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(Book 4 in the Stripped Series)



Copyright © 2018 Stacy-Deanne

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

Readers: Thanks so much for choosing my book! I would be very appreciative if you would leave reviews when you are done. Much love!


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Other titles by Stacy-Deanne Include:

Bruised Series

Tate Valley Sexy Suspense Series

The Seventh District

Dead Weight

You’re the One

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Author’s Note:

The Stripped Series is a spinoff of the Bruised Series featuring Dee, Winston, Lisa, Connie, Grayson, and Jake. The Bruised Series focused on Jake and Lisa while the Stripped Series focuses on Dee and Winston.

If you haven’t read the Bruised Series and would like to check it out, the entire series is available on all retailers.



(One Month after Damaged Left Off)

“Someone, help!” Jonathan Wild scrambled through the first floor of the Baltimore clinic pulling the bloodied, half-naked woman by her arm. “Help!” He pushed through the crowded waiting room and rushed to the nurse at the front desk. “She needs help now.”

“What happened to her?” the nurse asked.

“I was driving, and she ran out into the street in front of my car. A man was chasing her.”

The nurse’s auburn eyebrows rose. “Can you describe the man?”

“I only saw a glimpse of his face. He was about my height, white and had an evil look with empty eyes.” Jonathan rubbed the girl’s matted, dirty-blonde hair. “She said he tried to kill her.”

The nurse ogled the woman. “What’s her name?”

“I don’t know her damn name. Does it matter what? She’s bleeding to death.”

“Okay.” The nurse hopped her fat ass out the chair and tromped from the counter. “Come with me, sweetie.” She took the woman’s shivering hand and led her from the room.

Another nurse got a clipboard with a thick form. “If a crime happened we’re obligated to call the police.”

“I already did and told them where I’d be.” Jonathan rubbed his forehead, realizing he’d gotten blood on his hands.

“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” He huffed and puffed holding his waist.

“Are you related to her or—”

“No.” He exhaled into his hand. “I saved her.”

“Saved her?” The nurse readied her pen to write. “What happened?”


“Mr. Wild?” A tall black man with caramel-brown skin and a pretty-boy smile approached Jonathan in the waiting room forty minutes later. “I’m Detective Emory Fitts.” He extended his large hand, his clothes hanging loose on his slender body. “Nice to meet you.”
Jonathan looked him over as he shook his hand.

A speck of white forced itself from Emory’s honey-brown eyes. “I work with Dee Quarter.”

Jonathan tingled at the sound of Dee’s name. “I didn’t kidnap her like she says.”

Emory’s low-cut hairline rose from his narrow forehead. “The young lady you saved is nineteen-year-old Candra Martel.”

Jonathan watched a woman get a soda from the vending machine. “Will she be all right?”
“I’m glad to say she will be.”

Jonathan exhaled.

Emory sat in the orange chair beside Jonathan. “She was stabbed over ten times.”

“That’s why she was bleeding so much.” Emory clasped his hands, his sterling silver bracelet sliding on his wrist. “She was leaving her boyfriend’s house and the man you saw her with abducted her.” The creases in Emory’s cheeks flattened. “He took her to the woods and tried to kill her. She somehow fought back and ran. She’d been running for about ten minutes when you came across her.”


Emory leaned forward. “I’m investigating the Dania Shorter case. Heard of her?”

“It’s been all over the local news. She was the eighteen-year-old who was brutally murdered by that maniac.” Jonathan rubbed his buzz cut. “What does this have to do with tonight?”

“The prime suspect in Dania’s murder is Ro Chavis. Candra’s incident seems very similar to what happened to Dania. Dania was abducted in the same area Candra was and we speculate she was taken to the same woods where Chavis killed Dania. Chavis claims they went on a date and the murder happened after they parted ways.” Emory tapped his foot. “I gave him the benefit of the doubt until people said they saw Dania in Ro’s car hours after he claimed he dropped her off at home. Top that off with him not having a solid alibi for where he was during the time Dania was attacked, I knew he was lying.”

