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NOTE: Content is intended for adults 18 and older only.
Another Christmas mitzvah, another day at the police station.
Rebeccah Rickman stood at the entrance to the squad room, her pulse pounding as she surreptitiously watched sexy-as-sin Officer First Class Jeremy Kohler. It’d been nine months since she’d volunteered here last, on Easter Sunday. Nine months since she’d seen Jeremy, and the first time in the five years she’d known him that she was a single woman.
So what are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? She shushed her inner devil and started forward.
He looked up, a wide grin crossing his square-jawed face. He shot out of the chair like he’d been spring-loaded and came around his desk. “Becca. I was hoping you’d be here today.”
He was? Swallowing her surprise, she held out her hand. “Where else would I go on Christmas Day?”
He ignored it and pulled her in for a quick hug, then let her go and studied her face. “The movies? Out for Chinese?”
She laughed at his not-far-off-the-mark assumption, but it sounded rusty in her ears. When was the last time she’d really laughed at anything? “Maybe later. Right now, though, I’m here to help out however they need me.”
He frowned and went dead still. “You’re not going to ride along with me today?”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d be working. And I didn’t know if —”
He cut her off with a shake of his head. “I work every Christmas, you know that by now. And why wouldn’t I want you to ride with me?”
She felt heat creep into her cheeks, but she didn’t answer, except in her head. Because the last time we rode together, you seemed uncomfortable with me? She lifted a shoulder but otherwise didn’t respond.
He shook his head. “C’mon. It’s just about time for shift change and I already told Lieutenant Mallory if you were volunteering today, I was claiming you.”
His words made her flash hot all over. She knew he couldn’t have meant them the way she thought them, but every single one of those five years she’d ridden along with him? She’d been attracted to him in a way she’d never been attracted to her ex-husband, though she’d made sure Jeremy had never known it.
They walked together to the large meeting room where all the volunteers met. Every Christmas Day and Easter Sunday her synagogue and others in the local Jewish community asked for volunteers to help out at the police station and the hospital, so non-essential personnel could spend the day with their families. It was a mitzvah, a good deed, and her family volunteered every year on those two holidays. When she’d moved to Maryland with Sam after their wedding, she’d signed up here. He hadn’t been interested, but she’d refused to give up the tradition she’d followed since she’d been old enough to participate.
The room was full. She assumed Jeremy would sit with the other officers up front and started toward her friend Hannah, but she was jolted when Jeremy hooked a finger in her belt loop and drew her backward. “Stay here,” he murmured in her ear. “By me.”
Oy. Shivers ran down her spine and she licked her lips. “Uh, okay.”
To her utter shock, he didn’t move his hand and his knuckles pressed against the small of her back, hot even through the thick material of her blue jeans. She stood there, rigid, while Jeremy’s lieutenant handed out assignments. Some volunteers would make copies, keep the coffee pots going, fill out forms and be all-around gofers. Others would ride along with an officer, keeping them company on what was usually a very long day.
“C’mon, c’mon,” Jeremy muttered under his breath.
She turned her head and looked up at him. He was taller than her by at least eight inches, about six-two to her five-six. He made a goofy ah, hell, did I say that out loud face and she had to hold back a snort of laughter, but it died in her throat when his knuckles brushed against her skin in the small gap between where her sweater ended and her jeans began.
Heat flared in his eyes and she couldn’t have broken her gaze from his if her life depended on it. Even so, the touch had to have been an accident. Had to. He’d never touched her before, aside from shaking her hand and that innocent hug in the squad room. He’d always been one-hundred-percent professional around her.
She shoved it out of her mind and focused on Lieutenant Mallory’s words. “…Mr. Silverberg, you’ll be with me, and Ms. Rickman, you’ll be riding with OFC Kohler. And once again, we really appreciate the help from your community.”
“About damn time.”
The words were again muttered under his breath, but she heard them and they set her heart thumping. Be real, Bec. He’s just anxious to get out and start his shift so he can get it over and done with. It’s Christmas, for heaven’s sake. He probably has plans.
Her musings were interrupted by Jeremy’s hand landing on her back. “C’mon, Becca. Time to roll.”
