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Although annoyed by Drew's interference, Zaria comes to realize she needs him. And Drew is able to shield her from unwanted advances from the man they're investigating. But ...
Although annoyed by Drew's interference, Zaria comes to realize she needs him. And Drew is able to shield her from unwanted advances from the man they're investigating. But when the roles they're playing start getting too real, Zaria and Drew must confront their true feelings for each other.
Andrew Grissom slowly lowered the copy of the Times he'd been reading and turned his head in the direction of the husky female voice. The first thing he noticed were the long, long legs encased in black fishnet stockings. Above that, black spandex shorts clung to shapely hips beneath a fitted top that barely contained Zaria Fuentes's ample cleavage and exposed a good three inches of her midriff. Frizzy jet-black hair floated around her shoulders. Aside from looking sexy as hell, it served as a hiding place for a mike.
He focused on her face: exotic, almond-shaped amber eyes underneath winged brows, cheekbones for days and a pair of lips that would send Pam Anderson running back for collagen injections—all coated in more makeup than she usually wore in a week.
Drew swallowed. He was ready, all right. Even without the war paint and the Hookers R Us get-up, Zaria was a knockout. That fact wasn't lost on any member of the team, but acknowledging that in any serious way was likely to get him a sock in the gut.
"For you, baby, anytime," he drawled.
Zaria rolled her eyes, but it was just for show. He knew she didn't take him seriously, which allowed him the freedom to say whatever nonsense popped into his head. "Keep dreaming, Grissom. Maybe then it will happen."
"Promises, promises." He pushed to his feet off the crappy sofa in the corner of the 41st precinct's basement and tossed the paper onto one of the cushions. In the three-inch heels she wore, Zaria topped six feet, but still only reached his shoulder. "Where's Schraft?" he asked, referring to the sergeant who led their team.
"Everybody's out by the van waiting for you, Lazybones."
That figured. Everyone was anxious to get on with the day's work. They'd gotten a tip on one Levar Alston getting his mama to sell crack and weed out of an apartment on East 173rd while he had his sister and a couple of cousins out selling something else. Apparently, Levar liked to keep it in the family, which might have been a mistake, considering that when the sister got picked up a few days ago she rolled on everybody else.
Now he, Zaria and the rest of their team were headed out to pay Mr. Alston a little visit. Unlike Narcotics, who tended to focus on the bigger fish and the bigger money, building cases over weeks or months, their squad focused on getting the dealers and their customers off the streets with surveillance, buy-and-busts and the like. You didn't have to work up elaborate cases against someone who made the mistake of selling you a couple of hundred dollars' worth of crack. You could just haul them in and hope to make a charge stick. Considering the sister had already rolled, that wouldn't be too much of a problem.
Zaria had volunteered to do the buy, figuring Alston might offer her a spot in his depleted stable and then they'd have their hooks into him for that, too. Drew agreed with her that he might. Half the hookers he knew got into the business as a means to satisfy a habit. The other half were introduced to it by their pimps to keep them in line. But he knew that wasn't what really interested Zaria. Her ambition led her to look for opportunities to shine for the higher-ups—anything that might lead to that detective's shield she craved. Sometimes he wondered if that didn't make her take chances she shouldn't.
It didn't take them long to set up. O'Malley and the sarge were with the van around the corner. Bruno was in a parked car at the end of the block. He and Frisk were on a rooftop providing surveillance and cover, if necessary.
Drew shifted his weight for a better vantage point and looked through his binoculars. He had a clear view of the front of the apartment building, including the entranceway where a kid stood with his hands in the pockets of low-slung jeans. He was the gatekeeper, the one to tell you which of three apartments Alston was selling out of that day. Even if you could make it into the building without direction, showing up at the wrong door on the wrong day couldn't be a good thing.
Their positions had been decided yesterday, before this feeling of apprehension had gripped him. He hadn't been happy about it then. No one wanted to play lookout, or worse, sit in the hot van while they waited for it to fill with whatever skels and other scumbags they picked up coming out of the apartment after a sale. For about a minute he'd thought to ask to swap spots with Bruno or even one of the guys in the van—anything to be down on the ground and closer to the action. But none of the guys would have done that without an explanation. Since he wasn't prepared to give one, he hadn't bothered. But it didn't make him feel any better.