“You think this guy tried to kill Candra?”

Emory nodded. “If we can link him to Candra, it will be hard for him to deny that he’s not the same man who killed Dania. I showed Candra Ro’s picture.” He took out his phone. “But she can’t be sure of what he looked like. She says it was too dark, she was scared and things happened too fast. I’m hoping you can help.” Emory switched his phone to a photo of a white man with a hard, square face and protruding forehead.

“My god.” Jonathan grabbed the phone. “That’s the man Candra was running from.”
“That’s Ro Chavis.” Emory closed his eyes and a light smile appeared. “Mr. Wild, you have no idea how important you’ve just become to this case.”


“Ooh.” Detective Dee Quarter dropped her fork, her stomach turning from the medium-rare beef tenderloin swimming in blood on her plate. “Goodness.” She held her thighs, fighting nausea.

“Are you all right?” Winston Lewis chewed duck breast across the table.

They sat on the terrace of her favorite restaurant because Dee loved watching the movements of the city while eating but nothing took her mind off the horrific murder scene she’d examined a few hours earlier.

“Is your stomach upset or something?” Winston handed Dee her wineglass. “Maybe this will settle your stomach.”

“I’m fine.” She cleared her throat. “What was I saying?”

“You were talking about the Keng family.”

“Winston, it was awful. I hadn’t seen a crime scene that gruesome in a long time.”

Winston’s royal-blue eyes twinkled underneath the lights that brightened the night air. “The entire family was killed?”

“Yes, Normand, Tabitha and their sixteen-year-old daughter Faith.” Dee sighed, propping her elbow on the table. “All shot to death multiple times in their beds while they were sleeping.” She nibbled on her fingernail. “We found no clues at all but it seemed like they were ambushed.”

Winston chewed, his eyes widening.

“Brutal crimes like this rarely happen in Little Korea.” Dee chewed the mushy green beans. “Normand ran a grocery store and Tabitha stayed at home. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nothing out of the ordinary. Mr. Keng was shot so badly he was nearly decapitated.”

“Dee.” Winston touched his stomach.
“I’m sorry.” She chuckled, her long wavy weave blowing in the soft breeze. “Tonight is supposed to be about us and I’m bringing up work.”

“Sometimes you got to leave it at the station.” He winked. “Take a lesson from me.”

She faked a smile and cut into the beef, when she looked up, her eyes met Winston’s magnetic gaze.

“What is it?”
She slid her fork through the wine sauce. “He keeps calling.”
“Jonathan?” He sat back, his gorgeous face contorting. “I told you to change your number.”
“I’m not letting him run my life. He thinks he won’t go to prison but I’m not stopping until his ass is locked up.” Dee caught the gaze of the pointy-faced white woman at the next table. “Jonathan’s gotten away with things for too long and it ends now.”

He nodded with tight lips. “Let me end it then you won’t need the courts.”

“The last thing I need is you assaulting him again and making things worse.” She took his hand. “I love that you want to protect me but this is my battle, babe. I need to be the one who fights it.”

He kissed her hand, his lips forming a frisky smile. “Let’s go to your place. Isn’t Lydia still out of town visiting Cam?”

She nodded, grinning.

“Then we’ll be alone.”

“Detective Lewis. ” Dee looked at him from underneath her lashes. “You wouldn’t be trying to take advantage of me, would you?”

He grabbed her from the table and gave her a passionate kiss that weakened her knees. “What do you think?”


The Next Day

“It’s unimaginable what’s happened.” Sixty-year-old Hyeon Shim sat beside his wife Sora, on the suede, topaz-brown sectional, which brought warmth to the stuffy living room. “The Kengs were like family. In our faith, we consider all Jehovah’s Witnesses kin.”

Dee sat on the turquoise ottoman while her partner Detective Connie Wilks checked out the photos on the fireplace.

