CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE. Nicole locked her car and hurried to the entrance, knowing she was late

Nicole locked her car and hurried to the entrance, knowing she was late. Her feet felt cramped in the heels she'd chosen to wear, not to mention that the skimpy dinner dress was not suitable for a cool fall evening. Once inside, she relaxed a bit, pausing to let the chill seep out before she looked for her dinner date. She'd only met Cheryl one time before, and she hoped she remembered what she looked like. How embarrassing would that be if she didn't? But she needn't have worried.

"Nicole?"

Nicole turned, finding herself face to face with a petite redhead. She smiled, swearing that the Cheryl she'd met before had blond hair.

"Cheryl?"

"Good to see you again. I'm running late, and I was so afraid I'd kept you waiting."

"No, I just got here myself. How are you?"

"I'm doing great. And I apologize for being late. Had complications in surgery."

"Everything okay?"

"He's still alive," Cheryl said with a grin.

Nicole smiled, too, not sure if that was a joke or not.

"Shall we?"

Nicole nodded and walked beside Cheryl through the lobby, waiting only a moment before they were greeted by a gentleman in a tuxedo.

"We have reservations for two. Dr. Logan."

"Of course, Dr. Logan. This way."

The restaurant was dimly lit and the tables spaced far enough apart for privacy, but still Nicole glanced around, her eyes lighting on the enclaves and corner tables where couples sat talking quietly in candlelight. Elegant, yes. Romantic, too. She nodded politely as their host held out a chair for her. Romantic, yes indeed. It was a shame she wasn't with someone who conjured up those feelings in her.

"I've only been here a handful of times," Cheryl admitted. "But, discreet and private, you can't beat it."

"I suppose."

"What types of wine do you like, Nicole? They have the very best here."

Nicole smiled. "I'm not all that particular. You choose."

"You sure? I'm partial to red."

Nicole nodded. "I'll be sure to have one of their famous steaks then."

Cheryl reached across the table unexpectedly and captured Nicole's hand. "I'm really looking forward to getting to know you better. Irene has told me so much about you. I admire you for what you're doing with your practice. You can't possibly be making much money giving away time slots to the crisis center."

Nicole bristled. "I didn't actually get into the profession to make tons of money. I had this crazy idea that I could help people."



"We all do at first, Nicole. Then reality hits."

Nicole stared, her reply stuck in her throat when she realized that Cheryl was serious. And that scared her. Cheryl was far too young to be disillusioned already.

Jake stood back, waiting for the party of four to disappear before she walked to the desk. She waited patiently as she was perused, head to toe, by an impeccably dressed man in a tuxedo.

He cleared his throat before speaking. "May I . . . help you?"

Jake smiled. "Yes, you can, actually." Jake held up her badge. "I'm Detective McCoy. I need to speak with one of your patrons."

His eyes widened. "Please, we cannot have a scene here, madam. If you'll tell me who you wish to speak with, I'll get them for you."

Jake tucked her badge on her belt and shook her head. "Actually, I'd like it to be a surprise." Jake moved to walk past when he moved and intercepted her.

"Madam, you really shouldn't go in there. You're not exactly dressed for dining."

Jake looked at her slacks, which, surprisingly, still held a crease. "Well, that's okay, 'cause I'm not going to be dining." She walked on, moving quietly into the restaurant, her eyes scanning the tables, looking for a familiar figure. An involuntary smile touched her face when she saw her. Jake stopped and waited, her eyes moving once over Nicole's date before settling on her. It only took a few seconds for Nicole to feel her presence. Then her head turned slowly, her eyes finding and meeting Jake's.

Jake smiled. "Hey."

Nicole felt her seconds before she saw her. It was eerie almost, but she knew when she turned her head, Jake would be there. And she was. A lazy smile on her face, totally unself-conscious in her slacks and dark blazer that covered a slightly rumpled shirt, her hands shoved casually into pockets.

Hey? The professional Nicole, the Nicole that was out on a date, knew she should be upset by Jake's presence. So . . . she tried to be.

"Excuse me?"

Jake tilted her head. "Excuse you what?"



Nicole leaned back. "I hope there's a very good reason for this."

"Well, I thought it was at the time. Now, I'm not so sure."

Cheryl finally spoke up. "Excuse me, but . . . do you know each other?"

Jake took that opportunity to walk closer, and she discreetly showed her badge to Cheryl. "Police business, ma'am. I just need to have a word with Dr. Westbrook."

"Nicole? Are you in some kind of trouble?"

Nicole rolled her eyes. "No, Cheryl, I'm not." She slid her chair back and stood, her eyes glaring at Jake. "This better be good."

"Just take a second of your time, Dr. Westbrook."

Nicole walked away, leaving Jake to follow.

Good Lord. The sleek black dress that Nicole wore left little to the imagination, and Jake's eyes were glued to her backside, watching each sway of her hips, finally lowering to stare at two perfect legs--legs walking away from her.

"Excuse me."

Jake turned and flashed Cheryl a grin. "Right. Nice to meet you." Then she frowned. "Did we meet?"

"Cheryl Logan. Doctor."

