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Excerpt - The Innocent Witness by Terri Reed

The Innocent Witness
by
Terri Reed


Faith sustained Vivian Grant through her horrible childhood and loveless marriage, but how much more can she take? Her husband has been killed. Her autistic son is the only witness. And someone is twisting the evidence to place the blame on her. Viv has no one to trust—and danger is closing in.

A failed protection detail cost former Secret Service agent Anthony Carlucci his job—and his self-confidence. He's not going to fail anyone under his care again. Anthony will risk anything to keep Viv and her son safe…including his heart.

Excerpt of chapter one:

One o'clock in the morning.

Her son's bed was empty. Anxiousness jump-started Vivian Grant's frozen blood.

"Mikey?" she called out as she frantically searched her eight-year-old's closet, under the bed and in the connected bathroom. Empty.

A thud had awoken her.

This wouldn't be the first time he'd tried to escape the house in the middle of the night. The locator monitor!

She raced back to her room and groped for the wall light switch, then flipped it on. A soft glow filled the room, casting shadows on her antique four-poster bed. The Wanderer Alert receiver sat atop her dresser. She grabbed it. The locator screen showed that Mikey or at least the ankle bracelet he wore was still within the set parameters of the house. She wouldn't breathe a sigh of relief, though, until he was in her arms. Palming the device, she ran downstairs.

Searching all his normal hiding spots proved fruitless. Not in the kitchen. Not the living room or the playroom. She passed the empty dining hall and hurried toward her husband's quarters. Had Mikey gone to see his father?

A normal desire for any eight-year-old boy, even one with autism.

In her head, she could hear Steven's snarled complaint that she couldn't control her son. Mikey had stopped being their son the minute they'd received the autism diagnosis.

She clenched her fist as she entered her husband's sacred domain. For more years than she could remember this part of the house had been off-limits to her and Mikey. Steven liked his privacy. But mostly he didn't want anything to do with them, his family. Except when it served his burgeoning political career.

Steven's sitting room was empty. So was the bedroom. His bed was still made up. She flipped on the light in the connecting bath. No one. Where were they?

A horrible thought streaked across her mind. Had Steven finally had enough and taken Mikey to a home? Every time Steven perceived some offense on her part, he yanked her chain with the threat.

The very idea of losing Mikey choked her with rage and fear.

Dread slithered through her veins. Steven had seemed even more furious than normal earlier because Mikey had interrupted his dinner by throwing a fit when a baseball game preempted his favorite television show. She'd chalked up Steven's overreaction to his campaign heating up. Election time always increased the stress around their home.

No. He wouldn't send Mikey away, she rationalized. If he did, what would Steven have left to hold over her?

Smoldering anger and terror spurred her toward Steven's study. Light leaked from beneath the door. Steven hated when she came to his study uninvited, but right now she didn't care. She'd put up with his wrath for her son. She flung the door open. Her gaze swept the room. No Mikey. Her heart sank.

Steven sat at his desk, his chair twisted away from her so she could only see the top of his salted dark head over the high back of his red leather chair. Working, as usual.

"Steven, have you seen Mikey?"

Steven didn't respond. Annoyed at being ignored yet again, she rounded the chair and sucked in a sharp breath. Steven's head lolled back, his eyes open and unseeing. A large ornamental knife—the knife she'd bought him for their first anniversary while on a trip to China—protruded from his chest. A crimson stain spread over his white dress shirt.

Shock siphoned the blood from her brain. The world tilted. Her knees buckled. She clutched the desk to keep from hitting the floor. A sob escaped.

She reached out with a shaky hand and pressed two fingers to the spot where his pulse should beat. Nothing.

Revulsion and horror swept through her. Someone had violently murdered Steven. In their home.

Panic gripped her heart. Where was Mikey? He had to be here. Please, Lord, she prayed, trying not to lose complete control. "Mikey?"

Eerie silence settled around her, sending chills down her spine. Nearly hysterical, she grabbed the phone and fumbled to dial 911. It seemed to take forever for the emergency operator to answer. "What is your emergency?"

"My son!" A sob broke through. "Someone's taken my son and…killed my husband, Senator Grant."

