My 60th Book for Harlequin!
KANSAS CITY COP
Copyright ©2018 by Julie Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
Coming February 20th in digital; March 1st in print (earlier to Harlequin subscribers and on the Harlequin website)
KANSAS CITY COP Excerpt…
He found Gina in the darkened living room, sticking her cell phone into the pocket of her jeans. She flipped on a lamp beside the sofa where Lupe had set out a pillow and a blanket. He recognized the tight set of her full, bow-shaped lips as she waged an internal battle between the urge to tell him to leave and the desire to give her family the reassurance his presence here seemed to provide. Although hushed, so as not to disturb anyone else in the house, her tone was strictly business. “Derek said he’ll do the paperwork for the lab and file a report on the assault.”
Mike whispered back. “The one on you? Or the one on your sister?”
Gina nodded as she circled around the couch and gestured for him to follow her toward the front door. “Thank you for staying so long, but it’s late. You have work in the morning and need to get some sleep. I’ve checked the doors and windows twice already. Sylvie’s not sneaking out, and I’m not letting anybody get in. We’ll be all right.”
“I know you’ve got your bases covered. I’m staying, anyway.”
She tilted her proud chin to his. “Because I’m weak?”
“You’re the strongest woman I know.” He reached out to brush his knuckles across her soft cheek, not liking the chill he felt there. “I don’t want anything to happen to this family. Another set of eyes and ears can’t hurt. If I can help—”
“You have helped. You always help.” She tipped her cheek into his hand, and the silky curls of her hair tickled his skin, waking the nerve endings that flared to life whenever she got close. “Sometimes I wonder if you’re for real. You’re just too damn—”
“Don't you dare say nice again, like it's some kind of plague.” Gina’s pupils dilated in the shadows, turning her eyes into rich pools of midnight. She fisted her hand in the front of his shirt, and Mike knew he was in for another argument as she tugged him toward the privacy of the kitchen. “What now? I swear, woman…”
Once his shoes reached the tile floor, she yanked harder, untucking the front of his shirt and pulling him off balance as she bumped into the lower cabinets. Mike braced his hands against the countertop on either side of her so he wouldn’t crash into her. But before he could ask what this sudden escape from the living room was all about, she slipped her damaged hand behind his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers.
The unexpected contact shot a bolt of lightning through him, igniting an urgent heat. There was something purposeful, maybe a little angry, in the way she clung to him and fused her mouth to his. Where that anger was directed, Mike couldn’t tell. And, at the moment, Mike didn’t care. Instinctively, his mouth moved over Gina’s, claiming what she offered. Her lips softened, parted. With a husky gasp that went straight to his groin, Gina swept her tongue between his lips. Her fingers clutched at the edge of his jaw, stroking across his beard stubble, holding their mouths together. This wasn’t anger; this was need. This was attraction simmering out of control. This was the inevitable release of every emotion roiling through this house tonight.
Mike understood that fire. That desperation. That crazy need to connect to the one person who could ease the fear, the anger, the need and the passion that had grown too powerful to control anymore.
Slipping his hands to her waist and pulling her body into his, Mike took control of the kiss, suckling on her sweet bottom lip, soothing the trembling response with his tongue. She pulled at the hem of his polo until she could slip her hands inside to palm the skin of his chest and stomach, branding him with her desire. He returned the favor, tugging her blouse from her jeans and splaying his fingers over the smooth curve of her back.
He felt the chill of her skin as he explored the length of her spine and flare of her hips. He dropped gentle kisses against her eyebrows and cheeks and the rapid beat of her pulse beneath her ear. The woman was responsive in a way that made him feel powerful, male, whole. Gina warmed at every spot he touched and cooed soft, excited moans that hummed in her throat. Her fingers raked through his hair, roamed over his shoulders, traveled inside his shirt, kindling an incendiary response that made him want to reclaim her lips and loosen the snap of her jeans and tug down the zipper so he could dip his fingers beneath the elastic band of her panties and fill his hands with that irresistible backside.
“Is Sylvie okay?” she murmured against his mouth, running her fingers along the column of his throat, nipping at the point of his chin, turning his response into a hoarse growl.
