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The raid is going down soon. Adrenaline coursed through Officer Robbie Meyers's veins, quickening her pulse, as she blinked against the smoke and glanced at the dial of her watch. Real soon.
She resisted the urge to reach beneath her zip-up sweatshirt and check for the presence of her gun and cuffs. The weight of the holstered weapon rested against the small of her back, reassuring her that she was readyfor whatever happened. She had to be ready. It wasn't only her fellow officers who were depending on her to do her job well.
She forced a vacant, flirtatious smile onto her face and wiggled her body on the dance floor, which was actually just a section of cracked cement floor in the abandoned warehouse. The warehouse wasn't abandoned tonight, though, since teenagers and twenty-somethings completely filled the space. Music, at a deafening volume, echoed off the walls and the high metal ceiling.
"Rob, do you see him yet?" a voice asked through the small plastic piece in her ear.
She scanned the crowd for the face of the dealer they were hoping to find at tonight's rave. They'd had a tip he was going to be there with a special shipment for the customers gathered at the party.
This could be her biggest bust since joining vice six months ago. Regret tugged at her, though, over what she'd had to miss in order to participate in the raid.
Yet how could she have asked for time off when the Lakewood Police Department was already short-staffed? Despite having several officers called back to active duty in the National Guard, the city council wouldn't approve the chief's request to hire more police.
Nerves unsettled Robbie's empty stomach as she noted flashes ofmetal at the waists of some of the kids there. She wasn't the only one carrying. This was not a good night to be understaffed.
"Rob, can you hear me?" the voice asked.
The kid with whom she was dancing took it as an invitation to reach for her. She stepped back, and with a shake of her head slipped through the gyrating bodies. As she pushed through the crowd, she spotted him coming through the open garage doors in the loading-dock area. The department hadn't been able to find a clear picture of the dealer, but this guy fit the general description: about thirty, tall and lean, brown hair. His hair was thick, with sun streaks, and his skin was deeply tanned. The guy probably dealt on the beach, too, as Lakewood was on the Lake Michigan shore. He certainly seemed to know the teens and he moved from one to another talking briefly with them, as if he was looking for someone in particular. Then he lifted his head and his gaze met hers.
He's made me for a cop.
Holden Thomas searched his mind, as he'd searched the crowd, for any recollection of the black-haired girl who was standing in front of him. He didn't remember seeing her around before, either at his shelter for runaway teenagers, or at the youth center at St. Mike's, where he'd worked before opening up the shelter. She wasn't the girl he'd come here to help tonight, but he suspected she might be in just as much trouble.
Her eyes widened as he met her gaze, and he caught a glimpse of fear in the icy-blue depths. But when he closed the short distance between them she masked the fear with bravado.
"Who are you?" she asked with the familiar belligerence with which teens usually greeted him the first timeand sometimes several times afterthey met.
"Someone you can trust," he promised her. These kids had so few people they could rely on.
She laughed, a deep-throated chuckle that had him taking another look at her. Was she really the teenager he'd pegged her for? Or was she older?
She wore the ripped jeans and hoodie that were the current teenage uniform. She had that Goth thing going on, too, with black eyeliner heavily outlining her thick-lashed blue eyes, and her skin was pale, even though summer in west Michigan was only just slipping away as September began. Most of these kids should have school tomorrow, but he doubted that many, if any, would be attending class in the morning. Would she?
"What's your name?" he asked.
But before she could answer, the night erupted with light and noise, louder than the music, which had abruptly cut off. Men in black uniforms and bulletproof vests stormed the warehouse. "Lakewood PD. Stay where you are!"
Then shots rang out, short and earsplitting. He reached to protect the girl as something whizzed near his head. One moment Holden was standing; the next pain exploded in his shins, his legs gave out and he struck the concrete floor. A knee dug into the small of his back and his wrists were wrenched behind him and cuffed.
Silky hair fell across his cheek when she leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear. "My name is Officer Meyers and you're under arrest."
Despite his other cheek grinding into the cement, he laughednot with amusement, but shock. "You have to be kidding me."
