From Chapter One of In Too Deep
Releasing September 20, 2012
A loud boom of thunder and the unmistakable knowledge he was no longer alone woke Hunt Brandon from a sound, and for the first time in weeks, dreamless sleep. The bedside clock read 3:00 a.m. Shit. He’d only been in bed a couple of hours.
Something clinked. Keys, maybe? Whatever it was, it wasn’t a normal sound, especially considering he lived alone…and preferred it that way. His hand slipped beneath his pillow and closed around cold steel. Reassured that he was still in control of the situation, he made sure the clip was in place. Rolling to his feet, he crouched down beside his bed and scooted toward the wall beside the door.
Soft footsteps were barely discernible but to Hunt they sounded a jackhammer pounding against concrete. His partner accused him of having ears like an elephant and, in this instance, he was more than grateful for the exceptional hearing he’d inherited from his mother.
His eyes accustomed to the darkness, he saw the brass handle turn. The door swept open without a hint of sound. Hunt waited. If his sleep was going to be interrupted, it was going to be for a hell of a lot more than just an unlawful entry collar.
Go ahead, buddy. Make your move. I can have the bracelets on you and a patrol car here in less than five minutes. And, hopefully, he’d manage a couple more hours of shuteye.
Dressed in black to fade in with the darkness, the figure moved into the room with an economy of motion. A thin beam of light swept across the top of Hunt’s dresser until it fell on his wallet and shield. Tucking the flashlight beneath one arm, the figure picked up his wallet simultaneously with the twist of Hunt’s wrist that switched on the bedside lamp.
Weapon trained on his uninvited guest, he stood. “Put the wallet down slowly and raise your hands in the air.” With reflexes born out of years of intense practice, he flexed his grip on the gun, anticipating the intruder’s next move.
The figure hesitated but the slide of the clip made compliance the only choice. With a sound of frustration his uninvited visitor dropped the leather trifold to the dresser and extended hands in the air.
Hunt reached for the handcuffs on the bedside table. “Now turn around and remove the mask. I like to look my unexpected guests in the eye.”
Fingers encased in black leather gloves caught the bottom of the black face mask and tugged it upward. A wealth of vibrant, copper-colored hair spilled across slender shoulders and, as Hunt’s mouth fell open, the intruder tossed her head back, revealing a porcelain face and eyes as green as polished emeralds.
He almost grinned. So that was why the footsteps had been minimal. Though the woman was tall and curvy, she held herself with a grace that couldn’t be anything other than natural. A gymnast maybe? Definitely athletic.
“You’re staring at me.” The voice, a husky drawl, brought his gaze to her face.
“I think I’m entitled. You broke into my home.”
“Actually, I didn’t have to break in. You should remember to lock your doors.”
He hadn’t forgotten to lock his door, but then, he hadn’t actually expected a thief, no matter how beautiful, to admit to a crime. With a grunt, he tossed the silver bracelets in her direction. “Put those on and then tell me your name.”
She snapped the handcuffs into place with an efficiency that told him she’d done it before. “Is that usually the first thing you do when someone breaks into your house? Ask a name?”
Her carefree attitude spoke volumes. This wasn’t a woman who was intimidated by a cop. And since she hadn’t bolted from his bedroom at the first glimpse of his badge, he figured she’d probably crossed paths with one or two detectives in her time.
“Considering no one’s had the balls to break in here before, that’s not a question I can answer.”
“You mean because you’re a cop? Is that supposed to deter people?”
“I don’t advertise my profession on my front door.”
She lifted one shoulder, a careless shrug designed to irritate. It almost succeeded. “It doesn’t matter. Everything about you screams cop.”
“To most criminals, yeah.”
Her full lips curved into a smile. “Is that what you think I am?”
“Lady, you broke into my home. I believe your presence supports that allegation. Now I’ll ask you again, what’s your name?”
“And if I refuse to tell you, Detective Brandon? Are you going to arrest me?”
“I’m going to do that either way.” He glanced around the room, his mind beginning a slow spin. “You know, most burglars start with the stuff they see in the first room they come to. Since you didn’t, I’m assuming you’re after something else. You want to tell me what that is before I read you your rights?”
“Not particularly.” The two words were clipped.
“Fine. Then we can do this in an interrogation room with weak coffee and bright lights.”
She took a step toward him. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I won’t be able to join you.”
“Not one more move,” he threatened, lifting the nose of the gun in warning. Dammit, he didn’t want to have to shoot her. That tight lycra clinging to her curves without a doubt concealed a body that was damn near perfect. It’d be a shame to scar it.
Continuing to smile, she lowered her arms to shoulder level. “You don’t really want to arrest me, Detective. In fact, you want to know more about me. I can see that much in your eyes, and putting me behind bars won’t serve your purpose.”
She had a point but he was still a cop. And she’d just committed a crime. Duty screamed loudly in his ear. “Just tell me why you’re here. You don’t have a gun so I’m assuming you didn’t come here in a half-assed attempt to kill me. And you don’t look stupid so I can’t imagine you’d really consider doing that anyway.”
Tipping her head to one side, she studied him with green eyes that seemed to glow in the meager light offered by the lamp. “I suppose I could tell you that much but this isn’t exactly how I planned our first conversation.”
The slight tipping of her lips told him she found his retort amusing, though he saw something in her eyes…a touch of pain, maybe? “Okay, fine. You have something I need.”
One eyebrow lifted. “That’s a different approach.”
She made a sound in the back of her throat. “Not sex.”
“Damn my luck.” He was starting to enjoy the dialogue, and his guard slipped another notch—along with his gun.
Apparently, just the moment she’d been waiting for. She leaped forward and her feet landed solidly in the center of his chest. The force of the blow rocketed him backward, flinging him onto the mattress.
He pushed himself off, adrenaline pumping through his veins like high-octane. With one swipe of her hand she took out the light and darkness claimed the room. He took a moment to regain his bearings but she wasn’t waiting.
She caught him across the cheek with a swift uppercut left hook. Damn. She hit like a man. With a string of curses he stumbled back, staggering across the carpet. Two feet caught him in the solar plexus again, slamming against his ribs like a baseball bat. The breath ripped from his lungs, he dropped to his knees and tried to suck in necessary oxygen.
The beautiful redhead didn’t wait around to see if she’d killed him. Instead she burst out of the bedroom and down the hallway, her movements as quick as the flame of a lighter. Seconds later he heard the thump of the front door.
Shit. For the first time in his life he’d been bested by a woman. That didn’t sit too well with him but what made matters worse, he’d liked the physical contact. In his line of work he met a lot of female victims and few aggressors. So meeting one who could knock him on his ass definitely upped his curiosity.
She’d definitely been right about one thing—he didn’t want her behind bars, not before he knew just what it was she wanted from him. For all he knew, it might be something he’d enjoy.