God help her, she didn’t want to move away from his warm touch but she forced herself to walk. “I’m ready.”
As he slid past her to open the door, she could’ve sworn she felt his fingers brush her waist and hip. She shivered and looked up at him, faltering. Tight jaw, one hand scrubbing the back of his neck, no sign of his usual light-hearted smile.
They headed out to his squad car in tense silence, her stomach a giant knot. The front desk area was quiet and so were the hallways leading to the garage. Most Christmases were like this, but one year had been bad. She tried not to think about it much.
At the car, she watched as he did a quick check of his gear. Her fingers itched to touch the glossy black hair that was cropped close to his head in the style she noticed most cops wore. His eyes were a deep hazel and throughout the day, she knew they’d change from blue to green depending on his mood. She’d seen that on her previous rides with him and, unable to stop herself, had wondered more than once what color they’d turn when he was aroused. The small dimple in his cheek helped soften his square jaw. One usually said the uniform made the man, but she had no doubt he’d look just as good in jeans.
Your mind isn’t pure, Rebeccah. Nice Jewish girls don’t think that way or ask for such things. The hated words echoing in her mind made her flinch, or maybe it was the memory of Sam’s hands clenching and unclenching right before he… She shuddered but forced herself to focus on the here and now. She never had to see him again. They were divorced. Over and done.
Jeremy went around to the back of the cruiser and opened the trunk. She’d seen him do this same thing every time they did their ride-along and it reminded her she’d brought something for him. She reached into her big purse and pulled out two small stuffed toys. One was a bear wearing a fancy dress. The other one wore a pair of blue jean overalls. “Hey, I brought these for you.”
He grinned, though it didn’t quite make it to his eyes. “Santa told you I was a good boy, huh?”
She laughed for the second time in twenty minutes. That was a record, at least recently. She looked up at him. “You know why.”
He reached out and squeezed her hand. “Yeah. And thank you. They’ll help.”
He carried stuffed toys in his car, as did most of the other officers, for the youngest victims they encountered. She’d seen first-hand how they’d helped calm the toddler who’d been the only survivor in the car crash that one terrible Christmas she still had trouble putting out of her head. She brought him two new ones every time she rode with him.
He leaned to place them in the trunk and her eyes landed on his rear end. She bit back a moan at the way his uniform pants hugged his incredibly fit body, then jolted when the lid closed with a sharp thunk. She lifted her gaze and flinched at his raised eyebrow. Great. Caught ogling his ass. She tried a smile but it felt forced.
He narrowed his eyes. “Are you okay, Bec? You seem not quite yourself today.”
Not going there, no way. Not. Going. There. “I’m fine. Ready to roll, partner?”
He gave her another measured look but nodded. “Ready, partner.”
Christ. He hadn’t been lying when he said she looked off. She was a beautiful woman, with long brown curls and brown eyes, both the color of milk chocolate. For years, he’d wondered if the tiny freckles that dusted the bridge of her nose were anywhere else on her body. He imagined so, and the thought tormented him, as did her incredible body. She was average height but built like a pin-up girl, or she had been when he’d last seen her nine months ago at Easter.
Today, however, she looked as though she’d dropped twenty pounds and, while she was still gorgeous, she also looked exhausted. And, to him, far too thin.
He held her door for her and closed it behind her, then got into the driver’s seat. “Buckle up,” he ordered, starting the car.
As they pulled out onto the street, his radio was silent. Christmas Day was either a fucking zoo or a ghost town. He was selfishly hoping for the latter so he could spend more time talking with Becca. He only got to see her a few hours twice a year.
The minute the thought crossed his mind, he swore silently. Shit, after the torture he went through the last time, sitting in his car, surrounded by the scent that was uniquely Becca, he should never have told Mallory he wanted her as his ride-along tonight. He wasn’t stupid. He knew there was some serious, heavy-duty attraction between them, but she’d tried to hide it and so had he. If she’d been single, he’d have made his move. But she was married and though he’d hated the prick on sight, he didn’t poach. And that shift on Easter had nearly killed him just with the nearness of her. Every time they did this, it cost him. Big.
