Authors: Susan Mallery
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Large Type Books, #Love Stories
ou need to get out of town," Captain Rodriguez said.
Nick Archer leaned back in his chair and rubbed his temple. "You think I don't know that? Easier said than done."
He was lying. Leaving wasn't so hard. He'd done it a million times. He just left. What held him back this time was the fact that he couldn't think of a single place to go. Hell of a situation for a man to find himself in.
Rodriguez turned toward his computer terminal and touched a few buttons. "They're getting closer, Nick. If they blow your cover, you're dead in less than four hours.
"Yeah, I will." Just as soon as he figured out where he was going. May was a nice month just about anywhere. Maybe Vegas. He could get real lost there and not surface for days. "I'll let you know when I get there," he continued. "And I'll make sure I'm close to a phone."
"Good idea," the captain said. Concern drew his mouth straight. "You've risked it all for this assignment, Nick. Just give it a few more days. A couple of weeks at most. By then the Feds will have what they need and we can issue the arrest warrants. By the end of the month, you'll be back at the Santa Barbara Police Department."
Nick had been undercover for over a year. It was difficult to imagine returning to
and picking up the threads of his life. After a year, how much of a life would he have to pick up?
He stood and walked to the door. When he pulled it open, the captain frowned and said in a voice loud enough to carry, "If you want Pentleman out of jail, you're going to have to spring for bail. This time, we're not cutting a deal."
Pentleman was a small-time crook picked up for robbery earlier this morning. He was one of Nick's "employees" and had given him an excuse to come to the station and talk to Rodriguez. Only his captain back in
, Rodriguez here in
Nick gave the captain a mock salute and headed for the front desk. He would make Pentleman's bail, then leave town. The issue of where to go nagged at him until he saw Hannah Pace coming off her shift. She spoke to the young officer taking her place at the communications console. As she turned to step into the corridor, she spotted Nick. Her eyes narrowed in annoyance.
Nick jogged the last couple of steps to catch up with her. She was tall, nearly five-ten, with long legs and an awkward grace that made him think about foals loping through pastures. At six foot four, he could easily match her stride, which he did. She ignored him. It was a ritual between them. One he enjoyed more than he wanted to admit.
"Hey, beautiful, you off work?"
"Obviously." The single word was clipped.
She didn't look at him, not even when he put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. She simply grabbed his wrist and let it fall behind her. Nick took advantage of the position to pat her curvy rear. That earned him a quick glare.
"I'm armed," she said, heading for the side door and the officers' parking lot. "And I'm not afraid to use it on low-life scum like you."
"Hannah, you've got me all wrong. I respect you."
"Yeah, right. What does that mean? You don't expect to pay for sex with me?"
He winced audibly and pressed a hand to his chest. "I'm deeply wounded."
She pulled open the door and stepped outside. Warm air, smelling of sea and sunshine, enveloped them. The sky was clear and
Hannah paused, inhaled deeply and stared up at him. Her eyes were big and brown, the color of milk chocolate. He'd always had a thing for chocolate. Apparently, he also had a thing for women in uniform, although he hadn't realized that until he'd seen Hannah in hers. There was something about a sensibly cut garment hugging the female form that got his blood hot and his body bothered. Only it wasn't just any female form; it was very specifically Hannah's.
"What do you want, Nick?"
The defensiveness was gone. She sounded tired. He looked closer and saw shadows under her eyes. Thick, shiny, dark hair had been pulled back into a prim bun. Not even one tendril escaped to taunt him. Yet the thought of releasing her heavy hair, of running his fingers through the loose strands, made his fingers itch.
"Let me buy you a drink," he said and gave her his best grin. It usually worked. He'd used it on countless women before and had been successful enough to make his friends grumble. The only person who seemed immune was Hannah. For a year she'd ignored his teasing, his compliments, his lines and his invitations. He suspected she viewed him as a life-form only slightly higher than a cockroach.
She stared at him a long time. "You don't give up, do you?"
His grin turned wicked. "On you? Never."
"Why? What is so appealing about me?"
Her question caught him off guard. Normally she just rolled her eyes and kept on walking.
"I like how you keep your desk organized. All those piles are always tidy."
She shook her head. "Just as I thought. You're nothing more than a schoolboy defying authority."
Before she could leave, he placed his hand on her forearm. Her uniform had short sleeves, and he could feel the warmth of her skin and the slight tremor that rippled through her.
