Something a bit different today to introduce Dillon and Jose the two sexy cops who star in Good Cop, Bad Cop (available on Amazon only). Keep reading to enjoy the first 3 chapters...
Okay, so I have it all. The voice of an angel, three platinum-selling albums, looks other women can only strive to achieve and a shit-crazy, fully fledged, murderous stalker.
I’m lucky, right?
Smoothing my hands down my red silk dress that I’d all but been vacuum packed into, I glanced around the dinner table. I knew everyone. Some better than others, which helped, in a way.
Sitting opposite was my childhood best friend, Tommy Bell, chatting to the new guy from Astor. Tommy was also my manager, had been for years, and I trusted him with my life, quite literally. He looked handsome tonight in a crisp black suit and with his dark hair brushed back. He exuded the air of authority and confidence he’d had since being a scruffy ten year old persuading me to climb a tree in his backyard.
I’d caught his attention, and he paused briefly and grinned. I smiled and my heart swelled with gratitude. I never needed to worry about striking the best deals with a record label when he was around or what route to take a marketing campaign down once he was on the case. Tommy always had my best interests at heart, was knife-sharp at negotiating and as honest as they came. God had smiled on me the day the Bells had moved onto our block and their youngest son had decided he’d wanted me as his best buddy.
I took a sip of champagne and looked at Dimitri, my bodyguard. His drink was untouched, even though it was only cola, and his arms were folded over his broad, apish chest. Dimitri was new. Tommy had hired him last week. I tried to quash the lurch in my stomach when I thought of the reason why his presence was necessary. Tried but failed. The hollow, sick feeling was growing each day, clawing at my nerves, shredding my sanity. Living with fear was like existing in a different dimension to everyone else. It was dark and cold and rippled up my spine and over my scalp when I least expected it. It caused me to catch my breath and my head to spin, lose my focus and feel alone in a room full of people.
There had been another note this morning, shoved under my hotel room door. It had read one word. SOON. Like the others it was written in newspaper-letters. Nausea had gripped me as I’d picked it up. My heart had beat so hard the sound of my pulse in my ears was deafening in the quiet room.
I’d dropped the piece of paper, watched it flutter to the floor, then stumbled to the phone. Called Tommy who came rushing, Dimitri at his side. I’d burst out crying as soon as they’d arrived. I’d tried so hard not to sob that when it did erupt it racked my lungs and bent me double.
I knew what the note threatened and what would happen soon—my death.
Tommy had held me, stroked my hair, whispered that it would be all right and asked Dimitri, who’d stood silently holding the note, to call Meredith, my lead backing singer, to come from her room across the corridor.
I glanced at Meredith now. She was staring at me, her intense blue eyes sparkling in the candlelight and her mouth set in a straight line.
“What are you thinking about, India?” she asked, fingering the small cross that sat in the hollow of her throat. “You look on edge.”
“You’re not still upset about this morning, are you?”
“Yes, a little.” Who was I kidding? The weight of the worry was like an anvil on my head, pressing me down.
“It’s just someone trying to scare you. Don’t let them win, relax. It will all be fine.”
“But last week’s note came in the mail, and I couldn’t understand how they had the address of the cabin. And now this one, to my hotel room. It’s creepy beyond belief. Who even knows that I’m in Fort Lauderdale for the weekend?”
She shrugged. “You’re a superstar, people see you out and about and Tweet it, Facebook it, whatever. Your movements are watched by millions.”
“But it still doesn’t make sense.” I shook my head and frowned. My cabin was in the back and beyond of Montana; it was isolated and private. I’d never given any information to the press that I even owned it.
Meredith sipped her champagne and shrugged again. “It makes perfect sense and it’s all part and parcel of being famous. You have to learn to take the ups with the downs, the rough with the smooth.” She shook her napkin and laid it on her lap, gave a small smile. “Enjoy the meal, honey. You’re safe here with us, we’re your best friends. Besides, you have that big hunk of meat to look after you now.” She gestured towards Dimitri.
He said nothing in response to being called a hunk of meat. His silence wasn’t unusual. I barely knew what his voice sounded like even though he’d been hanging around me for a week now. If I was honest he gave me the creeps. His jaw stuck out too far, giving him a craggy, Neanderthal look. His eyebrows were dense and bushy and his black eyes piercing. And the sheer size of the man. He was all bulging muscles and brawn, his neck wider than his head, and hands the size of tortoise shells. I’d seen his feet, too—I’d guess they were at least three times bigger than mine.
A waiter cleared our starter plates and I reached for my purse. “I’m going to the restroom,” I said.
Meredith nodded. “Can I borrow your cell to call Liam? Mine is out of charge and I promised I would say goodnight. Though why I bother I don’t know. His voice mail has kicked in the last two times I’ve tried.”
“Are you missing him?” I asked, passing her my iPhone as I stood.
“Yeah, but we’ll soon be together again, once he’s finalized this deal in New York.
Dimitri unfolded from his chair, towering his huge bulk over me as he grabbed a bread roll.
“I’ll be fine,” I said to him. “The ladies’ is just there.” I pointed past the indoor waterfall that cascaded down a stone wall into a pond.
Tommy paused his conversation and looked up at me. “Let him go with you, India.”
He gave me that look. The one that set his jaw and turned his eyes steely. He could be a determined, stubborn bastard when he wanted to, and I’d learned over the years to pick my battles.
“Okay,” I said. “Fine.”
I turned, flicked my blonde hair over my shoulders, and strutted toward the restroom. I could almost feel Dimitri’s breath on my neck, and I could certainly smell his strong, cheap cologne.
I glanced into the pond that was full of carp. Their big, scaled bodies glistened like jewels beneath the surface as they twisted around one another. For a brief moment I wished I was a fish. They didn’t have the problems that I had. They didn’t have to worry about when the next note would arrive, or worse, if it would be more than a note; if the madman was about to show up and kill me as he kept threatening.