Jake lifted an eyebrow. "Jake McCoy. Detective." Jake looked up just as Nicole turned, blue eyes searching for her own. She walked toward those eyes, then stopped short when she saw the flicker of anger in them.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Nicole demanded quietly.

Jake took her arm and led her farther into the lobby. "I just need to talk to you."

"And it couldn't wait until morning?"

"No, it couldn't."

Jake was intercepted again by the tall man in the tuxedo. "Madam, please. If you're going to arrest someone, could you please do it discreetly. We do not wish to make the morning paper."

"Arrest?" Nicole asked.

"No one's getting arrested. But if you have an office or something, it'll just take a second."

"Of course, madam. Right this way."

He opened a door and motioned them into a small office. "Will this do?"

"Perfect. Thanks, chief."

The man cleared his throat. "Actually, madam, it's Charles."

"Uh-huh. Good-bye, Charles," Jake said and closed the door. She faced Nicole, a slow smile forming as she looked at her. "So, how are you?"

"I was on a date," Nicole said.

"A date? With her?"

"Yes, with her."

Jake shook her head. "She's all wrong for you."

"Wrong for me? She's a surgeon. She's very attractive, and she's single. There's nothing wrong about her."

"She's wrong for you, and do you really think she's attractive?"

"Does it matter what I think? Jake, you said you pulled me out of there because you had something urgent to talk about. What is it?"

"How about, after you ditch your date, we go get coffee or something?"

Nicole walked closer, her voice low. "And perhaps I had a very long evening planned with her."

Jake shook her head. "No, I don't think so. Not with her."

"What's that supposed to mean."

"That woman," Jake said, her eyes traveling down Nicole's body, "will not touch you tonight."

Nicole's skin burned where Jake's eyes touched it, and she fought to keep her breathing normal. She had a date waiting for her outside, an attractive woman who would fit nicely into her life. Yet it was this . . . this cop who turned her bones to jelly with only a look. Nicole crossed her arms, trying to cover herself.

"How did you find me?"

Jake shrugged. "I'm a cop. It's what we do."

"So you're telling me Detective, Catherine had nothing to do with it?"

Jake laughed outright, causing Nicole to smile and relax. God, but she loved Jake's laugh.

"So, coffee?"

Nicole shook her head. "Can't." Jake raised an eyebrow and Nicole smiled. "I'm tired, Jake. And after dinner, I'm going home, alone, and crawling into bed. So, talk now or save it until morning."

"Jena Nichols."

Nicole frowned, recognizing the name, but she couldn't place her. "One of mine?"

"Yeah."

"And?"

"She was found this morning, dumped like the others."

Nicole's shoulders sagged. "The body that was found at the Botanical Gardens?"

Jake nodded. "I'm sorry, Nicole. But I didn't want to wait until morning. The murders are escalating, getting closer together. I think maybe it's time we get you some sort of surveillance."

"Jake, no. We've been over this. I'll not have my practice disrupted like that."

"Just a precaution for now. He's not threatened you directly. Not yet. Believe me, he'll want you to sweat a little. But just in case, we can have an unmarked car follow you home, follow you to work, that sort of thing." Jake's voice softened. "Humor me, please."

Their eyes met, the few feet separating them not enough to prevent the heat from seeping into Nicole's body. She couldn't pull her eyes away, and once again, she was back in the mountains, her naked body being pulled from the water, a warm mouth settling over her breast the instant long fingers plunged deep inside her. She very nearly moaned out loud from the memory.

She felt the rise and fall of her chest and became aware that her breathing was labored. But it was Jake who pulled away first, making a show of straightening papers on the desk. Nicole hadn't missed the throbbing pulse in Jake's neck or the eyes that had turned nearly black.

"So, is that a yes?" Jake finally asked, after clearing her throat.

Nicole sighed but nodded. "Okay."

"Thank you."

Nicole pushed off the desk, putting even more distance between them. She paused at the door. "I better get back."

"Oh, yeah. Your date."

Their eyes met again, and Nicole wanted to tell Jake that Cheryl was but another in a long list of blind dates arranged by well-meaning friends. But it didn't really matter one way or the other. What she and Jake had was in the past. And even if she were inclined to pick it up again--which she wasn't--Jake had already made it clear that it was only business between them.

It wasn't until Jake was on her way home that she allowed visions of that day in the mountains to pour over her. She'd been keeping them at bay, telling herself it was just another one-time affair. Nothing she couldn't handle. But damn, sitting on that desk with Nicole, it was all she could do to remind herself that she was on a damn case. And the only reason she and Nicole had any dealings with each other now was because of that case.

But, she admitted, there was something there, something between them, and she knew that Nicole felt it, too. Or maybe it was just the sexual attraction that dominated in the mountains showing itself again.

Regardless, it didn't matter. Nicole made it clear she didn't date women like Jake. And hell, she was on a fucking case, and she refused to cross that line. It would be dangerous to cross that line. It didn't matter that she still remembered the sounds of Nicole's screams as if it had been just last night that they'd touched.

Jake drove home, oblivious to her surroundings, her mind seeing nothing but Nicole's wet skin.

"Jesus," she whispered.


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