christie craig
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christie craig
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christie craig
christie craig
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christie craig's DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DARING DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DARING
Book 6
by Christie Craig
Release date: Oct 27, 2015
Click here for purchase links!

"Funny, hot, and suspenseful, Christie Craig's writing has it all. Warning: definitely addictive." - New York Times Bestselling author Nina Bangs

Smart and sassy...

Sheri Thompson knew better. She could spot a horn dog from a mile away, especially when she'd been warned about him countless times by her best friend. Still, when Danny started smooth talking Sheri at that same friend's wedding, she couldn't resist. It was the best one-night stand of her life. Heck, the best night of her life. And then she woke up alone.

Divorced and determined to stay that way...

Detective Danny Henderson didn't like fear, but he'd felt a lot of it that morning he'd woken up feeling all warm and cozy next to the one woman that might just make an honest man of him. Six months later, fear has punched him in the gut again, but worse this time. He's investigating a murder plot...a planned hit. The target: Sheri Thompson. This time his fear won't get the best of him. He'll kick ass to keep her safe and make sure he gets a second chance at countless more nights with the woman of his dreams.

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christie craig's excerpt of DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DESPERATE

Divorced, Desperate and Daring

Prologue

Sheri Thompson hated strapless dresses, especially bridesmaid dresses. Probably one of the few straight fashion designers had invented them just so women would feel the need to wear push-up bras. Hell, a man had probably invented that bra. And she hated them, too.

Push-up bras. Not necessarily men.

She was still uncomfortably straddling the fence about the male gender. The breakup with her fiancé had done more damage than she wanted to admit. No, it wasn't really the breakup. It was the announcement of his engagement to someone else a mere two months later that had left her feeling romantically dysfunctional. Not a full-fledged man hater, just a man avoider.

Still, she hadn't completely boycotted men. She had a date next week with almost-tall, almost-dark and almost-handsome Mark. She even almost had a good feeling about him.

Standing in front of the occupied bathroom, needing a little privacy to readjust her "girls," she glanced up at the clock hanging in the hall. Five minutes 'til countdown.

She heard the music start. Chloe, her best friend and the bride-to-be, was probably panicking that her maid of honor wasn't standing court. But who wanted to walk down the aisle with one boob two inches higher than the other, especially when the other was being pinched to death?

Sheri really should have checked the bra size again before buying it. When a B push-up did its thing on C-sized boobs, the result came out wonky.

The music increased its tempo. Oh, hell, she didn't have time to wait. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, she leaned forward, stuck her hand into her bra, and readjusted her left boob.

"Need some help?" a deep voice asked with a chuckle as smooth as warm fudge.

Oh, friggin' hell. Yanking her right hand off her left boob and out of her dress, she lifted her eyes at Danny Henderson, the best man, who obviously had been occupying the bathroom.

"Real funny," she said, her smile coming too naturally for a man avoider.

"Hey, just trying to be helpful."

"My girls are in a bind," she said.

"Happens to me all the time." His sexy grin was both contagious and flirtatious. The twinkle in his blue eyes was downright alluring. Add the well-fitted tux covering over six feet of muscle and brawn, and this man should be outlawed.

Actually, he was. Not that he'd done anything illegal. He was a detective for the Glencoe, Texas, Police Department. But Chloe had made it clear—Danny was off-limits to Sheri.

Oh, Chloe liked Danny. Sheri could hear her friend's words just a few months ago. "He'd take a bullet for Cary. But no way is my best friend going to be on his conquest list."

Sheri first met Danny a year ago—while she was still engaged to Kevin—and she'd tried to set him up with Chloe. Luckily, it didn't take, because that was before Sheri knew about his wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am reputation.

Thank goodness her friend had found Cary before Danny had bammed her. Sheri would neuter anyone who hurt Chloe.

And a neutered Danny—Sheri gazed up at him again, caught in his charm—would have been a shame. Not for her, because she wasn't into whams, bams or thank you ma'ams. But for the women who were, it would have been a tragedy.

She inhaled deeply. The pinch in her right boob slowly increased, and she felt like it might just pop up and out of her bra. "This isn't going to work." The music touched her ears again. Frowning, she accepted what she had to do. Only she couldn't do it alone.

She offered Danny a wanna-be-my-hero grin. "I'm sure you get asked this all the time. Can you unzip me and unhook my bra?" She swung around, glancing up at him over her bare shoulder.

His soft laugh stirred her hair and tickled her senses. He touched the base of her neck. Then, slowly, as if time waited on him alone, he started unzipping. She held the dress to her chest as the pink chiffon loosened.

His finger—just one—inched down her naked back with the zipper. A complaint danced on the tip of her tongue but then instantly dissolved like sugar.

She couldn't think. All she could do was feel. His touch moved so leisurely—down, between her shoulder blades, down to the small of her back—down way past her bra hook. Then lower. She bet he could see the trim of her pink silk panties. His intent? No doubt to seduce. And he'd succeeded.

She shivered when his breath tickled the tender spot at the back of her neck. She could almost feel his lips against her bare skin. A vision of him kissing the same path his finger took filled her mind. Her knees felt shaky. Finally, his touch moved up and unhooked her bra.

"Anything else?" The question came with suggestions.

For a second, she forgot about her best friend waiting to walk down the aisle, forgot about her responsibility. Forgot about that damn fence she was on. She wanted to drop her arms holding up her dress, turn around and let him show her just how good of a bad boy he was.

The wedding music brought her back to her senses. Chloe was for sure hyperventilating now, sweating in her white dress. Sheri yanked her bra out.

"Now zip me." She ordered all thoughts of naughty touches from her mind. They took their sweet time leaving.

He took even sweeter time finding the tab on the zipper. Touching. Tempting. Teasing.

"Sheri?" She heard her name called in desperation.

"Faster," she ordered. "We gotta go." As soon as the zipper reached the top, she swung around and dumped the bra in the trash can. Looping her arm with his, she started hotfooting down the hall.

"We'd better hurry."

"You really messed up this time." Danny matched her pace. Not hard considering his height and long legs.

"What?" She cut him a quick glance and caught his eyes on her free-range breasts. But hey, they were level and not hurting. Free range worked.

He glanced up. "You aren't supposed to outshine the bride."

She half laughed, half moaned and half still wanted to fall off that dang fence. "And here I thought you were a smooth-talker."

"That wasn't smooth enough for you?" His teasing tone had a masculine quality to it that every good girl feared.

"Oh, it's smooth, but I heard that line in a movie."

"Probably. Writers are always stealing my best lines," he said. "It doesn't make it less true." He bumped her shoulder. His scent, musky men's soap, teased her senses. She inhaled it all the way to the bottom of her lungs.

She laughed without meaning to. "Stop playing with fire," she said, and told herself the same thing. The sound of the music grew louder as she cut the corner—almost back to the front where the wedding party waited.

"What's that mean?" he asked.

"Please, I know for a fact that Cary has prohibited you from getting too friendly with me."

