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Authors: Virna DePaul

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BOOK: Shades of Temptation
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“The neighbor with the rap sheet a mile long? She’s recanted
everything. Says the officer misunderstood and that of course that nice little
boy from across the street would never have done something so horrible. Never
mind that the little boy has gang tattoos on his face and packs more heat than a
SWAT officer.” He shrugged and, despite his obvious exhaustion and frustration,
showed no signs of an imminent breakdown. As usual, “the word” was likely all
bullshit. “So,” DeMarco said, looking at Jase askance. “Ward is a no-go?”

Jase automatically glanced up to see if she was still talking
to the bartender. Instead, she was looking around her while holding a beer. She
took a swallow before looking directly at Jase again. This time, he felt the
fire in her wide-eyed gaze ignite sparks from his chest down to his toes. Color
climbed her cheeks, suggesting that she felt the heat, as well. He told himself
to look away, but he couldn’t. His vision became so clear that he could see the
flutter of her pulse in her throat as well as the slight chafing of her pouty
lips, as if they’d recently been kissed raw.

In reality, they probably only looked at each other for a few
seconds. Five at most. In that moment, he felt the world around him disappear.
The pull between them was so intense that he actually stood up. Abruptly, she
blinked. She said a quick word to the bartender, then turned on her heel and
walked rapidly toward the restrooms. Jase instinctively took a step to go after
her.

“Jase, stop!”

The command registered but was slightly muffled. He shook his
head, trying to clear the lust-induced fog that weighed it down. “What?”

DeMarco looked at him incredulously. “Man, you can deny it all
you want, but you practically staked your claim on her in front of
everyone.”

Every muscle still vibrating and at the ready to run after her,
Jase forced himself to sit down. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“So was it just her ass you were admiring? ’Cause it looked to
me like you never took your eyes off her face.”

“Shut up, DeMarco,” Jase growled while opening his eyes.

He could only stand DeMarco’s cheery humming of “man-eater” for
a few minutes. “I gotta take a leak,” he muttered and stood. “Grow up while I’m
gone, would you?”

* * *

B
RAD
T
URNER
WATCHED
as the sexy brunette handed the good-looking man her card,
then walked past the bar, smiling and hips swaying. Although the guy’s
dark-haired friend enjoyed the view, the woman’s target absently pocketed her
card without even looking at it. All his attention seemed to be on the plain
redhead with a stick up her butt.

After several minutes, Brad watched the redhead walk toward the
bathrooms. Unlike the other woman, there was nothing flirtatious or teasing
about the way she walked. Despite her slight limp, which made Brad wonder what
had caused it, her pace was measured and confident, though she’d seemed shaken
by the way the guy at the other table had looked at her. Not surprising, that
same man stood and followed her to the restrooms.

Probably to have sex, Brad thought jealously.

He’d never had sex in a bar. Hell, Brad had never had sex at
all.

* * *

J
ASE
ZIPPED
UP
HIS
PANTS
and washed his hands, then
banged his way out of the men’s bathroom. The door didn’t swing wide and then
slowly forward as he expected, but instead went to about midpoint before
colliding with something with a muffled thud.

“Damn it!”

He couldn’t know for sure, but somehow he knew the person
behind that voice had red hair and blue eyes. Sure enough, Carrie Ward stepped
around the door.

Her annoyed expression wiped clean the minute she saw him and
was replaced by a studied blankness that he saw for what it was—complete and
utter bullshit. She saw him, all right, and the knowledge made him feel randier
than a seaman on leave. To cover, he tried something he rarely did with
her—straightforward common courtesy.

“Welcome back, darlin’,” he said. “I heard you’re working your
first serial case. Congrats. Let me know if I can help.”

She narrowed her eyes, as if she wasn’t sure whether he was
messing with her. “Thanks, Tyler,” she said simply. Then, with a satisfied
smile, she asked, “How’s the ear?”

He grunted. “How’s the leg?”

“My leg is fine.” When she moved to step around him, he
automatically countered to block her. She frowned and said, “Is there something
you need?”

His eyes shot to hers at the way she emphasized the word
need,
but her expression had gone blank again. Despite
the prior rigidity he’d sensed in her stance, she was now all loose-limbed
indifference. She was almost as good as he was at faking casualness. It made him
want to drive a response from her even more, and, this time, he didn’t even try
to censor himself.

