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Excerpt: The Best Man

Excerpt from CHAPTER 1, in which Faith returns to her hometown and is greeted by a not-so-friendly acquaintance from her past.

     

     Levi Cooper, chief of police of the entire Manningsport Police Department, all two and a half of them, tried to give people a break. He did. Even the tourists with the lead feet, Red Sox stickers on their bumpers and complete disregard for speed limits. He parked the cruiser in plain sight, the radar gun clearly visible—Hi there, welcome to Manningsport, you’re going way too fast and here I am, about to pull you over, so slow down, pal. The town depended on visitors, and September was prime tourism season; the leaves were starting to turn, buses had been rolling in and out of town all week, and every vineyard in the area had some special event going on.

     But the law was the law.

 

     Plus, he’d just let Colleen O’Rourke off with a stern lecture and a warning while she tried to look remorseful.

 

     So another speeder just wasn’t going to be tolerated today. This one, for example. Seventeen miles an hour over the limit, more than enough. Also, an out-of-towner; he could see the rental plates from here. The car was a painfully bright yellow Honda Civic, currently clocking in at forty-two miles per hour in a twenty-five mile-an-hour zone. What if Carol Robinson and her merry band of geriatric power-walkers were out? What if the Nebbins kid was riding his bike? There hadn’t been a fatal crash in Manningsport since he’d been chief, and Levi planned on keeping it that way.

 

     The yellow car sailed past him, not even a tap on the brakes. The driver wore a baseball cap and big sunglasses.

     

     Female. With a sigh, Levi put on the lights, gave the siren a blip and pulled onto the road. She didn’t seem to notice. He hit the siren again, and the driver seemed to realize that yes, he was talking to her, and pulled over.

 

     Grabbing his ticket pad, Levi got out of the cruiser. Wrote down the license plate number, then went over to the driver’s side, where the window was lowering. “Welcome to Manningsport,” he said, not smiling.

 

     Shit.

 

     It was Faith Holland. A giant Golden Retriever shoved its head out of the window and barked once, wagging happily.

 

     “Levi,” she said, as if they’d seen each other last week at O’Rourke’s.

 

     “Holland. You visiting?”

 

     “Wow. That’s amazing. How did you guess?”

 

     He looked at her, not amused, and let a few beats pass. It worked; her cheeks flushed, and she looked away. “So. Forty-two in a twenty-five mile-an-hour zone,” he said.

 

     “I thought it was thirty-five,” she said.

 

     “We dropped it last year.”

 

     The dog whined, so Levi petted him, making the dog try to crawl over Faith’s head.

     “Blue, get back,” Faith ordered.

 

     Blue. Right. Same dog as from a few years ago.

     “Levi, how about a warning? I have a, um, a family emergency, so if you could drop the cop act, that’d be super.” She gave him a tight smile, almost meeting his eyes, and pushed her hair behind one ear.

 

     “What’s the emergency?” he said.

 

     “My grandfather is…uh…he’s not feeling well. Goggy’s concerned.”

 

     “Should you lie about stuff like that?” he asked. Levi was well acquainted with the elder Hollands, as they made up about ten percent of his work week. And if Mr. Holland really was under the weather, he’d bet Mrs. Holland would be picking out his funeral clothes and planning a cruise.

 

     Faith sighed. “Look, Levi. I just took the red-eye from San Francisco. Can you give me a break? Sorry I was going too fast.” She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “I’ll take a warning. Can I go now?”

 

     “License and registration, please.”

 

     She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Still got that branch up your ass, I see.”

 

     “License and registration, and please exit the vehicle.”

 

     She mumbled something under her breath, then groped around in the glove compartment, her shirt coming out of her jeans to reveal a patch of creamy flesh. Looked like the fitness revolution had passed her by; then again, she’d always been a little lush ripe chunky, ever since he could remember. The dog took the opportunity to shove his head out again, so Levi scratched him behind the ear.

 

     Faith slammed the glove box shut, shoved some papers in Levi’s hand, got out of the car, nearly hitting him with the door. “Stay put, Blue.” She didn’t look at Levi.

 

     He glanced at her license, then at her.

 

     “Yes, it’s a bad picture,” she snapped. “Want a tissue sample?”

 

     “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. This has expired, though. Another fine.”

 

     Her eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms under her chest. Still had that amazing rack.

 

     “How was Afghanistan?” she asked, looking over his shoulder.

 

     “Really great. I’m thinking of getting a summer place there.”

 

     “You know what I wonder, Levi? Why are some people always such hemorrhoids? You ever wonder that?”

 

     “I do. Are you aware that antagonizing an officer of the law is a felony?”

 

     “Really. How fascinating. Can you get it in gear, please? I want to see my family.”

 

     He signed the paper and handed it to her. She wadded it up and tossed it in the car. “Am I free to go, Officer?”

 

     “It’s Chief now,” he said.

     “See someone about that branch.” She got into the car and drove off. Not too fast, though not slowly, either."