"I know," he said, his voice a mere whisper and his smile dimming. "He shouldn't have done that."

"Why not?" she asked, before she could stop herself. But hey, perhaps it didn't hurt to flirt a little. She could probably use the practice before her big date next week with Mr. Almost next week.

"That makes you forbidden fruit. And I really like forbidden fruit." His tone went sultry, sexy and suggestive.

God, this guy was bold. He probably was good, too. Too bad she wasn't into casual, and really hot, sex. "You are a bad boy, aren't you?"

His smile lost power. "What have you heard?"

She hesitated and then decided to be honest. "That a pack of bubble gum lasts longer than your relationships."

His frown came with frustration. "Don't believe everything you hear."

"Are you saying it's not true?"

"I'm saying don't believe everything you hear."

"Now you've got me curious," she said, noting a look of disappointment in his eyes. Could Chloe be wrong about him?

"Curiosity is good," he said and almost smiled.

"Yeah, but it also killed the cat."

 

Chapter One

Six Months Later

At five-thirty on Halloween, Detective Danny Henderson and five other officers working with the narcotics unit piled out of the police van and rushed around the corner to the house where the drug deal was going down. If their sources were right, Brian McCune, a known gang leader and all-around bad guy, was in that house right now, swapping his backpack of cocaine for a briefcase of hundred dollar bills.

Not that that was all he was guilty of. That was only the tip of the iceberg, but it was a damn good place to start.

Slowing down at the side of the house, Danny pointed the rest of the task force to their positions. The sun hung in the western sky, making the world appear golden, peaceful. The sun lied.

The tension echoed in the way all the officers carried themselves. They loved their jobs, but none of them loved it enough to die.

Everyone had on bullet-proof vests. They weren't kidding themselves. McCune and his gangbangers were hotheads. If they thought they could shoot their way out of this, shoot they would.

Cary Stevens, fellow officer and friend, offered Danny a got-your-back nod.

Turner, another good friend, did the same. Ramon Marco, the new guy at the precinct and Danny's bar buddy since both Cary and Turner had gone and gotten themselves hitched, moved in a little closer to Danny.

"Let's go get some bad guys," Ramon said, his attempt at humor telling another story men didn't like to tell. Fear wasn't just for wimps. As he stepped back, he added, "Watch yourself. I need my wingman."

"Ditto." Danny did another check to make sure everyone was in place. He cut his hand through the air, giving the signal.

Gun in hand, he and Cary charged up the small porch, each of them holding position at opposite sides of the door.

Trick or treat, Danny thought, but said, "Police!"

Danny kicked in the door. He'd expected three guys. Wrong. Six bad guys reached for their guns. No trick. No treat. Unless you counted the gunfire that exploded.

Shouts rang out. The last thing Danny heard before he took a bullet was Turner yelling, "Officer down!"

* * *

Sheri accepted the glass of cabernet her best friend handed her.

"The wicked witch?" Chloe asked, looking at Sheri's costume.

"Yup." The floor-length sequined black gown, paired with a pointed black hat, had been her last-minute, pulled-together costume.

"So how's your cold today?" Chloe picked up Pooch, the bad-attitude animal she and her husband called a dog but looked more like a deformed squirrel, especially when wearing a pumpkin costume.

Cold? "It must have been allergies."

"You lying wicked witch!" Chloe dropped the costumed dog and plopped her butt in a chair. "You didn't use the cold excuse yesterday. It was the stomach flu defense. And you claimed to have a cold for the barbecue last month. So 'fess up!"

Sheri took a sip of wine, hoping the alcohol would help her wiggle out of this jam, because yeah, she was lying.

Chloe pointed a finger at her. And when Chloe's finger came out . . .

"You haven't come to one of my parties since Cary and I got married," Chloe's tone rang a pitch too loud. "Who are you avoiding? It's not me. We see each other all the time. It's not my husband, because you come over to our place when it's just us."

Sheri's mind raced to come up with a believable piece of fiction. She hated calling it lying. "I didn't want to tell you, because I know how much you worry about me, but . . . if you must know, I've developed a . . . phobia of crowds."

"Really?"

"Crazy, right?"

Chloe lifted her left brow. "What concert was it you went to last weekend?"

Sheri gave her wine a good swirl and watched the rich red color race around the glass. "Yeah, it's the weirdest thing. It doesn't affect me when there's music involved."

"You came to my girls' night out," Chloe said in her analytical tone. "So it's not any of the female friends."

"Don't overthink this," Sheri pleaded.

"So it's a male." Chloe deduced. "Single, because you're not other-woman material."

"Why am I not other-woman material?" Sheri asked, hoping to derail Chloe's direct path to the truth.

"That means it could be Eddie, Ramon or . . . shit! You slept with Danny!"

"Noooo." And she hadn't slept with him. Well, she'd dozed briefly. But he hadn't.

"When did this happen?" Chloe asked.

Saved by the bell. Or rather the music and lyrics of "I Will Always Love You." A sign it was Chloe's husband calling her, which was so sweet but also a tad nauseating.

Chloe snatched up the phone. Whenever Cary called and was at work, Chloe always answered the phone twice as fast. She claimed to have come to terms with the fact that her husband was a cop, but Sheri knew her friend worried.

"Everything okay?" Chloe asked and then held her breath.

Sheri took another sip of wine, debating making a run for it, but when her best friend's eyes instantly clouded with terror, leaving wasn't an option.

"Oh, God." Chloe put her fingers to her trembling lips.

Sheri touched Chloe's arm, feeling her friend's pain without even knowing what it was.

"How bad is Danny?" Chloe asked.

Air hitched in Sheri's throat. Danny?

"Is he going to make it?" Chloe asked.

Instantly Sheri remembered how it felt to lay against Danny's bare chest, how sweet his kisses were and how they had spent most of the night laughing and talking. That part had been as good as the sex. And that was saying a lot, because it had been the best sex she'd ever had.

"What hospital?" Chloe paused. "I'm coming up." She hung up and shot out of her chair.

Sheri grabbed her best friend's arm. "Is Danny . . .?"

Chloe blinked and stared. "You care about him, don't you?"

"No." The you-just-lied knot crowded Sheri's tonsils. "I'm dating Patrick."

"You told me he wasn't . . . doing it for you."

Sheri frowned. "I'm having second thoughts. Forget Patrick!" And it was easy to do. "Is Danny okay?"

"He got hit in the arm, but he's fine. It's Ramon. He's in surgery. And the doctors aren't sure if he'll pull through."

A weight, a Danny-induced weight, lifted off Sheri. "I hope he makes it."

"Me, too." Chloe studied her. "Do you want to come?"

Sheri contemplated it. Then logic intervened. "No, I'm . . ."

"Coming down with a cold?" Chloe grabbed her purse and keys from the counter. "We'll finish this conversation later," she snapped over her shoulder. "Lock up, and set the candy on the porch when you leave." The request was punctuated by the too-loud whack of the closing door.

