BY: LISANNE HARRINGTON

A dead father’s heroism is difficult to live up to, but an embittered mother is even harder to live with. Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Dana Sinclair longs for just two things: more action on the job, so she can earn a promotion like her father before her, and a better relationship with her estranged mother. When her partner is killed, she wonders how she’ll get along without him. But when her own mother is murdered shortly thereafter and it appears that her dead father has come back from the grave to do it, she does everything she can to uncover the truth, despite warnings to the contrary from her boss. Then there’s the bouquet of English daisies a mysterious man hands her at her partner’s funeral—the very same flowers Daddy gave her the night he was murdered. So, are the flowers a gift…or a warning?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Murder in the Family by Lisanne Harrington, Dana Sinclair is troubled. Becoming a cop like her father, who died heroically in the line of duty—or so she thinks—Dana is estranged from her mother who doesn’t like her choice of career. But when her mother is killed, Dana begins to unravel a dark family secret that calls her father’s death into question, as it appears that he has come back from the dead to kill her mother. As Dana struggles to uncover the truth, she puts everything on line—even her own life.

Well written, suspenseful, and intriguing, this mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Murder in the Family by Lisanne Harrington is the story of a young woman who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and be a cop, something for which her mother can never seem to forgive her. When Dana Sinclair’s partner is killed, Dana gets a bouquet at his funeral from a strange man. The flowers are pink English daisies, ones that have a special meaning for her. Then there are the photos of her childhood that someone sends her, but who? After her mother is brutally murdered, Dana starts to wonder if what her mother told her about her father dying heroically is true or if it was all lies. She suspects her father has returned from the grave and is responsible for the murder. But how can she prove it?

Although Murder in the Family is a completely different genre than her first three books, Harrington proves that she can handle the mystery/thriller genre equally well, crafting a tale of betrayal, deceit, and greed that will keep you turning pages as fast as you can from beginning to end.

CHAPTER 1

Gunfire exploded somewhere close by. Two rapid shots. Then a third. Close enough to make Orange County Deputy Sheriff Dana S. Sinclair’s heart jump into her throat and her hand go automatically to her sidearm. It was right here, right in the McDonald’s parking lot. Right where she had left her partner, José Ramírez, talking to a young boy not two minutes ago. She sprang out of the food line and pushed through the crowd already rushing in the doors, trying to get out of the way of whoever was shooting.

“Shots fired,” Dana shouted into her shoulder radio mic as she burst out the door. She gave their location and ducked behind an old Mustang convertible parked about thirty feet away from the squad car. José’s legs stuck out from behind the cruiser.

They didn’t move. She’d give anything to go to him and make sure he was still alive, but he’d be pissed if she let the shooter get away.

“Officer down. Officer down!”

A boy in a black hoodie ran away from them, and she raced after him.

“Down,” she commanded the few gawking by-standers who hadn’t scattered when the shots were fired. “Everybody get down.”

The boy turned and fired two rounds. Dana crouched, took aim, and returned fire. The bullet hit him in the fleshy part of the shoulder. He looked wide-eyed at the wound as blood flowed down his chest. She went to him quickly but cautiously and took the 9-mm Ruger out of his hand.

“Better sit down and put some pressure on that.” She snapped her handcuffs around his wrist and got a better look at his face. Asian, about fifteen. She frowned. He resembled the composite sketch the department had recently released of one of a trio of home invasion suspects. Was this boy involved? Was that why he shot José? She secured the suspect to the door handle of the car next to him and ran to her partner’s side. He had two holes. The one in his hand was minor. The one in his thigh worried her. She spoke into her radio mic again. “This is officer three-two-four-seven-nine. Sinclair. Shots fired. Repeat, shots fired. Two casualties. Officer down. Hurry!”

Dana dropped to her knees and applied pressure on the largest wound. She scanned the crowd and spotted a young man wearing a faded Angels T-shirt, with a battered leather backpack slung over his shoulder. “You.” She pointed at him. “Anything in that pack of yours we can use as a compress?”

The man took off the bag and rummaged inside. “Napkins?” He tentatively held them up for her inspection.

“What’s your name?” she asked him.

“Matt.”

“Okay, Matt.” She pointed in the direction of the boy who’d shot José. “Take the napkins to that kid over there. Hold them in place on his wound. Press hard. Understand?”

He nodded, and Dana turned back to her partner. “Hold on, José.” She tried to ignore the blood. There was so much of it. She pressed down on his thigh. “You’ll be okay.” Her hands were quickly drenched.

