Friday, May 20, 2022

Read an Excerpt From Big Girls Don't Cry by Taylor Lee



*****Praise for “Big Girls Don’t Cry” ****

“Sizzling Romantic Suspense at its best! As the danger rages, their passions flare!” KDR

“Taking down an international drug ring? Solving a vicious murder? All in a day’s work for the sexy special agent. Capturing an irresistible woman as tough as she is beautiful? Now that’s another story!” L. Takamia


•A girl abandoned to the streets.

A brother brutally murdered.

Can she find his killer before the killer finds her?


Jake slipped in the conference room in time to hear Chief Burton say “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Beloi.”  Even to Jake, the words sounded hollow. The tense young woman sitting across from the chief responded like he’d lobbed a gallon of gasoline on smoldering coals.

Her voice was incredulous, laced with fury. “You are sorry for my loss, Chief?”

Is that what you have to say to me? You are sorry for my loss?” She tossed her head and leaned forward, grasping the arms of the chair, her fingers white with the strain. 

The chief squirmed. The slight flush on his cheeks and greasy sheen on his upper lip telegraphed his discomfort. Jake breathed in the heavy tension in the room, tangled with the smell of burnt coffee and industrial cleaner. The six men huddled around the scarred table looked as uncomfortable as the chief.  Distinguishable only by the colors of their uniforms, they were a striking contrast to the blond woman in her fitted red suit glaring at the chief. 

Her anger was harsh, unrelenting. “Who taught you to say that, Chief?  Some shrink years ago told you that’s what grieving families wanted to hear?  That you were sorry that they lost something? Like a dog or a cat?? How about if they “lost” a mother or a father or a child--or in my case, a brother? Did it ever occur to you, Chief, to change your script? To look the person in the eye and say to those shattered souls sitting across from you, ‘I’m sorry as hell, ma’am, that your husband was killed?’ Or, ‘sure am sorry that your kid drowned, or hate like heck that your wife was murdered, sir!’ Maybe, Chief Burton, that way you could establish the fact that they “lost” something important!”

Chief Burton breathed an audible sigh. “Look, Miss Beloi, I know what you are feeling…”

Her voice shot out emphasizing the sharp crack of her hand on the table.  The chief visibly jumped. “No, Chief Burton, you do not know how I feel.  You cannot begin to know how I feel. And you don’t need to know.  You don’t need to know what Anthony meant to me.  You don’t deserve to know that.  You don’t deserve to know that he was the finest brother anyone could have. The finest man I’ve ever known.  But you already know that, don’t you, Chief?  You know what kind of a man, a cop, Anthony was.”

The chief swallowed and leaned forward, the creases on his lined forehead knotted in deep crevices. 

“Miss Beloi, I know you are upset. Can I get something for you, a glass of water, a cup of coffee?  Maybe, it…would be better to have this conversation when you settle down…”

The words weren’t out of his mouth when the woman leapt to her feet. She planted her hands midway across the table, her face inches from his. Her voice shook with anger. “Don’t you dare patronize me.”

The men around the table looked down.  The sounds of uneasy coughs, shuffling papers, and chairs scraping against linoleum, filled the heavy silence following her impassioned outcry.

Jake took this moment to move toward the table.

“Mind if I join you, Chief?”

Relief flooded the older man’s strained face. He met Jake’s eyes with a grateful nod and motioned to the chair at the end of the table. 

“Please, Jake, have a seat.”

Several men in military uniform rose as Jake approached. He waved them down with a flick of his wrist. 

He stood behind the chair at the end of the table and waited until he had the young woman’s attention.  He nodded to her. “Special Agent Jake Gardner, Army CID. Please, ma’am, sit down.”

She glared at him, transferring her palpable anger from the relieved police chief to him. She raised her chin defiantly and straightened her slim shoulders.

“Why should I?” 

Jake allowed a slight smile to cross his lips. 

“For one thing, protocol demands that I stay standing as long as you do.” He added, his drawl deepening, “And because my Grandmother Winnie Mae would have my hide if I sat down before a lady did.”

Lexie glared at the tall dark haired man at the end of the table. The bars and scrambled egg insignia decorating his camouflage signified his status. She knew she was close to losing it. Her heart pounded and she struggled to breathe. Her legs were shaking, a combination of stress and rage. The sea of faces blurred. Only the man’s piercing blue eyes holding her gaze made any sense. She realized with a start that he would stand as long as she did. With a dismissive shrug, she sunk down in her chair, wondering incongruously if real people had grandmothers with names like Winnie Mae.  

Refusing to acknowledge the concern that she saw in his eyes, she snapped, “Why are you here? What does CID have to do with my brother’s death?  Didn’t the army get enough of him for eight years, sending him to every hellhole in the world? Now you need to be involved in his death, as well? Or do you need to write up one of your fancy reports so that the army can close one more troublesome file like Chief Burton is trying to do.” 

