By: Diana Palmer


Kilraven hated mornings. He especially hated mornings like this one, when he was expected to go to a party and participate in Christmas gift-giving. He, the rest of the police, fire and emergency services people in Jacobsville, Texas, had all drawn names around the big Christmas tree in the EOC, the 911 emergency operations center. Today was the day when presents, all anonymous, were to be exchanged.

He sipped black coffee in the Jacobsville Police Station and wished he could get out of it. He glared at Cash Grier, who smiled obliviously and ignored him.

Christmas was the most painful time to him. It brought back memories of seven years ago, when his life had seemed to end. Nightmarish visions haunted him. He saw them when he slept. He worked his own shifts and even volunteered to relieve other Jacobsville police officers when they needed a substitute. He hated his own company. But he hated crowds far more. Besides, it was a sad day, sort of. He’d had a big black Chow keeping him company at his rental house. He’d had to give it away because he wasn’t allowed to keep animals at his apartment in San Antonio, where he would be returning soon. Still, Bibb the Chow had gone to live with a young boy, a neighbor, who loved animals and had just lost his own Chow. So it was fated, he guessed. He still missed the dog, though.

Now, he was expected to smile and socialize at a party and enthuse over a gift that would almost certainly be a tie that he would accept and never wear, or a shirt that was a size too small, or a book he would never read. People giving gifts were kindhearted, but mostly they bought things that pleased themselves. It was a rare person who could observe someone else and give just the right present; one that would be treasured.

At his job—his real job, not this role as a small-town police officer that he’d assumed as part of his covert operation in south Texas near the border with Mexico—he had to wear suits from time to time. Here in Jacobsville, he never wore a suit. A tie would be a waste of money to the person who gave him one for Christmas. He was sure it would be a tie. He hated ties.

“Why don’t you just string me up outside and set fire to me?” Kilraven asked Cash Grier with a glowering look.

“Christmas parties are fun,” Cash replied. “You need to get into the spirit of the thing. Six or seven beers, and you’d fit right in.”

The glare got worse. “I don’t drink,” he reminded his temporary boss.

“Now isn’t that a coincidence?” Cash exclaimed. “Neither do I!”

“Then why are we going to a party in the first place, if neither of us drink?” the younger man asked.

“They won’t serve alcohol at the party. And for another, it’s good public relations.”

“I hate the public and I don’t have relations,” Kilraven scoffed.

“You do so have relations,” came the tongue-in-cheek reply. “A half brother named Jon Blackhawk. A stepmother, too, somewhere.”

Kilraven made a face.

“It’s only for an hour or so,” Cash said in a gentler tone. “It’s almost Christmas. You don’t want to ruin the staff party now, do you?”

“Yes,” Kilraven said with a bite in his deep voice.

Cash looked down at his coffee cup. “Winnie Sinclair will be disappointed if you don’t show up. You’re leaving us soon to go back to San Antonio. It would make her day to see you at the party.”

Kilraven averted his gaze to the front window beyond which cars were driving around the town square that was decorated with its Santa, sled and reindeer and the huge Christmas tree. Streamers and colored lights were strung across every intersection. There was a tree in the police station, too, decked out in holiday colors. Its decorations were, to say the least, unique. There were little handcuffs and toy guns and various emergency services vehicles in miniature, including police cars. As a joke, someone had strung yellow police tape around it.

Kilraven didn’t want to think about Winnie Sinclair. Over the past few months, she’d become a part of his life that he was reluctant to give up. But she didn’t know about him, about his past. Someone had hinted at it because her attitude toward him had suddenly changed. The shy smiles and rapt glances he’d been getting had gone into eclipse, so that now she was formal and polite when they spoke over the police band while he was on duty. He rarely saw her. He wasn’t sure it was a good idea to be around her. She’d withdrawn, and it would be less painful not to close the distance. Of course it would.