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       Jacked, p.16

           Tina Reber
 
The way his eyes glinted and the tip of his tongue wet his bottom lip when he turned that heated gaze my way… oh God; he knew just exactly how to make me squirm, blush, and feel alive all at the same time.

  He measured me up and down, definitely waiting on a reply, one that I was afraid to answer truthfully. “Can I get back to you on that?”

  That sly grin warmed his face. “Yes, please do. I’ll wait.” He made a right onto Fairfax Road, snickering to himself.

  I left it at that. “So what happens if you find my original plate?”

  “Well,” he started, tapping his thumb on the wheel in tune with the music softly playing over the radio, “with any luck it will be attached to a stolen car. And if we’re really lucky, the thief who stole the car will be driving.”

  Picturing what he would do once he found the car thief was all too familiar. I had to shake off the slight shudder. “Then he gets to wear your cuffs.”

  “Yep. Then he gets to wear my cuffs. And then he gets to have his picture taken, we fill out a bunch of paperwork, and he gets a special visit with a judge. But I highly doubt we’ll ever find your plate. Just so you know.”

  I thought about how one idiot swapping my plate was the catalyst for Adam and I even meeting. “If you hadn’t been driving by this morning, I’d probably be in that Officer Asshole’s cuffs.”

  Adam growled. “Yeah, about that… You want to explain to me why he tried to get you for D.U.I.?”

  I felt foolish all over again, recounting the circumstances leading up to me hitting my head on my own damn steering wheel. “I think he recognized me from the diner. He seemed to enjoy causing me grief—just like he did to you the day we had breakfast.”

  I saw the hint of anger on his face, though he was holding most of it in. “You want to talk about it?”

  “Talk about what?”

  “What his beef is with you?”

  Adam’s shoulder dropped slightly, hinting at that being a resounding No.

  “It’s been years since… Honestly, it’s water under the bridge.”

  “Adam.”

  I saw his grip tighten on the wheel. He wasn’t the first guy to give me the stoic silent treatment, making a career out of building walls.

  “I can tell it bothers you.”

  “It really doesn’t.”

  He was about as good a liar as I was, which was a dead giveaway.

  He played it off as if I was digging for something that wasn’t there. “You looking for a confession, or what?”

  “No, I’m looking for honesty and openness. I thought we were starting over. But it’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. It’s your business and I respect your privacy.” I had my own past to protect.

  He drew in a deep breath while I broke this physical attraction between us down to nothing more than a doomed proposition.

  “You don’t pull any punches, do you? You go right for the deep shit.”

  I shrugged. “I tend to search for the life-threatening issues first. You know—the stuff that kills you.”

  He leveled his eyes on me. “You planning on trying to heal me, Doc?”

  I didn’t care for his tone. It was one that I was quite familiar with, laced with hints for me to back off. Pity for him it was a challenge to me and provided even more incentive to rise to the occasion. “If you need healing, Detective. I might have to tear a few Band-Aids off first. Don’t quite know the severity of your wounds until you show me or let me look. Just so you know, some things are beyond my ability to fix, and subjecting yourself to receiving treatment is solely your option.”

  He snorted at that. “Sounds like this might come with a probing physical. Grab my ankles and turn and cough. So what is it you’d like to know?” he muttered low, reluctantly conceding.

  I rested my elbow on the edge of the window while I watched the sitcom of my life go by at forty-five miles per hour. Wow. If getting him to talk about the simplest of hurts was this hard, any deep shit that would come up in a relationship would be grounds for sitting in separate rooms. “Nothing. I want to know nothing,” I barely answered, hating the sound of the quiet resignation etching my own voice.

  Randy never wanted to talk, either. Take me to bed and fuck me—yes. Litter my apartment with his shit while eating on my couch and using my pillows as napkin—yes. Talk to me or share emotions or anything that truly mattered—hell no.

