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       Jacked, p.7

           Tina Reber
 

  “Yes, of course,” his voice rose in pitch. I enjoyed watching him shake out his fingers at his side. “You remember Melissa Werner,” he said. “Please, sit.” He nudged the other suit I didn’t recognize to vacate the chair.

  That would put me right next to a pair of long legs attached to nothing but high maintenance trouble.

  I avoided looking at her.

  “No, thanks. Say what you came to say and then I need to get back to work.” I crossed my arms over my chest. There was no way I’d let them talk me into something again this time. Didn’t matter how much money they wanted to throw at me. They had turned my life into a small circus and our unit into a joke amongst the rest of the force. That was enough damage as far as I was concerned.

  Asshole was smirking like a shady used-car salesman, thinking he already had a chump on the hook. “We’d like to discuss opportunity and your future.”

  And there it was. This was the same bullshit they spieled before, only this time I wasn’t buying it. “That’s nice. Not interested.”

  That answer got the queen up out of her chair.

  She stepped over the other suit as if he were nothing more than a pawn. “It’s good to see you again, Adam.”

  Normally I would view a gorgeous, self-assured woman as a challenge—see if I could get her to give up all the power and heed to my commands, but this one was nothing more than a spoiled socialite looking for a play toy. Melissa Werner was the kind of pleasure I did not want to mix with business.

  I gave her a nod. “Ms. Werner.”

  “So formal,” she chided. “I’m here to make you an offer, Officer Trent. I hope you hear me out before making any hasty decisions.”

  An offer? Before I could give her my firm “no” she handed a bunch of spreadsheets to me. They might as well have been written in Greek. “What’s all this?”

  “Those are our ratings for the last nine weeks. As you know, the pilot for the show was highly successful. We had guaranteed a six-month season, renegotiating that for a year. Landing the new air time has had very surprising results. We need to reevaluate how we spend it.”

  I tried to hand the paperwork back to her. “Honestly, Ms. Werner—”

  “Melissa,” she corrected.

  Yeah, whatever. “Honestly I can give a rat’s ass how you decide to spend your time. My job is to catch car thieves and criminals. If you want to film me while I do that, then you get what I signed on for.”

  She slipped the papers out of my hand. “Do you see this number?”

  I had to squint. Fucking printed numbers were small. Thirty-two years old and I probably needed glasses.

  She pointed to another set of numbers. “The first number represents our ratings prior to October eleventh. This number, the bigger number, is our ratings after we aired the episode where you engaged in the hand-to-hand combat with Mr. Ortiz.”

  Mr. Ortiz. Yeah, I remembered that night vividly, ending with a trip to the hospital to patch up a two-inch slice in my gut. Asshole caught me with a knife right under my Kevlar when I tagged the back of his jacket.

  I was pumped on adrenaline and he was wasted on crack. Ortiz had ditched the Pontiac he boosted on Basin Street but I had him on the ground before he got to the end of the block. Cap made me strip off my vest and bloodied T-shirt while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Ritchie never took the camera off me. I was surprised that he was able to catch up to me. Kid was fucking fast with that camera.

  It was also after that particular episode aired—where they showed me reuniting the baby girl that had been in the back seat of the stolen car with her hysterical mother—when all the ridiculous fandamonium started. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I was just doing my job, for Christ’s sake.

  “So?” I still didn’t know what she was getting at.

  “We rebroadcasted the episode after we garnered the new nine p.m. time slot. In the last few weeks our viewership has jumped significantly. The excerpt of you jumping over the hood of the car has been viewed over four million times. You were a global trending topic, Adam. Needless to say, I’m very pleased. Not only have we locked in with a major network, as of last week we currently rank tenth on the overall ratings with an increase of over seven million new viewers.”

  She beamed at me, and for a moment I was captivated by her excited enthusiasm. Add that to the fact she was a young, gorgeous woman who smelled fantastic, it was almost a lethal combination.

  It would be very easy to hike up her short skirt and fuck her over the desk. She’d probably get off on it.