“You want to talk now?”
“Yes.” She tipped her head back as he trailed his lips down the arch of her throat, seeking out the source of those sexy hums. She whimpered when he found a particularly sensitive bundle of nerves. “No. Is she?”
Mike chuckled his response against her skin. “She’ll be fine. The bruises on her cheek and wrist are superficial. It might not hurt to talk to a counselor, though.”
“I’ll arrange it.” Gina stretched up on tiptoe, her small breasts pillowing against his chest as she guided his mouth back to hers for another hungry kiss.
Mike indulged himself in the pleasure firing throughout his body. He grabbed her sweet, round bottom and lifted her, thinking he was never going to get enough of this woman until he was buried deep inside her. His hard length pushed against the zipper of his jeans, seeking out the heat of her body.
This make-out session was going from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds. And while their bodies were definitely willing, Mike had to wonder if their brains were on board with where this was headed. He moved his hands up to feather his fingers into her hair and rested his forehead against Gina’s, sucking in a deep breath of much-needed air. “I need to understand the rules here. There is no this, no us, yet it’s all right for you to kiss me like I’m the only snack on a deserted island?”
“Forget the rules. Just…” She tipped her head to seal their lips together in brief kiss. “I don’t like being scared or vulnerable.”
“Tell me about it.” He welcomed the cinch of her arms around his waist, as he took her mouth in a leisurely kiss. “Sounds like you’ve talked to your family about me. Maybe said a couple of nice things.”
“Don’t let it go to your head, Choir Boy.”
Oh, but there were a lot of other things going straight to his head.
Her hands slipped beneath his shirt, singeing the skin on his back. “I don’t like feeling as if I can’t handle myself in a fight.”
“You’ll get there. I promise.”
The kiss jockeyed back and forth with forays and acceptance, with tantalizing discovery and revisiting a favorite angle or caress. “I’m glad you were here, that you had my back.”
“No. Not any—” she gasped as his palm settled over her breast, squeezing the proud nipple between his thumb and hand through the lace of her bra. She buried her face against his chest, pushing the pert handful into his greedy hand, her soft gasps belying her breathless words. “I want this, but… I can’t do a relationship. I don’t have time. It wouldn’t be fair to you…all my responsibilities—”
“Do you hear me complaining?” He squeezed her bottom and lifted her. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and Mike’s pulse thundered in his ears. He wanted her. She wanted him. “There’s just now.” He spun around, leaning against the sink. But her knees butted against the countertop. “We’re both adults. We’re safe.” He spotted the chair sticking out from the table and carried her toward it. “Don’t overthink this.”
He sank onto the seat, pulling Gina into his lap. He couldn’t help but push against her as her thighs squeezed around his hips. They kissed as their hands fumbled between them. Mike spread his thighs to ease the tightness in his jeans. But he’d miscalculated his position on the chair, and his right leg slipped off the seat. Gina shifted. Mike caught her, planting his foot to keep her in place. He moaned against her mouth, a blend of anticipation and frustration as the inevitable jolt of electricity sparked down his leg.
Hugging her tight to his body, Mike winced as he stood to alleviate the pressure on the pinched nerve. His broken body was betraying him. Just when Gina was letting him get close. Ah, hell. Now the leg had gone numb.
“Mike? Put me down.” Gina scrambled out of his grasp, pushing away but clinging to his arms until she found her balance. No, she was steadying him. “Are you hurt? Do you need to sit down?”
“Standing is better.” He pulled Gina back into his chest, dropping his chin to the crown of her hair. “I’m sorry. Nothing like a twinge of the old bursitis and my leg going numb to put a damper on things. Just let me hold you for a second, okay?”
But the woman couldn’t keep still. Now he’d just added himself to the long list of things she had to worry about. “What happened? Did Bobby hurt you?”
“Be still for a sec. I’ll be fine. It’s an old war wound acting up.”
When she stilled and leaned into him, Mike pulled her arms back around his waist and breathed deeply against her dark, fragrant hair, willing the numbness and the lingering desire still firing through his system to abate. “I was in a car wreck when I was sixteen. A friend was driving me home because I was too drunk to be responsible for myself. He died. Helping me. Pretty much every bone below my waist was shattered. Tore up muscles and nerves. The doctors weren’t sure I was going to walk again.”
