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Authors: Sidney Bristol

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BOOK: LineofDuty
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He turned it over and stared at the back. Something was
missing. He ran his fingers over a rectangular depression with little metal
bits in the edges.

“Where’s the fucking battery, you asshole?” Jake roared.

“Hey, you just said you wanted the phone. I’m going to order
a pizza. Looks like we’ll be here a while.” Aaron pushed off the door and disappeared
down the hall.

“He’s such a prick,” Jake grumbled.

“We’re just looking out for you, man.” For a few moments
Cole studied him, gaze narrowed. “You’re drunk off your ass, so you’ll probably
forget this conversation. You probably need to have it more than once, anyways.
You say you want Nicole back. I’ve known you long enough to understand how much
you must love her. But I’ve also been around you this last year and I
understand why she’d leave you. You’re the first man at the station and the
last to leave. I don’t know when you’d have time to be with her, because you’re
always with us. And you haven’t exactly been your tiptoe-through-the-tulips
self. So, you say you want her back? You’re going to have to change some of
your ways, man.”

“Fuck you. What do you know?”

Cole’s words stung, the stark truth staring him in the face.
He didn’t say anything Jake wasn’t already aware of. He’d accepted the harsh
reality of his shortcomings this weekend after a little searching at the bottom
of a bottle.

“I know a lot about this kind of thing, actually.” Cole
grimaced. “I speak from experience.”

“Yeah right.” Jake liked Cole as a friend, but the man
seemed to lead a charmed life.

Cole’s expression hardened, his lips compressed into a tight
line. For a moment it seemed as if he didn’t see the bathroom. “No, really. A
few months ago I said the D-word to Tanya and she lost her shit. Rightfully so.
Things are good for me because I changed. Are you willing to do that? Is Nicole
worth changing for?”

An image of a young, beautiful woman with her wild red hair
piled on top of her head wearing a blue dress and red heels popped into his
mind. She’d been walking with someone else, but all he’d seen was her. As he’d
driven past she’d turned her head and laughed at something her friend said. In
that moment he’d felt something, maybe it was lust or the thrill that came
following a big bust, but he’d made a decision that altered his life.

The better question was, could he live without Nicole?

An invisible fist clenched Jake’s throat. Nicole was worth
everything. She was all he had.

There wasn’t a universe that existed where he could live
without her.

* * * * *

Nicole leaned back in the chair, rolling the stem of the
wineglass between her fingers. A few drops of red liquid sloshed around in the
bottom. The earthy flavors clung to her palate, but most of all it dulled the
tension clinging to her after a full day at the office.

Her coworkers chattered around the bar, clumping together in
social cliques that left her the odd person out. Nicole hadn’t missed being
excluded from her old circle of friends. Not that she could blame them. She’d
avoided these get-togethers since her pregnancy and practically shunned them
after.

Early on, Nicole had chosen to be completely secretive about
her pregnancy. She’d just taken on this job thanks to an old friend who had
since left, and knew the boss would have had a cow if she’d started discussing
maternity leave. So she’d kept it a secret, even from her new friends, which
wound up destroying her social circles.

“Sorry I’m late.” Tanya dropped into the empty seat next to
her and flashed a smile. Dressed to impress, Tanya appeared every inch a
successful businesswoman in a tailored blue herringbone pantsuit and pink
shirt. As Nicole had discovered, the woman had a closet worth being jealous of.

“Hey, I was beginning to wonder if you were coming.” Nicole
returned the smile. After spending Sunday hanging out together, she found she
actually liked Tanya, and for more than her shoes.

“Of course. Cole’s out with some of the guys, so this was
perfect. Ordered anything yet?” Tanya picked up a happy hour menu and glanced
at the offerings.

“Just some wine.” Nicole hid her wince by taking another
sip. If Cole was out drinking with the guys, Jake would be there too. She hoped
he wouldn’t drink himself sick. He only did it about once a year, usually when
something really upset him. She hoped someone drove him home, not that she
expected another cop to let him walk out even buzzed.

“Good call,” Tanya replied, unaware of Nicole’s mental
turmoil. “How do you like it?”

I hate it. Oh, the wine, not the guys being out.
“It’s
nice.”

Tanya snagged a passing waitress and ordered more wine and
some finger foods.

It would probably be frowned on if Nicole licked the empty
glass. She set it down and glanced at her phone. Jake hadn’t tried to contact
her since Saturday morning. She couldn’t decide if she was glad he was walking
away or disappointed he wasn’t fighting her on it. She did want a divorce,
didn’t she?

“Hey.” Tanya touched her wrist on the table. “How you
doing?”

“Hanging in here.”

