by Carlene Rae Dater
Like a heat-seeking missile, his gaze burns her from across the room. Tall, blond and muscular, he's perfect. They meet and start to fall in love when Cyndia Simmons discovers the awful truth. Todd Whitlow is a Sheriff's Deputy and she doesn't date men in law enforcement, ever.
ISBN: 1-59431-771-2 Romance / Suspense /Crime
Also available in RTF and HTML
Todd Whitlow entered the dark apartment, his right palm resting on the butt of his gun. He slid his left hand along the wall until his fingers encountered the light switch. With a flick, light flooded the room.
"Damn. Looks like the moving fairies haven't unpacked yet," he said to himself.
A profusion of cardboard boxes squatted all over the partially furnished living room. Todd closed the door and walked to the bedroom, unbuckling his leather utility belt. Of all the places he'd lived in his 28 years, this was one of most pleasant--or would be once he was unpacked and organized. It would do nicely as an interim residence until he could afford to buy his own home. That would take time and a few steps up the ladder, but he was determined to have a plot of his own land…with a garden.
He removed his Glock 40-caliber pistol from its holster and locked it in his nightstand. One of the few things he disliked about being a Sheriff's Deputy was this equipment-laden belt. The rig was heavy, and, by the end of his shift, his hips hurt. With a clunk, he dropped the whole contraption on the floor at the end of his dresser. Once he started up through the ranks and became a captain, he wouldn't be burdened with the belt anymore.
Todd stood in an equally messy bedroom, hands on his sore hips, trying to decide what to do. He had several choices: he could strip down, hit the sack and get a good night's sleep; start unpacking; crack the books for his sergeants exam or change clothes and check out the late night action in Oakdale. He only had two months to cram for the test. He was tired, but wired, so decided to go out. Tomorrow, for sure, he'd hit the books.
He chuckled while he unbuttoned his uniform shirt. There was another option. While moving in over the weekend, he'd met one of his new neighbors, Monica. She made it quite clear she loved men in uniform wearing guns and wouldn't mind getting to know him better. A giant yawn made Todd's eyes water. Nope, he'd grab a quick beer at the Dew Drop Inn, then home to bed.
"Come on, Cyn, it will be fun!"
"No thanks." Cyndia Simmons fluffed her coppery curls and squinted into the restroom mirror. She definitely needed glasses and soon. She could barely see her own reflection from two feet away. Staring into three computer screens during her eight-hour afternoon shift at the Sheriff's Department Communications Center was taking a toll on her eyes. The majority of dispatchers needed glasses by their thirtieth birthday. At 25, Cyndia was rapidly heading in that direction.
"Why not? Everyone will be at the Dew Drop Inn for Barb's birthday party." Alice Brossard ran a comb through her almond-colored hair. The two women had finished their afternoon shift and stopped to freshen up before leaving the building.
"I've told you why not." Cyndia bent over and cupped her hands, splashing cool water on her weary eyes. "I don't date deputies. The only people who hang out at the Dew are deputies, so I never go there. Why bother?"
"I thought you wanted to get married then work part time and have babies?"
"I do. I'd just rather reproduce with a man who doesn't wear a gun all day long. I'll never date a man in law enforcement again, and you know why."
"Yes, but if you don't marry a cop, who will you marry?"
Good question. Why did it have to be so hard? All she wanted was some romance in her life, a strong handsome man to sweep her off her feet. Cyndia bit her tongue to keep from grinning. It wouldn't hurt if he was super rich and terrific in bed either. She still wanted a career that would make her enough money to be independent, but had abandoned the idea of vet school when her father had been killed in the line of duty. She found out she'd have to move away to go to college and leave her mother alone. The nearest school was over two hours away in Los Angeles. And, she knew how difficult was to get into vet school.
She'd been searching for other career opportunities, but so far nothing had surfaced. Now that her mother had decided to put the house on the market in the fall, she'd have to step up her research. One look at the apartments-for-rent section in the newspaper had made her break out in a cold sweat. She needed a new job and soon.
Alice took off her glasses and replaced them with blue-tinted contact lenses. She blinked a few times, stepped back and whirled around.
"How do I look?"
Cyndia smiled. Alice was as fresh and sweet as a puppy. The blue tinted contact lenses accentuated her eyes. Her blond hair hung straight and perfect, the way Cyndia wished her own curly hair would, and Alice's skin was as pale and fragile as a gardenia.
"You look terrific," Cyndia said. "Come on, I'll walk down to the parking lot with you. Even with the fence around it, I hate being there alone at night."
The two women shoved combs, lip-gloss and the rest of their female gear into purses.
"Did you hear the call Carol took about an hour ago?" Alice scanned the ladies' room even though both women knew they were alone. "Someone spotted a pervert running right down the middle of the street," she whispered.
"No, I must have been on a break. What kind of pervert?" Cyndia held back the smile that threatened to wiggle onto her face. Alice was a shy, naive twenty-year-old.
"The naked kind." Alice blushed and giggled. "The woman who called 911 said she saw a guy jogging along with a brown bag on his head, and that was all."