He spent an inordinate amount of time imagining Becca Rickman naked, bound and on her knees. And he measured every other woman he met up to her. He wanted her, but he couldn’t ever have her. Fuck him, he couldn’t even keep from touching her today, and his lack of self-control was appalling. Why the hell had he set himself up for this again? He wasn’t a masochist.
No, you’re a Dom in cop’s clothing, and she trips every goddamn one of your triggers. Now shut up and focus.
He reached out to wake his computer screen, then frowned and slid a glance her way. Was it his imagination, or did she just flinch?
She shifted in her seat and turned to him, derailing his thought. “So what’s going on in Jeremy’s world? Did you take that vacation you were talking about? You were going to the Outer Banks this past summer, right?”
Good memory. “Yeah. It was great. I didn’t want to come back to work. I mean, I love my job, you know that. But a week fishing, sitting on the beach, hiking? Can’t beat it. Did you go anywhere for vacation?”
He watched her square her shoulders. “No, not this year,” she said, and then she fell silent.
Jesus, she’d never had trouble talking with him before. His dominant personality reared its safe, sane and consensual-minded head, telling him to give her a chance to safe word out of this assignment. Something was up, or else his people-reading skills needed some serious fucking help. “Bec, did I steamroll you into riding with me today? Because I can take you back to the station if this isn’t what you want to do.”
To his wholly inappropriate satisfaction her face turned pink—the same heated shade it turned when he’d caught her staring at his ass—and she dropped her gaze. “No. I want to be here.”
“Okay,” he said quietly, fighting back the surge of pleasure that reaction roused. He could be patient, mostly. They had eight hours to share. He’d pry whatever was on her mind out of her, even if it took his entire shift.
His radio crackled to life and Becca snapped her mouth shut. With a sidelong glance at her, he answered the call for a 911 disconnect and turned on lights and sirens. She stayed silent on the ride over, and he was grateful. It gave him the chance to get his head in the game.
When they reached the address, he stepped out of the car, ducking his head back in. “Wait here. You remember how to use the radio if I need help?”
She looked worried but nodded. “Press the red button and say, Alpha 269 needs immediate assistance, then give them our location.”
“Good girl,” he murmured. “Be right back.”
He straightened and stepped away from the car. Good girl? Had he really said that out loud? Jesus, he needed to watch what came out of his mouth around Bec, or he’d give himself away. And he needed to focus. He took a moment to suck in a breath and push everything but his training out of his brain. An inattentive cop could be a dead cop, and yeah, that wasn’t in his plans for today. It didn’t take long, though, to figure out that the call was a mistake. He wished the family a merry Christmas, accepted a plate of cookies from the embarrassed woman who’d answered the door, and headed back to his cruiser.
“Everything okay in there?”
He nodded, then keyed his radio. “Alpha 269 clear.”
“Big family gathering and one of the kids picked up his grandma’s phone and pushed the red 911 button. Happens a lot.”
“Ah. That’s better than the alternative.” She relaxed against the seat with a sigh. “Much better.”
“Yeah.” He took a minute to log the call into his mobile laptop and then he pulled back out onto the road. “Coffee?”
She jumped. “Excuse me?”
He stifled a sigh. In all the ways he’d hoped today would go, expected today to go, Becca being distant and distracted wasn’t it. “I’m going to stop for coffee. Do you want any?”
“Oh. No thank you. We had a big breakfast.”
Jealousy poked him hard in the gut. He didn’t want to think about Becca with her husband, still fresh from sleep…or whatever. Married, he reminded himself. Off limits. “No problem. Maybe I’ll wait too. I need to do a patrol check, anyway.”
They drove through town in relative silence. It was only when they got to the airport that Becca spoke up, her voice wistful, her eyes dreamy. “I always wonder where the people who own these planes go.”
“Me too,” he admitted, and it wasn’t a lie. Theirs was a small regional airport with a lot of corporate jets, small private craft, and the occasional landing of a blimp. Even presidential helicopters, due to the proximity of Camp David. “Wherever it is, it’s nowhere I can afford to go. Not on a cop’s salary.”
She snorted. “Not on a teacher’s salary, either.”
He raised his brow, his curiosity getting the better of him. “Isn’t your husband a hotshot lawyer? I figured you took all kinds of vacations.”
