He contemplated waiting in his squad car for the paramedics to arrive, knowing what was probably waiting for him inside. For the first time he was sorry he’d put in for the overtime; he was a homicide detective. But these days the department was running short of officers and until the new man hired the week before was up to speed, volunteers had been called on to take extra shifts. If he hadn’t just returned from a two-week vacation with Melissa he probably would have passed. But let no one in the department throw it in his face later that he wasn’t a team player when the need arose.
The feeling in his stomach intensified and Mike began to wonder if maybe it was the result of the high cholesterol breakfast he’d gobbled down an hour before. Somehow he doubted that was the case; he’d eaten the same breakfast many times without any complications. Taking a deep breath, he decided he’d better go inside. From where he sat he could see the front door was already open.He slipped out from behind the wheel and strode unhurriedly to the screen door. Just as he was about to ring the doorbell a noise from inside made him hesitate. He listened, trying to determine what it could be. Was the TV on? Maybe it was the radio. He couldn’t tell.
He punched the doorbell and called out at the same time, “Hello, anyone there?” Someone should be home. The call had come from somebody inside the house less than half an hour ago. However, Mike’s vast experience over the years prepared him for anything. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to phone in a death and then leave the scene for whatever reason, especially if it involved a loved one. There were no set rules to what kind of reactions to expect.There was no response.
Next time he rapped his knuckles against the metal doorframe, which somehow seemed louder than the doorbell. “Hello!” he hollered, testing the doorknob and finding it unlocked. “Is anyone home?” Against his better judgment he opened the screen door. Walking cautiously inside, he let his eyes scan the area as he made his way through the front foyer. Self-preservation and too many times of walking in on a bad situation prompted him to keep his hand on the butt of his revolver.
As he stepped through the large archway that led to the living room, his eyes were automatically drawn to the woman standing quietly by the sliding glass door. Her arms were folded and it was obvious she was deep in thought and staring at something outside, which explained why she hadn’t heard him calling out. He moved further into the room, hoping he wouldn’t frighten her. She was small, not more than five feet five, dressed in what he assumed were satin pajamas.
His lips twitched with humor when he realized they were decorated with little yellow smiley faces.Her russet hair was tumbling in disarray about her slender shoulders. From what Mike could see, her complexion was like a sun-ripened peach, smooth and healthy, almost glowing in the early-morning light shining through the glass. It was hard to tell from her profile but he gauged her age to be somewhere around thirty.And thirty had never looked so good! She was a sexy little package he’d like to unwrap!
“Ma’am?” he called out softly. His gaze automatically searched the room for the body.He could finally hear the sirens in the distance, and he silently thanked god. The paramedics could take over once they arrived. Soothing distraught women wasn’t one of his strong points. It made him uncomfortable as hell, especially when they expected a strong shoulder to cry on while being comforted. He didn’t have that problem when he responded to a homicide. Usually no one stuck around to claim the body.
The woman jumped slightly and finally swung his way, her eyes rounding with surprise and mild fear before taking in his uniform. He sensed her calm at once, watching her body relax back against the glass door as she reached up to wipe the glistening tear tracks lining her cheeks, while looking at him with eyes that reminded him of a wounded doe. Again he scanned the area for the body. Pretty or not, he had a job to do.
“I’m Mike Denton with the Stratton Police Department, ma’am. Where’s the body?” His tone was all business.
She cleared her throat before responding in a velvet voice, husky with drained emotion, “Over there.” She pointed. “I’m surprised they sent a police officer though…”
Mike only half-listened, intent on locating the body. He went in the direction she indicated, halting in stunned disbelief in the doorway. There was a body all right, on the floor of what appeared to be an office. The woman had attempted to cover it up with a throw of some kind. All he could do was stand there and stare at the long, brown legs sticking out from beneath it.
There were four of them.
“I don’t believe this…” he mumbled beneath his breath. He bent to lift a corner of the blanket and frowned at what met his eyes. A Great Dane if he knew his dogs. Seeing no apparent wounds or trauma to the body, he had a gut feeling that the dog had probably died of natural causes.This is why she’d called the police? He stood with growing irritation, trying to decipher how this could have happened. He had better things to do than waste time responding to calls about dead animals.
When he rejoined her in the living room, what little anger that had surfaced quickly evaporated. There had to be a logical explanation and experience had taught him to get the story before jumping to conclusions. The look on her face told him she was devastated over the loss of her dog. She looked soft and vulnerable and in need of comfort. The sudden urge to take her into his arms came from nowhere, catching him by surprise.Yeah Mike, like you’re interested in comforting her. You just want her against you.
“Ma’am, you don’t call 911 over the death of an animal.” He tried to keep his voice kind. The sirens were closer now and Mike guessed he had about five minutes before they would be at the front door.
