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Her laugh got his attention first.
Jared looked over his shoulder. Four women at a table. A blonde, a brunette, redhead, and the last had long wavy hair somewhere between blonde and brown.
Which had the laugh that intrigued him?
She laughed again and his eyes shot to the one in the corner, facing the bar.
They were all pretty, but he couldn't tear his gaze away from her long, almost-curly locks.
He watched them talk, wearing a smile.
Jared needed to see more of her body. Her purple shirt was tight and displayed large breasts. She was curvy. He could see it even from his distance at the bar. Not heavy by any means, but not his normal type.
Nowhere in sight was his usual wannabe supermodel. Maybe in the others — but not her. He didn't care, he was drawn to her.
Too bad he couldn't tell what color her eyes were.
"All right, dude, I need to hit the road." His buddy's voice made him jump. Amusement flashed across Pete's green eyes. "You okay?"
He bit back a curse. "Yup."
His fellow detective probably needed to get home to his wife, Nikki.
Jared's partner, Cole, had left to head home to his wife and two kids, too. Cole was married to Pete's partner, Andi.
Both the detectives had someone to go home to.
Envy made his gut heavy.
Since when do you give a shit about that?
He swallowed a groan. He needed to get laid or something.
Pete glanced at his watch. "See you in the a.m., then. Chief wants us all in for morning patrol briefing. Did Lucas tell you?"
"Yeah, but he didn't say why."
"Neither did the boss. We'll find out in the morning."
"Hope it's not a long day. Hell, make that a long week." The guy sighed.
Pete made a dismissive gesture. "Yeah. My brother and Lee are coming in Wednesday, with the baby for Thanksgiving. They're staying through the end of next week. First time meeting my niece, and all that. She's two months old now, so I'd like to actually spend time with my family, ya know?"
"Ah." Jared nodded. Yeah, he got it. His adoptive parents were in Antioch, and his little sister away at school in Corpus, but they were all important to him.
Although, he had no clue where his older brother was. He had Joe's cell number, but he hadn't talked to him in almost a year.
"So, I hope it's not a big deal, is my point," the detective said.
"We'll deal, no matter what. It's always tough before we get into the holidays. Hell, maybe he wants to talk the on-call schedule or some shit."
Pete arched and eyebrow and smirked. "At seven in the morning? Doubtful. Gut says it's a case. Hopefully Andi and I get to say 'not it'."
Jared laughed. "Me and Cole got your back. We can always make Sully and Jamison take it."
"Not likely. They're immersed in that crap they're helping the Sheriff's Office with."
"Damn. That's right. No worries. Me and Cole can take it." He thumbed his chest.
"Good deal. Really gotta run. Pregnant wives get sorta grumpy when you're late." The guy's expression belied his statements. Pete was on cloud nine about becoming a father. Everyone knew he adored his wife, too.
Word was it'd taken them longer than expected to conceive — not that Jared paid attention to the girl-talk at the office. Of course, he was happy for them and all that.
"Tell Nikki I said hello." He offered one last wave and watched his friend jog out of the bar.
No thank you.
Jared liked kids all right — his partner's boys were a blast to play with. He'd gotten stuck with babysitting duty once or twice, but he'd enjoyed hanging out with five-year-old Ethan, and sixteen-month-old Micah. However, he was grateful he got to return them to their parents afterward. He only remembered their ages from Cole beating it into his head.
That kind of responsibility wasn't for him.
He blew out a breath and surveyed the local cop hangout. McAuley's had been in Antioch before he was born. The boys in blue of the small Texas city had adopted it when a retired detective, Mike McAuley, had opened the doors back in the sixties. It was an Antioch Police Department institution.
Jared swept his gaze along the walls full of police paraphernalia, from antique to modern day. There were pictures of cops everywhere, too. A framed one of McAuley himself was mounted over the bar. He'd passed away when he was a kid. The man's three sons ran the place nowadays.
The girl laughed yet again.
His eyes rested on the four women, but none of them were looking his way.
He grabbed his shot glass and gulped the Scotch, even though he didn't need a fortifying drink to approach a woman. Never had problems with that.
Perhaps that was the problem.
Oh shut up and do your thing.
Silence reigned as four sets of eyes looked up at him.
The blonde flashed a smile. Yeah, she was the hottest one at the table. Slender. Tight clothes. Pouty lips with bright red painted on. Supermodel material he usually went for.
Red winked. She was cute, too.
The brunette obviously checked him out, roving his jeans and blue button-down before she smiled, too.
The last woman — the one Jared wanted to stare at him — looked away, breaking quick eye contact.
He begged for her to look his way again.
She finally did after he cleared his throat.
Her eyes were like blue ice.
Jared flashed his signature smile. The one old girlfriends had told him had melted them on the inside and made their legs fall open.
Even in the dim light of the bar, her pink cheeks were obvious.
His stomach fluttered.
