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       Jacked, p.43

           Tina Reber
 

  He rolled his hips, distracting my constant need for self-preservation, snuffing my internal monologue that continuously reminds me of my fear of abandonment, and fueling my need to tell him I’m madly in love.

  His lips sought my neck, working a path up to my jaw. “Getting all defensive and feisty. I like it.”

  “Good.”

  His heated stare roamed over my face. “Thank you.”

  I sifted through his hair. “You’re welcome.”

  He nuzzled into my hand. “My doctor says I need an attitude adjustment.”

  I grinned at his playfulness. His need for me would have to be enough, for now. It’s a role I was capable of filling. I met his gaze, letting him see my raw honesty. “I’ll take care of you. I promise.” I opened my thighs wider and clutched the muscles under his back pocket, letting him settle in where he belonged.

  His kiss was soft at first, then became demanding.

  “Good,” he said, searing my mouth with another kiss. His fingers curled around mine, letting me see his own vulnerability in his hooded eyes. “I’m counting on it.”

  “YOUR PHONE PINGS a lot.”

  I don’t know why I stated the obvious out loud; perhaps it was my way of acknowledging Adam’s growing annoyance while he drove us through Manhattan and into the northern section of Queens.

  He glanced at the screen and then tossed it face down in the cup holder. “Just ignore it.”

  “Is it important?”

  “No.” One word, delivered clipped, definitive.

  “All righty, then,” I drawled.

  Adam frowned.

  “You know, the moodiness is not a very attractive trait of yours.”

  He glanced over quickly, partially smiling. “Moodiness?”

  “Yep. I’ve been studying it for a while now and it usually comes on when you’re either keeping something from me or you don’t know how to deal with me because you’re unsure how I might react.”

  “Huh. Is that so?”

  I stared out my window, watching the array of gray and brick buildings and graffiti-coated concrete slowly morph into a more residential area. “You scowl first—like this—and then you do that little thing where you chew on the inside of your mouth. Then your eyes get all squinty, like you’re trying to see the answer but it’s too far away.”

  Adam snorted. “I think that’s my usual face, actually.”

  “No. It’s not. Usually your face is relaxed, like everything is cool, and when you smile… those dimples come out and you’re absolutely adorable. But this, well, whatever it is, combined with short answers makes it pretty obvious something’s up.” I may not be an expert on relationships, but to hell with dealing with not knowing. “Just so you know, I’d rather hear the painful truth than the false comfort of beautiful lies.”

  His broad shoulders dipped. “You don’t pull any punches.”

  “Not usually. Medical detective, remember?”

  He reached for his phone, holding it for a few seconds. “I’ve been getting annoying texts from someone. I don’t know the number or who’s sending them. And before you get all bent out of shape, I’m not seeing anyone but you. Just so we’re clear on that.”

  Adam stopped at a red light and then entered his password in. “Here, detective. I got nothing to hide.”

  I was surprised he handed it over. “You have to turn left at the next street.” I put my cell on my thigh and looked at his.

  “Was u gunna?” This person is about as smart as a box of rocks.

  Adam rolled his eyes. I scrolled down his screen.

  “This is pretty alarming, actually, not to mention their blatant butchering of the English language. Did you text her back?”

  Adam was negotiating cross traffic. “No.”

  “Why not?” My arm squished into the door when he hit the gas.

  “I don’t have time for stupid shit like that.”

  “How will you know who they’re from then? Did you use your cop superpowers?”

  “My superpowers?” His lips wrinkled. “I checked. It’s a burner.”

  “A what?”

  “One of those cheap throwaway phones. No way to trace it.”

  So he did have super-sleuthing powers. “Do you think Tampon Girl would text you this?”

  “I don’t know,” he mumbled.

  “Do you want me to text her back?”

  “Erin,” he groaned.

  “I won’t say anything weird. I know a few doctors who treat mental disorders. I might even be able to get coupons.”

