THE CHANCE YOU TAKE
by Catherine Snodgrass
Romantic Suspense
September 2004
Amber Quill Press

ISBN: 1-59279-282-0 (Electronic)
ISBN: 1-59279-827-6 (Paperback)

They've been partners for years, each fighting a growing attraction to each other for fear of ruining their friendship and having to split up their team. But when Detective Beth Manning goes undercover to catch a murderer, Russ Salk is frantic over her welfare—and has cause for concern when Beth comes close to losing her life and only narrowly manages to escape. When another murder occurs, Beth knows she is the only one with the power to catch Randy Calvins. Despite her fear of the man, she knows she will have to go undercover again. In Russ's arms she gets the strength she needs to carry out her job. But Russ will not let her go alone. Knowing the abuse Beth suffered at the Randy's hands, Russ determines that if Randy must sell Beth's body to a man, it will be to him. Together Russ and Beth work to gather evidence against Randy—while someone much closer works to destroy them both.

 

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~ Reviews ~

5 CUPS!!! A tremendous story full of mystery and intrigue of great passion and tragedy. This story keeps you guessing even when it becomes apparent who the bad guy really is. This is not an easy read due to subject matter but a great one due to the author's storytelling skill. Well done! Johnna Flores, Coffee Time Romance

I first started the book, I thought I would have a hard time finishing it, but I was wrong. It wasn’t that I thought the book wasn’t good, but I had issues with the repeated rapes and graphic murder scenes. I was quickly drawn into the budding relationship between Russ and Beth and once I got beyond the rapes and murders and into the meat of the story, I was hooked. Those readers who like romantic suspense and those looking for a good romance who aren’t disturbed by rape and graphic crime scenes would thoroughly enjoy this book. I recommend this book and commend Catherine Snodgrass for her ability to write about difficult issues with sensitivity. ~Jennifer Ray for The Road to Romance

FOUR UNICORNS!!! With this story Catherine Snodgrass brings us another romantic suspense that keeps you engrossed until the end…a romantic suspense worth reading. ~Melissa, Enchanted In Romance.

4.5 ROSES!!! This is a wonderful love story. The sparks fly between the two of them from page one and continue until the very satisfying ending. If you like a novel that is full of intrigue, passion, and lots of romance that this book is a keeper. Enjoy! ~Jen, A Romance Review

FOUR HEARTS! The Chance You Take grabs you from page one and will keep you speculating until end. This gripping romantic suspense has some disturbing subject matter that Catherine Snodgrass handles with aplomb. This is a suspense that will intrigue the most discerning of readers. ~Cassandra, The Romance Studio

FIVE STARS!!! This book is guaranteed to cause the reader a prime attack of anxiety. First you pick it up and get wrapped up in the characters. Then the suspense gets to you, and you have to put it down because you just can’t stand it. But a few minutes later, you’ve absent-mindedly picked it up and started reading it again because you just have to know what happens. But then the suspense gets to you again, so you set it down. You get the picture! The plotting, the pace, and the dialogue are absolutely first rate. This one is definitely one to read. ~Ann M. Beardsley, ScribesWorld Reviews

EXCERPT

Beth Manning stared at the battered body of the three-year-old girl. Her stomach twisted in knots at the sight. She’d seen more than her share of dead bodies since she’d been working Homicide. But she could never plan for the fact that one day she’d be looking at a child. It was the event she’d always dreaded. Now that day was here. One question screamed in her head, drowning out everything else—Why?

She forced her gaze to focus on the small body. The little girl wore a pink cotton nightgown with Sesame Street figures all around it. Blood spatter mocked their smiling cartoon faces. Her feet were bare, smooth on the bottoms, untouched by the horror of what she’d endured. Cuts, bruises, and welts marred her ivory skin where the long, slender weapon had struck her. Thick brown hair that drifted in long curls to her waist was nothing more than a tangled mess. She’d been a pretty, delicate little thing. It wouldn’t have taken much to kill her. That’s why all this made no sense. It was rage out of control, pure and simple.

She would have been a beauty when she grew up. Now she would never know the joys of visits from the tooth fairy, learning to ride a bike, her first dance, falling in love. With all the innocence of childhood, she’d trusted an adult. And just like that, she was gone, tossed in a dumpster by the trash who had killed her. She didn’t even have a stuffed animal or blanket for company in death. Kids her age always had something like that in tow, didn’t they?

