Donata knows Sean's rebellious ways brought an end tohis career as a cop. But his methods are still more thaneffective at getting her motor revved high. Despite herbest intentions, they're soon burning up the sheetstogether. With all that steamy action between them, canshe distract him long enough to solve this case?
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"I'm not watching this with you."
Detective Donata Casale tossed the DVD case on the table in the 10th precinct's media room and glared at her so-called partner.
"Fine." Mick Juarez dumped a steady stream of sugar into his coffee and shrugged with the blasé confidence of a man who didn't have anything to prove. "Don't do your job. It's no skin off my nose."
The scent of java mixed with the stale stench of sweat and crime and cheap aftershave that permeated the building most days.
"Do you ever disagree with anyone about anything?" Donata resented Mick for his refusal to get riled up over stuff when life seemed hell-bent on pissing her off at every turn. "Doesn't it irritate you to know I got stuck with the porno case just because I'm new on the force and a woman?"
She picked up the DVD sleeve again and wondered why her lieutenant thought it would be a good idea to give the sex footage to her and Mick to watch when they were one of the few mixed-gender detective partnerships in the precinct's detective squad. Thankfully, at least Mick had sworn off women after his ex-wife did a number on him a few years back, so Donata never had to worry about any guy-girl chemistry getting in the way of a solid partnership.
"Maybe we got it because our past investigative work might connect to this somehow." Mick stirred his coffee for so long Donata thought she'd scream if he banged the spoon against the mug one more time. "Or maybe we had the lightest caseload to take on something new. Who knows? But to answer your question, no, it doesn't irritate me to be handed an important assignment."
Gently, he pried the DVD cover from her hand and Donata wondered how he could deflate her welldeserved fury so readily. The guy might have a serious sugar habit, but he was a rock. At thirtyeight, he was one of the most respected detectives on the squad. Patient and smart, Mick had outlasted four other partners to end up with her"the rookie no one else wanted because of her checkered past.
She might have been promoted quickly based on job performance, but in her years as a patrol officer, she'd seen the way cops could close ranks against outsiders. She'd overcome some of that bias in her last precinct, but then her promotion to detective had moved her to a new squad and put her at the back of the class all over again at the age of twenty-seven.
"Fine." Donata dropped into a chair near the computer screen and opened the file folder that had been given to them along with the DVD of an underage girl allegedly filmed without her knowledge. "But I'm closing my eyes during the naked parts. I really fail to see how us watching cheap porn will lead to finding any clues about a shady film distributor. From what I understand, the producers usually operate far away from the site of any actual studio humping."
Disgruntled to have been given an assignment surely intended to embarrass her, Donata studied the reports in the file while Mick clicked the necessary commands to load the video footage. New York's lower West Side might be home to a new adult filmmaker, but to her way of thinking, cops had more violent criminals to track than the lowlifes shipping porn across state lines. Possibly they could help a few mildly underage girls leave the business though, and at least that was a goal Donata could get behind. Then maybe watching this with Mick wouldn't feel like such a punishment.
"Maybe. Maybe not," Mick pointed out in typical unflappable fashion. "But one thing's for sure, lady, you've got to get over thinking the whole precinct is out to get you."
Donata stiffened, surprised even easygoing Mick would tread those waters.
She'd been about to remind him of a few choice comments their fellow officers had made the first day she'd been promoted to the detective squad two months ago, when a sudden outburst of profanity halted her.
Shocked at the uncharacteristic response from her partner, Donata looked up from the file notes to see a girl"fifteen at the oldest"slowly undoing her blouse in what appeared to be her home bedroom. Stuffed animals and posters of screen idols competed for space around her bed while the dim light of her computer screen provided the only illumination for her room.
"What the hell is this?" Mick stood so fast the rolling chair went flying out from underneath him as he thundered away from the PC.
Donata, on the other hand, couldn't look away. "She's got a webcam," Donata replied softly, knowing Mick had a sixteen-year-old daughter who wanted nothing to do with him after being raised by her mother abroad. The sight of this girl on the screen had to suck all the more for him.
And yeah, it was tough for Donata to look at the footage, too.
But unlike Mick, Donata had just found a new mission in life because she recognized the young woman on the screen. Not the girl's name or any part of her identity, maybe, but Donata recognized the desperation. The determination to take charge of life even though you had so few options at that age.
Donata remembered the overwhelming desire to please a lover after being raised with little love to speak of. She understood the innocent willingness to do anything for a guy who showed you a few scraps of affection.
And worse, she knew what it felt like to be betrayed by that same person you once worshipped.
Because the girl on the screen had been Donata once. And not for all the world would Donata let this anonymous young woman face the private hell that she had.
Sean Beringer didn't like being in a police station on a good day. But pacing the corridors of the 10th precinct when he knew damn well the cops inside the media room were about to invade his private investigation of a so-called reality adult filmmaker had his blood simmering, his skin crawling and his head about ten minutes from exploding.
"Who's on this case anyway?" he asked a passing detective who'd grudgingly admitted the pending investigation since they used to walk a Harlem beat together back in the day.
