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Authors: Nora Roberts

Night shield

Nora Roberts

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NIGHT SHIELD

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Harlequin Books edition / September 2000

InterMix eBook edition / April 2012

Copyright © 2000 by Nora Roberts.

Excerpt fromThe Witnesscopyright © 2012 by Nora Roberts.

All rights reserved.

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ISBN: 978-1-101-56936-8

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For tough guys, with soft hearts.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Epilogue

Special Excerpt

About the Author

Chapter 1

He didn’t like cops.

His attitude had deep roots, and stemmed from spending his formative years dodging them, outrunning them—usually—or being hassled by them when his feet weren’t fast enough.

He’d picked his share of pockets by the time he’d turned twelve and he knew the best and most lucrative channels for turning a hot watch into cold cash.

He’d learned back then that knowing what time it was couldn’t buy happiness, but the twenty bucks the watch brought in paid for a nice slice of the happiness pie. And twenty bucks cannily wagered swelled into sixty at three-to-one.

The same year he’d turned twelve, he’d invested his carefully hoarded takes and winnings in a small gambling enterprise that centered around point spreads and indulged his interest in sports.

He was a businessman at heart.

He hadn’t run with gangs. First of all he’d never had the urge to join groups, and more important he didn’t care for the pecking order such organizations required. Someone had to be in charge—and he preferred it to be himself.

Some people might say Jonah Blackhawk had a problem with authority.

They would be right.

He supposed the tide had turned right after he’d turned thirteen. His gambling interests had grown nicely—a little too nicely to suit certain more established syndicates.

He’d been warned off in the accepted way—he’d had the hell beat out of him. Jonah acknowledged the bruised kidneys, split lip and blackened eyes as a business risk. But before he could make his decision to move territories or dig in, he’d been busted. And busted solid.

Cops were a great deal more of an annoyance than business rivals.

But the cop who’d hauled his arrogant butt in had been different. Jonah had never pinned down what exactly separated this cop from the others in the line of shields and rule books. So, instead of being tossed into juvie—to which he was no stranger—he’d found himself yanked into programs, youth centers, counseling.

Oh, he’d squirmed and snapped in his own cold-blooded way, but this cop had a grip like a bear trap and hadn’t let go. The sheer tenacity had been a shock. No one had held on to him before. Jonah had found himself rehabilitated almost despite himself, at least enough to see there were certain advantages to, if not working in the system, at least working the system.

Now, at thirty, no one would call him a pillar of Denver’s community, but he was a legitimate businessman whose enterprises turned a solid profit and allowed him a lifestyle the hustling street kid couldn’t have dreamed of.

He owed the cop, and he always paid his debts.

Otherwise, he’d have chosen to be chained naked and honey-smeared to a hill of fire ants rather than sit tamely in the outer office of the commissioner of police of Denver.

Even if the commissioner was Boyd Fletcher.

Jonah didn’t pace. Nervous motion was wasted motion and gave too much away. The woman manning the station outside the commissioner’s double doors was young, attractive with a very interesting and wanton mass of curling red hair. But he didn’t flirt. It wasn’t the wedding ring on her finger that stopped him as much as her proximity to Boyd and, through him, the long blue line.


Page 2

He sat, patient and still, in one of the hunter-green chairs in the waiting area, a tall man with a long-legged, tough build, wearing a three-thousand-dollar jacket over a twenty-dollar T-shirt. His hair was raven-black, straight and thick. That and the pale gold of his skin, the whiplash of cheekbones, were gifts from his great-grandfather, an Apache.

The cool, clear green eyes might have been a legacy from his Irish great-grandmother, who’d been stolen from her family by the Apache and had given the brave who’d claimed her three sons.

Jonah knew little of his family history. His own parents had been more interested in fighting with each other over the last beer in the six-pack than in tucking their only son in with bedtime stories. Occasionally Jonah’s father had boasted about his lineage, but Jonah had never been sure what was fact and what was convenient fiction.

And didn’t really give a damn.

You were what you made yourself.

That was a lesson Boyd Fletcher had taught him. For that alone, Jonah would have walked on hot coals for him.

“Mr. Blackhawk? The commissioner will see you now.”

She offered a polite smile as she rose to get the door. And she’d taken a good long look at the commissioner’s ten o’clock appointment—a wedding ring didn’t strike a woman blind, after all. Something about him made her tongue want to hang out, and at the same time made her want to run for cover.

His eyes warned a woman he’d be dangerous. He had a dangerous way of moving as well, she mused. Graceful and sleek as a cat. A woman could weave some very interesting fantasies about a man like that—and fantasies were probably the safest way to be involved with him.

Then he flicked her a smile, so full of power and charm she wanted to sigh like a teenager.

“Thanks.”

She rolled her eyes as she shut the door behind him. “Oh boy, are you welcome.”

“Jonah.” Boyd was already up and coming around his desk. One hand gripped Jonah’s while the other gave Jonah’s shoulder a hard squeeze in a kind of male hug. “Thanks for coming.”

“Hard to refuse a request from the commissioner.”

The first time Jonah had met Boyd, Boyd had been a lieutenant. His hair had been a dark, streaked gold, and his office small, cramped and glass walled.

Now Boyd’s hair was deep, solid silver, and his office spacious. The glass wall was a wide window that looked out on Denver and the mountains that ringed it.

Some things change, Jonah thought, then looked into Boyd’s steady bottle-green eyes. And some don’t.

“Black coffee suit you?”

“Always did.”

“Have a seat.” Boyd gestured to a chair, then walked over to his coffee machine. He’d insisted on one of his own to save himself the annoyance of buzzing an assistant every time he wanted a hit. “Sorry I kept you waiting. I had a call to finish up. Politics,” he muttered as he poured two mugs with rich black coffee. “Can’t stand them.”

Jonah said nothing, but the corner of his lips quirked.

“And no smart remarks about me being a damn politician at this stage of my game.”

“Never crossed my mind.” Jonah accepted the coffee. “To say it.”

“You always were a sharp kid.” Boyd sat on a chair beside Jonah’s rather than behind the desk. He let out a long sigh. “Never used to think I’d ride a desk.”

“Miss the streets?”

“Every day. But you do what you do, then you do the next thing. How’s the new club?”

“It’s good. We draw a respectable crowd. Lots of gold cards. They need them,” Jonah added as he sipped his coffee. “We hose them on the designer drinks.”

“That so? And here I was thinking of bringing Cilla by for an evening out.”

“You bring your wife, you get drinks and dinner on the house—is that allowed?”

Boyd hesitated, tapped his finger against his mug. “We’ll see. I have a little problem, Jonah, I think you might be able to help me with.”

“If I can.”

“We’ve had a series of burglaries the last couple of months. Mostly high-dollar, easily liquidated stuff. Jewelry, small electronics, cash.”

“Same area?”

“No, across the board. Single family homes out in the burbs, downtown apartments, condos. We’ve had six hits in just under eight weeks. Very slick, very clean.”

“Well, what can I do for you?” Jonah rested his mug on his knee. “B and E was never my thing.” His smile flashed. “According to my record.”

“I always wondered about that.” But Boyd lifted a hand, waved it away. “The marks are as varied as the locations of the hits. Young couples, older couples, singles. But they all have one thing in common. They were all at a club on the night of the burglary.”

Jonah’s eyes narrowed, the only change of expression. “One of mine?”

“In five out of the six, yours.”

Jonah drank his coffee, looked out the wide window at the hard blue sky. The tone of his voice remained pleasant, casual. But his eyes had gone cold. “Are you asking me if I’m involved?”

“No, Jonah, I’m not asking you if you’re involved. We’ve been beyond that for a long time.” Boyd waited a beat. The boy was—always had been—touchy. “Or I have.”

With a nod, Jonah rose. He walked back to the coffeemaker, set down his cup. There weren’t many people who mattered enough to him that he cared what they thought of him. Boyd mattered.

“Someone’s using my place to scope marks,” he said with his back to Boyd. “I don’t like it.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

“Which place?”

“The new one. Blackhawk’s.”

He nodded again. “Higher-end clientele. Likely a bigger disposable income than the crowd at a sports bar like Fast Break.” He turned back. “What do you want from me, Fletch?”

“I’d like your cooperation. And I’d like you to agree to work with the investigating team. Most specifically with the detective in charge.”

Jonah swore and, in a rare show of agitation, raked his fingers through his hair. “You want me to rub shoulders with cops, set them loose in my place?”

Boyd didn’t bother to hide his amusement. “Jonah, they’ve already been in your place.”

“Not while I was there.” Of that, he could be sure. He could sense cop at half a mile, while he was running in the other direction in the dark.

And had.

“No, apparently not. Some of us work during daylight hours.”

“Why?”

With a half laugh, Boyd stretched out his legs. “Did I ever tell you I met Cilla when we were both on night shift?”

“No more than twenty or thirty times.”

“Same smart mouth. I always liked that about you.”

“That’s not what you said when you threatened to staple it shut.”

“Nothing wrong with your memory, either. I could use your help, Jonah.” Boyd’s voice went soft, serious. “I’d appreciate it.”

He’d avoided prisons all his life, Jonah thought. Until Boyd. The man had built a prison around him of loyalty and trust and affection. “You’ve got it—for what it’s worth.”

“It’s worth a great deal to me.” He rose, offered his hand to Jonah again. “Right on time,” he said as his phone rang. “Get yourself some more coffee. I want you to meet the detective in charge of the case.”

He rounded the desk, picked up the receiver. “Yes, Paula. Good. We’re ready.” This time he sat at the desk. “I have a lot of faith in this particular cop. The detective shield’s fairly new, but it was well earned.”

“A rookie detective. Perfect.” Resigned, Jonah poured more coffee. He didn’t bobble the pot when the door opened, but his mind jumped. He supposed it was a pleasant thing to realize he could still be surprised.

She was a long-legged, lanky blonde with eyes like prime whiskey. She wore her hair in a straight, sleek tail down the middle of her back, over a trim, well-cut jacket the color of steel.

When she flicked those eyes over him, her wide, pretty mouth stayed serious and unsmiling.

Jonah realized he’d have noticed the face first, so classy and fine-boned, then he’d have noticed the cop. The package might have been distracting, but he’d have made her.

“Commissioner.” She had a voice like her eyes, deep and dark and potent.

“Detective. You’re prompt. Jonah, this is—”

“You don’t have to introduce her.” Casually Jonah sipped fresh coffee. “She has your wife’s eyes and your jaw. Nice to meet you, Detective Fletcher.”

“Mr. Blackhawk.”

She’d seen him before. Once, she recalled, when her father had gone to one of his high school baseball games and she’d tagged along. She remembered being impressed by his gutsy, nearly violent baserunning.

She also knew his history and wasn’t quite as trusting of former delinquents as her father. And, though she hated to admit it, she was a little jealous of their relationship.

“Do you want some coffee, Ally?”

“No, sir.” He was her father, but she didn’t sit until the commissioner gestured to a chair.

Boyd spread his hands. “I thought we’d be more comfortable having this meeting here. Ally, Jonah’s agreed to cooperate with the investigation. I’ve given him the overview. I leave it to you to fill in the necessary details.”

“Six burglaries in a period of under eight weeks. Estimated cumulative loss in the ballpark of eight hundred thousand dollars. They go for easily fenced items, heavy on the jewelry. However, in one case a victim’s Porsche was stolen from the garage. Three of the homes had security systems. They were disengaged. There have been no signs of break-in. In each case the residence was empty at the time of the burglary.”

Jonah crossed the room, sat. “I’ve already got that much—except for the Porsche. So, you’ve got someone who can boost cars as well as lift locks, and likely has a channel to turn over a variety of merchandise.”

“None of the goods have turned up through any of the known channels in Denver. The operation’s well organized and efficient. We suspect there are at least two, probably three or more, people involved. Your club’s been the main source.”

“And?”

“Two of your employees at Blackhawk’s have criminal records. William Sloan and Frances Cummings.”

Jonah’s eyes went cold, but didn’t flicker. “Will ran numbers, and did his time. He’s been out and clean for five years. Frannie worked the stroll, and it’s her business why. Now she tends bar instead of johns. Don’t you believe in rehabilitation, Detective Fletcher?”

“I believe your club is being used as a pool to hook fish, and I intend to check all the lines. Logic indicates someone on the inside’s baiting the hook.”

“I know the people who work for me.” He shot Boyd a furious look. “Damn it, Fletch.”

“Jonah, hear us out.”

“I don’t want my people hassled because they tripped over the law at some point in their lives.”

“No one’s going to hassle your people. Or you,” Ally added. Though you did plenty of tripping of your own, she thought. “If we’d wanted to interview them, we would have. We don’t need your permission or your cooperation to question potential suspects.”

“You move them from my people to suspects very smoothly.”

“If you believe they’re innocent, why worry?”

“Okay, simmer down.” Boyd stayed behind the desk, rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re in an awkward and difficult position, Jonah. We appreciate that,” he said pointedly with a subtle lift of his eyebrows for his daughter. “The goal is to root out whoever’s in charge of this organization and put an end to it. They’re using you.”

“I don’t want Will and Frannie yanked down into interrogation.”

“That’s not our intention.” So he had a hot button, Ally mused. Friendship? Loyalty? Or maybe he had a thing going with the ex-hooker. It would be part of the job to find out. “We don’t want to alert anyone on the inside to the investigation. We need to find out who’s targeting the marks, and how. We want you to put a cop on the inside.”

“I’m on the inside,” he reminded her.

“Then you should be able to make room for another waitress. I can start tonight.”

Jonah let out a short laugh, turned to Boyd. “You want your daughter working tables in my club?”

Ally got to her feet, slowly. “The commissioner wants one of his detectives undercover at your club. And this is my case.”

Jonah rose, as well. “Let’s clear this up. I don’t give a damn whose case it is. Your father asked me to cooperate, so I will. Is this what you want me to do?” he asked Boyd.

“It is, for now.”

“Fine. She can start tonight. Five o’clock, my office at Blackhawk’s. We’ll go over what you need to know.”

“I owe you for this, Jonah.”

“You’ll never owe me for anything.” He walked to the door, stopped, shot a glance over his shoulder. “Oh, Detective? Waitresses at Blackhawk’s wear black. Black shirt or sweater, black skirt. Short black skirt,” he added, then let himself out.

Ally pursed her lips and, for the first time since she’d come into the room, relaxed enough to slip her hands casually into her pockets. “I don’t think I like your friend, Dad.”

“He’ll grow on you.”

“What, like mold? No,” she corrected. “He’s too cool for that. I might end up with a little skin of ice, though. You’re sure of him?”

“As sure as I am of you.”

And that, she thought, said it all. “Whoever’s set up these B and E’s has brains, connections and guts. I’d say your pal there has all three.” She lifted her shoulders. “Still, if I can’t trust your judgment, whose can I trust?”

Boyd grinned. “Your mother always liked him.”

“Well then, I’m half in love already.” That wiped the grin off his face, she noted with amusement. “I’m still going to have a couple of men under as customers.”

“That’s your call.”

“It’s been five days since the last hit. They’re working too well not to want to move again soon.”

She strode toward the coffeepot, changed her mind and strode away again. “They might not use his club next time, it’s not a given. We can’t cover every damn club in the city.”

“So, you focus your energy on Blackhawk’s. That’s smart, and it’s logical. One step at a time, Allison.”

“I know. I learned that from the best. I guess the first step is to go dig up a short black skirt.”

Boyd winced as she walked to the door. “Not too short.”

*  *  *

Ally had the eight-to-four shift at the precinct, and even if she left on the dot and sprinted the four blocks from the station to her apartment, she couldn’t get home before 4:10 p.m.


Page 3

She knew. She’d timed it.

And leaving at exactly four was as rare as finding diamonds in the mud. But damned if she wanted to be late for her next meeting with Blackhawk.

It was a matter of pride and principle.

She slammed into her apartment at 4:11 p.m.—thanks to the delay of a last-minute briefing by her lieutenant—and peeled off her jacket as she raced to the bedroom.

Blackhawk’s was a good twenty minutes away at a brisk jog—and half again that much if she attempted to drive in rush-hour traffic.

It was only her second undercover assignment behind her detective’s shield. She had no intention of screwing it up.

She released her shoulder harness and tossed it onto the bed. Her apartment was simple and uncluttered, mostly because she wasn’t there long enough for it to be otherwise. The house where she’d grown up was still home, the station house was second on that list of priorities, and the apartment where she slept, occasionally ate and even more rarely loitered was a far-down third.

She’d always wanted to be a cop. She hadn’t made a big deal of it. It simply was her dream.

She yanked open her closet door and pushed through a selection of clothes—designer dresses, tailored jackets and basketball jerseys—in search of a suitable black skirt.

If she could manage a quick change, she might actually have time to slap together a sandwich or stuff a handful of cookies into her mouth before she raced out again.

She pulled out a skirt, winced at the length when she held it up, then tossed that on the bed as wellto dig through her dresser for a pair of black hose.

If she was going to wear a skirt that barely covered her butt, she would damn well cover the rest with solid, opaque black.

Tonight could be the night, she thought as she stripped off her trousers. She had to stay calm about it, cool, controlled.

She would use Jonah Blackhawk, but she would not be distracted by him.

