CRIMES OF PASSION
When she was on the verge of adulthood, Riva Henneman committed a crime and got caught red-handed. Luckily, she was busted by a HOT young cop…who also had a big heart. A one-time SEAL candidate, Officer Ian Hawthorn knew how it felt to have your dreams derailed. So he gave Riva a choice: face prison time or work for him as a confidential informant. But even a get-out-of-jail-free card comes with a cost. . .
Years later, Ian still remembers beautiful, innocent Riva—and the smoldering attraction they shared but both tried to ignore. Will they have a second chance, now that they’re back in each other’s lives? Riva’s work with inner-city children has led to a surprise run-in with Ian, who has his own agenda—one that could put them both in grave danger. Is their desire worth the risk this time?
The high octane suspense and super sizzling romance continues with Turn Me Loose, the third novel in the Alpha Ops series by Anne Calhoun.
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Turn Me Loose
By Anne Calhoun
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Anne Calhoun
All rights reserved.
Seven years earlier ...
Past midnight, but Kaffiend Coffee House hummed like a train station at rush hour, packed with students studying and socializing in equal measures. Riva held her hand over her coffee cup when the waitress came by. Rereading her econ assignment pushed her past the point of diminishing returns. Another half an hour to review her American History reading response paper, and then she'd call it a night. "Just the check, please," she said.
Without a word the waitress moved off, refilling cups as she worked her way back to the counter. The bell over the door dinged, and Riva looked up.
The man standing in the doorway wore a Lancaster College T-shirt, faded jeans, ankle-high brown motorcycle boots, and a really nice jacket, a leather moto deal she knew was expensive because the thin leather clung to his shoulders. Long fingers wrapped around the strap of his backpack slung over his shoulder, his helmet dangling from his thumb as he scanned the tables, looking for an empty seat. Riva watched him for a moment. He was tall, a little thin, older than the rest of the crowd. Her brain jumped through underclassman to senior before settling on grad student, one she hadn't seen here before.
His gaze caught hers. Electric shock, a spark of something that made her aware of her heartbeat, its newly irregular rhythm. His gaze lingered just a second before moving on, and she was grateful she'd done the full hair and makeup routine before leaving her room. Despite the late hour, the wood-paneled room was packed with nervous students cramming for midterms, some of them looking for a little something to keep them going, others looking for a little something to calm them down so they could sleep. Two months into her college career and she already had a reputation for providing quality product: pills to sleep or stay awake, a little weed, something for the pain. She'd made four sales tonight, quick deals either in the ladies room or in the alley behind Kaffiend, where people stepped outside to smoke. She'd have good news to report when she checked in.
Another heart-skittering moment of eye contact, this time with a heated glint in his eye that threw his motivations into question. Was he looking to score from her, or with her? The seat across from her was open, and the owner encouraged table sharing. Maybe he just wanted a place to sit. Maybe he'd want to sit next to her.
She glanced down at her open textbook, counted to ten, then looked again. Wham, this time a full-body electric jolt, and he looked away first. Maybe it wasn't her product he wanted, but her.
The thought made her heart pound.
A moment later he found a table being vacated by a guy Riva recognized from her Principles of Marketing class and sat down. The process of settling himself involved textbooks — Analytical Philosophy, something by Kant — a laptop, an order for coffee, and another glance Riva's way. A little thrill skittered over her nerves; this time she offered a smile. For a second he didn't smile back, and Riva wondered if she'd misunderstood his intention. But then the corners of his mouth curved up, revealing a deep, long crease on either side of his mouth. Mentally she revised his age upward a couple of years, to PhD student, and she couldn't look away if her life depended on it.
His gaze darkened. He shifted in his chair. Maybe he was shy. He had the unassuming demeanor hot nerds usually had, like their good looks didn't factor into their self-awareness at all. Feeling bold, she got up and paid her bill at the counter, then walked back to his table, where he was hunched over the textbook.
"Hi," she said. Up close he looked even more vulnerable, a little pale, his hair tumbling over his forehead. Her heart was flicking against her throat. "I saw you watching me."
He flushed. The skin over his cheekbones actually turned pink. "Yeah. I guess I was pretty obvious."
"I guess I was pretty flattered," she replied.
His gaze sharpened, snared hers. "Yeah?" "Yeah. Riva Henneman."
"Ian Fallon." He held out his hand, which made her laugh even as she shook it. "Have a seat."
She sat, letting her bag slump to the floor at her feet. "Interesting reading you've got there."
He looked down at the textbook, smeared with blue highlighter, notes in pencil along the margins. "It's okay. You?"
"Intro to Econ and American History," she said, hardly knowing whether she was making sense. The chemistry between them was sparking, making her skin hypersensitive, her cheeks flush. "I'm a first year. I'll probably major in business but the history fulfills a requirement."
He nodded, like he knew all about that. "You have Kessler?"
"I like the class."
Another searing look brought the conversation to a halt. Ian glanced at the door as it opened, then said, "I heard you could get me something I need."
Her smile disappeared under a wave of disappointment.