  I’d fair better if I’d just learned that those were things I’d never have in a relationship, as my past surely outlined that to be a hard and cold fact. Men were stoic and women bottled their feelings until they erupted and overflowed. Those were lessons Randy drove home repeatedly. He gave nothing while I drowned in silence.

  Less than twenty-four hours ago I properly diagnosed Appendicitis, treated a ninety-two-year-old woman with a fractured pelvis, and brought a patient out of afib, but there was no medical diagnosis for this moment. Stupidity, perhaps? Myocardial desperation? Don’t recall seeing that one on the MCAT.

  It bothered me that every time I got involved with a guy the same crap repeated, even though my friends seemed to find men who didn’t fit the standard mold. Just a few days ago, this gorgeous man sitting next to me convinced me that our encounter could never bloom into anything even closely resembling a relationship, and here we were, repeating it all over again. Maybe one of us should have listened.

  I glanced at my phone, willing the damn thing to ring or chime a new message or give me a reason to disappear into my own protective world. But I knew it wouldn’t ring. Those who truly cared about me were busy with their own lives. Perhaps being single had its benefits, as dealing with men was terribly exhausting. Exasperating. Debilitating. No, not quite debilitating. What’s the word I’m looking for? Annoying? Trying? Tiring?

  “I made sergeant,” he said, surprising me that he spoke.

  He glanced at me quickly and then resumed his vigilant attention on the road. “Before I was with the ATTF, back in my old unit. Castoll was up for a promotion, too, but I got it instead.”

  And with that detail, the grinding twitch in his jaw returned. I surmised that opening up to anyone wasn’t something that Detective Adam Trent was comfortable with. Still, I was relieved that he was making an effort.

  “Needless to say, he didn’t take it very well. He had more years of service in than me and he made a point of reminding everyone of that every chance he got.”

  Being in emergency medicine, where some of my colleagues had huge egos, I could completely relate. “Well, apparently he didn’t earn it or deserve it.”

  Adam let out a partial laugh. “Yeah, well he didn’t see it that way. Having to report to me as his shift supervisor made it even worse. His friends didn’t take it well, either. Shit got uncomfortable.”

  “Uncomfortable?”

  Adam nodded.

  “Like how?”

  He stretched his neck. “It’s not something I really care to rehash, Erin.”

  I could relate to that, too. There were some stories I’d rather never have to rehash, myself. “Okay. I understand. It’s fine.” I watched the buildings and storefronts pass by my window, streaking into a blur of glass and signs and messages.

  “He tried to pin some shit on me.” Adam ground his jaw again. “Even…” His head swayed and he let out a muffled curse. “It cost me my partner.”

  “What an asshole.”

  He blew out a long breath. “Yeah. Understatement. Castoll’s held a grudge ever since, so when word went out that they were creating a new task force, I put in for the transfer. That was another strike against me, I suppose.”

  “Why? I would think that you leaving his unit would make him happy.”

  “Yeah, you’d think.”

  “And the skinny one? Stiles?”

  Adam shrugged. “One of Castoll’s supporters. Been his partner for years.”

  It was starting to make sense. “Did you get even?”

  He turned to me, confusion painting his features. “For what?”
r />   “Him trying to pin something on you.”

  Adam shook his head. “There was nothing to even up. He failed in his attempts to drum up trouble and I got the hell out of there before he had a chance to succeed.”

  I nodded to myself. “So how did it cost you a partner?”

  With that, Adam’s body tensed as he stared straight out the windshield. Tension wafted off him in waves. I was almost sorry I’d asked.

  “I don’t like talking about it.”

  “I can tell.”

  His eyes shot over to mine.

  I held up a hand. “Listen, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” I hoped he could hear my understanding and repentance. “I get it. It’s apparent that it’s a very uncomfortable subject for you. We can talk about something else. Really. It’s okay.”

  We drove a few blocks while I tried to think of something, anything that would be more upbeat.

  “It was during a traffic stop,” he finally said, breaking the unnerving silence.

  I turned in my seat to face him.