The door to the ladies’ restroom opened. A man stepped out. I paused.
So did he.
He wore dark, wrap-around glasses and a hat pulled low over his brow. Pausing, he rubbed his fingers over a thick mustache then said gruffly, like he had a sore throat, “Excuse me, wrong door.” His attention appeared to slip from my face, down my neck and to my cleavage.
Dimitri stepped closer still, his body heat warming my bare shoulders.
I beat down a shudder. The bulk of Dimitri behind me and the way this stranger was hemming me in had created a new, panic-laced twist in my belly.
Is he my stalker?
“I’ll wait right here for you, Miss Moore,” Dimitri said, or rather, growled.
The man moved away, but not before scanning the whole length of my body. I was used to that, used to being looked at, admired. But this was different. This was more than appreciative, more than approving. It was downright rude and really fucking lecherous. Even with his glasses on it was as though he was seeing right through my dress, my underwear—seeing right into me and imagining sick things he’d like to do.
I shuddered and stepped past him. Pushed into the quiet restroom and sighed with relief when the door slammed behind me.
I couldn’t cope with this anymore. It was sending me insane. I was suspicious of every person who recognized me and fearful of every fan. I leaned against the washbasin and stared at myself in the mirror. My scarlet lipstick was still perfect and my long lashes hadn’t leaked their mascara. I took out a comb and fluffed my hair, and spritzed on exotic, tropical perfume sent to me by a cosmetic company hoping I’d endorse it.
“What’s the matter with you?” I scolded my reflection as I re-fastened my purse. “You’re surrounded by your people, people who care about you. You’re in a very exclusive restaurant and about to have a meal prepared by one of the States’ best chefs. Chill out and enjoy it.” I set my mouth stern and pulled in a deep breath. Meredith was right. I had to relax, let the police continue to do their job and track down the writer of the notes, let Dimitri protect me and carry on with my life as normal. I’d wanted fame and fortune, fans and followers. I’d got them. Now I just had to take the bad with the good, trust the people around me and keep my eyes open and my mind alert.
I went into a toilet cubicle, the one at the end, and locked the door.
There was a window open above the cistern and I could hear the sounds of the marina outside. Rigging clanging, distant music, the lap of waves around the pier. The brine-laden air floated in, bringing with it a hint of coolness that I welcomed on my shoulders.
After doing what I had to do, I smoothed down my dress, unlocked the door then walked back into the restroom.
The earth suddenly felt taken from under my feet. My knees both juddered and ached with a glut of adrenaline that simultaneously spiked the hairs on my arms. Fight or flight.
Written on the mirror, in red, was a single word.
The thud of my heart pounded right up to my throat and my stomach clenched. Quickly I slammed the cubicle door, re-locked it and stumbled backwards against the cold tiled wall.
My focus blurred. A million different thoughts collided in my brain. I should scream for Dimitri, yell at the top of my lungs for him to come and save me.
But what if Dimitri is the killer?
He was, after all, standing outside, the only one with access to the restroom.
I dropped to the ground, looked beneath the cubicle wall. There were no other feet.
Standing, I silently rested down the lid onto the toilet. Struggled to climb on it in my dress then peered over the top of the cubicle. In the mirror I noticed one other door shut, three away from mine.
I suppressed a gasp. That meant I hadn’t been alone when I’d come into the ladies’. Someone had been hiding in here. Was it the man with the mustache’s accomplice? Perhaps I had not one but two crazy stalkers, a whole damn team of them out to get me.
Heat rose up the skin on my chest and neck, a sharp prickling sensation that made my breath hard to catch. If only I had my cell. I could dial 911, Tommy, Meredith, anyone.
No point thinking about if only’s, I had to get out. But how? If I opened the door and made a run for it, whoever was in here would simply reach out and grab me. If Dimitri was part of the ploy he would just stand outside and allow me to be murdered. And if he wasn’t in on it, perhaps he’d been silenced somehow by the man with the mustache, and wouldn’t be able to get in and save me.
Perhaps he’d been murdered too.
I wanted to vomit and cry all at the same time. They were going to spirit me away, bundle me out of the window and torture me, rape me, do all kinds of unimaginably horrible things before murdering me and dropping my body into the ocean for the sharks to feast on.
I turned to face it. All of a sudden it seemed like a key to the end of my nightmare. It was small, but I was smaller. It was high, but I was nimble and flying on adrenaline.
Reaching up, I pushed it wide. Balanced my stiletto on the cistern and hoisted myself upward. I threw my purse through first. Heard it land outside on concrete with a crack that sounded like something inside splintering.
My dress strained and complained but within a second my body was through the open window, feet first, and I slithered to the ground.
I lunged for my purse and stayed squatting, trying to make myself small and invisible.
There were no other windows along the wall other than the one I’d just used to escape. My stalker would soon figure out what I’d done and come after me. I had to get moving—fast.
But where to?
I had to get to Tommy.
I glanced left and right, tried to get my bearings, but I couldn’t work out which way would lead me to the front of the restaurant. I was definitely at the back, or maybe at the side. There were several garbage bins and a pile of empty boxes. Beyond a wire fence was the marina, black water holding bobbing white boats and in the far distance lights from a casino reflected on the ocean.
Taking a chance, I moved from the shadows and headed right. After several stumbling, tottering steps I took off my shoes and let them swing from my fingers by their thin straps.
There was a sudden noise behind me. A bang, like a cubicle door shutting forcefully in the restroom. Someone’s temper running dry because they’d lost me?
I broke into a sprint, slapping my feet on the floor, my breaths sharding down my throat. I was in an alley now; it was dark and stank of rotting food.
There was another noise behind me. Human, a grunt maybe. I picked up the pace, frantically speeding forward and then took a left, down another alley, narrow and long but with a light at the end.
“India, come back here,” shouted a deep, gritty, mean voice that fueled my terror. Who the hell was that?
