Paula Drummond is finally back on a police force. And with so much at stakeshe's a single mom atoning for an almost career-ending mistakeshe's not risking anything but stellar performance. That means, regardless of whatever attraction is brewing between her and her partner, Officer Riley Henning, she will not get involved.
Still, working side by side with a man as hot as Riley and not giving in to temptation isn't easy. Especially when he goes above and beyond to help keep her son safe. With all that evidence piling up, it seems as though her partner on the job is destined to become her partner in bed and maybe even in life.
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Seven years earlier
Detective Paula Drummond's long-legged stride through the bull pen was more of a wiggle than a walk in her tight skirt and teetering high heels. Her clinging silk blouse with plunging neckline displayed a generous cleavage.
Catcalls and wolf whistles erupted in her wake. Paula grinned, flipped up her middle finger and exaggerated her hips' sway as she carried on to the detective sergeant's office.
Tim Hudson's shiny bald head was bent over his computer keyboard as he typed furiously with two fingers. Knocking once, Paula entered and lowered herself onto a guest chair. She crossed her legs, one rhinestone-studded shoe bobbing briskly. "What's up, boss? Why did you call me in?"
Hudson hit save, leaned back and squinted at her. "Drummond, is that you? I barely recognize you."
"That's the idea." Paula pushed back the blond hair streaked with mink hanging over her heavily made-up eyes. "Nick's ready for his daily massage. He doesn't like it when I'm late."
She inspected her nails, kept short and blunt. Her prep for this operation had included six weeks intensive training in therapeutic massage. Once they'd learned Moresco had a chronic shoulder injury, her cover ID was a cinch.
"I wanted to know if that slimeball is pressuring you," Hudson said. "Sexually, I mean."
Nick Moresco was a drug lord but he liked to think of himself as a businessman. He was rich, handsome, charming, sophisticated and intelligent. He liked women. Of course he was pressuring her.
Paula shrugged. "Nothing I can't handle."
The detective sergeant leaned forward, his brown eyes glittering. "I hear he's hot stuff. An Italian stallion."
Paula met Hudson's leer with a steady gaze. "Nick's a criminal. Like you say, a slimeball."
"You're sure you're not losing your objectivity? Horowitz is transcribing the tapes. He reckons you're flirting with Moresco. And liking it."
"I'm doing my job. And Horowitz wouldn't know whether a woman was liking it if she held up an Olympic score card." Paula picked a fleck of lint off her mini skirt. But yeah, flirting with Nick was disturbingly easy. The man had charisma.
Hudson leaned back, flicking a pencil between his fingers. "I think we should pull you off the case."
Paula's hand tightened on her purse strap. "This op has been going for nearly a year now. Nick's close to making a major deal on meth production. If I suddenly quit his therapy, it'll look suspicious. He's always asking me questions as it is, testing me."
"As long as you remember you're a cop. There are lines you don't cross."
"Jeez, boss. What do you think I am? Nothing is going to stop me from the satisfaction of hearing those handcuffs click into place when we arrest the bastard."
Hudson was silent for a long ten seconds, studying her. "All right. Just don't say I didn't warn you."
"Jamie, are you dressed for school? You don't want to be late on your first day." Paula paused the hair dryer to listen for a reply. Across the hall in his bedroom her six-year-old son was playing with his cars.
"Vrooom! Smash! Ka-blam!"
Paula put down the dryer and went to look. Jamie was sprawled on his stomach in the middle of the carpeted floor, creating a fifteen Matchbox car pileup. He had on the school navy polo shirt, superhero underpants and one navy sock. His school shorts and the other sock were still on the bed where Paula had laid them out half an hour ago. Young for his age and easily distracted, Jamie could be a challenge.
"Look, Mum." Jamie's curly dark hair bounced as he made a giant plastic T. rex stomp over the wreckage.
"Right you go, mate." She hauled him up by his armpits with him clinging to the T. rex, grabbed the shorts and helped his knobby-kneed legs into them. "You're a great big boy in grade one. You shouldn't need your mum to dress you."
Jamie clamped the T. rex's jaws around his own forearm. Through the gap where his right front tooth had been, spit sprayed as he made sound effects. "Chomp, chomp, chomp."
