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DESERT HEAT (ONE)
“IT’S FOR A GOOD cause. It’s for a good cause. It’s for a good cause.” That was Assistant DA Elena Martinez’s mantra and she was sticking to it.
Of course, she thought, as she followed Seth King, the sulky Flagstaff police detective, down the steep rock slope under a blazing April sun, the view was almost worth it. And she wasn’t just thinking about this leg of their trek into the magnificence of the Grand Canyon.
Her female colleagues in the DA’s office called Seth King eye candy of the highest caloric content. Yeah, Elena admitted grudgingly and adjusted her visor to block the morning sun’s glare. “Detective Dreamy” was easy to look at; she couldn’t deny that. He had the requisite poster-boy broad shoulders, narrow hips, rock-hard abs and thick buzz-cut black hair. Not to mention that his face, all hard angles and intriguing planes, elevated the drool factor to new levels. That amazing face and impressive, bare, oiled chest had launched last year’s Flagstaff Police Force calendar benefiting the children’s wing at the hospital—and Elena would never think of January as cold again.
Yep, she thought, carefully stepping over a pile of loose stones, easy to look at. He was also a good cop. A clean cop. She respected him for that. Too bad he not only had a great ass, but could also be a monster pain in the ass.
King was one of the rare people who made her want to yell—she never yelled—and the fact that she’d come close to giving into the urge a few times with him didn’t set one bit well.
So why was she here? Simple. She’d needed a break from the constant crunch at the office. This hike could have been a peaceful, energizing experience. Would have been, if the luck of the draw hadn’t paired her up with King for this year’s annual law enforcement benefit event.
Signing up for the two-day Survival Scavenger Hunt in the Grand Canyon that had started at six this morning and ended at six tomorrow night had been a no-brainer. Elena loved the Canyon. Relished the exertion and the amazing scenery. Plus she needed to get out of the office and see something besides government-gray walls, crime and courtrooms. Since she’d scored her promotion a year ago, she’d done little besides work.
Not backing out after she’d found out Seth was her partner, however, fell dead center into the “What was I thinking?” category.
And the utterly disarming sensation that she was being watched—which was as ridiculous as letting King shake her—was taking what was left of the fun out of the experience.
“You’re awful quiet back there, Martinez,” King tossed over his shoulder as he hiked along ahead of her at a comfortable pace. “How’d I get so lucky?”
“Just hike,” she sputtered, and told herself she wasn’t one bit impressed by the tan muscular thighs visible beneath his drab olive hiking shorts. Or by the way his snug white t-shirt hugged his chest beneath his backpack or by the bulge of his biceps as he dug his walking poles into the steep, downhill grade of Kaibab Trail. Or by the fact that two hours into the hike, carrying at least fifty pounds of water and gear, he hadn’t even worked up a sweat. “And save the sarcasm for someone who appreciates it.”
“Just out of curiosity, if you didn’t want to do this, why did you sign up?”
Elena planted her poles for balance while stepping over a sun-bleached log. “I didn’t say I didn’t want to do it. I just didn’t want to do it with you.”
He stopped, twisted at the waist and grinned back at her from beneath the brim of his red and blue Arizona Wildcats cap. “Are we still talking about the scavenger hunt?”
Leave it to him to spin her remark into a sexual innuendo. “You have a highly overinflated opinion of yourself, you know that, King?”
He chuckled and started back down the steep downhill grade. “If that’s the case, why are you always checking out my ass, Martinez?”
Following him, she grunted, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of knowing he was right. “Get over yourself. And while you’re at it, get over the Devine case. I’m tired of your grumblings filtering back to the DA’s office.”
That stopped him short. Literally. She almost ran into him. When he turned to face her this time, his mouth was set in a line as hard and unforgiving as the Kaibab limestone walls of the canyon at this elevation. She couldn’t see his eyes behind his aviator shades, but she had no doubt that pale blue had transitioned to deep indigo. She’d seen that shade plenty during the course of the Devine case. He hadn’t been happy about the way she’d prosecuted Joey Devine, the son of Clyde Devine, a bad-ass piece of crap and the head of the local drug syndicate.
She waited while he transferred both of his walking poles to one hand then reached for the tube on his CamelBak. He took a long drink, all the while watching her face.
“Let’s just clear the air once and for all, okay?” she pressed, staring him down. She was beyond weary of his anger at her over the case, and she was feeling just enough physical stress over the arduous hike that her guard was down.
“What’s to clear?” He recapped the drinking tube and tucked it away. “I had the little bastard nailed for murder one. The case was solid, Elena, and you copped for voluntary man.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Your case was solid.”
“And yet, you, in your infinite wisdom, let him plead to the lesser charge. It was bogus and you know it.”
Elena was confident about the job she’d done on the Devine case. On all of her cases, for that matter. It pissed her off when King questioned her. She’d worked damn hard to get where she was and she hadn’t moved up in the ranks because she didn’t know what she was doing.
“Look. It got Devine off the streets, didn’t it? And with the plea bargain he gave up the goods on Evans and that put another lowlife behind bars. I’ll go for a twofer any day of the week.”
King snorted. “That’s bullshit reasoning. Crank Evans was small potatoes.”
“Tell that to the parents of the kids Evans supplied,” she said, then drew a quick breath to check the disturbing urge to raise her voice around him.
“Tell that to the school district where he’d set up his trade,” she continued, back in control. “I think they’re damn glad the trade-off of a voluntary man conviction for Devine also netted the Evans bust. As of last week another predator is off the streets.”
“Yeah, well,” Seth squatted down on one knee to retie the laces on his worn hiking boots, “I guess it’s a moot point now, isn’t it?”
Elena took the opportunity to readjust the straps on her backpack and resettle its weight. “What do you mean, a moot point?”
The kind of silence that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. She saw by the expression on King’s face that he knew something vital.
He stood, stretching to his full sixplus feet and cocked his head. “You didn’t hear?”
He gave her a hard, troubled look. “Joey Devine is dead. Knifed in the prison yard yesterday.”
“Jesus,” she said, stunned.
He pushed out a grim grunt. “I doubt very much that Jesus was in play on that deal.”
Man, Elena thought. Joey Devine was dead. Despite the furnace blast of heat welling up from the interior walls of the canyon, a chill whipped through her. It wasn’t that she felt remorse over Joey Devine’s death. He was a murderer and a drug lord; the world was a better, safer place without him. But she couldn’t help but replay Clyde Devine’s whispered threat as she left the courtroom after Joey’s conviction.
“You’ll pay, bitch. For taking my son from me, I promise, you will pay. And you’d better hope nothing happens to him in stir or when I come after you, I’ll make you wish you’d never been born.”
She glanced at Seth. Realized his eyes were full of concern. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay,” she said with an absent nod.
But she wasn’t okay. She was shaken. She’d never told anyone about Clyde Devine’s threat. Figured it was just gang-mentality bravado. Now though … now that Joey was dead—another shiver rippled through her. Well, now that Joey Devine was dead, she was going to have to watch her back when they got back to Flagstaff.
Head down, focused on the trail, she tried to push thoughts of Devine from her mind as she followed Seth down the rough pass.
She never noticed the glint of sunlight bouncing off a pair of binoculars from the ridge of a switchback above them.
DESERT HEAT Copyright © 2008 by Cindy Gerard