I turned another corner. My slinky evening dress was too tight. I hitched it up to my panties and freed my legs completely. Risked a glance over my shoulder as I ran at full pelt.
Nothing but blackness.
Where is the front of the restaurant?
Where is civilization?
It was like living a nightmare. Racing through a maze, running for my life. No one to help me. No one to save me.
The sound of breaking glass echoed towards me, ricocheting up the alley.
I suppressed a scream and broke off to the left, down an alley so lean my shoulders almost touched each side. I stood on something sharp, felt it slice my flesh, but I ignored the sensation, kept moving. I had to get away. The wound would no doubt hurt like hell later but for now it was barely a tickle.
Suddenly the alley spat me out.
I slowed slightly, a shred of hope lighting within me. Perhaps now I would be able to find a police officer. Someone, anyone to help me.
But as I looked around that shred of hope died. I was in a deserted part of the marina. Cut off by three sides. The only way back was the alley maze I’d just ran down.
The black sea twinkled before me. Boats swayed like ghosts in the darkness. Silence except for the tinkle of ropes on metal masts and the quiet lap of water.
I ran to the left. Nothing. Sprinted to the right. Nothing.
The rhythmic sound of feet pounding concrete thumped around the alley, tumbling out toward me.
He was coming. I was nearly out of time.
I dashed up the pier. The hard pavement turned to soft wood. The walkway ended and I leaped a gap of three feet onto a floating pontoon.
What the hell am I going to do next? Swim?
Fighting the overwhelming urge to collapse into a heap and sob, I looked back toward the shore.
Nothing. No one.
But for how much longer? I wasn’t a strong swimmer. The sparkling lights on the other side of the bay looked inviting but I wouldn’t be able to make it that far. No way.
A clanking and the slop of water to my right caught my attention. There were a handful of deserted looking boats moored on the pontoon.
A much better choice than the cold, deep water.
With a swift bound I landed on the starboard end of the nearest one. Stilled briefly to see if the soft thud of my arrival had disturbed anyone, then tried the door.
Thank the good Lord above. Open.
I sneaked in. Clicked the latch shut and paused. Allowed my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
I waited, waited some more. There was so little light that I could only make out the merest hint of furniture. But it was a big boat. I reckoned there must be another room somewhere ahead. But that would be the obvious one for my stalker to find me in.
Stumbling to the right, I fumbled for a minute then found a door handle. Turned it, stepped in and shut it behind myself.
As I ventured forward, pain suddenly attacked my shins as they hit hard wood. I pitched double, biting my lip so as not to cry out. I felt softness beneath my hands. A bed, covers and a mattress. Empty.
My eyes filled with tears. A tremble started in the depths of my belly and worked its way outward, shivering along every nerve. I tugged at the cover, climbed onto the bed and curled up beneath the soft cotton sheet. I pulled it over my head and hugged my shoes and purse to my chest. Willed my panting to calm and become steady and silent, which was hard considering the urge to cry was almost as strong as the need to breathe.
I closed my eyes, felt a tear trickle down to my ear and was aware of my hair sticking to my perspiring forehead. But I just lay there. Still, quiet, the beat of my heart vibrating through my body and my head spinning from my terror and exhaustion.
Would my attacker follow me up the pier, onto the pontoon, onto this boat? Would he then rape and murder me? I didn’t want to die. I had so much to live for. So many more songs to sing, friends to make, and a lover to meet and completely hand over my heart to in the way my lyrics described.
I strained to hear through the covers, trying desperately to make out footsteps or the click of a door. Though where I could run if I did hear anything I didn’t know. I was trapped. I’d cornered myself. A wave of nausea rushed through me and I rode through it as best I could, swallowing stiffly and hoping the noise wouldn’t carry.
I longed for Tommy, to feel his arms around me. Or Meredith, telling me everything would be okay in the easy, take-life-as-it-comes way she had. Even Dmitri—if he wasn’t in on the plot to end my life—would be welcome right now.
There was nothing to hear except lapping water and distant music. Slowly my breathing and heart rate returned to normal. I stayed curled up in a ball. I was twitchy, scared, but I willed myself to stay still until the morning. Light would be my friend. The day would be my savior.
If I lived that long.
* * * * *
I was being rocked to sleep, lulled, cradled in my cocoon. I stretched out my legs and my toes hit a cool, smooth surface. Instantly I winced. A stinging pain in the sole of my foot traveled up my shin. I opened my eyes and saw my shoes and purse still clutched in my hands. I’d got it wrong. I was being rocked awake.
Fear greeted me with all the grace of a meteor landing on my head.
Gingerly I tugged the blanket from my face and was hit with stark daylight streaming through a window to my right. I blinked and became aware that I was looking out at a brilliant white-blue sky.
What time is it?
Sitting up, I noticed the rocking motion from my dream again, my body gently swaying this way and that.
Shit. The boat is moving.
My limbs felt heavy, but I forced them into action and scrabbled onto my hands and knees to look out of the long, oval-shaped window.
The pontoon had gone, so had the shoreline. All I could see from this angle was an endless, watery horizon.
There was another window, opposite. I scooted over and peered out. The same view. Nothing but dark blue water and a vivid, sun-soaked sky.
A sudden bang, coming from above, caused me to gasp.
Another bang then a voice. Deep and drawling. Rough and masculine.
Next to the window a big bare foot appeared. Hairy ankle, skin the color of toasted biscuits.
I snapped away and pulled the sheet over my head again. Slunk down on the bed and wished I would wake up and find myself at home, in my big, soft four-poster bed.
Who is that man? My attacker? The owner of the boat?
How the hell had I got myself into this crazy situation?
“Hey, what the fuck is this, Jose? You cut yourself shaving again?”
“Fuck you, Dillon.” Another voice, serious, and with the hint of an accent.
There was a scrape and scuffle, a long pause. Then, “Fuck, I reckon we’ve got company.”