She increased the pressure. That damn kid must have nicked the femoral artery. This was bad. Really, really bad. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re okay,” she said. “Just hold on. Help’s on the way. Stay with me.”

The bleeding wasn’t going to stop on its own. Dana ripped a wide strip off the bottom of her uniform shirt and shook her partner softly to make sure he was still conscious. “This is going to hurt,” she told him, and wound the fabric tourniquet tightly around his thigh. She knotted it as securely as possible, wincing when a semi-conscious José moaned.

“Sorry, partner,” she whispered.

“S’okay, kiddo.” His eyes momentarily rolled back in his head, then cleared. Dana leaned close. She didn’t want to miss anything he might say. “Don’t let this change you.” He grimaced, his eyes flickering as he struggled to stay awake. A faint smile formed on his lips. “Stay crotchety.”

She smiled back. “Ha ha. You’ll be barking orders at me again before I know it.”

“Not this time.” José’s eyes fluttered shut, and his breathing slowed to almost nothing.

“No, wait.” She scanned the crowd. “Where’s that damn ambulance? Someone get a doctor!” She turned back to her partner. “Hang on, José. Just hang on!”

Tears streamed down her face and splashed onto her hands as she tightened the makeshift tourniquet. She glanced over her shoulder when she heard the faint sounds of a siren, then smiled down at José.

“Hold on just a little longer, buddy. Help’s on the way.” But it was no use. He was bleeding out. There was nothing more that she could do. Her partner, her friend, her brother in blue was going to die. That punk had killed him. “Aw, José,” she whispered. “Stay with me. Please. I can’t make it without you.”

He opened his eyes. “Watch after my kids,” he said, and his faint smile slowly faded.

“Don’t leave me,” Dana cried and shook him angrily. “Don’t you dare, you son-of-a-bitch.”

But he was already gone.

CHAPTER 2

The funeral was three days later. Dana had never been to the Cathedral Memorial Gardens in nearby Garden Grove before, but she was well aware of the turmoil the congregation of the Crystal Cathedral had suffered years before. Dana was surprised it was to be José’s final resting place. Final resting place. She still couldn’t believe he was gone.

Protocol stated that the ceremony couldn’t begin until all elements, dignitaries and attendees were in place, and after quite a long wait, things had finally gotten underway. Graveside, two hundred of the county’s finest were there to honor one of their fallen. Dana sat a few rows behind José’s family: his elderly mother and step-father, four-year-old Gracie, and seven-year-old Teyo, who sat stoically next to his grandmother, lower lip trembling. Dana wondered if he remembered his mother’s funeral. He’d only been three when she’d had a stroke and died shortly after giving birth to Gracie.

She felt so bad for the kids. What would they do without him? What would she do without him? The thought had always been there, in the back of her mind, but she’d managed to shove it out of the way anytime it surfaced. Even more importantly, what would happen to Teyo and Gracie, now that their father was gone?

She watched as the Honor Guard folded the flag that had been draped across José’s coffin and presented it to his mother, who sobbed quietly. Dana reached underneath her sunglasses and did her best to stem her own tears. But when the bagpipes started playing, she totally lost it.

Fishing in her purse for a tissue, a candy bar wrapper, a Post-it note, anything to wipe her nose with, she was startled when a shadow fell across her lap. She looked up to see a man hiding behind huge aviator sunglasses with a baseball cap pulled down low on his head, and used the sleeve of her uniform instead. Screw it. That’s what dry cleaning was for.

“Officer Sinclair?” he said. “Officer Dana Sinclair?”

“Yes?” Dana tried to get up but the man stood so close that it was impossible. He was definitely in her personal space bubble and she shifted a little and rested her hand on her knee to stop its bouncing up and down like a kangaroo on speed.

“Here.” A bunch of pink flowers was thrust in her face, and she dropped her purse as she bobbled them.

“Who…” She reached down to get her purse off the ground. When she looked up again, the service was over and people were leaving. Frowning, she hurried out of the row of chairs, trying to get past the other mourners without shoving them out of her way, but by the time she got into the aisle, there was no sign of the strange man. She made her way out to the parking lot as quickly as the crowd would allow, but it was too late. She’d lost him.

That was really weird. Why would someone bring me flowers, especially here? She shook her head. No time to dwell on it now. She wanted to say goodbye to the kids, who were just about to climb into the limo. But before she could reach them, someone grabbed her arm and whirled her around.

“Hey!” That was totally uncalled for and she meant to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. Instead, she took one look and crumpled into the man’s arms.