"Did you?" she said, striving for a light tone.
"Not today," she said.
"Those are two drastically different chemical results in your body, Ian."
"I like to cover all my bases. Help me out here. I've tried a couple of other guys, Brian Deluca and what's his name, Sammy from Hamilton, but they were out."
Sammy and Brian were the two other go-to guys on campus, and her competition, such as it was. Brian was set to graduate, and Sammy was lazy as hell, buying product mostly to be sure he had a constant supply for himself. Ian obviously knew his way around Lancaster College's drug scene. "Okay. Meet me out back in five."
Riva sidled past the line of people waiting for the restroom, opened the door into the alley, and stepped out into the cool October night. She leaned against the brick wall and inhaled deeply. The dumpster reeked of coffee grounds but the cool air kept the worst of the trash stench to a minimum.
The door opened again, and Ian stepped through. The light above the door cast stark shadows, hiding his face and eyes. Riva's nerves jerked into high alert. He had angled himself so he stood between her and the doorway as well as the opening at the end of the alley.
She named her price, just wanting this over so she could get back to the business of asking him out.
"No problem," he said, reaching into his front pocket.
She unzipped her backpack and pulled out a baggie containing an ounce of marijuana, waited while he thumbed through the cash in his wallet, then handed it over. She gave him the bag.
Without letting go, she reached into her messenger bag pocket and pulled out a pen, then turned his hand palm up and wrote her number on his palm.
"To save you the trouble of asking," she said, looking up at him through her lashes. This could still go either way, but either way, he'd need her number.
"That'll come in handy," he said.
Delighted, she grinned. He was gorgeous, all man, and obviously smart. The books lacked the used sticker, so the creases and scuffs were all his. No one read that stuff that frequently, for fun. "Call me anytime."
He shoved the wallet into his jeans pocket, then reached behind his back. Steel glinted in the light over the door, and for a terrified split second she thought he'd pulled a knife on her.
A click echoed off the watching brick as he flipped the curved pieces of metal apart. It wasn't a knife. It was a pair of handcuffs. "Riva Henneman, you're under arrest."CHAPTER 2
Present day ...
"Okay, team, huddle up."
The evening birdsong trilled through the screen door as servers, chefs, sous chefs, and the night's hostess gathered around Riva. She leaned against the prep table and scanned their faces, checking in with each kid. They were enrolled in the East Side Community Center's Teen Cuisine program, getting training on all aspects of a restaurant's operations. Kiara, the night's hostess, came in last, pen and paper poised to write down the night's menu before transferring it to the chalkboard intended for the front porch.
"Run it down for me, Chef Isaiah," Riva said.
Proud of his lead role in the kitchen, Isaiah straightened. "We have three mains today: the usual rib eye and chicken, and the special, salmon seared in a sauce of shallots and grapefruit, accompanied by asparagus and potatoes roasted in garlic, rosemary, and olive oil. Appetizers are the usual bruschetta, plus mussels, and we have brussels sprouts roasted in olive oil with bacon and onions."
Riva nodded approvingly. He'd come a long way from the kid who couldn't tell a brussels sprout from a stalk of asparagus. "Anyone have any questions about preparation? All of the greens are from the early plantings at the farm, so they're nice and tender. We'll substitute ingredients from the other farm-to-table suppliers when we run out of our own stuff."
Her dream was to eventually quadruple her greenhouse space, enabling her to start planting earlier in the season and supply not just her restaurant but others in the area. One step at a time. Take it slow, grow organically, and, most important, without drawing any attention to herself.
"Where's the salmon from?" Amber asked.
"Alaska. Wild caught and flown in yesterday," Isaiah said without prompting. Amber made a note on her server's pad. "It's as fresh as you're gonna get in landlocked Lancaster."
"What do you recommend?" Kiara asked.
"It's all good," Isaiah said, "but if anyone asks, go with the salmon."
"What are we gonna eighty-six first?"
"The salmon," Isaiah said. He extended his hand over the large cast-iron pan heating on the eight-burner stove, the movement automatic, practiced. "Early bird gets the worm tonight. Dessert is ice cream from Blackstone Creamery. Chocolate, vanilla, mint chocolate chip."
"Thanks, Isaiah," Riva said. "I'll come around one last time to check your stations. I'm working the front tonight, so you guys are on your own."
Subtle signs of tension rippled through the group. "You've got this. It's a Tuesday night, so we won't be very busy, but even if we were, even if we got slammed by Maud Ward and her entire entourage, you'd still have this," Riva said. "Work your station, and work together."
Kimmy-Jean, a newer addition to the program, worried at her lower lip. "What if no one comes?"
In the spring Oasis operated on a pop-up basis, opening on selected evenings and promoted through social media only. "They'll come," Isaiah said. "You just worry about getting your mise done, yo."