She knew a great deal about him through her father, and she’d made it her business to find out more. As a kid he’d had light fingers, quick feet and a nimble brain. She could almost admire a boy with barely twelve years under his belt who’d managed to organize a sports-betting syndicate. Almost.

And she supposed she could come close to admiring someone who’d turned those beginnings around—at least on the surface—and made himself into a successful businessman.

The fact was she’d been in his sports bar and had enjoyed the atmosphere, the service and the truly superior margaritas Fast Break provided.

The place had a terrific selection of pinball machines, she recalled. Unless someone had broken her record in the last six months, her initials were still in the number one slot on Double Play.

She really should make time to get back there and defend her championship status.

But that was beside the point, she reminded herself. Right now the point was Jonah Blackhawk.

Maybe his feathers were ruffled because she’d made it clear that two of his employees were on her short list of suspects. Well, that was too bad. Her father wanted her to trust the man, so she’d do her best to trust him.

As far as she could throw him.

By 4:20 p.m., she was dressed in black—turtleneck, skirt, hose. She shoved through the shoes on the floor of her closet and found a suitable pair of low heels.

With a nod to vanity, she dragged the clip out of her hair, brushed it, clipped it back again. Then she closed her eyes and tried to think like a waitress in an upscale club.

Lipstick, perfume, earrings. An attractive waitress made more tips, and tips had to be a goal. She took the time for them, then studied the results in the mirror.

Sexy, she supposed, certainly feminine and, in a satisfactory way, practical. And there was no place to hide her weapon.

Damn it. She hissed out a breath, and settled on stuffing her nine millimeter in an oversize shoulder bag. She tossed on a black leather jacket as a concession to the brisk spring evening, then bolted for the door.

There was enough time to drive to the club if she got straight down to the garage and hit all the lights on green.

She pulled open the door. Swore.

“Dennis, what are you doing?”

Dennis Overton held up a bottle of California Chardonnay and offered a big, cheerful smile. “Just in the neighborhood. Thought we could have a drink.”

“I’m on my way out.”

“Fine.” He shifted the bottle, tried to take her hand. “I’ll go with you.”

“Dennis.” She didn’t want to hurt him. Not again. He’d been so devastated when she’d broken things off two months before. And all his phone calls, pop-ins, run-intos since then had ended badly. “We’ve been through all this.”

“Come on, Ally. Just a couple of hours. I miss you.”

He had that sad, basset hound look in his eyes, that pleading smile on his lips. It had worked once,she reminded herself. More than once. But she remembered how those same eyes could blaze with wild and misplaced jealousy, snap with barely controlled fury.

She’d cared for him once, enough to forgive him his accusations, to try to work through his mood swings, enough to feel guilty over ending it.

She cared enough now to strap her temper at this last invasion of her time and her space. “I’m sorry, Dennis. I’m in a hurry.”

Still smiling, he blocked her way. “Give me five minutes. One drink for old times’ sake, Ally?”

“I don’t have five minutes.”

The smile vanished, and that old, dark gleam leaped into his eyes. “You never had time for me when I needed it. It was always what you wanted and when you wanted it.”

“That’s right. You’re well rid of me.”

“You’re going to see someone else, aren’t you? Brushing me off so you can run off to be with another man.”

“What if I am.” Enough, she thought, was way past enough. “It’s no business of yours where I go, what I do, whom I see. That’s what you can’t seem to get straight. But you’re going to have to work harder at it, Dennis, because I’m sick of this. Stop coming here.”

He grabbed her arm before she could walk by. “I want to talk to you.”

She didn’t jerk free, only stared down at his hand, then shifted her gaze, icy as February, to his eyes. “Don’t push it. Now step back.”

“What’re you going to do? Shoot me? Arrest me? Call your daddy, the saint of the police, to lock me up?”

“I’m going to ask you, one more time, to step back. Step way back, Dennis, and do it now.”

His mood swung again, fast and smooth as a revolving door. “I’m sorry. Ally, I’m sorry.” His eyes went damp and his mouth trembled. “I’m upset, that’s all. Just give me another chance. I just need another chance. I’ll make it work this time.”

She pried his fingers off her arm. “It never worked. Go home, Dennis. I’ve got nothing for you.”

She walked away without looking back, bleeding inside because she had to. Bleeding inside because she could.

Chapter 2

Ally hit the doors of Blackhawk’s at 5:05 p.m. One strike against her, she thought and took an extra minute to smooth down her hair, catch her breath. She’d decided against the drive after all and had run the ten blocks. Not such a distance, she thought, but the heels she wore were a far cry from track shoes.

She stepped inside, took stock.

The bar was a long, gleaming black slab that curved into a snug semicircle and offered plenty of room for a troop of chrome stools with thick black leather cushions. Mirrored panels of black and silver ran down the rear wall, tossed back reflections and shapes.

Comfort, she decided, as well as style. It said, Sit down, relax and plunk down your money.

There were plenty of people to do so. Apparently happy hour was under way, and every stool was occupied. Those who sat at the bar, or kicked back at the chrome tables, drank and nibbled to the tune of recorded music kept low enough to encourage conversation.

Most of the patrons were the suit-and-tie crowd with briefcases dumped at their feet. The business brigade, she concluded, who’d managed to slip out of the office a little early, or were using the club as a meeting arena to discuss deals or close them.

Two waitresses worked the tables. Both wore black, but she noted with a hiss through her teeth that they wore slacks rather than skirts.

A man was working the bar—young, handsome and openly flirting with the trio of women on stools at the far end. She wondered when Frances Cummings came on shift. She’d need to get work schedules from Blackhawk.

“You look a little lost.”

Ally shifted her gaze and studied the man who approached her with an easy smile. Brown hair, brown eyes, trim beard. Five-ten, maybe one-fifty. His dark suit was well cut, his gray tie neatly knotted.

William Sloan looked a great deal more presentable tonight than he had for his last mug shot.

“I hope not.” Deciding a little agitation fit the role, Ally shifted her shoulder bag and offered a nervous smile. “I’m Allison. I’m supposed to see Mr. Blackhawk at five. I guess I’m late.”

“Couple of minutes. Don’t worry about it. Will Sloan.” He offered a hand, gave hers a quick, brotherly squeeze. “The man told me to keep an eye out for you. I’ll take you up.”

“Thanks. Great place,” she commented.

“You bet. The man’s in charge, and he wants the best. I’ll give you a quick go-through.” With a hand on her back, Will led her through the bar area, into a wide room with more tables, a two-level stage and a dance floor.

Silver ceilings, she mused, glancing up, set with pinpoint lights that blinked and shimmered. The tables were black squares on pedestals that rose out of a smoky silver floor with those same little lights twinkling under the surface, like stars behind clouds.

The art was modern, towering canvases splashed or streaked with wild colors, odd, intriguing wall sculptures fashioned from metals or textiles.

The tables were bare but for slim metal cylindrical lamps with cutouts in the shape of crescentmoons.

Deco meets the third millennium, she decided. Jonah Blackhawk had built himself a very classy joint.

“You work clubs before?”

She’d already decided how to play it and rolled her eyes. “Nothing like this. Pretty fancy.”

“The man wanted class. The man gets class.” He turned down a corridor, then punched a code into a control panel. “Watch this.”

When a panel in the wall slid open, he wiggled his eyebrows. “Cool, huh?”

“Major.” She stepped in with him, watched him reenter the code.

“Any of us who’ve got to do business on the second level get a code. You won’t have to worry about it. So, you new in Denver?”

“No, actually I grew up here.”

“No bull? Me, too. I’ve been hanging with the man since we were kids. Life sure was different then.”

The door opened again, directly into Jonah’s office. It was a large space, split into business and pleasure with an area to one side devoted to a long leather sofa in his signature color, two sink-into-me armchairs and a wide-screen TV on which a night baseball game was being battled out in silence.

Automatically she checked the stats in the top corner of the screen. Yankees at home against Toronto. Bottom of the first. Two out, one on. No score.

The focus on sports didn’t surprise her, but the floor-to-ceiling shelves of books did.

She shifted her attention to the business area. It appeared to be as ruthlessly efficient as the rest of the room was indulgent. The workstation held a computer and phone. Across from it stood a monitor that showed the club area. The single window was shielded with blinds, and the blinds were tightly shut. The carpet was cozily thick and stone-gray.

Jonah sat at the desk, his back to the wall, and held up a hand as he completed a call. “I’ll get back to you on that. No, not before tomorrow.” He lifted a brow as if amused by what was said to him. “You’ll just have to wait.”

He hung up, sat back in his chair. “Hello, Allison. Thanks, Will.”

“No problem. Catch you later, Allison.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Jonah waited until the elevator door shut. “You’re late.”

“I know. It was unavoidable.” She turned to the monitor, giving him an opportunity to skim his gaze down her back, over those long legs.

Very nice, he thought. Very nice indeed.

“You have security cameras throughout the public areas?”

“I like to know what’s going on in my place.”

She just bet he did. “Do you keep the tapes?”

“We turn them over every three days.”

“I’d like to see what you’ve got.” Because her back was to him, she allowed her gaze to slide over and check the action in Yankee Stadium. Toronto brought one home on a line drive bullet. “It’ll help to study the tapes.”

“For that you’ll need a warrant.”

She glanced back over her shoulder. He’d changed into a suit—black and, to her expert eye, of Italian cut. “I thought you’d agreed to cooperate.”

“To a point. You’re here, aren’t you?” His phone rang and was ignored. “Why don’t you sit down?We’ll work out a game plan.”

“The game plan’s simple.” And she didn’t sit. “I pose as a waitress, talk to customers and staff. I keep my eyes open and do my job. You keep out of my way and do yours.”

“Wrong plan. I don’t have to keep out of anyone’s way in my place. Now, ever worked a club?”

“No.”

“Ever waited tables?”

“No.” His cool, patient look irked her. “What’s the big deal? You take the order, you put in the order, you serve the order. I’m not a moron.”

He smiled now, that quick, powerful strike. “I imagine it seems that way when you’ve spent your life on the other side of it. You’re about to get an education, Detective. Head waitress on your shift is Beth. She’ll help train you. Until you’ve got a handle on it, you’ll bus tables. That means—”

“I know what busing tables involves.”

“Fine. I’ve put you on six to two. You get a fifteen-minute break every two hours. No drinking during shift. Any of the customers get overly friendly or out of line, you report to me or to Will.”

“I can handle myself.”

“You’re not a cop here. Somebody puts hands on you in an inappropriate way, you report to me or to Will.”


Page 4

“You get a lot of that?”

“Only from the women. They can’t keep their hands off me.”

“Ha-ha.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he noted the Yankees ended the inning on a strikeout. “No, we don’t get a lot of it, but it happens. Some guys cross lines when they drink. They only cross them in my place once. The crowd starts getting thick after eight. Entertainment starts at nine. You’ll be busy.”

He got to his feet, walked to her, walked around her. “You’ve got a nice cover over the cop in you. You have to look hard to see it. I like the skirt.”

She waited until he’d come around and they were face-to-face. “I’ll need work schedules for all employees. Or do I need a warrant?”

“No, I can help you out there.” He liked the scent of her. Cool and clearly female. “I’ll have printouts for you by closing. Anyone I hire who I don’t know personally—and even some I do—goes through a full background check. Not everyone here’s been lucky enough to come from a nice, tidy family and live a nice, tidy life.”

Jonah picked up a remote, switched the angle of the cameras so the bar area popped on-screen. “Kid just coming off shift at the bar? Grew up with his grandparents when his mother ran off. Got into a little trouble when he was fifteen.”

“And what kind of trouble was that?”

“Got tagged with a joint in his pocket. He straightened out, they sealed the records, but he was up front with me when he wanted the job. He’s putting himself through night school.”

At the moment she wasn’t interested in the young man going off shift at the bar. She kept her eyes on Jonah. “Is everyone up front with you?”

“The smart ones are. That’s Beth.” He tapped the screen.

Ally saw a little brunette, about thirty, come in through a door behind the bar.

“Bastard she was married to used to kick her around. She can’t weigh a hundred pounds. She’s got three kids at home. Sixteen, twelve and ten. She’s been working for me on and off about five years, used to come in every couple weeks with a black eye or split lip. She took the kids and left him two years ago.”

“Is he leaving her alone?”

Jonah shifted his gaze to Ally’s. “He was persuaded to relocate.”

“I see.” And she did. Jonah Blackhawk looked after his own. She couldn’t fault him for it. “Did he relocate in one piece?”

“Mostly. I’ll take you down. You can leave your bag up here if you want.”

“No, thanks.”

He pushed the button for the elevator. “I assume you’ve got your gun in there. Keep it in there. There’s a secure employee area off the bar. You can lock it up in there. This shift Beth and Frannie have keys. Will and I have keys or codes for all areas at all times.”

“Tight ship, Blackhawk.”

“That’s right. What’s the cover?” he asked as they stepped into the elevator. “How’d I meet you?”

“I needed a job, you gave me a job.” She shrugged. “Keep it simple. I caught you at your sports bar.”

“Know anything about sports?”

She sent him a smile. “Anything that takes place off a field or a court or outside an arena is just marking time.”

“Where have you been all my life?” He took her arm as they stepped out on the main floor. “So, Jays or Yankees?”

“Yankees have stronger bats this season and rule the long ball, but their gloves are sloppy. The Jays chip away with reliable base hits, and their infield’s a ballet of guts and efficiency. I go for guts and efficiency over the power stroke every time.”

“Is that a baseball statement, or a life statement?”

“Blackhawk, baseball is life.”

“Now you’ve done it. We have to get married.”

“My heart’s all aflutter,” she said dryly and turned to scan the bar area. The noise level had bumped up several notches. They were two-and three-deep at the curved black slab now, the after-work, before-dinner crowd.

For some it was unwind time, she thought, for others a casual mating ritual. But for someone it was a hunt.

People were so careless, she mused. She saw men leaning on the bar, back pockets ripe for picking. More than one handbag hung vulnerable on the back of a stool or chair. Coats and jackets, some likely to have car or house keys in their pockets, were tossed aside.

“Nobody ever thinks it can happen to them,” Ally murmured, then tapped Jonah’s arm, inclined her head. “Check out the guy at the bar—six down, with the news-anchor hair and teeth.”

Amused, Jonah tagged the guy from Ally’s description and watched him flash his wallet, choked with bills and credit cards.

“He’s trying to lure the redhead there, or her pretty blond friend. Doesn’t matter which. Odds are he hits with the blonde,” Jonah concluded.

“Why?”

“Call it a hunch.” He looked down at Ally. “Wanna bet?”

“You don’t have a license for gambling on the premises.” As she watched, the blonde sidled over and batted her lashes at the man with the wallet. “Good call.”

“It was easy. And so’s the blonde.” He steered Ally back toward the club area where Beth and Will huddled over the reservation book at a black podium.

“Hey, boss.” Beth plucked the pencil out of her thick curls and made a note in the book. “Lookslike we’re turning most tables over twice tonight. Big dinner crowd for midweek.”

“Good thing I brought you some help. Beth Dickerman, Allison Fletcher. She needs training.”

“Ah, another victim.” Beth shot out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Allison.”

“Ally. Thanks.”

“You show her the ropes, Beth. She’ll bus tables until you figure she can wait them.”

“We’ll whip her into shape. Come on with me, Ally. I’ll get you set up. Got any experience in food services?” she asked as she plowed through the crowd.

“Well, I eat.”

Beth let out a bright cackle of a laugh. “Welcome to my world. Frannie, this is Ally, new waitress-in-training. Frannie’s captain of the bar here.”

“Nice to meetcha,” Frannie called out, flipped a smile, dumping ice into a blender with one hand and shooting soda into a glass with the other.

“And that gorgeous specimen down the other end of the bar’s Pete.”

The big-shouldered black man sent them a wink as he measured Kahlúa into a short glass.

“Now, no flirting with Pete, ‘cause he’s my man and nobody else’s. That right, Pete?”

“You’re the one for me, sugar lips.”

With another laugh, Beth unlocked a door marked Employees Only. “Pete’s got a beautiful wife and a baby on the way. We just tease. Now, if you need to get in here for any reason— Hey, Jan.”

“Hey, Beth.” The curvy brunette on the other side of the door had her waist-length hair pulled back with combs from a lovely, heart-shaped face. Ally gauged her as mid-twenties, and a fashion plate. She’d gone for a skirt the approximate size of a table napkin, and a clingy shirt with small silver buttons. Silver winked at her wrists, ears and throat as she freshened her lipstick in a mirror.

“This is Ally. Fresh meat.”

“Oh, yeah.” The smile when she turned was friendly enough, but there was a measuring gleam in her eye. One female sizing up another, the competition.

“Jan works the bar area,” Beth explained. “But she’ll pinch-hit in the club if we need her.” There was a wild burst of laughter from outside the door. “Tom-toms are beating.”

“I’d better get out there.” Jan tied a short, many-pocketed black apron at her waist. “Good luck, Ally, and welcome aboard.”

“Thanks. Everybody’s so friendly,” Ally said to Beth when Jan strolled out.

“You get to be kind of a family when you work for Jonah. He’s a good boss.” She pulled an apron out of a closet. “You work your butt off for him, but he lets you know he notices and that he appreciates. Makes a difference. Here, you’ll need this.”