Dillon stared at Jose, mind whirring with why there were a few spots of blood on the deck. They’d been planning this trip for God knew how long, and the last thing he needed was hassle to deal with. Hassle was the name of the game at work—they were cops, for fuck’s sake—but in his free time?
Jose frowned at him then stared down at the deck. His longish black hair, much the same as Dillon’s own, fell forward, one lock slicing his frown in two, and his face the picture of frustration. He felt the same about hassle as Dillon, then.
“Could have come from an animal,” Dillon said. It was plausible. Rats came out at night on the dock, and stray cats prowled in the darkness, ready to capture, subdue and kill. Did he believe that? And was it even blood? The spots were nearly black, baked by the morning’s heat. Could have been oil. Who the fuck was he kidding? He’d seen enough blood in his lifetime to know it when he saw it. The way the droplet edges splayed out like sunrays gave it away.
Jose looked up, staring over Dillon’s shoulder in the direction they’d left, probably sorting through his mind for the memories of what they’d done before lifting anchor. “It’s blood, all right.”
Dillon nodded. Yeah, it was blood, but it wasn’t all right. Someone had been on the boat last night while they’d been in that little eaterie, scarfing down steaks and fries and discussing the crap they’d get up to over the next few weeks. Something told him that someone was still on board, although why he hadn’t sensed it before he didn’t know. Maybe his internal radar had stopped searching for blips, him letting his guard down because they were on vacation. And because he’d sunk one too many beers and his inhibitions had shifted from alert to relaxed with the light breeze that had soughed over their alfresco table. A breeze laden with the scents of women’s perfume, seafood and brine, making him know for sure he was really on vacation and not on some stakeout. Maybe, because of those beers, their return to the boat had him thinking of nothing but setting their course and flopping to sleep on the loungers instead of going to his bedroom below.
He sighed, annoyed with himself and Jose. After all, why should he take all the blame for them not checking the boat before they’d set sail?
His mind kicked into gear, instinct taking over. He hadn’t expected to be using his know-how in this way until they’d returned from their trip. His gun was in the living quarters, in the drawer of a built-in TV cabinet. If he could get to that without encountering their stowaway, all was good, but if their uninvited guest had malicious intent and had got to it first, they were fucked.
Dillon quietly clicked his middle finger against his thumb. Jose glanced up, giving an almost imperceptible nod. Dillon jerked his head, and Jose immediately swiveled, heading for the helm to check their precise position and slow the boat. Briefly, Dillon stared at the blood spots again, then swiped his gaze back and forth. There were no others apart from this small patch, so the injury wasn’t a big one.
He went to the stern and gripped the knob on a door that led below. Turned it. Pushed the door open. He gave the room a once-over, noting no one and nothing out of place. Going quietly down the steps, he padded to the TV cabinet and slid the drawer open, the sound of the rollers obscenely loud and something he could have done without. He grimaced and held still, waiting to see if the noise brought anyone out of the doors to the right. Several seconds passed, and he moved to the first door, again gripping the doorknob. Adrenaline spiked, scouring his blood, and he swallowed, heartbeat doubling in speed. He hiked in a deep breath to steady himself then twisted the knob, opening the door an inch. He saw nothing but windows to the left and mentally explored the room, reminding himself of where the furniture was. Bed opposite, drawers and small closet space to the right. He tightened his hold on the gun and put his face close to the door so he could peer around the edge. He pushed the door wider.
What the fuck?
A blonde woman stood beside the bed, back and hands plastered to the wall, fingers splayed. Her long hair was disheveled—that just-fucked style he liked—hanging in clumps on one side and mussed into fuzzy disarray on the other. Eyes wide and rimmed with streaky kohl, she stared at him, her mouth slightly parted as though she was about to say something.
He frowned, keeping his hand on the knob. If she had the idea of running at him, scooting past, she’d better think the fuck again.
“What the hell are you doing on my boat?”
She brought one hand up to cover her chin with her fingertips, the ends of her long red nails resting just below her bottom lip. Damned if she didn’t look sexy as all get out like that, but he couldn’t let his dick start dictating now. She twitched the fingers of her other hand as if wondering whether to keep them against the wall, and he felt sorry for her but wasn’t about to let her know it.
“You going to answer me?” He was deliberately gruff.
Dillon stepped forward, closing the door without breaking eye contact. She shook her head a little—as an answer to his question or a fearful reaction? He’d say he didn’t care, but that innocent, frightened pose of hers burrowed into him, making it almost impossible for him to maintain his scowl. He fought the urge to give her a reassuring smile and narrowed his eyes, knowing he looked nasty—Jose had said once that Dillon’s expressions had scared the shit out of him when they’d first started working together.
“If you don’t answer me, it’s going to piss me off.”
She worked her lips, rose-colored and enticing, and took that hand from the wall to place it across her belly. Was she foreign? Didn’t she understand English, was that it? He lifted the gun—doing that had always gained a rapid response in the past—but damned if she just stared at it, widening her eyes some more.
“Look.” He walked forward until he stood at the foot of the bed, readying himself to flash out a hand if she had it in mind to run. The distinct feel of flesh on flesh entered his thoughts, an unwanted visual of the inside of his arm on her belly, her tits. Christ… He cleared his throat, making it sound menacing. “I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you’re not welcome. I’d tell you to get the fuck off, but we’re surrounded by water. I will tell you, though, that unless you explain yourself, when we reach shore you’ll be dropped off at the police station.”
She didn’t look afraid now. If he was any judge of expressions, he’d say she was relieved as fuck. What the shit was going on?
“That’s a good thing, yeah?” he asked.
So she understands me.
“Want to answer my first question, or are you going to remain dumb until we dock?”
“Do you know who I am?” she whispered, tilting her head a bit.
He huffed out a laugh. “Lady, I don’t give a shit who you are. You’re on my boat. A trespasser. I don’t want you on here. Who you are isn’t important.”
“But do you?” she persisted.