She walked through the kitchen, swiping up a bit of spilled parmesan, adding extra bowls to Carlos's station, making sure the bus boy/dishwasher, Blake, had his trays lined up and ready to go. She ran through another checklist out front. The tables were all neatly set, silverware wrapped in linen, bud vases with a single bloom and small votive candles centered between the settings. She'd learned how to set a beautiful table from her mother on the rare occasions when she surfaced from a fog of Xanax or Cymbalta to host one of the social events her father insisted would strengthen and expand his network of business contacts. Lately during their phone calls her mother had been nervous, speaking in a whisper when her father was in the room, unable to maintain a train of thought even when he wasn't. Riva was worried; her mother had always been high-strung, nervous, talkative, and always moving, never quiet.
She set aside her worries about her mother and focused on the people she could help right now. "Let's not light the candles just yet," she said to Kiara.
The front was designed to look like a large, screened-in porch, the glass windows folded back to open the room to the breezes drifting in from the eastern fields, carrying a scent of warm earth and tender, growing things. The walls were covered in weathered barn boards, the tables made from smaller pieces reclaimed when she'd torn down the outbuildings that were ruined beyond repair. The server's station was just outside the kitchen, making it easy for the staff to grab a pitcher of water or a damp rag as they passed through.
Looking around, Riva couldn't believe she'd made this herself, supervised the renovation, done most of the interior work and decorating herself, scavenged and bargain shopped, painted walls and built tables. She'd come a long way in the last seven years, and the farm and restaurant were only stage one of her business plan.
When the first customers arrived, a couple of minutes before the restaurant officially opened, Kiara guided them to a table near the west windows, overlooking the back fields rolling down to the river. Riva lit their candle and offered them the menu. "Do you want the windows shut?" the man asked his date. He was obviously anxious, taking out his phone and silencing the ringer, setting it on the table, then putting it in a pocket.
"I'm good," she said, giving him a pleased smile. "The air's still pretty warm. Maybe later."
"I'll be back in a minute with your drinks," Riva said, then looked up as the door opened again.
The evening progressed smoothly, just as Riva predicted. Tuesday nights weren't big evenings in the restaurant business, so she used them to give the kids a chance to get used to running both the front and back of the house before giving them charge over a busy summer Saturday night.
The program was a simple one, developed in conjunction with the East Side Community Center run by Pastor Webber. Get kids who'd grown up in the impoverished, blighted neighborhoods so common to food deserts access to fresh air, sunshine, and the earth. Teach them to grow their own food, and cook it, which enabled Riva to teach them about healthy eating. It also meant Riva could give back, pay for the mistakes she'd made, help other kids avoid the same mistakes.
Working in the front let things develop organically, for better or worse, in the kitchen. She liked waiting tables. Most of the recipes were her own, and getting feedback directly from customers enabled her to fine tune accordingly. It meant she was close if the kids really needed her, but not watching like one of the hawks circling over a field, ready to pounce on every single mistake.
The sun hung heavy over the tops of the cottonwood trees when Riva started lighting the candles on the unoccupied tables. She automatically looked up when the door opened and saw a single man standing there, his face hidden by the shadows. Tall and lean, he was nothing but a silhouette of a male figure in a suit, nothing that should have made her heart thunk hard against her chest and adrenaline dump into her nervous system. All her muscles screamed at her to drop the box of matches and bolt.
Don't be ridiculous, her brain told her body.
Then he took another step forward, far enough into the light for Riva to see his face. She knew she should have trusted her body, but by then it was too late.
Officer Hawthorn stood in her restaurant.
Kiara approached him, menu in hand. Riva couldn't hear their conversation over her blood thrumming in her ears, but she could decipher it well enough based on the way he looked around, then the way Kiara extended her arm.
She'd seated him in Riva's section. A two top, in the corner. He always sat with his back to the wall. Riva remembered that well enough from seven years earlier. The table gave him a view of all entrances, doors, and the parking lot.
"Blaze on table fourteen," Kiara said to Riva, using the kitchen's slang for a hot customer.
Riva stifled a hysterical laugh. Ian Hawthorn was a blaze in every sense of the word, hot, and so dangerous she should turn and run. She could ask someone else to take the table. It wasn't a practice she encouraged, as it led to confusion in the restaurant, and there was no advantage to it for the kids. All tips were pooled and split among the kitchen staff and servers at the end of the night. They worked for one another, not just for themselves.
Worse, if she asked another server to take the table, the kids would wonder why. In milliseconds, they'd peg Hawthorn for a cop and start asking questions that would lead them to her past, to the mistakes she'd made, to the girl she'd left behind. Right now her goal was to serve him and get him out of the restaurant before anything happened to jeopardize the life she'd built.
Besides, it had to happen sometime, meeting him again. She'd been dreading this for the last seven years. Might as well get it over with, so she could move on. He was her past; this was her future.
Shoulders squared, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then plucked her notebook from her apron as she walked to the table. "Welcome to Oasis. My name's Riva and I'll be taking care of you tonight."
The look on his face when she started talking was almost worth what it cost her to walk across the floor and talk to him. His jaw literally dropped open.
Excerpted from Turn Me Loose by Anne Calhoun. Copyright © 2017 Anne Calhoun. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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