“What are you ladies talking about?” Collin, one of her
fellow management analysts, leaned against their table, close enough his
shoulders bumped hers. “Hi, I’m Collin.”

“Tanya.” She extended her hand and shook Collin’s,
effectively caging Nicole in the man’s arms for a moment. His cologne teased
her nose, something rich and multifaceted. She’d wondered once what it might be
like to have a man like him in her life—stylish, educated and motivated.

“And what do you do, Tanya?” Collin propped his elbow on the
table, setting his megawatt smile on her.

Collin should have been a sales rep, and maybe he had been
in another life. He could charm anyone into believing the words that fell from
his lips. He was funny and smart, with the most beautiful bright-blue eyes and
dark hair. If Nicole had met him when she’d been single, he’d have had to fight
her off. Instead they’d worked together amicably with only minor harmless
flirting.

“I run a small company that specializes in helping companies
go green, as well as disaster management.” Tanya folded her hands in her lap
and the corner of her mouth kicked up in what Nicole was coming to understand
as the woman’s mischievous nature showing through. Tanya was not a woman who
followed the norms of society.

“I don’t think I understood half of that. Care to explain it
to me? Can I buy you ladies a drink?” Collin chuckled and propped his chin up
on his fist.

“We have wine coming,” Nicole replied.

“Well let me buy your next round.” Collin rested his hand
briefly on her knee, an innocent gesture, really.

“Basically I help companies reduce their carbon footprint,”
Tanya began.

Tanya had given her the whole spiel the day before. It was
actually a very ingenious business plan she had going. She helped companies
figure out how to put in rooftop gardens, find ways to cut costs and have a
better impact on the environment. In addition, she tapped into her background
doing humanitarian work and assisted in organizing natural disaster cleanup and
rescue. It was a big bag of tricks, but Tanya seemed to thrive doing it.

The waitress set the next round of wine down in front of
them and Nicole cradled her new glass, more than happy to sit on the sidelines
and sip her alcohol while Tanya dazzled Collin.

She made the appropriate replies when spoken to, when the
lull in conversation necessitated she offer a comment, but otherwise she was
happy to be a spectator. Three or maybe four glasses of wine into the evening,
she felt herself easing into the mood. Laughing came easier and her worries
faded into the background.

“Hey, do you need me to drive you home?” Collin leaned close
enough she could smell him again. She liked that he didn’t spray it on too
strong, not like some men. Jake smelled nice. Like soap, shampoo and man. She
was going to miss that about him.

“I know, honey,” Tanya muttered to her before turning to
Collin. “You know, Nicole only lives a few blocks from me. I think I can handle
it.” Tanya hoisted Nicole up and out of her chair, plucking the wineglass from
her hand.

“Is it time to go?” Nicole blinked around them, startled to
find they were some of the last left in the bar. Had they really been there
that long?

“It is. Come on. Give me your purse.”

Why was Tanya acting as if she were drunk? She was totally
sober.

“Here, I’ve got her on this side.” Collin took her other arm
and wrapped an arm around her waist.

The trio made it out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk
without incident, though the room did seem to have taken on a warm glow and
something was up with her shoes. They wobbled oddly as she walked.

“I can drive myself. I’m totally fine.” Nicole leaned
heavily on Tanya and the trio shambled to the left.

“You are, but I’m a concerned friend,” Tanya replied,
chuckling as she spoke. “This is me right here.”

Collin helped Nicole into the passenger side seat of Tanya’s
sporty wagon. He leaned down as she settled and fumbled with the seatbelt.

“Here.” He pulled the buckle out and leaned across her to
fasten it.

She caught a whiff of his scent again, something rich and multilayered.
His hand skated over her outer thigh and bells clamored in her head. Once or
twice was an accident, but that was intentional, and she was a married woman.

“Thanks for helping us,” Tanya said far too loud.

“Let me know you ladies get home, okay?” Collin continued to
stand in the door.

“Sure thing,” Tanya replied.

“Okay.” Collin’s gaze flicked to her and he smiled. “See you
tomorrow.”

The door finally closed and Tanya hit the accelerator and
shot backward out of the spot. Nicole gripped the door handle and glared at the
other woman.

“Easy.” Her stomach lurched as they zipped out of the
parking lot.

“Sorry.”

“I’m not that tipsy,” Nicole insisted.

“Keep telling yourself that. I’m pretty sure you drank my
wine and yours.”

“Did I?”

“Yup.”

“Oh I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. You probably needed this. Let’s get you home and
some real food in you.”

“Is Jake out drinking with Cole?” Nicole’s brain had circled
that very likely possibility since she mentioned it.

