When did you know you were in love?

I’M NOT SURE how Amazon works these things, I’ve got friends who’ve been trying to get

Hard Scoop: See how it all started . . .

Hard Scoop: See how it all started . . .

their books listed *Free* for a long time. Then I woke up to a surprise to find that Hard Scoop was listed for Free! To be fair, it was a Mystery Guild Pick of the Month, went to #1 and all kinds of other happy stuff. See what all the fuss is about here.

And the book that follows is here (also for free, but only here). Thanks for visiting. You mean the world to me. Love comes in all shapes, sizes and species. In this case, it comes as a tall, dark FBI agent . . .

DEAD COPY

Chapter Three

“Wylie Ray Puckett,” the weasel said. “But everyone calls me Puck. My sister says it’s somethin’ about Shakespeare.”

Oh, good. Shakespeare. Like a fake assassination wasn’t enough drama.

Puck lunged past Marlowe and halfway over the front seat to shake my hand. The smell of stale beer and cheap aftershave oozed from his pores, and when he took my hand, I had to stop myself from flinching. The guy’s palm was sweaty as he leered at me in the dim light.

Marlowe growled.

Puck sneered at the dog, then shot me a whole-body appraisal over the console. “You’re the Obituary Babe? You’re the girl who’s gonna kill me? You don’t look like an obituary writer. You look like one of those blond Abercrombie babes.”

He seemed entirely too excited at the prospect of reading his own obituary, but I got the distinct impression that Wylie Ray Puckett was the kind of guy who inspired lots of people to want to read his obituary.

“What kinda name is Collie, anyway? You named for a dog?”

I narrowed my eyes. Despite his butchering my name, there was something familiar about him, something I couldn’t quite put my finger, or my foot, on …

“Sit back and shut up,” Logan growled.

“What? I’m just talkin’ to the girl,” the weasel said, but he sulked into the shadows in the back seat.

Logan watched him in the mirror. “He’s testifying at the Obregon trial, and apparently some of his buddies in El Patron would rather he didn’t.”

“He’s with El Patron?” I shuddered and nearly broke into a sweat. The last time I’d had a run-in with Selena Obregon and her band of South American baddies, I’d been stabbed, run into the river, and very nearly had my heart broken.

“Puck’s their numbers guy,” Logan said. “Word on the street is there’s a hit out on him.”

My eyebrows shot up. “That guy’s an accountant?” I said, sifting through which part of Logan’s announcement surprised me most. “An accountant who needs protection?”

“Hey, blondie. I’m freakish good with numbers.”

“Freakish,” I said.

Puck leaned forward. “Look, babe, I’m a real asset to this investigation. And I need protection. Those El Patron freaks Fed Exed me a dead canary. A canary, get it? No singing in court. They’re scared, ’cause I know where the money is made and laid.”

“And some of that money came up missing,” Logan said. “Seems our pal here has sticky fingers. He’s agreed to dime out his buddies for a deal.”

“It’s not like I was embezzling, or anything,” Puck grumbled. “It was an investment. I’m producing a video. It’s gonna to pay in spades. They woulda got their money back and then some.”

“Yeah,” Logan said. “How’s that working out for you?” Puck folded his arms and sank back into the seat.

I shook my head. “So we’re going to stage this guy’s death? Am I allowed to do this?”

“We’ve been outsourcing some projects—we get leeway through Homeland Security. You write obituaries for a living, so it makes sense to source it out to you.”

“So, I’m like a contractor?”

“Unofficially.”

“Huh,” I said. “Do I get paid?”

Logan grinned. “You have the thanks of a grateful nation.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought,” I said. I couldn’t argue with his logic, but I was the tiniest bit disappointed that Logan hadn’t dropped by just to see me, even at four in the morning.

Especially at four in the morning …

Puck poked his head over the console. “Hey, I thought we were hittin’ Mickey D’s.”

“The one in this part of town’s not open yet,” Logan said. “And sit back.”

Puck shoved his butt back in the seat. “Yeah, well, I’m hungry. I want a couple of those egg muffins. And some of those hash browns that come in the little paper things and a big ol’ thing of Diet Coke. Hey, I can hear my stomach growling back here.”

