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“Nice job out there tonight. We made some solid arrests.”
Delia rolled her eyes at her temporary partner. “Good thing too. I’d hate to think I dressed like this for nothing. Next time, you get to be the bait.”
“In your dreams, Robinson.” Roy’s laughter drifted over his shoulder as he turned into the squad room to start working on their arrest reports.
Exhaustion dogged her stiletto-clad feet as she headed toward the women’s locker room. She couldn’t wait to get out of her undercover getup and into a hot shower. Pulling a double shift that involved dressing in skin-baring clothes, a platinum-blond wig and three inches of makeup made for a hellishly long day.
A short time later, cleaned up and back in her street clothes, she sat at her desk in the nearly deserted squad room, staring dejectedly at the pile of papers Roy had left for her.
She pushed them away, leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, shutting out the sounds around her with an ease born of practice. She sighed with relief. Five minutes of downtime. Five minutes to shake off the slime of the street. Five minutes before tackling the mountain of paperwork from today’s arrests. Five short minutes. That was all she needed.
One measly minute into her self-imposed time-out, the phone rang. She groaned and reached for the phone. The display read Chief’s Office. And when the chief called, you answered. Immediately. “Detective Robinson.”
“My office. Now.”
Yikes. His growled order didn’t sound good. Rather than waiting for the elevator, she tore up the stairs, welcoming the rush of adrenaline. By the time she reached his office, all thoughts of her five-minute respite were gone. She took a deep breath and knocked on his door.
“Come in, Detective.”
Her mind raced to figure out what she might have done to warrant a call from her boss. She stood in front of his desk at as relaxed attention as she could manage, her hands clasped tightly behind her back. Warning bells went off in her head as he cleared his throat and narrowed his gaze. “Sir?”
“The State Fire Marshal’s office is investigating a serial arson case and asked to borrow you for the assignment. They were impressed with your work on the bombing task force last year and thought you’d make a good temporary addition to their team. I agreed. You’ll be on loan to them for the duration. The deputy fire marshal will fill you in on the case.”
The State Fire Marshal’s office? Oh, no. No, no, no. But a movement by the windows to her left stopped the automatic denial that wanted to spring free from her mouth. She swiveled her head and felt the floor drop out from underneath her. It was proof of her exhaustion that she’d completely missed the man standing there, leaning casually against the window frame. Too bad, because she could’ve used the time to brace herself.
Deputy Fire Marshal Colin Butler.
Colin’s voice was smooth and rich like chocolate, and it set off every nerve ending in her body, as it had the short time they’d been lovers. And damn it, she hated that he still had that effect on her. It had been nearly a year. She should be over him by now.
A long, tense moment passed while she tried to regain her equilibrium. “Colin.”
The chief raised an eyebrow and she berated herself for the breathlessness that tinged her voice.
In spite of that, she couldn’t stop herself from giving Colin a quick once-over or deny the shiver that ran through her as she did it. He looked the same as he had a year ago, although the cast on his arm—a souvenir from one of the bomb blasts—was gone. His hair was still thick, sun-streaked light brown and his eyes were still the same hazel as a stormy ocean. Sexy as ever, but that shouldn’t matter. They’d had their time together, and it was over.
Colin pushed away from the wall. “I asked for Delia to be included in this operation. She was an asset to the case last year, and we can really use a new set of eyes looking at the crime scenes and the evidence.”
She froze. He’d asked for her?
The chief nodded, satisfaction on his face. “Great. You can use the conference room down the hall to get things squared away. Before you get started, I need a minute with my detective.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.” Colin exited the room, closing the door behind him.
She let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. It seemed whenever she was in the same room with Colin, there wasn’t enough air to go around. That had been true a year ago, and it was true now.
The chief got up from his chair and came around his desk, leaning against it, watching her with sharp eyes. “I agreed to the loan because you’re good at your job, but you’re still family. I want you to watch your back. Not just on the case, but with Butler.” He frowned, and his all-too-knowing gaze hardened into that of a protective uncle. “I get the feeling there’s more than just work history between the two of you. Be careful.”
His words brought a flood of memories to her mind, rolling through her brain as if she were watching a movie with flashbacks. The long weekend she and Colin spent at the beach. The first time they’d made love. Reading the Sunday paper together in bed. The bomb blast that had broken his arm. The vicious arguments. She shuddered and pushed the memories away, both the good ones and the bad ones.