Sheri sat there, her emotions about Danny stirring up memories she'd previously sent packing. And with them came emotions she'd thought she'd moved past.

When her phone rang, she yanked it out of her purse, eager for a distraction.

"Hi, Mom," she said after seeing the number. "What's up?"

"My baby is turning twenty-nine," her mom said. "You're making me old."

"No, I'm not. Didn't you hear? I sold my birthday on eBay," Sheri said.

Her mom's laugh sounded like soft music—music Sheri hadn't heard enough of lately. Was her mom finally moving past her grief?

"I made our reservations for your birthday dinner for six on Sunday," her mother said. "I have something special for you. And I need you to save the following Wednesday for me as well."

"What for?" Sheri stood and moved into the living room. Her gaze went to a bookshelf where a framed picture of her and Chloe in first grade held a prime spot. Sheri had the same picture at her house. The two of them were more like sisters than friends. Then her gaze shifted to the second framed photograph of Chloe's husband and his two good friends. Her attention lingered on the blond in the photo, his bad-boy charm apparent even in the snapshot. She put a finger over Danny's face.

"Wayside Church is opening the new wing, and they are naming it after your father."

Just like that, Sheri's emotional dilemma changed channels.

"They're having a ceremony and everything." Excitement made her mother's tone almost too high.

Only because you donated fifty thousand to them. Sheri closed her eyes. Her mom, finally in cancer remission after an almost two-year battle, was still fragile. Hurting her was the last thing Sheri wanted to do, but . . .

"I know you have issues with your dad's service to them, but it would really be nice if you went with me. I've even invited Bradley."

Sheri's grip on the phone tightened with her chest. She didn't have issues with her dad's service. Or even Bradley, her father's illegitimate son—who, by the way, didn't want a relationship with them. She had issues with her dad.

For her mom, her father's death, or maybe his remaining sober for the last six months of his life, had absolved him of all sins. Amazingly, even being a preacher's daughter, Sheri hadn't found it in herself to forgive.

"That might be the day I'm working at the animal shelter."

"Surely you can find someone to replace you."

Yeah, her mom would expect that. Sheri had pretty much catered to her mom's every whim since her cancer, and even more so since her father died.

"I really want you there," her mom said. "It would mean a lot to me."

* * *

Danny, guilt making his shoulders heavy, walked out of the ER and made his way into the surgical waiting room. Still groggy from the meds, he had to pay serious attention to the arrows pointing the way to surgery. He stopped, sure he'd made a wrong turn, when he heard someone, a familiar someone, call his name.

"You weren't even going to tell me you're in my hospital?" Her accusation rang behind him.

He faced his cousin. "I wasn't sure you were working tonight."

"You should have called me whether I was working or not! You were shot, for God's sake. I had to find out from another nurse who came and told me!"

"I was just grazed. I didn't want to worry you."

Hurt added another layer of pain to her eyes, and seeing it hurt him. "I worry you all the time, Danny. When my sink is stopped up, when my car battery won't start, when I'm sure I'm going die from missing Trey."

And Anna missed Trey a lot. Not that Danny blamed her. Life could be a bitch sometimes.

"And you don't call me when you get shot? Do you know how that makes me feel?"

"I should have called you, I'm just . . . Another officer, a friend of mine, was shot. It's bad. I'm trying to get to the surgical waiting room now."

Danny's chest filled with pressure. He'd been the one to set up this bust. If Ramon, his wingman, died, Danny doubted that pressure would ever go away. And living with it would be hell.

Empathy sounded in Anna's soft sigh. "Come on, I'll take you."

"Thanks."

She looped her arm around his. Something she'd done for years. While just her cousin, Danny had played the part of Anna's big brother. "You're the only family I've got. I can't lose you."

"Ditto," he said, the honesty in the one word deepening his voice.

"This way." She led him down another hall.

They walked into the crowded waiting room, filled with families and friends of patients, each in their own kind of hell. So much emotion hung in the air it hurt to breathe. Cary saw them and nodded. Anna headed through the door leading back to the unit.

"She's going to check on him," Danny told Cary as he sat beside him.

"You should go home." Cary motioned to his bloody shirt.

"Not happening," he told him. "Have you heard anything?" God damn it! Tell me he's going to live.

"He's still in surgery."

Anna came back out, and the two men stood up. She leaned in and whispered, "They're done. The doctor should be out in a minute. They said it went well."

"Thanks." Danny's chest felt fifty pounds lighter. Who knew guilt weighed so much?

Anna looked at the door. "I need to get back to work. You okay?"

He offered her his pat answer. "I'm working on it."

She pressed a hand on his forearm. "You keep doing that. I get off in an hour if you need a lift home."

"I'll text you." Danny watched his cousin leave, realizing she really was his only family and vowing to do better by her. After several silent seconds, Danny looked at Cary. "I knew there was a chance McCune and his guys would put up a fight, but I didn't think—"

"Don't start that," Cary said in a low voice. "This isn't on you."

"It feels like it is." Danny glanced over at the four Hispanic women sitting in the corner. "Is that his mother and sisters?"

"Yeah."

The fear and love in the older woman's eyes had Danny's stomach knotting. He and Ramon had been buds for the last three months. And although Danny hadn't met Ramon's family, his friend had talked about his mom and his sisters a lot. About how they drove him crazy, always trying to fix him up since his divorce, but Ramon loved them.

Loved them the way family was supposed to love each other. Danny's gaze shifted to the variety of families supporting each other. Some held hands, some rubbed shoulders and others chatted quietly. Family support was something Danny had found from his aunt, her husband and Anna, but not from his own parents.

Chloe, Cary's wife, rushed in. Cary popped up, the two met halfway, and they hugged. They held on to each other like a lifeline.

Danny thought he'd had that once. But no. His ex-wife, Tanya, had taught him how wrong he could be. It was a lesson hard to forget. One that had messed with his head and his heart. One that would sabotage the rest of his life if he couldn't move past it. So far, he'd proved he couldn't.

Cary looked back and waved as he and Chloe stepped outside. Danny sat there, debating going and speaking to Ramon's family, but lingering guilt kept him planted in his chair. Three minutes later, Cary and Chloe came back in and dropped down beside him. He nodded hello to Chloe, but she glanced away.

Cary leaned in. "Turner called. McCune's already lawyered up. One of his guys and one of the buyers were shot, but none fatal. They arrested four more."

"Marco family?" A doctor wearing scrubs appeared in the doorway.

Danny hesitated to let Ramon's family be first. Chloe and Cary did the same. But they moved in close enough to hear.

"He pulled through the surgery better than I thought," the doctor said. "The bullets didn't do near the damage they could have. I think he's going to be fine."

* * *

After everyone in the room had been properly introduced, and hugged by Ramon's mother, Danny, Chloe and Cary found themselves in the cafeteria drinking coffee. The pain meds were wearing off, and Danny's shoulder had started to throb like a mother.

Chloe kissed her husband. "I'm going to head on home."

