“Hey,” Dillon said, twisting his body so that he could look out the back glass, “I think that was her.”
“Shit!” Jason slammed on the brakes, throwing his partner against the seat and filling their noses with the smell of burning rubber.
Ignoring Dillon’s outcry, Jason wrenched the wheel to the right, forcing the large vehicle into a one-eighty in the narrow street. He flicked the switch to activate the sirens and jammed his foot on the gas pedal.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Dillon demanded, gripping the dash as they bounced over a large pothole. “She’s a journalist, not a serial killer!”
“Are you sure about that?” Jason asked as they shot after the disappearing Taurus.
“C’mon. You don’t really believe she had anything to do with . . .,” he had to stop momentarily or bite his tongue as they came down hard on another dip in the road, “. . . the murder,” he finished. “What is this really about?”
“It’s about doing my job,” he said through gritted teeth, “which I can’t do if this possede keeps getting in my way.”
Raw anger roiled through Jason, scalding his insides. Why did he constantly have to justify his actions? He had guessed that Jessie would come right back to one of his prime suspects, and there she was! Wasn’t that proof enough that she couldn’t be allowed to run loose, making a mess of his investigation? He had tried asking, he had tried ordering. The only thing left was to throw her in jail.
They were coming up on the little white car at an alarming rate, so Jason let up on the gas, a grim smile of satisfaction on his face. Now little miss pain-in-the-ass was going to find out what happened to people who couldn’t mind their own business and stay out of his.
I was driving on autopilot, completely absorbed in working out how I was going to sell Jason Anders on the idea of a partnership. Convincing him was going to be hard, since I wasn’t completely sold on the idea myself. I was so focused I didn’t hear the shrieking siren until it was nearly on top of me.
What now? I reflexively glanced down at the speedometer and was relieved to see that I was only slightly over the speed limit. He’s probably not even after me, I reasoned as I gently eased over to the shoulder of a road that twined around like an oiled snake.
No such luck. The vehicle pulled up behind me and two men climbed out. I actually felt my seat fall from under me as I recognized the tall, brawny frame striding ahead of the smaller man jogging to catch up. It was as if, by thinking about him, I had conjured him up from the hot, dusty mountainside. But, given the look on his face, I didn’t think he had collaboration on his mind. Neither did I, truth be told, as I watched him approach. The man truly was gorgeous – all hard muscles and sharp angles. Just looking at him made me want to get naked.
I rolled down my window, stuck out my head, and immediately felt the moisture in the air drape itself over my skin like a hot, wet blanket.
“Hello, Officer.” I gave him my best coquettish smile and batted my eyelashes. “What’s the problem?”
“You know damned well what the problem is,” he growled, completely ignoring my best attempts at air-headed flirtation.
I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone look that fiercely pissed-off, and I was fairly certain the flush in his cheeks didn’t come from the heat.
“I honestly don’t,” I said, completely at a loss. “Why did you come screaming down a mountain to pull me over? Was my taillight out? Did I come to a rolling stop? What?”
“Jessie Wells, you’re under arrest.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “What are the charges?” I couldn’t believe this! He hated me enough to put me in jail? The man had some serious issues.
“Jase,” his partner said, laying a hand on his shoulder, “let’s just calm down, here.”
Anders jerked away, not the least bit calm.
“You have the right to remain silent . . .”
I listened in stunned silence as he recited my rights, not really taking in any of the words coming from his mouth. This was really happening. I was going to jail!
“Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
“No,” I answered, my voice shrill. “I don’t understand any of this.”
“Well then, let me explain it to you,” he snarled. “I told you to stay out of this, but you went right ahead sticking your pretty nose into everything. Threatening Elroy was the last straw.”
It took a minute for me to process what he had said, as my brain was stuck on hearing that he thought my nose was pretty. How much could he hate me if he thought I had a pretty nose? I quickly came crashing back to earth as the rest of what he said seeped through the happy-crap haze filling my head.
“Wait! I never threatened Bronson Elroy. In fact, he threatened me.”
“Is that so?” he asked, his quirked brow practically shouting disbelief. “And just what did he threaten you with?”
“He threatened to call the police.” Okay, that sounded ridiculous, but for some reason, I had no filter when it came to this man.
“Well, he made good on his threat, so I suggest you quit arguing with me and step out of the car.”
“C’mon, Jase.” His partner tried again to soothe the angry beast. “Ease up. She can follow us in.”