“It’s okay,” he told her. “I’m here.” Michael Finnegan MacDermott, her childhood friend and the person who knew all her childhood secrets, wrapped his arms around her, crushing the flowers between them.

“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I know. I’m so sorry.” Finn gave her a crumpled linen handkerchief and she blew her nose with it.

“What are you doing here?”

“I told you I’d be here if I could.”

“You also said you were really busy and probably wouldn’t make it.”

He shrugged. “Had to be here for my BFF, right?”

Dana cringed. Not only did she hate that expression, but she really didn’t think of him that way. Not anymore. Granted, he’d been a good friend when they were kids, one she’d known forever, but as fond of him as she was, he could never be the friend and confidante that José had been.

“Come on,” she said, shaking it off and slinging her arm across his shoulders. “I know a little spitfire who’s just dying to see you again.” Charlie, her nine-pound Miniature Pincher, loved everybody but seemed to have a special affection for Finn. She’d sit in his lap and demand he rub her belly for hours.

“How is the little mongrel?”

“She’s good.” They walked to her car. “Why don’t you follow me?”

“You kidding?” He leaned on her door as she climbed behind the wheel. “I’ll race you.”

He pushed the door closed, ran over to his car, jumped in, and sped off. Dana shook her head and wondered if he’d ever grow up. Good thing he didn’t peel out. She would have had to kill him if he did that.

***

On the drive home, she blasted her favorite oldies station and tried not to think about things, but it was a losing battle. After José was shot, she’d given her statement about it to Internal Affairs, and it had stirred up all kinds of emotions in her: sorrow, anger, guilt. To top it off, she’d been placed on administrative leave. Routine. Perfectly normal under the circumstances, but being relieved of her service weapon and badge—even temporarily—left her feeling powerless. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, today was her twenty-seventh birthday.

She entered the lobby of her building, grabbed her mail from the box, and considered taking the stairs. But as drained as she was, she decided to give herself a break and ride the elevator for a change. She stepped inside, pushed the button for her floor, and leaned against the mirrored wall while the elevator climbed slowly upward. When it finally got to the fourth floor, the car made its usual bumpy landing and the doors contemplated opening. She squeezed through them and headed slowly down the hall.

As she fished in her purse for her keys, she realized that Finn had, indeed, beaten her home. He was sitting against her front door. She hoped to be able to convince him to leave so she could go to the wake and surround herself with her fellow officers to commiserate and tell stories. Maybe have a drink or three. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate his being here—she did. She couldn’t really explain it, she just wanted to wallow in her sadness a little longer, be with others who really understood what she was going through. “Hey, Finn.”

“Hey.”

She unlocked the door and couldn’t help but laugh as Charlie leaped past her and jumped on Finn. He knelt down and let her lick his face.

“Okay, little girl, okay.” He tried to push her gently away but she was too excited and kept coming back for more. He looked up at Dana. “Little help here?”

“Sorry pal, you’re on your own.” She set her purse and the flowers down on the kitchen table and searched for something to put them in. She no longer had an actual vase, thanks to Teyo and José, who’d broken the only one she’d had during a Father’s Day free-for-all involving a Nerf football. She rummaged around and found an old plastic Circle K soda cup.

José must be laughing his ass off. The warm and fuzzy feelings that sprang up caught her off-guard, and she smiled. It felt good.

Charlie’s toenails clicked on the linoleum. “How about some dinner?”

The little fireball woofed her agreement and trotted over to her food dish. Dana took the hint and dumped a cup of kibble into her bowl. Charlie practically inhaled it.

Dana’s cell rang, jangling her already sensitive nerves. She tripped over the kitchen table leg in her rush to answer it. It might be the department calling her back to active duty.

“Hello?” she asked without taking the time to look at the caller ID.

“What, no ‘Dana Sinclair’?” Finn said quietly. She’d nearly forgotten he was there with her. “What would the goon squad say if they found out? You’d be kicked out of the club.”

“Stop it,” she mouthed, but he wasn’t looking at her. He pulled back the kitchen blind a few inches and peered out the window. She frowned and turned her attention back to the phone. “Hello?”

When no one answered, she clicked off and put her phone down.

“Wrong number?”

“Guess so.”

“Hey, I know things are pretty crappy right now, but I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you.” He turned and glanced into the living room, almost as though he expected someone else to show up.

“You looking for someone?”

He turned back to her and smiled. “Nope.”

She pulled out a chair and sat down. It was another sticky autumn day, and she blew her regulation-length bangs off her forehead and fanned the back of her neck.