Unfeeling bastard. All Beth needed was an hour alone with the murderer, just to give him a taste of what he’d done to this baby.

Him? Why not a her? her internal investigator asked. Women were as capable of this kind of violence as men. Poor little one. Where are your parents?

There was a muffled sound beside her as her partner, Russ Salk, covered his emotions behind a cough. This had to be hard on him. He had two young daughters of his own.

Beth forced herself not to look his way. One glance at those sympathetic blue eyes and she’d crumble. He had that effect on her. To devastate her with laughter, bring her to tears, or drudge up guilt—all with a glance.

It wasn’t so much the look. It was what she saw deep within it. As if she knew what he thought before he said it, and he, her. She supposed that’s what made them such excellent partners. They could depend on each other in all ways—an invaluable asset when they were out in the field.

She longed to rub her hand over his shoulders to let him know she knew and understood how he felt. Again, one touch and she’d be collapsed in his arms bawling. That’s just what their fellow officers needed to see. They’d tease her unmercifully from that point on, no matter what the circumstances.

She did that once—collapsed in his arms with heart-rending sobs. Beth didn’t know what she would have done without his support. No one teased her then. They didn’t dare—one of their own had been murdered and it had affected every single one of them.

Chances were they wouldn’t tease her now either. The murder of a child was a horrible thing. But Beth needed to be strong so the men around her could be strong, too.

There was the rustle of paper as Russ popped a stick of Doublemint gum in his mouth. He nudged her arm, offering her a piece. Beth waved it away. It was going to take more than gum to calm her down.

"Do we know who she is?" Russ asked.

"Susie Carson." Sergeant Tavares’ voice lacked emotion this morning.

Beth wondered how many kids the big guy had. He towered over them all at six-four with broad shoulders that could block out the sun. Yet he was one of the gentlest men she’d ever known.

The whirr of a camera intruded on her thoughts as one of the Crime Lab investigators photographed the scene.

Tavares pulled his head up on a sigh. His voice might be monotone, but his brown eyes looked haunted. He motioned to the dilapidated four-story apartment building across the street. The carport beneath it looked like a showcase for a junkyard. Just like thousands of other places sprinkled throughout the Los Angeles basin.

"She lived over there. Landlady found her when she was taking out the trash. She spent a lot of time at the playground in the apartment courtyard. She was well known, considered a sweet kid. Landlady hadn’t seen her in a few days and thought she might be down with the flu."

"Parents?"

"Trying to round them up now."

Russ cracked his gum. "Seven in the morning and the parents aren’t here. That’s telling a story, isn’t it?"

It sure was.

He peered over the dumpster where the medical examiner checked the body. "I don’t suppose there’s any doubt about the cause of death."

Carl Dobbins stood, shaking his head. Despite the coolness of the morning, a bead of sweat trickled down his face. It was a good thing he was a slight man, otherwise he wouldn’t have fit in the trash receptacle with the girl.

"Not after a beating like this. I hate to think what we’ll find during the autopsy."

Beth’s did, too. She prayed that hadn’t happened. Her eyes filmed over with tears. This was the one aspect of her job she’d hoped she’d never have to deal with. Spouses and lovers killed in a jealous rage, yes. Drug pushers and users, pimps and prostitutes, robbery victims, drive-by shootings—anything but this. Frankly, she was lucky it had taken this long for her to get a call on a child.

Excusing herself, she hurried to their unmarked police car and jerked open the door. The young girl lying in that old steel tub was the same age as her own niece and only a little younger than Russ’ youngest daughter. How could anyone abuse a child like that?

She shut herself in the relative silence of the car. It didn’t matter how much of a professional she was supposed to be, the tears still came.

Beth forced anger to the surface. She’d use it to sharpen her skills, make her focused. Tears just made a person vulnerable, out of control. She’d shed an ocean of them when Rick had died the year before. They didn’t do her a damn bit of good then and they wouldn’t now.

Stay angry. Stay focused.

She pulled out her notebook and started to dissect the scene piece by piece. She’d find who did this if it took the rest of her career do to so. Whoever killed little Susie Carson would not kill another child.

* * *

Russ approached the car slowly. This whole thing made him sick. How? Why? What could possess a person? He liked the parents for this. Seven in the morning and they weren’t here? In his mind, no one else could have done it. Nothing else made sense.

