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Authors: Sidney Bristol

LineofDuty

Line of Duty

Sidney
Bristol

 

Good Guys Wear Black, Book 2.

 

SWAT officer Jake Vant is suitin

g up with a new arsenal that equips
him to wage sensual war on his wife. Vibrating toys, erotic lingerie—they’re
all in his bag of pleasure. She might be ready to call it quits, but he’s not
taking no for an answer, unless she’s moaning it.

Nicole Vant wants to put heartbreak
behind her, and that means giving up on her marriage. Except Jake meets her at
every turn, seducing her the way he once made her fall in love with him. On the
kitchen counter, in their bed and even a parking lot, he reawakens her heart
and her body.

But it’s not Jake leaving all the
presents for her. He has enemies, and they’ve come calling.

 

Inside Scoop:
  Contains an
alpha hero who doesn’t let closed doors bar his way and a woman who knows how
to handle her man. Also depicts criminal activity, a couple overcoming loss and
the strong arm of the law.

 

A Romantica®
erotic romantic suspense
from Ellora’s
Cave

 

Line of Duty
Sidney Bristol

 

Chapter One

 

Nicole studied the black-and-white photographs arranged in
the Westlings’ living room. Something about the way the camera captured the
smiling couple at the altar, cutting a cake and kicking it up on a dance floor
put her teeth on edge. Nicole’s wedding photos were sedate by comparison. All
the poses staged, not a hair out of place. She’d thought they were perfect.

That was before she’d met Tanya and Cole Westling. Cole was
her husband Jake’s sergeant in the Metro City SWAT division.

Despite the late-night calls and stress of their job, Tanya
and Cole batted their eyelashes at each other every time Nicole saw them. The
Westlings were so sickeningly sweet Nicole thought she might have a cavity from
being around them.

Was it possible to not like someone for being so damn
perfect?

The sentiment turned her stomach. Once, Jake had treated her
the way Cole drooled over his wife, but not anymore. Her country boy turned
city cop husband barely looked at her these days. Nicole could mark the day and
even the hour their marriage had changed, but no matter how many times she
tried to change, nothing stuck. How many times had she tried for a new start?
To turn things around? Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to just her. Jake was a big
part of things, and he wasn’t helping.

Perhaps that was where her problems lay. Jake quite simply
didn’t seem to care anymore, and it killed her. Their love had burned so
brightly. There was a big, gaping hole where it had once resided in her chest.
She was empty inside.

The sliding glass door opened off to her right and for a
moment the sounds of laughing children stabbed her in the heart.

“Nicole, I didn’t know you were in here.”

Amazing. Something Tanya Westling didn’t know.

God I’m being a bitch. I’d like off this ride now,
please.

Nicole turned toward her host and did her best to smile, but
even she knew it was a weak attempt. “Sorry, hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.” Tanya was an athletic, girl-next-door kind of
beauty, with her hair up in a ponytail and wearing a t-shirt and jeans cuffed
at the ankle with flip-flops. Unlike Nicole, she didn’t need a smidge of
makeup. Tanya was also one of the kindest people Nicole had ever met.

Which meant Tanya was the only person Nicole could ask for
help.

“Something I can help you with?” Tanya asked. She came to a
stop, glancing at the pictures, and her mouth curled into a fond smile.

Excuse me while I hurl.

Of course Tanya would give her the perfect opening. It only
made Nicole feel even more wretched. How much could she screw up in life? A
lot, it would seem. She couldn’t even pull off being a wife and mother.

Even thinking the words hurt.

Suck it up, princess.

“Do you mean it, when you say that?” Nicole asked out of
gross curiosity. She winced as soon as the words were out of her mouth. It was
as if she’d been turned into a freight train with no breaks.

“Excuse me?” Tanya blinked her pretty green eyes at Nicole.

“When you ask, ‘Something I can help you with?’ do you mean
it?”

“Um, yes?” Tanya shoved her hands into her pockets, brows
lifting. She had to think Nicole was crazy, but then again, Nicole felt out of
control.

Nicole shrugged, and her mouth kept moving while her brain
screamed for her to stop. “It just seems that when people ask, ‘How are you
doing?’ they don’t really care, so I never know if someone really wants to know
or is just making themselves feel better.”

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

Tanya nodded as if what Nicole said wasn’t straight-up crazy
talk. “Oh I know. I made the mistake of telling a client last year all about my
horrible morning with a tire blowing out, breaking a nail and totally
destroying a new pair of satin heels in the process. I got to the end of it and
he just stared at me. I felt so stupid.”