  “Ignore it.” He leveled his “look” on me before finding me to be somewhat amusing. “I’m serious. If you’re done calling me out on my shit maybe you can tell me which road I’m supposed to turn on. I’m blaming you if we’re late.”

  As soon as it delivered, I deleted them, seeing the only texts he had saved were from me, his “Hot Doc.”

  OFFICER JOHN TURK was busy showing me surveillance footage they’d filmed of a warehouse that was suspected of being used to modify stolen cars, but I couldn’t help stealing a few glances over at Erin while he was talking.

  She was sitting at the other end of the long wooden dining table in their kitchen, being sweet and social and engaged in her own conversation with John’s wife, Joanne. I should have been paying closer attention to what Turk was explaining but watching Erin lick the lunch off her fingers was more intriguing.

  “We think they’re changing the VINs, making them virtually untraceable as stolen,” Turk said, taking a swig off his bottle of beer.

  Beer. Just the smell alone was making my mouth water, causing me to do that internal negotiation that I’d be able to stop after just one. Even one sip would satisfy my taste buds. Cold, crisp, the bite of hops on the back of my tongue. Just chillin’ on a lazy Saturday with new friends. I’d already turned down his offer of a cold one but I was reconsidering it now. The want was thick in my throat, dry and parched as the craving felt like sand mixed with my failing resilience.

  Erin glanced my way, silently telling me that she was enjoying our company but concerned about the frosty bottle with that enticing condensation dripping down its sides being so close to my hand.

  I moved my hand away and gave her a nod, letting her know that “just one” and I would not be meeting up, no matter how tempting the idea was. I’d already fucked up too many things in my life because of it; I wouldn’t let Erin become a casualty of my weakness. Besides, she’d probably smack the bottle out of my hand before it got anywhere near my lips. She sure as hell wouldn’t drink one in front of me while running her mouth around other people either, publicly humiliating me and making me feel less than a man for not being able to control myself like Nikki often did.

  Erin came from good stock. Parts of the conversation I had with her dad after the funeral drifted back to my memory, and I was glad that we had such a long talk when I met him. She and I had agreed not to tell her parents the real way we’d met, opting for simple lie of “mutual friends” instead. Her dad was a car guy through and through and letting him think there was a “stolen” issue with his daughter’s car was not the way to go about getting on his good side. “We’d have to check VINs coded on the chassis and within the computer systems, but we’ll need different diagnostics.”

  Erin’s adorable smile had me thinking I’d need to check her chassis soon too. I’d been inside her no less than five times since we’d arrived in the city yesterday, making good use out of the room Melissa had provided, although after our showdown I was sure I’d be getting a bill for it. I could still taste Erin’s flavor on my lips, flashing back to holding her hips above me while she ate me for breakfast. I started counting all the different positions I’d had her in since we started fooling around, categorizing them to see if we’d missed any.

  I’d like to see her orgasm face when I have her suspended. Hear her scream when she comes. That would take special knots and the hook in my ceiling. She’d probably give me a hard time at first until I got h
er up off the ground but then she’d love it—

  “…barges and then they’d have to… You even listening to me?”

  I felt Turk’s nudge. “Huh? Yeah. Barges.”

  He smiled at me and then flashed his attention down the table. “You got it bad, bro.”

  I sat up a bit, trying to figure out what I was looking at on his computer screen. “Where did you say this warehouse was again?”

  Turk shifted in his chair. “Corner of you’re and in love, outside of Hoboken.”

  Now he was just fucking with me.

  Turk waggled his eyebrows, grinning like an ass.

  The baby monitor on the counter crackled and the little one who was babbling to himself started huffing, until he broke into an extended wail.

  “Excuse me,” Joanne said, standing. “I’d hoped he’d sleep longer but Colton is nosy, just like his dad.”

  “Hey,” Turk snipped. “We’re inquisitive. Nothing wrong with that.”

