Cops And ...Lovers?(8)

By: Linda Castillo

Shaken by her reaction, she broke the connection and stepped back. Nick gazed steadily at her, but he wasn't smiling. He looked taken aback and as annoyed as she felt. If his jaws clenched any tighter, he was going to need dental work.

Clearing his throat, he opened his office door for her and stepped back. Erin used that moment to escape. She barely looked at Deputy Price as she headed toward the safety of the front entrance. She wasn't sure what had just happened between her and Nick Ryan, but knew it wasn't good. It sure as hell couldn't happen again. This job was her last chance.

Her hand was closing around the knob when Nick's baritone voice cut through the air. "McNeal."

She froze, a dozen scenarios tumbling through her brain. He'd changed his mind. He wanted to talk to Frank again. He wanted to hear the details about what had happened to Danny. He wanted to know why her hands were shaking, why he could hear her heart hammering against her ribs. Taking a deep breath, she turned and forced her gaze to his.

Nick stood just outside his office door, his face as expressionless as a stone. "Tell Frank I owe him one."

* * *

Chapter 2

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Nick stared into his coffee cup and called himself a fool a dozen ways. He wanted to think he'd caved in and hired Erin McNeal because he owed Frank a favor. Because of her impressive credentials, or maybe because he felt the need to lend a helping hand to a fellow cop. But Nick knew his decision to hire her probably had more to do with the desperation he'd seen in the depths of her gaze—and the fact that she would have walked out of his office and not looked back in spite of it.

He glanced at the wall clock, annoyed that it was the fourth time he'd done so in less than twenty minutes. He told himself he wasn't thinking about her, that he wasn't anxious because this was her first day of work and she was going to be riding with him. But he was honest enough with himself to know that wasn't quite true. In the three days since he'd hired Logan Falls's first female police officer, he'd found himself thinking about her more often than he wanted to admit. He assured himself it was because she'd been involved in a shooting, and it was his responsibility, as her direct supervisor, to know her mindset. Only Nick knew his interest in her wasn't as impersonal as he wanted to believe.

What bothered him most was that he'd reacted to her on a personal level. Not as a superior or fellow cop, but a man who saw a deep well of vulnerability beneath that veneer of toughness. A man who'd been willing to go against his better judgment the moment he laid eyes on her and saw the damaged pride and go-to-hell attitude—and the kind of curves that made his pulse pound.

He wondered how Frank would feel if he knew his good friend was ogling his niece, who was nearly ten years his junior.

Grimacing, Nick took a drink of coffee. He'd often wondered how long it would take for the celibacy to get to him. After Rita, he'd believed he was as immune as a man could get when it came to women. That was fine with him; the lack of distraction left him able to focus all of this attention on his daughter. Then Erin McNeal had walked in and proved him wrong. This was a hell of a time for his hormones to tell him he was still human.

So what if she was attractive? Nick had more self-discipline than he knew what to do with, and a whole lot more common sense. He certainly knew better than to court trouble. Erin McNeal had trouble written all over that shapely body of hers. Not that he'd been looking, of course. But there were times when a man couldn't help but see the finer points of a woman, no matter how staunch his resistance.

Nick was truthful enough with himself to realize the woman intrigued him. But he assured himself he could handle it. Even after three years, he was in no frame of mind to take on a relationship. After losing Rita, he'd sworn he'd never put his heart on the line ever again. The consequences were too dire. Besides, he didn't even like McNeal.

The bell on the front door jingled. Nick jumped, cursing when some of his coffee sloshed over the top of his cup. Even without looking, he knew it was Erin. Steeling himself against the anticipation winding through his chest, he glanced out his office door. His heart kicked against his ribs when he spotted her striding toward him through the outer office.

He watched her approach against his better judgment, knowing his slow perusal of her would probably cost him later. The navy jacket and skirt she was wearing should have been conservative, but the sway of her hips and the shape of her thighs beneath the material were anything but. She reminded him of a sleek panther. Graceful. Wary. A little dangerous. A hint of tightly wound energy lay behind that smooth gait. Her legs were long, her strides confident. She returned his gaze levelly.

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