A fine specimen, p.1
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       A Fine Specimen, p.1

           Lisa Marie Rice
 
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A Fine Specimen


  A Fine Specimen

  Lisa Marie Rice

  Lieutenant Alex Cruz eats, sleeps and breathes law enforcement. He’s tough and brusque, and cops and criminals alike tremble before him. And that’s the way he likes it. Until he meets Caitlin Summers—and decides he wants her trembling beneath him.

  The beautiful scholar is doing dissertation research in his cop shop, and seriously messing with his head. His self-imposed sexual abstinence comes to a screeching halt in Caitlin’s ratty hotel room and dies a permanent death in his bed…and his kitchen…and his living room. Caitlin is also intelligent and funny, kind and generous, her smile a burst of warmth in his cold, austere life. And that scares the crap out of him.

  With his head and heart fighting a battle of wills, Alex can barely concentrate on work. And that’s too bad—because his dangerous job and his newfound love are about to clash in the worst way possible.

  A Romantica® contemporary erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave

  Publisher Note: A Fine Specimen was previously released by another publisher under the title Taming Nick.

  A Fine Specimen

  Lisa Marie Rice

  Chapter One

  “What the fuck!”

  Lieutenant Alex Cruz’s bellow could be heard clear across the station house. He fucking meant it to be heard. He was seriously annoyed and he didn’t care who knew it.

  “Yo, boss.” Sergeant Ben Cade cautiously stuck his head around the door and looked at him out of half-moon glasses. He pulled a pencil out of a Brillo-pad head of graying red hair. “You barked?”

  “What the hell does this mean?” Alex tapped the report in front of him. Just touching the ink on the paper disgusted him. Alex had definite ideas on the way things should be and what was in the report violated every single one of them.

  Ben moved warily into the room, leaving the door open. Ben was a friend, except when he screwed up. Alex knew he was leaving the door open on purpose, in case Ben thought he needed a quick escape. Alex was also aware his temper was the stuff of urban myth and he did nothing to quell the rumors. He knew perfectly well that he was used as a boogeyman to scare new recruits.

  The rumors that he ate newbies for breakfast were highly exaggerated.

  He’d once overheard Ben telling a wide-eyed rookie that when Lieutenant Cruz was in a mood, his office was Never Never Land—you never, never wanted to go there. It wasn’t true. Not much, anyway.

  Except for right now.

  Ben knew when Alex was pretending to be mad and when it was the real thing. Right now was definitely the real deal. Alex was furious.

  “Ah…” Ben said, looking from the report to Alex’s face—gauging blowup potential—back to the report, Alex’s face, the report. The very molecules in the air crackled with tension. Whatever Ben was going to say was lost as he closed his mouth with an audible click.

  “He gave you the slip.” Alex’s mouth tightened, his jaw muscles clenched. He found it hard to speak, he was so furious. “The fucking sonovabitch just fucking upped and…slipped away from you.”

  Ben didn’t have to ask who “he” was. “He” was Martin “Ratso” Colby, the man they were all hoping would lead to the downfall of Angelo Lopez, a mobster who had been terrorizing Baylorville for years. PD had learned through a snitch that Ratso had been keeping the mobster’s books. At this point, Ratso would know enough to put Lopez away for twenty years on tax evasion. The scumbag had murdered at least four people that Alex knew of, but nothing could be pinned on Lopez. Tax evasion was okay, if it could put him behind bars. A lot of evidence would come out once Lopez was safely put away. Cockroaches would come out from under rocks and start singing.

  Tossing Lopez in the bucket had become Alex Cruz’s personal crusade. Alex ate, slept and dreamed of Lopez—behind bars. Off the streets, the latest girlfriend of some Aryan Nation bruiser.

  Alex loved the idea of that.

  So far it was proving impossible, though everyone knew what Lopez was. Lopez was too savvy to leave hard evidence behind. He operated through layers of minions and was untouchable. But once Alex had found out that Ratso was keeping Lopez’s books, that muscle in his chest that in other people was a heart simply warmed. Alex knew Ratso Colby. Everyone on the Baylorville PD knew Ratso Colby. They all knew he had two passions—money and staying out of jail. Ratso could be induced to spill the beans on Lopez with the threat of jail time.

