By Amy Eastlake
Copyright May 2004 by Rob Preece, all rights reserved. Cover copyright August 2004 by Karen Leabo, all rights reserved.
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By Amy Eastlake
"So, buddy, how long are you going to be in Dallas this time?" Carlos Leonard hoisted his second beer of the evening. "We need to go out on the town, scare up some babes."
Nick Odessa shook his head. "Don't know, Carlos. If it was an easy case, Dallas Police Department Internal Affairs could have solved it themselves. When they call in the Texas Rangers, you know that means it might take a while." He paused a beat. "And I can get my own women."
Carlos winked. "So watch out, Dallas females. Reminds me of when we were in the service."
In the ten years since they'd served together in the special forces, Carlos had added a streak of gray at each temple, finished his law degree, and was moving up in the prosecutor's office. Otherwise appeared to be the same babe magnet he'd always been. He also still talked a bigger game than he delivered. Carlos ran from commitment almost as hard as Nick did.
"Yeah, sure. If I ever get off duty. The Dallas Police are pretty rough on their supposed rookies."
"We'll make time." Carlos's smile faded. "The police thing is real, though, isn't it? While you're here, you really are a vice cop as well as a Texas Ranger."
Nick cringed. The idea of having a partner, on depending on someone else for his safety, made him almost ill. "Yeah. So?"
"See that woman over there? I think she's soliciting."
He'd met Carlos in a hole in the wall bar just south of downtown so it wasn't a big surprise that the occasional streetwalker might turn up there. This one, though, was a little over the top.
Her red hair figured to be a wig the way it flew everywhere. The miniskirt she wore barely covered what it needed to cover to keep her legal, and her crop top stretched so tight across an abundance of chest that he wondered what kept it from exploding.
The woman flaunted her wares with ample hip gestures, pouty lips, and an apparent disregard for the possibility that a cop just might decide to enforce the law. Nick's body responded instinctively, even though it was obvious that all of this sexiness was for display and purchase, not the real article.
"Seems to me that there's a crime going on here," Carlos urged him. "You'd better do something."
"Maybe she's just a girl who dresses a little extreme," Nick rationalized. Except she seemed too confident. As if she knew that there was no possibility that the police would ever do anything to her. As if the police had been bought off, or told off.
She could be a lead, the beginning of the break he needed to figure out what was wrong with the Dallas Police Department. And all he could think of was that she'd shifted his hormones into overdrive from the moment Carlos had called her to his attention.
"Maybe she's breaking the law," Carlos said.
Nick took a swallow from his iced tea and stood. "I'll just go and check it out."
"Good idea," Carlos said. "We can't have that kind of activity in the streets of Dallas."
Nick didn't bother analyzing Carlos's sudden shift toward the fuddy-duddy side of life, nor the suppressed smirk on his friend's face. He was in Dallas to look for evidence of a problem in Dallas Police Department's Vice Section. No time like the present to start developing a network of informants.
The woman smiled at him as he approached--a smile that lit her face. Despite her obvious profession, Nick had to swallow through a sudden lump in his throat.
"Hey, baby, looking for a date?" The woman's voice was low, husky.
Up close, the woman was even more attractive than she'd seemed from across the bar. He couldn't help his quick glance at her bare arms and was surprised to see no trace of needle tracks.
"I might be," he said cautiously. "I'm new in town."
"Taking a chance to get away from the little woman? Well, I know I could show you a good time." She inhaled and nearly spilled out of her blouse. Her eyes widened as she stared at his crotch.
Nick was used to control--controlling himself and controlling those around him. There was no possible way that a common streetwalker could set him off like this. Nick didn't find criminals attractive. Ever.
His arousal disagreed.
He took one step closer, moving in for the kill. It isn't illegal for a woman to be aggressive in a bar, and so far, from a legal perspective, that was all she had been. He needed her to make him an offer.
"I'm not sure I'm rich enough to date a woman like you."
She brushed her hand across his tailored gray suit. "Looks like you do all right." She paused, then wet her full lips. "What have you got?"
Texas Rangers didn't spend much time chasing down petty crime like prostitution, so Nick wasn't positive where the line between good police work and entrapment might be drawn. Still, he wasn't really looking for an arrest. He was looking to develop a snitch and this beauty was a perfect candidate.
"How much for the whole night?" He grasped her hand where it still touched his lapel.
Her eyes widened, showing golden-hazel. "We've got something special for you tonight, sailor."
Before Nick could make sense of that, she'd twisted away from his grasp, produced a pair of handcuffs, clicked them onto one of his wrists, and was tugging his cuffed hand behind him.
