three years ago
Where the hell had he come from?
Pasadena Police Detective Sergeant Russell Bridger straightened and peered through his binoculars in annoyance at the young bicycle patrolman who came wheeling into the alley where Bridge’s vice squad team had set up today’s sting—the culmination of two months of risky undercover work and careful planning. This was not good. The targeted meth dealer was due to turn up any second now, along with the buyer, complete with heavily armed entourages. According to the team’s CI, today’s meet was supposed to be a major buy. And both parties had nasty reputations for shooting first and asking questions never.
This kid was going to get in the way.
“Who the f**k is that?” Jose’s growl came over Bridge’s earbud, along with the colorful curses of four other team members.
Jesus, could he look any more out of place in this rough neighborhood, with his new bike, shiny badge, and summer uniform of neat navy-blue shorts, crisp short-sleeved shirt, and APD baseball cap? Hell, he barely looked old enough to shave. Had he graduated from the academy last week, or what?
“Hold your positions,” Bridge murmured into his com. “Hopefully the kid’s just taking a shortcut.”
Bridge gave a mental groan when the rookie glided to a stop, dismounted his bike, and approached a homeless guy sleeping against the dirty brick wall. A homeless guy who was actually Chen, one of the team.
Right about that same time, a trio of trailer trash ninjas appeared in the mouth of the alley. The one in the middle was carrying an incongruously nice aluminum briefcase, filled with money no doubt, and the two flanking him were armed to the teeth.
“We got movement, Sarge,” Flip reported from his position on the roof. “Target’s vehicle approaching from the east.
Holy hell. “Chen, get that kid out of here, now,” Bridge ordered. “Light a goddamn fire.”
There was another round of curses in his ear as a sleek white Mercedes halted at the other end of the alley, blocking it off. Three bad guys emerged from the car with noticeable bulges under their fancy suits.
Effectively making the kid a bicycle rookie sandwich from hell.
F**king damn it.
Bridge didn’t even stop to think. He threw the binoculars at Jones, touched the Glock 21 tucked under his ratty, oversized T-shirt, and stumbled from his concealed doorway out into the alley, singing a loud, wheeling, drunken version of O Danny Boy. It was the first tune that popped into his mind. Possibly from too many gleefully boisterous renditions by his dad upon every single solitary festive occasion in his whole damned life.
Bridge almost smiled. But that would have blown his cover.
Chen said something sharply to the rookie, who proceeded to frown, then look up and down the alley like a f**king navy-blue neon sign that screamed Hey bad guys! Police set-up!
A feeling of absolute impending disaster swept over Bridge nanoseconds before the hail of bullets started flying. He started to run.
And lunged for the kid.
Sierra Madre, California
Three years later
Mary Alice Cathryn Flannery did not make mad, passionate love to men on the hood of her car.
Didn’t matter how hunky the guy from the road construction site down the street from her Sierra Madre Canyon cottage was. She had no plans to ask him out on a date when he stopped her vehicle on the way to work—or even flirt with him—and she definitely would not be having monkey sex with him on the hood of her SUV.
Which made it somewhat mortifying that he’d invaded her dreams all night, doing just that.
She, who hadn’t so much as looked at a man in three years, was suddenly having erotic dreams about the muscle-bound brain trust holding up a freaking stop sign on a road crew.
She was losing it. No doubt about it.
She bent down and swooped up the shards of her favorite coffee mug, flinging them into the kitchen rubbish bin—right on top of the remains of the half dozen eggs she’d splattered across the floor a few minutes earlier.
Seriously. They should make him put on a shirt. Every single female driver had her eyes glued to that ripped, tanned, hair-sprinkled chest. The man could cause an accident.
Sure, he was handsome enough to stir any woman’s blood—yeah, even hers. His body was hard and lean without an ounce to spare under those loose-hipped jeans. And the come-hither way he crooked his finger at her when he spun his sign from stop to slow, motioning her through the pitted construction site? Well, no wonder he induced snooze-button abusing dreams.
Still. It didn’t matter how provocative the sight of the man’s bare, muscular torso. Or how sexy the hint of spicy cologne, honest sweat, and canyon dust that drifted off that wide expanse of male flesh when he stood next to her open car window. Though granted, it was pretty darn sexy.
It was ironic, really. The first guy to get her engine going in three years, and his job was to hold up a stop sign.
Gawd. Was the universe trying to tell her something?
She yanked her flannel robe tighter over her breasts and groaned. The plastic noses of her Snoopy slippers clicked furiously on the hardwood floor as she marched to the bedroom and flung open the closet door. When she pulled a neat cotton blouse off its hanger, the top button sailed across the room, ricocheted off the vanity mirror, and landed smack in the middle of the unmade brass bed. She allowed one succinct expletive to escape.
Gritting her teeth, she glanced at the clock. With the long trail of distracted disasters this morning, she was running super late. Quickly, she shrugged on a loose, shapeless T-shirt dress over an equally shapeless sports bra—her usual garb for her job as a nursery school teacher. Frumpy? Maybe. But it was comfortable and bleachable. That’s what counted.
She hurriedly ran a comb through her long red hair. Lord, it just got redder and redder every summer. Only May, and already the sun had turned it bright enough to stop traffic. With a grimace, she gave it a final swipe and wound it into a twist.
There was nothing about her appearance that would attract the attention of a certain broad-shouldered Adonis. Definitely nothing to make him pin her to the hood of a car, lift her skirt, and—
How on earth would she ever face him this morning—the raven-haired man who’d had the starring role in dreams that even now left her knees weak and her body aching?
She gave herself a stern mental shake, slipped her feet into clogs, and clattered down the hall. She grabbed the oversized canvas bag that doubled as her purse on workdays and sailed out the front door. When she reached the SUV, she squeezed her eyes shut, barely resisting the urge to lay a hand on the hood.
“Hey there, Mary Alice!”
Her eyes sprang open and she spotted her neighbor, Charlie Watson, waving to her. His huge contemporary home towered over her miniature craftsman cottage. Charlie stood on the edge of his beloved water lily pond pulling out dead leaves and fussing with the buds and blooms, as he did every morning before leaving for work. For a bachelor, the man was a bit obsessive about his water lilies. Of course, she didn’t blame him. She was the same way about her treasured roses.
“Looks like it’s going to be another hot one,” he called over in a friendly voice.
She looked up at the sky, barely seeing it. She smiled and waved back. “Nice breeze, though.”
Charlie was a good neighbor—always keeping a protective eye out for her. His frequent parties were first class, if somewhat disorderly. And it was fun teasing him about his silly water lilies. He actually thought they were prettier than her roses.
With another wave, she turned back to her car. And frowned. There was a folded piece of paper fluttering under the windshield wiper. She pulled it out then gave a small gasp as she noticed the time on her watch. She’d barely make it to school before the kids got there at eight-thirty. Even worse than keeping the kids and parents waiting, she’d be forced to endure one of her boss Lucinda’s lectures on the virtues of punctuality.
Cramming the paper hastily into her pocket, she slid into the car, adjusted the seat-back straight up, and reversed out of the driveway, praying the stupid road construction wouldn’t delay her. Maybe they—meaning he—would be taking the day off.
The way her day was going? She should be so lucky.