  I studied the information on his computer screen; what Erin’s father had told me made sense. “Canada.”

  Turk pulled the laptop closer, squinting. “What?”

  “This ring… they have a spotter collecting VINs, they replace US registration for Canadian, and then the car is clean.”

  “You shitting me?” Turk asked.

  “Border patrol doesn’t check registrations. They only ID occupants. No barges, no bill of ladings or any cargo paperwork. It’s clean. Car disappears and reappears on a foreign lot to an unsuspected buyer.”

  “They’d have to reprogram the on-board computer,” Erin added. “You’d have to add in someone who has access to the make and manufacturer software to override it.”

  God, I loved her. This bit of info wasn’t news to me but hearing the words come out of her mouth was surprising. “And how do you know this?”

  She shrugged nonchalantly. “My dad owns two dealerships? There was a problem with the system in my SHO when it arrived. It kept giving false tire pressure readings. One of the guys in my dad’s shop showed me how he could plug in and reset stuff. It seemed pretty simple, but you’d need the right authorized dealer software to do it.”

  “Did your woman just blow a huge hole in our case?” Turk asked, gaping at me in disbelief.

  Proud was an understatement. “Or added a major component that we need to pursue. Either way, I don’t think these cars are going overseas.”

  “Hey little man,” Turk crooned at his child.

  “Here’s everybody, nosy boy,” Joanne said, bouncing a wide awake baby just a few months old in her arms. “Now you can see what’s going on.” She stood next to where Erin sat. “You want to hold him?”

  “We’ve got several hours of surveillance video,” Turk continued.

  “What? Um, no. That’s okay,” Erin said, edging away.

  “Just for a minute?” Joanne prodded “You can feed him if you want.”

  Erin backed up as if a bomb had just been set on the table instead of a baby bottle. “No. I can’t. Fingerprints. Er, I mean my dirty hands.”

  Her hands looked clean to me.

  “I don’t want to get any germs on the bottle. I should wash them. It’s cold and flu season and…” She stood and stumbled aside, her wooden chair scraping across the floor. “May I please use your bathroom?”

  I held my hands out. “Pass him over. I’ll hold him.”

  Joanne placed the little guy in my arms. “Got him?”

  I settled him in, watching his little features scrunch up at me. “Hey little dude. What’s up?” He didn’t know who the hell I was, so I tried to set him at ease with some guy babble.

  Erin stood stock-still, slightly gaping at me. Maybe I should have washed my hands, too? I didn’t touch anything and I sure as hell had no plans of sticking my fingers in his mouth.

  Turk was talking, but it was hard to be in two conversations at one time. Something was wrong… the way she ran off like that.

  Turk and I scanned through weeks of video surveillance, stopping only when there was activity. And then it happened. “Rewind it.”

  Erin sucked in a breath behind me. “Is that…?”

  The two men on the screen were unmistakable.

  And one of them was already dead.

  The other was wanted for his murder.

  OVER THE NEXT few weeks, Erin and I started falling into a comfortable rhythm. Whenever possible, I was in her bed or she was in mine, except the Friday night before Ramirez’s wedding.

  Erin wanted nothing to do with intruding on my poker night, which was a shocker. Nikki always gave me a hard time, saying that she didn’t do shit like that so I shouldn’t either. Erin made her own plans with her friends, keeping her life instead of stopping it. I had invited her along, figuring she’d hang with Cherise, but she didn’t seemed phased with doing her own thing—even though she strongly advised I “put my ass in bed and rest” since I’d been fighting a bit of a cold all week while spending extra hours looking over all the evidence from the Martins and Wyndmoor dealership robberies. I’d let her baby me for a few days but I was really feeling much better.

  Come to think of it, all that care she gave me, I felt great.

  All of this was swirling in my mind while sitting in God’s house mid Saturday afternoon. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I spent most of the time sitting in that church pew imagining Erin standing up there in white. I’d considered marriage before but there was always that big chunk of doubt that made me realize something just wasn’t right with the relationship to take it that far.