"Drive safe," Cary told her. "I'm not far behind you."

She rose from her chair, her gaze found Danny and she dropped back down.

"How are you?" Chloe asked.

"It was just a scratch." Seven stitches, but who's counting?

"You sure?" Something about her tone sounded like a trick question, and he recalled she hadn't spoken to him since she'd arrived.

"Yeah." Danny glanced at Cary, but he looked equally puzzled.

Chloe smiled, but it seemed loaded with something not so pleasant. "Great. So let me preface this." Her tone now matched her not-right smile.

"Preface what?" Cary asked when his wife paused as if for effect.

She ignored her husband and focused on Danny. "You know I like you. You've got my husband's back, and I appreciate that. Heck, I love you for that."

"Now don't go making your husband jealous," he said, uneasy.

"When I married my husband it was a two-way package deal. His friends came with him. And my friends with me."

Oh, shit. She knew. He glanced at the exit in case he needed to run. "Yeah."

"Liking you is one thing. Standing by and letting you hurt someone I care about is another. So when you are around my friends, you keep your best friend in your pants."

She stood, kissed her shocked husband's cheek and left in a choppy pace.

"What did you do?" Cary asked.

"I . . . Sheri—"

"Not Sheri!" Cary pleaded. "I told you—"

"It wasn't . . . I tried to fix it. She's the one who . . ."

"Who what?" Cary asked.

Danny ran a palm over his face. "Nothing." He'd screwed up. Forgiveness wasn't a guarantee, it was a gift. One Sheri hadn't been inclined to offer.

* * *

First thing on Friday morning, Danny was called into the sergeant's office. He was ready to get an earful about how badly the bust had gone down.

"What's up?" Danny asked walking in, not sure he didn't deserve an ass-chewing.

Sergeant Adams, AKA, the boss, leaned forward at his desk and motioned for Danny to sit down. "Did you recognize any of McCune's men?"

"Yeah." He had no idea where this was going. "Perkins. I've brought him in a few times. Small shit. I didn't know he worked with McCune."

"Well, I just got a call this morning from his lawyer. He and Perkins want to talk to you. Says he has some info and wants to negotiate."

"Then send him to the DA," Danny said.

"I tried. The lawyer says he only wants to talk to you."

"Why?"

"He likes you." The sergeant's smile said there was more to the story.

Danny frowned. "I'm not that likable."

"Look, Perkins said you worked a deal once. He thinks you'll work with him, and he swears he won't talk to anyone else."

"I didn't work a deal. I went easy on him for being honest. And that was before he tried to kill me and a few of my friends."

"I know, but this lawyer is a pain in my ass. He's friends with my brother-in-law. Just talk to him. Hell, maybe this guy has something we need."

An hour later, Danny walked into the conference room where James Perkins and his lawyer waited.

The guy had acquired a rap sheet a mile long since he and Danny last met. Perkins didn't deserve a deal—not this time. Danny shot across the room and prepared himself to be pissed. Hell, he was already pissed. His arm still throbbed, and Ramon was still in the hospital—hating every moment of the TLC doled out by his sisters and his mom. The fact that his sergeant even considered negotiating with this punk chapped Danny's ass.

All eyes in the room turned to him. Danny decided not to bullshit anyone. "You better have something good, because anyone who shoots at me or my friends gets on my bad side."

"You're the only cop I know who's fair. You didn't let them charge me last time."

"Then that shows how little you know," Danny insisted. "I'm done being fair. Damnedest thing, it happens when people try to kill me."

Sure, Danny knew it wasn't Perkins' bullet that had gotten either him or Ramon, but not from his lack of trying, and only because he was a piss-poor shot.

"It's good," Perkins said.

"Not so fast," his lawyer said. "We want a deal on the table."

"Don't try to blow smoke up my ass. You know I can't make any deals. That's the DA's job. And I wouldn't even pretend to think about a deal until I know what he's got."

The lawyer already looked frustrated, and Danny had even tried yet. "Someone contacted Mr. Perkins to do a hit."

"A hit on who?" Danny asked, vaguely interested, but only mildly.

The lawyer held up his hand to silence Perkins. "What are you offering?"

"I told ya, I don't offer deals, and I'm not even gonna think of going to DA until I know who it is. You see, I might not give a rat's ass if this guy lives or not. Because chances are, he's a piece of shit and deserves to get whacked." The lie left his lips easily. His job required he give a rat's ass, even to the undeserving.

"She," Perkins said. "It's a chick, probably as innocent as a puppy."

That knocked Danny's argument down a notch, but he tried not to show it. "Puppies don't usually land on someone's hit list."

Perkins frowned. "This one got unlucky."

"Who wants her dead?" Danny asked. "Husband? Boyfriend?" Nine times out of ten, that's who was guilty.

"I don't know. He said a friend of a friend gave him my name. He approached me at The Devil's Bar."

"You don't know his name or haven't seen him hanging there before?"

"No."

Danny sighed. "When did this happen?"

"Last Saturday. He offered me ten thousand. I told him I didn't off girls."

"You must be up for sainthood," Danny said.

Perkins snarled. "Some chick is gonna die, and it's going to be on your ass."

"Correct me if I'm wrong. You don't know who this guy is, or how to get in touch with him. How's this going to do me any good?"

"I got her name. And if he approached me, he'll approach someone else."

"What's her name?" Danny asked.

"We don't give anything else until we get at least your word that you'll help us work a deal with the DA," the lawyer said again.

"Okay," Danny said, pissed he had to do it, but he knew a wall when he was against one. "Here's what I can give you. Tell me her name. If it's the real deal, I'll talk to the DA about offering you a lesser sentence."

"Lesser? I don't want to do time."

Danny shook his head. "There are no get-out-of-jail-free cards. You're doing time. It's a matter of two years or ten."

The lawyer whispered something in Perkins' ear. He moaned. "Sheri Thompson."

Danny's breath caught. "Is this a joke?"

"What?" Perkins said, and Danny could read the man's face enough to know he wasn't pulling a fast one. Besides, how would he know Danny had a connection to a Sheri Thompson?

Danny felt his heart play base against his chest bone and he could feel the rush of his pulse at the side of his neck. Wait, there was only a one-in-three chance it was her. He knew, because he'd personally done that search when she'd refused to take his phone calls six months ago.

"Where does this Sheri Thompson live?" Don't say in the Forest Hill Condos. "Answer me!"

"I don't know. When I told him I didn't do chicks, he left."

"Do you have an age, a location, anything? Do you know how many Sheri—"

"I gave you a name. And there's going to be one less chick wearing that name tag if you don't do something fast. That guy was serious."

Danny swung open the door and called out for another officer. "Get a sketch artist in here." He looked back at the lawyer. "I want to know what this guy looked like down to the size of his dick!" He rushed out, telling himself it wasn't his Sheri.

His Sheri?

What a joke.

She wasn't his. Except for one night.

One damn good night.

* * *

He dialed Cary before he was out of the county jail, but his friend wasn't picking up. Shit!