"No joke," was her no-nonsense reply as she patted down his sides and ran her hands along the length of his legs, even checking around his ankles.
Tensing from her invasive search, he asked sharply, "What did I do?"
Nothing. Robbie had a sinking feeling as she slid her hands into the back pockets of his faded jeans. He carried no weapon, no drugs or related paraphernalia. Only a worn leather wallet, and when she reached into the front pockets, all she pulled out was a ring of keys. Her palms damp with nerves, she flipped open the wallet to read his ID. Holden Thomas.
"Are you Reverend Thomas?" she asked.
His wasn't the male voice that responded, though. The vice sergeant, undercover in ratty jeans and a flannel shirt, rushed up and asked, "God, Robbie, why'd you hook up the reverend?"
"II didn't know " The bust had gone down so fast and shots had been fired. When he'd reached for her she'd dropped himto protect herself and to keep him out of the line of fire until a Special Response Team officer subdued the shooter.
Sergeant Bartholomew "Billy" Halliday, her superior officer, grabbed the youth minister's arm and helped him to his feet. "Uncuff the reverend," he ordered.
Robbie's trembling fingers fumbled the key into the lock. As she released the cuffs her fingertips brushed Thomas's wrists, and heat streaked through her, despite the brisk wind blowing in from outside. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I thought you were a "
"What?" he asked, turning toward herhis eyes, a startling greenish blue, narrowed in anger. "What did you think I was?"
"A dealer," she admitted.
"You thought the reverend was the guy?" Halliday asked with a gruff laugh.
"He matched the description." Robbie defended her mistake, but heat still rushed to her face.
"I'm not the guy," Holden Thomas said. A muscle twitched in his scraped cheek as he clenched his jaw.
"I know that now. I'm sorry," she said again, even as her contriteness faded to irritation. "But what are you doing here?"
Before the man could answer, Billy interrupted with a declaration, "I got the dealer." A cocky grin creased his bearded face. He was good. That was why Halliday, who was only a year or two older than Robbie's twenty-five, had already earned the promotion to sergeant. "He's on his way to booking."
"What about the kids?" Thomas asked, his attention on the teenagers that Special Response Team members were leading off in cuffs. "What are you doing with them?"
"We're booking the ones in possession of drugs or alcohol," the sergeant explained.
"And the others?"
Billy shrugged. "We'll release them to their parents or guardians."
"And if they don't have either of those?"
"We'll call in social workers," the sergeant replied, distracted as some of the teens tried to wrestle free. "Hey, you're both good now, right? I gotta oversee the loading." With a nod at Thomas, Billy hurried back to the action.
Robbie resisted the urge to call the sergeant back. She and the youth minister were not good. Noting the blood smeared across his scraped cheek, she winced, and just barely refrained from offering another apology. Since he hadn't acknowledged the first two, there was no point in offering a third.
"Loading?" Thomas asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Putting them in the paddy wagin the van. This was a raid," she explained. "We bust everyone in the place on suspicion of possessing narcotics. Which brings me back to the question you didn't answer what are you doing here?"
He gestured toward the kids in cuffs. "Looking for one of them."
"I've heard about your shelter," she said, and she'd been impressed and pleased that he had founded such a useful facility. "But I thought they came to you. I didn't know you recruited."
"Recruited?" He lowered his chin, so that their gazes met. "You think I'm encouraging kids to run away?"
She shook her head. "No, of course not. I just can't figure out why you'd come down here. Nothing good happens in this area of town." Criminals had turned the abandoned warehouses and factories in this part of Lakewood into meth labs and crack houses. "It's too dangerous."
"Too dangerous for kids," he agreed. "That's why I had to come down here. I'd heard that one of the kids from the sheltera young girlwas coming to this party. But no one's seen her."
"It's too dangerous for anyone."
He touched a knuckle to his scraped cheek and grimaced. "I can't argue that." Then he glanced at the watch on his wrist and cursed. "I'm late. I have to go."
Disappointment tugged at Robbie, but she shrugged it off. She wasn't disappointed he was going. She was disappointed only because she couldn't leave, too. She had already wasted enough time with the youth minister; she had to help the sergeant now.