  “Seven,” she mouthed.

  My visions evaporated. “Seven million people watched the show?”

  She took the papers from my hand again. “No. Twelve million eight hundred and seventy-five thousand did. The seven million is new viewers.” She gave me a patronizing smile. “I don’t expect you to understand the complexities of ranks and ratings, so don’t worry that handsome face of yours trying to comprehend it all.”

  And right then her presence enraged me. Her tone was brimming with condescension, masked by the seductive way she accentuated certain words. Did she really think I was that oblivious and simpleminded?

  “Fox has now given us a new mandate to maintain viewership, so what we need to discuss is how we leverage our assets to make that happen.”

  I felt her heated gaze singe my cock; her double meaning so blatant even the two other suits in the room squirmed.

  “I’ve decided that we’re going to rebrand the show,” Melissa continued, lifting her attention back to my face. “Our new marketing goals are to feature you as the primary focus of each episode. It would mean an increase of your on-air time, which we need to amend in your contract.”

  She snapped her fingers, barely casting a glance back at her underlings. “Harry…”

  He fumbled, passing papers in a hurry.

  “You’ll see we’ve amended paragraphs seven and nine.” She flipped a page. “You’ll also be requested to do a few new photoshoots as we will be doing extensive promotion, both in print ads and on social media. Fox will also run promotions on their website. That’s all noted here.”

  The quiet suit cleared his throat. “PR…”

  “Oh yes,” Melissa continued. “We’ll provide you with a public relations manager to assist you with your own social media as well as give you media training for when you conduct interviews.” She flicked her fingers at Harry again. “Do you have the preliminary agenda for his personal appearances?”

  This shit was hurting my brain. “My what?”

  Harry fumbled through his briefcase while she sneered at him with the patience of a demanding child.

  “Personal appearances, Adam.”

  Again? That was twice she’d hit me with the patronizing tone. “Yeah, I heard you the first time.” I tried to find the loophole in the contract she’d shoved in my hand. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to comply with all of your demands, or any of them for that matter.”

  “Demands?” She sighed heavily, obviously displeased. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you. Our requests are not excessive. You’ll introduce each episode, which will require some additional voiceovers and B-roll footage. We’d like to splice in some additional footage of you working on your physique and perhaps shooting your gun.” She bit into her lip, gazing up at me the way women sometimes do. “You know; sex it up a bit for the viewers.”

  I was willing to bet she was imagining me fucking her over the desk right now.

  “Seventy-eight percent of the new viewership is female because of you,” the quiet suit said.

  Melissa glared daggers at him for speaking out of turn.

  Like Jekyll and Hyde, she turned her pacifying smile back to me. “Yes, you are the reason the ratings have increased. We’ll arrange for you to do some one-on-one interviews on the major morning shows, get some additional exposure. Who knows? Maybe you’ll love the spotlight so much it will lead to a movie career for you. You don’t want to be a cop f
or the rest of your life, do you?”

  I sure as hell wasn’t the attention-seeking type, but when she questioned my career choice as if I’d settled until something better came along, my decision was instant. “Yeah, we’re done here.”

  “But you—”

  I pushed away from the wall, having heard enough. “Save it. I’m not interested.”

  “Stop,” Melissa bellowed.

  Whatever she had to say, she had exactly five seconds to say it.

  “Twenty thousand,” she blurted. “We’re prepared to pay you an additional five figures for the next twelve episodes to finish out your contract, contingent upon you signing on for an additional three seasons.”

  My eyes slipped shut as I let that number roll around. Tempting. Oh so fucking tempting. That would put a decent sized dent in some bills after I paid the income taxes.

  But visions of Marcus holding his baby girl while he wasn’t getting the same offer made my teeth clench, not to mention their desire to make me some pin-up jackass was just ludicrous.

  “Apparently you don’t get it. I’m a cop for Christ’s sake. That’s what I am, not some whatever the fuck you want me to be. And those men out there, we’re a team. The show is all of them, not just me.”