  If, that is, the police could ever get their hands on him. Ratso had disappeared. There’d been a Baylorville Police Department BOLO out on Ratso for a week, but up until now they had come up empty-handed.

  Ratso was the Bill Gates of numbers, no one better, but other than that, he was no rocket scientist and had zero street smarts. Alex couldn’t figure out what Baylorville PD was doing wrong. He could feel the tension rising as day after day went by with no Ratso.

  And today they’d almost caught him.

  Fuck! They’d almost caught him!

  “How?” Alex’s jaws clenched so hard he was surprised his back teeth didn’t shoot out his ears. “How the hell did that runt get away from four of Baylorville’s finest? Wrestle them to the ground?”

  They were both silent for a moment, thinking of Ratso’s miserably puny physique.

  “No, um…” Alex had watched Ben interrogate hardened killers while munching on a sandwich, but now he was breaking into a sweat. “To tell the truth—”

  “Yes, Sergeant? Please do tell me how it happened,” Alex interrupted silkily, and Ben winced. Ben knew him well. When Alex used that tone, a smart man, a prudent man would turn tail and run. Alex watched Ben eye the open door with longing. The hell with that. He wasn’t getting away that easily.

  Alex placed his hands palm down on his desk and leaned forward. “So please tell me how a punk like Ratso could escape four armed and well-trained police officers. Did I waste Baylorville PD’s budget buying every single one of my officers a brand-new 9 millimeter Glock 17? Well, Sergeant? Did I? Shit!” Alex slammed his fist on his desk, making papers flutter. He felt like his head was going to explode. “You guys know Ratso has the goods on Lopez. You know we can get him to talk. All we have to do is apply a little bit of pressure and Ratso will crack like a nut. We were this close,” Alex’s index finger and thumb were half an inch apart and half an inch from Cade’s nose, “this close to possibly nailing Angelo Lopez.” He made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat, the growl a frustrated wolf would make. “I’ve got half a mind to have you all transferred to Hubcaps.”

  Assignment to the boring busywork of the Stolen Vehicles Department was every cop’s worst nightmare. Cade took a deep breath. “Look here, boss—”

  “I’m not the boss,” Alex interrupted. “Ray Avery is. And will continue to be until he retires.”

  Cade shrugged his heavy shoulders. “In a coupla weeks. But okay, whatever you say—you’re the boss.” Everyone in the station house had long ago accepted the fact that when Avery retired, which was at the end of the month, Alex would be the new captain.

  Alex didn’t give a shit what other people thought. His own loyalty to Ray was absolute. As long as Ray Avery was formally captain, Alex was his. Ray was The Man. Always had been. Always would be.

  “So tell me how you let him slip through your fingers.” Alex sat back in his chair, fingers steepled under his chin. Calm, still, watching. Alex focused his attention like a laser beam. He didn’t mean for Cade to be comfortable.

  Cade shifted his shoulders, trying and failing to look away for a moment. “Well, we were down digging around the Trey.”

  Cruz nodded. The downtown block between 33rd and 3rd was a cesspool. The perfect swamp for a bottom feeder like Ratso.

  “And we cornered Ratso at the Fat Lady. He gave up w
ithout a fight. Then he asked to go to the john.” Cade lifted his shoulders and sighed. “I mean—what you gonna do? I’m not getting any younger. I’m starting to have those problems too. We let him go.”

  “Did any of you jokers actually check the john?” Alex asked softly.

  “Hey.” Cade puffed up in indignation. “Of course we did. What do you take us for?” Alex didn’t even blink. “Okay…okay. Yeah. I went in with Ratso. It was a perfectly normal two-stall bathroom. No one else was there.” Cade held up a large-palmed hand. “I checked. Honest.”

  “What you didn’t check, apparently, were the windows,” Alex growled.

  “Window,” Cade corrected. “One window, for the record, and it was fucking tiny. One miserable, filthy, tiny window. A foot by a foot. Who woulda thought—”

  “You should have thought,” Alex interrupted heatedly, leaning forward, hands clutching the edge of his desk with white knuckles. “Ratso’s built like a boy. He just slithered through and was in the wind before you guys finished picking the lint out of your bellybuttons.” He picked up a black pen and began tapping it on the desk, staring as Cade squirmed. Finally he sighed. “Well, that’s that. Put out another BOLO—”

  “Done,” Cade said hastily.

