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By Jule McBride
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA month ago ...
"Your father's guilty." Framed in the doorway to the squad room with uniformed officers milling behind her, Judith Hunt stood before him, her posture perfect. She was wearing a gray silk suit with a jacket most people would have removed due to the summer heat. Farther behind her, through a window, sunlight glanced off the jagged steel Manhattan skyline in hot metallic flashes. "You know it," she continued, surveying him through suspicious blue eyes, "and I know it, Steele."
Steele, Sully thought. She usually used his last name, probably because she knew it grated on his nerves; on the rare occasion she used his first, it was always "Sullivan," never "Sully."
Standing behind his desk, he glanced down at the files littering the surface, his attention settling on a festive mug the officers had given him last Christmas. To Captain Steele: the Great Protector, it said, invoking Sully's nickname. The mug, when presented, had been brimming over with red-and-green condoms.
At least his men knew he was dedicated to ensuring safety. And unlike Judith, they had a sense of humor. Realizing with a start that she was scrutinizing his possessions, Sully shifted his eyes to hers again. He hated that he was reassessing everything now, wondering what conclusionsJudith was drawing about him from the items, but he was glad the files made him look busy, which he was, and that she'd noticed the mug, since it showed his men cared.
The only thing Sully regretted was the ship in a bottle. Too personal, he decided. He'd built the ships when he was a kid, and he'd brought some into the office from a collection he'd otherwise divided between his parents' home and his downtown apartment. Built inside a Scotch bottle, the English galleon had five raised sails. It was from the late sixteenth century, with a sleek hull and low superstructure that rose toward a slate-and-teal-painted quarterdeck.
She arched an eyebrow. "A pirate ship?" He shrugged with a casualness he never really felt in her presence, though why, he didn't know, since he was no stranger to beautiful women. Many times, his job had taken him into the homes of actresses and models. "Doesn't that figure?" he inquired mildly. "After all, my father's a crook, right?"
"I'm not sure a pirate ship's an appropriate ornament for the desk of a precinct captain," she agreed calmly.
"I find flying a Jolly Roger very appropriate, Ms. Hunt."
"The Jolly Roger?"
"Jolie Rouge," Sully clarified, the French words feeling sensual in his mouth as he nodded toward the ship. "A red flag. They were meant to communicate that no quarter would be given. That any battle would be to the death."
"I'll take that under advisement." A heartbeat passed. "And thanks for the history lesson."
"No problem," he returned amiably. "Where better than a precinct headquarters to intimidate adversaries into surrender, to avoid costly fights?"
Judith knew very well he was referring to the near eruption of emotions that occurred whenever they met, which lately had been far more often than Sully would have preferred. "Is that what you're trying to do?" she countered, her lips twisting in a challenging smile. "Intimidate me?"
He fought not to roll his eyes. If Sully didn't know better, he'd think the edginess of these encounters was due to Judith's attraction to him. She wouldn't be the first woman to be drawn to him. "Would that be possible?"
"No. So if you're trying, it's not working, Steele." There it was again. Steele. He'd worked with Judith ever since her transfer from the city's legal department to the investigative unit in Internal Affairs a few years ago, and now, for the umpteenth time, Sully wondered what made such a beautiful woman distrustful enough to spend her time prosecuting cops.
And she was beautiful - if a man could tolerate her attitude long enough to notice. She was nearly six feet tall. The hair hanging just past her shoulders was such a rich chocolate-brown that it appeared black. Her eyes were blue or violet, depending on the light, and framed by dark arching wisps of eyebrows. Her mouth, always highlighted by crimson lipstick, was so remarkable that it had earned her the nickname Lips. No officer said it to her face, of course, but the name was well-deserved. Sully wasn't the first to wonder how that mouth would taste.
She was clearly fighting exasperation. "Aren't you going to say anything more?"
"Why bother?" Sully asked dryly, pushing aside the tails of his brown suit jacket so his hands could delve into his trouser pockets. He'd rolled down his shirtsleeves, donned the jacket and reknotted his tie as soon as he'd heard Judith was on her way up to his office. This morning hadn't been bad, but the afternoon was heating up, and he'd just gotten a memo saying that the city, fearing brownouts as the heat worsened, was requiring that air-conditioning run low in public buildings. So far this summer they'd been lucky, but Sully's instincts told him this might be the last comfortable day. Right now, in the jacket, he felt as though he were being baked in a slow oven. It didn't help that Judith looked as cool as a cucumber.
"What do you mean, why bother?" Judith was saying, her voice a soft echo.
"I mean, when it comes to Pop, you've already played judge, jury, and executioner. What's to discuss?"
Her crimson lips parted slightly, just enough that he caught a flash of her perfect teeth, a sliver of velvet tongue. The flattened palms of slender, manicured hands smoothed down the sides of her gray silk skirt. She was probably trying not to prop those hands on her hips, but the movement only served to accentuate the long-boned grace of her thighs. "The facts," she continued, oblivious of the effect she had on him. "Discussing those could keep us busy for quite some time."
Pulling his eyes from her legs, Sully said, "Given all the dirty cops you suspect live in this city, I figured you'd be busy enough without coming downtown to keep me company."
"Your lack of concern about my investigation into your father's affairs brings you under suspicion, Steele. And if you'll protect your father, Internal Affairs has to assume you'll also protect your men -"
"I am concerned," he countered flatly. He'd just come from a family powwow at his parents' home, not that he'd tell her that. Both his brothers, Rex and Truman, were cops, and they were just as intent as he on solving the riddle of their father's disappearance. "And nobody in my precinct's on the take, Judith," he added. He'd used her Christian name this time, and he was glad to see it grated every bit as much as when she called him Steele. Good. He'd keep using it.
She nodded curtly. "If anyone is, we'll find out."
Was she really going to use his father's disappearance as an excuse to crack down on his department? "Are you threatening me?"
Her eyes locked with his. "Should I be?"
"I'm doing my job."
"And you're good at it," he admitted with grudging respect.
Excerpted from The Protector by Jule McBride Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.