“That’s the dog,” Logan said. “Keep it down. He hasn’t had breakfast yet.”

I grinned, shaking my head. “How long have you been baby-sitting?”

“Too long,” Logan said. “The sooner we get this guy dead, the sooner I can get back to my real caseload.”

“Hey. I got an idea about that,” Puck said, leaning between the seats again so that his head was bobbing above the console between Logan and me. “So we’re goin’ to court, right? So we get to the courthouse, and see, I’m goin’ up the steps to go make my statement, mindin’ my own business, and then bam!”

He was so excited he was frothing at the mouth. I leaned forward in my seat to avoid his flinging bodily fluids.

“These guys come out of nowhere, see?” He went on, clearly caught up in his own criminal genius. “They come wheeling around the corner in a big, jacked-up 4 by 4 and they just bam-ba-bam-bam-bam gun me down, but they’re really FBI guys, see? They’re shootin’ blanks! Only nobody knows it but you, me, and the Obituary Babe here. Pretty cool, huh?”

“Sit back,” Logan said. “We’re not staging a shootout. Hits don’t go down like that.”

“It could happen,” Puck grumped, sounding hurt.

“Logan’s right,” I agreed. “Hits never go down like that. Nobody knows there’s even been a hit until the cops find a dead body in a ditch in the boondocks.”

“Oh, what d’you know, blondie?” Puck said, and I stared at him in the rear-view mirror. He really did look like a weasel.

My great aunt Kat says there are three kinds of men: the ones you play with, the ones you stay with, and the ones that just need killing.

I hadn’t known Puck long, but I suspected he fit rather nicely into that last category. “My dad was on the job,” I said quietly, but Weasel didn’t know when to quit.

“No shit?” he said. “I always wanted to be a cop. I figure I’d be a good cop. You know that show CSI? I figure it out. Every time. Way before those dickheads on the show figure it out.”

“You know,” I said. “My daddy used to say it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think you’re an idiot than to open your mouth and prove it.”

“Hey,” Puck said. “What’s that s’posed ta mean?”

“Sit back,” Logan said. His voice was quiet but there was iron in it. Puck sat back. We dodged in and out of traffic and for a time I sat back too, watching the sliver of moon shine down on the rolling hills of Ranch Road 2222, the live oaks cast in shades of copper and blue in the early August morning.

Big, beautiful houses cut jagged chunks out of the limestone cliffs, a reminder of Austin’s relentless population boom. Even at that insane hour of the morning we were dodging traffic. The last of the big ranches were being devoured by a profusion of ever-present McMansions enormous, ostentatious homes carving their carefully fenced half-acre out of the diminishing Hill Country.

Lots of people visit Austin. No one ever leaves.

I turned from the window toward Logan. “So where are we heading?”

“To tie up some loose ends. What kind of shoes are you wearing?” he said, sliding a glance down my legs. Each of my nerve endings pinged simultaneously.

I cleared my throat. “Excuse me?”

“What kind of shoes?” he said, taking an abrupt right. “We’re going off-road.” I gripped the dash as the car squealed onto Mount Bonnell Road. I glanced down at my cute little red Keds, glad for once that I’d forgone fabulous for functional.

“We’re goin’ up to Mount Bonnell?” Puck jammed his head over the console again, wiggling his dark brows at me. My upper lip curled into a grimace. Mount Bonnell has one of the most spectacular views in Central Texas miles and miles of rolling Hill Country to the west and the glittering Austin skyline to the east. It’s also one of the hottest spots for the back-seat mambo in the four-county region.

“I never been up to Mount Bonnell. It’s kind of a lover’s leap, right?” Puck was all but bouncing at the edge of his seat. “The three of us are going up there? Really?”

I stared at him.

Logan’s jaw muscle tensed, and for a minute I thought he was going to elbow the weasel right in his pointy nose.

“Three of us are going up,” Logan said. “Two of us are coming back.”

Puck’s over-large Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard and sat back in his seat.

“We’re doing it here? I thought most of these things went down east of Austin,” I said.