“Hyeon and I couldn’t believe what happened.” Sora’s high cheekbones sunk into her long face as her slanted eyes gazed upon the beige carpet. “I’d just spoken to Tabitha yesterday morning.” She lifted her head, her thin, jet-black hair stopped at her shoulders. “She seemed so vibrant and full of life and now she’s gone.”

“How long have you been the minister at the church?” Dee asked, getting out her notepad.

Hyeon’s face relaxed, his Asian eyes shrinking more. “We don’t call our places of worship ‘churches’. They’re Kingdom Halls and we refer to our ministers as ‘ministerial servants’. In our religion, we work as a group and the elders lead our faith.”

Dee faked a smile, feeling a fool.

“I’ve been at the Little Korea Kingdom Hall for thirty years,” Hyeon said.

“That’s a long time.” Connie took a seat on the couch. “You must be dedicated.”

“When you’re called on a mission by Jehovah, you have no choice but to fulfill it.” Hyeon smiled through paper-thin lips. “You can say the calling was instilled in me from my father.” He crossed his legs in white slacks. “He escaped from North Korea when he was nineteen and studying the faith is not allowed there. You can be killed for being a Jehovah’s Witness even to this day.”

The brightness left Connie’s green eyes. “It’s amazing how your father chose his faith over even his life.”

“My father was a very honorable man. When he came to Baltimore, he worked hard, opened his own jewelry shop and became one of the most revered citizens in the neighborhood. Everyone looked up to him because he’d lived through the harshness others had only heard about. He died ten years ago but I think of him every day.”

“I see where you get your pride from.” Dee smiled. “Your father’s spirit’s in you.”

“If it hadn’t been for Hyeon’s father there might not be a Little Korea in Baltimore.” Sora smiled. “It was because of him other Koreans migrated to the area and built this community.”

Connie pushed her blonde hair behind her ears. “Is every member of your congregation Korean?”

“Yes,” Sora said. “But we welcome people of all nationalities of course.”

Hyeon looked at his wife. “It’ll be a long time before I get over what happened to the Kengs.”
“Such a lovely family,” Sora said. “Faith was an A-student and only sixteen with a scholarship to Stanford already.” Her lips wiggled. “She was to study medicine.”

“Hm.” Connie sighed.

Sora switched her stare to her husband.

“What?” Dee asked. “If you have something to say that can help us please do. That’s why we’re here.”

Hyeon laid his wrinkled, yellow hand over his wife’s knee. “We don’t want to cause trouble where there is none.”
“You don’t have to be afraid,” Dee said. “What you tell us will stay between us.”

“Faith had an ex-boyfriend,” Sora said. “Normand and Tabitha couldn’t stand him because he was dangerous.”

Connie bit her lip. “How?”

“He’s in a gang,” Sora whispered. “We don’t know what they’re called but they wear a lot of blue.”

“The K-Town Crips?” Dee squinted. “Also known as The Korean Town Crips. They’re a subset of the Baltimore Crips.”

Hyeon’s breathing turned shallow. “The Kengs forbad Faith to have anything to do with this boy and he didn’t take that lightly.”

Connie scrunched her face. “How in the world did someone of Faith’s caliber meet up with a member of the K-Town Crips?”

The Shims shrugged.
Dee positioned her pen to write. “What’s his name and where can we find him?”

Sora’s long nose rose as her face twisted. “His name is Donn Cho, and he’s eighteen. He’s about five-nine, skinny, where’s blue suspenders all the time and has his hair shaved on one side and long on the other.”

“There’s a skating park where the kids hang out,” Hyeon said. “He’s there a lot.”


Dee and Connie arrived at the K-Town Sports Park, which sat in the heart of Little Korea surrounded by strip malls and other recreational facilities.

The detectives made their way through the outdoor maze as kids from elementary school age to high school performed twists and turns on the concrete slopes that reached the clouds.

