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Maggie was on her way to answer the pounding at her front door when she hollered, "Who is it?"
"Matt Dillon with the Bangor Police Department, ma'am."
The police? Maggie peered through the peephole before opening the door.
"Is this your dog?"
Her startled green eyes clashed briefly with the mirror-covered eyes of the police officer, before slowly traveling over his magnificent, uniformed length. Goodness, when did the police start wearing shoulder pads? It looked like his uniform was poured over him, revealing how powerful he was, how well built. She tried not to react to the prominent outline beneath his zipper, but she felt heat flood her face.
Then her gaze landed on the object of his unfriendly inquiry and she forgot all about him as an attractive man. What she saw caused her heart to plummet. She closed her eyes and groaned with disbelief. There at his heel, teeth clamped in a death grip in the black leather of his boot, was her small toy poodle. Under normal circumstances the situation would have been funny. And had the man not been a police officer. But he was, and one clearly not amused by the five-pound furball attached to him. Maggie couldn't see his eyes, but his tone left no doubt that he was aggravated and found nothing amusing about his current situation.
She kept her gaze lowered and strived for composure. The sight of a two hundred-pound man dragging a tiny poodle behind him caused a smile to flicker on her mouth. However, when her gaze moved up to his again she reined in the amusement threatening to spill over by promptly biting down on her bottom lip. He'd removed his dark sunglasses. And if the icy look he turned on herwas any indication, she was in trouble.
"Good idea," he said, as though knowing she'd been about to smile.
"Dammit, let go!" Maggie knew full well that yelling wouldn't work, but she gave it a try anyway. Once her loyal protector sank her teeth into something, nothing short of her favorite treat would coax her into letting go of her prize. Maggie's mind drifted back to the empty box of doggie biscuits in the trashcan. "Dammit, please don't get me into trouble," she said half under her breath.
"You're too late."
She wondered what that meant, probably a ticket. Ignoring the towering hunk of gorgeous man she bent to her faithful dog. She petted the small black head lovingly and glared into the brown eyes looking up at her, but small canine teeth refused to release the chewy prize in her mouth. As if to back up her stubbornness, she growled.
"Come on, baby," Maggie pleaded softly, praying that for once Dammit listened to her. "You don't want that nasty, old, policemen's boot." She hoped he didn't take offense. "I..."
"I have a better idea, why don't I just take my gun out and shoot him." His tone was full of sarcasm.
Maggie shot him a furious glare from her kneeling position, not about to call his bluff. She had to look up a long way to meet his hostile, impatient stare. The man had to be six foot five if he was an inch. Six foot five of solid, sexy muscle.
Apparently, without a sense of humor.
She gave him her best damsel in distress look, even batting her eyelashes. He crossed his arms and raised a brow but she refused to be intimidated by him. "Her," Maggie said with false sweetness, tightening her mouth with annoyance. "Dammit is a girl."
He growled something low in his throat, clearly getting more impatient by the minute. "If you're going to take the time to coax her into letting go at least let's do it inside your apartment."
Even as he spoke he slowly ushered Maggie backwards. With every step he took Dammit growled threateningly, giving his heel a vicious tug. The whole thing was ridiculous, and a chuckle escaped Maggie before she could stop it. She lost her balance.
"Go ahead and laugh, lady, but I guarantee I'll have the last one." His tone held a mild threat in it.
Really? Did he even know how to smile?
Maggie stared up at him from her undignified position on the floor, biting her bottom lip to keep from snapping something back. She ran her hand gently over Dammit again, speaking to her in a tone she saved especially for her dog, when what she really wanted to do was ring her little neck for getting her into this predicament. The last thing she needed right now was more trouble.
"Has she got pit bull in her or what?" he demanded from above. "I've never heard of a vicious toy poodle."
"It's your uniform," Maggie explained in a sugar-coated voice, deciding to ignore his insult about Dammit. "Don't feel honored because she treats the mailman and the meter reader the same way." She didn't add that they were used to Dammit's ways and usually came prepared with a treat for her.
"In other words, you can't control your dog," he growled, Dammit growled, and Maggie rolled her eyes.
