He's her kind of danger...
Small-town-girl Cassidy Jones is a fast-driving, sharp-shooting, man-loving cop with a loud laugh. She's also really good at her job-a fact that is completely irrelevant to the good ol' boys at the station. So when a local mobster is murdered, and the Chief is forced to turn to Cassidy for help, she's excited to get the opportunity to prove herself.
Sure, the only reason she's going undercover is because she's one of only two female cops on the force. Still, it beats the hell out of writing parking tickets. There's just one little problem: she's falling hard for Lorenzo, the mobster's dangerously sexy brother-and possible murder suspect. With everyone at the station assuming she'll fail, Cassidy cannot act on her attraction.
But when Cassidy's instincts lead her to a shocking suspect, her reputation isn't the only thing at stake.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
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By Victoria Pratt, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Victoria Pratt
All rights reserved.
I hate being on time.
Not always, but when it comes to our morning briefing, I'd rather be in my seat before the sausage parade begins. This morning, however, thanks to last night's poker extravaganza and subsequent hangover, I'm one of the last ones in. Fantastic. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I have some OCD compulsion that makes me want to be the first one in the room. It's just that this particular room full of cops likes to try to make me squirm, and trust me, that is no easy feat. I'm a fast-driving, sharp-shooting, type-A ball-buster, but sadly, my long blond hair and obvious lack of penis are viewed as an egregious insult to these good ol' boys, and they make every effort to make me feel like "a girl."
I ran a bloodshot eye over the sea of blue uniforms and bad haircuts. Yep. Last one in. But, like my mother always said, never let them see you sweat. Chin up, shoulders back. She called that "assuming the position." We always giggled about it when I was a kid, although looking back I was probably giggling because my mom was giggling. The memory still brings a smile to my face to this day, although when I'm assuming the other position, it is a little weird to be thinking of my mother. Regardless, a hint of a smile replaced my hangover grimace as I walked down the center aisle and began the slow cut through the row to my seat. I've been here a couple of months now, so the comments are beginning to subside, but there are still a few who won't quit.
Case in point — Detective Jay Coleman. "Sweet ass, Jones," he whispered as I crossed in front of him.
I've decided to treat these daily offerings as compliments, instead of the misogynistic belittlements they're intended to be. After all, I do have a nice ass. "Thanks, Princess," I chirped. "I've been working out. Nice to see those charm school lessons are paying off for you." This earned me a few snickers from the boys. I even got a sliver of a smile from the only other female cop in the station, Lisa Miller. It did not, however, endear me to Detective Coleman.
"Princess" had become Coleman's nickname, thanks to me, doubly funny since he was probably the most manly man I've ever met — sandy blond hair, green eyes, big rough working hands, and perma-stubble. On my first day, they paired me up with another new officer, who, although he does have a penis, is similarly handicapped in that he is the most beautiful person I've ever seen. He's much prettier than me. I'm not half bad, but he's ridiculous — six feet, five inches of caramel skin, thick black hair, brown eyes, and a perfect mouth. Not handsome, beautiful. To make matters worse, his name is — wait for it — Ken. Detective Coleman thought he was being clever by introducing us to the rest of the force as Barbie and Ken. But anyone who has grown up with a brother knows that two wrongs most definitely do make a right, so I retaliated in the only way I knew how — I called him Princess and insulted his manhood. Funny, nobody calls me Barbie anymore, but Princess really stuck.
Ken turned his big doe eyes to me as I sat down beside him, and I was struck, as I always am, by the obscene length of his lashes. I wouldn't say I'm jealous of his beauty, but I do think it's kind of a shame to use up so many great features on one human, especially a male one. If I had the power I'd take his hair and give it to Ross. Then I'd give his eyes to Watson, and his body to Terry. I wouldn't give shit to Coleman, though. He'd probably go out and get himself syphilis, then come back and blame it on Ken. Frankly, Ken might benefit from an imperfection or two. Ever since the great Dave debacle of 2010, I've decided never to date anyone who is prettier than me. Ken could never tempt me, anyway, no matter how unattractive he could manage to make himself. Fishing off the company pier is a monumentally bad idea. It's hard enough to be taken seriously in this cop shop without adding "badge bunny" to my list of defects.
I pulled out of my reverie. "Morning, Ken. You good?"
"Can't complain, Cassidy. Can't complain." He probably would have complained if he knew that I had just mentally dismantled his body and distributed his goodies like Santa Claus.
"How's my partner doing today?" he asked with a smile.
"Well, I lost my shirt at poker last night, then I tripped and fell into a bottle of tequila, and it all went inside me. But other than that ... it's all good."
Ken shook his head with mock disapproval. "I don't know how you do it."
"It's kinda like riding a bike," I answered. "Except there's no bike. And there's booze. And you have a better chance of getting laid."