"Do you see her?" Frisk asked with a bit more avidness in his voice than Drew cared for.
Drew glanced over his shoulder at the kid and scowled. Zaria wanted her shield. Bruno had joined the squad looking for a less demanding tour than Narcotics. The sarge was just waiting to count down his twenty before retiring. Frisk apparently couldn't see beyond the possibility of watching a hot piece of ass. Drew ground his teeth together. Was he the only one focused on doing the actual job?
He almost voiced his sentiments out loud, but considering no one, not even Frisk, would buy that sentiment coming from him, he didn't bother. He knew the rest of them considered him a bit of a rogue, not knowing the meaning of the word teamwork, despite working with a team. Zaria in particular viewed him as being too laid-back, too quick with a flip comment, unwilling to work himself up too much over anything he didn't find worthwhile. To some extent they were right. He wasn't about to put his ass on the line for anyone who didn't deserve it, nor was he willing to kiss anyone else's to get ahead.
Anyone paying more attention to his record than to his mouth would know how wrong that assessment was. He'd been offered choicer gigs and turned them down. What he did was worthwhile and he was good at it. What the hell else did a guy need?
He nodded toward the camera around the kid's neck, which was used to document who came and went when it came time to go to court. You couldn't very well claim you hadn't been at an apartment buying smack while an eight-by-ten glossy said otherwise.
He said to Frisk, "Are you going to talk, or are you going to use that thing?"
Drew looked through his binoculars in time to see a tall, skinny man in dirty jeans and a black T-shirt coming out of the building. He slapped hands with the kid outside before heading up the block toward them. "You got him?" Drew asked, and was rewarded by the sound of a few shots being clicked off on the 35 mm camera.
Drew keyed his mike to speak to the other members of the team. "Homey in a black bag headed your way."
"Roger," came the response, probably from the sarge, but with that one word it was hard to tell. Either way, with any luck they'd grab up this guy for processing later.
Drew checked his watch. It shouldn't be long before Zaria went in. Not to disappoint, Schraft's voice came over the headset. "It's a go."
Instantly, Drew's body tensed. It would probably amount to nothing, this feeling in his gut, but he'd been right often enough to trust whatever reaction came first. At least it would be over soon. He saw her then, striding down the block, but without her usual long-legged, confident stride. Her walk was more rapid, less sure, as if she were agitated or strung out. It was all part of the show, intended to fool the kid at the door, as was the lollipop tucked in the corner of her mouth—a distraction.
"Damn. I never wanted to be a lollipop so bad before," Frisk said.
Drew slid him a quelling glance. At least the kid had his gaze focused through the viewfinder this time. Still, he could live without another man voicing the thoughts in his own mind. Not that Zaria would ever have given either of them the time of day. She treated Frisk like a stray puppy; she treated him like some incorrigible younger brother who'd grown too big to discipline.
Now he had more important matters to focus on besides Zaria's assets threatening to pop out of her top. Though they stepped into danger every day, what Zaria was about to do could be dangerous. There were lots of ways a cop could burn their cover, the least of which was being recognized by some perp they were trying to bring down.
She pulled the lollipop from her mouth. "Hey, baby, what's cracking?" she said.
The kid licked his lips, his eyes avid. "Depends. Whatchu want?"
Drew didn't bother to focus on the words that came next. The kid was going to let her up, if only to have an excuse to watch her come back down. She stepped inside the building, but it was a few seconds before they heard anything else from her.
"I'm in," she said in a hushed tone.
A statement of the obvious, but at least that let them know she was alone, probably in the elevator. Even before her meet and greet with the kid downstairs they'd known which apartment Alston was dealing from, courtesy of one of the skels they'd picked up earlier. She was headed to the fourth floor, the last apartment on the far side of the building—probably the worst location, considering where they'd set up, but it couldn't be helped now.
The next sound he heard was a slow grinding noise, probably the elevator door opening. Apparently someone was waiting to take the ride down, since the sound of voices reached him. "This is it."