Her uncle Joe hadn’t made chief by being stupid, and he’d obviously caught the intimate undercurrents between her and Colin. Still, her sex life wasn’t something she wanted to discuss with either her boss or her uncle. She stepped forward and leaned into him for a quick hug. “I always am.”
As she left his office, she decided to ignore the clamoring of her body and listen to her head instead. Something she should have done the first time she’d met Colin. Then maybe her heart wouldn’t ache quite as much right now.
Colin waited for Delia in the hall, pacing back and forth. Well, that had gone better than he’d expected. He’d figured she’d tear into him for the way things had ended between them. Then again, maybe she didn’t want witnesses to the massacre. The snarky thought made him grimace.
It had been eleven months since he’d seen her last, but her impact on him hadn’t lessened in the least. God, she was still beautiful, with dark red hair that fell past her shoulders, creamy pale skin, unbelievably green eyes and a body that wouldn’t quit. Even the Frederick Police Department’s casual uniform of khaki pants and unisex polo shirt couldn’t hide the curve of her hip or the slope of her generous breasts. She was sexy in the uniform and drop-dead gorgeous out of it.
It was cold comfort realizing she seemed to be as affected by him as he was by her, if the unguarded way she’d checked him out from head to toe was any indication. But she hadn’t been able to hide her shock at seeing him there. A blanch like that couldn’t be faked. Regardless of how they felt, though, they had a job to do and time was of the essence.
As a division of the Maryland State Police, the Office of the State Fire Marshal was responsible for the criminal investigation of fire and explosive incidents throughout the state. Just over a year ago, he’d been assigned to investigate a series of pipe bombings in the city of Frederick. Delia had been the liaison between city police and his team. She’d been the one to pull the last thread that had brought it to a close. His boss was hoping for another success story, so here he was, looking for her help.
She came out of the office a few minutes later, looking deep in thought.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“None of your business. Why are you here, Colin?”
The sharpness of her voice made him set his jaw. “Weren’t you paying attention in there? We’re investigating a series of arson fires we believe are related. I reminded my boss we’d worked last year’s bombings together, and he contacted your office to see if you were available to assist with the investigation. Here I am.”
“Right.” She pinned him with a hot glare that would’ve melted steel. “Because there are no good cops in the Maryland State Police.”
Colin sighed. “Does everything have to be a battle with you?” The minute the combative words left his mouth, he regretted them. This was no time for personal baggage. He held up a conciliatory hand as her face flushed with anger. “Sorry. It’s been a long couple of weeks. Yes, there are plenty of good cops in the MSP, but they’re not you. Forget everything else between us for a minute. We worked well together and solved a case that had Frederick on edge for months. I’m sure you’ve seen the news, Dee. This arsonist has killed eight people in the past three weeks. We need to find him and we need to take him down.” His tone was vehement, but he didn’t have time to mince words.
They were the right ones to catch her attention.
She exhaled sharply and led the way into the conference room. “Fine. Let’s go talk it out.”
She went to the small refrigerator in the credenza and pulled out two bottles of water, handing one to him. He reached out to take it, and his hand accidentally touched hers. She pulled back as if she’d touched a live wire.
He knew exactly how she felt. The sizzle leaped from his fingers to his groin, and he wondered if his hair was standing on end. He sat in one of the chairs and put the bottle on the conference table in front of him, waiting for her to ask her questions.
“So tell me about this arsonist.” She twisted the cap off the water and paced the confines of the small room.
“Here’s what we know. He’s targeting high-value private properties. And he’s only setting fires when the homes are occupied. For each of the three fires, the homeowners had guests. All three were in different counties.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Baltimore, Howard, Carroll.”
It chafed him, but the truth could be painful. “Unfortunately, yes. We don’t have a lot more than that. But we’re just putting things together now. It took the third fire to see that this might be serial arson. The fact that they were in three different jurisdictions didn’t help. Now that the OSFM is involved, we can pool the information gathered from the individual agencies investigating each fire and hopefully come up with a viable suspect.”
She watched him thoughtfully, then took a long sip of her water. In spite of himself, his gut tightened as she licked the moisture from her lips, and he had to shift in his chair, not that it helped much. Jesus, he hoped he could keep his shit together long enough to get the job done. Their short relationship had been intense and, though it hadn’t ended well, the attraction was obviously still there. He forced his thoughts back to the briefing. “In each case, the people present at the fires were couples. Mostly married. We need to see if we can find the thread that links them all. So far, we’ve come up with a whole lot of nothing.”