The line beeped to leave a message. "Hey . . . there's a problem. Sheri is . . . Someone's trying . . . Oh, hell. Sheri could be in danger. Call me!"

He tried Sheri's number. The fact that he hadn't deleted it from his phone said something. The fact that he hadn't added any new numbers since then said something more.

Her phone rang twelve times before he reached his car. He knew because he counted each one. Then he phoned his friend, Paul Manning, who worked homicide and gave him a rundown on the other Sheri Thompsons.

Leaving the parking lot, he put his siren on his dashboard and lit out to Forest Hill Condos. He spent the entire drive trying to calm down and convince himself she wasn't in danger. But it wasn't working.

His car had barely stopped in her parking lot when he jumped out. The sooner he laid eyes on Sheri, the sooner he would be able think straight.

Jogging to unit sixteen, he realized he didn't have a clue how he was going to deal with this. Should he tell her? He had to, didn't he? If he didn't, she'd think he was here for . . . something else. For penitence.

And damn, he knew if she'd give him another chance, he'd take it in a snap. But a man could only beg for so long.

Arriving at her porch, he noticed her door wasn't shut. His heart picked up pace. Surely Sheri was smart enough not to leave her front door open.

Shit! He drew his gun. He debated calling out her name, but if someone had his finger on the trigger, that might jar him into doing something he shouldn't.

Instantly his mind replayed parts of their night together. Hands down, it had been the best sex he'd ever had. Add the hours they'd laid in bed talking and laughing and . . . and he'd panicked. But not until she'd gone to sleep and he'd just lain there, watching her. His damn heart had swelled so big he thought his chest would explode.

Pushing open the door a bit, he listened for any signs of movement. He inched into the living room. He'd only come here once. He hadn't even gotten inside. She'd opened her door and, with a few choice words, told him where he could plant his flowers and insisted he had to leave because her date was waiting inside.

She hadn't been bluffing, because he'd stayed around long enough to see them leaving together.

Where are you now, Sheri? He heard a slight noise coming from the room in the back. The kitchen? Someone was here. Be okay. Please be okay.

She could tell him to plant anything, anywhere. Just as long as she was alive and breathing. He lifted his gun and cut the corner into the kitchen.

 

Chapter Two

Sheri felt the cool wall behind her. Patrick's mouth was on hers. He was a good kisser. Just a little too much tongue. She told herself to stop critiquing and enjoy it.

His hand moved under her skirt, going for her panties. The red panties she'd worn for this very reason. She planned to let it happen. They'd been dating six weeks. He'd been patient. It was time, but . . . was she feeling it?

A little.

Maybe.

He pushed his hips against hers, and the evidence of how much he was feeling it pressed against her.

Oh, hell. She wasn't feeling it that much. And if there was one thing she promised herself . . . not feeling it meant no sex. She'd learned that lesson with Mark. And the only reason she'd gone there with Mark was because she wanted . . . well, she thought she could re-create with him what she'd had with . . .

"I want you so bad," Patrick said.

Nope. Not feeling it.

She pulled her lips from his. His body still pressed her against the wall. "Did you say you want a beer?"

"Police!" a dark voice rang out, giving her a lurch.

Patrick's hand yanked out from under her skirt. He bolted back so fast her knees nearly gave. She caught herself against the wall while his hands shot up above his head.

The sight of the gun had air hitching in her throat.

The sight of the man attached to the gun had that air releasing in a big gulp. She'd just thought about him. Was this a . . . dream?

She reached down and pinched her leg. It hurt.

Not a dream.

"What are you doing?" she snapped as she rubbed her leg.

"This isn't even my house," Patrick said.

What did that mean? She looked at Danny. He looked just as confused.

"Oh yeah, throw the girl under the bus," Danny spouted out. Then he dropped his arm, pointing the gun downward, and focused on her. "I . . . Your front door was open."

"So you rushed in with a gun? Did they teach you that in police training?"

Sheri couldn't tell if Danny was embarrassed or angry. Maybe a little of both. She kind of knew the feeling. The two emotions waged war inside her, too.

"I . . . I didn't mean to . . . interrupt." His tone, along with the emphasis he put on that last word, pissed her off. Then he glanced at Patrick. Or rather at the tent in the man's khakis, emphasized by the fact that his arms remained in the air.

Oh yeah, embarrassed.

"Do you know him?" Patrick asked in almost a whisper as if Danny couldn't hear it.

"What are you doing here?" she bit out at Danny.

"Wait? Is he a cop or not?" Patrick asked, hands still in the air, looking guilty. What was he feeling guilty about?

"Yes." Danny pulled open his shirt, flashing the badge attached to his belt loop.

Sheri looked at Patrick. "You can put your hands down."

"I can?" He directed the question to Danny as if he didn't believe her.

"Yeah." Danny frowned. "Unless you're a criminal?"

"I'm . . . not." Patrick, who didn't sound too sure, dropped his hands and eyed Sheri as if this was her fault. "Would someone like to explain what's going on?"

"Yeah, explain." She'd love to hear that answer and passed the question to Danny.

"We need to talk." Danny's blue eyes met hers, and he put his gun in his shoulder holster.

"So you do know him?" Patrick asked, now looking angry.

"Yeah, he's . . ." She paused, unsure what you called someone who screwed you and walked out. A one-timer? An ex? Or maybe an asshole jerk who added her to his conquests list.

Patrick let out a deep gasp of air. "If you were seeing someone, you could have just—"

"I'm not seeing him," she said.

"Funny, I'm seeing you," Danny spit out, his tone not quite pissed off but close.

Dumbfounded by what he implied, her mouth dropped open. "I'm not . . . We aren't . . ." Suddenly too mad to talk, she just groaned.

"I haven't even slept with her," Patrick said.

"Could have fooled me," Danny muttered, staring at Patrick as if to draw more information from him.

"Seriously, you can have her."

What? "He can't have me! And I'm not yours to . . . give away! How . . ." She tried to put words to her fury, but nothing came out except an incomprehensible sputter. "Yo . . . you . . . I . . ."

"We need to talk," Danny repeated as his gaze shifted back to her. "Privately."

"Yo . . . you . . ."

"Can I leave?" Patrick asked.

"That would be best," Danny said, sounding like a cop.

"You are an asshole," she finally bellowed out.

"Really," Patrick snapped, swinging around to look at her. "We've been dating a month, you played hard to get and . . . all the while you were dating someone else. And I'm the asshole?"

"I was calling him the asshole." She pointed to Danny. "But maybe you are, too, because I've already told you, I'm not seeing him! And . . . and you just gave me to him!"

"But he said . . ."

"Hence the reason he's an asshole," she bellowed.

"I didn't say I was dating you. I said I was seeing you," Danny added, as if she was gonna buy that.

"We never dated!"

"Well, that depends on how you define—"

"Don't. You. Dare!"

Danny stopped talking but glanced at Patrick. "Leave." He waved an arm toward the door.