Nicole found herself laughing. Of course Tanya would take
her insane chatter seriously. She was so damn nice all the time. Would it hurt
the world if Tanya had really bad PMS at least once and snapped someone’s head
off? But then she wouldn’t be Tanya, at least not the Tanya Nicole knew.

Tanya chuckled politely. Poor woman probably had no idea the
kind of roller-coaster ride Nicole was on. She was ready to get off. Whatever
it took.

“But seriously,” Tanya asked after a moment, “are you okay?
You look a little flushed.”

Nicole pressed a hand against her forehead. Her skin was so
fair she sometimes wondered if she burned going from the house to the car. “I
think I’m fine. Probably just the heat and damn ginger genes screwing with me.”

“There’s some sunscreen outside if you want me to get you
some.” Tanya thumbed over her shoulder where three grills were set up and a
small army of SWAT officers, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and children
mingled and played. There’d been a steady stream of people cooking food all
afternoon. The men could eat a whole cow apiece sometimes.

“Thanks, but I brought some.” She gathered her strength
around her and let go of her dignity. Everyone needed help sometimes. “I was
wanting to ask you about something else.” Somehow Nicole got that sentence out
without punching herself in the eye.

“Sure. What’s up?” Tanya’s posture changed, her hands came
out of her pockets and she seemed more relaxed.

Too bad Nicole was about to drop a bomb on the conversation.

“How do you and Cole stay in love?” Because dear Lord she
needed the key to that secret. She wasn’t even positive anymore if she loved
her husband. It was an age since she’d felt anything at all. Used to, when he
was tired and his twang was thickest, he’d just say her name and her heart
fluttered out of her chest. Now it was a trial of patience to just be in the
same room with him.

Tanya blinked slowly, her face going blank. Yup, shock and
surprise. “Well, uh…”

“I know it’s a personal question, we aren’t close or
anything, but I need some help. A tip. Or something.” Nicole shifted from foot
to foot, trying to ease the cramps. Why had she worn the fancy wedges? They
were killing her toes. Oh right, she thought maybe Jake would notice. Might
look at her how Cole mooned over Tanya all the time.

“No, it’s okay. I just don’t know what to say.” Tanya
shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Cole and I have had our problems, but I think
what we’ve learned—and are still learning—is good communication. Talking to
each other helps.” She sounded so sincere and earnest.

Yawn.

Nicole nodded appropriately, as if all the magazines and
self-help books didn’t spout a good talking-to as one of their top five ways to
keep the heat in the bedroom, the love fresh or the relationship well oiled.
Talking she could do. The problem was getting Jake to listen. Conversation?
That required someone participating and Jake hadn’t participated in a long
time. No matter what she did. Not since, well, she couldn’t even think it. Not
without losing her cool, and Tanya already thought she was crazy. Couldn’t
blame the poor woman. Nicole felt off balance. Completely out of control. Some
days she didn’t even like herself.

What Nicole needed was a solo act. Something she could do to
make things better.

“For what it’s worth, Cole and I have our rough patches too.
A few months ago, right around the Olympics, we weren’t doing so well.” Tanya
glanced away, her hands clasped in front of her.

Oh Lordy, Ms. Perfect has hard times too? Praise Jesus!

“Yeah? What did you do?” Nicole asked absently. It was hard
to see Tanya and Cole having the same issues Nicole and Jake were having. But
she was growing to like the woman, despite her impossibly perfect life. It
wasn’t as if Tanya were snobbish about her lot. Some people were just luckier
than others.

“Honestly?” Tanya’s face scrunched up.

Was she going to share the keys to the kingdom?

“I went to an adult novelty store called Honey and bought
some—things—and I think that really helped open the door.” A slight blush rose
on her cheeks, staining them an adorable pink.

“What, the toys?” Been there. Done that. There was a whole
drawer of them with dead batteries going to waste now. Toys had been a regular
part of their sex life before a year ago. There wasn’t a kind that had
intimidated Jake or her.

“No, I mean the intimacy of having sex.”

Nicole rolled that thought around for a moment. The
Westlings hadn’t been getting it on like rabbits in spring? Color her
surprised.

I’m a total bitch, and she doesn’t deserve my attitude.

No, she should reserve that for Jake and his antiquated way
of dealing with problems. Simply not talking about them. Was it some kind of
holdover from his country roots?