Nick let his instincts take over. He ducked his head, shifted his hip, and tugged. The woman might be strong for a female, but he was two hundred pounds of muscle and had been Judo Champion of the Austin branch of the Texas Rangers for three years running.
He twisted, bringing her over his hip in a maneuver called Ogoshi, and brought her down to the floor.
Her hand brushed against his chest as she fell. "He's got a gun."
The bar seemed to have gone completely quiet, except for the distinct snicks of automatic safeties being switched off and the ching of a shotgun shell being chambered.
"Let the woman go," a male voice shouted. "Lie down on the ground and don't move."
Nick had no idea that the Dallas underworld was this organized, or that they'd bother going to this kind of effort over a prostitute when it would be cheaper and easier to bail her out and put her back to work.
"Police," the voice continued. "You're under arrest."
All of a sudden the whole thing made sense. He, a Texas Ranger, had been caught in a police sting. He'd be razzed about this for the next decade--if he didn't scare the local cops into something dangerous first.
Lisa Bolinski knew she'd never hear the end of this from the guys on her team. She'd let a john take her down. She hadn't even noticed the shoulder holster under his well-tailored and well-filled-out suit until she'd been heels over head and falling. She'd let a brief moment of sexual attraction overwhelm her common sense. Attraction for a perp, of all things. And if it hadn't been for her backup, she would be in serious trouble right now.
At least she had held onto the cuffs rather than letting him wrestle them away when he'd taken her down. Now that the john was lying still, she completed her job, handcuffing his wrists behind his back.
His weapon, a Glock 29--combined relatively light weight with the stopping power of a buffalo gun. It was more than any civilian should be carrying and it rested in a well worn leather harness.
Her heartbeat accelerated. Maybe it wasn't sexual attraction after all. Maybe she'd finally stumbled over one of the professionals behind the ring of prostitution and drugs that seemed to be everywhere in Dallas--except where the police looked.
Lisa slid the weapon from the holster, yanked out the magazine and dumped the bullets on the floor. "You have a license for this cannon?"
One of her teammates had a boot on the john's head so the man's reply was muffled. The only word she made out distinctly was 'cop.'
"Damn right I'm a cop. And you are under arrest for solicitation, assaulting a police officer, and carrying an illegal concealed weapon." She pulled out her guidance card and started reading through the Miranda spiel although every cop, and most American television viewers, know it by heart.
"Excuse me, officer." The man her perp had been sitting with seemed to think the whole thing was tremendously funny. He could barely get the words out through snorts of laughter, and tears ran down his cheeks.
"If you want trouble, keep taking," she warned. Something about the man looked familiar, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
"I'm Carlos Leonard," the man told her. "You testified for me once."
Leonard--her brain whirled for the connection, then clicked on it. Great. Just what she needed. She'd arrested a friend of one of the up-and-comers in the D.A.'s office.
She gritted her teeth. Nobody had made her john approach her. Nobody had made him offer her money. If Carlos wanted to protect his friend, he could talk to the D.A. After the police brought charges.
"Perfect. He'll have someone to bail him out, then."
"I believe my friend was trying to tell you that he is, himself, a cop."
Lisa scowled. Most cops don't use drugs, shoplift, or hold up convenience stores. Unfortunately, most cops were also male. When they go out of town and think they can get away with it, they are just as scummy as any other male. "Then he should have known better," she told Carlos.
"He's just joined DPD, Carlos continued. "When he mentioned the name of his new partner, I thought this would be a great chance for you two to meet." He doubled over with laughter, unable to continue.
"Are you saying--"
"Uh-oh," one of her teammates announced. "He's got a badge. He's one of us."
Lisa needed a drink. "Don't tell me--"
Roberto Manual, her backup and the cop who'd been holding the john pressed to the floor, grabbed the badge, took his foot off the john's head, and joined Carlos in laughter. He actually went so far as to slap the lawyer on the back. "Oh, man. That was a good one. You got the both of them--bam, between the eyes."
Although she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly what had happened, Lisa made them spell it out.
Roberto took a deep breath, then pulled a handkerchief out from his tunic and wiped his eyes. "Sergeant Bolinski, meet your new partner. This here is Nick Odessa."
Lisa slammed her locker shut wishing that she'd had more than a couple of hours of sleep after that aborted sting operation they'd pulled the previous evening.
The sexual attraction when she'd met her new partner the previous evening had to be pure imagination, Lisa reassured herself. She always had to psych herself up before she could work the sweeps, as cops called their occasional efforts to frighten johns into staying home with their wives rather than trolling the streets for professional sex. And psyching herself up included putting herself into a sexy state of mind. That had to be the problem.