Goodness, she'd think he was fighting off a Saint Bernard or something. She glared at Dammit, giving out her own looks that could kill. Finally, as if Dammit understood the building tension in the air she dashed off in the direction of the bedroom.
Releasing a sigh, Maggie leaned back on her knees and thanked God while she was in the position. When she opened her eyes it was with some surprise to see his black boots were still in front of her. He hadn't moved an inch. She raised her gaze to his silent scrutiny, feeling a rush of heat fill her cheeks when she realized his eyes were focused somewhere beneath her chin. Reaching up, she was mortified to find that her terry robe had parted.
Damn it! Her predicament with him was only getting worse. She clutched the material closed over her breasts with one hand and the other went for the arm of the overstuffed chair. She was halfway to her feet when a loud crash from the bedroom startled them both.
Dammit began barking wildly. They moved in unison, but Maggie had barely taken a step when she was grabbed from behind and pushed out of the way. "Stay put." Her jaw dropped with surprise. She watched Officer Handsome's hand slowly move to the weapon at his side, as he approached her bedroom cautiously.
Maybe it was a good thing he was there after all. She didn't exactly live in a nice neighborhood. The police were called there on a regular basis. Yet Dammit had stopped barking, which prompted Maggie into ignoring the officer's command. She followed him to her room, and paused in the threshold to take in the scene. Her stomach churned. She had a good idea what had happened and who had caused the mess in her usually tidy bedroom.
David ... it had to be.
A rock had been thrown through her window. Dammit was sitting on the bed, staring through the torn fragments of what five minutes ago had been pretty lace sheers. Maggie crossed her arms, realizing David's childish behavior was beginning to get out of hand. His harassing phone calls had turned to stalking. Maybe it was time to inform his parole officer that he was up to his old tricks again.
"You don't look very concerned about this."
Maggie unwillingly met the officer's eyes, wondering how long he'd been watching her. She was very concerned. David had a mean streak in him. And she'd ended up in the hospital more than once from one of his drunken, drug-induced rages. The last one had ended up in divorce and had sent him to prison.
Movement caused her to snap back into reality. She watched him replace his gun back in the holster and move away from the window. Something on her bed caught his attention and he halted. She followed his gaze and cringed inwardly. There were two things in life Maggie spoiled herself on, good perfume and expensive lingerie. On the bed next to Dammit, laid out in a tiny bit of shinny black satin was her newest piece purchased the day before; something to make her feel sexy and pretty when she had no one to feel sexy and pretty for.
"Some guard dog." He practically sneered. He pinched the bridge of his nose. An action that revealed he might be tired.
Maggie wondered why he sounded so angry. And she didn't like the way his eyes were narrowing on her either. She fought the urge to back away. "It's someone I know." She could at least admit that much. Just thinking that David was in the area caused a knot of unease to form in her stomach, but she was determined not to expose her fears.
"A good friend?" He came to a halt in front of her. Maggie was forced to tilt her head in order to meet the storm simmering in his eyes. She felt ridiculously small next to him, even for her five foot eight inch stature.
She chose to ignore his question. David had never been a good anything as far as she was concerned. She was hardly going to admit that her ex-husband was the one she suspected had broken her window. Or tell him that he was a junked-up lunatic recently released from prison for good behavior. Good behavior, huh! It was only because she hadn't reported him that he was still on the street in the first place.
"Well?" It was clear he wanted an answer. He crossed his arms. "Who are you protecting?"
Maggie met his level stare and shrugged. "It's probably just one of the neighborhood boys out for a good time. Trying to scare little old ladies..."
"Let's hope breaking windows is the only good time he's out for ... lady." His eyes darkened with emotion. "That kind of naive thinking can get you killed."
Maggie reminded herself that she was twenty-eight, not seventeen anymore. "Don't worry; I've lived in this neck of the woods for a long time. I can take care of myself." Eight years in a rotten marriage had at least shown her that much. She'd survived and was a survivor and she supposed living in one of the roughest neighborhoods in town had taught her a lesson or two. Like how she couldn't wait to get out of there. In spite of the stand she was taking Maggie felt her chin quiver. She hated the show of weakness, but thinking about David had always had the power to shake her confidence.