  “What if we give everyone a little adjustment?” the quiet suit added, his head bobbing like a curious turkey.

  Harry/Herby—whatever the fuck his name was—sputtered and choked as if he’d just had his nut sac grazed with sandpaper.

  Stupid curiosity had me waiting for her to toss more numbers. When she didn’t go on, I felt compelled to call her on it.

  Melissa Werner held her hand out to her associate, shutting him down immediately. She straightened, looking back at me. “I’d like you to consider our position. Your teammates are actually having their on-air time decrease. They’ve already been compensated for their appearances. It wouldn’t be a prudent business decision to adjust their contracts at this time. This new direction only affects you.”

  I hated being underestimated. “That’s where you’re wrong, because your tactics divide the team, so it affects them too.”

  Melissa flit her eyes. I felt my blood pressure spike.

  “This, all of this, is nothing but a distraction. It causes the men to lose focus, which puts us all in danger. This isn’t child’s play, Ms. Werner. We go out there every day knowing that it may be our last, and you and your business goals aren’t worth losing a life over.”

  “Thirty,” she tossed without regard.

  My knuckles cracked. “Ten thousand more, just like that? What is that? Extra hush money or what you think my life is worth?”

  She sighed impassively. “This is a contract renegotiation, Adam, not a life valuation. I’m not prepared to entertain renegotiations for the entire crew and frankly, it’s not warranted.”

  “Then I guess we’re done here.”

  Melissa handed the pack of papers back to me. “Take the contract. Look it over. Who knows, maybe you’ll have second thoughts.”

  “I doubt it.” I took the papers anyway.

  “Never say never, Adam.”

  Funny how quickly an extremely attractive woman could turn into a coldhearted bitch in the blink of an eye.

  I pegged Harry with a glare, nodding at him. Cutting through all their bullshit, there was only one thing on my mind that I wanted to accomplish while they were here being a pain in my ass. Well, one woman, actually. I couldn’t rest until I righted the wrong we’d done to her. My conscience wouldn’t allow it. “Need to talk to you a minute.”

  Harry eagerly followed me across the hall into the break room.

  I shut the door behind me. “This morning we pulled over a doctor, a woman.”

  Harry’s newly formed grin told me we were on the same page. His irritating eyebrow raises confirmed it. “That was some incredible footage. We scanned through it before we left the hotel.”

  I had to play this one smart. “That was a bad stop that should have never happened. I don’t care if your boys got her to sign one of your waivers; something like that airs and it can bring a lot of heat down on the unit. It needs to disappear before I.A. gets involved. You got me?”

  “I.A.?”

  My mouth was running faster than my brain. “Internal Affairs. They start poking their nose around and it could get messy. Could compromise the staff and your show.” I was lying through my teeth but he didn’t know that. I needed some sort of leverage to get that footage canned and didn’t have a leg to stand on. I had made her a promise.

  Harry pushed his glasses up on his stubby nose. “I don’t know, Adam. That was a sensational piece. The way you two took care of that accident scene… Viewers love that shit.”

  Not at her expense, they won’t. I got right in his breathing space, holding back the burning urge to demonstrate how serious I was. I was never good at playing games. “Apparently I haven’t made myself clear enough. It would be in your best interest to make sure it never sees the light of day.”

  Harry’s smile faltered as he adjusted his necktie, taking a step back. “Are you… are you threatening me?”

  Yes. “No, I’m making you a promise. I can be a real asshole on camera if I need to be. You got me?”

  “But it’s in your contract to comply with the requirements of your appearance.”

  I ran my hand back through my hair, making the motion to keep myself from putting Harry into the wall. “When I go out there and tell my team that you refuse to adjust their cuts, you think you’ll get compliance then? We can play this out and see how good your ratings do. Don’t matter to me.”

  He straightened. “We have a team of lawyers, Adam. Don’t know if you want to play that card. That would be a breach of contract for sixteen men.”

  Damn it, he was grinding on my last nerve. I sure as hell didn’t want to get sued. I was all out of plays, but I couldn’t let my actions take another innocent person down. I held my breath a moment before committing my next huge mistake. “You shelve that footage and I’ll consider meeting her additional demands.”

