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The lovingly restored, guardsman-blue '64 Ford Mustang convertible blew into town doing fifty-two in a forty. Twenty seconds later Maggie Barnes nailed him. Lights flashing, siren wailing, the sweet, high sound cops loved and everyone else feared, she drove up behind him and pointed to the curb when he looked in the rearview mirror. She read his lips and laughed out loud.
Sometimes she really loved being a cop. When the speeder was Tucker Jones it only made life that much sweeter. Her old friend Tucker could always make her laugh. And since today was Friday and Valentine's Day, Maggie could use some entertainment.
Valentine's Day was highly overrated, in her opinion. The fact she was single and not dating anyone had nothing to do with it, she assured herself. She didn't like it because it was a stupid holiday designed to make money for florists, jewelers and producers of chocolate. Besides that, work usually sucked on Valentine's Day. You could never tell what crazy thing someone would get into their head to do and then she would have to clean up the mess.
Seeing Tucker Jones's beautiful blue eyes and listening to his latest excuse about why he was speeding seemed like a much better alternative to wondering what new disaster was waiting for her later that evening.
Since it was a near-record warm day for February, he'd been driving with the top down and was waiting for her when she reached the car, his fingers beating a tattoo on the car door. The car, like its owner, was bad, gorgeous and sexy. She knew all about that badass car of Tucker's, because he'd told her in exhaustive detail on more than one occasion how he'd rebuilt and restored it.
"Is there a problem?" he asked. Of course, he knew perfectly well why she'd stopped him.
She took off her sunglasses and hooked them on her shirt pocket. "Well, now, there sure is."
"I wasn't speeding. Your radar must be broken."
"I didn't say I pulled you over for speeding."
"Why did you, then?"
"Because you were speeding. Again." Maggie looked him over and smiled. "Fifty-two in a forty.You're busted, Tucker. License and registration, please." She reflected that she ought to have that information memorized by now.
"I know a good lawyer. I'll get out of it. Save yourself the trouble." He handed her his driver's license and reached in the glove compartment for the vehicle registration.
Maggie laughed. Tucker was a lawyer and he undoubtedly would get out of the ticket. That fact never stopped him from arguing, though. Or her from giving him a ticket if she wanted. "You know what they say about a lawyer who defends himself."
"Having a fool for a client? Witty. Very witty. Have I mentioned I really go for a woman in uniform?" He gave her a wicked, sexy grin.
Damn, he was cute. And he knew it, too. She started writing information on the ticket. "Only every time I've ever pulled you over. Too many to count."
"Have I ever said I really go for beautiful redheads in uniform? Especially a cop uniform?"
She nodded. "Also every time I've pulled you over." She glanced at him and added, "Funny thing, that's the only time you ever mention it."
"It was worth a try." He gave her his most charming smile, which she admitted was something to see.
"Did you have a reason for speeding?" He almost certainly didn't. Unless it was because he liked his cars as fast as he liked his women.
"Why do I need a reason? No one can drive this car and not speed. It's unnatural."
Maggie snorted. "Doesn't the fact that we've been friends since high school make a difference?"
"Tucker, if I only stopped people I didn't know, I'd never stop anyone. Then the chief would fire me and what would I do? Sell shoes?"
"Come on, Mags, have a heart."
"Don't call me 'Mags,'" she said. He knew she hated it and did it to annoy her. "Cops give tickets. Cops don't have hearts."
"I know one cop who does. You." He looked at her soulfully and, she hated to admit, it was proving effective.
She handed him the warning ticket. "You could be right. But don't let it get out."
He grabbed her hand and kissed it lavishly. "You're one in a million. Run away with me and be my love. We'll go to Mexico." He kissed her hand again. "Or Aruba. Or Tahiti. We'll go"
Laughing, she pulled her hand away. "Stop that, you fool. I'm on duty here."
"You won't run off with me?" He looked incredibly disappointed.
Maggie shook her head. "Sorry. You'd be flirting with another woman before the plane touched down. Possibly before it left."
"Oh, come on, Maggie. I'm not that bad."
"I'm not. You sound like my mother."
"Gee, thanks." Maggie didn't much care for Tucker's mother, and the feeling was more than mutual. Eileen Jones always looked at Maggie as if she were something nasty stuck to the bottom of her shoe. "What's she done this time?"
"Same thing she always does. 'Darling, you must stop this incessant womanizing and settle down. I know just the girl,'" he said in a fair imitation of his mother's accent.
"How many women has she introduced you to over the years?" Maggie asked. "Hundreds?"
"I've lost count. I've been going out with the latest in a long list. Several times."
Maggie raised an eyebrow. "Sounds serious."
"Well, it's not." He scowled. "Damn it, that doesn't mean I'm a womanizer."
"Seems a little harsh," Maggie agreed. "I'd call you a player, myself, but incessant player-izing doesn't have quite the same ring."
"Very funny. The woman has an obsession with having grandchildren. You'd think she had one foot in the grave."
"You can't blame your mother for wanting grandkids. You are her only child and you'd have pretty babies."
He put his hand over his heart and patted. "Be still. Maggie Barnes just paid me a compliment."
"Don't let it go to your head," she advised him. "It's fat enough already."
"I think the term is swelled."