“No, I don’t.” He wondered whether she was a woman he’d encountered on a job in the past, but unless this was a massive coincidence, he couldn’t see someone from one of his cases turning up in the exact place he’d chosen for vacation. Yeah, stranger things had happened, especially when he’d stepped on too many toes to mention and people had the intention of getting him back for being a participant in putting their loved ones inside or six feet under, but honestly?
Nah. I don’t know her.
She breathed out slowly, then, “Oh. I just thought you would have, that’s all.”
He’d barely heard her she’d spoken so quietly. Was that disappointment in her tone?
“Am I meant to?” he asked, racking his brains to place her.
She was a stranger, he was sure of it. He’d have remembered a woman like her.
She lowered her hand from her chin and laid it over the other. Lifted one foot to plant it on the wall beside her knee. Now that was one hell of a seductive pose, probably designed to fool him into falling for any bullshit she planned to spin. He’d seen it too often. It hadn’t worked on him then and wouldn’t now, although he’d be hard pressed to remain in control with this one. She had a kind of classic beauty, her cheekbones prominent and covered in skin that would be like silk to the touch.
As soft as cunt lips.
He straightened his spine at that. Cleared his throat again. “Lady, if you’ve got something to say, just say it, yeah? If you’re here for a reason, to get to me for your man or brother or your goddamn father, tell me and get it over and done with. Whatever it is, I assure you I don’t give a fuck.”
She jutted her chin out, a defiant gesture, and half closed her eyes. He couldn’t deny her sultry look appealed to him, but now wasn’t the time to indulge. He wasn’t averse to fucking while on vacation, had looked forward to some mindless stranger sex for a while now, but not with some woman who’d—
Who’d what? Did it even matter why she was here? He’d be shunting her off to the cops soon enough, then she’d be a distant memory, something to laugh over in the future. D’you remember that chick we found on the boat, Jose? Jesus, she was easy on the eye, wasn’t she, but a fucking crazy bitch all the same…
“I’m…” She paused for a beat. “I’m not meant to be here.”
“Damn right you’re not.”
“What, out for a jog dressed like that? Pull the other one, woman.” He shook his head. Did she think he was stupid? That he’d swallow any old shit she spewed?
“No. Running from someone.” She worried her bottom lip with her teeth and closed her eyes. “I’ve got someone after me.”
That’s all he needed. Someone in need of help. Christ, he’d taken a vacation to get away from crap like this. “Who?”
“I don’t know.” She opened her eyes and stared out the window. Blinked several times until tears spilled.
Ah, he’d wondered when the waterworks would be turned on. “So you don’t know. Not a great deal of help. What were they doing, chasing you? What?”
“It’s a long story.”
“They always are.” He clamped his mouth shut before he said anything else. Studied the way she gazed off into the distance, probably recalling how she’d got here and why. Or making up a scenario that she hoped he’d believe to buy herself some time. “But providing we don’t turn back we’ve got a day or so before we see land, so I’ve got time to listen.”
He walked the three steps it took to reach her and grasped her wrist, tugging her away from the wall. She snapped her head around to face him, eyes wider than when he’d entered the room.
“Come with me.”
He pulled her behind him, leading her into the living area. Purposely rough, to let her know he wasn’t taking any shit, he pushed her so she landed on the sofa. She shuffled into the corner of it, drawing her feet up and beneath her ass, knitting her fingers and staring up at him.
Don’t look at me like that. “What the hell are you staring at?” He was as sharp as he’d intended—sharper, even.
“You’re scaring me!” She sounded affronted, as though he had no right to make her feel afraid.
“You just wait until my manager reports you to the cops.” She said it with conviction, with a straightening of her shoulders and a twist to her lips.
“That meant to freak me out?” He stared at her—hard.
She didn’t respond, instead glancing about the living quarters, eyes darting.
She can’t maintain eye contact. Good.
Dillon drew in a breath. Relishing his next words. “I am a fucking cop, so he can report me to me.”
She whipped her head around, eyeing him as though she didn’t believe him. A harsh laugh pealed out of her, and he winced. It didn’t suit her.
“Oh, really? In that case, I’ll just relax with you then, let you take care of me.”
Sarcasm didn’t suit her either.
“You could do, but you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. I could be anyone. I could be the person you’re running from. Cops can go bad you know.”
She gasped, a sharp intake of breath that undoubtedly dried her throat.
“That shut you up, didn’t it,” he said, walking backward to the TV cabinet. He dipped his hand into the drawer and brought out a set of cuffs.
She hid her hands behind her back. He almost let out a mean laugh to match hers.
“What are you doing?” she asked, pushing herself into the sofa. “If you put those on me, I’m telling you, my manager will have you by the fucking balls when he finds out.”
He sighed and bent down, dragging her arms out and snapping the cuffs on in front of her with ease, despite her struggling. “Really? I don’t care who this manager is. Threats don’t frighten me, especially coming from a woman who’d be a hundred and thirty pounds soaking wet. And, if you prefer to vacate the boat, you can get as wet as you fucking like out there.” He nodded at the window.
“What? You’d let me jump off the boat?”
“If that’s what you wanted, yes.” Bullshitter.
“Oh my God.”
She’d whispered that, clearly coming to the realization he wasn’t going to let her fuck him about.
“But…” She glanced down at the cuffs. “Are you really the man after me?”
He took in her expression and decided to give her some slack. “No—haven’t got a clue who you are or who’s after you—but I don’t want you here. I’m on vacation with my partner. Last thing I want is some weird-ass chick to deal with.”
She brightened. “Your partner? Is she—”
“He, and yes, he’s a cop too. And before you ask for proof, I’m telling you I’m not going to give it. You’re the one in the wrong here. Like I said before, you’re trespassing. I don’t have to tell you jack shit about myself, but you, however, have to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.”
The sound of footsteps told him Jose had finally arrived. What the fuck had he been doing all that time? The woman looked across and lifted her hands as if Jose might set her free.