“Jesus.” Connie shielded her eyes from the sun as a little Asian boy, around seven or eight, flew past the officers on his skateboard. “I’m getting nauseous just watching. Could you do that?”

“Do I look like I know anything about skateboarding?” Dee watched a heavyset girl flip and then cruise on the concrete. “You go, girl.” She gave the girl the thumbs up. “Girl power.”

The little girl smiled with her braces catching the sunlight.

Connie followed Dee past the tables and benches saying, “A kid fitting Donn’s description shouldn’t be too hard to find if he’s here.”

The kids howled as a boy on a yellow and black BMX bike, rode up the railing and into the air, shifted his front wheel and landed on the railing in perfect fashion.

“Wow.” Connie clapped, chuckling. “These kids could show Tony Hawk a thing or two.”

The BMX rider who appeared to be in his late teens or early 20’s, rode off the platform and into a smooth stop.

“That was the shit, Donn!” Another boy patted the rider’s back. “Gotta show me that sometime.”
“What do you know?” Dee rocked on her heels. “Is God smiling down on us or what?”
“Excuse me?” Connie rushed toward Donn as he took off his helmet, revealing a half-shaved head. “Donn Cho?”

He got off the bike. “Yeah?” The oversized, black T-shirt and baggy denim shorts swallowed him.

“I’m Detective Connie Wilks.” She showed her badge. “This is Detective Dee Quarter. We’re homicide.”

Donn’s puny cheeks filled with air. “Is this about the Kengs?”

“You were Faith’s boyfriend, weren’t you?” Dee asked.
He hung his helmet on the bike, the tiny K tattoo flexing on his wrist.

“We heard her parents made her dump you,” Connie said. “Also heard you weren’t too happy about that.”

“Fuck, man.” He crossed his arms and leaned on the bike. “Her parents ain’t even know about us until a month into the relationship. I liked her, but she was always whining about them finding out. Her folks said she couldn’t see me and I was cool with it. Ain’t like I don’t have enough chicks to go around.”

Dee rolled her eyes. “Don’t take this the wrong way but you don’t strike me as a big ladies man, Donn.”

“How did you meet Faith?”

“At this party.” He removed his bike gloves. “We clicked.” A smirk eased over his moist lips. “She was fine. I didn’t want no relationship or nothing. I was just trying to hit it but there was something about her I couldn’t shake.”

“You were in love with her.”

He avoided eye contact with Dee. “I’m sorry for what happened to her. She ain’t deserve that.”

“What about her parents?” Connie’s hair blew in her face. “Did they?”

“I didn’t do nothing to those people all right? I left Faith alone when they told me to. She’s the one who kept calling me.”

“Interesting tat.” Dee pointed to his wrist. “Looks like a K-Town Crips tattoo.”

“I’m not no Crip.”

“Sure about that?” Connie asked. “Because the K-Town Crips wouldn’t like you false claiming, which would be what you’re doing if you have that tattoo and not a member.”

“I have nothing to do with that murder and it’s none of your business if I’m a Crip or not.”

“That murder scene was nasty.” Dee whistled. “Reminded me of a murder the K-Town Crips were accused of a few years ago. Ambushing seems to be their style.”

“We don’t kill folks in their sleep.” He did a gang sign. “When we wanna kill you, we do it looking straight in their eyes.”

Dee smirked. “It’s nice to meet the real Donn.”

“I gotta go.” He turned his bike in the opposite direction.

“Wait,” Dee said. “Can you point us to someone we should talk to?”

“Why should I?”

“Because you’re not in a position to say no.” Connie stood on the other side of the bike. “If you don’t know who killed the Kengs then it shouldn’t matter, right?”

“I don’t know shit about Faith’s parents except they go to church and her Daddy owned that store. You talk to Priti Yi yet?”

“Who’s that?” Dee asked.

“That’s Faith’s best friend.” Donn straightened his bike. “Maybe she knows something but other than that I can’t tell you shit.”