“I don’t know if Jake is there specifically, but I do know
they were going out after they got done tonight.”

“That’s a yes. He hasn’t called me. I don’t know if I’m
happy or sad.” She stared at the ceiling of the car, rolling the thoughts
around in her head.

The rest of the drive passed in silence, save for the radio.
They pulled up at her little house and Nicole walked in barefoot. The floor
tilted dangerously under her.

“Yup, I’m drunk,” she announced to the empty house.

“I could have told you that. Don’t leave your keys in the
door.” Tanya closed the front door after her, bringing the keys Nicole had left
in the lock with her.

“How am I going to get to work tomorrow?” Nicole took the
keys and deposited them on the kitchen counter with her purse.

“I’ll come by and get you. It’s going to be okay. I do need
to run. Are you fine here by yourself? Or do you want to get your things and
come stay at my place?”

Nicole didn’t want to stay by herself. She hated being
alone, knowing there wasn’t someone coming to be with her. But she needed to
get used to it.

“No, I’ll be okay. Go.”

“Lock the door behind me?”

“Will do.”

Tanya gave her a quick hug and left. Probably a good thing
since Nicole couldn’t offer her more than a spot on the floor or a glass of
water.

She locked the deadbolt and went to the kitchen to get
something to put in her stomach that wouldn’t make her sick.

The back door creaked open the slightest bit.

“Damn door. Jake never fixed it, did he?” she groused,
stalking over and shoving it closed. It had always stuck in the frame, but it
had gotten worse the last few years. She flipped the lock and dusted her hands.
Tomorrow she’d take care of it. For tonight, she wanted some TV and food.

 

He moved through the house, keeping on the balls of his feet
and avoiding the places that squeaked. He’s spent enough time familiarizing
himself with the layout and peculiarities of this house that it was an easy
feat to move soundlessly. The women’s voices went back and forth as they moved
through the front portion of the house.

There was still no sign of Officer Jake Vant, which was
frustrating. Where was the man? And could he use the woman to get to him?

There were too many questions and not enough answers. For
now he would continue to bide his time.

Chapter Four

 

Jake fit the last piece of his handgun together and slapped
the timer. He could take a gun apart, clean it and rebuild it in his sleep, the
pressure now was time. At least he lost himself in the motions that were as
familiar to him as the back of his hand.

There were six months until the annual US SWAT Challenge in
Vegas. Starting today the entire Metro City SWAT division was gearing up for a
series of tests. Each month for the next four months there would be qualifiers
for the one team of eight people the city would send to compete. Jake planned
on competing this year. Even that left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Nicole had talked him into it. He’d never gone before,
though Cole and the others had done everything short of hogtying him and
tossing him in the luggage to get him to go. The Challenge always fell on
Nicole’s birthday and there was no way he could miss it. Though she’d scaled
back from the big parties, birthdays, holidays and other celebrations mattered
to her. He’d always felt more like a family during those events, even though he
hated the fuss that went into planning everything. Now he missed her lists, the
last-minute dashes to the store and even dressing up.

They’d planned for her to go with them this year so they
could do Vegas together. It was one of the few things they’d discussed doing as
a couple in the last year.

“You could at least act like you’re paying attention to what
you’re doing.” Cole tossed a rag at him and pressed his own timer, writing the
digits down and starting over again.

The task was to break the gun down and put it back together
ten times. All the slots were full on Jake’s sheet.

“You do realize I was cleaning guns before I could shoot
them?” Jake took the rag Cole had thrown at him and used it to wipe his station
down.

“Dirty rotten country boys,” Aaron said in his best drawl
from the other side of Cole.

“Girls, you do realize you could do this faster with less
gossiping?” Becca set her handgun down and turned toward Jake. She was their
team’s other sniper, besides Jake, and specialized in manning the robot used to
defuse bombs and other suspicious items.

“Shut it,” Aaron called out as he began to break his piece
down again.

“Done.” Cole scrawled the last time on his sheet and tossed
the pencil down.

“This is bullshit,” Aaron said.

“It’s okay to not be good at something, precious,” Becca
cooed.

Aaron muttered a curse Jake couldn’t hear. Becca winked at
him. The woman enjoyed nothing better than getting under Aaron’s skin. It was a
wonder the two weren’t all over each other the way they picked and fought. It
was like watching two children on the playground.

“I’ll see you guys later.” She gathered her things.

“Where you off to?” Aaron asked as he got the pieces apart.

“Is that any of your business? Try to not get too drunk
without me tonight, boys.” Becca took her personal kit with her and strolled
out of the room, leaving the three men alone as the last group through the
range today.