“I found someone,” Dillon said, stating the obvious for a reason—it was part of his and Jose’s working act.
“So I see.” Jose appeared beside him.
Dillon turned to look at him, lifting his eyebrows. “Reckons she’s running from someone.”
“She probably is. Fans get a bit crazy.” Jose smiled at the woman and nodded, his features going soft and his eyes twinkling.
“What? Fans?” Dillon frowned.
Jose nodded again. “Yeah. You ought to put that gun away, man. We have India Moore sitting on our sofa.”
Oh, thank heavens. One of them was sane. One of them recognized me.
I glanced between the two dark-haired men. The slightly shorter guy was smiling at me and actually quite appealing as he pushed flopping black hair from his brow. But the other man was scowling and scary—he gnawed at the inside of his cheek and still held the gun, though the business end now pointed toward the floor instead of my chest.
“Please,” I said, looking up at the smiling man. He was all ripped abs and broad, tanned chest with a small tattoo on his right pectoral. “Can I have these off?” I raised my hands and tugged at the metal encasing my wrists. “It really isn’t necessary to have me handcuffed.”
“I say it is,” the man who’d clamped them on said in his sharp, snapping tone.
“Give her a break, Dillon, she’s known for her singing not for beating up cops.”
“I don’t give a fuck what she’s known for. She’s a stowaway, and that means she has to be kept bound and under our control. We can’t risk giving her free rein of the boat. You know the rules, Jose, whether our stowaway is India Moore or the God damn Dali Lama, the same conditions apply.” He tipped his head and studied me with eyes so narrow they were merely slits. “Really? India Moore?” The left side of his mouth curled in a sneer.
“Yes, really.” Vanity made me want to smooth my hair and check for panda eyes. But of course I couldn’t. I was captive. “Please,” I said, a sudden grip of claustrophobia clenching my chest. The thought of being surrounded by the ocean with my hands bound—so I had no hope of swimming a stroke—was nightmare material. As was the gun that twitched in Dillon’s hand as he continued to glare at me, a mixture of disbelief and scorn on his face. “Please. Let me go, I-I need to pee.”
“See, she needs to pee,” the one with the soft eyes said, his mouth flattening into a sympathetic line. “Give me the keys, I’ll undo her.” He held out his hand.
“No, they’re my cuffs, I’ll take them off when I’m good and ready. Which will most likely be when I hand her over to port authorities. Right now her needing to pee is not my problem.” He leaned over, lifted the lid off a coolbox and plucked out a can of cola. “You deal with her, Jose, you were supposed to lock the fucking door when we went out to eat last night. I’m going up to check the navigation. See exactly how fucking far away from land we are so we can deposit our excess baggage.” He grunted. “Some fucking vacation this is going to be.”
I clasped my hands beneath my chin. This was crazy. This wasn’t happening to me, it must be a dream. People were always thrilled to see me. Craved my attention and my time. But this cop, Dillon, he’d hated me on sight. I stifled a shudder as he gave me a withering look with eyes so blue they reminded me of packed ice. Then he turned and climbed up from the galley, his wide, sun-kissed shoulders almost touching the shiny wooden panels either side of the narrow opening.
Flopping back against soft cushions, I shut my eyes. Suddenly I was utterly exhausted. Last night fear had wreaked havoc on my already tattered nerves. I’d felt so certain that I was going to die. I’d really believed every breath might be my last. Now I was both drained and numb and I didn’t have any of my people to help make it right. So much for finding a cop and everything would be sorted—he was almost as scary as my stalker.
“Hey, hey, don’t look so worried.”
With a resigned sigh I stared into the onyx-black gaze of the other police officer, the nice one.
“I’m Jose Santiago,” he said, sitting on the sofa next to me. His bulk caused the base cushion to give and my body tipped toward his. “I’m a cop with the DEA, so is…” He rolled his eyes upward. “That crabby A-hole known as Dillon Farnham.”
I swallowed and stared at my wrists. They were thin and pale against the severe metal rings encasing them. My veins were thready and watery blue, and already several semi-circular red lines had appeared from where I’d tugged against my restraint. “So you should know, being a cop,” I said, drawing in a quivery breath, “that I’ve done nothing wrong and there is no need to use these awful things.” I raised my hands and pleaded with my eyes. He definitely looked like a man who would bend to the will of an upset woman. Especially as I kind of got the impression he was a fan.
Helplessness crossed his face, crinkling his brow and darting small crows’ feet from the corners of his eyes toward his temples. “I don’t have the key, Miss Moore. I’m sorry, but you heard Dillon. He put them on so he gets to take them off. Kind of an unspoken rule between us. He who cuffs, uncuffs.”
“Seriously, that’s just dumb.” I frowned, new energy coming to me as I thought about the ridiculousness of the situation—India Moore, held like a common criminal on a yacht off the coast of Florida. It was absurd. “Where the hell can I go? We’re out at sea, and I’ll have you know I am not a particularly strong swimmer.” I might not be happy on board but I wasn’t foolish enough to hunt out a life raft and switch a forty-seven-foot yacht for a dingy.
Jose shook his head. “My hands are as tied as yours, metaphorically speaking.” He swept his tongue over his bottom lip and scanned down my body. His heated gaze slipped over my cleavage, showcased by a red, silky neckline that had an integral bra, slid down my flat belly then onto my legs, only the outline visible because they were folded beneath me and covered in the shiny scarlet material of my dress.
As he studied me, I studied him. He had incredibly long, dark eyelashes, so dense they created little shadows on his cheeks when his line of sight dipped. Now that he sat close I could feel his body heat radiating from his bare chest onto my left arm and the ball of my shoulder. He smelled of the sea and the sun, and a slightly woody scent, sandalwood perhaps. I wondered what the Japanese symbol on his chest meant.
“You’re hurt,” he said softly. “There was blood on the deck.”