He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. It wasn’t enough to chase the image of the battered child away. It was permanently etched in his brain along with all the other homicides he'd worked on. No, not along with, right smack-dab in the forefront. He couldn’t wait to see his girls again and hug them tight. A sharp swat or two on the bottom for the most serious infraction was the only physical discipline he or their mother ever delivered. It was one of the few things he and Marianne had agreed on during their strained marriage.

He looked up at Beth. She sat half in, half out of their car, hand flying across a pad of paper as she laid out a game plan. He didn’t know what he’d do without her and never wanted to try. And to think he balked at the idea of having a female partner. Okay, he’d been furious with the suggestion.

Women were a distraction. Especially a woman like Elizabeth Manning. Oh, he’d seen her around. Who hadn’t? She worked in Traffic. A petite brunette who didn’t bother to hide her femininity, but neither did she flaunt it. She drew the attention of every man in the station. Russ was going to hate her…he just knew it. But he didn’t.

He could never understand why Rick didn’t get jealous of the attention his fiancée drew. At first he chalked it up to Rick’s absorption in his work. The guys in Vice pulled some crazy hours and even crazier assignments. Maybe he was so jaded by what he saw at work, he never noticed the looks that followed Beth. Then Russ saw her in action.

She pulled over a perp on a traffic violation. The guy had a dead body in the trunk. Russ was seconds behind her and the first to arrive on the scene. The perp dashed past Beth’s partner. She whipped out her nightstick, hurled it in the perp’s direction, clipping him in the knee.

She had his face in the gutter and his hands cuffed before the guy knew what hit him. A knee in the small of his back held him captive while she secured him. The way the guy wailed, you’d thought a six-seven, five-hundred-pound giant had him. Russ would never forget the look on the guy’s face when Beth hauled him to his feet and he saw his "giant" was five-foot-two and might weight one-twenty.

Russ had never laughed so hard in his life. No wonder Rick didn’t worry. Beth could take care of herself. All his preconceived notions about her were blown away. He couldn’t wait to have her as a partner. She transferred in a week later.

That was three years ago. They’d been best friends and partners ever since. Through his pending divorce, through Rick’s awful death two months before their wedding, they’d had each other’s back.

Another memory Russ wished would fade. Rick was found in an alley, shot through the head by an unknown assailant. They’d been the ones to respond. Beth had fallen apart. Russ didn’t blame her a bit. He called for back-up, then held her while she cried. It was the only time he’d ever seen her lose her composure. For three days, she was a mess, and for three days, he never left her side. Then, on the day they buried Rick she said only one thing. "We all know the risks of this profession. It’s the chance you take."

Russ wished he had half her strength. In the last couple of years, he’d seen his marriage gasp its last, painful breath and lost a close friend. It was hard…so hard…and so unfair. But who said life was fair?

The one constant was Beth. She’d always have his back. How could you not admire a woman like that? How could you not want to…

Russ shook away the thought. She was his partner. Those kinds of feelings had no place here, no matter how intrusive they might be at other times.

But they existed nonetheless and were growing stronger every day. Maybe it was time they dealt with them before it affected their work. Opening that door would change everything, but Russ couldn't keep on this way—pretending friendship when he constantly ached for more. They had to at least talk about it. They talked about everything else, why not this?

Later, he reprimanded himself.

He slid behind the steering wheel and stared out the windshield. "You all right?"

Her hand stopped its progress across the page. A sigh lifted her shoulders. "Oh, Russ, she’s just a little girl." She sagged into her seat.

Russ dared a look in her direction. At that moment, with her eyes dilated in a puddle of unshed tears, she looked no older than a vulnerable teenager instead of a thirty-year-old woman. She blinked rapidly, dispelling the illusion.

"I keep wondering if she still sucked her thumb."

The image stabbed him through the heart. His vision swam. He cleared his eyes and popped another stick of gum.

"At times like this I bet you wish you hadn’t quit smoking." She bent back to her work.

Russ focused on her hair. Woven into a French braid, it still shone with red and gold highlights just as it did when it was draped around her shoulders. Not one strand was out of place. He pondered that nonsensical mystery while he shoved all other thoughts aside.

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "Do I have a bug in my hair or something?"

"Nope. Just a mouse looking for a home."

"Then I hope he’s comfortable." She stabbed a period on the end of her sentence. "Glass of wine’s going to taste good tonight."