From deep in the shadows of a blooming cherry tree growing near the patio of the Grant's Woodley Park home, the man watched Vivian Grant through the study window with interest. He'd barely made it out the sliding door before she'd burst into the room.

He hadn't thought he and Steven had made enough noise to draw her attention. But there she was, looking beautiful as usual. Even in the middle of the night, Viv was a sight to see. All curves beneath her silky pajamas, her long blonde hair cascading down her back, her big blue eyes filling with tears. Her pretentious mother had known what she was doing when she'd named the future beauty queen after the Gone with the Wind movie star.

Steven hadn't deserved such a woman. He'd come from nothing and ended up with everything. Or at least he'd thought he had.

The upstart had had the nerve to try blackmailing him. Ha!

He'd shown Steven Grant just what he thought of the extortion threat. He hadn't come here tonight with murder on his mind. He'd come expecting to reason with Steven. But no go. The idiot wouldn't listen.

Steven really should have heard him out. Now it was too late.

Frustrated rage had overtaken his good sense. The decorative knife sitting on the mantel had been within arm's reach. And years spent throwing knives at birch trees as a boy had made wielding the knife too easy. His fists clenched. Grant had driven him too far.

And now he couldn't search for the evidence Steven had claimed to have.

He saw Viv pick up the phone. Calling for help, no doubt. Time to leave and act properly shocked when news of the murder became public knowledge.

He'd make arrangements for the premises to be searched tomorrow.

As he began to turn away, movement inside Grant's home office froze him in place.

A thin, young boy, clutching a teddy bear, climbed out from beneath the massive mahogany desk. Viv dropped the phone as she sank to her knees and gripped the boy tight.

The man gritted his teeth. How had he not known the child was there? Steven must have been protecting the kid.

And the brat could possibly identify him.

Viv lifted her head, her gaze boring straight at him through the window. He jerked back farther into the shadows. Logically he knew she couldn't see him, she couldn't know he was here. Didn't matter. She and the child both posed a threat that would need to be removed. Quickly.

As he left the scene, he plotted the best way to eliminate Vivian Grant and her son, Mikey.

* * *

Relief flooded through Viv as she clung to her son. "Thank you, Lord."

She placed a kiss on Mikey's bent head, breathing deep the scent of powder-fresh shampoo clinging to his dark curls. Quickly, she checked to see that he was unhurt. His thin shoulders bowed inward as he hugged his tattered bear to his chest and his pj's hung on his small frame, but he didn't appear injured.

She lifted his chin with her finger and tried to make eye contact. His midnight-blue eyes looked everywhere but at her. Not unusual even in the best of circumstances. Focusing on personal interaction took energy and concentration. "Mikey, what are you doing down here?"

"Daddy." The single word came out whisper-soft. He dropped the bear. His right hand grasped his left index finger and began to twist, the skin growing red with the exertion. A sign of his growing agitation.

"I know, baby, I know." She needed to get him out of the room and away from the macabre scene.

Was the killer still in the house? Could she and Mikey make it to the secret passageway in the dining room that came out next to the detached garage?

The distant wail of a siren filled her with relief. The police would handle this. They'd protect her and Mikey.

Taking Mikey by the arm, she urged him toward the study door. The quicker they got to safety the better.

He dug in his heels. "Bear!"

She scooped up the stuffed toy. "Come, sweetie. We need to go."

She ushered him swiftly toward the front door. Decorum dictated she stop at the entryway closet long enough to grab a long wool coat to cover her pajamas. She slipped on a pair of rain boots, the only footwear available in the closet. Taking Mikey's jacket off the hanger, she slung it over her arm. Figuring she should have her ID on her, she snagged her hobo-style carryall bag from the entryway table and slipped the monitor and the bear inside before shepherding Mikey out onto the porch.

She knelt beside Mikey and pulled on his coat. "Can you tell Mommy what you saw?"

Could he identify Steven's killer? She held her breath, waiting for Mikey to reveal something. "Mikey? I need you to tell me what you saw."

He abandoned twisting his finger in favor of flapping his hands, a sign that a fit was brewing. Whatever he'd seen was locked up inside his head. Pushing him would only drive him further away.

