Cops And ...Lovers?(7)

By: Linda Castillo

"Maybe you should sit back down so we can finish our interview."

Six months ago, her pride would have dictated she tell him to take a flying leap into whatever body of water Logan Fails had been named after. Today, she figured they were both too hard up to look a gift horse in the mouth. Either Frank had done a number on him, or Chief Nick Ryan was desperate to get a deputy hired. She wasn't sure which scenario bothered her most.

"All right." On numb legs, she walked back to the chair and sank into it.

She watched him take the chair behind his desk. Judging from the crow's-feet at the corners of his eyes, she guessed he was probably in his late thirties. His brown hair was cropped short and so dark it was almost black. Even though it was barely past noon, a five o'clock shadow darkened a jaw that was lean and strong. He wasn't handsome—well, not exactly—but then pretty boys had never appealed to Erin. She preferred rugged over perfect. Character over charm. This man possessed generous amounts of both in the hardened planes of his face.

From the scar on his right eyebrow to his hard eyes and uncompromising mouth, Nick Ryan was as rugged as a man could get and still look civilized. He stood well over six feet, so that even with her lofty height of five-nine, she had to crane her neck to look up at him. He possessed the lean build of a distance runner tempered with the brawn, of a boxer. But despite his physique, it was his eyes that emanated power. They were the color of strong coffee and as coldly sharp as the wind off Lake Michigan in January. His mouth was a straight slash she instinctively knew didn't smile much.

"How soon can you start?" he asked.

She blinked, realizing with some embarrassment she'd been staring. "Monday." How she would move from Chicago to Logan Falls in two days when she didn't even have an apartment yet was a mystery to her, but somehow she'd pull it off.

"You'll need to fill out these forms." He passed several sheets of paper to her. "The pay isn't as good as it is in Chicago, but the cost of living is a lot less."

Numbly, she took the papers, starkly aware that her hands were shaking. "I don't have an apartment yet." She'd made the one-hundred-mile trip from Chicago in less than two hours just that morning. Once in town, she hadn't taken the time to sightsee, but headed directly to the police station.

"There's a two-bedroom apartment for rent above the florist shop on Commerce Street." Nick opened his pencil drawer, pulled out a business card and handed it to her. "Mike Barton is my neighbor. He's been trying to rent it for two months. You might want to give him a call."

She was still trying to absorb that he'd hired her when he hit her with the bit about the apartment. "I'll do that."

"Are you staying in town tonight or heading back to Chicago?"

"I'll find an apartment today, then drive back tonight for my things. If all goes well, I'll move in the day after tomorrow." Erin rose, feeling as though she'd just stepped off a roller coaster.

"Good, then I'll see you Monday morning."

She started toward the door, but paused halfway there. Taking a deep breath, she stopped and turned to face him. "What made you change you mind?" she asked.

Rising, he approached her, his expression inscrutable. "You wanted to tell me to go to hell. You almost did, but your pride wouldn't let you because you didn't want me to know I'd rattled you. I thought that ought to count for something."

"I wasn't rattled."

He had the gall to look amused. "Really?"

Her cheeks heated. She didn't like having her dignity toyed with. She didn't have that much to spare. "I was ticked off that you felt the need to grill me when I clearly have the credentials to handle the job."

"That remains to be seen." Surprising her, he extended his hand. "Just don't make me regret hiring you."

"I won't." She raised her hand to his.

The contact jolted her like a mild electrical shock that jumped from him to her and wreaked havoc on every nerve ending in her body. She felt herself give a little jerk, praying he didn't notice. Vaguely, she was aware of his grip—firm, but not painful. All the while his gaze bored into hers, sending pinpricks of awareness rippling through her like a flash flood.

The knot in her chest unraveled only to be replaced with another kind of tension. Erin wanted to think it was because she'd waited a long time for this moment, but in the backwaters of her mind she knew the weightless feeling had more to do with the fact that he was standing so close she could smell the clean tang of his aftershave. She told herself she was crazy for noticing something so irrelevant. She'd learned a long time ago that police work and relationships were about as compatible as gasoline and fire—and just as combustible.

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