Zaria's voice sounded too confident to please him. Too much could go wrong and she had that reckless thing going on, besides. But soon enough, she was inside the apartment. Her job was to score a few rocks and then get the hell out, though he knew she'd give Alston the chance to come on to her. She'd succeeded in the first part of the job when he noticed a man on the street talking to the lookout.
Damn. He'd prefer it if Zaria got out before anyone else went in. More bodies in the apartment meant more things could go wrong. But she was taking her time, letting Alston lay his rap on her about working off her habit in trade. So far, nothing he'd said would mean a damn thing in a court of law, nor probably would he. She needed to get out of there. He would have told her that if he had any means of doing so. But she was only set to transmit, not receive.
The guy on the street disappeared into the building just as it appeared Zaria was giving up the ghost. Thank God for small favors. But she didn't make it out before the new mark hit the door. From listening to Zaria's wire, they'd ascertained there were three men in the room—Alston and two others who undoubtedly served as muscle if any trouble broke out. Mama must have had the day off. One of them, not Alston, shouted, "Hey, I know this son of a bitch. He's five-oh."
For an instant Drew froze. Damn. The new guy had been made as a cop. Just what they needed. A second later, the sound of gunfire, shouting and chaos crackled in the headset.
"Everybody, go," the sarge said in a clear but urgent voice. "Go now."
Drew was already on his feet, all six foot seven, two hundred sixty pounds of him running toward the side of the building where a ladder led down to the fire escape. He made it down, taking two steps at a time. He hit the ground, still running, heading toward the curb. Simultaneously, he drew his gun and flashed his badge at oncoming motorists as he crossed into the street. He was big enough that no one could miss him, but he wasn't taking any chances. At least that's what he thought. The next thing he knew, he was airborne—not quite an unpleasant experience. It was the last thing he remembered for a long, long time.
Even before Drew opened his eyes he knew where he was. The particular brand of antiseptic smell only came with doing time in a hospital. He also knew he wasn't alone. The scent of a familiar perfume reached his nostrils. He popped one eye open. "Hey," he said.
The delicate woman standing beside his bed punched him in the arm. "Hey, yourself. What the hell is wrong with you?"
He'd have asked her if she wanted the short list or the long one, except his cousin-in-law, Carly, didn't look in the mood for jokes. "Why don't you ask the Mack truck that hit me?"
"Not funny," she said, but her expression softened. "How are you feeling?"
He shifted to assess the damage. Only his left hip and the right side of his head hurt. "I've been worse."
"Thank goodness for that."
"Where's Jackson?" he asked, referring to his cousin, her husband.
"Outside talking with your crew. They're all here, I think."
That was to be expected, but he'd deal with them later. "Let me talk to Jackson for a minute, okay?"
She frowned. "I'm not through with you yet, though."
He didn't doubt that. Carly had managed to lasso Jackson and civilize him and was determined to do the same with him. He didn't imagine she appreciated him allowing himself to get hurt on the job, even if a vehicle, not a villain, was responsible.
Carly left and a moment later Jackson came in. Jackson was nearly as tall as Drew, but with a different, more wiry build. When they were kids, Drew had used the threat of his greater size to keep his younger cousin in line, but it had been a long time since that tactic worked. Drew wished he still had that advantage as Jackson pulled a chair over to his bedside, since there was more amusement than concern in his expression.
Jackson sat back, steepling his fingers. "I thought we had a pact, buddy."
What seemed like a lifetime ago, he and Jackson had vowed to be more careful since they were the only family either of them had anymore. But that was no longer true for Jackson. He had Carly and a beautiful little girl they all adored. But Drew didn't want any of them worrying about him, especially since as far as he knew all he'd sustained was a bruised hip and a slight concussion when his head hit the pavement. He hadn't lied to Carly—he'd been banged up much worse.
Drew said, "Wasn't my idea. How'd the driver make out?"
"I don't think she'll be putting makeup on while she's driving anymore. At least not for a while. You damn near totaled her car."
Drew chuckled. "What can I tell you? Must be all those vitamins Mama kept feeding me."