Sheri watched Patrick storm out of the kitchen. When her front door slammed with his exit, she turned her eyes on Danny. "I have a question," she said. "It might not exactly be your forte, but . . ." She held out her shaking hands. "How much time will I get for killing a cop?"

* * *

Danny needed to explain. But he was mid-process of trying to explain something to himself. Why, even after assessing that the man with Sheri hadn't been a hit man, did he still want to chase the guy into the parking lot and shoot the bastard?

Oh, he knew it had to do with jealousy. Bastard had his hand up her skirt.

So yeah, he'd sort of accepted that the whole Sheri issue had left him a little broken. That's why he hadn't seen any other women since. But he'd tried to convince himself it hadn't been all her. Life had become a little simpler without dating, and he'd concluded that he'd started to like simple.

He thought he'd moved past her.

He hated being wrong. But now he knew. He'd been lying to himself. Because the thought of this guy making love to his Sheri had acid working its way through his second layer of stomach lining.

Then he suddenly remembered something the guy said.

He smiled. "You've been dating him a month and haven't slept with him?"

"Is your gun loaded?" she asked, her eyes tight and bright. Beautiful.

He didn't laugh, but he wanted to. Damn, she was cute when mad. "Always loaded."

"Can I borrow it?"

A sudden, loud thump came from the back of the house.

She whipped her head around. "Coming."

"Who's that?" Had he lowered his guard too soon? She started hotfooting down the hall. "Sheri, stop!"

She didn't. He bolted down the hall after her, but before he got to her, she opened the door. When he saw what came out, his hand went back to his holster.

He didn't draw his weapon. But he backed up, really fast, and stopped only when his ass hit the kitchen island. "What is that?"

"Taco," Sheri replied, petting the dog as he stopped beside her.

"That's one big . . . Taco." The dog, black and tan and the size of a large lion, kept coming. He finally stopped right in front of Danny, then yawned. The dog's nose actually came to Danny's chest. He displayed a nice set of choppers and a mouth so big Danny's head would have easily fit inside.

Unfortunately, it wasn't his head the dog was after. The beast lowered his nose and pressed it right in Danny's crotch. Then he growled.

Feeling the vibration all the way in his boys, Danny didn't dare move. "Uh . . . Can you call off your dog?"

Sheri smirked. And damn if it wasn't kind of adorable. He'd forgotten how pretty she was. Not so much beautiful, like a stunning model. She was dimples-when-she-smiles kind of pretty. Touch-me kind of pretty. Treat-me-bad-and-you'll-regret-it kind of pretty. He knew that one for certain. The monster of a dog growled again, as if to remind Danny he held his package under dire threat. Slowly, Danny put his hand on the dog's head and gently nudged him away.

Taco let out another low rumble, lifted his neck, sniffed at the air, and stared Danny right in the eyes. When the animal barked, Danny flinched.

But that wasn't the worst part. It was the drool. It started oozing out of the dog's mouth. Only it didn't really ooze out. It hung there. A long stream of it. He barked again. The drool gathered momentum and finally plopped to the floor. But then another long string appeared.

"What . . . does he want?" Danny asked, sidestepping, trying to avoid being slimed.

"His food. It's on the island. Now start talking."

Danny looked at the huge bowl of dog food beside the open fifty-pound bag. The animal growled again. Or maybe it wasn't so much a growl as a moan. But any noise that came out of a super-sized animal sounded threatening.

"You want to feed him?" he asked.

"I want an explanation!" she fumed.

"Yeah, and Taco Grande here wants his dinner. So feed him and we'll talk."

"You're standing right beside his food."

Not by choice. He eyed the beast.

"Coward." She shot forward, snagged the food and placed it at Danny's feet. He got a whiff of her scent, and it took him back to their night together so fast that he ran a hand over his face. He'd smelled it on a couple of women since, and each time he'd been hit with regrets and reminded of what a fool he'd been.

"I'm not scared of him." He watched the animal scarf down the kibble while crunching noises filled the kitchen. A mixture of drool and food oozed out of the animal's mouth. "That's disgusting."

"Danny!" she snapped, demanding his attention away from the beast, but it was like a car wreck, hard to look away from.

"What kind of dog is he?"

"He's an English mastiff. What are you doing here?" She lifted one hand and Velcroed that sucker to her hip like an angry teacher.

"Let's sit down." He motioned to the entrance of the living room.

She shot out of the room, and he followed. His gaze took in the pissed-off swish of her ass as she moved. His mind recalled her naked. Her happy. Her laughing.

Oh, hell, he wanted a rewind button to go back to that night.

When she dropped down on the sofa, he went to the chair on the other side of the coffee table. Her light red blouse had a scooped neckline. The hint of cleavage gave him flashbacks.

She slapped her palms on her legs. "If this is about Chloe finding out, well, it's not my fault. She figured it out all on her own. And it sure as hell doesn't warrant you showing up here!"

"It's not about that." Where to start? "We did a drug bust last week. Today, one of the guys we picked up wanted to swap some info for a lighter sentence. It was about a hired hit. I—"

"What does that have to do with me?"

His phone rang. He pulled it out to see the number. Cary. He almost didn't answer it but then he remembered he'd left a somewhat alarming message on the guy's phone.

He glanced back up at her. Struck again by how pretty she was, even when she was unhappy. On the tip of his tongue was another apology. But what number would this be? Thirty? Thirty-five?

"It's Cary. I called him about this. Let me tell him I'll call him back."

"Called him about what?"

"One second." Danny took the call. "Hey . . ."

"What the hell's happening?" Cary asked.

Danny looked up at Sheri. His gut tightened at her ticked-off expression. "Uh, I . . ." Why couldn't she understand he'd made a mistake? "Can I call you right back?"

"No!" Cary's voice rose. "Answer me. Chloe's freaking out."

"Look, I'm here at Sheri's now. She's safe. I'll call you right back."

"No. Danny, what's—"

Danny had been about to hang up, but Sheri shot up, jerked the phone from his hands and did it for him.

She handed the phone back with a stern glare. "What the hell is going on?"

He had to just tell her. "Someone approached this guy to do a hit."

"What in God's name does that have to do with me?"

Everything. "It was a hit on a Sheri Thompson."

* * *

A what? Sheri sank into her tan leather sofa. As Danny watched her, a frown pulled at his expression. She blinked and was tempted to pinch herself again.

"You okay?" he asked.

Her mind couldn't wrap around it. Didn't want to wrap around it.

"Who?" She finally spit out the one-word question. "Who wants to kill me?"

"We don't know."

Her brain grasped for straws and found one. Someone hired a hit on . . . "A Sheri Thompson?" That's what he'd said. "Not . . .," she touched her chest, "necessarily me, right?"

"Right."

"There are several other Sheri Thompsons here in Glencoe and the Hoke's Bluff area," she said, sitting up as she thought out loud.

"I know," he said. "But until—"

"One of them never pays her bills. Another, or maybe even the same one, I don't know for sure, is having an affair with a married man. Oh, and a redheaded Sheri Thompson skipped out on bail. I don't know what she was arrested for, but it couldn't be good."