It was an action that obviously didn't go unnoticed by the officer's sharp eyes. "Is someone harassing you?" His tone was suddenly all business.
Maggie realized with his training he probably didn't miss much. She was scared, she was vulnerable and she was running. In spite of those things she was taking a stand in something she probably couldn't win. Not alone anyway. And there was no way she was going to admit to anything.
"Well?" He raised a brow.
Maggie got the impression he'd stand there for as long as it took her to answer him. Eyes the color of warm chocolate carefully scrutinized her, momentarily drawing her into a seductive trap before she caught herself and pulled back. Wow ... he certainly knew how to work those sexy eyes to his advantage.
"Look, Officer, do I look frightened?" Maggie knew the second the challenging words left her mouth it was a stupid thing to say. She'd made up her mind that she wasn't going to back down to anyone again, no matter how frightened she was. Besides, why did he care anyway? It's not as if she'd called him for help. If it hadn't been for Dammit, she glared at her dog, they wouldn't even be having this conversation. "I can take care of my..." She started to repeat.
He moved so fast Maggie didn't have a chance to blink. His advance forced her to take several quick steps back until she was flush against the wall. She gasped and shrank away from him as he closed the distance between them with blinding speed, but she could only go so far. He continued forward, bracing his hands on the wall on either side of her head. His expression seemed savage, his nostrils flaring as he leaned in close. What had she done to get such a strong reaction out of him?
"Lady, you put on a good show but I'm not buying it. I've been a cop long enough to sense something's going on. I don't believe the bull you're feeding me. Your show of bravado can land you in a lot of hot water."
His warm breath slapped Maggie in the face and she lowered her arms, ignoring the impulse to push him away. He didn't frighten her, not really. He'd just caught her unaware. David had taught her what physical abuse by a man's hands was like. For a split second she'd felt unreasoning fear, until reminding herself this man was a cop. He was paid to protect people.
She let her guard down as a wave of relief washed over her. "Is this the best intimidation tactic you have?" Something warned Maggie she was playing with fire baiting him that way. But as usual she spoke before she thought. His eyes narrowed but Maggie held her ground. As the silence stretched between them she began to notice other things. Like how smooth and sensual his lips were, how sexy the five o'clock shadow made his firm jaw look.
Waves of heat rolled off his too close body, enveloping her, making her sweat beneath the heavy robe she was wearing. Maggie felt it run down her neck and between her breasts. He was so close she was afraid to take a deep breath. Unwanted desire uncoiled in her belly and her nipples tingled, catching her by surprise. His intimidation was working all right but in ways she was certain he hadn't intended.
She couldn't take the tension building between them any longer and blurted out the first thought that came to her mind. "Are you going to frisk me?" She smiled.
His brows rose at her remark, the slightest twitching on his lips indicated he was holding back his own smile. "What if I tell you I'm not a cop?"
Not a cop? Who is he trying to fool? Her eyes moved over him slowly. He was certainly attired in the appropriate uniform. And he appeared to have all the equipment that went with the profession.
Then a humorous thought struck Maggie. "You're not a male stripper, are you?" She had the feeling he wasn't pleased with her mild reaction to his admission.
"Does anything get to you, or are you just a good actress?" he asked softly.
"Some things get to me," she admitted reluctantly. He was definitely getting to her. She'd never reacted so quickly to a man before. She'd had plenty of opportunities for sexual relationships, too. Maggie wasn't vain, she knew men found her attractive, but she was the one who always turned away from any entanglements.
So, why all of a sudden did she find herself reacting to this man, and on a purely sexual level? What a time for her body to awaken to long-suppressed yearnings, when she couldn't pursue them. She'd be leaving for a new life in Summerfield in three days and she wasn't coming back.
Maggie's gaze remained locked on his, mesmerized by the glint of humor reflected there. Before she could respond, the phone rang. He stepped back, allowing her enough room to scoot past him. She headed for the kitchen and reached for the phone where it hung on the wall. By the time she turned back toward her bedroom he was walking toward the door. It was just as well. She swung around to shut out the sight of him leaving.