“Most of them do. But we’re on a tight schedule. Today’s the only day he won’t be accounted for. We stage the obit today and postdate it for next week. He needs to be seen in public a couple of times this week, then we put the word on the street he’s been snuffed, flash the right people the obit, and he’s out of it until his court date.”

“And then you’re finished baby-sitting?”

“Until some other disaster blows in.”

“Hey! You callin’ me a disaster?” Puck said. Logan ignored him.

It was harder for me. I stared out the window. I was actually going to help fake a death? It seemed surreal. But then, half the time I spent with Logan was surreal.

I shivered. There were people bad people who were going to think Puck was dead. But if Puck could help put Selena Obregon and El Patron her malicious band of murderers behind bars, it was worth it. Even after more than two months, the mere thought of Obregon still made my stomach twist into a big, oily knot.

Logan turned into the narrow lot at the foot of the enormous limestone cliff, parked, and got out of the car.

I took a deep breath and climbed out after him.

Marlowe bounded out of the passenger door after me, probably using Puck’s lap as a springboard, judging from the way the weasel yelped.

Logan pointed at Marlowe. “Back.”

The dog immediately leapt back into the passenger seat to wait. I shook my head. One of these days, I was going to have to figure out how Logan did that.

I stood beside Logan at the back of the old car, which probably had been a piñata in a former life. The scents of cedar and blue sage wafted on the warm breeze and the sky was brilliant with stars. Not a scene conducive to murder. In the movies, murders take place in cold, dark alleys not on warm, beautiful, tree-covered bluffs overlooking a moonlit river. But this was Austin, where anything could happen and usually did.

With light from the opened trunk, Logan rummaged through two large duffle bags, a pair of radio consoles, a plastic tool kit marked Crime Scene, a box of twist-tie handcuffs, three large flashlights and an assorted array of weaponry. Though he had his usual Glock 27 in his hip holster, he selected another, older gun and an ammunition cartridge and double-checked the label on the cartridge.

“Jeez,” I said. “You use all this stuff?”

“Not all at once,” he said, and I grinned. The edginess I’d been feeling started to ease. Puck gawked at the hundred steps that led straight up to the rocky point.

I guessed he was in his mid-twenties, but his voice already had smoker’s rasp and his butt was shaped like the padded end of a barstool.

At the foot of the stairs, he balked. Probably afraid Logan wouldn’t let him stop for a smoke break.

“That’s a helluvalot of stairs.” He turned back to Logan and pointed at the park sign. “Says here this place locks up at ten, right?”

“Yeah,” Logan said. “I hear you’re a real stickler for rules.”

Logan shoved a clip with an orange marking on it into the .45 he’d brought from his trunk.

Puck’s eyes lit up. “Hey, is that the gun you’re gonna shoot me with? Logan stared at him. “Can I see it?”

Logan didn’t even look at him. “No.”

I shook my head. Texas men and their firearms. The final frontier. Logan checked the clip again, then handed me a sleek new Polaroid camera and a flashlight. He hefted the duffle over his shoulder, placed his left hand at the small of my back, and guided me toward the stairs. Despite the warmth of his large hand, a cold chill skittered up my spine.

“You ready?” Logan said to me, and I blinked.

Ready? I wasn’t sure. I mean, me on an honest-to-God FBI mission? My heart pounded and I felt a little dizzy as I clicked on the flashlight’s beam.

“Yes. I’m ready,” I said, hoping my voice didn’t falter in my throat the way it faltered in my head. But Logan was trusting me with this assignment, and I liked the way it felt.

As we headed up the stairs, I could feel Logan’s presence behind me, solid and steady. I’d forgotten how tall he was. I felt the heat his palm through my tee shirt, and the heat spread to some underused parts of my body …

I shook my head. Good grief, Cauley get a grip.

“You okay?” Logan said, and I nodded.

To be fair, I hadn’t seen him in more than two months, and I hadn’t felt a hand on my back, not to mention any other various body parts, since Logan set off my fireworks and then left on the Fourth of July. I figured I was entitled to a little latent lust, even under the less-than-desirable circumstances.