She flinched at the words, then turned to stare out the window.
“Bec?” When she didn’t answer, he pulled the cruiser to a stop near one of the hangars and turned to her, putting his hand on her shoulder. Shit, he hadn’t liked the guy and was jealous as hell of him, but he hoped something bad hadn’t happened. It would explain the weight loss and the exhaustion, though. “Rebeccah? Talk to me.”
Becca heard Jeremy’s honest concern and made herself meet his gaze. She’d figured this conversation would happen sooner or later, but she hadn’t really planned for how she’d answer it. She stared down at her hand, at the naked ring finger that still felt empty, even though she’d been relieved to be free of Sam. “I’m not with him anymore. We’re divorced.”
“How long?” Jeremy growled.
She jerked her head back up, startled by the vehemence in his tone, his choice of words, and the clench of his fingers against her skin. His eyes were narrowed, his jaw tight, like it had been earlier at the station. “Nine months since we separated. Four months since the divorce was final.”
“Fucking waste,” he muttered under his breath.
She didn’t understand what he meant, but the look in his eyes was disconcerting, to say the least. “I…what?”
He dropped his hand and fell silent, just watching her. Her stomach churned. For months, she’d imagined telling him she was single. This wasn’t the reaction she’d expected, though. Interest, maybe. Sympathy, even. But anger? It was reminiscent of their last ride-along, and this was why she’d considered doing her mitzvah in the station rather than with him. When she’d first met him, he was easygoing and fun to talk with. But over the years, he’d changed. And this Jeremy—this intense, brooding guy—made her itchy and nervous. Not necessarily in a bad way, but totally aware of him on every level. “Jeremy?”
Her cell vibrated. She ignored it, focusing instead on the man she couldn’t get out of her thoughts, the one who still had his eyes locked on her face as though he were searching for something there.
“You should answer that.”
With a sigh, she dropped her eyes and looked at the screen. Her best friend, Hannah, who was riding with another officer. The texts came one after the other in quick bursts, kind of the way she spoke. Fun stuff. Glad u talked me into this. Hot cop. Single. Not Jewish, which may kill my parents, but oh well. One long pause, then another text. Going for it. Not getting any younger.
In spite of the tension in the car, Becca laughed.
She looked up at the question on his face and giggle-snorted. “My friend Hannah. She’s riding with Officer…” she paused, looked at her phone, “…Christianson. She said he’s hot and she’s not getting younger. She’s only twenty-three. She’s got plenty of time.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, Matt’s okay. Good guy, great cop. Single, as a far as I know.”
She nodded and dropped her phone back into her lap. That did make her feel better, but you never really knew, did you? She stared at her naked ring finger again. The silence between them stretched on for what felt like forever.
“Why didn’t you tell me you got divorced, Bec?”
Right for the hard questions. “I was going to, but… Does it matter?”
He grunted. “Fuck, yeah, it matters.” The minute the words came out, he flushed. “Sorry.”
Though she was still trying to process what he was getting at, she answered his apology. “What, for the F bomb? I teach middle school, remember? They love that word. And I have three big brothers, so I’m more than familiar with it.” She rolled her eyes at his raised brow. “I’m not some recluse who’s never heard anyone swear before. And I’ve been known to drop my own F bombs a time or two.”
With that, Jeremy’s lips quirked into a tight smile, though again, it didn’t quite meet his eyes. “Really, a nice Jewish girl like you, swearing? I’m appalled.”
She felt the blood drain from her face. In the last few years of their marriage, whenever Sam had gotten mad at her for something, that’s what he’d thrown at her. She swore? She wasn’t behaving like a nice Jewish girl. She wanted more than the missionary position in bed? She wasn’t behaving like a proper Jewish woman. She knew Jeremy was teasing, but damn, she wished he’d chosen other words. Any other words. She bit the inside of her cheek and forced her insecurities back into the farthest reaches of her mind. They didn’t belong here and, dammit, she wouldn’t let Sam ruin things for her now that she’d gotten back on her feet.
She forced herself to look at Jeremy and was bowled over by his tight jaw and narrowed eyes. She froze, locked in his intense gaze.
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.