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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wouldn’t Spike have heard the doorbell? Or the slam of a car door? Maybe that’s what had alerted him in the first place. If so, James had decided pretty quickly to come to the backyard rather than wait on the porch for her to answer.

      Despite the ninety-degree heat that lingered, Elise shivered with an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. Since the debacle of Nikolai, she never had liked surprises. And now she’d had two in the same day? She tipped her chin up to assess James’s unexpected arrival. “What are you doing here?” she repeated. “You got my message, didn’t you?”

      “That you were working late?” He adjusted the slim glasses he wore and smiled. “I thought you meant at the office. If I’d known you were painting tonight, I’d have gotten some takeout and come over to help.” He glanced down at the gate between them, then pulled off the sack to reveal the bottle of wine he’d brought. “May I come in? It’s a cabernet sauvignon, like we drank back at Mizzou.”

      Another gift.

      Perhaps not as significant as twenty-three roses, but unsettling, all the same.

      “James,” she began. Elise inhaled a deep breath, clearing the Go away from the tip of her tongue and summoning a polite explanation. Not that she really owed him one. But bitchiness just wasn’t in her nature. “I did work until about six. Then I had errands to run. By the time I got home, it was too late to meet you anywhere. So I changed into these old clothes, zapped some leftovers in the microwave and went to work on the shutters.”

      “What do you do for fun, Lise?”

      Trying not to bristle at the pet name he’d given her when they’d been dating, Elise gestured toward the pale gray siding and white trim. “Reclaiming this house is fun for me.”

      “No. That’s rewarding,” he corrected with a teasing smile. “Sounds like you’re avoiding me.” He raised the wine bottle again. “Could be why I felt like I needed to bring a peace offering.”

      Guilty feelings surfaced, then eased out on a breathy sigh. “It’s not you, James,” she assured him. “It’s me.” And a screwed-up love life, a little lack of confidence and nary a spark of the attraction a younger, more innocent Elise had once felt for him. “I’m flattered by your attention, but I’m just not interested in a relationship right now.”

      “I get that.” He dropped his hand to the gate, but she still made no move to open it. “You and I broke up a long time ago when we graduated from college and I took that job in Korea. But we’re still friends, right? We share history. I’ve been back in the States for a couple of months now, but Kansas City doesn’t feel like home yet. I find I’m still thinking in a foreign language. I make wrong turns in the neighborhood where I grew up. Landmarks have changed or aren’t even there anymore.” He slid his hand over to rest on hers. “Can you blame me for seeking out a familiar face?”

      Elise pulled away from the warmth of his fingers and bent down to pick up the dog. It was an obvious wall of defense she was putting up, but Spike didn’t seem to mind. The dog licked her jaw a couple of times before settling into her arms and Elise smiled, even as James’s faded. “What about your father?” she asked. “Isn’t he retired now? Won’t he spend time with you? There’s a Royals game on TV tonight.”

      “To be honest, I was hoping for some younger, prettier company than Dad. You and I could watch the game.” He slipped the wine bottle back into the sack and held it out to her. “I promise to keep the evening perfectly platonic.”

      The streetlamp in front of her house flickered on and grew bright. Even if she trusted James’s promise, the hour was late. She had to be at work early in the morning. “To be honest, I was getting ready to clean up and go to bed.”

      His eyes narrowed behind his glasses before he sighed and shook his head. “Once upon a time you and I talked about getting married, Lise.”

      The regret in his tone cooled the air around them. She’d admit that there were some good memories between them. But that was all they were—memories. There was not one pang of hope or regret when she looked at James now. “We were practically kids then. You wanted to see the world, and I’d snagged that internship at Gallagher Security Systems. We just weren’t meant to be.”

      “You turned that internship at GSS into a career, didn’t you. I bet you were making good money there.” He folded his arms over his chest, eyeing her like the businessman he was. “Why’d you leave that kind of success and take a job with the city?”

      Her smile faded. She rubbed her fingers along the soft warmth of Spike’s flank, buying time to compose herself before deciding on the appropriate answer. She wound up using the same vague truth she’d given in her interview with George Madigan. “Money isn’t everything. There was nothing more for me at GSS. I wanted new surroundings. I needed a new challenge.”

      “Turning this into a showplace isn’t challenging enough?” He pointed to the painter’s tape lining the glass inside the dining room windows. “Are you sure I can’t help you do something here?”

      Elise looked at his hands, which were pale and pristine compared to the stained fingers with which she was petting the dog. He wasn’t really into home repair work, was he? “I’ve made enough of a mess for one night. I’m really tired.”

      “Maybe another time?” He put up his hands in placating surrender before she could answer. “Strictly as friends. I don’t know why you’re so gun-shy about rekindling things, but I won’t put any pressure on you. Like I said, I’m just looking for someone my age to hang out with until I get my feet under me again.”

      “How about I invite you over the next time I have a big piece of furniture to move.”

      He laughed, and the awkwardness between them eased a little bit. “Deal.” He thrust the wine over the top of the gate. “Here. You’d better take this.”

      Elise backed away a step. “I couldn’t.”

      “Of course, you can. It’s a gift.”

      If he was hoping she’d invite him in to share a glass, then he’d be in for a long wait. Still, she sensed he wasn’t going to move until she accepted the so-called peace offering. At least she knew who was giving her this gift. She wrapped her hand around the neck of the bottle.

      “Thank you.” Ask him. Why not? Clearing up the mystery would go a long way toward improving her chances of getting a good night’s sleep. “Did you send me flowers at work today? There wasn’t a card attached, and the officer at the front desk said he didn’t find one, either. I haven’t had a chance to check with the florist yet. It’s a bit of a mystery.”

      “You used to like it when I sent you flowers.” He grinned. “Remember? A daisy or a rose? To commemorate any little event—acing an exam, the start of spring break...” He grasped the rail at the top of the gate and leaned in. “Thanking you for a special night?”

      Yes. Those had been sweet and romantic and fitting for the young couple they’d once been. Not the point. “The flowers I got today weren’t cheap.”

      He snorted. “That cabernet wasn’t cheap.”

      “James, did you—?”

      “I can see I’m not getting anywhere with you tonight.” He shook his head, then adjusted his glasses, glancing skyward before zeroing his gaze in on hers. “Keep an eye on the weather. We’re under a tornado watch until midnight. I wouldn’t want you or the pooch there to get hurt. Good night.”

      And then he was striding away.

      Her mouth opened to call after him to clarify his response to her question, but Elise wisely snapped it shut. Better to just let him leave. “Good night,” she muttered.

      Were straight answers really so much to ask for? Elise plopped Spike down on his feet in the grass as James walked to the curb where he’d parked. A black-and-white police car cruised past on its regular rounds for the night, giving her ex the impetus to climb behind the wheel