Beautiful Imperfection: Softcover
When witnesses to a mass murder start dying, breast cancer survivor Teddy Federline must push aside her anger and trust an ex-boyfriend to ensure she lives long enough to testify against the killer.
Detective Sloan Michaels still has deep feelings for Teddy but realizes that after the way he left her years ago, he has a lot of making up to do. Now, he must keep his focus on the case and off the woman he loves. If Sloan doesn't keep Teddy safe, he'll never get a second chance.
“I can’t believe you set me up. Why didn’t you tell me?” Teddy Federline knew she should have stayed home. She was in no way ready for this.
She adjusted her right bra strap in Club Jetty’s bathroom mirror and drew in a deep breath. The lights were bright, showing every pore in her face. The aroma of hyacinths cascaded over her from a woman who’d sprayed perfume moments earlier. Chill bumps formed on Teddy from the vent blowing cool air overhead. She rubbed her arms up and down. Why couldn’t the restaurant have the heat on? You’d almost think it summer instead of February.
Teddy dipped her finger in the concealer before applying it to the dark circles under her eyes. A loose strand of hair bounced over her cheek when she looked into the makeup bag. This new hairstyle reached her chin, enabling her to curl it back behind her ear. Not even a year ago, her hair fell to the middle of her back. She hated it short and curly, but at least it was her own.
“You’ve made too many excuses the past couple of weeks for me to chance it.” Claire Hoover, Teddy’s best friend, applied a fresh coat of lipstick. “Besides, after what Jim did to you, you need to find a decent guy.”
A pang darted into Teddy’s heart from the cruel words her former boyfriend left her with. “I didn’t sign up for this,” he’d said before he marched out of the restaurant, leaving her to pay the bill. Yeah, like she’d signed up for cancer. What a jerk.
Claire said something bringing Teddy back to the present. “Well? What do you think? Steve looks like a decent guy.”
“How can you be sure he’s decent when all you’ve noticed are his muscles?” Teddy sighed. From the way Steve spoke, he didn’t fit the good Christian man she’d dreamt of. “Saying I had to be a ten. Come on. He sounds part Neanderthal.” She looked pale, not sure whether it was from the overhead lights or her illness. During the chemotherapy, she lost eight pounds. Now due to her medication, she’d gained it back and more.
Claire took her hand. “I know you’re having a rough time, but I thought it’d make you feel better. ’Cuz nothing beats the blues more than someone cute giving you attention.” Claire released Teddy’s hand and turned back to the mirror.
“I’ll endure. I just wish Steve wouldn’t smile so much. The glare’s about to blind me.” Teddy laughed.
“It is a bit much, isn’t it?” Claire nudged Teddy with her hip as they walked out of the bathroom. “Can you say whitening treatments?”
Teddy jumped at three loud popping sounds. A woman screamed. Then instant silence. Teddy pulled Claire down to a crouch by the side of the bar.
“Sit down.” A man’s deep voice commanded on the other side of the divider. “No one’s going anywhere until the fun’s over.”
Except for hushed sobs and music drifting in from the club portion of the business, the restaurant was quiet.
“What’s going on?” Claire whispered.
Teddy shook her head. Her heart slammed against her ribcage. She peeked around the corner. A figure dressed in black pointed a handgun at the woman with the hyacinth perfume. She sat motionless in a chair.
“Please. I have a family,” the woman whimpered.
An evil grin fell over the man’s face. A shudder rose up Teddy’s back when the man placed the muzzle of a gun against the woman’s forehead.
The lady cringed and closed her eyes.
“Sure hope you have your insurance paid up.” He squeezed the trigger. The woman’s body slammed backward.
Teddy crawled back behind the partition. Her body shook at the wickedness of this man’s actions. Claire raised her quivering hand to her mouth.
Teddy scooted around the corner again. The shooter’s back was to her. She jerked up to see their table. Steve’s head leaned back and his arms dangled at his sides. The other two men where they sat earlier were slumped forward. Terror rushed into Teddy. Where was Linda? Teddy’s eye caught sight of her friend who cowered at a stool near one of the tables by the salad bar. Linda’s stare fixated on her husband, one of the men at the table.