His eyes tightened. "How do you know this?"

"First, because that's the reason I got rid of my landline. I got calls all the time looking for Sheri Thompson. The bill collectors. The angry wife. You wouldn't believe the names she called me." She leaned back on her sofa. Taco came strolling in with long strings of drool hanging from his jowls.

"Towel!" she said. The dog turned and walked back in the kitchen.

"Second, a bail bondsman showed up at my door. If that Sheri Thompson hadn't been forty, redheaded and only five feet tall, I probably would've been carted off to jail."

"Okay." He nodded. "So maybe a few of the Sheris are better candidates, but—" He stopped talking when Taco came in with a towel in his mouth.

She rubbed the dog's face with the dangling ends of the towel to collect his drool. Then she chucked the towel to the corner.

"Impressive," he muttered.

"It's not just that they are better candidates, I'm not a candidate. I work PR. Most of my clients are either florists or children's writers. I volunteer at the animal shelter. I don't have enemies." I'm a preacher's daughter. "Who would want me dead?"

He actually seemed to consider the question. "The guy who just left here seemed pretty pissed off."

"He wasn't until you showed up. We were getting along just fine."

"Yeah, I saw." His tone indicated he thought he had a right to tell her who she should or shouldn't make out with.

He so better not go there! The man was a horn dog. Full-fledged, pedigreed horn dog.

"Look, this is silly. You are making a big deal out of something that doesn't even involve me. And there's a Sheri out there who needs to be protected. So why don't you go—"

"No." His expression went from stubborn to damn stubborn. "Until we know for sure, it's a big deal. And I've got someone checking on them."

Sheri's cell, still in the kitchen, rang. She took off. Danny followed. She grabbed her phone and looked over her shoulder at him. "It's Chloe. She's probably all upset."

Right then, Danny's phone rang again. He looked down and then added, "It's Cary. He's pissed. No probably about it."

She waved her hand. "Answer it and tell him you overreacted."

"I didn't overreact," Danny said.

She glared at him. He glared right back. After three more rings, both of their phones stopped ringing, only to be replaced by another ring. Or rather a bell. Her doorbell. Taco barked and ran to sniff out the visitor.

She took a step to answer it.

Danny caught her arm. "Don't answer it until you know who it is."

His touch sent currents of emotion right to her chest, bringing with it memories of their night. One night. It shouldn't have left such an impression on her, but it had. How could something that felt that right have been all wrong? She stared at his hand holding her. He let go.

She went to take another step.

He caught her again but didn't hold on this time. "From here. Ask who it is, from here."

She rolled her eyes. "Who is it?" she called out. Taco made snorting noises as he sniffed around the bottom of the door.

"Pizza delivery," the male voice answered.

Pizza? Her breath got stuck on her tonsils. She looked at Danny. Hadn't she just seen a Law and Order where the hit man pretended to be . . .

"You didn't order pizza, did you?" he asked, but she could tell by his expression, and probably due to her own expression, he already knew the answer.

He pulled out his gun.

This had to be a nightmare! She reached down and pinched herself again.

 

Chapter Three

Sheri shook her head. Her heart started thumping, her mind commenced to racing her dog went straight to drooling. Did someone really want her dead?

Danny pulled her back into the kitchen. The doorbell rang again. Taco barked.

"Taco," she called out, "here!" The dog, drool oozing from his jowls, followed the command and came and bumped up against Danny, leaving a string of slobber dangling from his jeans.

"Do you have a gate that leads to the front?" His low tone sounded like it came from a scary movie.

She nodded and looked at her French doors. Then she realized she'd seen this movie. And it didn't end well. "Stop," she said. "He . . . might have a gun."

"So do I. Get in the bedroom and lock the door. If I'm not back here in a few seconds, call 911." He took a step to leave.

"Wait." This time, she caught his arm. "Can't we just call the police?"

"I am the police."

"Someone besides you!" she bit out.

His blue eyes caught hers with a flash of warmth. His expression told her he knew. Knew she cared. And she did. Not that it meant anything. She was a preacher's daughter. She cared about a lot of stuff. She cared about most people. She cared about that opossum she'd run over last week.

"I'll be okay," he said. "I'm going to be all right."

"I . . . I want someone . . . competent." She hadn't meant what it implied, but it came out and she might as well run with it.

"And I'm not?"

"You . . . you just got shot!" she said, still gripping his arm.

The doorbell rang again. The dog started back into the living room. "No, Taco!" She released Danny and grabbed the animal by the collar.

"Go to your bedroom!" Looking insulted, Danny took off.

She stood there, her heart fluttering, her pulse trying to catch up. Not breathing. She hadn't been ordered to her bedroom in . . . Oh, hell!

One step, that's all she took toward the bedroom. That's when it hit. The flight-or-fight instinct. She'd been born a natural fighter, but her father had worked hard to get the turn-the-other-cheek adage into her, and in some ways it had worked. But in other ways . . .

If Danny got shot, she'd feel really bad. Even worse than she did about the opossum.

She swung around, snatched her purse, pulled out her pepper spray and hauled ass to the front door.

She heard Danny yell out, "Police!"

Banging noises, like a fight, echoed from outside. Envisioning the pizza guy shooting Danny, she stepped to the side and slung open the door. A pizza box flew past her. The pizza guy started forward. She held out her canister and pressed the nozzle, but before the spray left the canister, the pizza delivery guy fell forward.

"Shit!" Danny muttered.

And then everything went crazy. Or crazier.

She got hit by the pizza guy. Danny got hit with the pepper spray. The pizza guy's crotch got hit by her knee. Taco didn't get hit by anything, but he did get the pizza. And considering he was lactose intolerant, that was not a good thing.

That's when Cary and Chloe showed up.

Sheri saw Cary literally pick up Chloe and move her behind him. Then he swung around and pulled out his gun. "Police. Don't move!"

Sheri didn't think he was talking to her, but she didn't dare move.

* * *

Danny's eyes were on fire.

"What the hell is going on?"

Danny heard Cary bellow the question he wanted to ask. He thought his friend was holding his Glock on the pizza delivery guy. Thought. Danny couldn't see shit. The pepper spray hadn't been a direct hit but damn close. It burned like hell. And not just his eyes, but everything from his neck up. Tears ran down his face, and his nose started running like a damn water faucet. His mouth watered, and he felt drool leak out onto his chin. Now he was as bad as the dog.

"Check him for weapons." Danny tucked his gun back in his holster.

"I don't have weapons!" pizza boy muttered.

Danny blinked and could almost make out the guy on the floor, in the fetal position and apparently holding his crotch. But Danny's mind couldn't stay on the kid's problem.

"Milk," Danny muttered, remembering one of the remedies for pepper spray.

"Drop it! Don't eat that," Sheri screamed. Danny supposed she was talking to her dog.

"Why is he here?" Chloe asked.