“Have you worked for him long?”

“About six years, give or take. I handled tables at Fast Break, his sports bar. And when he opened the club here, he asked me if I wanted to switch. It’s a classy place and closer to home. You can leave your purse in here.” She opened a narrow locker. “You reset the combination by spinning around zero twice.”

“Great.” Ally set her purse inside, palming her beeper out of it and hooking it on the waist of her skirt under the apron. She shut the locker, set the combination. “I guess that’s it.”

“You want to freshen up or anything?”

“No, I’m fine. A little nervous, I guess.”

“Don’t worry. In a few hours your feet are going to ache so bad you won’t think about nerves.”

*  *  *

Beth was right. About the feet anyway. By ten, Ally felt she’d hiked twenty miles in the wrong shoes and lifted approximately three tons of trays loaded with dirty dishes.

She could have marched the trail from table to kitchen in her sleep.

The live band was considerably louder than the recorded music that had played until just after nine. The crowd shouted above it, crammed the dance floor and jammed together at the tables.

Ally piled dishes on trays and watched the crowd. There were plenty of designer clothes, expensive watches, cell phones and leather briefcases. She saw a woman flash a lightning-bolt diamond engagement ring for three friends.

Plenty of money here, she noted. And plenty of marks.

Hefting the loaded tray, she headed off for the kitchen, detouring toward an attractive couple when the man signaled her.

“Sweetheart, can you get me and my lovely companion a refill here?”

She leaned closer, pasted on her sweetest smile and made a quiet and crude suggestion.

The man only grinned. “Cops have such filthy mouths.”

“Next case I’m going to be the one sitting on my butt, Hickman, while you work out,” Ally replied. “See anything I should know about?”

“Nothing’s popped yet.” He grabbed the hand of the woman sitting next to him. “But Carson and I are in love.”

Lydia Carson gave Hickman’s hand a vicious squeeze. “In your dreams.”

“Just keep your eyes open.” Ally aimed a stare at Hickman’s glass. “And that’d better be club soda.”

“She’s so strict,” she heard Hickman murmur as she walked away.

“Beth, table … ah, sixteen’s looking for a refill.”

“I’m on it. You’re doing good, Ally. Go dump those and take your break.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.”

The kitchen was a madhouse, full of noise and shouted orders and heat. Gratefully Ally set down her tray, then lifted her eyebrows as she spotted Frannie slipping out the back door.

Ally stalled for ten seconds, then followed.

Frannie was already leaning against the outside wall and taking her first drag from a cigarette. She blew out smoke with a long, relieved sigh. “Break time?”

“Yeah. I thought I’d grab some air.”

“Zoo in there tonight. Blackhawk’s really packs them in.” She pulled the cigarettes out of her pocket, offered them.

“No, thanks. I don’t smoke.”

“Good for you. I can’t kick it. No smoking in the employee lounge. Jonah gives me a break and lets me use his office if the weather’s lousy. So how’s your first night?”

“My feet are killing me.”

“Occupational hazard. First paycheck you buy yourself one of those bubbling footbath things. Put some eucalyptus in it and go straight to heaven.”

“I’ll do that.”

An attractive woman, Ally noted, though the lines around Frannie’s eyes made her look older than twenty-eight. She kept her dark red hair cut short and the makeup subtle. Her nails were short and unpainted, her hands ringless. Like the rest of the staff, she wore black, and finished off the simple shirt and slacks with sturdy yet trendy black shoes.

The only touch of flash was the silver hoops that swung at her ears.

“How’d you get into tending bar?” Ally asked her.

Frannie hesitated, then puffed on her cigarette. “I guess I hung out at bars a lot, and when there came a time I was looking for what you could call gainful employment, Jonah asked me if I wanted a job. Trained me over at Fast Break. It’s good work. You need a decent memory and people skills. You interested?”

“I’d better see if I make it through one shift busing before I start raising my sights.”

“You look like you can handle whatever comes along.”

Ally smiled into Frannie’s considering eyes. “You think so?”

“Observation’s one of those people skills. And on short observation, you don’t strike me as the type who expects to make waiting tables her life’s work.”

“Gotta start somewhere. And paying the rent’s a priority.”

“Don’t I know it.” Though Frannie had already calculated that Ally’s shoes equaled half a month’s rent on her own apartment. “Well, if you want to climb the ladder, Jonah’s the one to give you a boost. You’d have figured that.”

Frannie dropped the cigarette, crushed out the butt. “Gotta get back. Pete pouts if I go over break.”

The ex-hooker, Ally decided, was proprietary when it came to Jonah. They were probably lovers, she thought as she went back inside. When you factored in his defensive attitude toward her, it added up.

As lover, as trusted employee, Frannie was in a prime position to cull marks, to pass the information along. The bar faced the entrance. Whoever went in or out passed by her station.

People handed her credit cards, and the names and account numbers led to addresses.

It would pay to look at her most closely.

*  *  *

Jonah was doing his own looking. From his office, from the floor. He knew enough about cons, short and long, to calculate who the targets might be. He pegged three possibilities that would have topped his list if he’d been running the game. And since he’d also spotted the cops at table sixteen, he wandered over.

“Everything all right tonight?”

The woman beamed up at him, swept back her short swing of streaky blond hair with one hand. “Everything’s terrific. It’s the first night on the town Bob and I have managed in weeks with work keeping both of us so busy.”

“I’m glad you picked my place.” Jonah laid a friendly hand on Bob’s shoulder, leaned down. “Next time ditch the cop shoes. Dead giveaway. Enjoy your evening.”

He thought he heard the woman snort out a laugh as he walked away.

He headed for the table Ally was busy cleaning. “How you holding up?”

“I haven’t broken any of your dishes yet.”


Page 5

“And now you want a raise?”

“I’m going to stick with my day job, thanks all the same. I’d rather clean up the streets than tables.” Absently she pressed a hand to the ache in the small of her back.

“We go back to bar food at eleven, so the busing slows down.”

“Hallelujah.”

He laid a hand on her arm before she could lift the tray. “You corner Frannie outside?”

“Excuse me?”

“She went out, you went out, she came in, you came in.”

“I’m doing my job. However, I resisted shining a light in her eyes and smacking her in the face with my rubber hose. Now let me get on with it.”

She hefted the tray, shoved past him.

“By the way, Allison.”

She stopped, a snarl working its way up her throat. “What?”

“The power ball trounced your guts and efficiency. Eight to two.”

“One game doesn’t a season make.” She jerked up her chin and strode off. On her way by the dance floor, a man reached out and gave her butt a hopeful pat. As Jonah watched, she stopped dead in her tracks, turned slowly and gave him one, long icy look. The man stepped back, lifted his hands in apology and quickly melted into the dancers.

“Handles herself,” Beth said from beside him.

“Yeah. Yeah, she does.”

“Pulls her weight, too, and doesn’t whine about it. I like your girlfriend, Jonah.”

He was too surprised to comment and only stared when Beth hustled away.

He let out a short laugh and shook his head. Oh, that one had slipped by him. Right on by him.

*  *  *

Last call was enough to make Ally all but weep with gratitude. She’d been on her feet since eight that morning. Her fondest wish was to go home, fall into bed and sleep for the precious five hours she had before starting it all over again.

“Go on home,” Beth ordered. “We’ll go over closing tomorrow night. You did fine.”

“Thanks. I mean it.”

“Will, let Ally into the lounge, will you?”

“No problem. Nice crowd tonight. Nothing I like better than a crowded club. Want a drink before you head out?”

“Not unless I can stick my feet in it.”

He chuckled, patted her back. “Frannie, pour me one, will you?”

“Already on it.”

“I like a brandy at the end of a shift. One glass of the good stuff. You change your mind,” he said as he unlocked the door, “just pull up a stool. The man, he doesn’t charge employees for an end-of-shift drink.”

He went off, whistling through his teeth.

Ally shoved her apron into her locker, pulled out her bag and jacket. She was just putting the jacket on when Jan breezed in. “Heading out? You look beat. Me, I’m just hitting my stride this time of night.”

“My stride hit me about an hour ago.” Ally paused at the door. “Don’t your feet hurt?”

“Nah. I got arches of steel. And most guys tip better if you walk around on skinny heels.” She bent to run a hand up her leg. “I believe in using what works.”

“Yeah. Well, good night.”

Ally stepped out of the lounge, shutting the door behind her, and bumped solidly into Jonah.

“Where’d you park?” he asked her.

“I didn’t. I walked.” Ran, she remembered, but it came to the same thing.

“I’ll drive you home.”

“I can walk. It’s not far.”

“It’s two in the morning. A block is too far.”

“For heaven’s sake, Blackhawk, I’m a cop.”

“So naturally, bullets bounce off you.”

Before she could argue, he caught her chin in his hand. The gesture, the firm grip of his fingers, shocked her to silence. “You’re not a cop at the moment,” he murmured. “You’re a female employee and the daughter of a friend. I’ll drive you home.”

“Fine. Dandy. My feet hurt anyway.”

She started to shove his hand away, but he beat her to it and shifted his grip to her arm.

“Night, boss.” Beth called out, grinning at them as they passed. “Get that girl off her feet.”

“That’s my plan. Later, Will. Night, Frannie.”

Suspicion was buzzing in Ally’s brain as Will lifted his brandy snifter and Frannie watched her with quiet and serious eyes.

“What was that?” Ally demanded when they stepped out in the cool air. “What exactly was that?”

“That was me saying good night to friends and employees. I’m parked across the street.”

“Excuse me, my feet have gone numb, not my brain. You gave those people the very distinct impression that we have a thing here.”

“That’s right. I didn’t consider it, either, until Beth made some remark earlier. It simplifies things.”

She stopped beside a sleek black Jaguar. “Just how do you figure that having people think there’s a personal thing between us simplifies anything?”

“And you call yourself a detective.” He unlocked the passenger door, opened it. “You’re a beautiful blonde with legs up to your ears. I hire you, out of the blue, when you have basically no experience. The first assumption from people who know me is I’m attracted to you. The second would be you’re attracted to me. Add all those together and you end up with romance. Or at least sex. Are you going to get in?”

“You haven’t explained how those deductions equal simple.”

“If people think we’re involved, they won’t think twice if I give you a little leeway, if you come up to my office. They’ll be friendlier.”

Ally said nothing while she let it run through her head. Then she nodded. “All right. There’s an advantage to it.”

Going with impulse, he shifted, boxed her in between his body and the car door. There was a light breeze, just enough to stir her scent. There was a three-quarter moon, bright enough to sprinkle silver into her eyes. The moment, he decided, seemed to call for it.

“Could be more than one advantage to it.”

The thrill that sprinted straight up her spine irritated her. “Oh, you’re going to want to step back, Blackhawk.”

“Beth’s at the window of the bar, and she’s got a romantic heart despite everything that’s happened to her. She’s hoping for a moment here. A long, slow kiss, the kind that slides over melting sighs and heats the blood.”

His hands came to her hips as he spoke, rode up to just under her breasts. Her mouth went dry and the ache in her belly was a wide stretch of longing.

“You’re going to have to disappoint her.”

Jonah skimmed his gaze down to her mouth. “She’s not the only one.” But he released her, stepped back. “Don’t worry, Detective. I never hit on cops, or daughters of friends.”

“Then I guess I’ve got a double shield against your wild and irresistible charms.”

“Good thing for both of us, because I sure as hell like the look of you. You getting in?”

“Yeah, I’m getting in.” She got into the car and waited until the door shut before letting out thelong, painful breath she’d been holding.

Wherever that spurt of lust inside her had come from, it would just have to go away again. Cool off, she ordered herself, but her heart was bumping madly against her rib cage. Cool off and focus on the job.

Jonah slid in beside her, annoyed that his pulse wasn’t quite steady. “Where to?” When she rattled off the address, he shoved the key into the ignition and aimed one hot look at her. “That’s a damn mile. Why the hell did you walk?”

“Because it was rush hour. It’s quicker. And it’s ten blocks.”

“That’s just stupid.”

She had a response for that. The venom of it scalded her tongue as she rounded on him. She didn’t even recognize the vibration of her beeper for several seconds, mistaking it for the vibration of rage.

She yanked it from her skirt, checked the number. “Damn it. Damn it.” From her purse she pulled out her cell phone and quickly dialed. “Detective Fletcher. Yeah, I got it. I’m on my way.”

Calming herself, she shoved the phone back into her purse. “Since you’re determined to play cabdriver, let’s get going. I’ve got another B and E.”

“Give me the address.”

“Just take me home so I can get my car.”

“Give me the address, Allison. Why waste time?”

Chapter 3

Jonah dropped her off in front of an attractive, ranch-style home in an upscale development convenient to the freeway. In reasonable traffic, the commute to downtown would take under twenty minutes.

The Chamberses, Ally discovered, were an attractive, upscale couple, both lawyers in their early thirties, childless professionals who spent their comfortable income on the good life.

Wine, wardrobe, jewelry, art and music.

“They got my diamond earrings and my Cartier Tank watch.” Maggie Chambers rubbed her eyes as she sat in what was left of her sprawling great room. “We haven’t gone through everything, but there were Dalí and Picasso lithographs on that wall there. And in that niche there was an Erté sculpture we bought at an auction two years ago. Joe collected cuff links. I don’t know how many pairs he had offhand, but he had diamond ones and ruby for his birthstone and several antique pairs.”

“They’re insured.” Her husband reached out to take her hand, squeeze it.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not the same. Those thugs were in our house. In our house, Joe, and they’ve taken our things. Damn it, they stole my car. My brand-new BMW, and it didn’t have five thousand miles on it. I loved that stupid car.”

“Mrs. Chambers, I know it’s hard.”

Maggie Chambers whipped her gaze toward Ally. “Have you ever been robbed, Detective?”

“No.” Ally set her notebook on her knee a moment. “But I’ve worked plenty of burglaries, robberies, muggings.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Maggie, she’s just doing her job.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I know.” She covered her face with her hands, drew air in, slowly let it out. “I’ve got the shakes, that’s all. I don’t want to stay here tonight.”

“We don’t have to. We’ll go to a hotel. How much more do you need, Detective … was it Fletcher?”

“Yes. Just a few more questions. You said both of you were out all evening.”

“Yeah, Maggie won a case today, and we decided to go out and celebrate. She’s been piled under for more than a month. We went to the Starfire club with some friends.” As he spoke, he rubbed soothing circles over his wife’s back. “Drinks, dinner, a little dancing. Like we told the other policeman, we didn’t get home until nearly two.”

“Does anyone other than the two of you have a key?”

“Our housekeeper.”

“Would she also have the security code?”

“Sure.” Joe started to speak, then blinked, stuttered. “Oh, listen, Carol’s been cleaning for us for nearly ten years. She’s practically family.”

“It’s just procedure, Mr. Chambers. Could I have her full name and address, for the record?”

She took them through the entire evening, looking for a connection, a contact, anything that struck a chord. But for the Chamberses it had been nothing more than an entertaining evening out, until they’dwalked back in their own front door.

When Ally left them, she had a partial list of stolen items, with a promise for the complete list as well as the insurance information. The crime scene unit was still working, but she’d gone over the scene herself. She didn’t expect the miracle of fingerprints or dropped clues.

The moon had set, but the stars were out and brilliant. The wind had picked up to dance down the street in little whirls and gusts. The neighborhood was hushed, the houses dark. Those who lived here had long since been tucked in for the night.

She doubted the canvass was going to turn up any handy eyewitnesses.

Jonah was leaning against the hood of his car, drinking what appeared to be a cup of take-out coffee with one of the uniforms.

When she approached the car, Jonah held out the half cup he had left. “Thanks.”

“You can have a whole one. There’s a twenty-four-hour place a few blocks down.”

“This is fine,” she replied, taking the cup. “Officer, you and your partner were first on scene?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll need your report on my desk by eleven hundred.” With a brisk nod, the officer headed for his car. Ally sipped the coffee, then turned to Jonah and handed him the cup. “You didn’t have to wait. I can get a ride home in one of the radio cars.”

“I have a stake here.” He opened the car door. “Were they at my place?”

“Now, why would you ask me when we both know you just got finished pumping that uniform?”

“Hey, I bought the coffee.” He handed it back to her, then walked around to the driver’s side. “So, the perps picked their marks at the Starfire tonight. Have they hit there before?”

“No, you’re still the only repeater. They’ll come back to you.” She shut her exhausted eyes. “It’s just a matter of time.”

“Well, that makes me feel lots better. What kind of take did they get?”

“BMW roadster out of the garage, some art, high-end electronics and heavy on the jewelry.”

“Don’t these people have safes?”

“These did, a small one in the walk-in closet of the master suite. Of course, they had the combination for it written down on a piece of paper in the desk.”

“That’ll discourage the criminal element.”

“They had a security system, which they swear they engaged when they left—though the wife didn’t look quite so sure of that. Anyway, the point is they felt secure. Nice house, nice neighborhood. People get sloppy.” Eyes still closed, she circled her head, cracking out the tension. “They’re both lawyers.”

“Well, hell then, what do we care?”

She was tired enough to laugh. “Watch it, ace. My aunt is district attorney in Urbana.”