Before I could answer, I heard Captain Rye making his way into the room and down the aisle. I could tell it was the captain without looking. He had a very distinct footfall — there was a stomp-drag to his gait. Heavy, tired, graceless. Today, though, those footsteps came to an abrupt halt at my row. I looked up to see what had stopped him. Apparently I was the object of his attention. I swung a look behind me to see if I was missing something, but there was no mistaking it. His humorless eyes were fixed on me, his expression a mixture of contempt and disbelief. This was actually an interesting development. Until this very moment, I had thought he only saw me as boobs, a badge, and a ponytail, in that order. Apparently today, I was something else to Captain Rye.
Could I be in trouble? I couldn't imagine how. Ever since I had arrived, or should I say, ever since I was foisted onto the department because of equality hiring, they had used my carefully honed bad guy — nabbing skills for playground duty. At least that's what I call it. Writing citations to drunks, putting Band-Aids on kiddies, tracking down truants and prank nine-one-one callers. You know, real crime fighting. It's actually pretty hard to screw up playground duty. The litmus test for a successful day is making it through your shift without getting flashed or peed on. A couple of months ago I would have thought that getting peed on would be the worst, but I've seen some things recently that have made me rethink.
Could I be getting praise? Also doubtful. It's kind of hard to make a mark in the department when you don't get the opportunity to use your skills. So what had gotten Captain Rye's panties in a twist this morning, I wondered. I was about to find out.
"Jones, Miller, in my office."
He turned on his heel without waiting for us to follow. This was either going to be a good thing or a bad thing, but judging from my reception at the station, I was banking on the latter. Miller didn't seem fazed, though. She was the only other woman on the force. You'd think that fact would have worked as a bond between us, but sadly this was not the case. Lisa was a joyless woman with a seemingly endless supply of disdain for the human species. Physically she was quite ... impressive. My mother would call her sturdy. There was a thickness to her that can only be attained through unfortunate genetics and a lifetime of heavy weight training, but her tragic hair was the result of pure neglect – lifeless and dull, and the color of damp hay. Her eyes might be pretty if she smiled, but since I'd never borne witness to such a thing, I wasn't holding my breath.
The door to the captain's office was open, and he gestured us inside, then pointed at the door, the universal symbol for "close it" used by power trippers all over the world. Sitting behind the desk was Police Chief Thompson.
Chief Thompson was the silver fox to Captain Rye's silverback gorilla. Thompson was lean and sinewy, with bright blue eyes and close-cropped silver hair. Captain Rye, on the other hand, was meaty and sweaty, with dark gray hair, beady dark eyes, and a bulldog underbite. I guess I'd be miserable, too, if I looked like that.
Beside Chief Thompson sat a redheaded woman with a sad face and eyes red rimmed from crying. She was wearing a simple black sheath dress under a fine-knit black cardigan. I'd put her somewhere in her mid- to late forties. She looked familiar to me somehow, but I couldn't quite place her.
Captain Rye, finding himself without a seat in his own office, shuffled over to lean against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. Whatever was going on, Captain Rye was not happy about it.
"Chief, these are Officers Miller and Jones," growled Rye.
I gave the chief the customary nod. "Chief."
He took a moment to look at us both then spoke. "I trust you both heard about the murder last night."
Lisa jumped in smugly. "Of course, sir."
The chief hesitated, only for a second, but long enough to underline the fact that he did not want to be interrupted. From the corner of my eye I could see Lisa wilt a little. It's amazing how much a person's shoulders can betray them. God, would I love to play poker with her.
"Last night," continued the chief, "Jimmy Polonco was murdered in one of his own establishments." He paused to let the information sink in, then added, "I'm sure I don't have to tell you what kind of shitstorm we're in for if we don't find the doer. Fast."
My skin was tingling. This was huge news. Jimmy Polonco was one of the most influential founding fathers of Sioux Sands. It was a new city, sprouted from nothing in the middle of nowhere, snuggled up to a huge Indian reservation on the edge of the North Dakota oil sands. When I was growing up, this was all farmland. Then, about ten years ago, Jimmy Polonco of the Chicago Polonco crime family rolled onto the reservation in a big black SUV, had a powwow with George Bloodgood, one of the tribe elders, and hatched a plan to build a casino on Indian land. Somehow he had anticipated the oil boom, but instead of speculating on oil, he threw his money into the infrastructure that would support it. It had been a very lucrative decision for him.
Three years later, Polonco Casino was born. And where there's a casino, there are strip clubs, and hotels, and restaurants. Lo and behold, before our very eyes, a city was born out of the dirt, nourished by crime, gambling, sex, and money. It had really exploded in the last few years. That's why I'm here.