Tanya leaned against the wall and traced Cole’s face in a
picture of them slow dancing at their wedding reception. “We were kind of just coexisting.
I’d traveled and been away for so long that we didn’t really know each other
anymore and didn’t take time to reconnect after I quit my old job. We were on
totally opposite brain waves. Sex and talking to each other helped a lot. It
broke down the walls. Can I ask why you want to know?”

Nicole studied Tanya for a moment. She didn’t think a little
horizontal bopping was going to put the pieces of her marriage back together.
Jake had checked out, which was clear by how little attention he paid to anything
that wasn’t work related. She’d tried for months to get him to dial back in but
he wasn’t listening. And Nicole could only hold the pieces of their life
together for so long. If Jake didn’t at least respond to her soon, she would
walk.

If she walked, someone should at least know why.

To her knowledge, Cole and Tanya hadn’t discussed what
happened outside of their house. The officers’ wives were horrible gossips, and
not all of them were as kind as Tanya. There were several who would have gone
to great lengths to ensure everyone knew, and Nicole couldn’t handle that. But
Tanya wouldn’t tell. She wasn’t like the others.

“I had a miscarriage a year ago. I think a lot more died
with Willow, our baby girl. I think it killed us.” Nicole tipped her chin up and
stared into the light overhead to stop the tears. A year hadn’t eased her pain.
The fog of depression had abated, but the numbness still gripped her to the
core. “I lie. We didn’t actually know the sex of the baby, but this batshit
crazy counselor I talked to said it might help if I gave the baby a name, it
might make putting her to rest easier. I think it made it harder because now I
can’t think of the baby in any other way except—Willow.” She was babbling. What
was wrong with her? She’d gotten so good at keeping her mouth shut and now…it
was all out there.

“Oh—oh my gosh, I-I didn’t know. I-I’m so sorry.” Tanya
spoke in a rush, her eyes round.

The apologies. Nicole could go the rest of her life without
hearing someone apologize to her for her lack of ability to carry her own
child. She knew that wasn’t what people meant to say to her face, but every
time it drove the knife a little deeper into her heart. She’d wanted so badly
to be a mother. Willow hadn’t even had a chance.

An invisible fist gripped her heart. Each beat ached. She
couldn’t stay here, not when she felt so alone without Jake or their baby. Not
that she wanted to go home, but at least there she didn’t have to pretend to
enjoy herself.

“I think I should leave,” Nicole said around the lump in her
throat. She’d never fit in well with the other cop wives, which was a shame
because she envied so many of them, with their brood of children and diaper
purses.

“Do you want me to go get Jake?” Tanya offered.

“He rode his motorcycle here. He’ll figure it out
eventually.” Nicole hefted her tiny clutch under her arm and looked her host in
the eye. “Sorry. About this. I haven’t been myself lately.”

“It’s okay. Do you have my number? If you need anything,
just give me a call.”

All the wives had each other’s phone numbers, not that
Nicole ever used them. It was more for emergency purposes. After the business
during the Olympics with Tanya, Nicole hoped she would never need to use the
numbers. If none of the men were ever injured again, it would be fine by her.

Nicole didn’t doubt Tanya was serious about her offer, and
knowing just how genuine and good she was, it made Nicole feel even more
wretched. She made a hurried farewell to her hostess and left out the front
door, dropping large sunglasses over her eyes to hide the running mascara.

The neighborhood was quiet compared to the Westlings’
backyard. Serene even, with trees lining the street, all the lawns perfectly
manicured.

Her cherry-red convertible gleamed in the afternoon light
across the street. Nicole slipped her feet out of the wedges and walked
barefoot down the sidewalk and across the street. A little of the strain eased
from her shoulders.

“Let’s go home, baby,” she whispered to the car as she
dropped into the driver’s seat and revved the engine. Home, where her heart
broke just a little more each and every day.

* * * * *

Jake rolled down the street, the motorcycle’s engine
chugging along, evening breeze in his hair, the scent of fresh-cut grass in the
air. It reminded him of the fields back home. It always smelled the best around
the time to cut hay. The picture-perfect subdivision sprawled around him,
families tucking in for the night. The sun had long since set, but streetlights
provided enough illumination that nothing was ever truly dark here.

He passed a father picking up discarded bikes in the drive
and quickly glanced away.

It was another reminder he didn’t need. Every day he looked
in the mirror and saw the orchestrator of his greatest failure staring him in
the face. And he had no idea how to fix it. All the duct tape and WD-40 in the
world couldn’t bring his little girl back to him or rebuild what he’d lost with
his wife.

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