he metal felt icy and unwelcome as the cuffs snapped tight around Toni's wrists. She grimaced. This was not how she had planned to spend her Wednesday night.
The burly police officer dragged her to the cop car, placing his hand on her head of long, dark, silky hair as he lowered her into the backseat. At least he was being civil. The same couldn't be said for the one manhandling Afrika.
“Get your nasty hands off my butt, you perv,” Afrika snapped, shoving him away with her shoulder.
The short, dull-looking cop stumbled back a bit, seemingly surprised at her force. Yeah, he didn't know. Afrika might look tiny but you didn't want to mess with her. More than once Toni had seen her friend take a chunk out of her pro-basketball-playing ex-boyfriend Tyrone. She was nobody's victim.
For once though, Toni wished Afrika would take it down a notch. It was bad enough that the cops had caught them snooping around the mayor's premises. No sense encouraging the Atlanta PD officers to find a creative way to actually charge them.
Toni's mind scrambled for a solution as she sat in the back of the cop car on the way to the station. The clock on the dash said 10:34 p.m., leaving her with barely an hour to file her story and get out of this mess. She thought of all her possible lifelines, including her brother, Trey, and her sister-in-law, Jasmine. But none of those options were appealing. Her brother's smug look she could deal with, but she would rather spend the night in a cell than get another lecture from Jasmine, who seemed to forget that at twenty-seven she was the same age as Toni and not, in fact, her mother. That left only one person. Unfortunately, said person was sitting beside her, just as helpless as her, and a lot less cooperative.
By the time they got to the mini-precinct, south of downtown Atlanta, Toni realized that she was on her own.
“So, Miss Shields, you want to tell us why you were in the area of the mayor's residence tonight?”
Toni smiled at the large man who had been the one to handcuff her earlier. “Just taking a walk, Officer Powell.”
“I'm looking at your file here, Miss Shields, and you seem to like taking walks near the homes of well-known people in this city.”
Toni shrugged. “What can I say? I'm a fitness buff.”
She hoped Afrika was holding up okay. They had been separated, and the other officer was questioning her in another section of the station. Toni could see her but couldn't hear what was going on.
“And what about that camera you were carrying?” he asked, an eyebrow raised.
“I like photography too. It's a new hobby.”
Officer Powell rubbed his eyes. “Where's the memory card, Miss Shields?”
“Yes,” he said. “You know, that little thing that records the pictures? There was none in the camera. And we didn't find it when we searched your things.”
Toni shrugged. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
Officer Powell sat forward, his forehead wrinkling. “Miss Shields, you were caught wandering near the mayor of Atlanta's home in the dead of night with a very professional-grade camera and a major zoom lens,” he said. “I personally think you might have even been on the mayor's property, but unfortunately there's no way to prove it. Do you expect me to believe that there was no card in this camera?” he asked. “Now, either you produce the card on your own or we're going to have to search you.”
“But you already searched me,” Toni said innocently.
The officer glowered. “A full body search.”
Toni pursed her lips. “You can't do that. Full searches can only be conducted by someone of the same sex. And I'm looking around and all the officers I see on duty tonight are men.”
He rubbed a hand over his head tiredly. “Then you can be someone else's problem.” He closed her file and stood. “My shift is over anyway.”
Toni looked at the wall clock. 10:45. Right on schedule.
“Okay, please tell me you have a plan to get us out of here,” Afrika hissed into Toni's ear moments after Officer Powell seated them beside each other in the holding area.
“Sort of.” Toni turned her head left and then right as she tried to work the kinks out of her neck. The back of that cop car had not been good to her.
“Sort of? You're gonna need to give me something better than that.” Afrika twisted around in her seat, giving Toni full access to her glare. “I can't go to prison, Toni. I may act hard, but I ain't no criminal. I can't go down like this!”
The hysteria in Afrika's whispers went up a notch at each statement, and Toni had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Afrika would definitely not see the humor. And with Toni's hair looking a shaggy mess, she couldn't afford to have her best friend and hair stylist not talking to her.
“Afrika, we weren't caught doing anything wrong,” Toni said, hoping her even tone would mellow her friend out. “They have nothing to charge us with. All they can do is detain us for a couple hours.”
She left out the part about what could happen if they searched her and found the memory card in her bra.
Afrika narrowed her eyes at Toni. “How long is a couple?”
Toni shrugged and glanced away. “Maybe four or five.”
“A lot could happen in four or five hours,” Afrika murmured.
Toni saw her friend glance out the corner of her eye at the thick red-skinned woman who had taken up the entire bench across from them with her size ten frame and size twenty attitude. The bottle blonde had skewered them with her bloodshot eyes when they first came in, before going back to the production of picking her nails, which were so long they seemed like weapons themselves. A darker skinned woman of indeterminable everything lay buried in multiple layers of clothing on the only other bench, snoring.
“Don't worry. It's usually pretty quiet this time of night,” Toni said, leaning her head back against the wall.
Afrika scowled but didn't say another word. Toni knew her friend was still mad, but she was glad that Afrika had calmed down. It would be a long twelve minutes if she had to sit there and listen to her whine.
“Well, well. Looks like it's ladies' night up in here.”
“Mikey?” Afrika had a puzzled expression on her face. “What you doing here?”