Maggie's heart skipped several beats before sinking to the pit of her stomach. David!
"You there, baby?"
"What do you want, David?" She didn't bother hiding the contempt in her tone. It went against her nature to dislike anyone but she truly hated her ex-husband.
"You have to ask? You know what I want." He paused as if to make sure his next words had the desired effect. He enjoyed goading her and always had. "You, baby. I miss you."
Maggie rolled her eyes. "That's too bad, you can't have me." She would have hung up if she thought it would do any good. How many times had she changed her number? And somehow David always managed to get the new one.
"Two years is a long time, baby. I need you." He'd only recently been released from prison. "I'm coming home. Have you been waiting for me?"
He couldn't come home; she had a restraining order against him. He was breaking it by even calling her. If she was certain he'd been the one who'd thrown the rock through her bedroom window she wouldn't hesitate to have him picked up. "David ... I'm going to hang up."
"I asked you a question." His tone was low and dangerous reminding Maggie of all the times he'd put his hands on her and hurt her. She hesitated from hanging up. Even over the phone when he used that hateful tone of voice it had the power to run shivers down her spine and frighten her into doing what he wanted. She swallowed hard, hating him more than she ever thought possible. And hating herself for revealing that weakness. She reminded herself that unless he could reach through the phone he couldn't touch her now.
"No, I didn't wait for you," she hissed at him. Self-preservation made her hesitate from saying more until she finally gave into the need to hurt him anyway she could. "I've had dozens of lovers." It was a lie. That he'd pushed her to admit such a thing made her sick. David was the only man she'd ever been intimate with, but she wouldn't give him that satisfaction.
"You lying bitch!" His tone was hard and gritty, and Maggie could well imagine the ugly sneer on his expression. "I've seen you since I got out. I've been watching our apartment. If I thought another man had touched you..." He didn't finish the threat, for which Maggie was thankful.
She stiffened and took a deep breath to steady her nerves, her heart picking up speed at his admission. No sooner had she slammed the receiver down when it rang again. She stood there listening to it until she couldn't take anymore. "David, please leave me alone!"
"You still need me; we were good together..."
"We were never good together!" Her stomach started to hurt. "Please ... it's over now." Why couldn't he just leave her alone? "Get on with your life like I'm going to do."
"No one is going to have you but me, Maggie, till death do us part, remember? You can fix that window but nothing will keep me from you. You..."
"Oh God, David ... you're sick." Maggie never thought he'd actually admit to breaking the window. And that meant he was close by. She closed her eyes and shook her head slowly in disbelief. "I'm going to call your parole officer tomorrow. I'm going to tell him everything you've been doing. You're dangerous..."
"Damn right I'm dangerous!" he screamed back at her. "And you know what else? I'm going to have you." He paused. "Maybe even tonight..."
"I wouldn't advise it." She kept her voice steady, determined he wouldn't hear the fear his words evoked. She felt compelled to issue her own threat. "I have a gun and I'll use it." Was that her voice sounding so cool and in control? It was all a sham. She felt sick inside.
"Threatening me, baby? Guess you never learned your lesson. I'll be seeing you, sooner than you think!"
"David..." But it was too late; he'd already hung up. Damn him. She threw her hands over her face and shuddered visibly. "Oh God!" she whispered sharply.
"Another good ... friend?"
Maggie shrieked and spun around, her hand covering her heart. "I thought you'd gone!" She'd turned around so fast that the clip holding her hair came undone, releasing an abundance of long russet hair that fell halfway down her back. She heard the clip hit the floor but didn't give it a second thought.
Their eyes locked, bright green to intense brown. He had paused in the doorway to her apartment, one hand on the doorknob, and it was obvious he'd heard the whole conversation and had drawn his own conclusions.
"The same friend," Maggie replied, trying to recall what he might have overheard. Heat ran up her neck when she remembered telling David she'd had dozens of lovers.
Do I what? Surely he wasn't asking her if she'd had dozens of lovers. She sank her teeth into her bottom lip, pondering his question for a minute. She was well aware the unthinking words she'd flung at David had been stupid, but as usual he'd managed to get a reaction out of her. Now she was faced with the grim expression on Matt's handsome face, feeling at a disadvantage. Was he actually worried about her?