Her arms tightened around him. He felt both hands hooking into the back of his belt as she nestled her cheek against his heart. “Your friend died?”
“Leave it to you to pick up on the important detail.” Mike distracted himself from the guilt and regret by sifting her hair through his fingers. Although this stance gave him a bird’s-eye view of that sexy bottom he wanted to grab again, he ignored the impulse and savored her willingness to simply be close to him without any kind of protest. “There’s some residual nerve damage I deal with. Regular exercise keeps the weight off the joints and the muscles strong, but sometimes I’ll twist wrong or even sleep wrong and tweak a nerve. Or the weather changes and all the metal pins and wires inside let me know it. But I’m walking now, with no braces and no cane. I can make love to a beautiful woman again—on most nights.” His wry comment only made her snuggle tighter. “I can run again. So I’m not complaining. Sorry to start something I couldn’t finish.”
She shook her head. “I started it. And I’m not complaining. I’m just glad you’re here.”
“We’re a pair, aren’t we? Gimpy and Hopalong. Maybe between us there’s a whole person who can take down the bad guys.” She released his belt to rub her hands over the backside of his jeans. Whether consciously or unconsciously done, the tender strokes across the muscles at the small of his back and hips felt good. The physical tension in him eased and the air around them cooled, even as something warmer and more profound than the desire they shared took hold inside him. “I’m sorry for all of the trouble I’ve brought to your life.”
“Trust me, Tiger. I know trouble. You ain’t it.” He leaned back against her arms, framing her face between his hands and tilting those rich brown eyes up to his. He dipped his head to press a firm kiss to her beautiful lips before reluctantly pulling away. “You need to go to bed. Alone.” He pulled her hands from his hips and backed away before he couldn’t leave her. “Do not sneak out of this house and go to that bar by yourself. Do not take on Bobby Estes by yourself. Take care of your family tonight. Rest. I’ll be here in the morning when you wake up.”
“You can’t stay.” Despite her words, she pawed at him, buttoning his shirt, smoothing down the spikes of his hair. If she kept touching him, they were going to end up right back where they’d been a few minutes ago. “You shouldn’t.”
Mike listened to what she needed, not what she wanted. He stopped her hands from their busywork and squeezed them in his grip. “This is moving too fast, and you’re not comfortable with that. I get it. I don’t want you to regret anything that happens between us.”
She nodded. “I don’t want you to regret anything either. I’m kind of a mess tonight.”
“Join the crowd. The timing sucks. That’s all.” He released her hands and brushed a thick curl off her cheek, tucking it behind her ear. “Mind if I call a couple of friends at KCPD and ask them to make a few extra passes through your neighborhood tonight?”
This time, she pulled his hand away. But she was smiling. “I’d appreciate it.”
“Consider it done.” He leaned in for one more peck on the lips, thought better of it considering his willpower around Gina and turned her toward her bedroom. “I’d better go to that couch now, or I never will.”
He followed her into the living room, pausing at the couch as she quietly opened the bedroom door and peeked in. Even through the shadows cast by the lone lamp, he could see her smiling.
“Sylvie asleep?” he whispered.
Gina nodded before opening the door wider. Mike glanced down at his wrinkled shirt, grinning at the mismatched buttons and buttonhole Gina had missed in her haste to redress him.
He glanced up to see her padding back across the hall to meet him. “Something wrong?”
She drew her shoulders back, steeling her posture before speaking. “It’s the five o’clock shadow. The way it’s just enough beard to be interesting, but not so shaggy that it obscures your face.” He frowned in confusion. She touched his face, running her fingertips along the line of his jaw. “Catnip,” she explained. “That’s my catnip. What I find attractive on a man. Something about the angles and the rawness is muy masculino. There’s something a little bad-boy about it that I want to touch.”
He didn’t need to be fluent in Spanish to understand that compliment. His face eased into a smile beneath her touch. He turned to kiss her palm before she pulled away. “Happy to oblige. Now get some sleep. I’ll stay up and keep an eye on things until the first black and white drives by. See you in the morning.”
