Excerpt: Magnolia Moon

Book 3 : The Callahan Brothers

Magnolia Moon (Callahan Brother Series) by JoAnn Ross

Chapter One

“If you’re calling Finn to find out why I’m here, he won’t be able to tell you. Because he doesn’t know.”

Regan folded her arms across the front of her black silk blouse, angled her head, and narrowed her eyes. “Why not?”

“Because I didn’t want to bother him with details.”

Details. She already had so many damn details to deal with, she felt as if she was being nibbled to death by killer ducks. “Look, if your car got towed and you need help getting it out of impound, you’re out of luck, because we don’t do that here. Nor do I fix speeding tickets. If you want me to arrest someone, unless you’re talking about a murder, I don’t have the time to get involved, but you’re free to file a complaint with the desk sergeant.”

She picked up a heavy blue binder. The murder book contained everything she’d gathered during the course of her investigation, and she’d spent the few hours between last night’s bust and this morning memorizing pertinent facts for today’s court testimony.

He tucked his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans, rocked back on his heels, and appeared to contemplate the matter. Regan had participated in countless interrogations over the years, and had learned from some of the best cops in the business, but she’d never met anyone who could draw a pause out so long.

“My car’s back home,” he said finally. “I don’ know anyone who’s been murdered, at least not lately, and except for the street crew that spent last night jackhammering through the pavement outside my hotel room window, I don’t really have any complaints.”

His slow, easy smile was a contrast to the thoughtful look he skimmed over her face. Even knowing that after all the surgeries she’d undergone, her facial scars were more imagined than real, she was still discomforted by such silent scrutiny. Especially from a man whose own face could have washed off a cathedral ceiling.

“As for why I came, well, it’s a long story.”

“Then you’re really out of luck. Because I have to be in court in thirty”–she glanced down at her watch “make that twenty-five minutes. And counting.”

“That’s okay. I’ll ride along with you, and we can talk on the way.”

“The LAPD police force is not a taxi service. And even if I were willing to allow a civilian to tag along, which I’m not, there wouldn’t be any conversation, because I’ll be going over the details of my testimony on the way.”

“Finn’s a stickler for details, too.” The nicks and scars on the hand he skimmed over his hair seemed at odds with his pretty face. “We can talk over lunch.”

“I wasn’t planning to eat lunch.” She’d be lucky to score a candy bar from the courthouse vending machine. “So, why don’t we just cut to the chase, and you can tell me what you’re doing here.”

“Like I said, it’s a long story. And personal.”

“I don’t want to offend you, Mr. Callahan, but unless you’ve committed homicide, I’m not terribly interested in your personal life.”

“Not mine, chère. Yours.”

Regan would have sworn there was no longer anything that could surprise her. She would have been wrong.

“It won’t take very long,” he coaxed when she didn’t immediately respond. “If I wanted to dump it on you without any explanation, I would have used the mail and not bothered flying all this way. So, since my flight back home doesn’t leave until this evening, how about I jus’ come to the courthouse and we can talk after you wrap up your testimony.”

His voice might be as smooth as whiskey sauce over a rich bread pudding, but she refused to be charmed. “They don’t have phones in Louisiana?”

“Sure they do. Even in Blue Bayou. That’s a nice little town in the south of the state, down by the Gulf,” he volunteered. “I’m mayor.

“Good for you. 
 
He was certainly the antithesis of the stereotypical sweaty, overweight, south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line politician wearing a rumpled white suit, seated on a veranda in a rocking chair, sipping from a silver flask of Southern Comfort. “And the reason you didn’t just pick up a telephone and call was…?”

“I thought you’d rather talk face-to-face.”

She really did have to get going. Judge Otterbein, a stickler for time, ran his courtroom with the precision of a Swiss watch.

Once again he seemed to sense her thoughts. “I promise I won’t say a word on the way to the courthouse.”

The room had gone unnaturally quiet. Aware they were drawing the attention of every detective in the bullpen, she reached for the gray wool jacket draped over the back of her chair. Moving with surprising speed for someone so seemingly laid-back, he beat her to it.

“I can do that,” she muttered, taken off guard as he held it out for her.

“Sure you can,” he said agreeably, “But my daddy taught me to help a lady into her coat.”

“I’m a detective, not a lady,” she reminded him as she slid her arms into the sleeves. “And your father might want to think about joining the twenty-first century.”

“Now, that might be a little hard for him to do. Seein’ how he’s passed on.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not surprised Finn didn’t mention it, since my big brother’s not real talkative on a good day. Anyway, it was a long time ago.”

A less observant woman might have missed the shadow that moved across his lake blue eyes. Regan didn’t need her detective skills to spot the NO Trespassing sign. Nate Callahan wasn’t that old, she mused as they walked out of the station toward the police garage. Maybe thirty, thirty-one tops. So, how long was a long time ago?

Not that she cared.

Since the remote hadn’t worked for weeks, she unlocked both car doors with the key. “Since I like and respect your brother, I’m willing to hear you out,” she said. “But until court’s adjourned, I have more important things to focus on. Say one word, and I’ll have to shoot you.”

“Works for me,” he said agreeably as he climbed in beside her.

“Fasten your seatbelt.” She jerked her own shut.

Neither spoke as they cruised into the steady stream of traffic, engine valves rattling. Since the teenage Front Street Crip defendant was the son of a city council-woman, this was one of her more high-profile murder cases. TV news vans, their satellite uplinks pointed skyward, lined the street outside the courthouse. Wanting to avoid an appearance on the six-o’clock news, Regan pulled into the underground parking garage.

“I know I promised to keep my mouth shut, but you wouldn’t shoot me if I say jus’ one little thing. Would you?”

“What?”

He turned toward her, putting his hand on the back of her seat. A standard seduction ploy that hadn’t worked since she was fourteen and Tom Hardinger had copped a feel while they’d been sitting in the back row of the Village Theater in Westwood, watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Apparently undeterred by the gun in its holster on the waistband of her skirt, he leaned toward her, close enough so Regan could smell the coffee and Juicy Fruit on his breath. Close enough to make her muscles tense. Too close for comfort.

“You sure do smell good, chère. “

“Detective.” She cut the engine and climbed out of the driver’s seat. “And I’m not wearing perfume.” His warm blue gaze fastened on hers over the roof of the car. Regan’s stomach fluttered. Telling herself that’s what she got for skipping breakfast, she ignored it.

“I know.” His grin was slow and sexy and had undoubtedly seduced legions of southern belles. “Detective, chère.”

Steeling herself against that bone-melting smile, she turned and began walking across the garage with long, determined strides, heels tapping on the concrete floor.

For Finn’s sake, she’d listen to whatever Nate Callahan had to say, which she suspected wasn’t nearly as personal or intriguing as he’d tried to make it sound. Then, before the sun sank into the Pacific, she’d send the man home and get back to chasing the bad guys.