“You know what I need, Ward, and it’s exactly what you need,
too. If we weren’t both cowards, we’d stop dancing around each other and just
get to it.”

Her eyes widened as her cheeks bypassed pink and went straight
to scarlet. But she raised her chin and kept her gaze on his. “And by ‘get to
it,’ you mean what? No, wait, let me guess. Me under you, right? Because it sure
as hell wouldn’t be me on top, would it? Well, in case it hasn’t dawned on you,
I’m not like the women you screw, Tyler. I’ve got a brain and ambition. Sorry if
that equates to being a coward in your mind.”

She’d been gone a long time. Having her sparring with him now,
just like old times, caused excitement to sizzle through his veins. He leaned
closer. “If we ever gave in to this thing between us, having you ride me isn’t
something I’d ever turn down,” he said sotto voice to ensure no one overheard.
In fact, at his words, his dick almost broke through his fly.
Down, boy.
“And I like your brain just fine, Ward,” he
said quietly.

“Ah,” she nodded. “But not my ambition. Not the fact that I’m a
big bad cop who can take you and any other man down? That’s a little too much
for even your ego.”

“Anytime you want to take me down, or better yet, get down to
more personal matters, I’m all in favor of it.”

Her eyes rounded. Sure, they razzed each other constantly, but
he rarely flirted with her. Not like this. Not in a way that immediately had
them both picturing their naked flesh pressed together in glorious
technicolor.

She swallowed audibly. “That’s quite a change of heart,” she
croaked.

His brows furrowed. “I don’t see how. I told you the last time
we were here that I wanted you.”

“You’ve been ignoring me the past month.”

She didn’t look very happy about it. And he was sure she’d
rather cut out her tongue than admit it. “I thought we were busy ignoring each
other,” he said carefully. “The exact same way you’ve ignored that kiss.”

She scowled.

Amazing that the expression didn’t detract from how beautiful
she was. She didn’t advertise it, and he could see how easily it might be
missed. But he worked with her and knew how passionately she fought for justice.
She was dedicated and strong. Take all that and add her pleasing combination of
features to the mix? She got to him on a gut level he couldn’t ignore.

“That kiss meant nothing,” she said. “It was the product of a
weak moment on both our parts on a difficult night.”

It pissed him off that she’d dismiss the kiss so easily, but
since he wasn’t surprised, Jase grinned and shrugged. “Sure. If that’s what you
want to tell yourself.”

Carrie snorted, the sound feminine in spite of itself. “You
want to tell me differently?”

He let several seconds pass while he stared at her. Enough time
to make her shuffle her feet. Enough time to be tempted to answer honestly.
Which was why he kept his mouth shut.

When he failed to answer, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“That’s what I thought.”

It was her sigh that did it. Neither of them was going to act
on their attraction for each other. Fine. But she wasn’t a coward. Neither was
he. Why were they dancing around the obvious? He took a step closer, noting how
her eyebrows winged up in alarm. “I want you, Carrie. I’m honest enough to admit
it. The only reason I’m not pushing things is because we work together. I have
no doubt that sex between us would be out of this world, probably the best
either one of us has ever had, but given we both want to go places with our
careers, I figure it’s better to not get started.”

“Maybe that won’t be the case too much longer,” she said
lightly, then looked as if she wanted to cut out her own tongue. “The
working-together part, not the no-sex part.”

“Is that so?”

“Like you said, I want to go someplace with my career. I’ve got
my eye on a much higher position. Once I break this serial-killer case, I think
I’ll be a serious contender.”

She was gunning for another job? Whether he wanted to admit it
or not, he’d missed her the last month. The idea of her leaving SIG troubled him
and made him realize just how much enjoyment he got from seeing her. “You’re not
happy at SIG?”

“Come on, Jase. We both know that because I happen to have
breasts, I’ll never be taken seriously as long as I work the streets. It’s why
it’s taken so long for me to get a serial case.”

“Your breasts aside…” Though he wanted to, he didn’t glance
down. “I never thought I’d hear you play the gender card. We’re all in rotation.
We take the cases as they come and as the member with the least homicide
experience, it makes sense you haven’t been assigned one until now. Serial cases
don’t exactly pop up all over the place.”

“So says a man who’s worked two of them this year.”

“I wanted this one, too,” he pointed out.

