Authors: Taylor Lee
Tags: #Idesire Publications
Nate’s sharp whistle and exclamation spoke for the group.
“Well, I’ll be dammed.”
Connor quirked a wry brow.
“I venture to say that’s a given, Cuz.”
Nate slowly shook his head and huffed out a low chuckle.
“Damn, Connor. Why does this keep happening to me? First you spring Erin, spelled e.r.i.n. on me.” Nodding at Sam, he growled, “Then the Chief launches ‘Hollywood’ here into my life, and now you calmly introduce this… this… vision as Lt. Nilsson? The MPD Bomb and Arson Squad leader? Tell me you’re kidding!”
Connor turned with a grin to the young woman whose lips were curved in a tentative smile.
“Annika, Lt. Nilsson to the rest of you. In case you didn’t recognize him from his numerous television appearances and magazine cover stories, this scruffy-looking guy in the blue jeans and t-shirt is the infamous Detective Nate Stryker. Nate runs this little operation. His greatest claim to fame is that he is my bad boy cousin and somehow convinced the second most gorgeous woman in the world to fall in love with him—the most gorgeous, being my wife.”
Connor grinned at her and added with a wink, “As of today, I think I better add a third woman to that rarified group.”
A consenting murmur from the awed men at the table confirmed the group agreed with him.
Charlie Hanson managed to close his mouth long enough to choke on his coffee. His voice mimicked the wonder on his facial expression.
“Fuckin’-A, if I didn’t know better, I’d a thought Connor had dug up that blond babe, that tennis player on television. You know… that Anna Corna… Anna Cornucopia…”
The hoots of laughter from the gang at the table, brought a flush of red to the Lieutenant’s ruddy face.
“Uh, Charlie, I think you might be referring to Anna Kournikova.”
Sam saw Nate wrestling with the notion of rescuing his lieutenant but the devastating twinkle in the irrepressible smart ass’s eyes confirmed that as usual Nate wouldn’t hold back. Instead he waded into the deep water.
“Come to think of it, Charlie, ‘cornucopia’ isn’t far off. Uh… bodacious baskets… cornucopia. Yeah, I can see where you might have gotten confused….”
A chorus of guffaws and snickers followed Nate’s intentionally shocking taunt.
Connor jumped in, turning a cold eye on Nate and Charlie, although he couldn’t hide the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Annika, please forgive my outrageous cousin and his cohorts. They don’t get out of their cage much and Nate banned out of hand anything resembling a human resources department. The one good thing is that no one’s ever brought a harassment suit against them. No one except the Mayor, of course, but he backed off when Nate threatened to go after his daughter. Or was it his wife, Cuz?”
Nate grinned and clapped Connor on the back.
“Now, now, Connor. That’s ancient history. Don’t you try and scare off Lt. Nilsson. We need her. Ask Sergeant Baker. Garrett’s been stuck as the de facto fire inspector and we’re just too damned short-handed to give him the time to do a decent job of investigating these recent fires. So, Lieutenant, my cousin is correct. We don’t get out much and you’ll have to overlook my atrocious manners and those of some members of my team.”
He included Charlie in his sweeping nod around the room.
Sam had been the object of too many racially charged jokes, even good-natured ones like Nate threw his way on a regular basis, not to pay attention to the quiet woman’s reaction to what he knew must be the norm for her. What else could she expect in a male-dominated profession that kept its sanity with outrageous language and equally offensive humor? It was the lifeblood of every precinct he’d worked in. The juice that kept their engines stoked, ready for action. The on-going hazing allowed the adrenalin junkies that filled the perilous ranks to blow off steam. There was nothing these dangerous men and women who put their lives on the line every day of the week liked better than thumbing their collective noses at the politically correct establishment. Sam knew the only place that was worse than the police was the military and Special Ops was the baddest of the bad. And he ought to have known. He’d survived them all with his sense of humor and pride intact. The greater the danger, the more testosterone-laden the mission, the more outrageous the humorous bomb-throwing. But the politically incorrect wit was even handed, an equal opportunity attack. No one minority or sex escaped—or was overly targeted. At least in the good departments. The ones run by wise men like Nate and his cousin Connor. And like Sam, on his own turf.