  “Three guys in the car, driving way too fast. As soon as I got up on the driver door I smelled it; the car reeked of marijuana. I called for backup before removing any of them from the vehicle. Castoll and Stiles were the closest unit.”

  Whatever he was recalling was painful. I could see it in his eyes, his sullen expression, the way his chest rose and fell with each word.

  Adam wiped his hand down his face. “Castoll and I exchanged a few heated words as I was removing the driver. I’d just cuffed the dude and was going through his pockets when I heard Tom yell and then them bam, a flash went off. Guy in the back seat had a loaded .45. Caught my partner…” Adam swallowed, his voice eerily monotone, “Caught Tom right in the neck and up into his skull. He was dead before he hit the ground.”

  I couldn’t suppress my gasp. “Oh, Adam…”

  His head rocked. “It happened so fucking fast.”

  I let him gather his composure while imagining the bullet’s trajectory and the estimated damage it caused.

  “Castoll told I.A. that he’d thought he’d seen me pocket the baggie I’d found in the driver’s pocket and that’s why his attention wasn’t on the backseat passenger.”

  My heart immediately sank and twisted, aching for him—for his pain and his injustice. What he’d just laid on me was so much more than I had ever expected. It was beyond heavy, but I took it. I held it. I’d bear it for him. He needed that much.

  I reached for his arm, for any part of him that I could touch. He’d made himself vulnerable at my petulant urging and whether or not he wanted comforting, he was going to get it from me because that’s what you do when someone you care about is hurting. You listen, you empathize, you offer healing words whenever possible.

  In one conversation, it was more than Randy had ever given me in the eight months we were together.

  Adam’s body was rigid. How long had he been dealing with the survivor’s guilt?

  He quickly glanced at me again. “So now you know. And that waitress, Kara? I went out with her once, months ago. Just once.”

  I nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”

  His shrug of indifference wasn’t convincing.

  I drifted my hand down to his wrist but Adam gave me his hand, opened and offered, beckoning my fingers to lace around his. He was letting me in, trusting me with some of his deepest wounds and scars. It felt so good to have that with him.

  I could see it the grim set of his lips, in the crinkle of his sad eyes, knowing firsthand the destructive wrath of false accusations and the crushing weight of guilt.

  Now, only if I could trust Adam with mine.

  IT DIDN’T TAKE long to reach the strip mall where the notary services were located. He knew exactly where I needed to go without me having to direct him, and after his explanation, the silence was actually preferred.

  Adam pulled into an open spot, cut the ignition, and then said to me, “Stay there.”

  Huh?

  Stay?

  Don’t I go in there with you, too?

  I watched him hustle around the front of the truck, coming over to the passenger door, opening it for me. He held out his hand.

  Holy shit.

  As soon as we touched again, I felt it. Warmth and strength and breath-rending anticipation mixed with a million other tiny impulses. I knew I wasn’t going crazy.

  Moth, meet your flame.

  He placed his hand on my back, guiding me through the threshold when he opened the door.

  I wracked my brain, trying to remember if any guy I’d ever spent time with opened doors like that for me. Mark? No. He was a selfish asshole. Randy? Maybe once but it was probably by accident as chivalry was a stretch for him.

  “Hi! Can I help you?” some young girl with long, straight brown hair said, slightly bouncing on her toes and smiling at Adam as if he were dipped in sugary candy coating when we approached the counter.

  Part of me considered giving her a tracheotomy with the pen lying out on the counter to lessen her buoyant enthusiasm. Impaling her in the middle of her forehead to drain her frontal lobe also sounded tempting. Whoa. The possessive, jealous feelings coming over me were disconcerting to say the least. I was just about to speak up, tell her why I was here, but Adam took over, handling it.

  The moment he started speaking I sort of froze and rocked back on my foot. This was a new, unsettling feeling, and one I wasn’t sure I was completely comfortable with. Usually I’m the one directing the team, giving instructions, orchestrating the chaos when a trauma patient comes in.

  But as I stood there, doing nothing more than watching him handle things with clear and concise instructions, I felt a wave of relief wash over me, followed by a warm rush of feminine appreciation.