He jumped on the bike and rode away.


“No fuckin’ way!” Winston slapped papers off his office desk at the police station. “Jonathan Wild is not getting a deal.”

“You think I want to make a deal with that creep?” Emory touched the gun on his waist. “I don’t have a choice.”

“Then get a choice.” Winston marched from around his desk. “What he did was bad enough but he’s not supposed to pay now?”

“Course he is.” Emory stuck out his chest. “But, we’re cops, Winston. Sometimes we got to make deals when we don’t want to.”

“This is the woman I love we’re talking about.” He stood back, rubbing his disheveled, brown curls. “I’m not selling her out for nothing.”

“Do you want the man who killed Dania Shorter to walk?”

Winston turned toward his desk and closed his eyes.

“Because that’s what will happen if—”

“What in the world is going on?” Dee stood in the doorway, her eyes exploding from her ravishing, brown skin. “The whole station can hear you two.”

Winston presented a shaky smile to play off his anger. “How’s your case going?”

“It’s going.” Dee tipped into the office. “Emory, you look like you’re about to shit yourself.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets, glaring at Winston. “This isn’t easy for me to say, but you gotta know. Jonathan—”

“Emory.” Winston squared his shoulders. “I’ll tell her.”

“Tell me what?” Dee looked back and forth at the men.

Emory half-smiled as he left the office.

“Something tells me I won’t like this conversation,” Dee said. “You got one of those faces that can tell what you’re thinking before you say it.”

Winston picked up the photo of him and Dee hugging and smiling.

She took it and set it back on the desk. “Talk.”

“I wish there was an easier way to say this.” He plopped into the squeaky recliner behind his desk. “Jonathan wants a deal for his testimony.”
Her arched eyebrows wrinkled. “What testimony?”

“It’s about the Dania Shorter case.” He rubbed the soft hairs on his chin. “Jonathan can identify Ro Chavis as the killer.”

She sat in the chair across from him and blew out her cheeks, looking more gorgeous by the minute.

“Emory’s known it was Ro for a while but couldn’t get anything substantial on him. Jonathan saved this young woman, Candra Martel, and she was abducted and stabbed the same way Dania was.”

“Wait, how did that even happen?”

“Apparently, Jonathan was in Baltimore.” Winston swallowed. “Probably watching you and in the process, he saved Candra.”

“God.” Dee rubbed her forehead.

“Jonathan says he’ll testify for the prosecution to get Ro if they’ll give him immunity for kidnapping you.”

“No.” Dee stood. “No, Winston.”

“Honey.” He jumped up and rushed to her. “Listen—”

“That bastard almost ruined my life.” She grabbed his shirt. “He stole my memory, kept me prisoner, and thinks he shouldn’t have to pay?”

“Baby, I’m with you.” He sandwiched her face in his hands and kissed her. “You’re right. Jonathan doesn’t deserve shit from you.”

“They can’t give him immunity unless I agree and that’s not happening.” She walked to the floor plant in the corner. “Jonathan’s ass belongs in prison and that’s where he’s going.” She opened the door, startling Emory. “It’s not happening, Emory. You can forget giving Jonathan Wild a deal.”

“Dee.” He walked in, closing the door. “Listen.”

“No, you listen.” She stuck her finger in his face. “You have no right to ask this of me. Do you understand what I went through? This man abducted me and drugged me.” Tears filled her eyes. “He stole three months of memories I’ll never get back. He took me from the man I love.” She pointed at Winston. “How could you even think I’d agree to this?”

“If I was looking at this as your friend, I’d have told Wild to go fuck himself.” Emory held his arms out to his sides. “But, as a police officer who’s desperate to bring justice to a family and put that monster who killed Dania away, I’m asking you to see the bigger picture.”

