Badboy FBI agent Cole Lucas always gets his man. So when the unthinkable happens and one gets away, Cole grits his teeth and hunts the human trafficker all the way to Antioch, Texas, where he collides with Detective Andi MacLaren.
Cole doesn't do small towns and he doesn't get involved with women he works with, but Andi tempts him in ways he doesn't want to acknowledge.
Two murders, her partner shot and leading the investigation on her own, the last thing Andi needs is a cocky FBI agent that sees her as no more than a tagalong.
As a widow and single mother, she's used to being on her own. When Cole gets stuck without a place to stay, crashing on her couch puts them in dangerous territory.
Attraction and passion bring Andi to a place she left behind when her husband died.
Her three-year-old son quickly wiggles his way into Cole's heart, and he starts contemplating things-family, love-that he'd never planned for himself.
Can being forced to work together make them stronger or will their differences jeopardize their case and their hearts?
About the Author
C. A. Szarek is the author of Sword's Call. She lives in Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Cole cursed. He stared in the rear-view mirror at the busy parking lot, but saw nothing. He'd been so close this time. The damn local police were breathing down his neck, and that was the last thing he wanted ... or needed.
Cooperation, my ass.
They needed to get the hell out of his case. He'd been too involved for too long, and he wasn't about to let some podunk police chief tell him what to do.
Not to mention that dumbass detective who'd gotten himself shot. Cole didn't need the locals piecing it all together. He had to wrap up a few things before letting them in on his case.
Full disclosure wasn't on his list at all.
That bastard Maldonado had slipped away. Even two months later, that still chapped. He'd tracked him here and been in town a few weeks with no clues.
Until the shooting.
Two goons dead and a police detective shot twice. Maldonado had shrunk back into the shadows. Cole's gut told him the coward was still in town. He hadn't — or couldn't — move on. But where the hell was he?
His cell phone rang, yanking him from his thoughts. "Lucas."
"Where the hell are you?" Olivia Barnes, his supervisor, barked. "Chief Martin called screaming at me. He said you told him to kiss your ass? What the hell, Lucas? I told you to cooperate with them."
Cole snorted. Chief Martin had misquoted him, but not by much. "I don't need them, Olivia."
"Oh, don't Olivia me. This was an order from higher up. Get that through your thick skull, dammit. Get to that station and make nice. Now."
His boss didn't respond. Although her tone had brooked no argument, he'd been tempted to tell her to kiss his ass, too. Cole's record was already tainted, and it wouldn't have been the first time he'd told her off. He held his tongue.
He was damn good at his job, and Olivia knew it. Cole would play along, for now.
Guess ... discretion and valor and all that shit ...
"All right," he answered.
Olivia was silent on the other end of the phone.
"You've ordered me, correct?" He was as dry as he could manage. Cole could almost hear her eyes narrow.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. C'mon, Liv, I can be a good boy."
She harrumphed. "Okay. Go kiss Chief Martin's ass."
"Can't promise that, but I will go to the station."
"Good. I can't afford any more damage control, Agent Lucas."
Uh oh, Agent Lucas?
"Sounds like a warning."
"It is." Olivia lowered her voice. "I don't want to have to yank you off the case, Cole."
Like that would happen.
"I'll call you later."
She started to say something, but he ended the call, imagining her outraged expression — one he was quite familiar with.
He smirked. Yes, he would play along ... for now.
The drive to the station was short, but didn't alleviate his irritation with the whole damn situation. He slammed the car door and winced, berating himself. He loved this car.
Cole patted the hood in apology, admiring the brand new, deep metallic blue Dodge Challenger. It looked mean as hell. Like it was made for him. He'd even contemplated keeping it when this was all over.
He groaned when he took in the smallish Antioch, Texas police station, but headed inside. The asshole desk sergeant practically growled when he introduced himself, as did Chief Martin over the intercom.
Cole ran into the female — literally — right after Sergeant Asshole-of-the-year had finally acknowledged his existence and buzzed him into the back. And although his head smarted, seeing a beautiful woman was the highlight of his morning.
"Whoa, sorry," she said, smiling. Her chestnut hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she had eyes so blue they might as well be sapphires.
She was tall and slender, and he liked what he saw. She was wearing a white button-down dress shirt and snug khaki pants, and the outfit was somehow incredibly sexy.
He almost missed the paddle holster at her waist, but when he saw it, he couldn't help but admire her subtly rounded hips.
Her badge was on a chain around her neck, swaying gently with her movements.
"No, I'm sorry. You all right?" he answered, trying to tear his eyes away.
He nodded. Cole bent and helped her retrieve the scattered case file contents. He latched onto a crime scene photo.
Not only was she a detective, she was working his case — the pictures were all-too-familiar evidence. No doubt the local case was tied to his.
He bit back a cringe and forced himself to speak. "Ah, don't think we've met."
They both straightened and she thanked him for his help.
He tried not to stare at the items in her arms.
"Oh, guess not. Detective Andi MacLaren. Nice to meet you." She held out her right hand, but he couldn't help but glance at her left before accepting her shake.
No wedding ring. Good.
"Andi, huh?" He met her eyes.