“So,” Finn began as he sat down across from her, and Dana chuckled. She knew what was coming. “How many times you clean your six-shooter today?”

“This isn’t the wild, wild west, you know,” she told him. “Besides, it’s not my service weapon. Had to turn that in when they put me on administrative leave. That there’s just an itty bitty little thirty-eight caliber Smith & Wesson.”

“Answer the question, girlie.”

“Only twice.”

“How many?”

“Twice.”

“How many?”

“All right, four. Four times. But my boots only once. Hardly thought about it at all. Seriously.”

In reality, she’d thought about nothing but justice as she sat in front of the television while she cleaned her revolver and polished her heavy black service boots until she was afraid she might rub a hole in them if she didn’t stop. It had comforted her and helped her pass the time.

She’d made sure her superiors noticed the resemblance between the shooter and the composite sketch of the home invasion suspects, and was glad when it turned out he was one of the perps. But it hadn’t explained what he was doing at McDonald’s or why he’d shot José. Had it been some sort of gang initiation? They were hoping to get a confession out of the boy, but until they did, the best she could do was take small comfort in the fact that they had caught the shooter.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Finn said. He plucked a petal off one of the daisies. “What else did you do? Oh, wait. Let me guess. Umm, haul your carcass out of bed, drag yourself into the living room, and stare at the walls for hours before finally deciding to watch some grainy old film noir on TV.”

He knew her so well. On a typical day, after grabbing a Pop-Tart and taking a six-mile run around the neighborhood, she’d slip into her uniform, shove her feet into her freshly polished service boots and give her badge a final spit-shine before she raced out the door. Today, she’d barely been able to pull herself together in time for the afternoon funeral.

Finn plucked another petal and frowned. “Where’d you get these?”

“Some guy at the funeral gave them to me.”

“What guy?”

“Dunno. Just some guy I’ve never seen before.”

“Well, who’re they from?”

“Beats me. He just shoved them at me and took off. No card or anything.”

“You know what they are, don’t you?”

“They’re pink English daisies. You know—” She hesitated. “—Fairy Fire.” It was what her father had called them. She hadn’t seen any English daisies in the last twenty years, not since the night her father was murdered.

Strangely, Finn just sat there a moment, stone-faced and silent, even though he knew exactly what they were and what they meant to her. Then he got up and wandered into the living room. Dana pushed back her chair and watched him. Was he pacing? Why? What was going on with him?

“Finn?”

“Hmm?”

“You hear what I said?”

“Yeah, I heard you.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird?” she asked. “Who would have sent them to me? It’s not like I’ve met anybody new.”

Normally, he would have teased her unmercifully about getting flowers. But his silence was starting to freak her out.

“I never even met anyone who knew what English daisies were,” she told him. “Except Dad, of course.” She paused. “Think he’s come back from the dead? Sent them to me from beyond the grave?”

“That’s ridiculous.” He sounded angry. His back was to her, and she wondered again what was wrong.

“Geez, Louise,” she said. She walked over to him. Touched his arm. “I was only kidding. Lighten up, will ya?”

More silence. Not even the usual “don’t call me Louise.”

“How do you explain it, then?” she pressed. This cat and mouse shit was really starting to piss her off. She smacked his bicep. “Hey. Will you just turn around and look at me? What’s the matter with you?”

He turned to glare at her, his voice hard. “I think you should just forget about them. Toss them in the trash and be done with it.” He brushed past her, his voice softening a bit. “You don’t need some anonymous asshole sending you flowers.”

She followed him back into the kitchen. “I’m not going to throw them away just because I don’t know who sent them.” She’d never have chosen them herself, but since they were here now, she might as well enjoy them. She turned the cup a quarter of a turn. “They’re kind of pretty, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t think.”

“Maybe I have a secret admirer.” Even though the very thought made her uneasy.

“You should be worried about a stalker,” Finn said, reinforcing how well he knew her. “Not wondering about a secret admirer.”

“I’m not.” Where was his anger coming from? “It’s just—if it were any other flower—I don’t—”

“Leave it alone, Dana.”

“Leave what alone? What’re you talking about?”

“I have to go now.”

“Wait!” Dana followed him to the front door. “Where you going?”

“Do yourself a favor, Dana. Throw the damn things out and forget you ever got them.”

“Will you just stop and tell me what your problem is?”

“Take care of yourself,” he said. “And for God’s sake, be careful.”

“Finn, wait.”

“Oh, and by the way, happy birthday.” He charged out the door and fled down the hall, leaving Dana wondering what the hell that was all about.

© 2019 by Lisanne Harrington