“I know. I won’t say I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t expect you to. Now, do you want to come join me and
DeMarco?”

“I need to leave. I just came by to see Mac and Natalie. To
wish them well before they left. But I have to work.” With a bright, utterly
disingenuous smile, she held up her files and said, “Looks like nothing’s
changed. You’ve got your pick of women to keep you company tonight, and I’m
going to get up close and personal with my case. Tell DeMarco I said hello,
okay?”

He didn’t want another woman. And he certainly didn’t want
Carrie thinking about him with one. “Damn it, Carrie. You’ve been gone a month.
What harm will having a drink with us cause?”

Her expression grew serious. Then she straightened. “I—I don’t
want to wait and find out. I can’t afford to,” she muttered. “What I mean is, I
have a serial killer to find. Good night, Jase.” With that, she turned on her
heel and left.

CHAPTER FIVE

C
ARRIE
EXITED
M
C
G
ILL

S
and took in deep breaths
of air. She was a grown woman and had been attracted to plenty of men before.
Why was Jase Tyler the only man who could throw her so off course?

Because he turned her on. And turned her inside out. Because a
part of her wondered if, in a different time and place, without her baggage or
her scars, they might have meant something special to one another. But that was
ridiculous. Even without her troubled past, Carrie couldn’t change who she was.
What she looked like. She was strong and sturdy, not sexy and svelte. Jase
flirted with her because they worked together, because she was there, and
because he’d probably been coming on to females since before he could walk. It
wasn’t
her
he wanted, but the challenge she
represented. Even so, she couldn’t believe he wanted her at all.

Sensing movement from the corner of her eye, Carrie looked
up.

“Murderer!” a voice yelled just as someone clasped her arm,
jerked her around and threw her drink. Carrie felt lukewarm liquid splash all
over the front of her.

Carrie stared in stunned disbelief at the short elderly woman
who stood aggressively in front of her, gripping her with almost superhuman
strength despite the fact that her wrinkled skin was paper-thin and looked only
slightly more delicate than the frail bones of her body. Her silver hair had a
purple tint to it, giving her a comic matronly appearance, but her eyes were a
penetratingly clear-blue, staring at Carrie with such hatred that she
automatically flinched back.

“Ma’am,” she began.

The woman dropped her now-empty coffee cup and shoved Carrie’s
chest with both hands.

Carrie barely moved from the impact, but a suspicious dread
ignited in her stomach. She’d never actually met Kevin Porter’s grandmother, but
they’d talked on the phone....

The door to McGill’s opened, allowing some of the noise from
inside to drift out.

“Hey, lady,” Jase called from behind her.

A quick glance confirmed he was walking toward them, a
concerned expression on his face. Carrie held up her hand. “Jase, it’s okay. Let
me handle this.”

The woman looked at Jase as if he was a dead snake. “Who are
you? Another dirty cop? You’re all bastards. Kevin’s dead because of you. You
should all be rotting in hell!”

Carrie had been right—this was Martha Porter. She kept her
voice low and steady, trying to disguise the anxiety seeping into her. Her
breathing escalated, and she felt a familiar suffocating pressure in her
chest.

“Mrs. Porter, you don’t want to do this. Please believe me, I
think of Kevin every day—”

Anger and grief radiated from the woman’s furrowed face, and
she spit at Carrie with erratic aim, managing to hit her chin and collar. Carrie
stood in stunned silence, wanting nothing more than to crawl into a hole and
die.

“Jesus Christ!” Jase stepped in front of Carrie, forcing Martha
Porter to step away. “Back off, lady. Now.”

The woman leaned around Jase and pointed her finger at Carrie.
“You don’t have the right to say his name. My grandson. I raised him…my baby…”
With her final words, the woman’s face collapsed, and she started sobbing.

“Martha!” An elderly man rushed toward them and put his arm
around her. He was being followed by a portly man in a navy suit whose briefcase
bounced against his legs as he hurried to reach the elderly couple.

“Shh. It’s okay, Martha. Let’s go in now. Don’t you worry now.
It’s going to be okay.” The first man led Martha Porter away, shooting a deadly
look over his shoulder at Carrie.

The man in the suit stopped to catch his breath. “I’m sorry.
We’re meeting someone here. She’s upset…. I’m sorry.” The man twirled around and
followed the elderly couple into a building a few doors down from McGill’s.