“Bigger picture?” She got in his face. “Jonathan Wild is a sadistic asshole who deserves to be in prison. I’m sorry for what happened to Dania but I can’t live my life seeing Jonathan walk free for what he did.” She sighed, color draining from her cheeks. “I won’t do it.”

Winston took her hand. “You okay?”

She wobbled. “I’m dizzy.”

“Whoa.” Emory grabbed her other hand. “Sit down.” He led her to the chair. “I didn’t mean for you to get upset.”

The moment she sat, she grabbed Winston’s trashcan and vomited into it.

“Dee?” Winston knelt beside her.

Emory grimaced. “Is she okay?”

Dee lifted her head from the waste basket, throw-up hanging from her lip.

Winston yanked a tissue from the box on his desk and wiped her mouth. “I’m worried about you.”

She cleared her throat. “I’m okay.”
“You’ve been getting dizzy and nauseated for a week now.” Winston pushed her hair out the way. “I think you should go to the doctor.”

“I’m fine.” She huffed and puffed. “If I got Jonathan out of my life I’d be even better.” She looked up at Emory. “The answer is no on the deal.” She closed her eyes, swallowing. “I wish you the best with getting Chavis, but I can’t let Jonathan walk for what he did.” She grabbed Winston’s hand. “I can’t.”


“She’ll be fine,” Dr. Begay told Jonathan the next day outside Candra’s hospital room. “The knife didn’t penetrate any organs so she was very lucky.”

Jonathan smiled, lowering the bouquet of yellow roses he’d picked from his garden. “May I see her?”

Begay peeked into the tiny window of the room, batting her blonde lashes. “Normally only friends and family can see patients but she’s on her own.” She sighed. “Said she had no one to contact and that no one cared about her.”

Jonathan looked in the window.

Candra lay on the bed as if she were watching television but appeared distant.

“When can she leave?”
“About a day or two.” Begay checked her clipboard. “I want to make sure there’s no risk of infection.”

“She’ll be okay.” Jonathan touched the door. “She’s strong.”
“You can see her but don’t take too long. She needs her rest.”

Jonathan nodded, entering the room as Begay walked away.

Candra turned her head toward him with sterile bandages on her neck, arms and one of her hands. She jerked up as if seeing Jonathan resumed her strength. “Hey.” Her yellow-green pupils glowed underneath her heavy eyelids. “I’m glad you came.”

“Are you?” He inched toward the bed and held up the roses. “These are for you.”
“Oh, they’re beautiful.” She cleared her throat loud, the bandage bobbing on her neck. “Thank you.” She pushed her petite nose to the roses, her sensual features lifting as she sniffed. “I love roses. Why yellow though?”

“Yellow means friendship.” Jonathan gave a lopsided smile. “They’re from my garden.”
She sniffed them, parting her thick, uneven lips. “No one’s ever brought me flowers.”
Jonathan moved the table beside the bed to get closer to her. “I can’t believe that. What about your boyfriend?” He peeked into her half-empty bowl of red Jell-O. “You were leaving his place when Ro abducted you, right?”

She picked at a rose. “He kicked me out.”

“Why on earth would he do that?”

“We don’t have the best relationship. He wasn’t as kind as he could’ve been.”

“Abusive?” Jonathan held onto the railing of her bed. “How could any man hurt someone like you?”

A grin tore at her lips and her once-matted hair draped her shoulders with a silky sheen and bounce.

“Your hair’s pretty.”

“Thanks.” She touched it. “The nurse washed and brushed it for me.” She dropped her gaze for a second and then her eyes found his again. “I know who you are.”
He chuckled. “I hope so.”

“I don’t mean from rescuing me.” She gripped the railing in between his hand and he got the overwhelming urge to touch her but didn’t. “You’re Jonathan Wild. The leader of The Circle.”

He held his breath.

“That cop says you kidnapped her.” Her flat bosom rose under the sheet as she took a breath. “I saw it on the news. She says you drugged her and made her stay with you—”


“I don’t believe it.” Redness swam through her pale cheeks. “You couldn’t do anything like that.” She touched his hand. “A man who’d do what you did for me couldn’t hurt anyone.”

