blonde cringed. “You’re the new guy?”
     “Yeah, I’m the new guy!” Tyler’s voice rose as he lowered his hands to his waist. He looked at the woman who had held him at gunpoint and watched her squirm as she lowered the gun.
     “Hey, I’m sorry, it’s just that—”
    “Yeah, well, maybe next time you should try listening instead of doing your impersonation of Dirty Harry.” Tyler’s reply was clipped and left no room for apologies.
    “Maybe next time you’ll think twice before entering someone’s home without permission. Because if I remember the code book correctly, unless you have a warrant or just cause, you just broke the law.”
     Tyler was hot. “Look . . .” he said, wagging his finger at her.
     “Okay, okay, enough you two. Allow me.” Jim stepped between the two of them. “Detective Henderson, this is Mike Madigan, the county M.E.; Mike, Detective Tyler Henderson.”
     Mike extended her hand to welcome Tyler, hoping he would let the matter drop.
     Tyler looked at Mike’s hand and then at his partner. “I’ll be waiting for you in the truck when you’re ready.” Passing them both, Tyler exited through the back door, whizzing by the confused kennel owner, who was carrying a black Lab puppy.
     “Hmm, not a very friendly guy, is he?” Mike said as she put the small handgun back into the holster that was concealed behind her back, under her oversized tank top.
     Jim watched as Tyler walked away. He was going to go after him and reprimand him for his behavior, but when he reviewed the scene he had just witnessed, he started laughing all over again.
     “What are you doing here?” Mike said as she reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of water.
     “What just happened?”
     In walked Mike’s father, who handed the pup to Jim.
     “Mistaken identity,” Jim said as he playfully nuzzled the docile pup that he would be taking home to his grandson.
     “Dad, you remember Detective Thompson.”
     “Of course, I do, but what about him?” Frank tossed a look over his shoulder to where Tyler had stormed away.
     “That’s my new partner.”
   “Well, tell your partner he’d better take a refresher course on unlawful entry. I could have shot first and asked questions later,” Mike said as she swigged her water.
     It took a minute for Jim to explain why he was there, who Tyler was, and why he thought Tyler was in the house. After all was said and done, Mike felt guilty for being so gruff with the new guy. She grabbed another bottle of water from the fridge and headed to where Tyler was sitting in his truck.
     Tyler watched as she crossed the yard. She was cute, he had to admit that. She was maybe all of 100 pounds and had obviously been out running. She wore blue nylon running shorts and a white tank top that had to be ten times too big for her. Her almost platinum ponytail bobbed up and down as she walked. She was very attractive—that is, until she opened her mouth.
     Walking to the side of Tyler’s oversized truck, Mike closed one eye to block out the glare of the sun.
     “I came to apologize,” she said as she stuck the bottle of water through the rolled-down window as a peace offering.
     Tyler tried to ignore her, but she didn’t budge.
     “Look, I said I’m sorry. If you can’t handle that, then you’ve got bigger problems than procedures and policies.” She turned to walk away.
     “And you’ve got a smart mouth.” Tyler was still mad, and her second indictment of his actions didn’t help matters.
    “Excuse me?” she said as she turned back to Tyler. “You’re the one who should be apologizing to me. You were the one who was where he didn’t belong. You scared me half to death, and then you stormed off like some kind of spoiled brat. You can’t be a very good cop if you can’t admit to screwing up.”
     Mike turned to leave for the second time when Tyler jumped out of his truck and grabbed her arm. He spun her around, sending the water bottle flying. “Talk about spoiled. Who do you think you are, telling me how to do my job? It’s obvious why you work with dead people. Your people skills stink.”
     Mike twisted her arm free from Tyler’s grasp. She was ready to unload on him when Jim yelled at them both. “Knock it off, you two!” Jim walked up to them with the Lab pup in his arms and stretched his neck, moving his head from side to side, trying to dodge the pup that was trying to lick his face. “Look, this was a simple case of mistaken identity. Can’t you two give it a rest?”
    Mike looked at Tyler, and Tyler looked away. “Hey, I did my good deed. I apologized, but that’s obviously not good enough for your Detective Henderson. It was nice seeing you again, Jim. I’m glad you finally made it out here. Don’t be a stranger.” Mike walked away.
      Jim looked at Tyler with concern. He wasn’t sure he wanted a partner with such a short fuse.
      They were almost back at the station when Jim finally broke the silence.
     “So what are you going to do with your days off, Tyler?”
     “I’m not sure. I still have some unpacking to do. Probably just hang around the house.” Tyler’s plans had been to go to the kennel and pick out a dog, but that wasn’t going to happen now.
    “Then let me give you a piece of advice. Take it easy. Relax. I’ve worked with my share of hotheads, and as you can see, they’re not around here anymore. I like you, Tyler. I like you a lot, but I won’t put up with any of that flying-off-the-handle garbage.”
     Tyler was frustrated with himself as he drove home. He’d lost his temper with the M.E. and he knew it, but to have Jim reprimand him made him feel like a rookie. He thought about his argument with Madigan. She had gotten completely under his skin. The accusations she leveled at him incensed him, and he didn’t like the fact that he had been shown up in front of Jim. Although he had never thought of himself as a chauvinist, to be so easily cut down to size by a woman really ticked him off, even if she had been right.