From the vicious frown on Anders’ face, I doubted he was going to give even that much. He was being completely unreasonable. Snark hadn’t worked, flirting hadn’t worked. How was I going to get through to him? I thought back to my encounter with Cara. She hadn’t let me in until I had let her in, or at least pretended to. Maybe the same thing would work with Jason.
“Look,” I said, “I get it, but you don’t need to be afraid of me. I don’t want to make you look bad, I really don’t. We can work together. That way, you get credit for the collar and I get my answers.” There! Compassion and pragmatism all rolled into one.
His frown didn’t relax, however. In fact, his eyes darkened and the flush spread from his cheeks to cover his entire face. “Afraid?” he bellowed. “You think I’m afraid of you?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “Why else would you be so angry with me all the time.”
“You know what? You can drive your own car back. Dillon, you ride with her.” He shot his scorching gaze back at me. “I’ll see you in jail.”
He turned and stomped away. Dillon and I both jumped when he slammed the door of the Explorer and swerved back onto the road.
“Wow,” I said, flummoxed. “That didn’t go the way I had planned.”
“Yeah, I gathered that,” Dillon answered with a grin. “Not exactly good at making friends, are you?”
He meant it as a joke, but I felt a sharp sting, like I’d been slapped.
“I don’t need friends like you and your hot-head partner,” I snapped.
“Yikes! Not you, too? What the hell is wrong with everyone today? I mean, Jeez! You’re both . . .,” he broke off and I picked up some sort of weird vibe coming off him. His eyes lit up like he’d just uncovered some holy grail. Well, I wish to God he’d share it with me, because I could use a miracle right about now.
“We better get going,” Dillon said walking around my car to open the passenger-side door and climbing in. “I don’t want to know what Jason might do to the both of us if we don’t show up on time.”
I took my place in the driver’s seat, wincing as my hands touched the burning rubber of the steering wheel. Despite my discomfort, both physical and emotional, I resumed my journey downhill. I waited until we were well on our way before I risked a quick look at Dillon. “So, what was that all about?” I asked.
He didn’t return my glance, but continued to stare out the windshield at the dusty shimmer left by his speeding cohort. “I really don’t know,” he answered with a shrug.
“Oh, come on!” I wasn’t about to be put off. “You know something. Why does your partner think I’m the love child of Maleficent and Freddy Krueger?”
That, at least, got him to shift so that he could face me. “That would be an interesting combination,” he said. “You take after your mother.”
“I really don’t know anything,” he insisted as he pulled a pair of aviators out of his tee-shirt pocket. “I just think it’s interesting how the two of you set each other off, is all. I didn’t really understand until I saw you together. My bro has it really bad.”
“Has what bad? The flu?”
Dillon snickered. “No, he’s got it bad for you.”
I felt a kick to the solar plexus and nearly took us over the cliff.
“Whoa, there!” Dillon exclaimed, reaching over in case he needed to grab the wheel, but I slapped his hand away.
“That’s insane,” I said. “Detective Anders hates my guts. He arrested me, for crying out loud!”
“I know,” Dillon said with a smile. “Poor bastard thinks if he locks you in a cell he can lock you out of his head.”
“I agree,” he said sliding on the sunglasses.
“No, I mean it’s crazy to think Anders has a thing for me.”
“Hmm,” he hummed as he swiveled back to the front.
This was beyond impossible! Jason Anders was eye candy, and he could definitely get me hot and bothered, but I wasn’t going there. While I could see the two of us having a really great night or two, I didn’t see him as a one-night-stand sort of guy. And I wasn’t a forever-and-always sort of woman. Realistically, I knew it was far-fetched to think that he was interested in me, but how could I work with him now? I would constantly be wondering, worrying, and distracted. I was going to have to find a way to get what I needed on my own. Assuming I ever got out of jail.
It wasn’t like on T.V. or in the movies, being in jail. For one thing, it didn’t smell like puke or body odor. Rather, the stringent scent of bleach stung my nose. And there wasn’t a drunk in the corner singing himself to sleep or a streetwalker with a heart of gold offering encouragement. I was alone in the cell – completely, utterly alone. I would even have welcomed the company of a tattooed gang-banger as long as he didn’t have a shiv hidden in the toe of his boot. I so wanted to get out of this place, but I didn’t have money for bail. I was good and stuck. Damn Jason Anders and his crazy vendetta against me! Was it me personally, or reporters in general, that he loathed? I thought about his partner’s assertion that Anders had a thing for me and snorted. Sure, he did. And Bigfoot was going to smash through the walls and save me.