The three of us trekked up the steps, with much wheezing and moaning from Puck, past the park rules sign posted again at the top, where I aimed the light. No one in after ten, no glass bottles, pick up your own trash, no throwing rocks off the cliff …

Sounded reasonable. Mount Bonnell is the highest point in Austin. It’s a small park but a spectacular one, with a narrow observation deck and a rustic pavilion at the top. Rock-throwing used to be a real problem, which is one of the reasons they’d set a curfew. Some of the high-dollar homes perched beneath the peak had holes the size of small craters in their expensive Spanish tile roofs because some nitwit downed a couple of beers and pitched golf-ball-sized rocks from the peak.

I gazed around in the tree-shrouded darkness. Puck had been right about one thing the park definitely closed at ten. The place was deserted.

We were too high to hear Lake Austin lapping at the shoreline, but I could smell the fresh water, even at that distance. The only sounds were the rasp of rustling branches and a chirring chorus of cicadas.

“Stick close,” Logan said, and I nodded.

Logan led us past the pavilion, where we picked our way along a crude deer path fifty feet, almost straight down to an outcropping. Beyond that, the cliff dropped another seven hundred feet down to the lake.

“Stay away from the ledge,” Logan nodded toward the edge, as he sttled the the duffle on a waist-high boulder. I looked down. Way down. My stomach lurched.

“No problem,” I said, leaning back toward Logan.

Puck didn’t seem impressed by the altitude. “This is it? This don’t look so bad. Hey! You see those houses down there? Jeez! Talk about la mansiones.”

I followed Puck’s pointing finger. He was right. In the blue moonlight, the homes tucked into the cliffside were multi-million-dollar estates some I recognized from the ubiquitous two-page spreads that Liana LeFey in The Sentinel’s Lifestyle section can’t seem to stop covering.

Puck was peering over the cliff edge like he was deep in thought and unfamiliar with the process. He turned abruptly and shouted, “Hey, y’all. Watch this!”

He picked up a rock the size of a softball and heaved back to throw it off the cliff.

Judging from the look on Logan’s face, it could have been Puck’s last act.

The scree beneath Puck’s ridiculous looking cowboy boots gave way, and as though he’d seen it coming, Logan grabbed him by the back of his neck and jerked hard. Puck’s life flashed before my eyes.

“Give me that,” Logan growled, wrenching the rock from Puck’s grip. “You keep that up and we’re not going to have to fake your death.”

Logan’s voice was low and rough, and I had to give him an A-plus for not pitching Puck over the edge right then and there.

Logan is a patient man, but I have found there are limits to his civility.

“Gimme a break,” Puck said. “What are there, about fifty houses down there? Statistically, the odds of doing any real damage are next to nothing.”

Logan leveled a John Wayne gaze on him, and Puck stood down. Puck’s Adam’s apple bobbed violently, “Jeez. Take a pill. I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”

“You never do. Just stay there and don’t move,” Logan said.

Puck settled in by the outcropping as Logan unzipped the duffle and extracted a large black trash bag, a shirt, and a squeeze bottle of something that looked like catsup but probably wasn’t.

Logan twisted a silencer I hadn’t noticed onto the barrel of the gun. “Take off your shirt.”

Puck grinned at me.

“I think he meant you,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, right,” he said. He hesitated, then yanked his shirt over his head. Puck’s body was pale and puffy, and a tattoo of a Confederate flag one arm, a pot leaf behind a snake slithering up a dagger in the shape of a “T”—a Texas Syndicate tattoo. If repulsion had an odor, it smelled like Puck.

He noticed me staring at the tattoos but obviously mistook my attention. “You like my tatts? I can get you a good deal on ‘em—they even do, like, a payment plan if you don’t have the cash up front.”

I felt my upper lip curl a little. Just what the world needs. A title loan on your body parts.

I blew out a breath. “Yeah, you’re a re real renaissance man.”

Logan grinned at me as he readied the fake crime scene.

“How come you want my shirt?” Puck wanted to know. Logan whipped Puck’s shirt over a low-slung oak branch, stepped back, leveled his weapon, and shot the shirt.