“You going to drink that coffee or just hold on to it?”

“What? Oh, no, here. I don’t want anymore. It’ll just keep me awake.”

He doubted a tanker truck of coffee could keep her awake much longer. Her voice was going thick, adding, he thought, to the in-the-gut sexiness of it. Fatigue had her unguarded enough to tilt her face toward him as she tried to find a comfortable resting spot. Her eyes were shut, her lips soft and just parted.

He had a feeling he knew exactly how they’d taste. Warm and soft. Ripe with sleep.

At a stop sign, he put the car in neutral, engaged the emergency brake, then leaned over her to press the mechanism that lowered her seat back.

She jerked up, rapped her head smartly against his. Even as he swore, she slapped a hand on hischest.


Page 6

“Back off!”

“Relax, Fletcher, I’m not jumping you. I like my women awake when we make love. I’m putting your seat back. If you’re going to sleep, you might as well get as close to horizontal as we can manage.”

“I’m all right.” Mortified but all right, she thought. “I wasn’t sleeping.”

He put a hand on her forehead, shoved her back. “Shut up, Allison.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was thinking.”

“Think tomorrow. You’re brain-dead.” He glanced over at her as he started to drive again. “How many hours have you been on duty?”

“That’s math. I can’t do math if I’m brain-dead.” She gave up and yawned. “I’m on eight-to-fours.”

“It’s closing in on 4:00 a.m. That gives you twenty hours. Why don’t you put in for night shift until this is over, or do you have a death wish?”

“It’s not my only case.” She’d already decided to talk to her lieutenant. She couldn’t give her best to the job on a couple of hours sleep a night. But it wasn’t any of Jonah’s business how she ran her life.

“I guess Denver’s not safe without you on the job.”

She might have been tired, but she still had a pretty good ear for sarcasm. “That’s right, Blackhawk. Without my watchful eye, the city’s in chaos. It’s a heavy burden but, well, somebody’s got to shoulder it. Just pull up at the corner. My building’s only a half a block down.”

He ignored her, drove through the light and pulled smoothly to the curb in front of her building. “Okay. Thanks.” She reached down to retrieve her bag from the floor.

He was already out of the car, skirting around the hood. Maybe it was fatigue that had her reacting so slowly, as if she were moving through syrup instead of air. But he had the outside handle of the door seconds before she had the inside handle.

For about five seconds they battled for control. Then, with a halfhearted snarl, Ally let him open the door for her. “What are you, from another century? Do I look incapable of operating the complex mechanism of a car door?”

“No. You look tired.”

“Well, I am. So good night.”

“I’ll walk you up.”

“Get a grip.”

But he fell into step beside her and, damn him, reached the door one pace ahead of her. Saying nothing, merely watching her with those impossibly clear green eyes, he held it open for her.

“I’ll have to curtsy in a minute,” she muttered under her breath.

He grinned at her back, then crossed to the lobby elevators with her, sliding his hands into his pockets.

“I can make it from here.”

“I’ll take you to your door.”

“It’s not a damn date.”

“Lack of sleep’s making you irritable.” He stepped into the elevator with her. “No, wait, you’re always irritable. My mistake.”

“I don’t like you.” She jabbed the button for the fourth floor.

“Thank God you cleared that up. I was afraid you were falling for me.”

The movement of the elevator tipped her already shaky balance. She swayed, and he closed a hand over her arm.

“Cut it out.”

“No.”

She jerked at her arm. He tightened his grip. “Don’t embarrass yourself, Fletcher. You’re asleep on your feet. What’s your apartment number?”

He was right, and it was stupid to pretend otherwise, and foolish to take it out on him. “Four-oh-nine. Let me go, will you? I’ll be all right after a couple hours’ sleep.”

“I don’t doubt it.” But he held on to her when the elevator opened.

“You’re not coming in.”

“Well, there go my plans to toss you over my shoulder, dump you in bed and have my wicked way with you. Next time. Key?”

“What?”

Her burnt-honey eyes were blurry, the delicate skin beneath them bruised. The wave of tenderness that swept inside him was a complete surprise, and far from comfortable. “Honey, give me your key.”

“Oh. I’m punchy.” She dug it out of her jacket pocket. “And don’t call me honey.”

“I meant Detective Honey.” He heard her snicker as he unlocked her door. He pulled the key back out of the lock, took her hand, dropped it in and closed her fingers around it. “Good night.”

“Yeah. Thanks for the lift.” Because it seemed the thing to do, she closed the door in his face.

Hell of a face, she thought as she stumbled toward the bedroom. Face that dangerous ought to be registered as a weapon. A woman who trusted a face like that got exactly what she deserved.

And probably enjoyed every minute of it.

Ally stripped off her jacket, whimpering a little as she pried off her shoes. She set her alarm, then fell facedown and fully clothed on the bed. And was instantly asleep.

*  *  *

Four and a half hours later, she was finishing up her morning meeting in the conference room at her station house. And her fourth cup of coffee.

“We’ll canvass the neighborhood,” Ally said. “We could get lucky. In that kind of development, people tend to look out for each other. Some sort of vehicle was necessary to get the perpetrators to the Chamberses’ and to transport at least some of the stolen goods. The sports car they boosted wouldn’t hold that much. We have a full description of the car, and the APB’s out on it.”

Lieutenant Kiniki nodded. He was a toughly built man in his mid-forties who enjoyed the way command sat on his shoulders. “The Starfire’s a new pool for them. I want two men over there to check out the setup. Soft clothes,” he added, indicating he wanted his detectives to dress casually rather than in suit jackets. “Let’s keep it low-key.”

“Hickman and Carson are canvassing pawnshops, pressuring known fences.” Ally glanced toward her two associates.

“Nothing there.” Hickman lifted his hands. “Lydia and I’ve got a couple of good sources, and we’ve put the heat on. Nobody knows anything. My take is that whoever’s running this has an outside channel.”

“Keep the heat on,” Kiniki ordered. “What about the insurance angle?”

“It doesn’t play out,” Ally told him. “We’ve got seven hits and five different insurance companies. We’re still trying to find a connection, but so far that’s a dead end. We’ve got no common links between the victims that carry through,” she went on. “Out of the eleven we’ve got four different banks, three different brokerage houses, eleven different doctors, eleven different places of employment.”

She rubbed the ache at the back of her neck and went down her list. “Two of the women go to thesame hair salon—different operators, different schedules. They use different cleaning services, different mechanics. Now, two of the targets used the same caterer in the last six months, and we’re running that. But it doesn’t look like a hook. The only common link so far is a night on the town.”

“Give me the rundown on Blackhawk’s,” Kiniki ordered.

“The place does a hell of a business,” Ally began. “Pulls in a big crowd, and the crowd varies, though it’s heavy on the upwardly mobile. Couples, singles on the prowl, groups. He’s got good security.”

Absently Ally rubbed her eyes, then remembered herself and lowered them. “He’s got cameras, and I’m working on getting the security tapes. Sloan is the floater. He works the public areas, has access to everything. There are six tables in the bar area and thirty-two in the club. People push them together if they get friendly. There’s a coat check but not everybody bothers with it. I couldn’t count the number of handbags left on tables when the dancing started.”

“People mill,” Lydia added. “Especially the younger customers. It’s a regular meeting ground for them, and they tend to table hop. Lots of sex vibes.” She gave Hickman a bland look when he chortled. “It’s a sexy place. People get careless when their blood’s hot. There’s a ripple when Blackhawk comes through.”

“A ripple?” Hickman repeated. “Is that a technical term?”

“The women watch him. They don’t watch their bags.”

“That’s accurate.” Ally walked over to the board where the list of victims and stolen items were posted. “Every hit involved a woman. There are no single men on the list. The female’s the prime target. What’s a woman carry in her purse?”

“That,” Hickman said, “is one of life’s most complex mysteries.”

“Her keys,” Ally continued. “Her wallet—with ID, credit cards. Pictures of her kids if she has them. None of the victims had children at home. If we break this down to its basic element, we’re looking first for a pickpocket. Somebody with good fingers who can get what he needs out of a bag, then put it back before the victim knows she’s been hit. Do an imprint of the key, make a copy.”

“If you pick the pocket, why put the stuff back?” Hickman asked.

“Keep the victim unaware, buy more time. A woman goes into the bathroom, she takes her purse. If she reaches in for her lipstick and doesn’t find her wallet, she’s going to send up an alarm. This way, the house is hit and the perpetrators are out before the victims get home. Whatever time they get home.”

She turned back to the board. “Twelve thirty, one fifteen, twelve ten and so on. Somebody at the club alerts the burglars when the victims call for their check. Somebody’s on the inside, or a regular and repeat customer. At Blackhawk’s the average time between calling for the check and leaving the club was about twenty minutes.”

“We have two other clubs involved now, besides Blackhawk’s.” Kiniki’s brow furrowed. “We’ll need stakeouts on all of them.”

“Yes, sir. But Blackhawk’s is where they’ll come back. That’s the money tree.”

“Find a way to cut down the tree, Fletcher.” He got to his feet. “And take some personal time today. Get some sleep.”

*  *  *

She took him up on it and curled up on the small sofa in the coffee room, leaving word that she was to be notified when the reports she was waiting for came in.

She got ninety minutes and felt very close to human when Hickman shook her shoulder.

“Did you steal my cheese bagel?”

“What?” She pushed herself up, shoved back her hair.

“You like cheese bagels. I had one. It’s gone. I’m detecting.”

Shaking off sleep, she dug her clip out of her pocket and pulled back her hair. “It didn’t have your name on it.”

“Did, too.”

She circled her shoulders. “Is your name Pineview Bakery? Besides I only ate half of it.” She checked her watch. “The first-on-scene reports in yet?”

“Yeah, and so’s your warrant.”

“Great.” She swung to her feet, adjusted her weapon harness. “I’ll be in the field.”

“I want a cheese bagel back in that box by end of shift.”

“I only ate half of it,” she called out and stopped by her desk for the paperwork. Scanning it, ignoring the backwash of noise from the detectives’ bull pen, she hitched her harness into a more comfortable position, then shrugged into her jacket.

She glanced up when the noise became a murmur, and watched her father walk in. Like Blackhawk, she thought, this was a man who created ripples.

She knew a few of her fellow officers harbored some resentment over her rapid rise to detective. There were mutters now and then, just loud enough for her to hear, about favoritism and oiling the ranks.

She’d earned her badge and knew it. Ally was too proud of her father and too secure in her own abilities to let mutters worry her.

“Commissioner.”

“Detective. Got a minute?”

“A couple.” She pulled her shoulder bag from her bottom desk drawer. “Can we walk and talk? I’m on my way out. Got a warrant to serve on Jonah Blackhawk.”

“Ah.” He stepped back to let her pass, and his eyes scanned the room. If there were any mutters, they would wait until he was well out of range.

“Stairs okay with you?” she asked. “I didn’t have time to work out this morning.”

“I think I can keep up with you. What’s the warrant?”

“To confiscate and view Blackhawk’s security tapes. He got pissy about it yesterday. I seem to put his back up.”

Boyd pushed open the door to the stairwell, then angled his head to study his daughter’s back as she passed through. “I seem to detect a few ruffled feathers on yours.”

“Okay, good eye. We put each other’s backs up.”

“I figured you would. You both like to do things your own way.”

“Why would I want to do them someone else’s way?”

“Exactly.” Boyd skimmed a hand down the long, sleek tail of her hair. His little girl had always had a mind of her own, and a very hard head around it. “Speaking of ruffled feathers, I have a meeting with the mayor in an hour.”

“Better you than me,” Ally said cheerfully as she jogged down the stairs.

“What can you tell me about last night’s break-in?”

“Same M.O. They hit a real treasure trove with the Chamberses. Mrs. Chambers got me the loss list this morning. The woman’s efficient. They were fully insured—value of stolen items comes to a solid two hundred and twenty-five thousand.”

“That’s the biggest haul so far.”

“Yeah. I’m hoping it makes them cocky. They took some art this time. I don’t know if it was dumb luck or if somebody knew what they had when they saw it. They have to have somewhere to keep the goods before they turn them. Big enough for a car.”

“A decent chop shop could have a car dismantled and turned in a couple hours.”

“Yeah, but …” She started to push open the next door herself, but her father beat her to it. It reminded her oddly, and not entirely happily, of Jonah.

“But?” he prompted as they crossed the lobby.

“I don’t think that’s the route. Somebody likes nice things. Somebody has really good taste. At the second hit, they took a collection of rare books, but they left an antique clock. It was appraised at five thousand, but it was dead ugly. It’s like they said, Please, don’t insult us. There’ve been other cars at other scenes, but they’ve only taken two. Cool cars.”

“Burglars with standards.”

“Yeah, I think so.” When they stepped outside she blinked against the brilliant sunlight until she pulled out her shaded glasses. “And a kind of arrogance. Arrogance is a mistake. That’s going to turn it my way.”

“I hope so. The pressure’s on, Ally.” He walked her to her car, opened the door for her in a way that made her frown and think of Jonah again. “We’re getting press, the kind that makes the mayor uncomfortable.”

“In my best judgment, they won’t wait more than a week. They’re rolling now. They’ll come back to Blackhawk’s.”


Page 7

“They got a bigger slice of pie from the new place.”

“Blackhawk’s is reliable. Once I spend a few nights under, I’ll start recognizing faces there. I’ll pin him, Dad.”

“I believe it.” He bent down to kiss her cheek. “And I’ll handle the mayor.”

“I believe it.” She slid behind the wheel. “Question.”

“Ask it.”

“You’ve known Jonah Blackhawk for, what, like fifteen years?”

“Seventeen.”

“How come you never had him over to the house? You know, for dinner or football afternoons or one of your world-famous cookouts?”

“He wouldn’t come. Always acknowledged the invitation, thanked me and said he was busy.”

“Seventeen years.” Idly she tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “That’s a lot of busy. Well, some people don’t like socializing with cops.”

“Some people,” Boyd told her, “draw lines and never believe they have the right to cross them. He’d meet me at the station house.” The memory made Boyd grin. “He didn’t like it, but he’d do it. He’d meet me for coffee or a beer, at the gym. But he’d never come to my home. He’d consider that crossing the line. I’ve never convinced him otherwise.”

“Funny, he strikes me as being a man who considers himself good enough for anything, or anyone.”

“There are a lot of twists and pockets in Jonah. And very little about him that’s simple.”

Chapter 4

She called ahead and had to admit she was surprised when Jonah answered the phone in his office.

“It’s Fletcher. I didn’t think you were much on daylight hours.”

“I’m not. Some days are exceptions. What can I do for you, Detective?”

“You can come downstairs and let me in. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” He waited a beat. “So, what are you wearing?”

She hated herself for laughing and hoped she managed to smother most of it. “My badge,” she told him and flicked the phone off.

Jonah hung up, sat back and entertained himself by imagining Allison Fletcher wearing her badge, and nothing else. The image came through, entirely too clear, entirely too appealing, and had him shoving back from the desk.

He had no business imagining Boyd’s daughter naked. No business, he reminded himself, fantasizing about Boyd’s daughter in any way whatsoever. Or wondering how her mouth would taste. Or what scent he’d find on the flesh just under the line of that very stubborn jaw.

God, he wanted to sink his teeth there, right there. Just once.

Forbidden fruit, he told himself and paced since there was no one to see. She was forbidden fruit and therefore all the more alluring. She wasn’t even his type. Maybe he liked leggy blondes. Maybe he liked leggy blondes with brains and a strong backbone. But he preferred friendlier women.

Friendlier, unarmed women, he thought, amusing himself.

He hadn’t been able to get her out of his head, and the clearest, most compelling picture had been the yielding and temporary, he was certain, fragility of her when she’d fallen asleep in his car.

Well, he’d always been a sucker for the needy, he reminded himself as he pulled up the blinds on his office window. Which should solve his problem over Allison. Despite that short interlude of vulnerability early that morning, needy was one thing the gorgeous detective wasn’t.

She had a use for him, again temporary. And when the job was done, they’d both go back to their separate corners in their separate worlds. And that would be the end of that.

He saw her pull up in front of the club. At least she’d had the sense to drive, he noted, and wasn’t hiking all over Denver today.

He took his time going down to let her in.

“Good morning, Detective.” He looked around her, studied the flashy lines of the classic red-and-white Stingray. “Nice car. Is that the new police issue? Oh wait, what was I thinking? Your daddy’s loaded.”

“If you think you can razz me over a car, you’re going to be disappointed. Nobody razzes like a precinct full of cops.”

“I’ll practice. Nice threads,” he commented and rubbed the lapel of her subtly patterned brown jacket between his thumb and forefinger. “Very nice.”

“So we both like Italian designers. We can compare wardrobes later.”

Because he knew it would irritate her, because he enjoyed the way the gold highlighted her eyeswhen he irritated her, he shifted, blocking her before she could step inside. “Let me see the badge.”

“Come off it, Blackhawk.”

“No. Let’s see it.”

Eyes narrowed behind her sunglasses, she pulled her badge out of her pocket, pushed it close to his face. “See it?”

“Yes. Badge number 31628. I’ll buy myself a lottery ticket and play your numbers.”

“Here’s something else you might want to look at.” She took out the warrant, held it up.