Back when Sean was still naive enough to believe wearing a badge could actually accomplish something.
"Look, man, don't bust my balls about this. I only told you we were on the case because I thought you'd be satisfied someone was working it." The detective, ballistics expert Warren Vitalis, looked as though he wanted to say more as he rapped his pencil against a stack of papers at the desk sergeant's cubicle.
Sensing possible information, Sean forced himself to quit pacing and focus. He had made good friends on the force for nearly ten years. But he'd walked away from the NYPD after his sister was molested. Family trumped friends every time.
"Please say it's somebody good on this case and not some tight-ass yes-man."At thirty-two years old, Sean had battled a tendency to speak his thoughts most of his life, but he didn't even try to curb his mouth for the sake of a cop he'd probably walked a thousand miles with during their year of shared foot patrol.
"More of a yes-woman," Warren noted before pointing his pencil toward the media room as the door finally opened. "And I'm making no comment on the ass."
Sean followed his gesture toward the woman emerging with a determined strut, her curves cloaked under a conservative suit jacket and knee-length skirt but still obvious to any discerning male eye. Her hair was darker blond than the last time Sean had seen her"more natural-looking than the platinum Marilyn Monroe locks she'd once sported"but she still outlined her lips with bold red lipstick in a flagrant in-your-face to the stereotypes about women cops. Her audacious figure and heart-shaped face made her look more like an old-time gangster moll than a detective, but then, Sean had the benefit of seeing her at home in her old life before the decision to switch sides.
"No need for comment," Sean finally managed to say when he found his voice. Donata Casale was the very last person he'd expected to see walk out of that media room, although a few years ago he remembered hearing that she'd been trying to see what life looked like on the other side of the law. "An ass like that speaks for itself."
Warren smothered a laugh, but not soon enough to stop Donata from looking his way. Sean's way.
"Damn you, Vitalis." Straightening, Sean ignored the sexual zing a woman like Donata brought to any room. "The one time I manage to keep my commentary to a whisper you sell me out anyway."
The station quieted for a moment as petite Donata changed direction and came straight toward him. Sean was intrigued to note the way the whole precinct paid attention to her, and not necessarily in a good way.
You could tell the women who hadn't acclimated to the predominantly male world of a police station. They either ignored the men around them in a continual effort to distinguish themselves with kick-ass work and be accepted, or they tweaked the male egos around them at every turn in an effort to show their lack of concern for male approval.
Sean didn't have to ask which type of woman detective Donata Casale made. Her lipstick told the tale at ten paces.
"A P.I. in our midst?" Donata observed lightly, tugging her white shirt cuffs down as she approached. "Perhaps Mr. Beringer finds himself in need of professional assistance."
It had been four years since he'd faced off with this woman, but from the glint in her eyes, Sean guessed she hadn't forgiven him for their last encounter. He also noted that the blouse under her conservative jacket appeared to be pure silk"a glitzy holdover from her old life, perhaps.
"Actually, I came here to offer assistance." He looked over her shoulder, hoping for an ally who didn't already hate his guts. "Is your partner around? I wouldn't want to get slapped with sexual harassment charges because we shared the same air space."
Apparently he hadn't completely forgiven her either. He hadn't realized he held a grudge until the pissy accusation left his lips. Then again he wasn't some navel-gazing sensitive guy to sit around and weigh his state of mind when there was work to do.
If his words found any leverage in this woman's conscience, she didn't show it. If anything, her deceptively innocent baby blues only narrowed in preparation for battle.
"Still finding it tough to keep your hands to yourself?" Her tight smile let him know that she'd entered this skirmish for show and not because she had any interest in a discussion with him. "It must be hell to discover you're so victimized by your libido, but I'll let my partner know about your offer."
Pivoting on her heel, she presented him with her back and walked away.
Definitely a tight ass.
And damn, but he'd let that conversation go to hell in a hurry.
Sean cursed himself for being a prick when he could have used a bit of goodwill from the investigating officer on this one. He definitely needed to work on the amount of free rein he gave his mouth, but not once in his life had he ever given his hands too much freedom when it came to a woman. Especially not a woman he held in custody, the way he'd once held Donata.
Swallowing his pride and praying for a little more reserve, Sean stalked after her, not giving a crap about the field day the rumor mill would surely have with this incident. He needed Donata's assurance she was going to back off this case and he wasn't leaving the building without it. Ignoring the whistles and the comments pelted his way as he dodged metal desks and dilapidated rolling chairs spilling into the aisles, Sean told himself he needed to mentally regroup.
Donata wasn't the same woman she'd been four years ago, and even then he hadn't understood her. He'd made a costly error in judgment with an old case when she'd been working in conjunction with the feds, but that was the price of taking risks in police work. You might make more headway in some cases, but following hunches could sometimes give you just enough rope to hang yourself.
Cornering Donata in the vacant break room, he helped himself to a powdered doughnut while she poured herself a cup of coffee nearby. He had no idea how to get back in her good graces, but this case was important enough that he'd try.