“I love Deidra Quarter. She wants to be with me but she panicked. She’ll come back where she belongs.”

“The first time I looked into your eyes I could tell you were special.” She pushed her fingertips into his skin. “You’re an angel, Jonathan.”

He smirked. “Some would disagree with you on that.”

“Then they don’t know a good person when they see one. What’s it like in The Circle?”

“It’s wonderful.” He stroked her hair. “Peaceful and you become free of any worry or negativity.”

“I’d love to experience something like that.” She turned her body toward him. “I’d like to see The Circle for myself.”

“That wouldn’t be a good idea with the legal issues I’m going through right now.”
“I…” She lay on her back. “Have nowhere to go. My boyfriend was it.”

“What happened to your family?”

“Long story.” She laid her head on the pillow. “And, I don’t care to go into it right now.” A tear escaped her eye. “I’m scared.”
He caressed her forehead. “Don’t worry about what happens after you get out just concentrate on getting better. If you need a place to stay, you can come to Broadville Port with me.”

“You mean it?” Her face lit up. “Can I join The Circle?”

“It doesn’t work like that, Candra.”

“Why wouldn’t you want me to join?” She pressed her lips together. “Am I not good enough?”

He kissed her cheek, inhaling the strong aroma of hospital disinfectant. “You’re too good.”


Dee drove toward the beige, two-story house as a black Mitsubishi pulled out the driveway. “Hey,” she yelled out the window, honking.

A young, Asian male with a slender face and feminine features turned off the Mitsubishi. “Yes?”

An Asian female sat in the passenger’s side while another Asian boy and yellow-haired white guy sat in the backseats.

“We’re homicide detectives.” Dee jumped out her white Malibu, showing her badge. “We were told by Priti Yi’s mother we could find her here.”

Connie exited Dee’s car and gestured to the cute girl in the passenger’s seat. “Are you Priti?”

The girl glanced at the others as if she didn’t know what to say.

“Answer her.” The white boy lit a cigarette, his giant nose taking up most of his face.

“How old are you?” Connie asked him.

He took a drag, rolling his eyes. “Sixteen.”

Connie leaned on the backdoor. “How about you put that away?”

“Cigarettes are legal.” He scoffed.

“No teenager is smoking a cigarette in front of me.” Connie yanked it from him, threw it on the concrete and stomped on it.

“Hey,” he yelled.

The others laughed.

“You got no right to do that.” He opened the door. “That was my property.”

“Priti.” Dee walked to her side of the car. “We need to speak to you.”
The petite girl exited the car wearing a short, striped dress. Her straight, off-black hair stopped below her cheeks with a part in the middle.

“Yes?” Her loud red lipstick did her pale skin no favors.

“This is serious, okay?” Dee pulled Priti away from the car so the others couldn’t hear. “We need you to be honest.”

“Is this about Faith and her parents?” Her black eyes widened. “It’s horrible. Faith was like a sister.”

“Then you should help us catch who did this,” Connie said. “Since you’re her best friend, we figured you could set things straight. First, who are these guys?”

“My friends.” Priti looked back at the boys. “We were going to get something to eat.”

“You know them well?” Dee asked. “It can be unsafe for a young woman to be around a bunch of boys.”

“They’d never hurt me.” She put her small feet together, wearing black, wedged-heel loafers. “They’re like my brothers. They protect me.”

“Protect you from what?” Connie asked. “Someone been bothering you?”

“No. They’re there for me if I need something. I don’t know why someone would kill Faith and the Kengs.” She lowered her head.

“Priti.” Dee lifted the girl’s chin with her finger. “Are you lying to us?”

She fidgeted. “Did you talk to Donn Cho?”

Dee and Connie exchanged glances.

“Faith knew stuff about the K-Town Crips.” Priti lowered her voice. “She said Donn told her about the things they did. You know, like hits and illegal stuff.”