"Yeah, well, I heard they're keeping you overnight. Carly and I want you to stay with us until you're back on your feet."
Drew cast his cousin a skeptical look. More than likely Jackson had already cornered the doctor and made him confess all he knew. And as for the invite, it was a flimsy excuse for Carly to get her busy eyes on him and probably foist some more eligible women on him in which he had no interest. No thanks. Besides, he intended to get back on the job as soon as possible. "I'll be fine."
Jackson stood. "Suit yourself. Carly's going to be disappointed."
He'd bet, but he knew Jackson was trying to guilt him. "She'll get over it."
Jackson shrugged. "I'm sure she will." He extended a hand toward Drew, which he shook. "Call me if you need anything."
"Some other folks are waiting to see you."
As Jackson departed the others came in. The sarge claimed the one chair in the room. Bruno and O'Malley stood at the foot of his bed. Frisk was fiddling with the blinds. The only person who wasn't in the room was the one person he wanted to see. He thought of asking about her, but didn' t want to invite speculation.
"How are you doing?" Schraft asked.
He gave his usual response. "I've been worse." What came next didn't surprise him—a first-class ribbing about not only getting hit but nearly wrecking the car that mowed him down. He supposed he deserved it, considering that if he'd been paying more attention to his own safety as opposed to Zaria's, he could have avoided getting hit in the first place.
Still, his concern wasn't for himself. If things had really gone south in that apartment, he was sure he'd have heard about it already, but he wanted to know. "How'd the bust go down?"
The sarge frowned. "Turns out somebody messed up and gave the case to both us and the narcs. They made a move at about the same time we did. After the other cop was made, all hell broke loose."
"Zaria made it out okay?"
"Man, she not only made it out," Frisk said with a note of awe and respect in his voice. "She not only took down two of the assholes in the room, she saved the other cop's behind, too."
That sounded like her—Superwoman in hot pants. He admitted it to himself, feeling the same admiration he heard in Frisk's voice. "Who got the collar?"
"Narcs," a couple of the guys said in unison.
Mentally, Drew shrugged. That seemed about right. Not only was the narc squad a bit higher on the police food chain than their ragtag squad was, it seemed fitting that the team that did the least work garnered the most credit. "Where is she?"
"Zaria? By now she's probably home."
Drew shrugged, not wanting to let the disappointment he felt show.
"We'd better be going, too." The sarge stood, glancing at the others in a way that suggested it was time to go.
Drew shook their hands and endured the few parting shots the guys offered. When they were gone, he leaned back on his pillows, feeling restless. He felt achy but well enough to go home. He had a vague memory of being asked if he lived alone. Answering "yes" probably hadn't been a wise thing, since they'd decided to keep him. He probably should have let Jackson and Carly spring him, but he didn't want to put them out, either. If only someone would show up and hook up a damn TV, he could at least entertain himself with some mindless fluff.
Or maybe not. His mind was still focused on Zaria—the chances she'd taken that morning, her bravery in saving another cop's life, but mostly the fact that she hadn't bothered to come see him and whatever the reason for that was. He wanted to see her to make sure for himself that she was all right. He would have felt that way about any member of their team under similar circumstances, which was why the others had shown up to see him. You put your face in the door and checked on each other, if only for a few minutes.
But she hadn't come. He hoped it wasn't because the day had been too much for her.
Drew shifted, then groaned from the stiffness in his leg. Yeah, he could see Zaria, the Iron Maiden, falling apart. Not in this lifetime. If anything, she was probably annoyed at him for getting hurt and diverting attention from her bust. Then to have the narcs steal it must have really burned her butt. She was probably too ticked to bother with him.
And he had to admit the exercise of professional courtesy wasn't the only reason he wished she'd shown up. They'd worked together for the past two years and joked around a lot. They'd become close in a way that other members of the team were not. He'd met her grandmother and she'd met Carly and Jackson. They were friends of a sort.
But in the last couple of months, his feelings for her had shifted. He'd started noticing her as a woman, not only as a cop. That wasn't exactly true, either. He'd always been aware of her as a woman. He would have to be half-blind or dead not to notice her. What he'd never considered was her as his woman.