"Well, it's Andrea, but not even my mother calls me that." She smiled again, a small thing with a shy edge.
Instinct told him she was a no muss, no fuss, hard-working kind of girl. Not overly feminine, but extremely appealing. A smattering of freckles spread across her high cheekbones and trailed over her nose. She wore little or no makeup — that drew him as well. Not his normal type at all, but gorgeous.
"And you are?" she prompted.
Cole jolted to attention. He'd been staring.
She looked as if she was oblivious.
Should that bother him?
Yes. Women always noticed him.
"Special Agent Cole Lucas, FBI."
Her pretty eyes widened, then she flashed a grin that could've only been called impish. It rivaled one he was known to give from time to time. "You're Agent Lucas? You've had Chief in a tizzy all morning."
Was that admiration in her tone?
He smiled back. "Guilty." Cole winked.
"Agent Lucas," Chief Martin shouted from the doorway to his office.
Cole caught Detective MacLaren's eye and shrugged. "Guess I'm being summoned."
"Hope to catch you later ... Andi." He flashed a grin, then trotted towards the angry police chief before she could answer.
Andi watched the FBI agent head toward certain doom and shook her head.
He exuded cockiness. It took a great deal to rile Chief, but when Paul Martin lost it, look out. The whole force would avoid him for days.
She tried not to stare at Special Agent Cole Lucas' fine form as he jogged down the hall, but found it hard to avert her eyes.
God, he's hot.
Tight jeans and a black T-shirt that clung to every muscle — and he wasn't lacking. He was tall, probably three or four inches over six feet, and had eyes the color of steel. His hair was coal black and neatly trimmed.
She grinned, recalling his name was Cole. Damn if he didn't have dimples. He'd destroyed her image of proper suit-wearing FBI agents.
Unfortunately, he reeked of bad boy and he definitely knew how good-looking he was.
A man to avoid.
Andi didn't consider herself available anyway.
Noticing him just meant she wasn't dead, right?
With a glance down at the fat case file, a sigh floated out. She'd have to make sure it was all back in order.
Better get a move on ...
She headed to her desk. Had a few calls to make, and she was planning on stopping by the hospital to see Pete.
Her partner had been shot a few weeks ago, but was recovering well and itching to go home.
They had no clue as to who'd shot him ... yet. Andi was determined to catch the bastards. Working the case alone had been a challenge, but she was up to it.
Pete would never blame her for the lack of progress, but she did. She couldn't wait until he was back at her side. She missed him.
She scanned his too-empty desk, then her own. A picture of Iain and a tiny newborn Ethan caught her eye and she smiled, her heart thumping. She still ached for her husband, who'd been killed in the line of duty three years before.
Andi loved him and always would. Their son Ethan had only been six weeks old. Now three, he got her through each day.
The case file caught her attention and she scowled.
She opened it, biting back another sigh.
After signing into her computer, she opened her confidential informant database and scrolled down, scrunching her nose even though she found the phone number she needed. Calling CIs was her least favorite thing — Pete usually handled it.
About five minutes later, Andi hung up, frustrated because she'd got nowhere with a lousy informant. She jumped when it rang again, then groaned when the caller ID flashed Chief's direct extension. She, like everyone else, was on avoidance mode with him. "What's up, Chief?" she asked, intentionally light.
"My office, MacLaren," Chief Martin barked.
Andi winced. What the hell? She'd done nothing to incur his wrath. "Coming." She cringed as she heard the click.
She slipped into her boss' office, smiling at his administrative assistant, Nikki. Her desk was right inside the door of the smaller room of the chief's large, two-room executive space.
"You can go right in. Beware ..." the redhead said in a conspiratorial tone.
"I know it." She shook her head and drew her finger across her throat, sticking her tongue out.
Nikki grinned, her brown eyes dancing.
She'd liked her since she'd been hired about a year ago. She was young and open, but skilled at keeping Chief Martin in line and everyone admired her ability to do so.
Evidently, the buck stopped at far-too-handsome-for-their-own-good FBI agents.
Swallowing hard, Andi headed into Chief's office.
A scowl marred Agent Lucas' handsome face.
What the heck?
Their initial meeting had been light and friendly. What had she done to warrant that particular expression?
She looked away, meeting Chief's hazel eyes.
His moustache twitched. He ran a hand through his thick, graying brown hair, and motioned for her to sit with the other.
Andi slid onto the chair next to the FBI agent.
"MacLaren, this is Special Agent Cole Lucas."
"We've already met," Agent Lucas cut in, earning a glare from the chief.
She glanced between him and her boss, nodding.
"It just so happens that your case may coincide with his," Martin continued.
The FBI agent made a low growling sound, and Andi ignored him as she met her boss' eyes for the second time. "The guy who shot Pete?"
"Tip of the iceberg," Agent Lucas muttered.
Chief scowled. "I want you to work with Agent Lucas."
The agent leaned forward, his fists clenched. "I work alone."
"Not in my city, you don't. And not according to Special Agent Barnes."
The two men stared at each other.
Andi had the urge to roll her eyes but forced herself to sit still. If it wouldn't have pressed her luck with the chief's mood, she'd tell them both they could call her when their dick measuring contest was over. She'd seen the like many times — as was the plight for a woman who worked with mostly men.