  Oh, believe me, the urge to bark orders was simmering right there on the surface. Even the desire to move Adam’s rock-solid cop body out of the way, point at the paperwork and say, “You need to do this—STAT” was there. But, for once, I didn’t need to exercise any control over the situation.

  In fact, the only control I needed to embolden was to silence myself and let him take the lead.

  What a liberating feeling. I felt light, ethereal… almost giddy.

  I knew my ER residency was taking its toll on me—dealing with unspeakable traumas and horrific wounds and trying to determine from a laundry list of symptoms what was ailing a patient. I just hadn’t had a benchmark to compare it to—until now.

  “Erin, need that paper,” Adam said, stirring me from my self-analysis to hand over the copy of the police report.

  While I filled out a required form, Adam hovered next to me. I thought he was scrutinizing my handwriting until he leaned even closer, giving me all of his attention. I felt the heat warming my cheeks. I wondered if we might be sharing some of the same illicit thoughts? Does he feel the same attraction? The same unfulfilled sexual tension? Or is it just me? Perhaps I am just imagining it all.

  “Excuse me. Sorry, I have to ask. Aren’t you the cop on the billboard near—?” the young girl started to gush when she stopped typing into her computer.

  Adam cut her cleanly off with a curt, “No.” He didn’t even bother to look at her when he answered; he kept his eyes trained on me instead. Or maybe it was just my lips.

  I couldn’t help but smile at him. We both ignored her request to take a picture with him.

  His finger brushed over the sleeve of my coat. “So, what are you hungry for?”

  I felt the blush again, and held back my first instinct to answer plain and simple—You.

  I GLANCED UP at the familiar green awning over the windows, wondering if I was being one hell of a cheap, masochistic bastard bringing her here.

  I may be far from rich but I could well afford a decent meal and to treat her properly, and bringing her here was not what I’d envisioned when I offered to take her to dinner.

  I should have decided for us instead of giving in to her. Just looking at the front
door of the place felt like bad déjà vu. “Are you sure this is where you want to eat?”

  Al’s Tavern used to be one of my regular dinner stops; it had that Irish pub feel and great bar food, but it was far from fine dining. It also added a huge undercurrent of unwanted temptation that I so didn’t need right now, especially after dealing with Castoll this morning. I had thought of at least five other restaurants to take her to, but she had picked this place instead—quite enthusiastically I might add—and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t deny her.

  Erin nodded. “I’m positive. You put the words gravy fries in my head days ago. I’ve been craving them. Please? Pretty please? We’re so close, I can practically taste them.”

  I wanted to balk that French fries with gravy on top was on the opposite end of what I had in mind for our first nice dinner together, but she was giving me that beguiling innocent yet so damn provocative look, I caved.

  Still, I wanted to show Erin some class and a bar pub was not on my list. I parked my truck and killed the ignition, thinking that this woman sitting next to me was my first real date since I broke things off with Nikki. We’d been together for so long, I wasn’t even sure I knew how to date someone.

  I gazed over at Erin, noting her easy smile, the way she permeated my wall with effortless ease, knowing that this woman would be worthy of putting forth an effort. Just the way her eyes sparkled at me turned me inside out and flipped me on my ass. I felt uneasy, inept, and unsure, wanting—no—needing her to like me. Shit, I hadn’t felt like this in… hell, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been this nervous. I just hoped to hell none of that was showing on the outside.

  She gathered her purse and reached for the door handle but I wasn’t going to allow that. I may have brought her here and let her get away with taking her expectations for a nice meal down a notch while I fumbled to manage this date, but that was as far as I was willing to bend.

  This entire day had tested my patience, starting with that bogus traffic stop Stiles and Castoll pulled this morning. Bastards would have given her a sobriety test had I not driven by at just the right time. Castoll knew exactly who she was; I could tell by the smug look on his beady face when I stepped out of my truck that he was thoroughly enjoying messing with her.

 
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