She checked to make sure her automatic was loaded and the safety securely latched, then strapped the holster around her waist. Her backup pistol went into her handbag.
"I hear you arrested your new partner," her friend and sometimes partner Carole McCain told her. This morning, they were the only two women in the ladies dressing room in the downtown police station where they were headquartered.
"Who'd you hear that from?" Lisa had guessed word would go out, but she hadn't thought it would happen so quickly.
"My brother used to team with Sam Holsworth. And Sam used to partner with Roberto Manuel."
"Great. The world-wide cop network is at work again."
"Maybe." Carole blew a bubble, then snapped her gum. "So I snuck in this morning to check him out." She hugged herself, then straightened her Kevlar vest until it enhanced rather than detracted from her shape. "Why didn't you call me? I mean, the man is a complete hunk. He's also the right age. Not one of those kids we normally get out of the Academy."
Although at twenty-five Carole was no older than Lisa, she felt her biological clock ticking in a big way. Lisa, in contrast, never let her hormones rule her common sense.
"I guess he's all-right looking," Lisa admitted. It was the understatement of the year, but she was sticking with her denial, even to her best friend. Carole would probably feel it was her duty to play matchmaker and that would be a disaster.
"Maybe, once you'd handcuffed him, you should have taken him home for, you know," Carole winked broadly, "intensive training. One-on-one, know what I mean?" Her friend's eyes took on a dreamy quality. "He's got a to-die-for body."
Unlike Carole, Lisa had lived through the consequences of emotionless sex. Her mother's bad example made the idea of purely sexual relationships repellent. At least it had until the previous night.
"I didn't really notice," Lisa lied.
"Let's see, black hair, dreamy midnight-blue eyes, and muscles to spare," Carole continued. "Oh, yeah. Who would notice?"
"I figured he was just another john."
"Like any guy with a butt like that would ever have to pay for it." Carole grinned. "I wonder if they'll let me partner with him. I get my handcuffs on him, I'd just chain him to my bed for a week."
"Carole!" Lisa's shock was a little forced, but Carole would know something was really off if she didn't react to her friend's teasing.
"Well, I would."
Lisa knew what Carole meant. Whatever she might tell herself, she hadn't been able to get Nick Odessa out of her mind. Although she'd been busy trying to come up with a counter when he'd thrown her, that hadn't kept her from feeling hard muscles under his linen jacket, nor from noticing his hard erection underneath his civilian slacks.
"Or maybe I'd let him handcuff me to the bed," Carole continued, popping her gum one more time. "That way, it wouldn't really be my fault if I enjoyed myself."
That was the kind of rationalization Lisa's mother had started with when she'd lost her battle with addiction and started selling herself. Lisa's grandmother had protected Lisa and her sister from the worst of her mother's decline, but they'd seen enough. Too much.
"You're welcome to him," Lisa told Carole.
"Oh, my gosh. He did get to you, didn't he. I know that tone of voice." Carole pulled Lisa into a protective hug. "Honey, you can't protect your heart forever. Go out and let yourself have a little fun."
It took a struggle, but Lisa brought her errant fantasies under control. "He's my partner. Talk about violating all the rules."
Carole shook her head. "Like Michelle and Roy, or Ellen and Bert, you mean. Get real, girlfriend. Unattached men and women, working together day in and day out. Partner or not, they always end up in bed."
A male voice interrupted them before Lisa had to respond. "Bolinski, McCain, Lieutenant wants both of you. Now."
Lisa caught a quick look in the mirror to make sure her tunic was on straight, then dragged Carole out when her friend wanted to stop for some makeup repair. When the Lieutenant called, you hustled.
Lieutenant Steve Silver sat at the head of the table in the briefing room drinking rank departmental coffee from a mug that declaimed him the boss of all he surrounded. No one, especially not Silver, knew where the mug had come from. The Lieutenant seemed to find the sentiment convincing, though, and had used the mug for years since it had mysteriously appeared.
"I'm so glad you two could make it," he observed when the women hurried in.
"Sorry sir," Lisa offered. Silver was fair, but he didn't believe in excuses. A discussion about Nick Odessa's butt would not have passed as even a poor excuse in Silver's book.
"I understand you've already met your new partner." The slight upturn on Silver's lips was as close as he ever got to a belly laugh.
The police gossip network usually didn't extend all the way up to Lieutenant ranks. The guys must have decided her getting flipped on her butt by a rookie was the side-splitter of the year. Cop humor, Lisa realized for maybe the millionth time, was not especially sophisticated.