"Get your other sock on," Paula said. "And come eat breakfast."
In the kitchen, the phone rang.
Great, another distraction. Jamie wasn't the only one who couldn't be late this morning. Today was her first day on the job at Summerside Police Station. She hurried down the hall, tucking her blue uniform shirt into pressed navy pants. Her hair, still only half dried, swung around her shoulders.
Paula leaned across the counter and grabbed the receiver on the fifth ring. "Hello?"
The phone went dead.
Odd. She slotted the receiver into the wall mount. Then set out a bowl of cereal and glass of milk for Jamie and dropped a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster for herself.
Back she went to the bathroom, passing Jamie in the hall carrying a plastic brontosaurus. She ruffled his hair. "Your cereal bowl is not a prehistoric swamp."
She tied her hair back tightly and turned her head to check in the mirror for stray wisps. First impressions were important and hers had to be stellar. Busted back to uniform, she'd been transferred twice since Nick's arrest and both times she'd copped flack from the other cops. She was toughshe could have dealt with the animosity. But the commanding officer at each station eventually moved her on, like a vagrant they wanted off their clean streets.
Well, screw them all. She was fed up with being jacked around, tired of dragging her son from town to town. It was bad enough that she was raising him on her own without a father. Now that Jamie was starting school she couldn't be moving every couple of years.
This time things would work out. She would survive long enough at Summerside to make detective again. She jammed in a last hairpin and looked herself hard in the eye. Third time lucky.
"Mummy, your toast popped," Jamie called, his speech garbled by a mouth full of Weetabix.
The phone rang again as she entered the kitchen. If this was one of those automated marketing programs dialing her number repeatedly
Tucking the receiver between her ear and shoulder, she put the hot toast onto a plate, grabbed a knife and started buttering. "Hello?"
The fine blonde hairs on Paula's arms stood up, her fair skin pimpled. Like most cops, her number was unlisted.
"Hello," she repeated sharply. "Who's there?"
"Mio amore," a silky male voice said in her ear.
Nick Moresco. The butter knife clattered from her hand onto the counter. "What do you want?" she whispered, her throat suddenly dry.
"Just to know that you are there."
The phone went dead.
Paula fumbled the receiver onto the hook. Her gaze shot to the wall calendar. February 1. Which meant Nick had been out of jail for a month. In all the confusion of moving house, Jamie starting school and her starting a new job she'd completely forgotten.
Her stomach churning, Paula tossed her uneaten toast into the garbage. "Are you finished, Jamie? We have to go. Quickly brush your teeth."
Jamie took one more mouthful, grabbed his brontosaurus and ran down the hall. Paula swiftly put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, dismayed to see her hands trembling.
Get a grip! Think. How had Nick gotten her phone number? Only a handful of people knew ither mother, a couple of friends, Senior Sergeant John Forster at the Summerside Police Department and Jamie's school. None of them would have given her number to a stranger.
She ran her hands over her chilled arms. Nick had ways and means that were beyond those available to ordinary folk. He had a vast network of employees, spies and bodyguards. Plus an enormous extended Italian family who were loyal to every member.
Paula spent the next ten minutes going around the small one-story house making sure every window and door was locked. She'd meant to have a deadbolt installed on the exterior door in the laundry room door but she'd had so many other things to take care of she'd put it off. Wincing, she pressed the flimsy button lock in. First chance she had.
"Ready, Mum." Jamie stood before her, baring his gap-toothed grin to show her he'd cleaned his teeth.
Her heart melted. His freckled face was scrubbed shiny. His small shoulders were squared to bear the weight of his backpack. His Toy Story lunch box, which she'd packed the night before, was clutched tightly in his hand. He was still in his sock feet, one navy, one black, but there was no time for him to change.
"Bring me your shoes. I'll help you with the laces."
"I can do them myself." Off he ran again, his lunch box banging against his side.
If Nick had found out her phone number, he could find out her address.
Paula pulled back the drapes and glanced around the quiet court. Across the street her neighbor was backing his car out of the driveway. Farther up the road some teens in the sage green and brown high school uniform were walking to school.