"Fat, swelled, makes no difference to me." Surprisingly, Tucker wasn't conceited, she just liked to tease him. Oh, he knew he was good-looking and that women liked him. They'd been after him since high school so he could hardly help knowing it. But Tucker believed most women pursued him because he'd grown up with money and then made a bundle on his own, when he'd practiced in San Antonio before moving back to the Aransas City area. She suspected there was a story there, but beyond an odd comment or two, he'd never told her.
Her radio squawked and she pressed the button down in response. "Crap," Maggie said when she heard the code. "I've got to go. Cheer up, Tucker. At least you don't have to go break up a domestic disturbance."
"Maggie." He put his hand on her arm. "Be careful, okay?"
"Always am," she told him. "But thanks for worrying."
TUCKER WONDERED NOW and then what would have
happened if he and Maggie had ever hooked up. They wouldn't still be friends, that was a given. He'd remained friendly with women he'd dated, but never what he'd call truly friends. Since he valued his friendship with Maggie as much as she did, she was probably smart to make sure it stayed that way.
He watched her walk back to her car, admiring the way she moved. Most of the time, he just saw his old friend Maggie when he looked at her, but every once in a while he remembered she was a woman, and a damned attractive one to boot.
He started the car and pulled onto the road, heading for his parents' place in Key Allegro to drop off some legal papers. He thought about Maggie again and the call that had come in for her. He knew she could take care of herself. She was a good, experienced cop. But shit happened. A year or so ago she'd had to shoot and kill a man who had already shot a friend of hers and who was also trying to kill his estranged wife. Domestic-violence calls could get out of hand quickly and he didn't want another one to go sour on Maggie.
She'd handled it in the past, though. He had to trust she'd handle whatever happened in the future.
Maggie wasn't a girly-girl, but she was definitely feminine. She was a Tae Kwon Do black belt, and although he was as well, she'd kicked his ass on more than one occasion. He'd also heard rumors that she'd taken up boxing lately, though he hadn't verified that.
Twenty minutes later he pulled up to his parents'waterfront home, parked and went up the walk.
"Darling, you're late," his mother said as she opened the door and enveloped him in a scented embrace.
"Late? You didn't know I was coming."
"But of course I did. You told your father and he told me." She put her arm through his and led him into the living room. "And someone else you know is here with me," she added meaningfully.
A woman stood with her back to them, a spill of long, red hair waving to her shoulders. Maggie? Impossible . He'd just left her, and she hadn't been headed this way.
"Isabella?" He realized who she was as she turned around. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
Isabella was the woman he'd mentioned to Maggie. They'd gone out a number of times since his mother had introduced them. She was beautiful, cultured, sweet and intelligent. There wasn't a reason in the world he shouldn't have taken her to bed, but he just hadn't been ready to take the relationship to that level. If they became lovers, Isabella would read more into it than he was ready for.
She smiled. "I came by to see Eileen on opera-committee business. When she mentioned you were coming by I thought I'd stay and say hello."
He took the hand she held out and, because she expected it, kissed her cheek. Turning to his mother he said, "I just stopped by to leave you these papers. Don't forget to tell Dad," he said, walking over to lay the packet down on the grand piano.
He stayed and talked a while, then, since his mother and Isabella both expected it, made a date for the following night. Isabella left shortly thereafter, and he congratulated himself on successfully getting his mother off his back once more.
"Tucker, stay a moment," Eileen said when he would have left. "Isabella is a lovely girl, isn't she?"
"Sure, she's pretty," Tucker said warily.
"Her family is from Fort Worth, originally. Her parents are on the boards of a number of museums."
Tucker tilted his head. "Mom, why would you think I give a flip about what Isabella's family does?"
She made the tsk sound that generally annoyed the hell out of him. "You seem very interested in her. I thought you'd like to know something about her background, in case she hasn't told you, that is. I believe her family is quite wealthy, which I'm certain she won't have mentioned."
He bit down on the urge to say, No, that would be vulgar, wouldn't it? "I'm not sure why you're telling me all this. I've dated her a few times. Nothing serious."
"But it could be. Oh, Tucker, she's exactly the type of woman I can see you with."
Tucker pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering how he could get out of the house without telling his mother to butt out. Because if he did that she'd get her feelings hurt, and while she wouldn't cry, she'd make him feel like the biggest jerk on the planet.
Before he could think of a good response, Eileen said, "I simply want you to think about the fact that Isabella would be a perfect match for you. And that you're certainly old enough to consider settling down."
He wasn't in love with Isabella, though. But then, he didn't really believe he'd fall in love again. He'd been burned badly enough to make him a little cynical about love. He wasn't going into that subject with his mother, however. She'd find a way to demolish his arguments. She always did, at least on this subject.
"I'll think about it," he said. Which, of course, he wouldn't. He had no desire to get married, but he knew better than to argue with the brick wall of his mother's will. Much easier to avoid her for a while.
He got away without too much more trouble. But instead of thinking of Isabella, he found himself thinking of an entirely different woman all the way home. A certain redheaded cop he'd known since high school.
Maybe he could talk Maggie into being friends with benefits. He thought about that a moment. Then shook his head regretfully. No, their friendship was more important to him than any momentary pleasure. Besides, she'd laugh herself sick if he proposed it. And then she'd invite him to spar with her and kick his ass for good measure.