TWENTY-FIVE

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With the tie pushing on her neck, hair twisted and pulled up underneath her police cap, Virginia felt like a trussed-up turkey. The temperature wasn't helping, either. Los Angeles was in the midst of a typical July heat wave and the courthouse's expansive hallways weren't easy to keep cool. She could feel the sweat trickling down her back. The turkey was roasting.

They were all there—all eight officers from the drug bust, including Captain Beal—congregated outside the courtroom, waiting for their case to be called. The dress uniforms had been captain's orders. And as she yanked at the tie for the umpteenth time with a silent curse, she spotted the man she had been trying not to think about since that day in her kitchen.

Spinelli was walking down the hall with three other men, one of whom she recognized as Gregg Anderson, the Chilvati family lawyer. Dressed in a dark suit and standing taller than the rest, Spinelli had an in-charge aura that was evident, even from a distance. All comments were directed at him, acknowledged only by the occasional slightest of nods. He looked as he always did: confident, intimidating . . . and utterly gorgeous.

She couldn't tear her eyes away.

"The boss himself is here. Wow, what an honor," Walt scoffed from his position to her left.

"Must be worried about this one," Joe, to her right, muttered in her ear.

Bookended by the two of them, she stood silent, stunned by Spinelli's presence, mentally cursing the fact that she was currently dressed like a man—complete with tie clip. And even as she tried to block it, it was impossible not to replay that kiss in her mind, right up to the point where their bodies had pressed together and—

Damn this heat, she silently moaned. It had been hot before, but now it was getting downright unbearable. She yanked on the tie threatening to choke her, knowing full well it wasn't the temperature that was to blame for this sudden challenge in catching a breath.

Before turning into the courtroom, he spotted the gathering of police officers and halted. As he searched, Virginia's pulse went into overdrive. Once his eyes found hers, they didn't stray. Without any explanation to his party, he detoured, heading in her direction, leaving the other three with no other option but to wait.

He had an effect on men too. She noticed Walt and Joe straightening their spines, attempting to gain just that little bit more height as they watched his approach.

"Lieutenant Robins, such a wonderful surprise to see you here," Spinelli said with a slow smile.

Her throat was dry, but she forced it to work. "Mr. Spinelli, good to see you," she replied, hoping the stiffness she heard in her own voice came off as professional and not flustered.

The two men flanking her took a step forward, then closed the gap between them, blocking Spinelli's access. "Why don't you crawl back into the hole you came out of, Spinelli," Joe sneered, looking like he would be quite comfortable with an all-out brawl in the middle of an LA courthouse. Walt was silent, but his message was just as clear when he rolled his shoulders and clenched his fists.

Spinelli seemed hesitant to shift his eyes from hers, but when he did, his expression darkened. "What are you, the cliché king?" he taunted.

Joe took another step in Spinelli's direction just as the bailiff came out of the courtroom to call their case.

Deciding to put an end to the three-way testosterone surge, Virginia placed a hand on the closest shoulder of both Walt and Joe. "Knock it off." She gave Spinelli an apologetic smile. "Sorry, they had waaaaay too much coffee this morning. Right, boys?"

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