Lisa opened her mouth, glared down the table at where Nick Odessa sat looking like he owned the world, then nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Since you ended up wasting most of last evening getting acquainted, we didn't have anything like the number of busts we expected." Silver's smile vanished as if he'd never even thought about anything less serious than the black plague. "The Morning News carried the vice sweep story on page nine." He held up a hand. "In the Metro section."
Uh-oh. The main reason for conducting sweeps wasn't really to arrest johns. The D.A.'s office usually pleaded them out with some sort of community service anyway. The purpose was to put the scare of the law into the ones they didn't catch. They did that by making the newspapers. Usually, the cop-friendly and conservative local paper could be counted on for a front page headline.
Silver stared at her for a good five seconds before giving her the slightest hint of a nod. He turned to the stack of papers in front of him. "I'm halfway tempted to put you in traffic for a few days to remind you to pay attention while you're on the job."
Lisa nodded grimly and crossed her fingers under the table. She'd paid her dues with six years of hard work before she'd been promote into Vice. Getting sent back, even on a temporary basis, would be a serious black mark in her file.
"And you," Silver continued, shifting his glare at Lisa's new partner. "What the hell were you thinking of? Or did you think you could just let your dick do the thinking?"
Nick checked out the interior of Lisa's heavy police cruiser. Nothing overt marked it as a female's vehicle, yet he felt certain he would have been able to pick it out from the row of identical cars even if Lisa hadn't marched straight toward it. He shook his head trying to get the idea of nasty sex with the woman out of his mind.
What was he thinking? He'd just escaped one of the worst balling's out he'd received since being a kid on the streets in El Paso and he could only think about the woman walking next to him.
She was his partner.
She was a cop.
She was a suspect.
"You drive," she commanded tossing him the keys.
He snatched the keys from the air as they sailed toward him. She didn't throw like a girl. For some reason, that pleased him.
"Right. Where to?"
Lisa wrinkled her brow. "You heard the Lieutenant. Harry Hines, Bachman Lake, and Northwest Highway."
"Fine." He'd studied maps of Dallas, but his work with the Rangers had never brought him to the city before. If he wasn't careful, he'd blow his cover before the day was over. Since Lisa Bolinski was clearly implicated in whatever was going on, that could mean trouble for both of them.
He pulled out of the police parking lot and headed north.
Although it was only seven in the morning, working girls were already out, or still out, peddling their wares. They stood in small groups near the intersections, chatting among themselves, smoking cigarettes, and occasionally calling out to the passing traffic.
He glanced over at Lisa and was surprised to see her jaw clenched. How had she made it as far as she had in an urban police force if she couldn't take seeing a few prostitutes on the street?
"Slow down," she commanded. Her voice seemed charged with emotion--anger, frustration, Nick wasn't sure.
Lisa took a deep breath and spoke again, her voice back under her complete control. "Pull alongside that group of females."
He did as instructed.
He hadn't even stopped the car when Lisa threw the door open and stepped out. She stalked toward the four young women with a pace that put him in mind of a panther's deadly stalk. A very sexy panther.
He watched in amazement for a good five seconds before opening the cruiser door and heading out to back up his partner.
Lisa spun and faced him, her expression showing surprise and disappointment. "Leave the engine on. Didn't you learn anything in the Academy?"
Since Nick's complete Dallas Police Academy training had been a day with the commander, he chose not to answer that question. "Right, ma'am."
Lisa reached out and grabbed the taller of the working girls. Two of the others scattered while the fourth, a blonde with overdeveloped curves, stayed and laughed.
"I thought you told me you were heading back to Mineral Wells." At no more than five foot three, Lisa was nearly a head shorter than the young woman she was addressing, but there was no question that Lisa was in charge. Nick figured she would have been in charge even if the other woman had been the one in uniform.
He felt his eyes lingering over that uniform, the way it shaped itself around Lisa's rear, the gentle taper of her waist, and the wisp of auburn hair that had escaped from her french braid and ruffled in the wind.
Get with the program, he lectured himself. Lisa was a suspect, not a date prospect.
"We had a deal, Brittany," Lisa insisted.
"I just couldn't," the young prostitute answered.
"Ooh, a new cop," the blonde prostitute interrupted. "I've got a half-price special for pretty boy cops today only."
"Shut up, Tammy," Lisa told her. "I'm talking to Brittany."
"Well, all right. Looks like mean Lisa finally got one she wants to keep," Tammy replied. "'Cept I don't mind sharing, big boy."