“Hey, cuz.” Mikey chuckled and unlocked the door to the holding cell. “I work here. What you doing here?”
“Keepin' bad company,” Afrika said, throwing a nasty look Toni's way.
“Toni,” Mikey said. Her name on his lips sounded as oily as the chicken grease that had stained his uniform. There was no doubt he'd had a three piece for dinner.
Toni forced a smile even though she really wanted to gag. If he was any other cop on any other day, Toni would have given him a piece of her mind for the way his eyes were roaming all over her. But she needed this
reject, and he knew it.
She got up off the uneven bench and followed Afrika out of the cell, feeling the heat of Mikey's gaze on her behind. She scowled. She was used to guys raking their eyes over her five-foot-four frame, particularly her generous behind, but it still disgusted her.
“So it says here that you aren't charged but you need to be searched,” Mikey said, a toothpick in the corner of his mouth as he flipped through Afrika's and Toni's files.
“Don't even think of putting your nasty hands on me,” Afrika warned.
“Easy, cuz.” Mikey laughed. “The search would have to be done by another woman.”
He turned his eyes on Toni. “Unless you want to waive that right.”
Toni fought her gag reflex again. “Thanks, Mikey, but you can already see we don't have any weapons. Plus, like you said, there are no charges. You're gonna let us out in a couple hours anyway. Why not save yourself some time?”
Mikey raised an eyebrow and Toni sugared up her statement with a smile. He laughed again. She wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
“I guess you have a point there,” he said a moment later, stepping forward and removing the cuffs from Afrika's wrists.
“It's about time.” Afrika scowled. “Where's my stuff?”
Mikey pulled a small plastic tray of items from behind the station desk and slid it over to Afrika.
Toni held up her wrists toward him expectantly.
He glanced at her hands but didn't reach for the keys. “You've been in here an awful lot lately. Maybe you need to sit in a cell a couple hours and cool off.”
“Or maybe you could help me change my mind,” he suggested. His eyes swept her frame again and she noticed his voice had ducked to a whisper.
“How about dinner again?” He leaned forward to drop the last words. “This time at my place.”
Toni resisted the urge to step back as the slightly rank smell from Mikey hit her. She would bet anything that homeboy had been rocking the same frowsy uniform all week. Nothing short of a gun to her head was putting her anywhere inside Mikey's place.
“I don't think so, Mikey,” Toni said, just as she heard the doors to the station open behind her.
He glanced up and nodded to the newcomer before moving around the desk and away. “Well then, I think I'm gonna have to take a little more time writing this release,” Mikey said stiffly. “I don't want to miss anything important.”
He looked past Toni at the person behind her. “How can I help you?”
“I heard one of my kids was here. Rasheed Roper?”
“Oh yeah,” Mikey said, turning back to the desk and flipping through the stack of reports. “He got picked up with some other youngbloods near the old Bankhead Courts. Residents called it inâsaid they were a bit noisy. We found a little weed on a couple of them, but your kid was clean.”
Toni tapped her foot impatiently as she listened to the exchange. She glanced up at the clockâ11:00. The Thursday morning edition would go to print in the next hour with or without her story. And if the latter was the case, all the crap that she had gone through tonight would be for nothing. She wasn't having thatânot after she'd had to beat out the other Metro section reporters for the front page.
“Let me get him and then you can sign him out.” Mikey turned away.
“Mikey”âToni grabbed his arm before she lost him completelyâ“the cuffs?”
“Toni, we going or what?” Afrika asked from the door, a sour look plastered on her face.
“What did you say your kid's name was?” Mikey looked past Toni as he started moving toward the back again.
“Come on, Mikey,” Toni whined, slapping the desk in frustration with her handcuffed palm. “You really gonna do me like this?”
“Like what? Girl, I never told you to get your behind locked up. You the shizzle up at the
. Tell your boss to come bail you out.”
“Do I look like I have time for all that?” Toni shot back.
“Uh, hey, you think you could get Rasheed ... ?”
“Can you just hold on? Your kid will still be a criminal in five minutes,” Toni snapped, swinging around to glare at the stranger who kept interrupting.
Her anger died on her lips when she saw exactly who was behind her. As she craned her neck to take in all of his six-foot-something frame, she couldn't help but think of the fence she nearly broke her neck scaling less than an hour earlier. Now here was a brother who did not need a boost. And with his I-do-real-work-every-day arms he could have probably hoisted her over without breaking a sweat.
However, the expression on his gorgeously angular face told her he wasn't inclined to do anything for her at that moment, except maybe help Mikey put her back in the holding cell. The slight downward turn of his full lips and the tightness in his strong jaw confirmed the irritation.
But, boy, did he make ticked off look good.
She was trouble personified.
Adam could tell before she even opened her pouty mouth. It was in her flushed cinnamon-toned skin, the dark inquisitive eyes, and the legs that he was mad at himself for looking at. Women with legs like hers shouldn't be allowed to wear jeans that looked like they had been painted on. It was just wrong to mess with a brother's head like that. Especially when he was trying to keep it PG-13 upstairs.
He felt bad for staring. But she kept looking at him with those huge eyes and he couldn't turn away.
“You don't look old enough to have grown kids,” she said after a moment.