Cops And ...Lovers?(3)

By: Linda Castillo

"As long as she doesn't mind putting those fancy credentials to use down at the school crosswalk," Nick said.

"We've never had a woman cop in Logan Falls, Chief. That ought to be interesting."

Nick could do without the interesting part. He could damn well do without the headache. He hadn't even met the woman and already disliked her on principle alone. He knew it wasn't fair, but he didn't care about that, either. Of course he didn't have to like her to appease Frank—just put up with her until she figured out small-town police work wasn't to her liking.

The bell on the front door jingled. Nick looked up. Something went soft in his chest when he saw the woman standing at the door looking as if she'd just walked into a lion's den—and wanted to personally kick him out no matter how big his fangs. Her expression was an odd combination of raw nerves and do-not-mess-with-me tough. McNeal wasn't due for another two hours. Besides, he would know a cop on sight. This woman wasn't a cop, but a piece-of-fluff civilian. He wondered what she was selling, and if this was her first day on the job.

She wore a nicely cut pantsuit that sacrificed curves for style. Even with low heels, she was tall, just a few inches short of his six-foot-two frame. Nick could tell by the way she moved that she was athletic. He groaned inwardly when he imagined her lugging in a trunkful of office supplies and offering him the deal of a lifetime.

Not bothering to rise, he made eye contact. "Can I help you with something?"

"I'm here to see Nick Ryan."

She had the greenest eyes he'd ever seen. Cat eyes, he thought, large and cautious and full of female mystery, all framed by lashes as dark and lush as mink. High cheekbones and a full mouth were set into a face that was a little too pale, a little too serious. Freckles dusted her small nose. Her reddish-brown hair was tucked into an unruly bun at her nape. She looked like she'd driven for a long distance with the windows down.

"You probably missed the No Soliciting sign posted on the door," he offered, hoping to save both of them some time.

"I'm not selling anything," she said. "I have an appointment."

Nick stared at her, taking in the folder in her hand, the determination in her cool green eyes, and felt a sinking sensation in his gut. He didn't embarrass easily, but the back of his neck heated. Suddenly, he found himself wanting to throttle Frank Rossi.

"You're Erin McNeal," he said.

She nodded. "I'm a little early."

"You're a lot early." He glanced at his watch. "Two hours to be exact."

"The drive didn't take as long as I thought it would." She strode forward, eyes level on his, hand extended.

Rising, he rounded his desk. "I'm Nick Ryan."

She wasn't what he'd expected the ex-detective to look like. He'd expected hard eyes that were tired from too many years of seeing too much. This woman was anything but hard. She was young and slender and way too … soft to be a cop.

"Frank said to tell you hello," she said.

Frowning, Nick extended his hand, wondering if Frank was back in Chicago having a good laugh. But the moment her fingers closed around his, Nick's concentration wavered. The force of her grip surprised him. It was a little too quick. A little too firm. He hadn't expected to feel calluses on her palm. A weight lifter, too. How on earth could he have mistaken her for a solicitor? Soft or not, this woman had "cop" written all over her.

"I brought my résumé," she said.

"Frank faxed me a copy."

Belatedly, he remembered he was still grasping her hand and released it. Even though she wasn't standing particularly close, he caught a whiff of her scent, some exotic spice tempered with the essence of clean hair and female. How could a woman with calluses on her palms and a cop's eyes smell so good?

Realizing he was staring, Nick gave himself a mental shake and looked at Hector, who had yet to close his mouth—or take his eyes off her. "This is Deputy Price."

Erin extended her hand. "It's a pleasure, Deputy."

"Ma'am." Hector jumped to his feet, wiped his palms on his uniform slacks and stuck out his hand.

Nick was still struggling with the fact that Detective Erin McNeal wasn't the hardened, cynical cop he'd expected, but a woman who smelled like heaven and looked like she'd just stepped off the set of some high-drama police TV show.

She wasn't beautiful in the classic sense. Her hair was too red to be brown, too brown to be truly red and struggling valiantly to break free of that bun. Her mouth was a tad full and too wide for his taste. He'd never cared for freckles, either. But she was attractive in an earthy, girl next-door sort of way—the kind of girl who'd played with slingshots instead of dolls.

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