From God Love Her
“No, thanks.” Layla couldn’t find a real smile; the best she could do was a thin, false one. “I’m hoping this won’t take very long.”
Sheppard, steaming paper cup of coffee in one hand and a thick file in the other, paused in the act of sitting down at his desk. They were in the detective squad room, amid the dull chatter and buzzing phones of the other cops. It felt casual; he was trying to put her at ease, make her think they were friends. That she could confide in him. He twitched a frown and settled into his chair. “No,” he agreed, and sounded, almost, disappointed. “I don’t guess it’ll take long.”
As he got sorted – flipping open the file, sipping his coffee – she glanced around the stark squad room. The walls and desk were all standard issue, but many of the other detectives had brought mugs and framed family photos from home. One had an ugly ceramic statue she thought must have been a cat that his child had doubtless made for him. Sheppard’s partner, Barr, was shuffling paperwork and talking on the phone amid a sea of framed school portraits of his kids. Sheppard, though, had nothing but a paperclip holder by way of decoration.
An idea struck her. “You don’t have any pictures,” she said in a conversational tone.
He glanced up; incoming sunlight was unforgiving on the lines around his eyes and mouth. He had silver flecks in the hair at his temples. For all that, he was terribly handsome in a rough, weathered sort of way. But his eyes were dark, and bottomless, and not the cut-crystal blue of Sly’s. Leo Sheppard didn’t wreak havoc on her pulse.
“No,” he said after a long moment. “I don’t.”
She made a sympathetic face. “That sounds lonely.”
He frowned. “It’s not. Alright, let’s – ”
“My boss,” Layla continued, “is a fashion designer. And she’s perpetually single and perpetually angry with the world. She snaps at everyone. Rides us about every little thing. But for a couple weeks last year, she was going out with this fashion blogger…she was a whole new woman. Work was blissful,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes loneliness rubs off on the people around you.”
Sheppard’s face went rigid. “Let me assure you, Miss Russell, that I’m not investigating your family because I need a date.”
She feigned innocence. “I thought you were investigating the man who tried to kill my father. Not my family.”
She imagined she could hear springs triggering. It was a modest trap, but she’d laid it all by herself, and he’d stepped right into it.
He scowled. “Your family,” he said, tone clipped, “has hired known felons to watch out for you. Did you know that?” From the folder came a collection of mug shots that he fanned before her. She recognized the Black Dogs: Rev, Corey, Jaeger, Tim, Doc, Taffy, Bruce, and a few faces she hadn’t met yet.
She went cold all over, but wasn’t about to let him see it. She shrugged. “The Black Dogs,” she said, proud of how mild her voice was. “They’re sweet.”
He snorted. “They’ve all served time. Assault.” Bruce. “Money laundering.” Corey. “Possession.” Jaeger. “Petty theft.” Tim. “And that’s just the charges they’ve been brought up on. God knows how much worse they’ve done. These outlaw biker guys, the real ones, they’re bad news.” A little meaningful eye contact was meant to drive home the point. “They’re a gang, Layla.” His voice dropped and became more intimate – the way it shaped her name – than she was comfortable with. “MCs like this run drugs and guns and hire themselves out as thug security.”
“Detective – ”
“Leo,” he corrected.
“ – I think you’ve watched too much TV. The Black Dogs can’t be as bad as all that.”
His smile was crooked and patronizing. “That’s what he wants you to think, I’m sure.”
“Hammond. You’re with him, aren’t you?”
She didn’t need to ask for clarification. As it turned out, Sheppard had a perceptive streak wider than she would have thought. And if he could tell, in only a moment, that she was with Sly, how obvious was it to the rest of the world?
It ticked her off. “Detective,” Layla said, drawing herself upright. “I expected to come down here and help you identify my father’s shooter; instead, we’re talking about bikers who are totally unrelated to the case, and you’re probing into my love life, which is none of your business. If there’s nothing further of any relevance, I’d like to leave now.”
His face remained taut, but the edges of his ears and ridges of his cheekbones colored. Clearing his throat, he sat back and started collected mug shots. “I do have some things to run by you,” he said. He sounded chastised. His eyes flicked up to hers and were troubled. His voice dropped even lower. “I’m just trying to help,” he said. “I don’t think you know what you’re getting into – ”
She cut him off with a pointed look. “The shooter?”