“Fast work.” He’d expected no less. “Come on up. I’ve been reviewing the tapes. You look rested,” he said as they walked to his elevator.

“I am.”

“Any progress?”

“The investigation is ongoing.”

“Hmm, policy line.” He gestured her into the elevator. “We seem to be spending a lot of time in these. Close quarters.”

“You could do your heart a favor and take the stairs.”

“My heart’s never caused me any problems. How about yours?”

“Whole and healthy, thanks.” She walked out when the doors opened. “Wow, you actually let the sunlight in here. I’m shocked. Let’s have the tapes. I’ll give a receipt.”

She wasn’t wearing perfume today, he noted. Just soap and skin. Odd how erotic that simplicity could be. “In a hurry?”

“Clock’s ticking.”

He strolled into an adjoining room. After a small internal battle, Ally walked over to the doorway. It was a small bedroom. Small, she noted, because it was two-thirds bed. A black pool of bed, unframed and on a raised platform.

Curious, she looked up and was mildly disappointed there wasn’t a mirror on the ceiling.

“It would be too obvious,” Jonah told her when her gaze skimmed back to his.

“The bed’s already a statement. An obvious one.”

“But not vain.”

“Hmm.” To amuse herself she poked around the room. On the walls were a number of framed black-and-white photographs. Arty, interesting and all stark or shadowy night scenes.

She recognized a couple of the artists, pursed her lips. So the man had a good eye for art, and decent taste, she admitted.

“I’ve got this print.” She tapped a finger against a study of an ancient man in a ragged straw hat sleeping on a cracked concrete stoop, a paper bag still clutched in his hand. “Shade Colby. I like his work.”

“So do I. And his wife’s. Bryan Mitchell. That’s one of hers beside it. The old couple holding hands on the bench at the bus stop.”

“Quite a contrast, despair and hope.”

“Life’s full of both.”

“Apparently.”

She wandered. There was a closet, closed, an exit door, securely locked, and what she assumed was a bath or washroom just beyond. She thought of the sex vibes Lydia Carson had referred to. Oh, yeah, this room had plenty of them. It all but smoked with them.

“So, what’s through there?” She jerked a thumb at another door. Instead of answering he gestured, inviting her to see for herself.

She opened the door, let out a long sigh of pleasure. “Now we’re talking.” The fully equipped gym was a great deal more appealing to her than a lake-size bed.

He watched as she trailed her fingers over machines, picked up free weights, doing a few absent curls as she roamed. Very telling, he thought, that she’d given the bed a sneer and was all but dewy-eyed over his Nautilus.

“You got a sauna?” Envy curled inside her as she pressed her nose to a little window in a wooden door and peered into the room beyond.

“Want to try it out?”

She turned her head enough to slide her gaze in his direction. And the sneer was back. “This is pretty elaborate when you could be at a full-service health club in two minutes.”

“Health clubs have members—that’s the first strike. They also have regular hours. Strike two. And I don’t like using someone else’s equipment.”

“Strike three. You’re a very particular man, Blackhawk.”

“That’s right.” He took a bottle of water out of a clear-fronted bar fridge. “Want one?”

“No.” She replaced the free weight, moved back to the doorway. “Well, thanks for the tour. Now, the tapes, Blackhawk.”

“Yeah, clock’s ticking.” He unscrewed the top of the bottle, took a casual sip. “You know what I like about night work, Detective Fletcher?”

She looked deliberately toward the bed, then back at him. “Oh, I think I can figure it out.”

“Well, there’s that, but what I really like about night work is that it’s always whatever time you want it to be. My favorite’s the three o’clock hour. For most people, that’s the hard time. If they don’t sleep through it, that’s the time the mind wakes up and starts worrying about what they did or didn’t do that day, or what they’ll do or not do the next. And the next, and right up until life’s over.”

“And you don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow.”

“You miss a lot of the now doing that. There’s only so much now to go around.”

“I don’t have a lot of the now to stand around philosophizing with you.”

“Take a minute.” He crossed to her, leaning on one jamb as she leaned on the other. “A lot of people who come into my place are night people—or those who want to remember when they were. Most have jobs now, the kind of jobs that pay well and make them responsible citizens.”

She took the water bottle from his hand, drank. “Your job pays well.”

He grinned. That quick jab was just one of the things that attracted him to her. “You saying I’m not a responsible citizen? My lawyers and accountants would disagree. However, my point is that people come in here to forget about their responsibilities for a while. To forget the clock’s ticking and they have to punch in at 9:00 a.m. I give them a place without clocks—at least till last call.”

“And this means?” She passed the bottle back to him.

“Forget about the facts a minute. Look at the shadows. You’re hunting night people.”

And he was one of them, she thought. Very much one of the night people, with his black mane of hair and cool cat’s eyes. “I’m not arguing with that.”

“But are you thinking like them? They’ve picked their prey, and when they move, they move fast. It would be less risky, give them more time to study the lay of the land, if they waited to make the hit during the day. Stake out the mark, learn their patterns—when do they leave for the office, when do they get back? These guys could probably nail it down in a couple of days.”

He lifted the bottle, drank. “That would be more efficient. Why don’t they play it that way?”

“Because they’re arrogant.”

“Yeah, but that’s only the top layer. Go down.”

“They like the kick, the rush.”

“Exactly. They’re hungry, and they like the thrill of working in the dark.”

It irked almost as much as it intrigued her that his thought process so closely followed her own. “You think that hasn’t occurred to me before?”

“I figure it has, but I wonder if you’ve factored in that people who live at night are always more dangerous than people who live during the day.”

“Does that include you?”

“Damn right.”

“So warned.” She started to turn away, then stopped, stared down at the hand he’d shot out to grip her arm. “What’s your problem, Blackhawk?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet. Why didn’t you send a uniform over here to pick up the tapes?”

“Because it’s my case.”

“No.”

“No, it’s not my case?”

“No, that’s not the reason. I’m crowding you.” He edged forward to prove it. “Why haven’t you decked me?”

“I don’t make a habit of punching out civilians.” She angled her chin when he nudged her back against the doorjamb. “But I can make an exception.”

“Your pulse is jumping.”

“It tends to when I’m irritated.” Aroused, she’d nearly said aroused because that was the word that came into her head. That was the sensation sliding through her body. And enough was enough.

She shifted, a smooth move that should have planted her elbow in his gut and moved him aside. But he countered, just as smoothly, and changed his grip so that his fingers wrapped tight around her wrist. Instinctively she pivoted, started to hook her foot behind his to take him down.

He adjusted his weight, used it to plaster her back against the door. She told herself it was annoyance that quickened her breathing, and not the way the lines of his body pressed against the lines of hers.

She bunched the hand at her side into a fist, calculated the wisdom of using it for one short-armed punch to the face and decided sarcasm was a more potent weapon against him.

“Next time, ask me if I want to dance. I’m not in the mood to—” She broke off when she saw something sharp come into his eyes, something reckless that had her already-rapid pulse tripping to a faster rate.

She forgot self-defense, forgot the fist she still held ready. “Damn it, Blackhawk, back off. What do you want from me?”

“The hell with it.” He forgot the rules, forgot the consequences of breaking them. All he could see was her. “The hell with it. Let’s find out.”

He let the bottle drop, and the water that remained in it spilled unnoticed on the bedroom rug. He wanted his hands on her, both his hands, and used them to hold her arms over her head as his mouth came down on hers.

He felt her body jerk against his. Protest or invitation, he didn’t care. One way or the other, he was bound to be damned for this single outrageous act. So he might as well make the most of it.

He used his teeth on her, the way he’d already imagined, scraping them along the long line of her lower lip. Freeing the warmth, the softness of it, to him, then absorbing it. She made some sound, something that seemed to claw up from her throat and was every bit as primitive as the need that raged through him.

The scent of her—cool soap and skin—the flavor of her, such a contrast of ripeness and heat, overwhelmed him, stirred every hunger he’d ever known.

When his hands took her, fingers sliding down, gripping her hips, he was ready to feed those hungers, to take what he craved without a second thought.


Page 8

Then his hand bumped over her weapon.

He jerked back as if she’d drawn it and shot him.

What was he doing? What in God’s name was he doing?

She said nothing, only stared at him with eyes that had gone blurry at the edges. Her arms remained over her head, as if his hands still pinned them there.

Her body quaked.

“That was a mistake,” she managed to say.

“I know it.”

“A really serious mistake.”

With her eyes open, she fisted her hands in his hair and dragged his mouth back to hers.

This time it was his body that jerked, and the shock of it vibrated through her, down to the bone. He’d savaged her mouth with that first mad kiss, and she wanted him to do it again. He would damn well do it again until her system stopped screaming.

She couldn’t breathe without breathing him, and every desperate gulp of air was like the pump of a drug. The power of it charged through her while their lips and tongues warred.

With one violent move, he yanked her shirt out of the waistband of her slacks, then snaked his hand beneath until it closed over her breast.

The groan came from both of them.

“The minute I saw you.” He tore his mouth from hers to feast on her throat. “The first minute I saw you.”

“I know.” She wanted his mouth again, had to have it. “I know.”

He started to drag her jacket off, had it halfway down her arms when sanity began to pound against madness. The madness urged him to take her—why shouldn’t he?—fast and hard. To take what he needed, the way he needed it, and please himself.

“Ally.” He said her name, and the old-fashioned sweetness of it clicked reality back into place.

She saw him step back—though he didn’t move, she saw the deliberate distance he built between them by the change in his eyes. Those fascinating and clear green eyes.

“Okay.” She sucked in a breath. “Okay, okay.” In an almost absent move she patted his shoulder until he did indeed step back. “That was … whoa.” She sidestepped, paced away into his office. “Okay, that was … something.”

“Something or other.”

“I need a minute for my mind to clear.” She’d never had passion slam into her with a force that blanked the mind. But she’d have to worry about that, deal with that, later. Right now it was essential she find her balance.

“We probably both knew that was in there. And it’s probably best we got it out,” she said.

To give himself a moment he bent down, picked up the empty water bottle, set it aside. Then he dipped his hands into his pockets because they weren’t altogether steady, and followed her into the office.

“I’ll agree with the first part and reserve judgment on the second. What do we do now?”

“Now we … get over it.”

Just like that? he thought. She’d cut him off at the knees, and now he was supposed to just hobbleaway and get over it?

“Fine.” Pride iced his voice. He walked over, took three tapes out of his desk drawer. “I believe these satisfy your warrant.”

Her palms were sweaty, but she couldn’t sacrifice the dignity she was trying to rebuild by wiping them off. She took the tapes, slipped them into her shoulder bag. “I’ll give you a receipt.”

“Forget it.”

“I’ll give you a receipt,” she repeated and took out a pad. “It’s procedure.”

“We wouldn’t want to tamper with procedure.” He held out his hand, accepting the copy she offered. “Don’t let me keep you, Fletcher. Clock’s ticking.”

She strode to the door, yanked it open. Dignity be damned, she decided and spun back. “You can save the attitude. You made the first move, I made the second. That’s an even slate to me, and now it’s done.”

“Honey—make that Detective Honey—if we were done, we’d both be feeling a lot better right now.”

“Yeah, well. We’ll live with it,” she muttered and sacrificed dignity for satisfaction by slamming the door.

*  *  *

Ally wasn’t cut out to be a waitress. She was sure of it when, during her second shift at Blackhawk’s, she poured the drink Beth had allowed her to serve over the head of the idiot customer who’d grabbed her butt and invited her to engage in a sexual act that was illegal in several states.

The customer had objected, rather strongly, to her response, but before she could flatten him, Will had appeared like smoke between them. She’d had to stand passively and be rescued.

It had grated for hours.

But if she was sure of her lack of waitress potential after her second shift, she was desperate to shed her cover by the third.

She wanted action. And not the kind that required her to serve wild wings in demon sauce and take orders for drinks called tornadoes to young executives on the make.

Twenty minutes into her third night at Blackhawk’s had given her a profound respect for those who served and cleared and tolerated impatience, lousy tips and lewd propositions.

“I hate people.” Ally waited for her drink order at the bar while Pete drew a beer off tap.

“Ah, no, you don’t.”

“Yes. Yes, I do. I really do. They’re rude, annoying, oblivious. And all of them are jammed into Blackhawk’s.”

“And it’s only six thirty.”

“Please. Six thirty-five. Every minute counts.” She glanced back at Jan, who worked the bar area, all but dancing between tables as she cleared, served and played up her assets. “How does she do it?”

“Some are born for it, Blondie. You’ll excuse my saying so, but you’re not. Not that you don’t do the job, but you don’t have the passion.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t have the arches, either.” She started to lift the tray, eyes tracking the room as always, then she let it drop again when she spotted the man coming in the front door.

“Oh, hell. Pete, ask Jan to get this order to table eight club side. I have to do something.”

“Ally, what’re you doing here?”

It was all Dennis got out of his mouth before Ally grabbed his arm and hauled him through the bar,into the kitchen and out the back door. “Damn it, Dennis. Damn it!”

“What’s the matter? What did you drag me out here for?” He put on his best baffled look, but she’d seen it before. She’d seen the whole routine before.

“I’m on the job. You’ll blow my cover, for God’s sake. I told you what would happen if you started following me again.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His injured air had worked on her once. More than once.

“You listen to me.” She stepped close, jabbed a finger in his chest. “Listen hard, Dennis. We’re done. We have been done for months. There’s no chance that’s going to change, and every chance, if you keep hassling me, I’ll slap a restraining order on your butt and make your life a living hell.”

His mouth thinned, his eyebrows lowered, the way she knew they did when he was backed into a corner. “This is a public place. All I did was walk into a public place. I’m entitled to buy a drink in a bar when I’m in the mood.”

“You’re not entitled to follow me or to jeopardize my cover in a police investigation. You crossed the line, and I’m calling the D.A.’s office in the morning.”

“You don’t have to do that. Come on, Ally. How was I supposed to know you were on the job here? I just happened to pass by and—”

“Don’t lie to me.” She balled her hand into a fist, then in frustration tapped it against her own temple as she turned away. “Don’t lie.”

“I just miss you so much. I think about you all the time. I can’t help it. I know I shouldn’t have followed you. I didn’t mean to. I was just hoping we could talk, that’s all. Come on, baby.” He took her shoulders, buried his face in her hair in a way that made her skin crawl. “If we could just talk.”

“Don’t … touch me.” She hunched her shoulders, started to pull away, but he wrapped his arms around her, one hard squeeze of possession.

“Don’t pull away. You know it makes me crazy when you go cold like that.”

She could have had him flat on his back with her foot on his throat in two moves. She didn’t want it to come to that. “Dennis, don’t make me hurt you. Just leave me alone. Take your hands off me and leave me alone, or it’s going to be so much worse than it already is.”

“No. It’ll be better. I swear, it’ll be better. You just have to take me back, and things’ll be the way they used to be.”

“No. They won’t.” She stiffened, braced to break the hold. “Let me go.”

Light spilled out of the kitchen door as it opened. “I’d advise you to do what the lady asked,” Jonah warned. “And do it fast.”

She closed her eyes, felt temper and embarrassment rise up under the frustration. “I can handle this.”

“Maybe, but you won’t. This is my place. Take your hands off her.”

“We’re having a private conversation.” Dennis turned but pulled Ally with him.

“Not anymore. Go inside, Ally.”

“This is none of your business.” Dennis’s voice rose, cracked. It was a tenor she’d heard before. “Just butt out.”

“That wasn’t the right response.”

She moved now, breaking free and stepping between the men when Jonah moved forward. There was a gleam in his eye that worried her, like a flash of lightning against thin ice. “Don’t. Please.”

Anger wouldn’t have stopped him, nor would an order. But the plea in her eyes, the weariness in them, did. “Go back inside,” he said again, but quietly as he laid a hand on her shoulder.

“So that’s the way it is.” Dennis lifted bunched fists. “There’s nobody else. That’s what you toldme. No, there was nobody else. Just another lie. Just one more of your lies. You’ve been sleeping with him all along, haven’t you? Lying bitch.”

Jonah moved like a snake. She’d seen street fights before. Had broken up her share while in uniform. She only had time to swear and leap forward, but Jonah already had Dennis up against the wall.

“Stop it,” she said and grabbed his arm to try to pull him off. She might as well have tried to shove aside a mountain.

He shot her one steely look. “No.” He said it casually, like a shrug. Then he plowed his fist into Dennis’s belly. “I don’t like men who push women around or call them names.” His voice stayed cool and steady as he delivered a second blow. “I won’t tolerate it in my place. You got that?”

He let go, stepped back, and Dennis collapsed in a heap at his feet. “I think he got it.”

“Great. Wonderful.” While Dennis moaned, Ally pressed her fingers to her eyes. “You just gut-punched an assistant district attorney.”

“And your point would be?”

“Help me get him up.”

“No.” Before she could try to haul Dennis to his feet, Jonah took her arm. “He walked in on his own, he’ll walk away on his own.”

“I can’t leave him here, curled up like a damn shrimp on the pavement.”

“He’ll get up. Right, Dennis?” Elegant and unruffled in black, Jonah crouched down beside the groaning man. “You’re going to get up, you’re going to walk away. And you’re not going to come back here in this lifetime. You’re going to stay very far away from Allison. In fact, if you find out that by some mischance you’re breathing the same air, you’ll hold your breath and run in the opposite direction.”

