KCPD Protector. Julie Miller

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Название KCPD Protector
Автор произведения Julie Miller
Жанр Ужасы и Мистика
Серия The Precinct
Издательство Ужасы и Мистика
Год выпуска 0
isbn 9781472050373

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Chapter Two

      “Sorry, Spikey.”

      Elise laughed at the furry black bullet that shot out from beneath her spirea bushes as the first spray of water from the sprinkler hit the tiny white flowers and dark green leaves. The dog was in her lap the moment she climbed up onto the new wood deck and stretched out on the chaise lounge, demanding a tummy rub and some kind words to make up for being splashed.

      “Maybe you shouldn’t bury your treats out there. If you’d chew them up when I give them to you, instead of hiding them in the yard, you wouldn’t risk taking an impromptu bath when I turn on the water.” Elise rubbed the dog’s soft, curly hair a few seconds longer, then kissed him on his head and set the miniature poodle/terrier mix on the deck beside her. “It’s still too hot for a cuddle, though, you brave little toodle face. You’d better scout out the perimeter before we turn in for the night.”

      With a soft tap to his rump, Spike scooted down the steps and followed his nose into the grass. Elise would be happy if the warm wind shifted and misted some of the water over her bare legs, shorts and paint shirt, but not the dog. She grinned, watching Spike circle along the fence, avoiding the spray while he reclaimed his rawhide chew from beneath the bushes.

      Truly relaxing for the first time today, Elise picked up the icy glass of tea on the table beside her and flicked away the condensation before taking a long drink. She touched her damp palm to the nape of her neck before leaning back to enjoy the peaceful retreat of her backyard at twilight. She figured the reprieve would last about five to ten minutes before the mosquitoes found her. But by then, she’d be heading back in to finish cleaning up from the evening’s renovation work.

      She took another leisurely sip, purposely letting the moisture from the glass drip onto the front of her dad’s old button-down shirt and trickle beneath the placket to her hot skin. The soft, worn cotton was stained with all the colors of her remodel, including a splash of dark blue from the shutters she’d been painting for the living and dining room areas this evening.

      Once, she’d dreamed of restoring a home like this with her former boss, Quinn Gallagher, and raising a family together in the big house and spacious backyard. But Quinn, a widower who’d needed his trusted assistant to fill in as babysitter, comforter and sounding board, had fallen in love with someone else. And the need that Elise had hoped would blossom into something more had vanished in the span of a few hectic, dangerous days, leaving her reeling and alone. Easy pickings for Quinn’s business associate, Nikolai Titov, who had said all the right things and made her feel wanted...and then used information she’d inadvertently shared to not only ratchet up his plot to destroy Quinn’s security empire, but to murder Quinn and his daughter. Fortunately, Quinn’s new wife, a rifle-toting member of KCPD’s premier SWAT team, had been there to save them both.

      A familiar knot of guilt and regret twisted in Elise’s stomach. While she couldn’t fault Quinn and his daughter for claiming happiness and moving on with their lives, there’d been no one but her parents to help her pick up the pieces of her broken dreams two years ago. And she’d been too humiliated to share everything with them. She hadn’t even shared all the details with the counselor who’d evaluated her before qualifying for the job at police department headquarters. How foolish or desperate did a woman have to be to have an affair with a man, and not know until he sent her flowers from the airport as he was leaving the country that he didn’t feel anything for her at all—that he’d only been using her?

      Eric and Susan Brown had known something had changed in their daughter after that. They’d helped her make the down payment on this run-down Victorian with good bones in a quiet neighborhood south of downtown K.C. They’d encouraged her to dip into her savings for new appliances and updated wiring. They’d set her up on a couple of dates and said they understood when Elise bowed out of seeing those perfectly nice men a second or third time.

      It was just her and Spike and a lot of hard work now. Hardly her dream life. Quinn and his wife were raising a family, all right, but Elise wasn’t any part of it. After Quinn and Nikolai, she didn’t want a man in her life. It hurt too much to love the wrong person, to believe in something that wasn’t really hers. She couldn’t trust a strong shoulder to lean on, even if it did smell of crisp cotton and musky man.

      An image of George Madigan’s stern countenance drifted into her thoughts. Turning to him for grounding comfort had been so tempting this afternoon. A full-fledged smile from the man would probably awaken the hormones she kept in careful stasis inside her. And she could guess that a man in the prime of his life like George would definitely know how to use that firm, masculine mouth to kiss a woman.

      “Really?” Alarmed by the sudden drift of her thoughts, Elise put the glass to her own lips, mentally warning herself to chill. She knew the hazards of a workplace romance better than anyone.

      She shouldn’t wish that she had more hugs and laughter and love in her life. She had her job at KCPD and her own place that was gradually transforming into a thing of beauty. George needed her to keep his life and office running efficiently, not speculate about kissing him. After a hundred years of use and neglect, this house needed her to care for it. Her days were full. Both jobs were as rewarding as they were exhausting. She’d adopted a wonderful dog from a shelter to keep her company. She didn’t have to depend on anyone. She didn’t need anything more.

      She shouldn’t want...more.

      A drop of ice-cold water fell from the glass and splashed her thigh near the fraying hem of her denim shorts, startling her from the depressing quagmire of her thoughts. “Oh. Wow.”

      She hadn’t gone to that dark place for a while, and hated that she’d allowed the loneliness to creep into her head the moment she’d stopped for a break. Must be the flowers she’d received at work and deposited at St. Luke’s Medical Center afterward for distribution to needy patients. The gift reminded her of that horrible time, that was all. It didn’t mean she still had to wallow in the past.

      Dismissing any remnants of longing or dissatisfaction, Elise wiped away the rivulet of water on her skin and swallowed the last of her tea. Swinging her feet down to the deck, she sat up on the edge of the chaise lounge and peered over the railing to find the dog before heading inside. “Spike?”

      Just as she put her lips together to whistle, he let out a high-pitched bark and charged through the yard, heedless of the spinning water that dampened his hair as he ran past. He was sounding the toodle alarm, barking at something or someone at the side of the house.

      Elise set down her glass and stood. “Spike! Shush!” With the last fingers of daylight leaving the high, cloudless sky a muted shade of gray, she could guess it was around nine o’clock. Some of her older neighbors were probably trying to settle in for the night. “You’ll wake someone.” She clapped her hands to divert his attention. “Spike!”

      But fifteen pounds of ferocious guard dog wouldn’t be silenced.

      Elise hurried down the steps and followed him to the chain-link fence to see what had alarmed him. But when she saw the tall blond man walking up the sidewalk to her backyard gate, she slowed her steps. Her guest might look handsome enough in his pressed jeans and polo shirt, but he wasn’t necessarily welcome. “James.”

      “Is it safe?” James Westbrook tucked the skinny sack he carried beneath one arm and knelt down to hold his hand flat against the fence to let Spike sniff and lick his palm. “Hey, big guy. Remember me?” Spike’s barking quieted with the recognition of a familiar scent. But his long tail curled between his legs and he darted behind Elise when James reached over the top of the gate to pet him. “I guess not.”

      As he pulled back to his side of the gate, Elise brushed her hair off her forehead, although that was probably the least messy thing about her ratty painting attire. She noted with annoyance that James’s well-gelled hair was barely moving in the bursts of wind swirling dust and dirt through the air. “What are you doing here? It’s late.”

      “I rang the doorbell, but no one answered.”