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Kate Cooper twisted the engagement ring on her finger, slowly working it over her knuckle, then into her palm. As a cop with the NYPD, she understood that the most illuminating evidence often came from the most innocuous of sources.
She hadn't expected this to apply to her personal life, though.
"Hey, Kate." Max Beranger tapped her shoulder. "Can I borrow a pen?" He tossed his into the trash with disgust.
Max had been her patrol partner tonight. Now they were filling out their end-of-shift reports. Absentmind-edly, she handed him one of the pens she normally hoarded, her mind still on the conversation she'd had with her neighbor earlier in the evening, on her way to work.
"Thanks," Max said.
"Sure." Janet Beaker lived in the apartment across the hall from her and Conner. Janet was single, well-educated and active—she had a life of her own and no need to live vicariously through other people's dramas.
Which was one reason Kate was inclined to believe her.
The other reason was her own gut reaction to what Janet had to say. Yes, she'd thought. Damn it, yes. I knew something was wrong.
Because there had been signs… such as coming home dead tired after a long night shift to find freshly laundered sheets on the bed and fresh towels in the bathroom.
She'd thought, great, Conner was finally pulling his share in the housekeeping department.
After six months of living together, she should have known better.
"You've been quiet tonight," Max said. "What's up?"
"Nothing." Officers had begun arriving for the 7:00 a.m. shift. Slowly men and women filtered into the room, and she dismissed each face until she saw the man she'd been waiting for—Conner Lowery. Just twelve hours ago she'd thought she was going to marry him, have babies with him, love him forever.
Now the sight of him brought a spasm of pain to her empty stomach. She hadn't been able to eat or drink a thing all shift—not even a frigging cup of coffee. But then, tonight she hadn't needed caffeine to keep her awake.
Conner caught her eye as he entered the room and gave her his usual grin—the same quirky yet charming grin that had won her heart, when he'd been transferred to the Twentieth Precinct a year ago.
They'd dated exclusively for six months before he'd suggested they move in together. Three months later, he'd proposed. She had been walking-on-air happy.
And so deluded.
Kate placed both hands over her stomach as it threatened to contract violently. This wasn't the time to get sick. Not the place, either.
Max left his desk and went to talk to Conner. Dan Bogart also joined them. The three guys had been buddies since their police academy days. Of the three, Conner was the only one in a serious relationship and sometimes she'd sensed that he missed the good old days of going to bars with his friends and chatting up women. But she'd never thought he would actually—
Kate bent her head over paperwork that she'd already completed. From the corner of her eye she observed the three friends. She saw Conner wink. Max faked a punch to Conner's shoulder and Dan laughed.
It hit her then.
The skin on her face tingled, the way it always did when her intuition kicked in. Pushing aside her reports and dropping her pen, she moved. The guys looked at her like nothing was wrong. Their innocent act didn't fool her. They'd actually had the nerve to laugh right in front of her.
How long had they known? Right from the beginning?
Maybe it was worse than simply knowing. Maybe they had worked as Conner's spies, letting him know when she was safely out of range so he could—
A wave of anger washed away her usual prudence. She'd planned to talk to Conner after his shift was over and they were at home.
But to hell with that. If everyone already knew, then privacy didn't matter, did it?
"So, boys, what's the big joke?"
"No joke, babe. We were just talking." Conner leaned in for a kiss, but she took a step away from him.
"I had a chat with Janet Beaker on my way to work this evening."
Right away Conner knew. She saw comprehension flash in his shifty eyes, then his expression grew guarded. "Let's talk about Janet later, okay? Come on, babe. I'll treat you to breakfast before you go home."
He moved closer, blocking Max and Dan from the conversation. She stepped aside.
"Max? Dan? You're part of this, right? I'm sure you want to be included now, as well."
The guys looked terrified, shaking their heads with a vehemence that only proved her suspicions.
Kate was vaguely aware that the room had grown dead quiet. But she was on the attack now. She couldn't stop.
"So who is she, Conner?" Kate tried to pin him with her gaze, but the coward would no longer look at her. "From Janet's description, I'm guessing Emily White in Records." She looked from Conner, to Max, then to Dan. She could tell by their sheepish expressions that she'd come up with the right woman.
"I saw the three of you, joking and congratulating yourselves. You seem to be pretty proud, but I'm not sure why anyone would think it's so great to be a liar and a cheat."
"Ouch," Max said. "Come on, Kate, give the guy a chance."
Kate's hands were fists, and the anger inside her was hot, irrepressible. She had been so crazy about Conner. She'd really thought he cared as much about her as she did about him. Hell, they'd made love just before she went on duty. And only hours later, he'd invited someone else to their bed.
How could you? she wanted to cry. But years of police training and experience held her in good stead, allowing her to maintain a degree of emotional distance.
"Kate, you know I love you—"
She shook her head. "No. You don't get to say that anymore. Not after what you did."
"I guess I'm just lucky I found out before the wedding." And before she'd had kids. God, what a mess this situation would be if children were involved. Kate drew in a shaky breath, then held her hand over a trash can. Unclenching her fist, she watched as the ring that had been a symbol of her happiness was swallowed up by the remains of somebody's midnight snack.
"Kate, stop. I want to talk to you."
At the sound of her commanding officer's voice, Kate froze. Damn, she'd almost made it out of the building in one piece. Her legs were shaking. In fact, she thought every part of her body was about to give out on her. "Sir, this isn't a good time."
"No, I guess not. Still… get in here." He opened the door to a small meeting room and after a brief hesitation, she preceded him inside.