Dennis struggled to his hands and knees, retched. Tears swam in his eyes, but behind them was a rage that drilled in his head like a diamond bit. “You’re welcome to her.” Pain radiated through him as he stumbled to his feet. “She’ll use you, then toss you aside. Just like she did me. You’re welcome to her,” he repeated, then limped away.

“Looks like you’re all mine now.” Jonah straightened, flicked fingers down his shirt as if removing some pesky lint. “But if you’re going to start using me, I’d prefer we do it inside.”

“It’s not funny.”

“No.” He studied her face, the shadowed eyes and the pity in them. “I can see that. I’m sorry. Why don’t you come inside, take a few minutes up in my office until you’re feeling steadier.”

“I’m okay.” But she turned away, dragged the clip out of her hair as if it were suddenly too tight. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

“All right.” He put his hands on her shoulders, used his thumbs to press at the tension. “Take a minute anyway.”

“I hate having him touch me, and I feel lousy because I hate it. I don’t think it jeopardized the cover.”

“No. According to Pete, some dude walked in, you flipped and dragged him out.”

“Anybody asks, I’ll keep it close to the truth. Ex-boyfriend who’s hassling me.”

“Then stop worrying.” He turned her around. “And stop feeling guilty. You’re not responsible for other people’s feelings.”

“Sure you are, when you help make them. Anyway.” She lifted a hand to the one he still rested on her shoulder, patted it. “Thanks. I could have handled him, but thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

He couldn’t stop himself from leaning into her, drawing her close. He watched her lashes lower, her mouth lift to his. And was a breath away from tasting her when the light spilled over them.

“Oh. Sorry.” Frannie stood, framed in the door where kitchen noise clattered, a lighter in one hand, a cigarette at the ready in the other.

“No.” Ally broke away, furious with herself for forgetting her priorities. “I was just going back in. I’m already late.” She flicked one look at Jonah, then hurried back inside.

Frannie waited until the door swung shut, then stepped over to lean back against the wall. She flicked on her lighter. “Well,” she said.

“Well.”

She blew out smoke on a sigh. “She’s beautiful.”

“Yes, she is.”

“Smart, too. It comes across.”

“Yeah.”

“Just your type.”

This time he angled his head. “You think so?”

“Sure.” The tip of her cigarette glowed as she lifted it to her lips. “Classy. Class shows. She suits you.”

It troubled him, more than he’d imagined it would, to dance around the truth with an old friend. “We’ll see how well we fit.”

Frannie moved a shoulder. But she’d already seen. They fit like lock and key. “Was there trouble with that suit?”

Jonah glanced in the direction Dennis had taken. “Nothing major. An ex who doesn’t like being an ex.”

“Figured it was something like that. Well, if it matters, I like her.”

“It matters, Frannie.” He walked to her, touched a hand to her cheek. “You matter, and always have.”


Page 9

Chapter 5

Six days after the Chamberses’ burglary, Ally stood in her lieutenant’s office. To save time, she’d already changed into her waitress gear for the evening. She had her badge in the pocket of her trousers and her clutch piece strapped just above her ankle.

“We haven’t been able to trace one single piece of stolen property.” She knew it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “There’s no news on the street. Even Hickman’s bottomless sources are dry. Whoever’s pushing the buttons on this is smart, private and patient.”

“You’ve been inside Blackhawk’s for a week.”

“Yes, sir. I can’t tell you any more than I could the first day. Between the security tapes and my own in-the-field observations, I’ve tagged several regulars. But nobody pops. On the upside, my cover’s secure.”

“Fortunately. Shut the door, Detective.”

Her stomach sank a little, but she did so and stood in the glass box of his office with the noise from the bull pen humming behind the clear wall.

“On the matter of Dennis Overton.”

She’d known it was coming. Once she’d made the complaint to the D.A.’s office, it was inevitable that some of the flak would scatter into her own house.

“I regret the incident, Lieutenant. However, the way it ultimately played out added to my cover rather than detracting from it.”

“That’s not my concern. Why didn’t you report his behavior previously to the D.A.? To me?”

They both heard the unspokenTo your father.

“It was personal business and, until this last incident, on my personal time. I believed I could handle it without involving my superiors or Dennis’s.”

He understood the defensive stance because he understood her. “I’ve spoken with the district attorney. In your complaint to him you state that Overton has, over a period of time beginning the first week of April, harassed you with phone calls both here and at home, has staked out your apartment, followed you on and off duty.”

“He didn’t interfere with the job,” she began, then wisely closed her mouth when her lieutenant stared at her.

Kiniki set aside a copy of her written statement, folded his hands on it. “Contacting you against your stated wishes when you’re on duty, as well as when you’re off, interferes. Are you unaware of the stalking laws, Detective?”

“No, sir. When it became apparent that the subject would not desist in his behavior, could not be discouraged and could potentially interfere with this investigation, I reported his behavior to his superior.”

“You haven’t filed charges.”

“No, sir.”

“Nor have you, as yet, requested a restraining order.”

“I believe a reprimand from his superior is sufficient.”

“That, or being knocked back by Jonah Blackhawk?”

She opened her mouth, closed it again. She hadn’t mentioned that part of the incident to the D.A.

“Overton claims that Blackhawk attacked him, unprovoked, in a fit of jealous rage.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” The words, and the disgust in them, were out before she could stop them. She yanked at her hair once, then bit down on control. “That is completely inaccurate. I didn’t detail the incident, Lieutenant. It didn’t seem necessary. But if Dennis insists on making trouble here, I’ll write out a full report.”

“Do it. I want a copy on my desk by tomorrow afternoon.”

“He could lose his job.”

“Is that your problem?”

“No.” She blew out a breath. “No, sir. Lieutenant, Dennis and I dated for a period of three months.” She hated this, bringing her personal life into her superior’s office. “We were … intimate, briefly. He began to display— Hell.”

She dropped the copspeak, approached the desk. “He got possessive, jealous, irrational. If I was late or had to cancel, he’d accuse me of being with another man. It got way out of hand, and when I broke things off he’d come by or call. Full of apologies and promises to be different. When I didn’t go for it, he’d either get nasty or fall apart. Lieutenant, I slept with him. Part of this situation is my doing.”

Kiniki waited a moment, pulling on his bottom lip while he studied her. “That’s one of the few stupid remarks I’ve ever heard you make. If a victim came to you describing this situation, would you tell her it was her doing?” When she didn’t answer, he nodded. “I didn’t think so. You would follow procedure. Follow it now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ally …” He’d known her since she was five. He tried to keep the personal separate as religiously as she. But there were times … “Have you told your father about this?”

“I don’t want to bring him into it. Respectfully, sir, I’d prefer you didn’t discuss it with him.”

“That’s your choice. The wrong one, but yours. I’ll agree to it if I have your word that if Overton so much as breathes within ten feet of you, you report it to me.” He cocked his head when her lips quivered. “That’s amusing?”

“No, sir. Yes.” She let go of the cop-to-cop stand. “Jonah made nearly the same statement, Uncle Lou. I guess it’s … sweet. In a manly sort of way, of course.”

“Always had the smartest mouth. Go on, get out of here. And get me something on these burglaries.”

*  *  *

Since most waitresses-in-training didn’t drive classic Corvettes, Ally was in the habit of parking two blocks away and walking the rest of the distance to Blackhawk’s.

It gave her time to shift gears, to appreciate what spring brought to Denver. She’d always loved the city, the way the buildings, silver towers, rode into the sky. She loved seeing the mountains go from winter-white to those steely jags laced by snow and forest.

And though she enjoyed the mountains, had spent many wonderful days in her parents’ cabin, she preferred to view them from city streets. Her city.

Her city had scarred-booted cowboys walking down the same streets with Armani-clad executives. It was about cattle and commerce and nightlife. It was about the wild, coated with a sheen or polish butnot quite tamed.

The East would never hold the same appeal for her.

And when spring was in full, balmy life, when the sun beamed on the white-tipped peaks that guarded Denver, when the air was thin and bright, there was no place like it in the world.

She stepped out of the city, and into Blackhawk’s.

Jonah was at the bar, the far end, leaning casually, sipping what she knew was his habitual sparkling water and listening to one of his regular customers complain about his day.

Those light and beautiful green eyes pinned her the minute she walked in, stayed steady, stayed level and gave away nothing.

He hadn’t touched her since the night behind the club, and had said little. It was best that way, she told herself. Mix duty and lust and you end up compromising one and being burnt by the other.

But it was frustrating to see him night after night, to remain just close enough to maintain illusions and not be able to take a complete step forward or back.

And to want him, the way she’d never wanted anyone else.

She shrugged out of her jacket and got to work.

*  *  *

It was killing him, by inches. Jonah knew what it was to want a woman, to have one stir blood and loins and spin images in the mind. It could be a kind of hunger that slowly churned in the belly, gnawing there until it was finally satisfied.

This was a hunger, his desire for Ally. But there was nothing of the slow churning in it. This was sharp, constant and painful.

No other woman had ever caused him pain.

He carried the taste of her inside him. He couldn’t rid himself of it. That alone was infuriating. It gave her an advantage he’d never allowed another to have over him. The fact that she didn’t appear to know it didn’t negate the weakness.

Where you were weak, you were vulnerable.

He wanted the investigation over. He wanted her back in her own life, her own world, so he could regain his balance in his.

Then he remembered the way she’d erupted against him, the way her mouth had scorched over his and her hands had fisted in his hair. And he began to worry he’d never find his feet firmly planted again.

“Good thing we don’t have a cop around.”

Jonah’s fingers tightened on his glass, but his eyes were mild as he turned to Frannie. “What?”

She pulled a beer, poured a bump, then served it. “A guy could get arrested for looking at a woman that way. I think it’s called intent or something. What you intend is pretty clear, at least when she’s not looking.”

“Really?” And that, he realized, was another worry. “Then I’d better watch myself.”

“She’s doing plenty of watching,” Frannie murmured as he walked away.

“The man’s got trouble on the brain,” Will commented. He liked coming over to Frannie’s end of the bar so he could get a whiff of her hair or maybe work a smile out of her.

“He’s got woman on the brain. And he’s not altogether easy with this one.” She winked at him and squirted a glass of the soft drink Will drank by the gallon during working hours.

“Women never trouble the man.”

“This one does.”

“Well.” He sipped his drink, scanned the bar crowd. “She’s a looker.”

“That’s not it. Looks are surface stuff. This one’s got him down in the gut.”

“You think?” Will tugged on his little beard. He didn’t understand women and didn’t pretend to. To him they were simply amazing creatures of staggering power and wonderful shapes.

“I know.” She patted Will’s hand and had his heart throbbing in his throat.

“Two margaritas, frozen with salt, two house drafts and a club soda with lime.” Jan set down her tray and walked her fingers up Will’s arm in a teasing, tickling motion. “Hey, big guy.”

He blushed. He always did. “Hey, Jan. I better do a round in the club.”

He hurried off and had Frannie shaking her head at Jan. “You shouldn’t tease him like that.”

“I can’t help it. He’s so sweet.” She flipped her hair back. “Listen, there’s this party tonight. I’m going by after closing. Want to tag along?”

“After closing I’m going to be home, in my own little bed, dreaming of Brad Pitt.”

“Dreaming never gets you anywhere.”

“Don’t I know it,” Frannie muttered and sent the blender whirling.

*  *  *

Allison carried a full tray of empties and had two tables’ worth of drink orders in the pad tucked in her bar apron. Only thirty minutes into shift, she thought. It was going to be a long night. Longer, she realized when she spotted Jonah coming toward her.

“Allison, I’d like to speak with you.” About something, anything. Five minutes alone with you might do it. Pitiful. “Would you come up to my office on your break?”

“Problem?”

“No,” he lied. “No problem.”

“Fine, but you’d better tell Will. He guards your cave like a wolf.”

“Take your break now. Come up with me.”

“Can’t. Thirsty people waiting. But I’ll shake loose as soon as I can if it’s important.” She walked away quickly because she’d heard it, that underlying heat that told her what he wanted with her had nothing to do with duty.

She stopped at her station beside Pete and ordered herself to settle down. Since he was in the middle of entertaining three of the stool-sitters with a long, complicated joke, she took the time to rest her feet and study the people scattered at table and bar.

A twentysomething couple who looked like they were on the leading edge of an argument. Three suits with ties loosened arguing baseball. A flirtation, in its early stages, starting to cook between a lone woman and the better-looking of a pair of guys at the bar. Lots of eye contact and smiles.

Another couple at a table laughing together over some private joke, holding hands, she noted, flirting some even though the hands wore wedding rings. Well married, happy and financially secure if the designer handbag on the back of the woman’s chair and the matching shoes were any indication.

At the next table another couple sat having a quiet conversation that seemed to please them both. There was an intimacy there as well, Ally noted. Body language, gestures, the smiling looks over sips of wine.

She envied that … comfort, she supposed, of having someone who could sit across the table in a crowded place and focus on her, care about what she said, or what she didn’t have to say.

It was what her parents had—that innate rhythm and respect that added real dimension to love and attraction.

If it was lovely to watch, she wondered, how much more lovely must it be to experience?

Brooding over it, she listened to the laughter break out at Pete’s punch line. She placed her orders, listening absently to the chatter around her, scanning, always scanning the movements, the faces.

She watched the hand-holding couple signal Jan, and the woman pointing to an item on the bar menu when the waitress moved to the table to take the order. Bending down, Jan waved a hand in front of her mouth, rolled her eyes and made the woman laugh.

“The hotter the better,” the woman claimed. “We don’t have a club table until eight, so there’s plenty of time to cool down.”

When Jan had scribbled down the order and moved off, Ally found herself smiling at the way the man brought the woman’s hand to his mouth and nipped at her knuckles.

If it hadn’t been for that kernel of envy that kept her attention focused on them, she might have missed it. As it was, it took her several seconds to note the picture had changed.

The woman’s bag still hung over the back of her chair but at a different angle, and the outside zipper pocket wasn’t quite closed.

Ally came to attention, her first thought to focus on Jan. Then she saw it. The second woman sitting with her back to the first, still smiling at her companion. While under the table, smooth and unhurried, she slipped a set of keys into the purse she held on her lap.

Bingo.

“You gone to the moon, Ally?” Pete tapped a finger on her shoulder. “I don’t think anybody’s waiting for vodka tonics up there.”

“No, I’m right here.”

As the woman rose, tucked her purse under her arm, Ally lifted her tray.

Five-four, she thought. A hundred and twenty. Brown hair, brown eyes. Late thirties with an olive complexion and strong features. And just now heading toward the ladies’ room.


Page 10

Rather than break cover, she hurried into the club, spotted Will and shoved the tray at him. “Sorry, table eight’s waiting for these. Tell Jonah I need to speak with him. I have to do something.”

“But hey.”

“I have to do something,” she repeated and walked briskly toward the restrooms.

Inside, she scanned the bottom of the stalls, located the right shoes. Making a wax mold of the keys, Ally concluded and turned to one of the sinks. She ran water while she watched the shoes. It would only take a few minutes, but she’d need privacy.

Satisfied, Ally walked out.

“Ally? I got tables filling up here. Where’s your tray?”

“Sorry.” She shot Beth an apologetic smile. “Little emergency. I’ll get on it.”

She moved quickly, catching the eye of one of her team members and pausing by the table. “White female, late thirties. Brown and brown. She’ll be coming out of the ladies’ room in a minute. Navy jacket and slacks. She’s sitting in the bar area with a white male, early forties, gray and blue in a green sweater. Keep them in sight, but don’t move in. We handle it just like we outlined.”

She walked back to the bar to pick up another tray as a prop. The man in the green sweater was paying the tab. Cash. He looked relaxed, but Ally noted he checked his watch and glanced back toward the restrooms.

The woman came back in but, rather than taking her seat, stood between the tables and reached down for the short black cape she’d draped over the chair. For a matter of seconds, her body blocked the view, then she straightened, beamed at her companion and handed him the cape.

Smart hands, Ally thought. Very smart hands.

When Jonah turned the corner of the bar, she inclined her head and let her gaze slide over to the couple preparing to leave, then back to him.

Casually she crossed over and ran a hand affectionately up and down Jonah’s arm. “I’ve got two officers to tag them. We want them to get through the setup, all the way through. I want to give it some time before I alert the targets. When I do, I need your office.”

“All right.”

“We need to keep business as usual down here. If you’ll hang around, I can let you know when I want to move. You can tell Beth you need me for something so she can juggle tables. I don’t want any alarms going off.”

“Just let me know. I’ll take care of it.”

“Let me have the code for your elevator. In case I need to take them up without you.” She leaned in, her face tilted to his.

“Two, seven …” He leaned down, brushed his lips over hers. “Five, eight, five. Got it?”

“Yeah, I got it. See if you can keep attention off me until I move the targets out of the bar.”

Her energy was up, but her mind was cool. She waited fifteen minutes. When the female target rose to use the restroom, Ally slipped in with her.

“Excuse me.” After a quick check of the stalls, Ally pulled her badge out of her pocket. “I’m Detective Fletcher, Denver P.D.”