Mike waited for the bedroom door to close behind her before he went back into the kitchen to splash some cold water on his face, tempering those last vestiges of desire lingering from that kiss. He called a couple of friends from his father’s SWAT team and explained the situation, needlessly promising a free lunch or workout at the clinic in exchange for their help watching the house.
Once his friends Trip and Alex had arrived and parked their truck across the street from Gina’s, Mike peeled off his shirt, belt and shoes and stretched out on the couch that was too short for him. It was after midnight when he heard the hushed sound of a door opening and closing. More curious than alarmed, he peeked around the end of the couch to see Gina in a long-sleeved T-shirt and pajama pants. Instead of heading for the bathroom, as both Lupe and Rollo had done earlier, she kissed her knuckles and rubbed them against her heart.
Mike remembered the superstitious action from the shooting range. “What do you need luck for at this time of night?”
She didn’t startle at his teasing voice from the shadows. “Not luck. Courage.”
He sat up, concerned by her answer. “Gina?”
“I saw the men out front. Thank you.” She circled the sofa and sat beside him. “I don’t want to have sex. I’m not ready to complicate us like that yet. But…could we snuggle for a little bit? I can’t seem to get warm again, and I can’t sleep when I’m cold, and…”
Relieved to know that Sylvie and everyone else in the house were safe, he wrapped the blanket around her and pulled her into his arms. “You don’t have to be the strong one all the time. Take a breather tonight. I’ve got you.”
Turning onto his side, he stretched out on the couch behind her, spooning his chest against her back. “This doesn’t mean anything,” she insisted. “I’m just cold.”
“Understood.” Grinning at the tough act he wasn’t buying, Mike draped his arm around her waist and tucked her as close as the blanket and dimensions of the couch allowed. “Warm enough?”
She nodded, resting her head on his arm. “This doesn’t make your legs cramp or hurt, does it?”
“Nope. Your shoulder okay?”
“It doesn’t hurt at all when I lie on this side.” Several seconds passed before he felt her body relax against his. “Sylvie gets up at seven for school.”
He ignored the bottom nestling against his groin and reached for his phone. “I’ll set my alarm for six.”
“You’re driving me to the crime lab and Sin City Bar in the morning.”
“Could we do that before my therapy session?”
Mike’s laugh was as hushed as the shadows surrounding them. “Only if you stop talking and get some rest.”
“Not my mother, Choir Boy.” Her answering laugh faded into a yawn.
He nudged aside the dark curls at the nape of her neck and pressed a kiss there. “How about your partner?”
She brushed her lips across the swell of his bicep. “Deal. For now.”
The strong fingers of her right hand latched onto his. In a matter of minutes, the tension eased from her body, and her soft, even breath against his skin let him know that she’d finally fallen asleep. “I’ll be your armor tonight, Tiger,” he whispered.
Mike settled into the most comfortable position he could manage and drifted toward sleep himself, knowing three things. Gina liked to keep things even between them—he’d revealed a secret, so she had, too. Two, there was far more danger surrounding this woman than even he’d realized. And three, the attraction simmering in his veins, the unexpected caring that took them beyond therapist and patient, or even friends, was mutual, no matter how stubbornly independent she tried to be.
Logically, he could see the pattern of his life repeating itself: play Knight in Shining Armor to a woman who needed him. Stir up his hormones and get his heart involved. The next inevitable step would be her realizing she no longer had a use for the strength and support he provided, and him getting hurt again.
But he couldn’t stay away from Gina. Out of all his relationships—Caroline, Frannie, others who’d grown tired of Mr. Nice Guy before anything real had started—none of them had gotten him twisted up inside as fast and feverishly as Officer Gina Galvan. Her bravery and vulnerability, her fierce determination to improve her standing and protect her family, her passionate impulses and the stubborn emotional shield she couldn’t quite keep in place—all got under his skin and inside his head and into his heart, refusing to answer to caution or logic.
He was falling for Gina Galvan. Falling hard and fast. And the closer he got, the more he realized there were too many ways he could lose her.