The door thudded behind her, sealing them in a soundproof
tunnel. The work area they were currently set up in seemed to have been added
on as an afterthought by whoever designed the building. It could have been a
wide, L-shaped hall before you entered the armory and the small gun range.
Instead the walls were lined with cabinets and there were stools at small work
benches that made it a tight fit if seven people were working away at once.

“How’s your head today?” Cole asked, swiveling his stool
toward Jake.

“Good enough.” He’d woken to a splitting headache, sprawled
over the couch with two trash cans next to him and a plastic drop sheet spread
out on the floor. He didn’t know when Cole and Aaron had left his drunk ass
finally, but they’d locked up after themselves. It was a pathetic way to wake
up, but he’d at least managed to get to the station on time and run drills.

“Talked to Nicole yet?” Cole leaned against the counter,
Aaron still going through the exercise on his other side.

“Not yet.”

“Thought of a plan?”

Jake shifted on the stool. His plan was basic—seduce Nicole.
The hows were tricky. He’d lucked into doing it right the first time. There was
no way he’d do it a second without a road map and checklist. Too bad he hadn’t
been able to order either at the bar last night.

“Dude, marriage is a trap,” Aaron interjected. He’d said the
same phrase since he’d gotten engaged. He turned toward Jake, the exercise
momentarily forgotten. “Have you considered that divorce might be the best
thing for you?”

Jake’s reaction was immediate. Visceral. An invisible hand
clenched his gut and he tasted bile. Divorce was the last thing he wanted.

“Shut your mouth, Aaron,” Cole ordered.

“Hey, I’m just saying.” Aaron shrugged and finished his
time. “I broke it off with Angel and it’s the best thing I could have done for
myself.”

“What?” Cole nearly fell off the stool, he spun around so
fast.

“When did this happen?” Jake straightened. The couple had
only been engaged for maybe six months. The first Jake had heard of her was
about a month before the engagement, when Aaron had asked about a good place to
buy rings. Hell, the relationship had been so short Jake had only met the
elusive Angel twice. She hadn’t left a great impression on anyone, so he wasn’t
sad to hear about the split, but he did wonder at the course of events.

Aaron didn’t reply for a moment as he fitted his gun back
together, tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth. He slapped the timer and
jotted the numbers down in his illegible chicken scratch.

“Last night. I couldn’t do it. I’m better off a free man.
Well, I’ll see you guys later.” Aaron picked up his things and left just as
abruptly as he’d spilled his news.

Neither Jake or Cole spoke in the man’s wake, both watching
until the door swung shut and cut them off from the rest of the building again.

“Something’s up,” Cole said after a moment.

Jake swung around to face him. “You think?”

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Cole shook his head. “Let’s worry
about him later. I was thinking of something last night but you got too piss
drunk.”

“Excuse me for working my problems out in a few bottles.”

“Bottles? Try cases.” Cole laughed.

“Yeah, whatever.” Jake wasn’t about to admit the truth, that
last night wasn’t one of his brighter moments. He was all for hearing any idea
that had even the most unlikely of possibilities of helping. “Your grand idea?”

“It’s not a grand idea, just something.” Cole scratched the
back of his neck, and unless the man had spent a lot of time outside since
lunch, the red spreading up his throat wasn’t a sunburn. “You said you wanted
to win her back. Well, back when Tanya and I were having some issues, she went
to this shop. It sells girly, frilly stuff and like, adult toys.”

“You mean vibrators and shit?” Jake was well acquainted with
a number of tools to stimulate female pleasure. Clearly he had one up on his
younger sergeant. One of the tricks about having a much younger wife was
finding other ways to keep up with her enthusiasm in bed. There wasn’t anything
wrong with using a dildo to stimulate multiple orgasms for her pleasure, so
long as at least one involved his cock.

“Yes, but more than that.” Cole waved his hand, but for the
life of him, Jake couldn’t figure out what Cole was talking about.

“What am I supposed to do? Tie her up and throw lace at
her?” Been there. Done that. Quite a few times before he even knew there was a
name for it. He just knew that on occasion it made Nicole real wet.

“Uh.” Cole coughed and glanced away. “No. No, that’s not
what I’m saying. But getting her presents that might put her in the mood, which
might get her in the right mindset.”

Jake paused for a moment, torn between laughing at Cole and
trying to figure out what the man was trying to tell him. He wasn’t sure he
wanted to know, and he doubted their tastes in bed ran the same. Cole treated
Tanya as if she were a precious, fragile object, and yet Tanya would put on
roller skates, get out on a track and knock the crap out of other women in the
name of roller derby.

“Cole?” Jake bit the inside of his mouth to keep from
laughing.

“Yeah?” Cole croaked out, his face beet red.