A knife-sharp pain stabbed through the base of my foot. “Yes.” I winced, suddenly remembering. “Fuck.”
He twitched his eyebrows.
“What, you didn’t think country singers swore?”
He shrugged. “Didn’t think you did.”
“Well, you thought wrong. Maybe I’m not as perfect and sweet as everyone thinks.” I was unable to hide my frustration and my voice was sharp as I poked my left foot from beneath my dress and let it stick over the side of the sofa.
There was a smudge of blood on the top, near my toes. It was flakey and dark, but other than that my foot looked fine. No malformations, no protruding bones
“Oh God, I can’t bring myself to inspect underneath,” I said, imagining a big, gaping slash, tendons and bone sticking out amidst debris from the revolting alley I’d dashed down barefoot.
“I’ll check it out.”
Without waiting for an answer, Jose wrapped his hands around my ankle and drew my foot upward. Unable to use my arms for support, I pitched backward and landed heavily on the sofa. My foot on his lap and my dress around my thighs.
He glanced at my face, as if surprised by my tumble. “Sorry,” he said. “You’re lighter than I thought you would be.”
“Humph.” I shoved the hem of my dress down below my knees. “Don’t touch it. It really hurts.”
He tipped his head and his hair flopped forward, several tendrils brushing over his cheek. “It’s a long cut but I don’t think it’s too deep.”
I groaned. “Have you got a first-aid kit or something? So I can bandage it.”
Keeping a tight grip on my ankle, he looked up. “I’ll bandage it for you, but first it needs cleaning.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.”
“No it won’t, goodness only knows what kind of crap you’ve got in it. In this heat it will fester and within twenty-four hours it will be infected.”
I stared at his enormous hands, and his big, square-ended fingers. Where he was holding my ankle the blood had drained from my skin, leaving small white dents. “I can manage if you just get me some antiseptic or something, and you know, persuade Mr Charming out there to take these off.” I held up my cuffed wrists.
“Nice try, but I already told you. Not going to happen.” His expression turned grim and he shook his head. “Besides, you can’t even see the base of your foot properly. I’ll have to do it, cuffs or no cuffs.”
I tried to pull my ankle from his grip. Who did he think he was? Touching me like he owned me. “No. I said I can manage. I don’t need you.”
He simply tightened his hold all the more. “Listen, lady, if we don’t sort this out properly it won’t be good at all.”
“What, are you a doctor as well as a cop?”
“No, but I’ve seen enough wounds to know when something needs a proper clean.”
I glanced around and noticed a small green box with a white cross sitting on a shelf. “Just pass me that,” I said with a nod.
He sighed, released my ankle and reached for the box. He didn’t pass it to me. Instead, he set it on the table in front of the sofa then filled up a white plastic bowl with water. He took a brown bottle from the box and tipped several glugs of fluorescent yellow liquid into the water. Instantly the sharpness of antiseptic burned my nostrils.
“Thanks,” I said stiffly, going to reach for the bowl.
“I’ll do it.” He blocked my arm with his leg and settled his gaze on me.
“Stop pissing me around, because if this isn’t done properly you’ll be looking at septicemia, necrosis and possibly amputation.”
I gasped. Amputation. Fuck!
With a grim expression, he kneeled, flattened his palm on my shin to keep it pressed onto the sofa and dipped a wad of cotton wool into the water. “Now keep still while I get this gritty stuff out.”
Oh, my God. Imagine my foot having to come off because of this awful situation I’d got myself into. It didn’t bear thinking about. Amputation?
A sudden burning sensation seared right to the center of my foot. “Ow,” I squealed, trying to snap away.
He held me tight. “Sorry,” he said, peering intently at the wound. “I’ve just got to give it a good soak.”
“I know. Why is it in life everything that’s good for us hurts like hell?” He glanced up and his gaze captured mine. “Just keep still. I will be as quick and as gentle as I can.”
I clenched my fists and bit on my bottom lip. Tried my best to not to wriggle and flinch as Jose wiped over what felt like a San-Andreas-fault-sized gash. Though his fingers were big he touched me with nimble movements and a sweet tenderness, over and over soaking the cut with wadding soaked in antiseptic. I could see the tiny black flecks of what must be bits of alley floor coming out.
Trying to distract myself, I watched him caress the corner of his mouth with his tongue as he concentrated. I’d guess it was his first morning without a shave; his black stubble was short and just starting to shadow the curve of his chin.
“Where are we heading?” I asked, when finally he stopped cleaning my wound and began to wrap a wide white bandage around my foot.
He shrugged. “Dunno now. We were heading to the Bahamas. We were going to do some deep-sea fishing on the way. Then catch some rays in Nassau, eat, drink, see the sights, just enjoy not being cops for a while.”
He applied a strip of tape to the end of the bandage to hold it in place. “Shit happens. Plans don’t always go to plan.”
“Tell me about it.” I studied the bandage. “Thanks.”
He stood. “It should be okay now. Keep it dry and we’ll check it again tomorrow. Luckily I think you’ve got away without stitches and you won’t have to worry about a scar, it being where it is.”
I swung my foot down and placed it on the floor, then stood, scooping up the front of my dress to my knees and being careful to put my weight on my heel and not on the ball of my foot.
“You okay?” Jose asked, cupping my elbow in his palm.
“I think so. It’s throbbing but I guess that will pass.”
“Yeah, its only because I’ve been poking at it.”
Standing next to him, I realized that although shorter than Dillon, Jose was still really damn tall. Easily over six foot, and wide with it. Suddenly I felt tiny next to him. Hell, I was tiny; maintaining size 2 was a lot of effort. Well, it had been until the notes had started. Lately I just couldn’t summon an appetite. My clothes were beginning to feel loose.
“You go on deck while I make coffee?” Jose said.
I hesitated. Dillon was on deck and I didn’t fancy any more of his withering glares or flesh-slicing remarks; I’d had enough wounds for one day.