The gun made three thwip, thwip, thwip sounds, the shirt jerked three times over the branch and the bullets pinged somewhere off a rock below. Puck jumped. “Holy shit! What the hell are you doing?”

“Going for reality.” Logan tossed Puck the shirt.

Catching the shirt, Puck poked his fingers through three holes. “This was a good shirt! Why didn’t you shoot a hole in that other piece of shit shirt you just pulled out of the bag?”

“I told you to wear something old,” Logan said.

“Well, yeah, but you didn’t say you were going to shoot holes in it,” Puck grumbled. He pulled the ruined shirt back over his head, careful not to muss his hair.

Ignoring him, Logan turned and leapt about six feet down to the next rocky ledge. He shifted back and forth, checking for sturdiness.

He looked up at Puck. “Your turn.”

Puck looked down, warily, watching Logan check the rock. I waited.

Shrugging, Puck said “See ya” and jumped off the edge to join Logan. “Ow!” he yelped when his feet hit rock. “I think I broke my ankle!”

“Can you move it?” Logan asked as he steadied Puck.

“Yeah,” he said wiggling his foot. “But it hurts.”

“Hey, where do you want me?” I called down to Logan, dizzy at the height.

“Right where you are,” he said. “Just point the camera down the incline when I get him in position. Be careful.”

He turned to Puck. “Roll up your sleeves so we can see your tatts for ID, then get on your stomach, face to the side so you’ll be identifiable.”

Puck hesitated, but he did as he was told. In the beam of my flashlight, I could see a shift in Puck’s demeanor. As he knelt down on the rock, his back slumped a little and he wavered, like he was getting spooked.

“Hey,” I called down to Puck. “This seems like a lot of trouble. Why can’t you just give the money back?”

“Yeah, right. I don’t have whole lot of what ya call liquid assets. And they don’t let you do that, blondie.”

I didn’t say anything, but he looked up at me, agitated. “I was helping my sister out of a sort of contract, okay? She don’t need none of this shit rainin’ on her. She’s a good girl.”

“All right, get down,” Logan said, his hand at Puck’s shoulder. “We gotta get this done before daylight.”

Logan shook the bottle of catsup-stuff and squeezed it in short, sharp bursts so that it spattered the rock, then poured three big globs on the holes in Puck’s shirt.

“Ugh, that feels disgustin’!” Puck yelped. But I was still thinking about the sister.

“Contract?” I stood staring down at the bizarre scene unfolding. I knew the blood was fake and no one was hurt, but it felt creepy with Puck laying there in a crumpled heap halfway down the cliff, gaping red bullet holes in his shirt barely visible in the dawn’s early light.

I frowned. Puck wasn’t a likeable guy, but somebody out there wanted him dead. And he had a sister in trouble.

“Yeah,” Puck called up, his voice muffled by his awkward position. “She’s a singer and she’s real good. Excellent. All she needs is a video. We’re this close.”

He indicated with his fingers how close they were.

Ah, his sister was a musician. Anywhere else, that might have been news, but Austin bills itself as the Music Capital of the World. Half the waiters and most of the cab drivers in Austin are musicians waiting for their big break. The other half are writers, but I don’t like to go there.

“Move your arm out by your head and hold still,” Logan said to Puck. “You ready with the camera, Cauley?”

“Yeah,” I said, aiming the Polaroid straight down.

“Cut the light,” he said and I did.

I snapped three shots, careful not to get the toes of my Keds in the frame, and placed the developing photos on a nearby boulder as the camera spit them out.

As Logan and Puck scaled back up to join me, I snapped the flashlight back on and peered down at the white-framed window of black film. The image began to surface from the void, and there was Puck, who appeared broken and blood-soaked on a boulder. I grimaced, fighting back a sudden wave of nausea. I knew Logan knew what he was doing, so I fought the urge to call down to him, I’ve got a really bad feeling about this …

“We done here?” Puck said. “I gotta go shake the stick.”

Logan tossed Puck the clean shirt and led the way back up the steep rock face as Puck wandered into a thicket of live oaks.