Sam was surprised at the concern he felt watching the lieutenant’s reaction. A stab of protectiveness caught him off guard. To his practiced gaze Lt. Nilsson looked fragile, vulnerable. Her lip trembled and a flash of what could have been pain streaked through her eyes. But as though liquid steel from an unknown source stiffened her spine, her expression quickly hardened. Although her voice was low, almost sweet, her words weren’t. Wisely ignoring Nate, she chose to focus her barb on Charlie.
“I know the feeling, Lt. Hanson. Whenever I meet a black man or an unreformed rock star or a fifty year old white man, I’m struck by the fact that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. You know, the way all blondes look alike to you.”
Charlie’s flush deepened but he managed a good-natured salute and a small bow which Annika acknowledged with a smile.
Once again, Nate spoke for the group.
“Touché, Lieutenant. On behalf of Sam, the black guy who frankly doesn’t look like any black guy I’ve met, only the ones I’ve seen on television or in the movies, and my self-declared redneck buddy, and myself who’s as far from a rock star as you’ll ever meet, may I welcome you to our incorrigible group. Should you choose to become one of us, I can assure you that our ill-begotten humor only gets worse the longer we’re on duty and the farther away we are from an ice-cold long neck.”
Annika smiled at the imposing man who was grinning at her but she didn’t miss the careful scrutiny underlying his grin. Stryker was measuring her, seeing if she could take it. Take the ribbing certain to come her way. Like a good leader he was testing her. To see if she could handle his proudly outrageous group. God knows she should be able to. She’d had years of practice. She tipped up her chin and gave him a cool smile that must have reassured him, because he winked at her, a welcoming gesture. Damn, the famous detective was as gorgeous as advertised. Like everyone in the state, Annika had seen Detective Stryker on television so often he was familiar, not surprising. Only he was more striking in person, if possible.
Who did surprise her was the tall black man standing off to the side. He must be Sam Carter, the upstart commander from the LAPD who Connor told her about. The guy that every police gossip rag identified as an up-and-coming future Chief of Police at the prestigious LAPD. The fact that he couldn’t be more than early to mid-thirties at the most was shocking. His warm brown skin complimented his black curly closely cropped hair. But it was his features that stopped her cold. They spoke to a mixed heritage. African for sure, but his skin was a caramel color signally a racial mix. The slight tilt of his flashing black eyes hinted at an Asian influence. His high cheekbones were chiseled, fine. A scruff of neatly trimmed facial hair decorated his strong chin, and his full, inviting lips made him simply the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen.
Annika’s incipient interest that had sent sparks of tantalizing energy through her passion-starved body quickly died when she replayed the rest of the gossip she’d heard, and remembered exactly who he was. The stunning man who was studying her with a quizzical, hard to decipher expression, was none other than the son of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Their backgrounds were so different; she felt as though she’d been hatched on an inferior planet and had three heads. Even acknowledging that fact, Annika couldn’t squelch her disappointment. Damn. Commander Samuel D. Carter might just be the sexiest man she’d ever seen in her life.
Only when Detective Stryker frowned at her did she realize he’d been talking to her. Dragging her gaze away from Commander Carter, Annika tried to remember what Nate had asked her.
Stryker must have seen her confusion because a knowing smile tweaked his lips.
“I wanted to introduce you to the real rock star here, Lieutenant. This is Sam Carter. Sam’s a commander in the Los Angeles PD. He’s hanging out with me for a couple of months to see how the big dogs do it. We call him by a number of names: ‘Hollywood’ being the most descriptive, ‘hotshot’ being the most apt. Surprisingly, I also call him my friend.”
Sam Carter’s dark eyes twinkled as he reached for her hand. His grin had all of the wattage of Nate’s and then some.
“You’ll soon know that no matter how outrageous the Detective acts or speaks you’ll never meet a finer cop or, a finer man, for that matter. Welcome to the looney bin they call Chicadia Falls, Lieutenant. I’m grateful to welcome a fellow traveler. We aliens need to stick together.”
Annika swore she felt sparks when he squeezed her hand. She prayed that the heat flooding her cheeks wasn’t noticeable. The knowing smile the two striking men exchanged confirmed she’d prayed in vain.