"Where, in Lakeville?" Cyndia asked. A lot of the calls taken at the Communications center were for crime in Lakeville: drugs, domestic abuse, robbery and even an occasional murder.
"No, Oakdale," Alice said.
They both lived in the small suburb of San Diego out near the desert. It was a safe bedroom community, and Cyndia was surprised to hear of a weenie-wager in her town.
"Don't be too concerned. They should be able to spot him pretty easily. There can't be that many brown paper bags around." The two women walked out of the ladies' room, their female giggles rebounding along the empty hallways. Alice took a breath and started running toward the stairwell.
"Hey, slow down! What's your rush?" Cyndia hurried to catch up.
"Didn't I tell you? It's my new weight-loss plan. I run everywhere." Alice's cheeks flushed pink and her eyes sparkled. "I'm down two pounds already this week." She opened the door to the stairs. Cyndia didn't think Alice was fat, just a bit…fluffy.
"I suppose skipping the elevator is part of the plan too?" Cyndia didn't need to lose weight, but exercise never hurt. She wasn't getting any younger.
"Yup, come on." Alice skipped down the steps. "Is Greg working tonight?" Her voice bounced up and down the empty cement stairwell.
Cyndia paused for a breath on the landing and then kept going. Alice had a major crush on Cyndia's handsome younger brother, but she knew that sweet Alice wasn't Greg's type. He liked them fast, loose and slightly dim.
"No, he's off tonight and tomorrow then he goes on day shift. Did I tell you he applied to be on the motorcycle unit?" The minute the words were out of her mouth, Cyndia regretted them. What could be more dashing than a man in uniform on a motorcycle? Not to her, of course, but Alice was young.
"I love riding motorcycles. Did I ever tell you?" Alice's mouth dropped into a perfect pink O, and her eyes grew large and misty.
"Yeah, he'd be perfect. You know what they say about motorcycle deputies. They all have really big…" Cyndia cupped her hand at her waist and grinned,"…badges."
The women exited the Communications center into the quiet night. Soft vapor-laden air swirled around the cars and trucks parked in neat rows. Fog had rolled in from the ocean, and the all lights in the lot had misty halos around them. Cyndia shivered, and shoved her arms into her hunter green cardigan.
"I'm two rows over. See you tomorrow, Alice." Cyndia wove between the parked cars, heading for her own beat-up ten-year-old Toyota.
"Oh no!" At the sound of her friend's voice, Cyndia turned back and hurried to her friend's side.
Alice stood by her bright red Volkswagen bug, stomped her foot and crossed her arms. "I have a flat tire. I'll never get to the party before everyone leaves."
"Call AAA. I'll wait with you until they arrive. That shouldn't take too long." Cyndia shivered and wished she'd brought her jacket.
"Are you kidding? The last time I had trouble this time of night I waited for over an hour." Big tears flooded Alice's eyes and threatened to spill out onto her silky cheeks. "I'd call my dad, but he has to get up early in the morning and go to work."
Fatigue pulled at Cyndia, and she bit her tongue. Why did she always have to be the strong one, the problem solver? All she wanted to do was go home, snuggle in bed, and finish reading her romance novel. She had to find out how Lady Silvia managed to entice Lord Northfield into marrying her.
"Tell you what. I'll drive you to the party and stay for a few minutes to make sure Betty or someone else can take you home." Cyndia was tired but hated for her friend to miss the action. She was sure to see a lot of guys from the department, and the idea of marrying a police officer was glamorous to Alice. This might be her chance to meet the right guy. "Then tomorrow I'll pick you up an hour early. You can call AAA and have the flat fixed before shift, okay?"
Alice hugged Cyndia. "Great. That way you can join the fun."
The party was in full swing by the time the women arrived at the bar. The Dew Drop Inn had been in Oakdale for as long as Cyndia could remember. Her mom and dad had gone there when they were courting. A long bar sat against the wall, blemished by a thousand cigarette butts and wet glass bottoms. Large men, drinking beer and cheering one another on, surrounded four pool tables in the back of the room. The ancient jukebox wailed with a country song full of anger and loss. A few couples bumped together on the postage-stamp sized dance floor as they swayed and rubbed up against one another. Cyndia thought the whole place was depressing and could never figure out its charm.
"There they are." Alice walked slowly toward the gang of people. She hesitated at the edge of the group until someone grabbed her hand, pulled her into the middle of the action where she shyly greeted her fellow dispatchers, deputies and a few assorted "civilians."
The noise echoing off the walls gave Cyndia an instant headache and the smell of spilled beer and old cigarette smoke made it worse. Smoking had been outlawed in bars a few years ago, but the carpet, walls and everything else still reeked.
She headed for a relatively quiet corner and ordered a coke. The bartender had just set the glass in front of her when a deep voice rumbled in her ear.
"Is this stool taken?"
Cyndia whirled and looked up, up, up. Her heart flipped over in her chest. The eyes that went with the fantastic voice swept over her. Hair the color of summer wheat framed his tanned face. His Paul Newman blue eyes stared into her soul. A low heat began to simmer inside her body. Even in this crowd his presence was compelling. His smile rendered her mute. Standing in front of her was the man of her dreams.