Single mom Tori Sullivan is ready to grab the life she's always wantedaway from Mystic Point. And initially, newcomer Walker Bertrand seems the ideal partner for her adventure. His appeal makes a girl fantasize about happily-ever-after. That is, until it's clear this lawman's strict moral code collides with her knack for bending the rules. Add in his investigation of her sister and that should be a warning that he's not Tori's fairy-tale ending, or her ticket out of town.
Yet, Walker seems bent on getting to the bottom of her secretssomething no one has tried to do in a long time. That he wants to know the real Tori, makes resisting him impossible. But being with Walker could be the one thing that holds her here.
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Massachusetts State Police detective Walker Bertrand shifted in the hard seat and drummed his fingers on his thigh. He'd been in the small, coastal tourist trap of Mystic Point for all of forty minutes, the past thirty of those spent in this chair while the district attorney and mayor did their best to tactfully explain to the police chief and his assistant chief why they were in a shitload of trouble.
Though Walker was certain explanations weren't necessary. Ross Taylor and Layne Sullivan had to know that sleeping together would cause them problems. If not, they deserved to have their badges taken away from them.
Walker leaned forward, let his hands dangle loosely between his knees while silently urging Jack Pomeroy, the long-winded D.A., to wind things the hell up so Walker could get to work. Finally, and with a great deal of reluctance and regret on his puffy face, Pomeroy handed Chief Taylor a paper.
Taylor's expression remained impassive as he read the allegations against him and Sullivan. To Walker's right, Mayor Seagren looked as if he'd rather perform dental surgery on himselfminus Novocainthan be the bearer of bad news to his two highest ranking police officers.
Walker let his gaze slide over Assistant Chief Layne sullivan.
Women were a mystery, one of life's greatest. But being the only son in a family with four daughters gave Walker a certain edge. He'd been surrounded by females since birth, after all. He understood them. Knew how they worked and could easily read their moods, gauge their thoughts.
Not that he needed a PhD in the psychology of women to know Sullivan's mood was hostile, her thoughts contemplating murder.
Waves of animosity rolled off her, battered Walker with resentment and anger. She didn't want him here. Not in her town. Not sitting across from the chief in her police department. Not sticking his nose into her professional life and career.
Life was tough that way.
Being a cop meant he often went where he wasn't wanted.
He didn't take it personally.
Walker stretched his legs out in front of him and met Sullivan's heated gaze with a bland one of his ownwhich only seemed to piss her off more.
"If you fire Chief Taylor," she said to the mayor, her long, lean body practically vibrating with outrage, her fisted hands on her hips, "then I quit."
A passionate response, though a bit predictable for his tastes. Had it been brought on by respect for her boss, the man whofrom all accountshad won the position she'd wanted for herself? Devotion to the man she was sleeping with? or loyalty to her partner in crime?
Taylor set down the paper. "They're not firing me."
Maybe not at all. But everyone in the room knew it was a distinct possibility.
"Any matters regarding termination of employment are up to Mystic Point's city council and mayor," Pomeroy pointed out. "Not me or Detective Bertrand."
Sullivan jerked her head in Walker's direction. "Then why is he here?"
"I'm here to help," he said easily.
He was there to get to the truth.
Working for the state attorney general's office, Walker was often tasked with investigating alleged wrongdoings in local government. City council members and mayors and police chiefs who abused their power or took bribes. Police departments accused of everything from cover-ups and mishandled cases to illegally obtaining evidence.
Most cops considered him the enemy. A traitor to the brotherhood, one who tore through the Blue Line and turned his back on his comrades in arms so he'd get promoted, maybe receive a few accolades as he climbed higher and higher in his career.
They could think whatever they wanted. Walker knew he was part of the system, a valuable part that helped maintain a balance. That rid the ranks of dirty cops and politicians. He dug for the truth, a messy, time-consuming, often thankless job.
He was damned good at it.
Sullivan bared her teeth and he wouldn't be surprised if she leaped at him and took a big chunk out of his hide. "We don't need your help."
"The D.A. thinks you do," William Seagren said, the bald spot on his crown shiny with sweat.
"This is ridiculous," Sullivan snapped. "Ross didn't do anything wrong."
"Then he has nothing to worry about," Walker said before Seagren could respond.
Sullivan snorted. "Nothing except the fact that an investigation like this could ruin his reputation, not to mention have an adverse effect on how he's viewed by the officers under his command and the community. They'll question his capabilities, his ethics and morals."