I had no idea how long I had been incarcerated – they took my phone and I wasn’t wearing a watch – but it had to be hours. I sat on a small, hard cot covered with a scratchy army-green blanket and stared at the naked white walls. The sounds of muffled voices and sharp footfalls made it past the iron bars and into my ears, but none of them were heading toward me. I was just contemplating marking time by scratching hash marks in the paint with my fingernails when a pair of feet came clopping my way. The man riding those feet soon came into view. He was tall and bulky with pasty skin and a carroty buzz cut. A faded uniform at least two sizes too small stretched across his chest.
“Ms. Wells, it’s time to go,” he said, finding the tips of his worn shoes more interesting than my face.
He unlocked the cell door and held it open for me. I stared at him with what must have been an incredibly stupefied look, because he tried again, only much slower and louder.
“You can go now.”
“What?” I asked, because I really did feel stupid.
“Someone paid your bail,” he enunciated. “You can go.”
“Don’t know. You’ll have to ask at the counter.”
I hesitated, completely baffled. Who would want to bail me out, and why? Who had something to gain by my freedom? Or, more likely, who had something to gain by my owing them? I knew damn well no one would have done it out of the goodness of his or her heart. Despite popular opinion, I was a likeable person, but no one liked me that much. I needed to think about this – weigh the pros and cons.
The iron bars started closing. “Fine,” my new friend said when I didn’t move. “Stay in here, if you want. I’ve got a game to watch.”
“Wait!” I cried and jumped across the threshold. “I’m going.” While I hated the thought of owing someone a favor, I really, really hated the thought of staying in that cell any longer.
“How many hours have I been here?” I asked the officer as we walked down the bleak gray hallway in the direction of noise and light.
He glanced over at me with a rather piteous look on his face. “About forty-five minutes.”
Forty-five minutes! I had only been locked in solitary confinement for forty-five minutes? I prided myself on my self-reliance, but it was far different when solitude was imposed rather than a conscious decision on my part.
The woman holding the fort behind the laminated countertop wore crisp blues and a no-nonsense expression that made me want to confess every crime I’d committed since grade school. God, I would make a terrible spy! She handed me my phone, car keys, and the paperwork I had to sign in exchange for my freedom.
“Who paid my bail?” I asked as I scrawled my name on the documents before me.
She jerked her head to the right, and I looked over to see an elderly woman sitting in a plastic chair against the wall. Shoulder-length blond curls hid the gray and her housedress had been replaced by a pair of orange leggings topped by a white tunic with swirling strokes of orange and red. The red matched the shiny gloss on her lips and the bright sneakers she wore on her feet.
“Agnes?” I gasped.
“That’s me,” she shouted, even though I was standing only about ten feet away. “Who were you expecting? Fifi?”
I checked my phone (it had, indeed, been only forty-five minutes) and shoved it in my pocket as I walked toward her. “What are you doing here?”
“Saving your butt, sweetie.”
“But why? And how did you even know what happened to me?”
“I heard it all on my scanner. As soon as I did, I called a cab and here I am.”
“Why?” I repeated. I was beginning to feel like a broken record, but no one was telling me anything that I could wrap my head around. Agnes riding to my rescue was as surreal to me as Bigfoot busting through the walls and carrying me off into the sunset.
“Because I reckoned you needed my help. Don’t think I didn’t notice the moths flying out of that wallet you pulled out the other day.”
“You don’t even know me. What possible reason could you have for helping me?”
“Fifi’s a real good judge of character.”
“Fifi?” I rubbed my forehead with the fingers of both hands, not sure how much more I could take.
“She likes you. And I do, too,” she added. “You’re going the distance for family. Even though you don’t want to, you’re doing the right thing by your daddy. I admire that.”
“So, you jumped in a taxi and raced down here to bail me out jail because you admire me?” I tried to keep the skepticism out of my voice, I really did, but I couldn’t help myself. I wasn’t buying her story. She wanted something from me. I knew about her desire to be a part of the investigation, but was there something more?
“Well, there’s also your good taste in movies.” Her cackle filled the entire jail, causing everyone to look in her direction. She preened a bit before dismissing them and returning her attention to me. “Let’s go.”
I was going to have to stay on my toes around the aging starlet, but what the hell. I’d dealt with much worse. “Since Fifi’s not here, I guess I’m driving.”