Danny supposed she was talking about him.

"Lay flat on your back, and hold your arms out!" Cary ordered.

"I can't," pizza guy ground out. "She hit me in the balls."

"Find out if he's legit." Blinking away tears, practically blind, Danny got up, breathing through his teeth to keep from moaning from his pain.

"Legit?" Cary asked.

"See if he really delivers pizza!" He nudged a feminine shape, hoping it was Sheri. "Come with me to the kitchen."

"Are you hit?" Cary asked.

"Pepper spray." Danny took a step when his foot hit something slick. His butt landed on what felt like the remnants of the pizza.

"Shit," he muttered as he landed. Sheri should have let the damn dog eat it.

Cary's voice piped up. "Who sprayed you?"

"I didn't mean to," Sheri said.

"Good for you," Chloe said.

Danny frowned and felt more drool leak out the side of his mouth. He knew she hadn't meant to spray him, but if she'd gone and hid like he'd asked her to, none of this would be happening. "Can someone give me a hand?" He held out his arm. "I can't see shit!" And he had mozzarella stuck to his ass.

Sheri—at least he assumed it was her—latched on and pulled him up. He held on to her. He wished he'd have held onto her six months ago. But damn, he'd screwed up. Even though it felt like she'd set his face on fire, he wanted a second chance.

"Watch him!" Danny said motioning toward the pizza guy still curled up in a ball.

"What did he do?" Cary asked.

"I didn't order pizza," Sheri said.

"Someone ordered pizza!" pizza guy muttered.

"Call the pizza place," Danny said, now unable to open his eyes.

"Why do you think he's lying?" Cary asked.

"Just do it," Danny said. "I'll explain after I put out the fire on my face."

"Don't eat that!" Sheri ordered again and pulled free of his hold.

"Would someone please take me to the kitchen?" Danny held out his hands again.

"Are you still sleeping with him?" Chloe's voice echoed in Danny's visually impaired world.

"I'm not sleeping with her," said the pizza kid.

"He's gonna fart all night," Sheri said.

"Kitchen!" Danny growled, and Sheri finally started leading him away. "Please stop Taco from eating that," she called out.

Danny kept his eyes closed and let her lead him away. His pain level now a good ten.

"The chair is right under you," Sheri said. "I'll get you a cloth."

"No cloth." He reached out and felt for the chair. "Milk." He dropped down and then spat out, "Get me milk."

"What?" she asked. "I thought—"

"Milk!" Damn it hurt.

He heard her moving around and the sound of the fridge opening.

"I've got chocolate," she said.

"Give it to me."

"Oh. It expired yesterday."

"Just give it to me!"

"Fine, I'll pour you—"

"Give. It. To. Me."

He heard her gasp, but then she shoved carton in his hands. He opened it and poured it on his face.

"What are you—"

"It helps stop the burn." He emptied the whole thing on his face. It offered only a little relief. At this point he'd take anything.

"Sorry," she said.

He heard the sincerity in her voice. The thought hit that he'd been the one saying sorry six months ago, but she hadn't accepted his apology.

"Do you use Dawn?" he asked, his face still on fire.

"Do I what?"

"Dawn dishwashing soap. Do you use it?"

"Yes."

"Mix some up, half water, half soap, and give it to me." He heard her moving around and the water in the sink turn on.

"Here." She put another container in his hand. It was the dishwashing bottle.

He turned it up and squirted some of it on his face. The pain lessened a bit more.

"Do you need a towel?" she asked.

"In a minute I will." He tried blinking, but it hurt too damn much.

He heard her moving around again. After a second, her hip bumped into his arm. "Here." He felt her give him the hand towel.

He took it, but as tempting as it was to wipe his face, he knew he needed to give the Dawn a few more minutes to wash away the pepper oil before he attempted to wipe it off.

They sat there in silence. Voices echoed from the living room. The burn slowly started to fade.

She finally spoke up, "Do you want me to wet the towel?"

"No," he said. "I'm just giving the soap time to work."

"I didn't mean to spray you." She paused. "I was afraid he was going to kill you. And it would be my fault. I already killed an opossum this week."

She didn't make a lick of sense. But he recalled her comment before he went around the side of the house. "I thought you were afraid I wasn't competent." He forced his eyes open, stared at her for a few long seconds then brought the soap up again and gave his face another squirt.

"I . . . I was trying to spray him. Not you. I'm sorry."

"So am I," he said. He blinked and focused on her again. "But you wouldn't accept my apology, would you?"

He could barely make out her expression, but it didn't look good.

"That's different," she said in low voice.

"I made a mistake." He hated the pleading in his voice, but it was there.

"There's a difference between a mistake and a character flaw."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"You know what it means," she snapped.

He could still hear Cary, Chloe, and the pizza guy in the living room. He knew now wasn't the time. But he wasn't sure he'd get another chance, and damn it, he still wanted a chance.

"My ex did a number on me," he said, willing to tell her things—things he hadn't shared with anyone but his cousin. "I panicked and—"

"That's not my problem," she said.

He heard footsteps moving to the kitchen and shut up.

"He's legit!" Cary said. "He was supposed to deliver it to unit fifteen. Not sixteen."

"Damn." Danny released a gulp of air. Then, hoping enough time had passed, he brought the towel to his face. He kept it there for several seconds before pulling it away.

His eyes still burned, but the pain was almost tolerable. Blinking away his tears, he could almost see. He stood and moved into the doorway. Cary shifted back.

"Why did you fight me?" he asked the kid, who now sat up on the floor.

"I thought you were robbing me."

"I announced I was the police," Danny snapped. "And I had my badge out."

"I didn't see the badge. All I saw was the gun, and you weren't in uniform! You could have been anyone."

And you could have been a hit man. Danny sighed.

"We had a delivery guy robbed only a couple of weeks ago," the kid continued. "The jerk pistol-whipped him."

"Do I look like a robber?"

Sheri moved beside him, and even as messed up as his sinuses were, he could smell her perfume. Or was it her shampoo? Or was it just her?

"Can't we just forget it?" the kid said.

Danny looked at Cary. "We might need to write up a —"

"No," the kid pleaded. "Look, I just got a scholarship for college, and if I get into any trouble, they might . . . pull it. I didn't hit you, and I'm not the one who sprayed you. And you didn't hurt me." His gaze shifted to Sheri standing at the doorway beside Danny.

Sheri spoke up. "Sorry. I didn't do that on purpose."

"I know," the kid said. Then he looked back at Danny. "So can I just go?"

Danny met Cary's eyes, and his friend nodded. Then Danny looked back at the kid. "Fine, but next time someone says ‘police,' look for the badge before you start resisting." As the kid got up, Danny pulled out his wallet. "Here's for the pizza." And for the getting hit in the balls. He handed the kid two twenties.

The kid hesitated, so Danny put in his hands. "Take it." Then with only a slight limp due to his injury, he left.

The door hadn't completely shut when Cary turned to him. "Now would you please tell me what the hell is going on?"

 

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