"Or two. Want me to pick up a bottle after work?"

"I’ve already got a bottle of pinot chilling."

"Chinese food?"

"Sure." Beth handed her notepad to him. "I’ll let you buy. My place. I’ll drag out the good dishes."

"Chinet, wow! Then I’ll even spring for egg rolls."

"It’s a wonder a big spender like you isn’t beating them off with a stick."

"Yeah, it’s a wonder all right." But not when one considered the only woman who interested him was right across the hall. "Your place or mine?"

Beth laughed lightly. "Silly, that’s a given."

It sure was. Russ’ only furniture was an old sofa. He had one of each of the essentials—plate, fork, towel—the list went on. Marianne had left him with nothing. Russ spent ninety-nine percent of his time at Beth’s. Hell, he might as well be living there. If things worked out the way he wanted them to, he would be. Tonight was the night. If he waited much longer, he’d explode.

Beth cracked her knuckles and stepped outside to stretch.

Russ quickly adjusted his hard-on to a more comfortable and less noticeable position. She had the finest looking ass… He yanked his focus back to the job.

Forensics swarmed the area logging evidence. Russ studied Beth’s notes. Nothing new here. Standard procedure. But it helped her keep her emotions in control.

She plopped back into her seat. "It’s senseless. Makes me all that more determined to catch her murderer."

Russ slipped his fingers over hers and squeezed. "Don’t worry. We will. Now, let’s grab Tavares and start asking questions."

He shoved his shoulder into the door and exited.

* * *

Beth watched him hail the sergeant. Her hand still tingled where he’d touched her. Was it so wrong to feel this way? She’d tried to fight it, but the feelings refused to go away. In fact, they only got stronger. She couldn’t say when or how these emotions had surfaced. They just were. There wasn’t a night lately where she didn’t make herself come while wishing his hand was between her thighs and not her own.

She watched his tight bottom as he walked toward Tavares. It had to be a sin to look so good. She had a hell of a time concentrating when they played racquetball.

She couldn’t keep on this way. Something was going to have to happen.

Beth laughed at her lustful thoughts. Back to square one.

First, she didn’t know if Russ felt the same way. True, guys rarely turned down sex. But in her heart she knew it was beyond that for her. She wouldn’t play games with him.

Second, they were partners. Good partners. This was one line they shouldn’t cross. One of them could always request a transfer. There was an opening in Vice. Still, she hated the idea of not working with him.

She watched him yank the cell phone from his suit jacket. He glanced toward the car.

"I don’t know," she heard him say. "I’m in the middle of something right now. One of us will call you later." He ended the call. "Marianne," he said to Beth, then turned back to Tavares.

Beth grabbed her notebook and left the vehicle. The third reason why she shouldn’t harbor these feelings or carry them out—his soon to be ex-wife.

While she and Marianne had grown apart since Rick’s death, they were still casual friends. It didn’t matter that the marriage was floundering long before Beth met them. Or that the divorce had nothing to do with her. She knew Marianne wouldn’t like it. She might not want Russ, but she damn sure didn’t want Beth to have him. Marianne didn’t want any woman to have him. She wanted him at her beck and call 24/7. Marianne wasn’t happy in the marriage. Russ sure as hell wasn’t happy, although he’d tried to make it work for his daughters’ sakes.

When Marianne asked for a divorce, Russ had no problem. He said it was like a ten-ton weight off his shoulders and wasted no time giving Marianne everything she asked for. And still she couldn’t let go.

Beth worried constantly about adding more conflict for Russ…at those times when she wasn’t craving him so badly she thought she’d explode.

"You two start at the top." Russ pointed to Tavares and his partner. "We’ll start at the bottom and meet you in the middle."

They nodded in unison, then moved as one toward the apartment building.

"Ma-maaaaa."

The cry stopped them cold. Beth’s skin lifted two inches. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled.

"What the hell…" Russ charged toward the dumpster.

Beth’s legs refused to move.

Carl held up a baby doll. "Sorry, it was under her."

Beth swallowed hard. The lump in her throat stayed. Tavares swung his back to them and wiped at his eyes. His rookie partner stared, white-faced and slack-jawed.

Russ stomped back their way. "Let’s get to work. I want this bastard found."

She pulled some strength from deep inside, snagged the young officer’s sleeve and spurred him gently to action. "Yep. Me, too."

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