Teddy continued to hide behind the bar. Her pulse pounded in her ears. She had to find a means of escape. The killer stood between them and the front door. The hallway led to the bathrooms then a dead end. Determination rose in Teddy. God didn’t bring her through cancer to die by some jerk with a gun.
“Here.” Teddy’s stomach bounced. She grabbed the cell phone from her purse and handed it to Claire. “Get back in the restroom and call the police.”
“What are you planning to do?” Claire’s voice trembled.
“I don’t know. But you go. If there’s a window, climb out.” Teddy gave Claire’s hand a squeeze. Tears welled in her friend’s eyes. “I’ll be all right.”
Claire nodded and crept to the bathroom.
Teddy raised her eyes to the ceiling and whispered, “Please God, get us through this.”
The gunman sneered at a pregnant waitress Teddy met when she first entered the restaurant. Her name tag read Brenda.
“Please. I’m having a baby.” She let out a sob.
The killer showed no emotion and shot her point blank.
Teddy scooted back behind the bar. She wiped her sweaty palms against her jeans. When did she get to be so brave? Maybe she should follow Claire’s lead. She sucked in a breath before glancing over her shoulder. Claire was out of sight.
“Who’s next?” The man laughed. “Maybe you. Or you.”
Teddy knew she had to do something. She eased back around the corner of the partition. A young man with a crew cut caught her attention. The gunman paced a few feet in front of him. The young man gave a nod which Teddy returned. An ally.
A silver tray which usually held glasses sat on the ledge above Teddy’s head. She lifted it, making sure to not scoot it across the counter. The gunman walked toward Linda, still hidden behind the stool. He kicked the seat out from under her grasp. Linda toppled to her knees, her face wet with tears.
Teddy said another quick prayer then stood upright.
“Hey, you,” she yelled and flung the tray with every ounce of strength she had.
It smacked the executioner in the back. The blow jolted him. He jerked around. His dark eyes showed no hint of a soul. He aimed the gun at Teddy.
The short-haired man rushed forward and rammed the shooter into a tall wooden table. The gun slid across the floor. The gunman’s head hit the edge so hard he lost consciousness. The young man stood at full soldier’s stance with one foot on the killer’s back. He gave Teddy a glance and again nodded.
The front door jerked open and two police officers rushed in, guns drawn.
Taber Hainsworth gazed at his reflection in the large mirror that hung on the wall. Bloodshot green eyes stared back at him. He ran a trembling hand through his mussed hair. In his other, he held a glass of scotch. The bottle on the counter sat half empty. Before the night ended, it’d be gone.
The staff had left for the day. The only sound was the second hand of the clock. Tick, tick. He’d never noticed its loud noise before now. His heart beat with the rhythm. Tick, tick.
How could he let it go this far? In just a few short moments, two murders should occur.
If everything worked out according to plan, Sprague would be out of the country by midnight. Tab would transfer the rest of the funds into a Cayman’s bank account in the morning. Not paying wasn’t an option. He didn’t know Sprague personally, but anyone crazy enough to shoot a pregnant woman would come back and hunt him down.
When talk of murder first came up in conversation between his father-in-law and campaign manager, he thought they were joking. But the more they discussed it, the more he realized they were serious. Killing for a political career. It seemed surreal, like a movie played out in slow motion. Tick, tick.
A former astronaut, Tab once held life by the horns. Why did Brenda have to go and get herself knocked up?
“Too bad you didn’t know who the power was in this election.” Tab poured more bronze liquid into his glass.
A drunken grin ran across his face when he recalled the popularity, the wealth, even the beautiful mistress on the side. She thought getting pregnant would cause him to leave his wife, but no way. Not when Paige had all that money.
“I wish you all had left me out of it.” His vision blurred. He tossed back the remainder of his glass. The liquor no longer burned his throat, now numb to it, to the whole situation.
“Here’s to you, you scared fool.” He raised the empty glass and toasted his reflection.
He glanced at the clock. Tick, tick. Time mocked him. It drew close to T minus zero hour, as his friends at Kennedy Space Center might say. Ten minutes until eleven. It should be about over now. Tension released his shoulders from its embrace. He punched the button on the remote control to turn on the local news. Tab swallowed hard not convinced if the bile in his gut came from too much alcohol or the person he’d become.