I grimaced. “He couldn’t have waited?”

“He missed that chapter in Emily Post,” Logan said. He brushed the leaves off a nearby bench so we could sit down.

I shook my head. “You’ve got the patience of a saint.”

Logan shrugged. “He’s a pain in the ass but he’s a good informant. He testifies and we get Selena Obregon tied to El Patron, we get them all for organized crime, tax evasion, and all kinds of other good stuff.”

He lowered his large frame to sit on the boulder, brushed the leaves off the surface beside him and indicated that I sit.

I flicked off the flashlight and sat down beside him, charmed at the gesture, and was suddenly very aware that we were alone. I smoothed my hair, wishing I’d had time to do something that resembled an actual style before leaving the house. There ought to be a rule a guy should give a girl at least an hour’s notice before asking her to help fake a murder.

Logan was quiet, like he was edging around something he wasn’t sure how to approach. He blew out a breath and said, “You heard from John Fiennes lately?”

I blinked, feeling like I’d been sucker-punched. Of all the things that could have surprised me on a moonlit night, finally alone together, I wouldn’t have guessed that’s what he had on his mind.

John Fiennes was the missing piece in the El Patron trial. The one that got away. He was a darkly handsome, young James Bond-type: beautiful, mysterious, and with the soul of an assassin. He got away with a truckload of contraband gold. But what really torqued me off was that he romanced most of my research on the Argentinean crime syndicate right out from under me. While it is true that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, I was trying to be a bigger person. Some days it works better than others.

I suspected Logan knew there was more to the Fiennes thing than I’d told him, but he hadn’t pressed it. Until now.

Drawing in some air, I said, “No. Not since that last call. If I had heard from him, I’d have called you and Cantu and the United States Army.”

Well. Maybe not the Army.

“No more phone calls?” he said, and a streak of irritation ground up my spine.

“No,” I said. “I’ve been getting some heavy breathers, but I assumed that’s because I’m testifying at the trial, or that it was one of the dorks Brynn keep trying to set me up with. So no, I haven’t heard from him.”

I wondered if his interest in Fiennes was personal or professional. With Logan, I’ve found that it is often both.

“What phone calls with heavy breathing?” he said, and I groaned.

“If you will recall,” I said, “you yourself gave me a phone full of heavy breathing just this morning.”

Logan chuckled. “That was different,” he said, and the tension between us eased.

“So, Puck is being pretty altruistic, considering he thinks his life is in danger,” I said, and Logan looked out across the horizon.

Finally, he nodded. “Yeah, funny, isn’t it?”

I was quiet.

“That’s the thing about a blabbermouth. They just can’t keep a secret. Especially when there’s a secret they’re dying to tell.”

That got my attention. Being a natural-born snoop, my ears pricked. “You think there’s more he’s not telling, and you’re hoping he’ll crack at the trial or be so indebted to you for saving his life that he’ll tell you when the time comes?”

Logan didn’t say anything, but I could feel something inside him relax. Probably there weren’t a lot of people he could talk to, and it made me feel like Queen of the Known Universe that I was one of those people.

The predawn air was heavy with quiet. We sat there, looking at the lake below, and I felt the small space between us begin to buzz with electricity.

I snuck a surreptitious glance at him. His dark hair was short, shorter than the last time I’d seen him. His chin was strong and his eyes were the color of warm chocolate. The bridge of his nose was a little crooked, like he’d seen both sides of a bad punch and came out none the wiser.

And we were on top of Mount Bonnell, the most romantic spot in Central Texas. If you weren’t helping fake the murder of a guy who could be the poster child for celibacy.

Logan sat staring out over the skyline. He was quiet the way my stepfather, the Colonel, is quiet when he’s got something to say.

I waited.

Finally, he said, “After today, we’re going to have to limit contact until the Obregon trial is over.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling like the breath got knocked out of my lungs. I hadn’t seen that one coming. I tried to swallow my disappointment. “Because we’re both witnesses in the Obregon trial?”

He nodded, and we sat there in silence.

“When you say limit contact, does that mean reduce contact or no contact at all?”