Jamie returned and plumped himself down on the foyer tiles. He yanked his black leather shoes over his wrinkled socks. The tip of his tongue tucked in the corner of his mouth, he concentrated on laboriously tying his laces in a bow.
"You're doing great," Paula said, her voice too tight to really be encouraging. "You've nearly got one. Do you want me to do the other?"
"Nope." He moved on to the other shoe, his small fingers clumsily manipulating the black laces.
The phone rang again.
Paula walked slowly to the doorway to the kitchen. What did he want from her? A chill flowed over her. Jamie?
"Aren't you going to answer it?" Jamie demanded, still struggling with his shoelaces.
Her crepe-soled shoes squeaked slightly on the tiled floor. Her heart thudded in her chest. Her hand shook as she answered the phone for the third time that morning.
"Hello, darling," her mother said in the cheery voice she used when she wanted to settle down for a good long chat.
Paula's knees gave way and she leaned her elbows on the counter for support. "Mum, I can't talk now. Jamie's school starts in ten minutes and I'm late for work. I'll call you tonight."
Police constable Riley Henning opened his locker and took down his protective vest and checked over his equipmentbaton, pepper spray, ammunition, handcuffs, police radio and a semi-automatic .38 Smith and Wessonmaking sure every component was clean and operational.
The order and discipline, the camaraderie of the guys at the station, reminded him of the army. He liked that. He also liked that pleasant leafy Summerside, his hometown, was light years away from bleak, dusty Afghanistan.
His cell phone rang. Shift hadn't started yet so he answered it. "Hello?"
"Dude, did you get my email about the reunion in Canberra for the ANZAC Day parade?" Gazza, his old army buddy from the Special Air Service, said. "It's less than two months away. If you want to get a cheap airline ticket, you should book now."
Riley sat on the bench in front of the row of lockers. He and Gazza had trained together and fought together. They were bonded as only soldiers in combat could belike brothers. And yet he'd avoided answering that email.
"Sorry, I meant to reply but it's been hectic. I'm in the middle of moving houses. You know how it is."
The truth was he didn't relish attending the annual ceremony to honor Australian soldiers. He'd been out of the SAS for nearly a year. His injuries from the suicide bomb explosion that sent him home had healed. A reunion would mean an inevitable swapping of stories, reminiscing about the dangerous and difficult tour of duty in Kabul. Maybe one day he'd be open to that, but right now he wanted to forget, to enjoy his new life.
"So are you coming?" Gazza said. "The guys are all going to be there." He paused briefly and his voice went quiet. "We're worried about you, dude. After the bomb explosion you disappeareddidn't answer anyone's emails or phone calls."
"I'm fine." Riley didn't need to force the note of contentment. "Don't worry about me. I'm healthy, happy. Glad to be back here among friends and family. Got a great job. I'm living the dream."
"Cool." Gazza sounded doubtful. "But if you ever want to talk about stuff, I'm here. Kabul, the explosion, it's a lot to process by yourself."
"To be honest, I don't remember much about that so it doesn't worry me"
The door to the locker room opened. Delinsky, Crucek, and Riley's partner, Jackson arrived. Lockers clanged. Laughter and boisterous talk rang out.
"Gaz, I'm going to have to call you back sometime. Shift is starting."
"Okay. But you think about ANZAC Day."
"Sure." Riley said goodbye and hung up. He turned his phone off and put it away. Then he strapped on his vest, adjusting it so the weight settled evenly over his torso.
"You're always here first, Henning. Did you even go home last night?" Jackson, his partner, said good-naturedly. "What do you do with your time?"
Jackson was forty-three-years old and comfortably married with the beginnings of a paunch and a receding hairline. No doubt he spent his evenings happily watching TV with his family.
"I did some target practice at the shooting range last night, if you really want to know." Riley closed his locker and spun the combination lock. "This morning I got up at six and went for a run. Early bird gets the perp. Anything else?"
"Guys, I'm starting a football pool." Crucek straddled the bench with a clipboard in hand. With his large nose, carroty hair and mottled complexion, he was no male model. "Who's in?"
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