Lieutenant Rock was very tall with rough features and a deep love of his job. Over the years, Kate had established a good rapport with the man, but right now she wasn't up to talking to anyone.
She wrapped her arms around her body, refusing a chair when he suggested they sit.
Rock rested his hands behind his back and sighed. "I heard what happened and—"
"Kate, everyone on the floor heard. As soon as people clued in to what was going down, the whole department could figure out that the shit was about to hit the fan."
"They figured that out pretty quickly, then. Maybe because most of them already knew." Kate wondered how many others had been privy to Conner's affair. These were supposed to be her colleagues and friends, too, not just his. And yet no one had said a word to her. She'd had to be clued in by a neighbor who had noticed Conner in the laundry room with another woman.
How sweet that Emily White had helped him wash the sheets and towels after… Oh, God. She blocked the awful images of the man she loved being with a woman who she knew didn't mean that much to him.
Why would he have risked everything they'd had— their love, their future—for a silly fling?
"He's a bloody fool, but the truth is, he was never good enough for you, Kate."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Lieutenant."
"It's sincere. I've got your back on this, so let's make a plan. Want me to transfer Lowery's butt out of here?"
"No." She'd been thinking about what she wanted to do. She'd intended to sleep on it before making a firm decision.
But nothing else had gone according to plan this morning, so what the hell. "I'm quitting."
"Get out, Cooper. You can't be serious. With your record? I'm sure I don't have to remind you that you're coming up for promotion."
"It wasn't just Conner who betrayed me. They all knew what was going on. Even my partner."
"You can't be sure of that."
She looked at him skeptically. As if.
"Kate, he's just a guy. You can't let one jerk change your life like this."
Rock didn't understand. She'd lost more than the man she loved today. She'd lost the biggest, most important dream of her life… the chance to start a family of her own. A warm, loving, happy family with lots of children and maybe a dog or a kitten thrown into the mix. Only twelve hours ago, she'd thought this was Conner's dream, as well.
But maybe he'd also been lying about that.
"If you really want a change, how about you put in for a transfer? I'd hate to lose you, but if it's what you want…"
She shook her head no. She'd always enjoyed her job, but after today, she couldn't imagine coming back here, or starting fresh with another group of strangers. "Remember Lindsay Fox and Nathan Fisher? They've been trying to convince me to come and work with them. Maybe I will."
"This isn't the time to be making life-altering decisions. Why don't you take a few days off? See how you feel when you've had a chance to cool down?"
Kate already knew how she'd feel. Betrayed. Hurt. Angry.
None of that was going to change.
When she made up her mind, she seldom changed it. And her mind was made up.
"I'm quitting. It's a done deal."
As soon as she got home, Kate wrote her letter of resignation, then dropped it in the mail. She'd really felt a sense of pride working for the NYPD, but she had no sense of regret about leaving.
She had learned a lot from the organization, but she was ready to move on.
Next she packed all of Conner's belongings and arranged for a moving company to pick them up the next day. She called Conner at work to ask where he wanted her to send them.
"Kate, damn it, why are you moving so fast? We haven't even talked."
"Did you sleep with Emily White?"
"Stop it. We need to meet in person…"
"Why? So you can try to charm me? Forget it, Conner. Nothing will work. You haven't just lost my love and my trust. You've lost my respect. I don't want to see or speak to you again."
Her words were cutting and possibly cruel, but at least Conner got the message.
"Fine. Be that way, Kate. You can send my stuff to Max's apartment."
And that was it. The end of a one-year relationship.
Kate put down the phone, wondering if she was going to break down and cry. It hadn't happened yet. Oddly, once the first rush of anger had worn off, she'd felt quite calm.
The tears would come, she was certain, but while she was waiting she would clean the apartment. When she found a pair of Emily's pink panties between the mattress and the footboard, she was glad she'd gone to the effort.
"Disgusting." She put on a pair of rubber gloves, then carried them outside to the garbage chute. In the hallway she met Janet.
"You were right about Conner," she said.
"I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything?"
"I'm glad you did."
Only once her apartment was spotless, and the movers had arrived to remove Conner's belongings, was Kate able to sleep. She was out for over twelve hours and when she awoke, it was a new day.
She sat up in bed and checked in on her emotions. Was she going to cry now? But she felt not just calm, but peaceful. Maybe on a subconscious level she'd already known Conner wasn't the right man for her.
She was also hungry.
Kate spent the day indulging herself. She went out for breakfast, read the New York Times cover to cover, then strolled through Central Park. It was early March, cold and damp, but she thought she could feel springtime in the air—until a few flakes of snow landed on her nose.
She picked up some Thai takeout and rented a movie. Before watching it, however, she decided she'd better call her friend Lindsay Fox.
Lindsay had once worked with her at the Twentieth Precinct. Several years ago, she'd left to start a private investigation company on the Upper West Side, and routinely tried to convince Kate to join her.
Hopefully that offer was still open. She dialed the new number Lindsay had given her after she'd moved in with her partner—and now lover—Nathan Fisher.
Lindsay answered right away. "Kate, is that you?"
"You know that job you keep offering me…?"
Lindsay laughed. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah. I've had it with the NYPD."
"What put you over the edge? Midnight shifts? Having to be respectful to senior officers even when they're full of crap? Needing to fill out a form just to go to the frigging can?"
"All of the above. Oh, and plus I found out Conner was screwing a woman in Records."
"It's true. Our engagement is over. I've returned the ring, kicked him out and I'm looking for a fresh start. And I mean a totally fresh start."
"Oh, Kate, I'm so sorry to hear that. What a flipping jerk, though."
"Yeah. I busted him right at the office, in front of all his buddies."