When a city arrives on your doorstep, it either absorbs the small towns around it or it crushes them like grapes. My tiny hometown, population eighteen hundred, was all but crushed. It lies on the opposite side of the reservation from the casino, so it wasn't swallowed up by the city. But, having lived out in the middle of the dirt for so long, most of the people in our town decided they wanted to live closer to the action, so they picked up and moved. As the population dwindled, many of the stores and restaurants on the main street shuttered. Eventually our little town could neither justify, nor afford, having its own police force, and I was suddenly out of a job. So I did what everyone else did — I looked for one in the city.
Luckily, due to the population explosion and an inordinately large amount of crime, they were in desperate need of more police officers, and I was given a job. If they'd bothered to ask, they would have found out that I had graduated at the top of my class and that I was an excellent police officer, a better shot than anyone in the Sioux Sands Police Department. I'd bet my life on that. But they didn't ask. This was the new wild frontier, the future of oil in America, a testosterone playground where, at best, women were tolerated but never appreciated.
The chief gestured to the redheaded woman at his side. "Mr. Polonco's wife came to see me. She's worried it could be an inside job. She's afraid, and so am I, that if we don't find out who did this, every mobster in Chicago is going to descend on our city, and they won't care what kind of collateral damage they do. They'll just start whacking until they figure they've got the right guy. Mrs. Polonco has asked me to put someone in undercover to find out who killed her husband."
Lisa and I traded a look. There was an entire room full of men out there, and Captain Rye liked every single one of them better than us. Why would he bestow the honor of solving a high-profile murder case on a girl?
"I'd be happy to do it, sir," said Lisa, shooting me a dirty look. What an idiot, I thought to myself. It's not like we were a couple of kids calling dibs. At least I really hoped it wasn't.
Chief Thompson and Mrs. Polonco traded a look.
"Actually, I don't know if that'll work," he said. "I'm thinking Officer Jones might be a better fit."
He looked uncomfortable saying it. Captain Rye, on the other hand, looked angry, and Lisa looked like she'd been punched in the stomach. I'd managed to make three people very unhappy without saying a word or moving a muscle. My mother would be so proud.
I waited. When you keep your mouth shut, people tend to either volunteer information or dig their own grave. Biting my tongue around people who have control over my career was one of my best features. I could feel Lisa looking at me. I didn't give her the satisfaction of returning that look, but I could tell it wasn't a pleasant one. Her breath was coming fast and sharp, and her fingers, balled up into meaty fists at her sides, clutched the heavy wool of her trousers, as though their release might trigger a cyclone of violence directed specifically at my face. It had been a long time since someone had wanted to punch me that badly. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore.
"With all due respect, sir," she said gritting her teeth, "I have to disagree with your decision. I can handle anybody and anything, and I've been here longer than her."
She was really going for it.
"She doesn't even want this!" She jabbed a fleshy thumb in my direction. "You offered it to her and she hasn't said anything!"
The room fell silent, all eyes on Lisa. Her face was flushed to a dark pink, interrupted by little blotchy white patches, and a film of sweat covered her upper lip and forehead. All in all, not a good look. When I was sure her tantrum was over, I turned to the chief. "May I respond, sir?"
Chief Thompson gave me the nod to continue, so I turned my gaze back to Lisa. "With all due respect, Officer Miller, unless you're a freaking wizard, or you have a crystal ball up your ass, you have absolutely no idea what I want, much less what I'm capable of. As for not responding to Chief Thompson, he hasn't made me an offer yet. You didn't give him the chance. And from the look on his face, I'm guessing that this assignment isn't going to be a pleasant one. So why don't you do us all a favor, and shut the hell up?" I paused for effect, turning away from her. "Chief?"
"Um ... Thank you." It took him a moment to gather his thoughts. "You're right about the assignment. I hate to ask it of anyone, but ..." He stopped again. "Understand, you're not obligated to take the assignment."
"Just tell me what it is, sir."
"Jimmy was killed at Double Down, one of his strip joints. We want to put someone in there undercover ... as a stripper."
I didn't know whether to be flattered or offended. "And what makes you think I'm suited for that?"
He looked down at his shoes, suddenly finding something very interesting on the floor. He kicked back and forth for a second, gathering the courage to continue. "My, uh, wife said that you were ... you know, into that."
My eyes grew wide. "Excuse me?"
"She said her cousin saw you doing the, what do you call it? The stripper pole stuff?"
Now it was my turn to blush. My best friend Bobbie had bought us pole-dancing lessons for my birthday last year. Every Tuesday night we'd grab cocktails — liquid courage, we called it — then go to our pole-dancing lessons. It was an amazing workout, much harder than it looked, but you try explaining that to a fifty-year-old cop. It sounded fishy, even to me. If I'd known that the chief's wife's cousin would be watching, I would have traded them for square dancing lessons.
Excerpted from Double Down by Victoria Pratt, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2015 Victoria Pratt. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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