  “You’ll consider?” he said with an air of annoyed arrogance. “I’ll need more assurance than that.”

  I considered wringing his fat neck. I think he sensed it too, taking another half step backwards. Why I even gave a shit about some random girl plaguing my thoughts was enough to piss me off. Still, that random girl with killer blue eyes, sexy mouth, and fire in her veins that was roaming around in my head was enough to keep me from making other mistakes—ones that would be far more detrimental to my health. Maybe I owed her one. I made my final decision right then. “You meet my demands and I’ll meet yours.”

  “You will?”

  I nodded, hating this predicament. “But my team… You see about giving that extra cash to all of them instead of me and you’ll get my compliance. But all of the footage of the blonde doctor has to disappear—completely.”

  Harry’s eyes narrowed. “One hundred percent compliance? No arguments or making things… difficult?”

  I nodded again, feeling as though I was making a deal with the devil.

  Harry seemed to mull that over before finally giving in with a nod and an extended hand to shake. “Okay, fine. Fine. I’ll see what I can do.”

  “I’ll see what I can do is not enough.” Not for Erin. Shit. “Not one hair of hers gets aired.” I didn’t want him to get any shady ideas. I didn’t trust him at all, but my options were limited. “I want that in writing.”

  Harry nodded, which was enough for me. I was halfway down the hall when my captain barked out my name. I waited, reluctantly.

  Cap just eyed me for a few seconds, nodded his chin with that fatherly silence, and gave me a meaningful pat on the shoulder. Enough said.

  I heard Brian Sidell’s big mouth echoing down the hall, already making plans to win tonight’s betting pool, which instantly ticked me off again. He used to be one hell of a great friend before we started this nonsense with the production company filming
us. Then things changed, and not for the better.

  As soon as he came through the door, grinning like a choirboy who just got his first peek up a girl’s skirt, I wanted to shoot him. He was carrying not one but two United States Postal Service mail bins.

  Unfuckingbelievable.

  Hill, too? And Ramirez?

  Two, four, nine, ten, eleven. No way. No fucking way.

  I watched each of the men that made up the Philadelphia Auto Theft Task Force carry in mail bin after mail bin filled with fan mail. Why the hell women all over the country were writing to us was beyond rational comprehension.

  Sidell dropped his bins on the long table by the wall. “Clear the tables, ladies. Trent’s got a monumental haul today.”

  I took a deep breath to control my anger.

  Sidell waggled his eyebrows and gave me a few hard slaps on the shoulder. “Cheer up, Trent. Don’t look so glum. You don’t want to wrinkle that pretty face of yours. Your legions of fans would cry.”

  I growled, reining in my desire to beat the shit out of him. Instead of spending his time trying to figure out how he fucked up the stop last night allowing that Nissan to slip out onto the Schuylkill Expressway, he was strutting around without a care in the world, letting petty shit fill the void.

  Sidell’s rig was right there, in position. He should have rammed the vehicle and stopped it. We were all within range and ready to intercept, but instead we all watched as the car slid right on by.

  Another mail bin was dropped onto a desk. This was the beginning of a half-hour’s worth of complete torture, with me as the star whipping boy. I might as well climb up on the cross now and take it like a man for what they would dish out on me. And adding to that annoyance was Brian Sidell’s cheerful demeanor. I was just about ready to explode.

  “Marcus has one more,” Captain Paul “Cap” Woods said, slugging another bin on the table.

  Not you too, Marcus. His six-foot-eight-inch frame dwarfed the mail bin in his hands, making me feel short at six one. My best friend looked like the black man’s version of the Grim Reaper, with a wide jaw and a death stare spooky enough to scare the piss out of most felons. His hands alone were like catcher’s mitts, capable of palming a suspect’s head like a basketball but also able to hold his ten-month-old baby daughter as if she were a tiny, precious jewel. One of those mitts snagged my copy of the hot sheet.

 
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