The woman took a quick, instinctive step in retreat. “What’s this about?”

“I need your help with an investigation. I’d like to speak with you and your husband. If you’d come with me.”

“I haven’t done anything.”

“No, ma’am. I’ll explain it all to you. There’s a private office upstairs. If we could move up there as quietly as possible? I’d appreciate your cooperation.”

“I’m not going anywhere without Don.”

“I’ll get your husband. If you’d walk back out, turn to the left and wait in the corridor.”

“I want to know what this is about.”

“I’ll explain it to both of you.” Ally took the woman’s arm to hurry her along. “Please. Just a few moments of your time.”

“I don’t want any trouble.”

“Please wait here. I’ll get your husband.” Because she didn’t trust the woman to stay put long, Ally moved fast. She paused at the couple’s table, picked up empty glasses.

“Sir? Your wife’s back there. She asked if you could come back for a minute.”

“Sure. Is she okay?”

“She’s fine.”

Ally crossed to the bar, set down the empties. Then ducked quickly back into the corridor.

“Detective Fletcher,” she said with a quick flash of her badge as the man joined her. “I need to speak with you and your wife in private.” She was already keying in the code.

“She won’t say what it’s about. Don, I don’t see why—”

“I appreciate your cooperation,” Ally said again and all but shoved them both into the elevator.

“I don’t appreciate being bullied by the police,” the woman said with an edge of nerves in her voice.

“Lynn, calm down. It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry to be abrupt.” Ally stepped into Jonah’s office, gestured to the chairs. “If you’d have a seat, I’ll fill you in.”

Lynn crossed her arms, hugged her elbows tight. “I don’t want to sit down.”

Have it your way, sister, Ally thought. “I’m investigating a series of burglaries in and around Denver during the last several weeks.”

The woman sniffed. “Do we look like burglars?”

“No, ma’am. You look like a nice, well-established, upper-class couple. Which has been, to date, the main target of this burglary ring. And less than twenty minutes ago, a woman we suspect is part of that ring lifted your keys out of your purse.”

“That’s impossible. My purse has been right with me all night.” As if to prove it, she started to unzip the pocket. Ally snagged her wrist.

“Please don’t touch your keys.”

“How can I touch them if they’re not there?” the woman argued.

“Lynn, shut up. Come on.” He squeezed his wife’s shoulder. “What’s going on?” he asked Ally.

“We believe molds are made of the keys. They’re replaced and the targeted victim remains unaware. Then their house is broken into and their belongings are stolen. We’d like to prevent that from happening to you. Now sit down.”

Authority snapped in her voice this time. Visibly shaken, the woman lowered herself into a chair.

“If I could have your names please.”

“Don and Lynn—Mr. and Mrs. Barnes.”

“Mr. Barnes, would you give me your address?”

He swallowed, sat on the arm of his wife’s chair and rattled it off while Ally noted it down. “Do you mean someone’s in our house right now? Robbing us right now?”

“I don’t believe they can move quite that quickly.” In her mind she was calculating the drive time. “Is there anyone at that address right now?”

“No. It’s just us. Man.” Barnes ran a hand through his hair. “Man, this is weird.”

“I’m going to call in your address and begin setting up a stakeout. Give me a second.”

She picked up the phone as the elevator doors opened, and Jonah walked it. “I’ve got it covered here,” she told him.

“I’m sure you do. Mr. and Mrs….?”

“Barnes,” the man answered. “Don and Lynn Barnes.”

“Don, can I offer you and your wife something to drink? I realize this is very inconvenient and upsetting for you.”

“I could use a shot. A good stiff bourbon, I think.”

“Can’t blame you. And Lynn?”

“I …” She lifted a hand, dropped it. “I just can’t … I don’t understand.”

“Maybe a little brandy.” Jonah turned away, opened a panel in the wall to reveal a small, well-stocked bar. “You can put yourselves in Detective Fletcher’s capable hands,” he continued and he chose bottles and glasses. “And meanwhile, we’ll try to keep you as comfortable as possible.”

“Thanks.” Lynn took the brandy from him. “Thank you so much.”

“Mr. Barnes.” A little miffed at how smoothly Jonah had settled ruffled feathers, she yanked the man’s attention back to her. “We have units on the way to your house right now. Can you describe your house for me? The layout, doors, windows?”

“Sure.” He laughed, a little shakily. “Hell, I’m an architect.”

He gave her a clear picture, which she relayed to the team before she began to set up the coordinates for the stakeout.

“You have dinner reservations here tonight?” Ally asked them.

“Yeah. Eight o’clock. We’re making a night of it,” he said with a sour smile.

Ally checked her watch. “They’ll think they have plenty of time.” She wanted them to go back down, to finish their time at the bar, go into dinner and present the appearance of normality. And one look at the woman’s face told her it was a long shot.

“Mrs. Barnes. Lynn.” Ally came back around the desk, sat on the edge of it. “We’re going to stop these people. They won’t take your things or damage your home. But I need you to help me out here. I need you and your husband to go back down, to try to get through the evening as if nothing was wrong. If you could hold on for another hour, I think we could wrap this up.”

“I want to go home.”

“We’ll get you there. Give me an hour. It’s possible that a member of the organization is assigned to keep an eye on you. You’ve already been away from your table nearly twenty minutes. We’ll cover that, but we can’t cover another hour. We don’t want to scare these people off.”

“If they’re scared off, they won’t break into my house.”

“No, just into someone else’s the next time.”

“Give me a minute with her, okay?” Barnes got up, took his wife’s hands. “Come on, Lynn. Hell, it’s an adventure. We’ll eat out on the story for years. Come on, let’s go—let’s just go downstairs and get drunk.”

“Jonah, go with them. Ah, pass the word that those—what was it?—the wild wings you ordered didn’t sit too well after all. You’re fine now, but you were feeling a little sick. Blackhawk’s will cover your bar bill, right?”

“Naturally.” Jonah offered Lynn his hand to help her to her feet. “And the dinner tab. I’ll take you down. You just needed to stretch out for a few minutes, and I offered to take you and your husband up to my office until you felt better. Good enough?” he asked Ally as he pressed for the elevator.

“Perfect. I need to make a couple more calls, then I’ll be down. I’m going to have to cut out before end of shift. I’ve had a family emergency.”

“Good luck with it,” he told her and led the Barneses away.

Chapter 6

She got the key from Jonah and went straight to the employee lounge for her bag. She ran straight out, doing no more than waving a hand when Frannie called out to her from behind the bar.

She was trusting Jonah to answer any questions. No one could do it better, she thought as she raced the blocks to her car. A simple word, a shrug from him, and that would be that. No one pumped a man like Jonah Blackhawk.

She had to get to Federal Heights before everything went down.

At first she thought she was seeing things. But the night was clear and cool and her vision excellent. There was no mistaking the fact that all four of her tires were slashed.

She swore, kicked viciously at the mangled rubber. A hell of a time, she thought, one hell of a time for Dennis Overton to get nasty. Digging into her bag she pulled out her cell phone and called for a radio car.

Time wasted, was all she could think. Two minutes, five minutes ticking away while she paced the sidewalk and waited. She had her badge out and her teeth clenched when the patrol car pulled up.

“Got some trouble, Detective?”

“Yeah. Hit the sirens, head north on 25. I’ll tell you when to go silent.”

“You got it. What’s going down?”

She settled into the back behind the two uniforms, itching to have her hands on the wheel and her foot on the gas. “I’ll fill you in.” She took her weapon and harness out of her bag and felt more herself the minute she strapped it on.

“Call for a tow truck, will you? I don’t want to leave my car on the street like that.”

“Shame about that. Nice car.”

“Yeah.” She forgot about it as they screamed up the interstate.

*  *  *

A block from the Barneses’ address, she hopped out of the car and arrowed straight to Hickman. “Give me the story.”

“They took their time getting here. Balou and Dietz had the first leg of the tail and said they drove like solid citizens, kept under the speed limit, signaled for turns. Woman riding shotgun, made a call on a cell phone. He turned over the tail to me and Carson when they got on 36. They stopped for gas. The woman gets in the back. They’re driving a nice, suburban minivan. She’s doing something back there, but I couldn’t get close enough to see.”

“Making the keys. I bet you two weeks’ pay she’s got the works for it in the van.”

“Do I look like I take sucker bets?” He glanced down the quiet street. “Anyhow, we had a unit here, waiting. The suspects were observed parking the van a block down from the target address. They strolled up the street, walked right up to the door, unlocked it and went in like they owned the place.”

“Barnes said they have a security system.”

“Alarm didn’t trip. They’ve been inside about ten minutes now. Lieutenant’s waiting for you. We’ve got the area blocked off, the house surrounded.”

“Then let’s move in and wrap this up.”

He grinned, handed her a walkie-talkie. “Saddle up.”

“God, I love cowboy talk.”

They moved fast, kept low. She spotted the cops positioned on the street, behind trees, in shadows, hunched in cars.

“Glad you could join the party, Detective.” Kiniki nodded toward the house. “Ballsy, aren’t they?”

Lights gleamed, a homey glow against windows on the first and second floor. While Ally watched, she saw a faint shadow move behind the lower window.

“Dietz and Balou are covering the back. We’ve got them closed in. What’s your play?”

Ally reached in her pocket, pulled out keys. “We move in on all sides and go in the front. When we move, pull one of the radio cars across the driveway. Let’s block that route.”

“Call it.”

She lifted the walkie-talkie to establish positioning and give the orders. And all hell broke loose.

Three gunshots blasted the air, the return fire slamming into the echoes. Even as Ally drew her own weapon, voices shouted through the walkie-talkies.

“Dietz is down! Officer down! Shooter’s male, heading east on foot. Officer down!”

Cops rushed the house. Ally hit the door first, went in low. Blood pounded in her ears as she swept the area with her weapon. Hickman took her back and at her signal headed up the stairs while she turned right.


Page 11

Someone was shouting. She heard it like a buzz in the brain. Lights flashed on.

The house opened out like a fan. She brought the layout Barnes had described into her mind as she and the rest of the team spread out. At each doorway she led with eyes and weapon, following training while her breath came short and shallow.

There was more gunfire from outside, muffled pops. She started to turn in that direction and saw the sliding door on what looked like a small solarium wasn’t quite shut.

She caught a scent, very female, and following instinct turned away from the shouts and bolted for the door.

She saw the woman, just the silhouette of her, running hard toward a line of ornamental trees. “Police! Stop where you are!”

She would replay it a dozen times. The woman continued to run. Weapon drawn, Ally raced after her, calling out the warning, shouting her position and situation into her hand unit.

She heard calls from behind her, running feet.

They’d cut her off, Ally thought. Cut her off even before she reached the six-foot fence that closed in the property.

Nowhere to go.

She gained ground, caught both the scent of perfume and panic sweat the woman left on the air. Moonlight picked her out of the shadows, the swing of her dark hair, the stream of the short black cape.

And when, on the run, the woman turned, the moonlight bounced off the chrome plating of the revolver in her hand.

Ally saw her lift it, felt with a kind of detached shock the heat of the bullet that whined past her own head.

“Drop your weapon! Drop it now!”

And as the woman pivoted, and the gun jerked in her hand, Ally fired.

Ally saw the woman stagger, heard the thud as the gun fell from her hand and heard a kind of sighing gasp. But what she would remember, what seemed to burn on her brain like acid on glass, was the dark stain that bloomed between the woman’s breasts even as she dropped.

It was bone-deep training that had her rushing forward, stepping on the woman’s gun. “Suspect down,” she said into her hand unit as she crouched to check for a pulse. Her voice didn’t shake, and neither did she. Not yet.

It was Hickman who got to her first. She heard his voice like something carried on the crest of a wave of churning water. Her head was full of sound, a rushing liquid sound.

“Are you hit? Ally, are you hit?”

His hands were already moving over her, tugging at her jacket to check for injury.

“Call an ambulance.” Her lips were stiff. They felt wooden, splintered. She reached forward, crossing her hands over each other, pressing the heels of them on the woman’s chest.

“On the way. Come on. Get up.”

“She needs pressure on this wound. She needs an ambulance.”

“Ally.” He holstered his own weapon. “You can’t do anything for her. She’s dead.”

*  *  *

She didn’t let herself be sick. She made herself stand and watch as the wounded officer and the woman’s partner were loaded into ambulances. She made herself watch when the woman was zipped into a thick black bag.

“Detective Fletcher.”

And she made herself turn, face her lieutenant. “Sir. Can you tell me Dietz’s condition?”

“I’m on my way to the hospital. We’ll know more later.”

She rubbed the back of her hand over her mouth. “The suspect?”

“Paramedics said he’ll make it. It’ll be a couple of hours at least before we can question him.”

“Am I … will I be allowed to be in on the interrogation?”

“It’s still your case.” He took her arm to draw her away. “Ally, listen to me. I know what it feels like. Ask yourself now, right now, if you could have done anything differently.”

“I don’t know.”

“Hickman was behind you, and Carson was coming in from the left. I haven’t spoken with her as yet, but Hickman’s report is you identified yourself, ordered her to stop. She turned and fired. You ordered her to drop her weapon, and she prepared to fire again. You had no choice. That’s what I expect to hear from you during the standard inquiry tomorrow morning. Do you want me to call your father?”

“No. Please. I’ll talk to him tomorrow, after the inquiry.”

“Then go home, get some rest. I’ll let you know about Dietz.”

“Sir, unless I’m relieved of duty, I’d rather go to the hospital. Stand by for Dietz, and be on hand to question the suspect when we’re cleared to do so.”

It would be better for her, he thought, to do what came next. “You can ride with me.”

*  *  *

Panic was like an animal clawing at his throat. He’d never felt anything like it before. Jonah told himself it was just hospitals that did it to him. He’d always detested them. The smell of them brought back the last hideous months of his father’s life and made him all too aware that a turn here, a turn therein a different direction, might have damned him to experience the same fate his father had at fifty years old.

His source had assured him that Ally wasn’t hurt. But all he knew for certain was that something had gone very wrong at the bust and she was at the hospital. That had been enough to have him heading straight out. Just to see for himself, he thought.

He found her, slumped in a chair, in the hallway of Intensive Care. The panic digging into his throat released.

She’d taken the clip out of her hair as he knew she did when she was tense or tired. The gilt curtain of hair fanned down the side of her face, concealing it. But the tired slouch, the hands she gripped together on her knees, told him what to expect.

He stepped in front of her, crouched down and saw, as he’d known he would, pale skin and dark, bruised eyes.

“Hey.” He gave in to the need to lay his hand over hers. “Bad day?”

“Pretty bad.” It seemed like wires were crossed in her brain. She didn’t think to wonder why he was there. “One of my team’s in critical condition. They don’t know if he’ll make it till morning.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me, too. The doctors won’t let us talk to the son of a bitch who shot him. Male suspect identified as Richard Fricks. He’s sleeping comfortably under a nice haze of drugs while Dietz fights for his life, and his wife’s down in the chapel praying for it.”

She wanted to close her eyes, to go into the dark, but kept them open and on his. “And for a bonus, I killed a woman tonight. One shot through the heart. Like she was a target I aced at practice.”

Her hands trembled once under his, then fisted.

“Yeah, that’s a pretty bad day. Come on.”

“Come where?”

“Home, I’m taking you home.” When she looked at him blankly, he pulled her to her feet. She felt featherlight, her hands as fragile as glass. “There’s nothing you can do here now, Ally.”

She closed her eyes, groped for a breath. “That’s what Hickman said at the scene. There’s nothing you can do. Looks like you’re both right.”

She let him lead her to the elevator. There was no point in staying, or arguing or pretending she wanted to be alone. “I can … get a ride.”

“You’ve got one.”

No, she thought, no point in arguing, or in resisting the supporting arm he slipped around her waist. “How did you know to come here?”

“A cop came by to take the Barneses home. I got enough out of him to know there’d been trouble, and where you were. Why isn’t your father with you?”

“He doesn’t know. I’ll tell him about it tomorrow.”

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”

She blinked, like a woman coming out of a dark room into the light. “What?”

He pulled her out of the elevator, across the hospital lobby. “Do you want him to hear about this from someone else? To not hear your voice, hear you tell him you’re not hurt? What are you thinking?”

“I … I wasn’t thinking. You’re right.” She fumbled in her purse for her phone as they crossed the lot. “I need a minute. I just need a minute.”

She got into the car, steadying herself, steadying her breathing. “Okay.” She whispered it to herself as Jonah started the car. She punched in the number, waited through the first ring, then heard her mother’s voice.

“Mom.” Her breath hitched. She bore down, holding a hand over the phone until she was sure her voice would be normal. “I’m fine. Everything okay there? Uh-huh. Listen, I’m on my way home, and I need to speak to Dad a minute. Yeah, that’s right. Cop talk. Thanks.”

Now she closed her eyes, listened to her mother call out, heard the warm mix of their laughter before her father’s voice sounded in her ear.

“Ally? What’s up?”

“Dad.” Her voice wanted to crack but she refused to let it. “Don’t say anything to upset Mom.”

There was a pause. “All right.”