The loud screech of tires combined with flashing red-and-blue lights sent Mikey into a full-blown agitated fit. He batted at his ears and made a high-pitched noise echoing the siren's wail even after it was turned off. Viv's heart pitched. At the moment she couldn't do anything to help him. He would continue on until the chaos ended. Which might take a while. She kept one hand on his shoulder, more for her comfort than his.

Two police cruisers pulled into the driveway. Four officers jumped out of the cars.

"Mrs. Grant?" An older officer stepped close as the others hung back.

"Yes. I'm Vivian Grant. I'm so glad you're here."

"Officer Peal," he said, his gaze sliding to Mikey. "We had a call that your son was missing and your husband.killed?"

She nodded. "My son was hiding. His father… Senator Grant is dead." She pointed toward the house. "In the study."

Peal gestured with his head. Two officers entered the house, hands on their holsters. The third officer moved toward the back of the house.

Peal gestured toward the cars. "Ma'am, can I have you and your son take a seat inside my car? Just until we know for sure the scene is secure."

She gestured to the flashing lights on top of the police cars. "Could you turn off the lights first? They're bothering my son."

"Sure thing, ma'am." Peal vaulted down the porch steps to the nearest cruiser. A second later the flashing light went dark.

"Let me take care of the other car," he said as he walked around the front of the vehicle. A moment later the second cruiser's lights went out.

Mikey calmed almost immediately. His high-pitched whine dimmed to a small whimper. He went back to worrying his index finger.

Viv maneuvered Mikey into the back passenger seat of the nearest cruiser. The car smelled of stale coffee and body odor, but at least it was less conspicuous than standing on the porch in the summer night air. And safer.

A metal grate separated them from the front seats. Mikey grabbed a hold and shook the metal. The deafening rattle bounced around the interior of the vehicle.

Now Viv knew how criminals must feel, like caged animals. A familiar helpless, vulnerable sensation slithered up her spine, reminding her of her childhood.

Taking deep breaths to harness her rising anxiety, she silently repeated in her mind, This too shall pass.

Peal squatted next to her, bracing one elbow on the back wheel well, and removed a small notepad from his shirt pocket. His pen poised over the paper. "Ma'am, can you tell me what happened?"

"A noise woke me. I thought it was Mikey needing something. But he wasn't in his bed so I went to ask Steven if he'd seen Mikey. I found Steven… He'd been stabbed." Bile rose as the image of Steven's death filled her brain. "I called 911, then I found Mikey hiding just as you arrived."

Peal nodded encouragingly. "Did you see anyone else in the house?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Homicide will have more questions for you."

The sound of more vehicles arriving floated into the car through the open door. Viv twisted around to look out the back window. Two men dressed in dark suits climbed out of a black SUV and made their way toward the cruiser. It didn't take a genius to know who these guys were. Viv had seen enough of them during her years as a politician's wife to recognize the swagger of the FBI.

She wasn't surprised the FBI had been called. Steven was a junior senator, after all, and had just declared his intent to run for the presidency.

Mikey drew her attention when he began combing her hair with his fingers. One of his calming rituals.

Officer Peal greeted the two men as they stopped beside the police car. Viv leaned forward to listen.

The men flashed credentials. "I'm Agent Jones, this is Agent Thompson."

"Homicide hasn't arrived yet," Peal said. "I've got two men inside and one searching the perimeter."

Agent Jones slanted a glance at Peal. "Good work, Officer. We'll take care of the witnesses."

Thompson leaned into the open door of the cruiser. His puggish face with round probing eyes sent goose bumps prickling Viv's skin. "Mrs. Grant, we need you to come with us."

"Where?"

He grasped her by the elbow and tugged. "We're to escort you to the WFO."

She stiffened. She didn't like being manhandled.

"WFO?"

"Washington Field Office."

"I want to see your badges," she demanded.

Each agent let her inspect their credentials. The official-looking identification appeared in order. She handed them back. "Shouldn't we wait for Homicide?"

"They can question you at headquarters. It's safer this way," Agent Jones supplied as he also reached in to help pull her from the vehicle. He was a big man with a scar on his chiseled chin. She was no match for the two of them.

"All right, already," she snapped and climbed out of the cruiser. "Can I get a change of clothes?"

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