Nick ignored Tammy and looked at Brittany, trying to mentally clear away the pound of makeup she wore. At first glance, he would have guessed she was thirty years old. When he looked more closely, he figured that eighteen was closer to the mark. Maybe even younger. He suppressed his gag reflex. This was a child. What was she doing on the winter streets of Dallas?
"I can't go back," Brittany repeated.
"Is it that you can't go back, or that something is stopping you from leaving here?" Nick demanded.
Both Lisa and Brittany glared at Nick as if they wished he'd shrivel up and vanish into a crack in the sidewalk. "Why don't you just keep on flirting with Tammy?" Lisa suggested. She grasped Brittany by the arm and half led, half-dragged her to the police cruiser.
Lisa's behavior wasn't the by-the-book procedure that Nick would have expected from her. He pondered her behavior as he stepped into a nearby 7-11 and bought a couple of coffees and four donuts. He'd give Lisa and Brittany a few minutes to talk while he played the rookie cop role. But every instinct in his body told him that this wasn't a standard bust, that Lisa had an agenda of her own. Which was exactly what he'd been brought to watch for.
When he returned from the convenience store, Lisa and Brittany sat in the back seat of the cruiser, Lisa lecturing and Brittany nodding sullenly.
Lisa's gestures, the way she brushed back escaping wisps of that wild red hair, and her occasional smile hit him right in the groin. Nick had spent a decade serving with the Department of Public Safety and then the Texas Rangers--for his money the best police organization in the country. He knew better than to let sexual attraction influence his sense of the case.
Right now, he was failing badly. He didn't want Lisa Bolinski to be guilty of anything.
He took a sip of the scalding coffee and let his mind wander back to the way Lisa's body had felt when he'd thrown her the previous night. He wouldn't be much of a man if he hadn't noticed the firm muscles underneath the curves, nor the way she'd almost countered his throw. If he was the kind of cop who worked with a partner, partnering with Lisa wouldn't be all bad.
But he wasn't. Depending on anyone, let alone a woman, was a recipe for failure. He was a lone wolf. He'd survived the gangs in El Paso by being quick, by moving on, by leaving everything behind. So why was he thinking this way about a woman who, according to his sources, was violating her police oath every day?
He took another sip of coffee, then returned to Tammy. Maybe he could do a little detecting after all. Besides, he hadn't missed the look on Lisa's face when she'd told him to waste his time flirting. Nick knew she'd deny it, but Lisa was as sexually attracted to him as he was to her. Of course he'd be a complete heel to take advantage of her hormones to uncover the corruption in the Dallas Police Department and send the poor girl to jail. But he'd been called worse than a heel. It was his job.
"Been working in Dallas long?" he asked Tammy.
He'd bought the second coffee for Lisa, but he handed it to the prostitute. "Eat anything today?"
She sipped at the beverage, then stared at his crotch. "Have any suggestions?"
Nick though he was past embarrassment. From the heat in his cheeks, he was wrong. He held out the bag. "Donuts."
"I hear somebody's taking over the prostitution rings," he said as casually as he could. "Must make it hard for an independent."
Tammy shrugged, wiggling her body for all she was worth. "I just do my job."
"You don't seem very worried that my partner and I will pull you in."
Tammy stared at him, then laughed. "Don't tell me you're thinking about making an informant out of me. What--for a buck's worth of coffee and a donut? I think I'd rather live, thank you very much."
She shoved the coffee back in his hand, grabbed one of the donuts, and strode away.
"No getting laid on duty." Nick hadn't heard Lisa approach and was grasping for his gun before he realized it was just her.
"Look, partner," Lisa put her hands on her hips and shot him a glare that would have frozen a salamander. It also had the beneficial side effect of showing off the attractive curves of her breasts.
Nick did his best to keep his eyes on Lisa's face. It was hard. In more ways than one. "I'm--"
"I know most guys can't keep their dicks in their pants, but if you're going to be working vice, you're going to have to learn some control. I'm trying to gain some trust with these girls, help them escape the life they've gotten into, and the last thing I need, or they need, is some male lug letting them believe that their whole value is based on putting out."
Nick nodded firmly. He wasn't quite sure what had set Lisa off, but she obviously felt strongly about the women she worked with, seeing them as victims rather than as the criminals they were. "I'm with you, Sergeant."
Her glare moderated, but only a little. "All right, then. We're taking Brittany to the bus station and making sure she gets on the bus. You have a problem with that?"
"No problem ma-am." No problem at all. Lisa seemed sincere. Still, playing taxi to working girls wasn't in the police manual. He would watch the women Lisa talked to and find the proof that she was dirty.
Once he did that, she'd be his. He'd nail her pretty ass to the wall and flip her to bring the
entire organization down.
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