Her beauty stunned him as much as the color on her cheeks pleased him. Her hair was more brown than blonde. Full of waves he wanted to run his fingers through. High cheekbones, creamy skin and plump lips. If she was wearing makeup, it was minimal, and she didn't need it.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
She didn't look away, but she grabbed the full bottle of beer in front of her. Didn't tell him no, but her eyes did. At least she'd recognized he was addressing her.
He swallowed a groan and shifted in his combat boots.
Since when am I uncomfortable in front of a woman?
Deeper crimson stained her cheeks. Endearing, but his gut told him she was uncomfortable, too.
For some reason, he wanted to make her feel better.
She looked around, as if doubting Jared had been talking to her.
Odd, considering the eye contact, and earlier non-verbal answer. "I'm Jared." He shoved his hand out.
Show her you're talking to her.
Her blue eyes widened.
He'd expected a smile. Not the look of abject horror she was wearing now.
The redhead to her right not-so-subtly jabbed her side and his intended jumped.
"Umm ... hi." She sounded as enticing as her laugh.
Jared wanted to drag a chair over and sit next to her. His voice took a hike and he chided himself not to stare.
"Well, it's getting late," someone said.
His gaze shot to the blonde, just as she exchanged a look with the brunette.
The other woman nodded.
Blondie pushed her chair back and swung a Coach bag the size of Texas over her shoulder.
Brunette and Red also stood.
"Yeah, I think I need to get home, too," the redhead said.
The brunette agreed, grabbing her jacket. The shuffling of belongings and chairs combined with the clopping of high heels happened fast.
Jared blinked and they were headed to the door without saying anything to their abandoned friend.
But now we're alone.
He looked down at her, but his smile stalled.
Betrayal dominated her expression. She glared when the blonde paused at the door. The woman flashed a smile and wave that was obviously lost on the woman before him.
Jared cleared his throat. "Can I sit next to you?"
Her head whipped back around. "Why?"
He rocked back on the heels of his shitkickers.
Why?Charm. Focus on being charming.
"I like to keep the company of a beautiful woman." He smiled.
He stared. Couldn't help it.
She frowned at a compliment?
Jared quirked an eyebrow and slid onto the chair next to hers, because she was never going to invite him to sit. That made him want to join her even more. Intrigued the hell out of him. "What's your name?"
Cocking her head to one side, she studied him. "Uh ... Ren."
"'Wren' like the bird? Cool name."
"No." Her cheeks reddened again and she looked away. "Umm ... it's ... short for Renee." She fidgeted before she'd meet his gaze again.
His stomach churned at the thought of her being uneasy with him. He forced words out. "Can I call you Renee?"
Those eyes met his and he swallowed. Hard. Crystal blue, like a morning summer sky. Jared had never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
"O-o-o-kay. I mean, sure." More shifting, so he reached for her hand.
Touching her resulted in a zing of energy up his arm.
Their gazes locked.
Her lips parted and his mouth went dry.
He wanted to kiss her.
Jared needed to kiss her.
Before he could even lean in, Renee gasped and moved away.
"Which one of them put you up to this?" she demanded.
Her obvious suspicion made him rear back.
Wanting to kiss a woman two seconds after meeting her was fast ... even for him.
Get it together, seriously.
"Excuse me?" he croaked.
She looked away. "Never mind."
Jared studied her. She was nervous. No ... uncomfortable.
When she met his eyes, his heart skipped.
"I want to have a nice evening. A drink. A dance. With you."
She cleared her throat and he wanted to kiss it.
"With. Me." It wasn't a question.
He nodded. "With you. Is that a problem?"
Renee's pale gaze raked his face. "No. I guess not. My friends are always telling me I need to loosen up."
"Are they now?" Jared flashed his best charming grin. "Just so happens I'm pretty good at helping that along."
"I don't doubt that." She looked him up and down and something made him want to squirm. "Okay, rules."
"Rules? How can you relax if there're rules?" He reclined in the chair, fighting a smile.
"No small talk."
"Really. None of that 'Where do you work?' 'Do you like your job?' 'What's your family like?' 'What do you do for fun?' Blah blah blah."
He laughed. "So, no politeness?" Jared had some ideas if she didn't need him to be polite.
"I didn't say don't be polite. Just ... let's keep this in the here and now." Renee averted her eyes again, something flashing there, but it was gone by the time she turned back to him. A slight smile curved her luscious mouth.
He didn't buy it. Grabbed her hand. "You okay?"
"Nope. Not going there. That breaks the rules."
"Already? Well then, I'm sorry, ma'am." Jared grinned until she smiled back and he inclined his head. "I think the jukebox needs a coin or two, and I need a dance."
"But no one's dancing." She gestured to the small area that passed for a dance floor.
"Not a problem for me. Let's help you loosen up." He stood, extending his hand.
"Why the heck not?" Renee chugged the beer and slammed the empty on the table. When she looked up at him, she flashed a lopsided grin that made his insides wobble.