"Am I free to go?" he asked, lifting a brow above one of those greenish-blue eyes.
Heat streaked through her again, but this time it had nothing to do with embarrassment and everything to do with attraction. Maybe her best friend was right; maybe she didn't date enough. But she had someone in her life more important than a man, someone who deserved all her spare time. If only she had more
"You're free to go," she said. But when he turned to leave, she added, "For now."
He whirled back, obviously perplexed. "For now?"
"You need to come down to the station and give your statement," she explained.
"Statement? About what?" he asked. "I already told you why I was here."
"I know, but you're a witness. We need your statement about what you saw go down tonight." She really shouldn't let him leave until he gave it, but she would rather not be the one to take it. "You can come by the station tomorrow and talk to Sergeant Halliday or the watch commander, Lieutenant O'Donnell."
"Sure, I'll do that." He touched his fingers to his cheek. "But I didn't see a whole lot from the ground."
She couldn't help herself from saying it again. "I am sorry for"
"Mistaking me for a drug dealer," he finished for her, his voice gruff with disgust. She had offended him even more than she suspected. No wonder he hadn't acknowledged her apologies.
She nodded. "Yeah, for that."
He glanced at his watch once more, then started walking toward the open garage door. Before jumping down from the loading dock, he turned back and admitted, "I made a mistake, too. I mistook you for a runaway."
He hadn't been mistaken, actually, but Robbie didn't enlighten him. Instead, she turned away and pushed him from her mind as she joined her fellow officers. She couldn't afford to be distracted, not in her line of work. And the only way to keep Holden Thomas from distracting her was to completely forget about him.
Because he arrived late, Holden had to stand in the back of the small auditorium and peer over the heads of the other parents to see his niece onstage as she belted out a song with the rest of her fourth-grade class. Warmth spread through his chest, tempering his earlier frustration and disappointment.
He'd been more worried about her disappointment than his, though. He couldn't fail her like he'd failed her mother. He closed his eyes as guilt and sorrow rushed over him, but then he forced the feelings back to focus on Lorielle's daughter.
The class sang disjointedly, their youthful voices out of sync. After only a week of school, the music teacher couldn't have expected much. But the song was only one part of the back-to-school open house. Thanks to the raid, he'd missed the beginning. As he thought of the beautiful vice officer, tension knotted his shoulders.
The woman had no idea the nerve she'd touched when she'd mistaken him for what he abhorred most. Yet she had an excuse. Only drug dealers and their customers hung out in that part of the city. He had no excuse, mistaking her for a runaway. Her undercover disguise, even if it was the current teen uniform, hadn't clothed a teenage body. Her unzipped hoodie had revealed a lacy camisole and full breastsbefore those breasts had been pressed against his back when she'd leaned forward after cuffing him and identifying herself, her breath warm in his ear.
Heat flashed through him, but he blamed it on the closeness of the crowd and on his embarrassment that she'd gotten the jump on him. Despite her petite stature, the woman was strong. And she was a woman, more because of the look in her eyes than the curves of her body. That look hadn't reflected the suspicion of a teenager so much as the cynicism of an adult, of a cop.
Applause rang out around Holden, the loud sudden noise making him flinch. He shook off the flash of anxiety and clapped, too. Then, lifting his fingers to his lips, he produced a shrill whistle.
Moments later a little blond girl burst through the throng. "Uncle Holden! I heard you whistling! You made it!"
"Of course I made it," he said. He could have blamed Officer Meyers for making him late. Even now he could feel her hands patting down his body and searching his pockets. But it was his own fault. Again. "I wouldn't have missed your open house for anything."
He lifted Holly in his arms. She was small for nine, with a delicate buildlike her mother had had. She looked so much like Lorielle, in fact, that he felt a twinge of pain in his chest.
The twinge moved to his cheek as Holly pressed her fingertips to it and gasped. "Uncle Holden! You're hurt."
"I'm fine," he assured her.
Her eyes widened with fear. "What happened?"
The child had spent too much of her young life worrying about the only parent she'd knownand for good reason. Since he'd become her guardian, Holden had wanted to offer her nothing but security and stability.