"Do ... you?" he demanded softly, too softly, his eyes glittering.
Maggie had the feeling it wouldn't take much to send him over the edge. "Do I have a lot of lovers?"
He closed his eyes, shook his head, and muttered through his teeth. "Do ... you ... have ... a ... gun?" Each word was spaced evenly and spoken as though he was in great pain.
"Oh, that! No." Maggie smiled at the pained expression on his face, until he opened his eyes and caught her. She could tell he was annoyed and for some reason that amused her.
His brows shot up at her comment. "I don't know if your answer should reassure me or scare me. You're definitely too dangerous to have a weapon at your disposal."
"Don't worry about me. I've..."
"Your friend wouldn't happen to be an ex-husband, would he?"
"He's an ex everything," Maggie admitted with a sigh of disappointment. "But I can handle him."
Dammit chose that moment to enter the room. Maggie glanced down at her beloved pet with a tolerant smile, until she saw what was hanging from her mouth. Her eyes widened with a mixture of shock and fear as she saw eighty-five dollars worth of lingerie go down the drain. Before she could react the little traitor pranced straight over to Matt and dropped the delicate satin right at his booted feet.
Maggie bolted forward to get it but she was too late. Moving with a speed she'd think would be hard for a man of his size, he bent and scooped the intimate garment from the floor. She halted, holding her breath as Matt unfolded the garment and held it up for inspection. Then snatched it from him, embarrassed because it still had the price tag on it. She crumbled it into a little ball before forcing it into the pocket of her robe.
This time when the phone broke the silence Matt did leave. Without so much as a goodbye, see you later, or anything. He pivoted sharply and pulled the door behind him.
Maggie reached for the phone, her eyes glued to the door as he slowly closed it. She felt the sting of something hot behind her eyes, and that was ridiculous. They were strangers and would probably never see each other again, so why was she feeling as if someone vitally important just walked out of her life?
"Hi, hon." It was her mother. "I called to remind you about tonight."
Maggie rolled her eyes, wishing she could forget all about that night and the promise she'd made. The thought of dressing up as a call girl and parading down Main Street wasn't her idea of a way to spend a good time, especially when it was illegal. But once her mother got an idea into her head nothing stopped her, particularly if it had anything to do with research for one of her hot romance novels. She wasn't known as "The Queen of Steam" for nothing.
"I told you I'd do it," Maggie said, unable to put any enthusiasm in her tone.
"I know but I thought you might be having second thoughts. If I didn't need some vital information for my next book..."
Maggie knew what was going to follow. How many times had her mother gotten her involved in some outrageous scheme to attain vital information for one of her books? A plan, Maggie should remind her, that often backfired.
She listened patiently as her mother went through the whole familiar lecture, trying to convince her it was a good idea and if there was anyone else she could ask to help her she would. She reminded her how well it paid, which was true, her mother was very generous to her. Maggie loved her mother dearly but honestly sometimes she only heard what she wanted to hear.
"If you're worried about what to wear don't be. I did some shopping on my way here from Summerfield and picked up everything you're going to need. You know that little shop down on Benson?"
"The Spice of Life? Mother, tell me you didn't get me something to wear from there!" She couldn't imagine her mother even going into such a risqué place.
"Well, of course I didn't go in there! I made Trudy do it." She let out a hearty chuckle. "I practically had to threaten to fire her to get her in there but in the end she went. And she picked up some pretty racy things, too."
In spite of herself Maggie couldn't hold back a smile at the childlike enthusiasm in her mother's voice. If she could see her mother's face she knew it would hold the same naive expression her excited tone implied. Her mother might be fifty-eight but she didn't look her age and she certainly never acted it. "Like what?" She wanted to know what she was in for. She was proud of her body but she didn't want to go around half naked.
"You'll see tonight, dear. I'll see you at seven and don't be late!"
Before Maggie could get in another word the line went dead. Typical of what her mother liked to do in order to get the last word. She replaced the receiver, mumbling. What in the world had she gotten herself into? Well, she might as well get used to it. In three days she was moving back home and would be subject to her mother's whims.