She ignored the gasps from several of the younger military personnel and the chagrin tightening the chief’s face. Agent Gardner threw the chief a quick glance, frowning slightly. Lexie refused to look away when he turned his full attention to her. His easy smile and southern tinged drawl were noticeably absent when he replied. 

“In answer to your question, Miss Beloi, I am here because Anthony’s body was found on the base. This means that even though he was an employee of the Yuma Police Department at the time of his death, the army is directly responsible for finding his killer. I assure you that no reports, fancy or otherwise, will be written, or files closed by the army or the YPD, until the person or persons responsible for his death are apprehended and punished.”  

Lexie was startled. No one had told her they found Anthony on the base. She stared at Special Agent Gardner for a long moment, surprised that he called her brother by his first name. She decided she would deal with him later. For now, she wouldn’t let him take the heat off the unfortunate police chief. She knew that she was being rude, challenging, but she refused to let these men push her aside, not answer her questions. To relegate her to the bin of grieving family members begging for information that never came.

She opened her leather portfolio and removed a sheet of paper with the YPD logo inscribed on the top.  Ignoring Special Agent Gardner, she shoved it across the table toward the chief. 

“I assume you are the Chief John Burton who sent me this letter.  The letter indicates once again that you are ‘sorry for my loss’ and goes on to say that to date you have no suspects or leads to the people who killed Anthony.”

The police chief’s ruddy face flushed a dangerous purple. He shook his head and rubbed his fists against his receding hairline. 

“Look, Miss Beloi, I’ll admit, given the circumstances, that letter does seem ….

Lexie interrupted him with a fierce glare. 

“Seems what, Chief? Not helpful? Dismissive? Thoughtless? But you didn’t let me finish reading.  I was particularly interested in this last sentence.” She stopped and looked up at him and pointed to the letter her eyes flashing. “Here, where you say that ‘due to the lack of hard evidence, I do not expect to have additional information for you any time in the near future. Cordially, John Burton, Chief of Police, City of Yuma.’”

A hushed silence fell over the table. Lexie looked from to man, but none of them met her gaze. Rather they peered at the table or began leafing through their large folders. Agent Gardner’s crisp voice broke the silence. “May I please see the letter, John?”

The chief rubbed his beefy hand over his jaw and reluctantly handed the letter to Deputy Nick Thomas, who gave it to Agent Gardner.

Lexie ignored Agent Gardner’s dark study of the letter and focused on Chief Burton. 

The chief raised his hands with an aggrieved shrug. 

“I know this looks bad.  Like we don’t care about you or that we didn’t care about what happened to your brother.  You don’t have to believe me, Miss Beloi, but Lt. Beloi’s death has torn this department apart.  Every available man and woman we have is working the case. That letter was a mistake. It’s…it’s a fucking form letter. I apologize.  You know your brother worked undercover. His job was dangerous as hell.  I … I should have explained that we have to keep our investigation under wraps. The last thing we want is to let our investigation blow all the hard work Lt. Beloi accomplished.”

Lexie continued to stare at him, then agreed. “Yes, I know the kind of work Anthony did. But he never discussed his missions with me. That was his choice.  He tried to protect me.  He didn’t want his work to touch me, to affect me.” 

Staring at her clenched fists in her lap, the hideous irony struck her.  Anthony always worried that something bad would happen to her because of his dangerous work. The scum he chased. But they’d gone after him, not her.  And he was right. The worst possible thing had happened to her. The person she loved more than anything in the world was dead. She looked up realizing that the chief was talking to her.  

He pointed at the big man sitting confidently at the end of the table. “Special Agent Gardner here just came in from Fort Bragg. Since Anthony’s body was found on the base, we’ll be sharing jurisdiction.” 

Looking to the special agent, the chief heaved an enormous sigh and shook his head. “Hell, Jake, I hope you don’t think for a minute that we aren’t damn glad that you’re on the case. That’s the only good news we’ve had in this whole mess. We can use all the help we can get.  Christ, you get into the drug rings here and it’s like pokin’ your head in a wasp’s nest looking for the one wasp with a green stripe on his ass instead of a black one.”

Lexie stood and began sorting her papers. She threw Agent Gardner a dismissive nod. 

“Please give me my letter.  I need it so I am clear where I stand with the Yuma Police Department.”

Agent Gardner nodded in return and sent the letter back up the table. She didn’t thank him or even acknowledge him. Instead, as she had throughout the conversation, she turned on the Chief. 

“I’m sure you are pleased that Special Agent Gardner has graced you with his presence. No doubt you men will have many long sessions--bull sessions--testing each other’s theories, looking for strengths and weaknesses in your arguments.  Perhaps you will make charts, blueprints, and spreadsheets of all the important information you gather. In the meantime, while you are attending your meetings, preparing your various reports for each and every level of government trying to cover its ass, I will be gathering real information.  From the only source that counts, the streets.”
    She gave Chief Burton a frosty smile.  She tapped on the table, a harsh rasping sound as if to get his attention.  The huge man looked as if he didn’t dare look away. 

“Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. I’ll be back.  Please have a list of the men who worked undercover with Anthony. I need their telephone numbers and email addresses. I also want all the reports that have been turned in to date, along with transcriptions of interviews with any and all witnesses.” She dropped her folio in her large canvas bag and slung it over her shoulder. “Oh, and I want a copy of the full autopsy report.” 

Agent Gardner and the chief rose to their feet at the same time.  Clearly flustered, the chief protested, “Now, listen here, young lady, you know very well we can’t give out that kind of information to a private citizen.  This is an ongoing investigation.”

Alexis lifted her chin and said in a haughty voice. “Really? I understood from your letter that your investigation is at a dead end.”  Before he could answer, she turned and walked toward the door.  Looking back over her shoulder, she seared him with one last glare. 

“Whatever you don’t give me, Chief Burton, I will find on my own.”

Agent Gardner moved quickly to the door.  

“Alexis, wait, please.  I will see you out.”

Lexie frowned, annoyed and surprised that he called her by her first name.  The familiarity rankled. Clearly he was accustomed to issuing orders – even if they came dressed in southern chivalry.
    She tossed her head and slanted him a glare as cold as those she’d showered on the chief of police for the previous hour. 

“Don’t bother.  I saw myself in. I can see myself out.”

He reached around her and opened the door, enclosing her between the door and his huge body. Looming over her, he took hold of her elbow and led her into the hallway. Pulling the door behind them, he said with a slight chuckle, “Grandmothers and all that.” 

When the door closed, he turned to her with a serious expression. 

“Alexis, I want to talk with you. Do you have time to come to my office? It is just around the corner.”

Lexie shook her head and stepped away.  His presence was overwhelming.  This big man made her nervous.  Without dwelling on it, she knew it was his uniform. He wore the ACU camouflage that Anthony used to wear. The green beret visible in his pants pocket said it all. From the steely-eyed way he looked at her, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to push him around the way she had the chief.  Unlike the police chief, Agent Gardner was quietly confident, not the least intimidated by her. He was looking at her, as if he had something important to say. It frightened her.  

She wanted to leave.  The meeting had taken its toll.  The references to Anthony, hearing his name spoken by people she didn’t know, people she didn’t want to know, was painful. Each time she heard his name, the reality hit her, a physical blow. Anthony was dead.  And tomorrow she would look at his personal things, his autopsy report. The experience with the eight men had shaken her foundation. She’d managed to put on a good act. But she could tell from the way her legs were shaking that she only had minutes before the panic flared. She needed air.  Or to run.  Anything to leave this building where death was a common topic of conversation, where grief stricken people sat in ugly metal chairs waiting to talk with the men and women who faced death and grief too often to let it affect them.  

She glanced up to see Agent Gardner looking at her through narrowed eyes, knowing eyes. The kindness in his expression unnerved her, threatened her shaky reserves.  It took her a moment to remember his question. He wanted to talk to her. Keep her longer, to talk about Anthony. 

“No, I… I can’t.  I need to leave now.” She stumbled as she backed away, and muttered to herself, “these damn high heels.”

He caught her arm, steadying her, and nodded as if he understood.

“I see.” 

When she jerked away from his grasp, he added, “How about tomorrow when you come to pick up the things you requested from Chief Burton?”

Remembering the flustered police chief’s response to her outrageous demands, she gave a soft snort, “If he’ll give them to me.”

“I’ll see that he gives you everything that he’s allowed to give.”

Surprised at his calm acceptance of her demands, she murmured, “Thank you.”

His quiet certainty reassured her and disturbed her at the same time.  This was a man accustomed to commanding.  Strong men and women did what he told them to do and didn’t ask questions. She wondered what happened to his quiet authority when someone – someone like her—bucked his requests.  When she looked up at him, she saw he had not moved. He regarded her solemnly, as if he was drilling down, beneath the hard shell she kept tightly sheathed around her. 

“Tomorrow, then?”

She took another step backward, glancing over her shoulder at the exit that seemed far down the hallway. His knowing look threatened her –and annoyed her. 

“I don’t know.  It depends on how the meeting goes with the chief.  And… my schedule, what else I have going on...”

She couldn’t believe the way that her voice trailed off. God, had she actually stammered?  What was wrong with her?  What was it about him that was so unsettling? Of all the people she had met in this hideous place, he was the kindest, the most competent.  He actually could help her. But there was something about him that disturbed her. He would demand things of her in return, more than she was willing to give. He would want to know her, know what she was thinking, worm his way under the reserves it had taken her a lifetime to construct. 

His quiet response broke through her jumbled reverie. 

“I see.”

Then just as she knew in her gut that he would, he pressed, wanted more. 

“I’m curious, Alexis. Have you ever read an autopsy report?” 

She closed her eyes to shut out the gruesome memories. When she opened them he was frowning at her, his concern apparent. She looked him in the eye.

“I’ve seen my share of dead bodies, Agent Gardner.  Does that count?”


She frowned. “What?” 

“The name’s Jake.” 

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