  “And fill out a warrant, just in case—”

  “Ditto.”

  “Well.” Alex sat thinking for a few minutes, running scenarios through his head, but it all came back to the same thing. His men had fucked up. He drummed his fingers once, hard, on the scarred oak desk. It sounded loud in the silence. He blew out a breath to relieve a little stress. “Okay. Okay. There’s not much more that can be done until Ratso resurfaces. And when he does, we’ll nail him and he’ll flip. We can book him on a few minor counts that carry some jail time and he knows it, so he’ll talk. Oh yeah, he’ll talk.” Alex pursed his lips and treated Cade to a long, level gaze. “I guess that’s it for now.”

  Cade blew out a long sigh of relief himself, knowing it was all over. Alex’s men knew that he might blow up, but it blew over quickly. And he didn’t hold grudges.

  Alex was already putting Ratso’s escape from his mind when Cade cleared his throat. Clearing throats was not a good thing, particularly coming from someone who should have already disappeared, grateful that Alex hadn’t handed him his ass on a stick.

  Alex looked up to see Cade obviously trying to brace himself. He had something else to say and it wasn’t going to be good. What was this? Alex’s bad news quota today had already been exceeded. His mouth tightened. “What?”

  “Here, boss.” Cade handed over an envelope.

  “I’m not the boss,” Alex said between his teeth.

  “Right, boss. Anything you say.”

  Alex rolled his eyes then glanced curiously at the white envelope. His name was neatly laser-printed in block letters. “Who’s it from?”

  “Um, Captain Avery. Sir. He said to say he was sorry he couldn’t stay, but he had to go out of town.” Cade was shifting his considerable weight uneasily from foot to foot, casting longing glances at the door. Alex narrowed his eyes. He could read body language. Cade knew what was in the letter and it wasn’t good. “Captain said to be sure to give the letter to you in person,” Ben added.

  Alex had already slit the envelope and was quickly perusing the contents. Then he frowned and started over again. Even after he’d read it two times, it still didn’t make sense. What the fuck was this?

  Alex began from the top again, though the letter wasn’t making any more sense the third time than it had the second or first. Behavioral psychology major…dissertation…C. Summers…seven days…

  What the fuck kind of sick joke was Ray playing on him?

  “What’s this crap?” Alex asked, his voice low and dangerous. He lifted his eyes from the letter. Sergeant Cade squirmed again, his stomach following a second behind his shoulders. It wasn’t a pretty sight. “Did you know about this?”

  “Nope. Not until, ah…”

  “Do you know what the old man wants me to do?” Alex’s voice rose as he leaned forward. He was feeling angry and aggrieved. This was not what he needed. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. “There’s some fucking scholar who wants to study…” Alex frowned at the paper he held in his hand then frowned at Cade, equally displeased with both. “‘Dominance Displays in Law Enforcement’. Can you imagine that? I’m supposed to allow some fucking pencil-dick geek to follow me around! Starting today. Fuck! Right when we’re in the fucking middle of this fucking mess. Right when I’m ready to nail that fucker Lopez. Now how the fuck am I supposed to do my job when—”

  “Excuse me,” a soft voice broke in.

  Alex switched his glare from Cade to the woman standing in his doorway.

  No, not woman—girl. Some high-schooler, to judge by the bag of books at her feet. Alex was too much of a cop not to notice everything about her and the more he looked, the more out of place she seemed in the cop shop.

  Pretty, not too tall. Long, pale blonde hair tied back in a messy ponytail, tendrils of which had escaped and were curling around her face. Big, pale blue eyes behind round metal-rimmed glasses. Very pretty. Wispy, ankle-length light blue dress. Long Indian-print jacket. Sneakers. Very, very pretty.

  What the hell was a high-schooler doing in a police station at eleven o’clock on a Friday morning? Why wasn’t she in school?

  Cade, the traitor, had slipped out while Cruz was focused on the girl.

