Cops And ...Lovers?(6)

By: Linda Castillo


"I know what happened in that warehouse," he said. "I know about Danny Perrine. You froze up, McNeal. Were you going to bother mentioning that to me?"

She stared at him, her jaw tight, her eyes shooting fire and ice.

"So before you come in here trying to dazzle me with your assorted bragging points, why don't you explain to me why I ought to hire you?"

* * *

Erin wanted so badly to tell him to go to hell she could taste it. Of course, she didn't. Six months ago she would have laughed in his face. Today, shaken, uncertain and a little desperate, she could do nothing more than stare at him and wonder how the interview had gone from bad to downright catastrophic in less than ten minutes.

He knows, she thought. He knows I can't hack it anymore. The familiar pain cut her and went deep. Doubt and guilt slashed her, and she felt the blood well like a fresh wound. She looked down at where she held her purse with a death grip. Forcing her hands to relax, refusing to let this man reduce her to a bumbling rookie, she looked up and met his gaze levelly.

"I think we both know this isn't working," she said.

Lowering his head, Nick pinched the bridge of his nose. "That's an understatement," he growled.

Disappointment burned, but she raised her chin in spite of it and rose. "I won't waste any more of your time, Chief Ryan."

"We're not finished yet."

"Yes, we are." She slung her purse over her shoulder.

He rose. "Look, I told Frank—"

"Don't do me any favors, Chief. Just because my uncle is your friend doesn't mean you have to feel obligated to hire me. I don't need your charity." She didn't need this job, either, she assured herself. There were other opportunities. She just needed to find the right one. She sure as hell didn't need a jerk like Nick Ryan humiliating her at every turn.

For the first time he looked chagrined. "Don't make this personal—"

"Don't sweat it, Chief. I'm used to being underestimated. Besides, my skin's a lot thicker than it looks." She offered a crisp smile, hating that she had to bite her lower lip to keep it from quivering. "I've got some other prospects lined up, anyway."

"Do you?"

"Corporate security. That sort of thing."

"Uh-huh."

"I prefer working in a larger town, anyway."

"Sure you do."

She was going to have to figure something out, considering she hadn't made her car payment last month. Maybe security work wasn't such a bad thing, after all.

"Thanks again for your time." Without looking at him, Erin started for the door. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt like such a failure. Maybe the last interview she'd screwed up. Or the day she'd waked out of the precinct for the last time. Or maybe the day she'd frozen at a crucial moment and realized she wasn't as strong as she'd once believed.

"McNeal."

She didn't stop until she reached the door of his office. Even then she didn't turn around. She wasn't sure what would happen if she did. She wasn't a crier or overly emotional, but for the first time in a long time, she felt on the verge of a crying jag the likes of which the world had never seen.

"Frank Rossi doesn't recommend just anyone," Nick said.

Erin's hand froze on the knob. Furiously, she blinked back tears.

"I trust his judgment," he said. "You worked for him for nine years. Maybe you should trust him, too."

The meaning behind his words registered slowly, like an easy rain falling over a drought-stricken land. Hope jumped through her with such force that her knees went weak. One breath. Two. She turned and looked at him, trembling no matter how hard she tried not to. "Frank is my uncle. He's probably not objective when it comes to me."

"Taking that into consideration, is there any reason I should doubt your ability to perform police work?"

"I was a good cop," she said a little breathlessly. "I'm still a good cop."

"I need a deputy. You came with a recommendation. You've got the credentials. Are you interested?"

Erin stared at him, wondering if he would be offering her the job if he knew about the nightmares. Or the flashbacks that swooped down on her like a giant bird of prey when a car backfired and her memory transported her back to that warehouse.

"You mean you want to hire me?" she blurted.

He hit her with a piercing stare. "Logan Falls is a small town. It might be a good place for you to get back on your feet and decide if you want to stay in law enforcement, or move on to something else."

Her heart thrummed against her breastbone as if she'd just run a mile. Hope and fear roiled in her chest as his gaze burned into hers. "I want the job."

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