The street was eerily quiet. Acutely aware of Jase’s gaze on
her, Carrie raised a trembling hand to her chin and wiped the spit away. She
couldn’t do anything about the coffee staining the front of her until she got
home. Struggling to remain standing, she closed her eyes and took in several
shaking breaths, trying to stave off the panic attack. The stack of files she’d
been carrying slipped out of her hand, dumping papers across the sidewalk.

Jase cursed softly, but she was barely aware of him. Her
breaths were loud even to her own ears, puffing in and out of her in quick,
rhythmic bursts. With each breath, she felt her heart expanding. Growing bigger
until it felt ready to explode.

Frantically, she looked for someplace to hide.
Please God, don’t let this happen now.
She couldn’t
have a panic attack. Not here. Not in front of Jase.

But he wasn’t looking at her. He’d bent down and was shoving
papers back into their folders. “Who the hell was that?” he groused. “And why’d
you let her go off on you? You should have arrested her! Hell,
I
should have.”

When she didn’t answer him, Jase looked up at her and stood.
“Carrie?”

Carrie heard the concern in his voice. Knew she should answer
him. But her vision tunneled until she was once again aiming her gun at Kevin
Porter, then grappling with him on the ground. Trying to reach her gun before he
shot her with it or his own. Shooting him. Killing the same kid who’d drawn the
picture of himself with his grandmother, which even now was stuck on the front
of her fridge.

“Carrie. Look at me.” Tucking her files in the wedge of his
arm, Jase grabbed her face between his palms and brought his own face close to
hers. “Look at me.” He smoothed his hands over her cheeks and jaw. Kept
murmuring words of reassurance.

She didn’t know how long they stood there, but eventually she
focused on his worried gaze. She concentrated on the feel of his touch on her
skin. Felt her breathing slow. Anxiety leaked from her like air escaping a
balloon. It was still there, but she no longer felt as if she was about to
burst.

“That’s it. That’s my girl. Good,” Jase murmured, and she took
comfort in the deep rumbling of his voice.

Finally, she grasped his hands and pulled away, embarrassed by
both the incident and her panicked reaction to it. “I—I’m okay. I’m sorry. I
just… She surprised me, that’s all.” Again, Carrie raised her hand, rubbing her
chin. Then she held out her hand for her files.

Reluctantly, Jase handed them to her. She felt his gaze on her
as she checked the ground around them to make sure he hadn’t missed
anything.

Jase propped his hands on his hips. “She’s a relative of the
guy who shot you?”

Carrie barely glanced at him. “It doesn’t matter.” But God, it
did. She’d almost melted down in front of him. She couldn’t afford to appear
weak in front of anyone, let alone Jase. He was the person who rattled her the
most, and therefore the person she had to be most wary of. She rubbed her arms,
trying to warm her icy skin. It was a mild evening, and she was wearing a coat.
Why was she so cold?

“Carrie…”

At his worried tone, Carrie’s gaze finally snapped to his.
Licking her lips, she wished things could be different. That for just a second,
he’d hold her. She hadn’t had a lover in years. Except for the one brief kiss
Jase had given her over a month ago, she hadn’t allowed herself even the most
casual contact with anyone, even a friend. A little human kindness. Was that too
much to ask?

Yes, it was, she conceded as she remembered just how hard it
had been for her to walk away from his kiss.

That kind of human connection always came with a price.
Always.

She shook her head. Took a fortifying breath. Tried her best to
give him a reassuring smile. “I’m okay, Jase. Honestly.”

“What happened, Carrie? It looked like you were having some
kind of panic attack. Maybe coming back to work tomorrow isn’t such a good
idea.”

Her spine snapped straight, and she looked at him through
narrowed eyes. “It might have looked like a panic attack, but it wasn’t one. I
told you, I was just surprised.”

“The way you were surprised when Kevin Porter pulled a gun on
you?”

“What’s—what’s that supposed to mean?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know. God knows plenty
of cops get hurt on the job. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. But
you—”

“But I what?”

“But your report says you took cover while he was in the house.
If that’s the case, how’d he shoot you?”

“I took cover, but I needed to detain him. I stepped out. I
called for him to put his gun down. When he didn’t, I fired.”

“You fired and you missed,” he said quietly. “Anyone could
have. It doesn’t make you any less of a cop. But maybe you haven’t quite
accepted that. Maybe that’s what this is about. Maybe you need some more time
before coming back to work.”