Sam choked back a laugh at the expression on Garrett Baker’s face as the indiscreet cop ogled Annika’s backside as she tromped through the charred rubble. The wiry sergeant’s tongue was literally hanging out of his mouth and it wasn’t due to dehydration. Given the steamy hot July afternoon, Baker could have blamed his flushed face and lusting eyes on the heat but he wouldn’t have fooled Sam. Hell, Sam couldn’t fault the guy. That backside was more than worth ogling.
Sam had offered to drive Annika and Baker to the fire site ignoring the sergeant’s annoyed frown at his interference. If she noticed their jockeying, Annika didn’t let on. In the ride to the development, she peppered Baker with one astute question after another, jotting notes in her leather bound folder. Her inquiries about triggering mechanisms, timing devices, and accelerants met with garbled replies or flat out declarations of ignorance from the clearly out of his league cop. By the time they reached Lakeside Estates, Annika had stopped asking questions, apparently deciding that any information she needed she would get for herself. Sam had been to the site once after the second fire but knew that both Connor and Nate were unhappy with Sgt. Baker’s inattention to detail. Annika seemed to agree with them.
When they arrived, the lithe woman hopped out of the car before either Sam or Sgt. Baker could get to the door to assist her. Stripping off her jacket and tossing it on the front seat of the car, she headed toward the burnt-out shell without speaking to either man. Her stark white sleeveless blouse might have been nondescript on another woman. On Annika, it was incendiary. Without the protective overlay of the suit coat, the lush swell of her breasts was clearly visible. The Kimber 380 tucked in her back holster only served to tighten the trousers that hugged a fine looking ass. When she swept her long silky hair up into a twist and fastened it the top of her head with a clip, Sam thought he might lose it.
His dick had been fighting for attention since Annika entered the conference room. But the soft sheen of sweat on the back of her neck was so damn tempting, Sam had to clamp his jaw shut to keep from reaching out and licking off the salty dampness. The thought of weaving his fingers through that glossy platinum mass and tipping her head back to bare her throat to his hungry mouth had his dick threatening to break through his zipper. Damn. What was it about this woman that had him on fire? This was not like him. Women had chased after him since he was fourteen years old. And he’d welcomed them, one and all. A bevy of harem-worthy pulchritude was waiting for him in LA and various other cities around the globe when he completed his “wilderness shtick” as his father jokingly called it.
Three months was a long time without a woman but Sam had decided he would forego sex while in Minnesota. Given the messiness of one night stands and the like, in a town where everyone knew before noon if you had raspberry or strawberry jelly on your English muffin, celibacy seemed like a sound professional move. Sam wanted to be remembered as the LA cop who came in to worship at the foot of the master, not challenge Nate’s ‘all night wonder’ reputation duly recorded in the Chicadia Falls version of the Guinness Book of Sexual Records.
But, he reminded himself, his commitment to celibacy was pre-Annika Nilsson.
Watching her long-legged strides through the bomb crater shell of the four hundred thousand dollar house, Sam marveled at her professionalism and her ability to ignore the two men jostling for her attention. He followed behind her like an obedient puppy dog, trying not to growl at Baker when the asshole closed the distance between him and Annika. To Sam’s glee, clumsy jackass that Baker was, he made the mistake of being too overt. In a sly reference to her enticing blouse, the sergeant pretended concern but didn’t try to hide the gleam in his eyes.
“Aren’t you afraid you might get that pretty little shirt dirty, Lieutenant?’
Without so much as a backward glance, Annika responded coolly, “That’s why they have washing machines, Sergeant.”
Sam managed not to crow, but instead depended on his $600 Starck shades to mask his delight at the other man’s discomfort. Annika’s scorn, however, was not reserved for the chastened middle aged guy licking his wounded pride. When Sam reached out to help her over a three foot strip of charred joists, Annika flicked his hand away with her finger tips as though he were an annoying mosquito. Never one to avoid a challenge he ignored the insult and made a stab at collegial conversation.
“Connor indicated that you’ve applied to become an ATF agent in their arson and explosives division. That’s a significant position. Very select. My understanding is that the training is rigorous and the acceptance rate is less than ten percent. Let us know how we can help. Nate and I, and I’m sure Connor, will be pleased to give you a recommendation.”
Annika stopped and stared at him for a moment as if considering what she wanted to say. She frowned and drew her lips into a tight line and shrugged.