Read an Excerpt
All A man Can Do
By Virginia Kantra
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe only thing worse than dying on the job was living long enough to retire.
Jarek Denko steered his aging police cruiser with one hand along Eden's main drag. He eyed the empty steps of St. Raphael's Catholic Church, checked out the sidewalk action in front of the Rose Farms Café.
Unless the senior citizens were carrying concealed, the street was quiet.
Jarek had never wanted to spend his retirement on a bar stool at the Joint, nursing a beer and his memories while all around him the active cops talked the job and women. But he sure hadn't figured on giving up the street to become police chief in some backwater town.
His town, now, he reminded himself. It was a good town. And a great place to raise kids. His kid. Maybe the community of Eden could provide whatever was missing from his little girl's life.
His jaw tightened. Yeah, like a father. It sure as hell couldn't bring her mother back for her.
He thought with gratitude of his own parents. At least they were trying to support his decision to make a fresh start in a new place. His father muttered about coming up for the fishing. His mother insisted Allie stay with them until Jarek was settled in his new job.
And his brother, who had followed Jarek onto the force and into themost prestigious detective division in Chicago, was laughing his damn fool head off.
"You actually think you'll be happy working in Pleasantville?" Aleksy had demanded.
"Eden," Jarek corrected mildly. "And I can handle it." He had been a homicide detective for fourteen years. There was nothing he hadn't seen, and damn little he couldn't handle.
Now he cruised past Eden's only movie theater, where a second-run action flick shared the screen with an afternoon cartoon, and turned right, toward the lake. The Town of Eden Police Department stood on a patch of winter-browned grass at the corner of North Lake and Highland. Except for the sign out front and the squad cars parked out back, the department looked exactly like the post office or the library. Trees and two flags softened the squat brick outline and shaded the severe concrete steps.
Jarek pulled into his reserved spot by the rear entrance and keyed himself into the building. The hallway was quiet. The whole building was quiet, even for a Tuesday morning. Just another day in paradise, Jarek thought wryly.
But as he walked to his office, he heard a heavy, genial voice carry from the receiving area.
"Well, well. We haven't seen much of you around here lately. What can I do for you, sweetheart?"
"You can get me in to see Chief Denko," a woman's voice replied crisply. "And don't call me sweetheart."
Jarek sheered off from his office, his attention caught by her tone and the sound of his name. God knew, he could use a diversion from reading files.
Lieutenant Bud Sweet was in the lobby. With his broad red face and thick white hair, he looked like St. Nick's suspicious cousin. His gut strained over his gun belt. Not for the first time this week, Jarek wondered if he would have to requisition new uniforms for his out-of-shape department or order them all into training.
There was a woman with Sweet, dark haired, young and exotic looking in a red sweater and a fitted black blazer. Nothing wrong with her shape at all.
"Lieutenant," Jarek said quietly. With only a week as their boss, he was careful to give his department veterans their due.
Sweet nodded acknowledgment. "Someone here to see you, Chief."
The woman turned, revealing a wide, red, full-lipped mouth and Sicilian gold eyes. The blazer hung open. Well. Wow. Hello. From this angle, the sweater looked even better.
She offered her hand, her golden eyes amused and aware. "Teresa DeLucca. But you can call me Tess."
He shook her hand briefly - hers was warm and firm, with deep red nails to match the sweater - and then thrust his own deep in his pockets. Look, don't touch, veteran Joe Arbuzzi used to tell him when he was still a wet-behind-the-ears detective at a crime scene.
"What can we do for you, Miss DeLucca?"
"I want to buy you breakfast," she said. Breakfast? Like, what two people ate the morning after the night before?
Holy St. Mike. He was a seasoned veteran of the streets. A casualty of divorce court. He knew better than to drool over Miss Call-Me-Tess DeLucca like he was off duty and she was a doughnut.
It was the sweater, he told himself. He'd always been a sucker for ... red.
"She's a reporter," Sweet said. A reporter. Jarek's mental barriers rattled down like the grill over a jewelry store window. He had a cop's natural aversion for the press. Even when they wore red.
"What do you want?" he asked again.
Sweet grinned. "Well, her brother's not in lock-up, and the bars don't close for another thirteen hours, so she can't be here to bail her mama out. She must want you."
Jarek frowned. Surely Sweet was joking? He had to be joking.
But Teresa DeLucca's smile flattened. "Only for breakfast," she said.
Jarek shook his head. "Sorry. I've eaten."
"Coffee, then? The stuff here's terrible."
He raised his eyebrows. "Come here often, Miss DeLucca?"
"Tess," she corrected. "And, no, not lately. Although I had my first ride in a police cruiser when I was fourteen."
Okay, he was interested. He gestured toward the hallway behind him. "I can offer you coffee in my office."
Her manicured nails toyed with the shoulder strap of her purse. Did he make her nervous? Or was it police stations? I had my first ride in a police cruiser when I was fourteen.
"What about the café?" she countered. "I'm buying." She was a puzzle, with her confident eyes and uncertain mouth. Jarek had never been able to resist a puzzle. It was one of the things that made him so good at his job.
He shrugged. "Fine. You want to come back for your car?"
Her smile relaxed some. She had a tiny overlap in her front teeth that was very attractive. "I'll drive, thanks."
"You'll follow me?"
Those golden eyes danced. "To the ends of the earth," she said solemnly.
He resisted the urge to smile back. Until he knew what she wanted, he couldn't afford to get chummy.
"All right," he said.
Bud Sweet pursed his round, red mouth. "Leaving kind of soon, aren't you, Chief?"
Jarek nodded. "I'll be back in thirty. Page me if you need me."
"We'll manage," Sweet said. Their eyes clashed briefly. Sweet's fell first.
"Great," Jarek said, careful not to push his point. "Thanks."
Tess DeLucca followed him out of the building, her high-heeled boots making a bold sound on the concrete walk. "I get the impression your second in command doesn't like you much."
Well, there was a scoop, Jarek thought. "Really," he said noncommittally.
She unlocked her car door and then tossed back her dark hair to look at him. "Did you know he was in line for the chief of police position? Until the search committee decided you were the best man for the job."
"I'd heard something like that," Jarek admitted. It made the lieutenant's antagonism easier to bear. Sweet considered Jarek an interloper. An outsider.
Excerpted from All A man Can Do by Virginia Kantra Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.