  “Lieutenant Cruz?” Her voice barely rose above the background noise of the squad room behind her. She angled back and looked at the name stenciled on his door, then back at him. “Lieutenant Alejandro Cruz?”

  She wanted him? What the fuck was this? How did she have his first name? “Yeah, that’s me, miss.” Alex’s hand hovered over the morning’s reports. And yesterday’s reports. He was behind in everything and he didn’t need this. “You’ll excuse me if—”

  She cleared her throat. “May I speak with you a moment?”

  Alex pinched the bridge of his nose. Hard. It was shaping up to be one of those days. First Ratso Colby slithering his skinny frame through the toilet window of a skanky dive, taking with him Cruz’s best hope of nailing Angelo Lopez this year. Then Ray Avery siccing a geek on him. And not just any geek, no sirree. A geek who was supposed to spend a week glued to his side, getting in his way while he was working night and day to put Lopez away. What the fuck was that about? Ray knew better than that.

  And now fucking babies wandering in off the street, asking for him.

  Be polite now, Alex reminded himself. Don’t snap. The kid was going to grow up and vote some day and every police circular stressed good relations with the community.

  “Look, miss,” Cruz said in his best talking-to-baby-civilians voice. “This is not where you want to be. Trust me on this. Now if you go back down to the ground floor you’ll find a big desk, and behind that desk is the muster sergeant. He’s the one you want to talk to.”

  “No, I don’t want the muster sergeant.” The girl widened her stance, picked up her book bag and held it in front of her like a shield. She took a deep breath. “I need to talk to Lieutenant Alejandro Cruz.”

  “Well, that’s me, all right.” Alex tried to stretch his mouth into a reassuring smile and felt rarely used facial muscles balk. “And who the fu— Who are you?”

  “Caitlin Summers,” she said.

  “Well, look, Miss Summers, I don’t know what you want from—” Alex broke off, appalled. His brain spun. Caitlin Summers.

  Jesus. C. Summers.

  He rose slowly and his eyes widened in horror. “Dear sweet God, don’t tell me you’re—”

  “The fucking pencil-dick geek,” Caitlin Summers said softly. “Yes, I am.”

  Chapter Two

  Lieutenant Alejandro Cruz was the most alpha alpha male Caitlin had ever seen. Wow, this guy was definitely the leader of the pack, top gun, the apex of the food chain.

  A dominance hierarchy in a police station was just as ne
cessary as in a wolf pack, and for the same reason—to maintain order and reduce conflict in a group of aggressive beings. Otherwise the group—or pack—would disintegrate into prolonged bouts of dangerous, possibly fatal fighting. So someone had to be the alpha male—and the lieutenant was definitely it.

  On her way toward Lieutenant Cruz’s lair—office—Caitlin had noticed how, the closer she got to it, the more the easy banter and noise the officers made seemed to gradually fade, until silence reigned outside his office. Now that she’d seen him, she could understand why.

  Lieutenant Cruz was authority personified, alpha in every way there was. Totally a textbook case. His power didn’t rest with a huge physique or with status symbol clothes. Standing, he was much taller than she was, but then she wasn’t very tall. He had broad shoulders and was clearly very fit, but there were bigger men around. The man who’d been talking to Lieutenant Cruz, for example. He was a walking meat mountain. For all his size, however, that man could be overlooked in a room. Not Lieutenant Cruz. All eyes would immediately turn to the prime male.

  Lieutenant Cruz’s clothes were nondescript. White shirt, black tie, black trousers, black leather belt, which again was textbook. He didn’t need Armani or Versace or Hugo Boss clothes to prevail. He didn’t need to dress for power. He was power.

  There was power in the dark eyes, in the chiseled jaw, in the corded neck. Strength, authority and responsibility were right there, in every feature of his face, in every line of his body.

  He was watching her out of black eyes, his face without expression. The lines of his face were sharp, angular.

  Not for the first time, Caitlin wondered at Ray Avery’s advice. More than advice, really—insistence. Ray had been urging her for weeks to spend time in a station house to round out the information in her dissertation on Dominance Hierarchies in Law Enforcement.

  You’ll like Alex, Ray had said. He’s a nice man.

 
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