He was so spot-on she almost panicked. Laughing harshly, she
focused not on his concern, but on what he’d gain if her return to SIG was
delayed. “Of course. I almost forgot. You wanted the lead on The Embalmer case.
That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

“I asked Mac for the case,” he said. “But that’s not why I’m
concerned.”

“No,” she sneered. “You’re just worried about me, aren’t you?
Afraid I’m going to get myself killed? Well, I don’t buy it. You didn’t visit me
in the hospital, Jase. Not once. So don’t act like you’re so concerned about
me.”

Carrie almost groaned at the way his eyes widened with
realization. Why had she said that? She should have been grateful he’d stayed
away, allowing her to settle her scrambling emotions without having to deal with
him, too. But she couldn’t deny that part of her had been hurt by his seeming
lack of concern.

He opened his mouth. Shut it. Finally spoke. “I came to see you
in the hospital right after you were shot. You were higher than a kite on meds,
but I didn’t realize you wouldn’t remember.”

Biting her lip, she glanced away, not wanting him to see just
how much his revelation meant to her.

“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to question your competence. I
didn’t mean to make you mad. I just didn’t like seeing that woman come down on
you, and I know you well enough to know you don’t reach out for help
easily.”

His words took the steam out of her. He seemed sincere. And
truthfully, she was too appalled by her own words and loss of control to argue
with him further.

He looked around. “Where’s your car? I’ll walk you to it.”

She didn’t bother arguing with him, and he fell into step
beside her. Once they reached her ancient four-door, she unlocked the driver’s
side, saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Carrie, wait.”

Sighing, she looked up.

“You feel like getting something to eat? You can go home first.
Change.”

He’d just said he cared about her. Back inside McGill’s, he’d
admitted he wanted her but was ignoring that attraction because of their job.
She was obviously doing the same. They’d rarely socialized as a team, let alone
just the two of them. Why was he suddenly willing to change things? Because of
Martha Porter? Because he’d sensed how much the woman’s disdain had upset her?
Or was it because he truly believed her to be emotionally unstable, and somehow
that made her more attractive to him? More like the vulnerable women he dated
and less like the cop he worked with? It didn’t matter. “I really don’t think
that’s a good idea, Jase,” she said firmly.

“Why? Because you might enjoy my company too much?”

She shrugged. “Maybe. We’ve already established that getting
involved won’t do either of us any good—”

“Hold on. That’s not what I said and you know it. I said
getting involved with you could interfere with our careers, which is something
else entirely. I have no doubt being with you would do us both a tremendous
amount of good. But I agree, there are important reasons to keep things
professional. So what? We can still be friends, Carrie, even if we can’t be
lovers.”

She shook her head. “You were right before. We work together.
You want the case I’m working. Whether you want to admit it or not, given what
you said about Porter getting the drop on me, part of you obviously questions my
competency as a cop. I’d say even being friends isn’t a good idea. Besides, you
don’t have female friends, Jase. You’re a serial dater. Hell, you barely even
date. You please them and then you leave them.”

His mouth twisted. “Hey, don’t knock it. I’d love to please
you. You’d never be the same afterward.”

She smiled at his unrepentant arrogance even as her body
throbbed at the thought of him pleasing her. Her response emphasized just how
addicted she was becoming to his unique blend of confidence and sexy
masculinity. “And part of me would love to be pleased,” she conceded. His eyes
flared, but she held up a hand, halting his step forward. “But it’s not going to
happen. I’m going home.”

Jase leaned up against the other side of the car and planted
his hands on top of the roof. “To do what? Think about the lady who spit on you?
I’m talking an hour of your time, Carrie. Don’t I deserve that?”

The question wasn’t whether he deserved it, it was why he
wanted it. Again, why the sudden need to spend time with her? Was this some kind
of trick? He’d seen her in a weak moment and was hoping to see it again? Exploit
it?

But he was right about one thing. Under ordinary circumstances,
if she went home now, she’d just think about Kevin Porter and his grandmother.
About her own inadequacy. Or about how empty her house seemed. Thankfully, she
had something to distract her.

“I’ve got a big case I’m working, remember? That’s all I’m
going to be working on until he’s caught.”

She pulled her car door open and was about to get inside when
he said, “So let me help you with it.”

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