“I’m okay. I’m not hurt, and I’m on my way home. It went down tonight, and things went wrong. Ah, one of the team was wounded, and he’s in the hospital. One of the suspects is in there, too. We’ll know more tomorrow on both.”

“You’re all right? Allison?”

“Yes, I wasn’t hurt. Dad. Dad, I had to fire my weapon. They were armed. Both suspects were armed and opened fire. She wouldn’t … I killed her.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“No, please. Stay with Mom. You’ll have to tell her and she’s going to be upset. I need to … I just need to go home and— Tomorrow, okay? Can we talk about it tomorrow? I’m so tired now.”

“If that’s what you want.”

“It is. I promise, I’m all right.”

“Ally, who went down?”

“Dietz. Len Dietz.” She lifted her free hand, pressed her fingers to her lips. They didn’t feel stiff now, but soft. Painfully soft. “He’s critical. The lieutenant’s still at the hospital.”

“I’ll contact him. Try to get some sleep. But you call, anytime, if you change your mind. I can be there. We both can.”

“I know. I’ll call you in the morning. I think it’ll be easier in the morning. I love you.”

She broke the connection, let the phone slide into her purse. She opened her eyes and saw they were already in front of her apartment. “Thanks for …”

Jonah said nothing, simply got out, came around to her door. Opening it, he held out a hand for hers. “I can’t seem to get my thoughts lined up. What time is it?”

“It doesn’t matter. Give me your key.”

“Oh, yeah, the traditionalist.” She dug it out, unaware her other hand was clutching his like a lifeline. “I’m going to start expecting flowers next.”

She walked through the lobby, to the elevator. “It seems like there’s something I have to do. I can’t get a rope around what it is, though. There should be something I have to do. We identified her. She had ID anyway. Madeline Fricks. Madeline Ellen Fricks,” she murmured, floating like a dream out of the elevator. “Age thirty-seven. She had an address in … Englewood. Somebody’s checking it out. I should be checking it out.”

He unlocked the door, drew her inside. “Sit down, Ally.”

“Yeah, I could sit down.” She looked blankly around the living room. It was just the way she’d left it that morning. Nothing had changed. Why did it seem as if everything had changed?

Jonah solved the matter by picking her up and carrying her toward the bedroom.

“Where are we going?”

“You’re going to lie down. Got anything to drink around here?”

“Stuff.”

“Fine. I’ll go find some stuff.” He laid her on the bed.

“I’ll be okay.”

“That’s right.” He left her to hunt through the kitchen. In a narrow cupboard he found an unopened bottle of brandy. He broke the seal, poured three fingers. When he brought it back, she was sitting up in the bed, her knees rammed into her chest, her arms roped around them.

“I’ve got the shakes.” She kept her face pressed to her knees. “If I had something to do, I wouldn’t have the shakes.”

“Here’s what you need to do.” He sat on the bed, cupped a hand under her chin and lifted it. “Drink this.”

She took the first sip obediently when he lifted the glass to her lips. Then she coughed and turned her head away. “I hate brandy. Somebody gave me that last Christmas, God knows why. I meant to …” She trailed off, began to rock.

“Have some more. Come on, Fletcher, take your medicine.”

He gave her little choice but to gulp down another swallow. Her eyes watered and color flooded her cheeks. “We had the place closed in, surrounded the house, cordoned off the area in a three-block radius. They couldn’t have gotten through. They had no place to run.”

She needed to talk through it. Jonah set the brandy aside. “But they ran anyway.”

“We were just about to move in, and he—Fricks—came out the back, already firing. He hit Dietz with two rounds. Some of us went around the back, covering both sides. Some of us went in the front. I was first in, Hickman was behind me. We spread out, started the sweep.”

She could still see it in her head. Moving through, fast and steady, the lights blazing.

“I could hear more gunfire and shouting from outside. I nearly turned back, thinking they were both out of the house and running—that they were together. But I saw—there’s this bump-out sunroom deal on the house, and the sliding door leading out wasn’t closed, not all the way closed. I spotted her as soon as I stepped out. Going in the opposite direction as her partner. Splitting us up, I guess. I called out, told her to stop. I was in pursuit and she fired a round. Sloppy shot. I ordered her to stop, to drop her weapon. I didn’t see she had a choice. Where the hell could she go? But she spun around.

“She spun around,” Ally repeated. “The moon was very bright, very bright and it was on her face, in her eyes, shining on the gun. And I shot her.”

“Did you have a choice?”

Her lips trembled open. “No. In my head that’s clear. Jonah, that’s so clear. I’ve gone over it, step after step, a dozen times already. But they don’t prepare you for what it’s like. They can’t. They can’t tell you how it feels.”

The first tear spilled over and she wiped it impatiently away. “I don’t even know what I’m crying for. Or who.”

“It doesn’t matter.” He put his arms around her, drew her head down on his shoulder and held her while she wept.

And while she wept he went back over what she’d told him.

Sloppy shot, she’d said, almost skimming over the fact that someone had tried to kill her. Yet she wept because she’d had no choice but to take a life.


Page 12

Cops. He turned his cheek against her hair. He’d never understand cops.

*  *  *

She slept for two hours, dropping into oblivion like a stone in a pool, and staying deep at the bottom. When she woke, she was wrapped around him in the dark.

She lay still a moment, orienting herself, while his heart beat strong and steady under her palm. With her eyes open and her mind clearing, she went through a mental checklist. She had a vague headache, but nothing major—just a hangover from the crying jag. There was a stronger feeling of embarrassment, but she thought she could live with that, too.

She wiggled her toes and discovered she was barefoot. And her ankle holster was gone.

So, she realized, was her shoulder harness.

He’d disarmed her, she thought, in more ways than one. She’d blubbered out her story, cried on his shoulder, and was now wrapped around him in the dark. Worse than all of that was realizing she wanted to stay there.

Believing him asleep she started to inch away.

“Feel any better?”

She didn’t jolt, but it was close. “Yeah. Considerably. I guess I owe you.”

“I guess you do.”

In the dark he found her mouth with his and sank in.

Soft, unexpectedly soft. Warm, deliciously warm. Yes, she wanted to stay there, and so she opened for him, sliding her hand from his heart to his face, yielding when he turned his body to press hers into the mattress.

The good solid weight of him, the hard lines of his body, the drugging heat of his mouth was exactly what she wanted. Her arms came around him, holding him there as he had held her in tears and in sleep.

He gave himself the moment, the dark taste of her mouth, the sleepy sigh she made, the feminine give of her beneath him. He’d lain beside her, his body alert, his mind restless while hers slept. Wanting her, wanting her so it was like a fever in the blood.

Yet when she woke, he found himself drowning in tenderness.

Yet when she surrendered, he found himself unwilling, unable, to take.

He drew back, skimmed a thumb over the curve of her cheek. “Bad timing,” he said and rolled off the bed.

“I …” She cleared her throat. Her body had just started to ache, her mind had just started to float. Now she floundered free. “Look, if you have some weird idea that you were taking advantage, you’re wrong.”

“Am I?”

“I know how to say yes or no. And while I appreciate you bringing me home, hearing me out and not leaving me alone, I’m not grateful enough for any of that to pay you back with sex. I think too much of myself. Hell, I think too much of sex.”

He laughed, sat on the edge of the bed again. “You do feel better.”

“I said I did. So.” She slid over, tossing her hair back and nuzzling his throat.

His pulse tripped and a fireball burst in his belly. “That’s tempting.” He was lucky to be able to breathe, and still casually patted her hand and got to his feet. “But no thanks.”

Insult came first, and something vile nearly spilled off her tongue. Because it made her think of Dennis, she yanked herself back. “Okay. Mind if I ask why? Under the current circumstances, that seems like a reasonable question.”

“Two reasons.”

He switched on the bedside light, watched her eyes narrow in defense. And the look of her slammed into him like a fist in the throat.

“God. You’re beautiful.”

A little thrill jumped up her spine. “And that’s why you don’t want to make love with me?”

“I want you. Enough that it’s starting to hurt. That ticks me off.”

Idly he took the ends of her hair, wrapped a length of it around his hand, released it. “You’re on my mind, Ally, too often for comfort. I like to be comfortable. So reason one is that I haven’t decided if I want to get tangled up with you. If I do half of the very interesting things I have in mind to do with you, I’m going to be tangled.”

She sat back on her heels. “I imagine you know how to cut line when you want to.”

“I’ve never had any trouble before. You’re trouble. It’s that simple.”

Insult and annoyance had vanished. “This is fascinating. Here I had you pegged as somebody who took what he wanted when he wanted it, and the hell with the consequences.”

“No. I prefer calculating, then eliminating consequences. Then I take what I want.”

“In other words, I make you nervous.”

“Oh, yeah. Go ahead and grin,” he said with a nod. “I can’t blame you.”

She laughed, lifted her eyebrows. “You said there were two reasons. What’s the second?”

“That’s easy.” He stepped to the bed, bent down and caught her chin in his hand. “I don’t like cops,” he said and brushed his lips lightly over hers.

When he would have leaned away from the kiss, she leaned in, sliding up so that her body rubbed over his. She felt his body quiver, and nothing had ever been more satisfying.

“Yeah, you’re trouble,” he muttered. “I’m leaving.”

“Coward.”

“Okay, that stings, but I’ll get over it.” He walked over to shrug on the jacket he’d tossed onto a chair, slip his feet back into his shoes.

She didn’t just feel better, Ally realized. She felt fabulous. Invincible. “Why don’t you come on back here and fight like a man.”

He glanced at her. She knelt on the side of the bed, her eyes dark and challenging, her hair a tumble of gold around her face and shoulders.

The taste of her was still sizzling on his tongue.

But he shook his head, walked to the door. Tormented himself with one last look. “I’m going to hate both of us in the morning,” he told her, then strode away while her laughter followed him.

Chapter 7

Ally was up at six and ready to roll out the door at seven. She nearly rolled right over her parents, who were at her front door.

“Mom.” She flicked her eyes up to her father, started to speak, but her mother already had her caught in a hard hug. “Mom,” she said again. “I’m all right.”

“Indulge me.” Cilla held on, tight, heart pressed to heart, cheek pressed to cheek.

Stupid, Cilla thought, so stupid to have kept it together all night and to feel herself falling apart now that her child was in her arms.

She couldn’t, wouldn’t, allow it.

“Okay.” She laid her lips on Ally’s temple for a moment, then drew back far enough to study her daughter’s face.

“I had to see for myself. You’re lucky your father held me off this long.”

“I didn’t want you to worry.”

“It’s my job to worry. And I believe in doing a job well.”

Ally watched her mother’s lips curve, saw the tears willed away. And knew it cost her. “You do everything well.”

Cilla O’Roarke Fletcher’s eyes were the same golden-brown as her daughter’s, her short sweep of hair a luxuriant black that suited her angular features and smoky voice.

“But I’ve got worry down to a science,” she said.

Since they were almost of identical height, Ally had only to shift closer to kiss Cilla’s cheek. “Well, you can take a break. I’m fine. Really.”

“I suppose you look it.”

“Come on inside. I can make some more coffee.”

“No, you’re on your way out. I just needed to see you.” To touch you, Cilla thought. My baby. “I’m heading into work. I’m interviewing a new sales manager at KHIP. Your dad’s dropping me off. You can use my car today.”

“How did you know I needed a car?”

“I have connections,” Boyd told her. “You should have yours back by midafternoon.”

“I would’ve handled it.” Ally shut the door behind her, frowned.

“Meaning you would have handled the car, and Overton and the tangle of bureaucracy,” Cilla put in. “I hope I didn’t raise a daughter who’s ungrateful, and who expects her father to stand back with his hands in his pockets when something happens to her.” Cilla tilted her head, lifted her brows. “I’d be very disappointed if I had.”

Boyd grinned, slipped an arm around Cilla’s shoulders and pressed his lips to her hair.

“Good one,” Ally muttered, properly chastised. “Thank you, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, Allison.”

“Now, which one of us is going to go beat the tar out of Dennis Overton?” Cilla rubbed her hands together. “Or can we all do it? In which case, I get to go first.”

“She has violent tendencies,” Ally pointed out.

“Tell me about it. Down girl,” he told Cilla. “Let the system work. Now … Detective.” Boyd draped his arm around his daughter’s shoulders as they walked to the elevator. “You’re to report to the hospital first. There’s a suspect who needs to be questioned.”

“The inquiry into the shooting?”

“Will proceed this morning. You’ll need to give your statement and file your report. By ten hundred. Detective Hickman filed his last night, which gives a very clear picture. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“I’m not worried. I know I did what I had to do. It gave me some bad moments last night.” She blew out a breath. “Some pretty bad ones. But I’m okay with it now. As okay as it gets, I guess.”

“You shouldn’t have been alone last night,” Cilla said.

“Actually I had … a friend with me for a while.”

Boyd opened his mouth, shut it again. After Ally’s call the night before, he’d contacted Kiniki immediately. He knew that Jonah had driven Ally home from the hospital, so he had a good idea just who the friend was.

But he had no idea how he felt about it.

*  *  *

Ally pulled into the hospital visitors’ lot, circled until she found a space. She spotted Hickman as she set the locks and alarm.

“Nice ride,” he commented, hands in pockets, eyes squinted into slits against the brilliant sunshine. “Not every cop’s got herself a Mercedes as a backup vehicle.”

“It’s my mother’s.”

“You’ve got some mother.” He’d seen Cilla, so he knew it was true. “So, how’s it going?”

“Okay.” She fell into step beside him. “Look, I know you already filed your report on last night’s incident. I appreciate you getting it in so fast and backing me up.”

“It happened the way it happened. If it smoothes any edges for you, you should know that you fired about a split hair before I did. If I’d been in the lead instead of you, I’d’ve been the one to take her out.”

“Thanks. Any word on Dietz?”

“Still critical.” Hickman’s expression darkened. “He made it through the night, so that’s hopeful. I want a round with the son of a bitch who put him here.”

“Get in line.”

“You know how you want to play it?”

“I’ve been thinking about it.” They moved together across the lobby to the bank of elevators. “She made a call from her cell phone—that puts at least one other person in on the deal. I say two. Whoever’s inside the club, and somebody pushing the buttons, organizing. Our guy here shot a cop, so he knows he’s going down hard. His wife’s dead, his operation’s broken and he’s looking at death row.”

“Doesn’t give him much incentive to talk. You going to deal him a life sentence?”

“That’s the road. Let’s make sure he walks it.”

She showed her badge to the uniform on guard at Fricks’s door, walked through.

Fricks lay in bed, his skin pale, slightly gray. His eyes were blurred, but open. His gaze passed over Ally and Hickman, then returned to contemplating the ceiling.

“I have nothing to say. I want a lawyer.”

“Well, that makes our job easier.” Hickman walked over to the bed, pursed his lips. “Doesn’t looklike a cop killer, does he, Fletcher?”

“He’s not. Yet. Dietz might make it. Of course, this guy here’s still looking at being strapped to a table and being put down like a sick dog. Nighttime B and E, burglary, possession of an unregistered weapon, assault with a deadly, attempted murder of a police officer.” She moved her shoulders. “And plenty more where that came from.”

“I have nothing to say.”

“Then shut up,” she suggested. “Why try to help yourself? Trust a lawyer to take care of everything. But … I’m not in the mood to make deals with lawyers. How about you, Hickman?”

“Nope, can’t say that’s my mood at this time.”

“We’re not in the mood,” Ally repeated. “Not when we have a fellow officer fighting for his life up in Intensive Care. That really puts us off lawyers who look for ways to wiggle cop killers out of the noose. Right, Hickman?”

“Yeah, puts me right off. I don’t see any reason we should give this guy any kind of a break. I say let him hang for it all by himself.”

“Well, we ought to look at the big picture, though. Show a little compassion. He lost his wife last night.” She watched the ripple of pain run over Fricks’s face before he closed his eyes.

There, she thought, was the key to him.

“That’s rough. His wife’s dead, and he’s lying here shot up and looking at a death sentence.” Ally lifted her shoulders, let them fall. “Maybe he’s not thinking how other people, people who helped put him in this situation, could walk away clean. Clean, and rich, while he’s twisting in the wind on a very short rope. And his wife gets put in the ground.”

She leaned over the bed. “But he ought to be thinking about it. Of course, maybe he didn’t love his wife.”

“Don’t talk to me about Madeline.” His voice wavered. “She was my heart.”

“Really. I’m touched. That touches me. Now, that might not hold any weight with Hickman here, but me, I’ve got a soft spot for true love. Since I do, I’m going to tell you you ought to be thinking how you can help yourself now, because if you were her heart, she wouldn’t want you to go down for this alone.”

His eyes flickered, then closed.

“You ought to be thinking that if you cooperate and tell us what we want to know, we’ll go to the D.A. and press for a little leniency. Show some remorse now, Richard, reach out. That’ll go a long way toward keeping you off a table in a little room a few years down the road.”

“I talk, I’m already dead.”

Ally shot Hickman a glance. “You’ll get protection.”

Fricks’s eyes were still closed, but tears began to leak out of them. “I loved my wife.”

“I know you did.” Ally lowered the bed guard so she could sit beside him.

Intimacy now, she thought. Sympathy. And infused her voice with both. “I saw you together at Blackhawk’s. The way you looked at each other tells me you had something special between you.”

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