He smiled at that. “Let’s try reduce and see how that works.”

I felt a little better, but not much. Logan had finally barreled back into my life, and now he was barreling right back out. We sat in strained silence for what seemed like a very long time.

“Puck’s sister’s got a gig on Friday at The Pier. They’re shooting some kind of music video there and it’ll be Puck’s last official public appearance. Maybe you could come and we can see how the reduce thing works out,” he said, and I smiled with my whole body.

Abruptly, Logan said, “Did you see that?”

“Hmm?” The only thing I’d been looking at was Logan.

“There,” he said, nodding toward the still-dark sky.

“What? I don’t see anything ” but then I did see it.

A shooting star.

And then another. My breath caught, and I watched as bright stars streaked across the dark blue blanket of sky. “Wow … ” I whispered. “Shooting stars.”

He smiled.

I love shooting stars, and they always hold me in a kind of star-struck suspension. There were  more streaks of light than I’d ever seen.

We both watched for a breathless moment. I shook my head.

“This incredible,” watching as tiny bits of comet blitzed the sky. “I’ve always had a thing for stars. Daddy used to say you were never really lost because you could navigate by the stars. One time I asked him what happened when the stars fell, and he just smiled, and I’ll never forget this: he said that the important stars didn’t fall. That they were always in the same place in the sky, even when the sun came up. He said, “The stars are always there, Cauley Kat. You may not always see them, but they’re always there … you just have to have a little faith.”

My voice trailed off, and my cheeks warmed with color. I looked back at the sky. “I used to think they were magic.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Logan said.

I shot him a sidelong glance. “Huh. A philosophical fed.”

“A literate one, anyway. The Perseid meteor shower—one of my favorite things on earth. We won’t see another Perseid this active in our lifetime.”

He nodded toward the sky.

“One of the most beautiful sights in the world and it only lasts a little while,” he said, but at that last part, he was looking at me.

Our gazes caught and I swear I could hear my heart pounding in my ears.

“There must be hundreds of shooting stars,” I whispered, leaning toward him. “I don’t think I have that many wishes.”

“You only need one good one.” Logan smiled, and his eyes did that crinkle thing at the corners that made my stomach drop right down to my doo dah.

We were sitting close, so close I could smell the leather of his shoulder holster, his lips just a few inches from mine, and in that moment I thought he was going to kiss me.

I jumped when his cell phone rang. He cleared his throat and went for his phone. “Logan,” he said by way of greeting. His voice sounded gruff, like he’d swallowed sandpaper.

He was quiet a moment, then said, “About thirty minutes,” he said and waited some more. “Right,” he said, and disconnected. He blew out a breath and clipped his phone back on his belt next to his badge.

“Well, kid, we gotta go.”

That was so not my wish.

I gazed up at the stars still streaking across the sky, but I felt a lot less enthusiastic about it. Somebody up there owes me a wish.

He tucked the Polaroids in his pocket. “The obit needs to be dated for Tuesday. I’ve got a mug of Puck on a jump drive. Can you do this yourself or do you need me for anything?”

Did I need him for anything? Clearly he didn’t understand the whole wish thing.

“Um, no,” I said, trying not to stare at his lips. “Just his vitals. Name, age, place of birth. You said you want the pub date marked Tuesday, but I’ll need the time and day of death … ”

Logan nodded, his eyes still intent on mine, and I felt like I was right back on the edge of the cliff, dizzy and about to fall.

The bushes behind us rustled, and Puck came tromping though the undergrowth. My heart dropped, and the reality and the unreality of what we’d done came flooding back.

And Logan was leaving. Again.

Puck came into the clearing, buttoning his jeans as he walked. “Hey! Did y’all see all those stars?”

“Yeah, we saw ’em,” Logan said. “We’ve got to go.”

At that moment, an enormous star blazed through the sky, so close to the earth that it looked like it might set the trees on fire and plummet into the lake.

“Will you look at that?” Puck said, staring as the star flamed toward the earth. “Ain’t that the shit?”

“Yeah,” Logan said. “It is.”

But he was looking at me.

 

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