He arched an eyebrow and chuckled.
It's gonna be one hell of a night.
Her drink melted into two, then three ... four ... or five?
Shit, he'd lost count, but he'd only had one more shot of Scotch himself. Jared had to drive home, not to mention be at work earlier than normal.
They danced until it was almost eleven and the place was pretty cleaned out, given it was a week night.
The youngest McAuley, Brian, kept throwing Jared knowing looks from the bar. The guy was paying more attention to them than the counter he was supposedly cleaning.
Yeah, I know, I'm thinking what you are, dude.
He wanted Renee. Wanted to take her back to his place, throw her down on his bed and give her the time of her life. She'd have no problem relaxing.
Jared pulled her closer and swayed to some random country song about long lost love. It could've been any one of the greats crooning as they danced, but it didn't register. He couldn't keep his mind off the gorgeous woman in his arms.
Soft, curvy. Perfect.
He wanted to taste her. All of her. His cock twitched as her pelvis brushed his. Tried to tell it now wasn't the time, but 'let's get out of here' was on the tip of his tongue.
"Hard," Renee whispered, lifting her head from his shoulder.
Jared stilled and their eyes met. God, he'd die if she realized he was half-aroused.
Then again, it's a good way to see if she's on the same page.
"What?" he croaked.
"Your chest. It's so hard." She poked his right pec. Her cheeks went rosy for the hundredth time, but she was adorable.
Most of the flush was alcohol related. He needed to remember that. Pin it to his brain.
He got the feeling she didn't drink much, but he hadn't lost track of all the beer she'd downed. His conscience chided, 'put her in a cab. Send her home'.
Jared couldn't. He wanted her.
If she was willing, he'd have Renee.
You are such a sleaze.
She peered up at him as if she was waiting on him to say something.
Heat crept up his neck. "Uh. Yeah. I work out."
She blinked, then giggled. "Guys who look like you don't notice girls who look like me." Renee backed out of his embrace, gesturing to her curvy form. The movement of her arms made her skirt play at her knees.
His dick jumped and he almost groaned. Wanted to see more. But what she'd said sank in and he cupped her face. "You are absolutely gorgeous."
She scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Right. Me."
Jared dipped down and took her mouth, swallowing her surprised squeak. Beer and sweet, sweet woman greeted his tongue when he forced her to open for him.
God, she tastes good.
Like a sugary treat mixed with the stout lager she'd consumed, her kiss was a drug he had to have more of.
Renee stepped into him, wrapping her arms around his neck. She moved her mouth under his, kissing him back, giving when he took. Her hips against his made him granite, and when she rocked into him, his body took over and pressed right back.
He kissed her long and hard, until his cock threatened to blow in his jeans. Considering the three shots of Scotch, he was pretty damn impressed.
Jared needed to get her to his place.
Panting, he made himself end their lip-lock before he wrapped her legs around his waist and pushed her skirt up right there on the dance floor just to get inside her faster. "Wanna get out of here?"
Large, perfect breasts rose and fell against his chest. Purple fabric shifted as she struggled to breathe evenly, giving more than a mere hint at cleavage. Her eyes were hazy, but she nodded.
"Yeah?" His heart kicked into overdrive and he chided himself to calm down.
They were both inebriated, but 'this isn't a good idea' went unheeded. He wasn't exactly thinking with his big brain.
The word was breathless and made him groan.
"My place or yours?"
Her hesitation made him cringe.
Please don't change your mind.
"Yours." Renee nodded, as if she was trying to convince herself so he kissed her again, cupping her ass and pushing his erection into her pelvis.
"I want you," he breathed.
No way was he sleeping alone tonight.
They fell against the apartment door as soon as it was closed — but at least they were on the right side of it.
The short drive in his big black truck was a blur.
Jared's kisses were burning a trail down her neck and Mel's legs wobbled.
She clutched him to say upright. The heat of his skin warmed her hands and her whole body, even through the cotton of his shirt.
What is he doing to me?
Alcohol muddled her brain but she was right with him.
Wanted more ... wanted him.
Is this a dream?
The guy was hot.
No one that looked like him had ever given her a second glance.
"Bedroom," he ordered in a warm blast below her ear.
Mel froze. This was real.
She was about to go to bed with a guy she'd met tonight.
Sex with a stranger.
"Renee? You still with me?"
Right. She'd told him her middle name.
Because one of the girls had put him up to this. Was sex a part of the deal?
Was he ... an escort or something?
"Yes." She forced the answer out.
He was holding her, kissing her.
Val always said she needed to loosen up. So, by God, she would.
Jared straightened and cupped her face.
God, he's tall.
Warmth enveloped her and Mel closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she fell into his, pools of midnight that melted her half-hearted resistance.
Excerpted from "Collision Control"
Copyright © 2014 C.A. Szarek.
Excerpted by permission of Paper Dragon Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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