Although, concerning her boss's order, she was with Agent Lucas. She was better off without him.
"I have a partner," she put in.
"Detective Crane is unavailable, MacLaren. You're sitting next to your new partner. So get acquainted." Chief Martin intertwined his fingers and rested his hands on his desk. "I've been assured Special Agent Lucas will fully cooperate with your already on-going investigation."
"We'll see about that," the FBI agent said under his breath, earning yet another glare from her boss.
Not only did he not want to work with her, he was planning on being tight-lipped. Andi really didn't want to be stuck with him. "Chief, I don't think —"
"MacLaren, shut up. I didn't ask what you thought. You'll work with Lucas, no matter what either of you say. He will not roam around my city unchecked."
Agent Lucas rushed to his feet while Andi gaped.
Chief Martin had never spoken to her in such a manner.
"Unchecked?" The tall man growled, his fists tight to his sides.
Was he restraining himself from physically harming her boss? At another time, she might've been amused.
"I don't need a babysitter."
"I'm not a babysitter, dammit." It was out before she could censor it. She glared.
Both men looked at her.
"Lucas, sit down. MacLaren, I meant no insult," Chief said.
That was as close to an apology as she would ever get, knowing her boss.
"Lucas, MacLaren is my best detective. Only second is her partner, Peter Crane, who is in the hospital recovering from his wounds. I'm putting you with her because of her skills, not merely to keep you busy."
It didn't come often from her very un-touchy-feely boss. Andi flushed, taking a breath.
But Cole Lucas didn't sit, and he damn sure didn't seem impressed by Chief Martin's little speech. He didn't even flinch.
After several tense moments on his feet, he sighed heavily — insulting her a bit — and took his seat. "There's no other way, is there?" he whispered.
He was musing to himself more than speaking to her or Chief, but it didn't stop the brilliant, triumphant grin that could've split her boss's face in two. If he hadn't been gloating so hard, he might've looked handsome.
Andi looked at Agent Lucas, then at her boss, who was staring at them both expectantly.
No one said anything.
"Well?" Chief Martin prompted.
"Well, what?" she grumbled.
"The case won't solve itself."
Was she back in high school in the principal's office?
At the moment, detention — maybe suspension in the world of grownups — held some appeal.
Cole looked the female detective up and down again. Despite his irritation, he was drawn to her.
He'd liked her show of temper moments earlier, and had no doubt they'd clash again. Andi MacLaren seemed like she needed to be in control.
Well, he had news for her. He was always in control, and he'd have no issues making it clear, first thing.
He winked at the buxom redhead sitting at her desk in the chief's front room on the way out, and she gave him a knowing smirk.
Cole hadn't caught her name, but she was stunning. She was too young — couldn't even be twenty-five. He glanced back at Detective MacLaren.
Why was he so intrigued by her? The chief's secretary was much more his normal type, but he'd prefer Andi MacLaren if he was forced to pick between the two.
That would be fun.
He bit back a grin.
"So, what do you have?" Detective MacLaren asked as he followed her down the hall.
"Meaning?" He quirked an eyebrow.
"Hmmm, I see you won't be making this easy for me."
She was already irritated with him. Should he answer her straight or push some more buttons? "What do you mean?" he asked, going for innocence.
Sighing, she shook her head. "Look, Agent Lucas, this'll be a lot easier if we just cooperate with each other."
"Cole," he said.
"What?" she asked, eyebrows drawn tight.
"Call me Cole. And I will call you Andi." He dragged the words out on purpose, slowly annunciating each word out.
Her cheeks reddened.
He'd ticked her off even more.
She didn't speak, just turned away and headed down the wide hallway.
Cole grinned and followed.
They passed through a door with a placard announcing 'CID', the Criminal Investigations Division, near the doorframe.
He groaned when he observed the room. Though it was spacious, there were only seven cubicles, and one work area was empty save for the standard issue phone on the desk.
The only other person in the room was a man, probably in his mid-forties, with dark hair and glasses. He sat at one of the desks, the phone to his ear, speaking lowly. His workspace was neat and organized, and he wrote on a legal pad as he spoke.
Andi stopped at a cubicle on the far right against the wall. She leaned on the desk, crossing her arms over her chest and giving him a long look. "Well?" she prompted.
He looked around again, wanting to come off as nonchalant. "Where is everyone?"
One eyebrow shot up. "Pete's in the hospital. That's Detective Kurt Jamison over there. His partner is Detective Sergeant Noah Sullivan — we call him Sully, naturally. No clue where he's gotten off to. Last but not least is Detective Jared Manning. He's on vacation, but he'll be back next week. Right now he doesn't have a partner. The department has an opening for a detective."
"Oh?" Cole grinned.
"Yeah. You interested?" That eyebrow went even higher; she dripped sarcasm.
He was getting her all hot and bothered.
"Hell, no. This is Podunkville. I don't do small towns."
Detective MacLaren snorted. "Nice." Her lips pursed as if she was going to say something else, but she didn't.
Excerpted from "Collision Force"
Copyright © 2013 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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