She was looking forward to being close to her family. At close to thirty she couldn't help feeling the eight years married to David were wasted. Who wouldn't? There were no children, no mortgages, nor any of the nice things married couples usually accumulated through the years. There was nothing. Not even a good memory to hold onto. She wouldn't miss Bangor and the farther she got away from David the better.
The only thing Maggie was taking with her was her personal items, Dammit, and her '67 Mustang. Inheriting a small log cabin from Granny Markham couldn't have come at a better time, and she was looking forward to the change living in the country would bring. She'd be less than ten miles away from her parents, even less from her sister Sue and the twins. She was moving on with her life and it felt like things were finally falling into place.
She glanced at the clock on the wall over the sofa surprised to see it was almost twelve. Where has the morning gone? There was only seven hours left before she was due at her mother's hotel room. And plenty of loose ends to tie up between now and Thursday morning, when she left.
"I'm not wearing this." Maggie felt like she was wearing less than she would be in one of her revealing teddies. A glance in the full-length mirror showed her that it was worse than she thought. Heat spread throughout her whole body when it dawned on her that it would make an obvious statement at what her profession was.
She certainly looked the part of a prostitute but the clothes Trudy had grabbed for her were too small. Perhaps that had been done on purpose, knowing how her mother's mind worked. She wouldn't put it past her giving Trudy the wrong size to make sure she looked as slutty as she could. Everything was too short, too tight, and too revealing.
"I won't have to worry about being arrested for prostitution, Mom; they'll get me for indecent exposure first."
"You look wonderful, dear." Ruth ran a critical eye over Maggie, ignoring her secretary's snicker behind her. "Well ... you look the part," she compromised.
That was an understatement. She stood passively, staring at the slut in the mirror, while her mother, dressed to perfection in a linen suit and not a hair out of place, made several trips around her to put on the finishing touches. Lord, please don't let me run into anyone I know! She'd never live it down.
She took in her reflection, from the wild mass of teased hair, the layers of heavy makeup and the gaudy jewelry, right down to the tight blouse that was an ugly shade of orange, a color which Maggie never wore because of her skin coloring and hair. Her eyes lowered, taking in the short black leather skirt and extremely high heels, which put her at the six-foot mark. She'd probably break a leg trying to walk in these things. Her bright red lips turned up in a smile. That would certainly ruin her mother's well laid out plans.
"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary." Her mother stopped in front of her, a twinkle of humor gleaming in her green eyes. "What do you think, Trudy?"
Maggie exchanged looks with Trudy, who'd been her mother's best friend and confidant since before she and her sister, Sue, were born.
"I think she looks like a prostitute," Trudy said bluntly, her brown eyes running over Maggie with matronly distaste. "I only hope you two know what you're doing."
"You worry too much," Ruth scolded mildly. "It's missing something."
Maggie burst out laughing. "It's missing a lot!" She winked at Trudy in an effort to reassure her. They'd both been through a lot with her mother. Before Maggie could turn back she was being sprayed down with the heady scent of her mother's favorite perfume. She held her breath until the mist settled.
"I can't help but wonder what your father would say if he were here," Trudy remarked, wrinkling her nose at the strong fragrance in the air.
"Thank goodness he isn't. He's an old stick-in-the-mud anyway," Ruth grated, moving to the dresser to pick up a small beaded handbag.
Maggie kept quiet about her mother's criticism, only because she knew how much her parents loved one another. She supposed their being separated a lot of the time while her mother was off gathering research for a novel, or at one of her many book signings, kept their relationship strong. That and the fact her father had plenty of patience.
"Am I done?" Maggie avoided looking in the mirror again, before she changed her mind and ran home screaming with her tail tucked between her legs. The evening hadn't begun yet and she couldn't wait for it to be over.
Ruth handed her the small bag. "Now you're done." She smiled. "Do you think you can do this?" Maggie knew there could only be one answer and nodded affirmatively.
Ruth's smile grew wider and her eyes became even brighter. "Good! Now here's the plan..."