Dee poked out her lips. “That’s interesting.”

“She never told me anything specific.” Priti waved her hands left and right. “Said the Crips would kill Donn if they even knew he told their business. That’s all I know.”


“You’re being unreasonable, Dee.” Lydia Quarter got the bottle of Artezin red wine from Dee’s kitchen cabinet that night. “You have no right to be upset about Grayson and Connie.”

“I’m not upset, but I don’t like how I found out.” The beige, travertine tile chilled Dee’s bare feet as she sat on the island bench. “Imagine my surprise to see my ex and my partner making out in the police station stairwell.”

“What business is it of yours?” Lydia sashayed to the island, holding the wine and glasses in her arms. “Are you jealous?”

“Hell no.” Dee opened her silky, green robe. “It’s a reminder of how much things changed while I was with Jonathan. How much time he took from me.”

Lydia sat beside Dee and filled the glasses halfway with red wine and passed Dee a glass. “I can’t wait until that asshole is in prison.” She raised her glass to her valentine lips. “No way can he get off after what he did to you.”

The spicy, pomegranate flavor of the wine warmed Dee’s tongue. “So, I shouldn’t give Jonathan immunity?”
Lydia ended her sip with a cough. “Hell no. How can you even ask that after what he’s done?”

Dee smoothed her fingers on the acrylic countertop. “What about Dania Shorter?”

Lydia rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

“I have the chance to put the man who killed her away. What if there are victims, Lydia?”

“This might sound cold but you’re my sister, and I’m concerned with you and not anyone else right now.”

“But, you’re not a cop.” Dee crossed her legs. “My career, hell my life has been built on helping others. It’s in my nature. How can I look myself in the face if I can stop Chavis and didn’t try to?”

“When are you going to stop worrying about everyone else and do what’s best for yourself?”

Dee sighed, rocking her foot. “How was your visit with Cam?”

“We discussed moving to Baltimore for good.” Lydia crossed her legs. “He was surprised but open to the idea.”

“Cam would be bored out of his mind here.”

“If he loves me, then he’d move anywhere to be together.” Lydia caressed Dee’s arm. “Nothing’s more important than you. We’ve wasted too many years being apart and with Daddy gone we can’t afford to do that anymore.” She batted her amber-brown eyes. “I was so scared when you were missing.” She hugged her.

“Sh.” Dee stroked the lengthy strands of Lydia’s auburn hair. “You’ll never lose me.” She kissed her cheek. “I’m just not sure you being here is a good idea right now.”

Lydia moved away, batting those curious eyes. “Why?”

“Jonathan has an eye for you.” She felt Lydia shiver. “He might do something to you—”

“I’m not afraid of some coward who has to lock women up to be with him. I can take care of myself, Dee. You taught me how.”

“He’s dangerous. Before you know it, you could get swept up in his craziness. I’d never forgive myself if that happened.”

“You remember who you’re talking to?” Lydia chuckled, patting her bosom. “I’ve done expeditions in some of the most dangerous places in the world. I’ve been chased by tigers in Africa and almost bitten by anacondas in the Amazon rainforest. Jonathan Wild doesn’t scare me one bit.”

“He should.” Dee patted Lydia’s hair. “He’s probably the deadliest creature you’ll ever come across.”

The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it.” Lydia scampered out the kitchen and came back in a second later with a pitiful-looking Winston. “Look who’s here.” Lydia held a goofy smile. “Your Romeo.”

Winston laid his keys on the countertop. “Am I interrupting?”

Dee grinned. “You couldn’t ever interrupt me, Winston.”

He smiled at Lydia. “Dee told me you were coming back this evening. How was the trip.”
“Amazing,” she sang. “I missed my man so much it almost killed me. I can’t wait to see him again.”

“Yeah.” Dee smirked at Winston. “I know how it feels to miss someone so much it hurts.”

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