TWENTY-SIX

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Virginia was on her way home, heading down Main Street at ten P.M. on Friday night after a long, grueling shift. It was the perfect time to be driving in the city. Traffic was sparse and the daytime urban hustle had been replaced by a more peaceful lull. Even the sound of the traffic lights clicking to announce their changing colors could be heard over the engine noise of the rare passing car.

The oppressive heat wasn't lifting. Now into day number five, it was breaking records all over the place. And today had been the nastiest, the kind of day when your shoes felt like they might melt into tacky rubber and stick to the pavement. Air quality warnings had become an almost hourly occurrence. Even the bugs seemed to take heed and stay away, choosing instead to relax on outstretched branches and fan themselves with their wings.

The longevity of this particular heat wave had put people in the worst of moods. There had been a steady progression of calls at the precinct—mostly misdemeanors—all related to the heat: neighbors had called in to complain when a young couple's argument over who was supposed to have bought the new air conditioning unit had escalated to a yelling match; a local store owner had fans stolen from his shelves when he was momentarily distracted; a group of boys had decided to make the fountain at the local park their personal swimming pool, sans bathing suits. She had been in and out of the building all day on these types of calls. Oddly enough, she wasn't tired. It was more of a mental burn out she was feeling, a very restless sensation. She found herself in an unusual funk.

Janine was at her parents' house. They had started taking her one weekend per month since Tom's attempted kidnapping, mainly to give Virginia a break but also to spend more time with their granddaughter. They picked her up at school on the selected Friday afternoon and drove her back home on Sunday. The thought of going home to an empty house wasn't doing much to improve her mood.

She drove with the windows open, letting the warm air blow through her hair to the back of her neck, the one spot of skin that had had a constant dew of sweat all day long.

As she slowed down and came to a stop at the next light, she recognized the car sitting in front of her. "Well, well, well . . . Mr. Spinelli," she mused. The Ferrari sat low, hugging the ground, all pent-up energy like a cat about to pounce. Her eyes drifted down to his license plate. "Desire," she muttered. "Really? Not too egotistical are we?"

The light turned green and the Ferrari made its move, jumping forward without any wasted time. She kept up to him but not too close. He stayed within the speed limit even though there was a wide-open road ahead of him. The light at the next intersection turned yellow and the Ferrari geared down, coming to a stop.

She didn't know whether it was the chaotic activity all day long or the fact that she had seen him earlier in the week that had her changing to the adjacent lane and rolling to a stop beside him. Leaning forward, she checked to make sure he was alone.

He was.

She revved her engine like a teenager, an open invitation to race. Spinelli—no doubt having heard the offer many times before—was slow to turn his head. Once he did, a smile of recognition eased onto his handsome face. She felt warmth spread out across her body. Jesus, I swear that man could melt ice with just one look.

The window came down. "Lieutenant Robins, are you challenging me?" His gaze slid along the side of her car. "You do realize you're driving a Ford, don't you?"

"You'd be surprised what this baby can do. It still surprises me sometimes." Pressing down on the gas pedal a few times, a powerful rumble accentuated her words.

"Well . . . okay then," was all he said.

They both looked to the opposing light, waiting for it to start its cycle. Engines revved, prepping for permission to go. Green turned to yellow and Virginia counted it down in her head as the cars hummed their impending duel. Three . . . two . . . one—

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