"It's more than that, Hannah." He leaned close and, with his free hand, touched his index finger to the corner of her mouth. "I like how your lips always turn up a little, even when you're mad. Like now."
She stepped back and pulled her arm free of his touch. "I'm not mad, I'm impatient."
"Impatient?" He raised an eyebrow. "I like that. Impatient. Could a little of that impatience be because you're tempted?"
"Oh, grow up," she said and headed toward the parking lot.
"I've been a man a long time, Hannah Pace. Don't tell me you haven't noticed, because I've caught you looking."
That made her stumble. She spun toward him. "I've never looked."
He moved closer and lowered his voice. "Sure you have. Lots of times. You think I'm a good-looking charmer."
"I think you're a thief and a swindler and Lord knows what else."
He stared down at her flashing dark eyes. "I knew you'd been thinking about me."
"Damn," she muttered, then drew in a long breath. "How do you always win?"
"Because you think I'm teasing, but I'm telling the truth."
Amazingly enough, he was. He meant every word he said to her. He
think she was beautiful and funny and smart and all the other lines he'd spoken over the past year. Hannah would never believe him, which made them safe to say. Sometimes, though, he wondered what the cool, self-contained lady would think if she knew his attraction was surprisingly genuine.
She blinked at him uncomprehendingly. He took advantage of her confusion and placed his arm around her shoulders again. "The thing is," he told her, "you've never given me a chance. I'm not nearly as bad as you think I am. Or maybe I am and that's what tempts you the most. One drink. What would it hurt?"
As he spoke, he led her toward his midnight blue Mercedes convertible. It was one of the perks of his assignment. Of course, a flashy car wasn't going to be much good to him if he ended up dead. A couple more weeks and the job would be finished. Then he could go back to his regular life and Nick Archer would be no more.
He paused in front of the passenger side and pulled out his keys from his pants pocket.
Hannah stared at the car. "Is it stolen?"
"If I say no, will you say yes?"
He grinned. "I've got the title in the glove box. Want to check it out?"
He opened the door and motioned to the pale gray leather seat. He fully expected Hannah to slap him across the face, call him several obscene names and stalk back to her sensible sedan parked on the other side of the lot. He even stiffened in anticipation of the blow.
The blow came in a completely different form.
Shock. Mind-numbing shock when she muttered, "I'm insane," and slipped inside his car.
Nick carefully closed the passenger door and swore under his breath. Just his luck. The ice queen decided to thaw the day he had to get out of town.
* * *
Hannah touched her tongue to the rim of her glass and let the salt dissolve in her mouth. With a quick prayer that she wouldn't choke – or worse – she picked up the shot of tequila sitting next to her margarita glass and downed it in one long, burning swallow.
Fire ripped through her. She gasped out loud but didn't cough, then blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes. Better, she thought, relieved as the fire turned to an almost comfortable heat.
"You all right?" Nick asked, frowning faintly.
"Fine," she managed to reply, her voice only slightly raspy from the alcohol.
He leaned back against the red booth seat. "You win this round, Hannah. I never guessed you did shooters."
She shrugged as if to say there was a lot about her he didn't know. Actually, he didn't know anything about her, but he
been right about the shooters. She'd never had one before tonight. And probably wouldn't again, she reflected as a wave of alcohol rushed to her brain and made the room tilt slightly. Normally she limited herself to a single drink. White wine, or maybe a spritzer. If it was a special occasion, she might indulge in a glass of champagne. Not today. She was on her second margarita and had ordered extra shots with both.
What was the phrase? Dutch courage? She needed her share of that, plus as much as she could get from any other source that offered it. If she did what she was thinking, it was going to take every ounce of bravery she'd ever had. If she didn't, she was going to break an old woman's heart. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes life wasn't fair.
The cocktail waitress strolled by. "Can I get you two something else?"
She asked the question of both of them, but her attention clearly focused on Nick. Hannah couldn't blame the woman. She often had trouble noticing anyone else when he was around. It was as if the whole world was dark and Nick was the only light. The fact that the waitress noticed, too, only meant the other woman had good taste.
Hannah resisted the urge to drop her head to her hands and moan. She was more drunk than she realized if she'd started thinking positive things about Nick Archer. He was nothing more than a common criminal. Oh, he hadn't been arrested for anything … at least, none of the charges had stuck. He had a clean record. But she knew the type. He was smooth. Too smooth for someone like her.