“Just tell me the name of the store so we can stop talking
about this.”

“Oh thank God.” His shoulders slumped and he blew out a
breath. “Honey’s. It’s down on the square by where Tanya’s roller derby team
practices. So, guns?”

* * * * *

Nicole shoved the door shut behind her so hard it felt as if
it shook the house. She took three strides to the TV tray she’d set up as an
entry table and stopped.

Where is my cell phone?

She stared at the empty table. That morning she’d been in a
rush to get out the door. Since her car was still at the restaurant, she’d
needed a ride. She ran through the frenzied rush to get ready in her mind.

Tanya had called just as Nicole was trying to leave and
Nicole had dropped a file of papers. She’d set the phone down on the tray table
to shove everything into her tote as Tanya honked her car horn. She had to have
left her phone on the table. She peered under it, but the only residents of the
hallway were a few dust bunnies.

No phone.

“Where did I leave it then?”

Nicole could have sworn beyond a shadow of a doubt she’d
left the phone right there. The moment was a perfect picture in her head. But
there was no arguing that the phone wasn’t there.

She set her purse down on the shaky table and tried to
recall her steps from that morning. Though the memory of setting it down on the
table to get the papers and slip on her pumps was crystal clear, she had been
quite spectacularly hungover, and she’d had the creepiest dreams about looming
shadows and a creaking old house. Maybe she had it all wrong?

The dining room to the right of the entry was empty, devoid
of even a corner cobweb. She walked through it and entered the kitchen, placing
her purse on the counter. Except for a roll of paper towels and a stack of
dollar store plates, the surface was bare.

Still no cell phone.

“This is weird,” she muttered.

Nicole wandered through the kitchen and stood in the living
room.

Maybe she needed to back up, recall more of her dash out of
the house.

That morning she’d answered the phone while shoving her
lunch into the tote in the kitchen, she’d snatched her pumps off the counter
and hopped toward the door, pulling on nylons before dropping the file and
everything else. She’d had to scramble to get her shoes on and bags together.
There was no way she could have put the phone anywhere else. After watching
Jake replace phone after phone due to cracked screens, she was ultracareful.

She could still picture placing the phone on the table as
clear as day in her head, but it simply wasn’t there.

It was perplexing and bothersome. All day she’d wondered if
Jake had called at last to fight her over the divorce, if he’d lawyered up and
things were about to get ugly. The not knowing ate at her.

The door behind her squeaked and she whirled, gasping as her
dreams shot back into vivid reality. Shadows with grasping hands.

Instead of an insubstantial figure, Jake stepped through the
laundry door, which in turn led to the garage.

“Jake? What are you doing here?” She frowned at him, not
sure what to do.

Why hadn’t he called her? Did he have her phone? Was he
already accepting her divorce terms?

A part of her mourned that loss. She’d anticipated him
fighting her on all points. Jake was very conservative on some things and to
him, marriage was forever. Before this year, she’d never thought for a moment
they wouldn’t grow old together, hopelessly in love.

Jake didn’t utter a word. In one direction he tossed a gold
bag with matching tissue paper on the floor with a
thud
and dropped his
keys onto the tile with a clash of metal in the other. The way he stared at her
made her pulse kick up and an uneasy feeling stir her tummy.

“What are you doing here?” she asked again and took a step
back. Maybe she hadn’t said it out loud?

Jake still didn’t answer. His gaze was predatory, dangerous,
full of heat. There was something about the way he stared at her that made her
want to turn and run. Alternating waves of adrenaline, fear of what an
unprepared meeting would do to her heart and lust for the man she still loved
swept through her. The intensity of the emotions hurt. She’d been numb for so
long the sudden ability to feel anything was completely foreign.

He stalked toward her, never a word passing his lips.

“Jake?” She hated how her voice quavered, how one glance at
him in this house where they’d been happy reduced her to weak knees and knots
in her stomach. But there was no denying she still desired him, that he made
her feel even when she didn’t want to.

He wrapped his arms around her and tipped her backward. Her
choices were cling to him or fall on her ass.

She fisted the front of his shirt, gasping, staring into his
hazel eyes locked on her.

He took the opening and sealed his mouth over hers. A jolt
of desire coursed through her body, stunning her for a moment. This. God, she’d
wanted this from him for so long. The way he kissed her before everything went
to hell. As if she was his reason for breathing, as if he wanted to crawl
inside her, twine their spirits together so they’d never have to be apart.

She kissed him back even though the sensible voice in her
head screamed
No!
This was a bad idea. She should stop allowing him to
kiss her. She should want to put a stop to this. Allowing it to go any further
would make kicking him out harder.

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