  My parents had been married for almost forty years, and though they fought with the best of them, they never called it quits. Dad had said to us once that we needed to find the girl that would make us want to be a better man.

  I held Erin’s hand while we sat and watched fellow ATTF officer Jesse Ramirez’s wedding. I didn’t fully understand what my dad had meant by that, until now. It’s not a comfortable feeling for me to do the self-analysis to acknowledge how I react to things. Now that we’d been officially dating for almost three months, little things were becoming crystal.

  Hearing Erin tell the server she couldn’t have the champagne when the woman tried to pour the toast at our table brought on a swell of guilt mixed with appreciation. Marcus was sitting across from us, giving his subtle nod of approval. He knew all my shit and now he knew that Erin knew my shit, too.

  “You don’t drink either?” Cherise asked.

  What a leading question.

  Erin shook her head. “No, not really, and oddly I’m not a big fan of champagne.”

  That was a lie.

  A little lie she made up and tossed out effortlessly for me.

  “You can have some,” I whispered near her ear.

  I watched her lick her bottom lip, leaning just as close. “If you don’t, I don’t. It’s that simple.”

  I guided her chin, needing to kiss my woman.

  There was a level of comfort there I’d never felt before. It was effortlessly easy. I pulled my cell out of my pocket, feeling the need to capture the moment. I leaned closer to Erin, snapping a few new pictures of us together to add to my growing collection.

  Out of the corner of my eye I caught the blur of bright red interrupting my moment.

  Then I heard her voice, trying to be sweet to Cherise. I watched Nikki work it, knowing she and Cherise were never tight. Cherise only tolerated Nikki for my benefit and that was not without effort.

  Cherise, being the sassy mocha woman she was, was two seconds away from telling Nikki where to get off, and would deliver it without batting an eyelash.

  “How are you, Adam?” Nikki asked, sizing up Erin more than anything. She had a date with her—some meathead looking dude that was busy eyeing the bar or the closest exit—probably in that order. That was until he noticed Erin.

  My girl was looking especially gorgeous tonight. Flawless hair and makeup topping a killer dress that made me wish I had a private escape of my own. I could ap
preciate the package, but Nikki’s date had three seconds to stop staring at Erin’s tits before he’d meet my fist.

  I leaned into his line of sight. That’s right, fucker. Eyes on me.

  “Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Nikki said.

  Cherise scoffed. “Does he have to?”

  God, I loved that woman, too. She was the sister I wished I had.

  Nikki shot her a dirty look.

  I focused on Erin instead. She gave me a small eye-roll, making me check my manners. When it came to Nikki, I had none left.

  “Nice to meet you, Nikki.”

  Yeah, Erin had much better manners than I did, but she still didn’t reach to shake Nikki’s hand. Ten points for our team.

  “So how did you two meet?” Nikki asked, eyeing us both to see which one would answer.

  This was getting old, fast. She wasn’t asking just to make small talk.

  I was just about to end this bullshit when Erin said, “I’m pretty sure you already know the answer to that, just like you know my name, where I work, and how long Adam and I have been seeing each other. Oh, let’s not forget what kind of car I drive, too.”

  My partner Marcus choked on the other side of the table. It was fun to watch Nikki’s smugness wither away. I’d shown him a few of the crazy texts I’d been getting the other night; the disgust rolling over Cherise’s face confirmed that he’d shared that information with her.

  Cherise turned in her chair and faced off with Nikki, letting the flair of her hands punctuate her message. “You satisfied now? You get all the information you were fishing for? I think it’s best you move on now before you spoil my dinner. Go on. Get gettin’.”

  Right after Nikki stormed off, Marcus relaxed back in his chair, eyeing both of our women as though he was seeing them anew. “Daayum, I don’t know which is hotter—white woman sass or black woman sass—’cuz you both are off the charts hot right now.”

 
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