Cops And ...Lovers?(4)

By: Linda Castillo

She studied Nick. "Frank tells me you two are old friends."

He frowned, not liking the way she'd used the word old. Just because he felt a lot older than his thirty-eight years didn't mean it was fact. "We go back a few years," he said.

All too aware that his deputy wasn't the only one having a difficult time keeping his eyes off her, Nick cleared his throat. "Frank and I partnered up for a couple of years in Chicago."

"He speaks well of you," she said.

"Only when he needs a favor."

Her gaze sharpened, and he knew she was wondering if he'd just slighted her. Perceptive, too, he thought, and felt a glimmer of hope that she wouldn't take this job, after all.

"I'm really early," she said. "If you're in the middle of something, I don't mind waiting."

Great, he'd been staring again. He was acting like a pimply-faced teenager who'd just come face-to-face with his favorite centerfold. Erin McNeal was a cop—and a bad one at that. He'd worked with plenty of female cops back in Chicago. This one shouldn't be any different.

Noticing that Hector's eyes still hadn't settled back in their sockets, Nick motioned toward his office. "We can talk in here, Ms. McNeal."

She started for the door with long, confident strides. He followed, refusing to let his eyes peruse what he instinctively knew was a nice derriere. He didn't want to know that she was built just the way he liked. He'd just as soon not like anything at all about this woman.

Once in his office, he slid behind his desk, then watched her take the chair opposite him. Her jacket gaped slightly when she crossed her legs, and he caught a glimpse of lace and the swell of her breasts beneath her blouse. Determined to keep his mind on the interview, he forced his gaze to the file in front of him. "Your credentials are impressive," he said. "Frank gave you a favorable recommendation."

"Frank was a good commander."

"It's probably no handicap that he's also your uncle." Nick looked down at the file, wondering if she realized Frank had told him about the shooting. "You scored high on your detective's exam. You transferred out of tactical to become a detective after only two years. Says here 'because you like to think.' Your solve rate is high. Your marksmanship is outstanding." He raised his eyes to hers. "Those are some pretty remarkable achievements considering there are over thirteen thousand sworn officers on the force."

Her gaze never left his. "I like being a cop."

Despite his resistance to her, the answer scored a point with him. Nick had a pretty good idea how many hurdles this woman had had to leap to reach detective status. He knew plenty of men who couldn't match half her skills. He knew plenty of others who would do their utmost to hold her back just because she was the wrong sex. Yet she'd prevailed. Nick admired tenacity almost as much as he admired guts. He wondered if she was gutsy enough to bring up the subject neither of them wanted to discuss.

"We don't get much action here in Logan Falls," he said. "A few juvenile delinquents. Domestic disputes. The Brass Rail Saloon got robbed last Friday, but that sort of thing is pretty unusual. Think you can handle that kind of excitement?"

"If I can handle the South Side of Chicago, I'm sure I can handle anything that happens in Logan Falls."

He'd asked the question lightly, but she'd taken it as a personal challenge. An ego to boot, he thought. He studied the file, irritated with her for not being what he'd expected, annoyed with Frank for not warning him how good she was to look at—and downright ticked off at himself for noticing.

"I see you've had a couple personnel problems," he said.

"They were relatively minor—"

"It's my responsibility to ask you about them." He flipped to the next page. "You've been written up for insubordination."

Eyeing him warily, she shifted in her chair. "I didn't like an assignment, and I let my lieutenant know about it."

"What was it about?"

"Cases involving unpopular victims that were shoved aside in lieu of the more affluent ones. Prostitutes mostly, because nobody cared about them. I didn't think that was fair."

Nick nodded noncommittally, not liking it that he agreed with her. He didn't miss big-city police work, or the politics that went along with it. "Any problems with your shoulder?" He could tell by the way her eyes widened that he'd caught her off guard. "Frank told me about the shooting," he clarified.

"I have a little arthritis," she replied. "Nothing I can't handle."

"Did you pass the physical?"

She nodded. "I'm left-handed, so the injury didn't affect my marksmanship. I lost some strength in my right hand."

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