“I didn’t,” she rushed out, then quickly corrected herself, “I mean, technically I did but only because I didn’t know who else to call. Cupid’s Arrow…”
Mike frowned, almost afraid to ask. “Cupid’s Arrow?”
“The dog,” she explained. “I was taking care of him for a neighbor. When I woke this morning I found him like this. He was very old. I don’t know how I’m going to tell the Rentschlers; this is going to kill them. They’re very devoted to Cupid’s Arrow; you see it’s because of him they met in the first place. He’s part of the fam—”
Her pouty lips were moving a hundred miles a minute and all Mike could think about was how much he’d like to chew on them for a moment. Taste what looked as sweet as sugar, and maybe further, the nectar inside.He listened to her rambling for a moment and shook his head, trying to make sense of why he was wasting his time.
“You still dialed 911,” he reminded her. He tried but failed to ignore the way her pajamas fit against her, outlining generous curves. Or how the early morning sun that was shining through the window brought out the highlights of red fire in her auburn hair.
“I explained I didn’t know whom to call,” she reminded him in return, smiling. “I told the 911 operator what the situation was. I thought she understood me.”
Damn, she had dimples. In addition, those chocolate eyes of hers were moving over him in a way that made him think of melting ice cream on a hot summer day. Soft, smooth and creamy, making him uncomfortably warm. He doubted she was even aware of her appeal. He remained silent for a moment, trying to get his temperature back under control. Who was the dispatch operator that morning? It would be easy enough to trace. If her story didn’t pan out he could always return later and give her a citation.That would certainly give him an excuse to see her again.
Maybe ask her out for a drink once the business at hand was settled. Not so fast, Mike old boy! He withdrew his pad and pen, and reminded himself he wasn’t in the market for female companionship. Not the permanent kind anyway. The woman in front of him didn’t look like she’d jump at a chance for a one-night stand.
“You’re not going to give me a ticket, are you?” she gasped in a disbelieving tone.
Mike’s gaze shot back up to hers, taking in the heightened color on her cheeks and the way she was gnawing on the inside of her lip. Damn, that bottom lip was sexy.Why did everything about her affect him so strongly? Maybe his body was trying to tell him something. Like it was hungry for something other than work and food for a change. Something more pleasurable like a good fuck.
Aware she was waiting for a response, he said, “Not at this time, ma’am. I just want to jot down a few notes. But I’ll be back if I find out you’re not telling me the truth.” Hearing the sudden commotion at the door, he realized the paramedics had arrived. “Excuse me for a moment.”
It didn’t take him long to explain the situation to them and by the time he returned to the living room the woman was gone. He swung around. A noise coming from the kitchen drew his attention. She was standing on the other side of the counter that separated the two rooms.
She offered him a smile. “Would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Denton?”
She might as well have asked him if he wanted to go to bed. The timbre of her smoky voice raked mercilessly over every one of Mike’s dormant senses. It ignited a fire of need in his blood so fast that it shocked him. “It’s…” He hesitated from saying detective since he was in a police uniform, and he wasn’t in the mood for explanations. “No, thank you, ma’am.”
When she ran her slender fingers through her wild hair, he literally caught his breath, his stomach clenching into a tight ball. What the hell is the matter with me? He made a mental note not to order the sausage at Smoky Joe’s anymore, as he watched her move gracefully about the kitchen for a moment before getting back to the task at hand. After writing down a few more notes, he flipped the pad closed and slid it into his pocket.
“My name’s Emma Stuart,” she said unnecessarily, telling Mike what he already knew.
“What about Cupid’s Arrow?”
He glanced up.
“I can’t move him by myself.”
“I’ll call Animal Control.” He was surprised to find he was reluctant to leave. It was on the tip of his tongue to accept her earlier offer of coffee. It smelled a heck of a lot better than the black tar Smoky Joe’s served up. Moreover, she was a hell of a lot more appealing than the missing front tooth, straggly hair waitress Joe had serving for him behind the counter.
“Thank you,” she said with obvious relief. “I’m sorry for all the confusion.” She sounded sincere.
“No problem,” he found himself saying. “I’ll be in touch if—”
“I know.” Her radiant smile caught Mike off-guard again. “If I haven’t been telling you the truth.”
Her smile was like the warmth of the sun on a cold winter day. The first breath of fresh air after emerging from a smoke filled bar. The water that quenched a dying man’s thirst. For a long moment Mike was mesmerized; his eyes fastened on her soft mouth as if he’d never seen a smile before. He finally raised his gaze to hers once more, somersaulting headfirst into those dark mysterious pools. Swallowing with difficulty, he made up his mind then and there. He was going back to Smoky Joe’s and demanding his money back!