She was passionate, Walker would give her that. And, if he was being honest, he could see what had tempted Taylor into pursuing a sexual relationship with her. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail that reached the middle of her back, her features sharp. The uniform she wore accentuated the curves of her hips, her breasts.
Yeah, she was a looker. But Taylor should've had more restraint. More control.
Walker would have.
"Maybe Chief Taylor should've considered the consequences before he became personally involved with one of those officers under his command," Walker said, then casually touched the top of his head, just in case the laserlike glare she shot his way had ignited his hair on fire.
Mayor Seagren cleared his throat. "Now, Layne, surely you can understand why we have to look into this matter."
"Understand that you're accusing us of" she grabbed the paper Chief Taylor had set down and skimmed it "neglect of duty and ethical violations and corruption?" Her eyes wide, she crumpled the edge of the paper in her fist. "God, Billy, that's a felony."
"So is conspiracy to obstruct justice," Walker pointed out, tired of the bullshit. Of how Pomeroy and Seagren coddled these two. This was why he'd been brought in, because no one in the county could be trusted to do the job. To remain impartial. To not get personally involved with these people, with this town.
"I'm here," Walker told Sullivan in what he thought was a highly reasonable tone. "There's going to be an investigationnothing will change that so you might as well accept it. And you might want to start worrying less about your supervisor and more about how this investigation is going to affect you and your career."
She growled at him. The woman actually growled.
"Captain," the chief said mildly. Admonishingly.
Her expression didn't soften and there was no sign his quiet censure affected her in the least but after sending Walker one more of her "Burn in hell!" looks, Sullivan walked to the wall next to the desk, leaned back and stared straight ahead.
Interesting. Not just her acquiescence, but the entire interaction between her and Taylor. Nothing in their body language gave away the fact that they were lovers. There were no touches, no fleeting, longing glances. Taylor had even addressed her by rank, instead of her name. The smart choice given the circumstances and Walker's presence.
Then again, maybe the chief and captain always maintained a certain propriety while at work, foolishly believing they could keep their professional and personal lives separate.
They couldn't. No one could. Sex changed things. Emotions clouded good judgment. Private fights, hurt feelings, even the rush of the good times and the pull of desire eventually leaked out of the bedroom and into the office. Tensions built, resentment simmered within the ranks of the department, causing low morale, bitterness and accusations.
Walker would determine whether those accusations were based on fact, fiction or something in between.
"How does this work?" Taylor asked in his Boston accent. There was no visible anger, no worry in his eyes. His tone was calm, his shoulders relaxed. As if he had nothing to hide, had done nothing wrong despite the evidence to the contrary.
If Walker had been the type of cop to go with his gut, he might believe Taylor was sincere. As honest and honorable as his record with the Boston P.D. indicated.
Instincts were all well and good, and Walker didn't discount his, but neither did he put all his faith in them, either. He trusted his head, not some nebulous feeling. He gathered the facts, saw his cases from every angle, analyzed everyone and everything and then, and only then, did he come to a conclusion.
Pomeroy shifted forward, his tie caught on the shelf of his round stomach. "Detective Bertrand is in charge of seeing if the accusations against you both have merit."
"Until he completes that investigation," Mayor Seagren said, "you will be placed on administrative leave"
Sullivan muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "Nazi witch hunt" but Walker couldn't be sure.
"With pay," the mayor continued. "Meade will take over in the interim."
"Meade's a good choice." Taylor faced Walker. "You can expect our full cooperation. Isn't that right, Captain?"
"Of course," she said as if that never should have even been in doubt despite her obviously wanting to rip out his still-beating heart and chuck it out the window.
Mayor Seagren stood. "Before we get to the rest"
"There's more?" Sullivan asked incredulously.
"I just want to state for the record that I fully expect Detective Bertrand's investigation to discover the allegations against you both to be completely unfounded."
"They will be," Taylor said as if anything less was not only unacceptable but unfathomable.
Sullivan shoved away from the wall, offended and irritated. Then again, that seemed to be her standard expression. "Since we're going on record, I'd like to say that this is a complete waste of time. Chief Taylor and I have done nothing wrong."
Taylor pinched the bridge of his nose. "Captain Sullivan"
"No. I will not stand here with my thumbs up my ass while our reputations are dragged through the mud and our ethics questioned." She began to pace, her long legs eating up the short distance of the office, her ponytail swinging behind her. "We did everything by the book. Everything. And now, months after we reported our personal relationshipas per MPPD's regulationsthere are suddenly questions about how we conduct ourselves and do our jobs? It's bullshit."