When she didn’t make a comment, just kept eyeing him blandly as though he was a bug under a fucking microscope, his temper spiked. “Look, if you don’t think you can handle working with me, fine. Just tell me now so I can find someone else who can.”
Anger rippled across her face, lending credence to the whole redhead temper thing. “You know, I’ll put up with a lot of shit. I have to, in my line of work. But don’t ever question my ability to do my job.” And with that, she stormed out the door, leaving him sitting there with his mouth hanging open.
Why he was surprised, he didn’t know. Delia’s penchant for walking away in anger had been one of the things that had killed their relationship. It wasn’t until she was gone from his life that he realized she did it to cool down first. It took even longer for him to admit it was actually a smart way for her to handle things. Words that couldn’t be taken back wouldn’t get said in the heat of anger.
He heaved a sigh. If Delia still ran the way she had a year ago, she’d be back in a few minutes, after she blew off some steam. He hoped that hadn’t changed, because this had to work. He needed a partner, and while he’d find someone else if she really pushed back, he wanted Delia. They’d worked well together and, in spite of their past, he figured they’d work well together now. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair, propping his feet on the table, prepared to wait as long as it took.
Less than five minutes later, his feet got shoved off the table. His eyes flew open wide as they slammed onto the floor.
He glared at her, and his voice came out a low growl. “What the hell?”
“Get up.” She barked the order, standing with her hands on her hips as she gave him the eye. But behind it, he saw the light of challenge, and the tiniest bit of trepidation.
The knot in his chest loosened slightly, and he stood slowly and faced her. He had no idea what she was up to, yet he was man enough to admit the determined look on her face intrigued him.
And turned him on.
“You don’t think I can handle working with you because of our past?” Deliberately, she touched his waist as she brushed past him, and his muscles bunched from the light contact. She closed the door, the click of the lock as loud as a gunshot. Then she turned around, walking toward him, never taking her moss-green eyes off his face.
He narrowed his eyes but otherwise kept his face devoid of expression, which was way harder than it should’ve been. “What are you doing?”
“Proving a point.” She reached out and ran her thumb across his lips, smiling the tiniest bit at the sharp intake of breath he couldn’t have held back if his life depended on it.
His pulse pounded as her grin widened like a Cheshire cat, and he started to sweat. “What the hell does that mean?”
“You think maybe I’ll be so bowled over by what we had I won’t be able to keep my hands off you?” She cupped the back of his head and drew him close, angling her body into his.
He remained motionless, when every memory from their shared past taunted him to grab her close—or maybe thrust her away. He wasn’t sure which. All he knew was that he was frozen to the spot, unable to either stop her or encourage her. “That’s not what I said, and you know it.”
“No? Sure sounded like it to me.” She stood on her toes, placed a bold, wet kiss on his mouth and threaded her fingers into his hair. She tugged him closer and continued her tantalizing assault. Finally, he caved, throwing caution and common sense to the wind. With a deep groan, he took the lead, delving his tongue into her mouth with wide, sweeping strokes while he pulled her body tight against his painfully aroused dick.
Reality intruded when she let out a low moan, then backed away, breathing harshly, her color high and her eyes dazed.
She wasn’t the only one in shock, but he was covering better, or so he hoped. Jesus, who knew they’d still have this kind of chemistry? He tucked his shaking hands into his pockets and waited to see what she’d do next.
She threw him a smug look he didn’t buy for a single second, not with that pulse pounding in her neck or the red flush on her cheeks. “Now that that’s out of the way, don’t ever imply I can’t do my job again.”
He watched her for a long moment, but decided to call her bluff. “My mistake. You’re more than capable. But Delia? You still want me.”
She glared at him. “No, I don’t. I did for about two months a year ago, but I’m over that now.”
“That’s cold, Dee.” He rocked back on his heels, shaking his head. “And I don’t believe it’s true.”
“You should.” The words were an in-your-face retort, but the heat of anger had left her eyes and her voice, and he wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince—him, or herself. “But we don’t have time for this with your arsonist on the loose. Let’s just get the job done.”
Text Copyright © 2013 by Jodie Griffin
Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.