I glanced at the small galley window. Morning light shone through, enticing and beckoning, almost as tempting as the thought of coffee. Hot, strong black coffee.
“Go on,” he said, gesturing to the short flight of steps to the deck. “I’ll only be a minute.”
“Its okay. He won’t bite.” He tipped his head and grinned. “Well, not too hard anyway.”
“I don’t fancy being bitten at all.” I placed my hands on the wooden paneling of the wall and allowed my dress to fall down over my feet, the floaty material soft and silky against my skin.
“I’m teasing,” Jose said. “Just go up and sit down. But don’t go near the edge of the boat if you’re not a strong swimmer. Don’t want you falling in, do we.”
I swallowed tightly. I was as good as a non-swimmer with these damn cuffs on.
“One minute, that’s all it will take and then you get coffee. Everything will seem better then.” He made a flicking motion with his hand. “Go.”
It seemed I had no choice. When had I last had no choice in something? I couldn’t remember. But I wasn’t going to argue with Jose, not when he’d been sweet, despite my surliness. And if he’d saved me from amputation then I had a lot to thank him for.
I moved slowly up the steps. There were only six but it took quite a bit of maneuvering to reach the top. My dress was slippery and the hem gathered around my legs. My foot was painful, and I ended up toppling out onto the deck into the blinding light of day.
Yelping, I lunged forward, my right foot completely wrapped in my floor-length gown, my toes tangled and twisted.
“For crying out loud, what the fuck are you trying to do? Kill yourself?”
I felt Dillon’s solid arms wrap around my waist and he hoisted me into a standing position.
I gasped and gripped his thick forearms as my back hit his sun-hot chest.
“This is the most ridiculous outfit I’ve ever seen someone wear on a boat,” he said into my ear. He sounded exasperated, impatient and completely pissed off with me.
Wriggling in his grip, I shoved at him. “Well, I didn’t exactly intend this little cruise to Nassau.”
“Well I did, and I don’t want your company.”
A sudden rush of anger welled within me. My vision blurred and my heart rate cranked into overdrive. How dare he? How dare he grab me, cuff me, threaten me? He was supposed to be a protector, a man of peace. Yet he was behaving like a thug. “Get off me,” I said, trying to jab him with my elbows. But it was no good. They guy’s torso was as hard as a block of concrete. “Haven’t you taken an oath or something to promise to protect the public?”
“Ah, but I thought you were India Moore, the India Moore.” His breath was hot and heavy in my ear. “Doesn’t that raise you above Joe Public? Aren’t you special?”
“I demand you release me this minute.”
“What, the cuffs or my hold on you?”
“Both.” I squirmed, fighting to get away from him.
He grunted. “Okay, but not the cuffs, the cuffs stay.”
He loosened his grip, though not entirely. Next thing I knew I was being lifted into the air.
He stood me on a long bench by the doorway and I was forced to scrabble for his left shoulder to regain my balance. It was hot and hard, like gripping a sun-drenched paving slab. “Hey, what are you doing? I—”
“I’m going to make sure you don’t drown yourself. I don’t want the responsibility.”
He stared at me with those glacial blue eyes again. My foot hurt like hell, but for a moment the pain receded. He really did communicate with his eyes. I could see irritation, frustration and a steely determination setting in for whatever it was he was about to do.
“But I’m not going near the water,” I said quietly as a small tremor shook in my belly.
“No, but in this stupid dress you’ll trip and fall in.”
He moved away and I grabbed a silver bar running over the entrance to the cabin for support. Clutching it with both hands, I glanced at the doorway. Where was Jose? He’d said he would only be a minute. And Dillon was growling and snapping. I suspected he would bite soon.
“What are you doing?” I asked again.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he pulled a long, curved-blade fishing knife from a box on the floor.
“What, Jesus…” I shifted away, fear welling in my chest. “Please, no. Just leave me alone. I won’t be any trouble, I promise.”
He shook his head. “Some crazy-assed trip this is. Should have just gone to the Bermuda triangle and got it over with,” he muttered. “It would have been less stressful than being stuck here with a whimpering starlet and her ridiculous outfit.”
I watched in horror as he fisted the delicate material of my dress, tugged it away from my legs and began to cut into it with the knife, sliding the wickedly sharp blade horizontally. Fraying and severing the fragile silk.
“For fuck’s sake,” I gasped, too afraid to move even an inch as he wielded the knife so close to my skin. “This dress is a limited edition Yves Saint Laurent.”
He didn’t answer, just continued to shred my dress. Hacking and cutting so that it became mid-thigh length.
I felt a firm shove on my ass. He turned me so that he could finish the job at the back.
The warm sea breeze wrapped around my bare legs. There was a final ripping sound then he stepped away, holding up the bright red slash of material. It flicked and flacked in the wind, gliding up behind him.
“Much safer,” he said.
“You’ll have to pay me back for that.” Fear was replaced with indignation and grew like a great big ball of fire within me. “That dress is worth over four thousand dollars, you know.”
He widened his eyes and looked at the billowing material. “Really? Thousands for a scrap of material?”
“Did you buy it?”
I set down my shoulders, tilted my chin. “Well no, it was a gift from the designers. They like me to be photographed in their clothes.”
He shrugged. “But if you didn’t buy it then why should I pay you back?”
“Because, because…that’s not the point. You should have asked before you damaged my property.”
He slid the knife into a suede sheath and set it aside. “You should have asked before you climbed onto my boat.”
If I’d had two good feet I would have stamped one of them. The nerve of the man. At first he’d scared me half to death, now he was just making me angry.
“What’s going on here?” Jose appeared on deck holding a tray with three mugs. “Ah, a new look.” He nodded at my freshly shortened dress and allowed his gaze to scan down my legs.I scowled and went to fold my arms. Realized I couldn’t do that either because of the cuffs. Damn these men. I stared between the two of them and then snapped, “Just help me down and give me some coffee.”
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