"Just because there are no departmental rules forbidding relationships within the Mystic Point police department," Walker said, "doesn't mean that getting personal with your superior officer was a good idea."
She stepped toward him. "You are seriously starting to piss me off."
Walker held her gaze. "Careful. Wouldn't want to add an assault charge to that list of allegations."
Her grin was cocky with a healthy dose of mean tossed in. "Want to bet? And the next time you address me, make sure you do so properly. Do you understand me, Detective?"
She was pulling rank on him. He couldn't help but admire her for it.
"Oh, I understand perfectly." He paused long enough to let her know he couldn't be intimidated. "Captain."
Taylor stood. "We'll leave our badges and service weapons with Lieutenant Meade."
Pomeroy grunted as he got to his feet. "Before you do, there's one more thing ."
He nodded at Walker, who reached for the envelope pressed between the arm of the chair and his side, and handed it to Taylor. The chief's hesitation was so slight, most people probably wouldn't have noticed it. Walker wasn't most people.
Taylor read the report, his expression darkening, the first sign of emotion he'd shown since being told his professional life was under scrutiny.
Sullivan crossed over to him. "What is it?"
He handed the paperwork to her. Walker had to give her credit, she didn't give anything away. No shock crossed her face.
"How did you get a hold of this?" Taylor asked, his voice gruff. Demanding. "This report should've been sent directly to me."
"Considering the accusations against you and Captain Sullivan," Pomeroy said, "I thought it best to have it sent to my office first. And, due to the findings of those reports, the district attorney's office, along with the state attorney general, think it'd be best if the investigation into Dale York's death was handled by someone outside the Mystic Point police department."
"That's right," Walker said, in response to the way Taylor's mouth flattened, the horror in Sullivan's eyes. He grinned. "I'm taking over."
Funny to think that once upon a time, Tori Mott had actually believed in fairy tales. Oh, not the ones about glass slippers or mermaids who longed to be human. And don't even try to tell her that when a beautiful girl shows up at the house of seven miniature men all they want from her is to cook and clean while she sings to a bunch of woodland animals.
Please. Men, no matter their height, all wanted the same thing and there was nothing G-rated about it.
She also never bought into the idea that some handsome prince would ride up and carry her off, far from a mundane life of endless toil. No, Tori used to believe something much more dangerous, much more insidious than poisoned apples and ravenous, transvestite wolves who liked girls in red hoods.
She'd actually bought into the idea that she could escape her small hometown, could go somewhere far away from the rumors, the envy and resentment and, worst of all, the pity she'd lived with her entire life. That she could make her dreams, all her big plans, come true. And that finally, she'd achieve the greatest lie of them all.
A happy ending.
Talk about delusional, Tori thought as she wove her way between tables in the Ludlow Street Cafe's dining room. Nothing like life coming along and giving some poor fool dreamer a sharp smack upside the head to knock some much needed sense into her. Getting pregnant at eighteen did that for her. Made her realize that sure, sometimes dreams did come true.
Just not for her.
So she'd stopped wishing and hoping for spectacular and had settled for average. Which had turned out to be a good life.
If good didn't quite live up to the expectations she'd built for her future when she'd been a teenager, she had no one to blame but herself.
"Here you go," she said to Mr. Jeffries as she set his usual breakfasttwo eggs over easy, white toast and three slices of baconin front of him. "Can I get you anything else?"
"More coffee when you get a chance, dear," he said, smiling at her as innocently as a baby.
The smile, combined with the fact that he looked like a harmless grandfather with his round cheeks, ill-advised comb-over and a seemingly endless supply of blindingly bright bow ties, hid that he was a groper.
Tori wouldn't have minded if he'd been a better tipper. Or if he had roaming hands with some of the other above-legal-age waitresses at the cafe. But nope. She, and only she, was lucky enough to get what he deemed a love tap but was actually more of a hopeful squeeze.
So when she caught sight of his age-spotted hand heading her way, she neatly sidestepped. "No problem. I'll be back in a second with that coffee," she said, making sure to sound pleasant and courteous.
Then, because for all his faults, Mr. Jeffries was a regular customer and only a minor nuisance, she amped up the usual amount of wiggle to her hips as she walked away. Just to give him something to look at.
Young, old or in between, men all liked to look. But only she decided who got to touch.