Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories, page 18
“You got a piece, son, or do I need to get you a service weapon?”
Cole shrugged his shoulder and cupped the back of his neck thinking out loud. “I have my both my primary, a Glock 23, and my secondary weapon is also FBI issued. I’ll keep them at Logan’s. Better get me a service weapon so I can’t be traced back to the Agency. And once again, I am not your son.”
“Listen to me, Agent Davis, there are at least two sitting federal judges who have been implicated in some pretty serious shit here. If you believe Logan’s informant, and I do, there is at least one murder and a cover-up. Work the facts and track the evidence. We are following your lead through this fucking mess. And for your information, you could do worse than being my son.”
The older officer peered around the trunk lid and let out an ear-shattering whistle. Frankie hopped from the boat with a small cooler of fish and walked to the car placing it in the trunk. “Ready to go, Pawpaw?”
“You bet. Meemaw needs those fish.”
Frankie turned to Cole. “Are you coming to eat tonight?”
He shook his head. “No, not tonight. I have to go unpack my things at Logan’s house.” The younger man seemed satisfied with the explanation and waved before he got into the car and again as the cruiser pulled away.
Cole walked back down the pier and watched as Logan finished buttoning up the vessel. “How long have you had the boat?”
Logan glanced over her shoulder at him as she fastened the snaps on the rain cover. “It was my dad’s. He was a charter boat captain before he was murdered. The insurance paid it off and Pawpaw kept it up until he taught me everything there was to know about the Blessing. I take a few charters out on my days off. Pays for the upkeep and slip rental.” Her voice and mannerisms held none of her earlier distant attitude.
She pushed the last snap together and turned around. Her hair was still pulled back in a ponytail and she wore a white t-shirt over the blue striped bathing suit top and her low rise cutoffs. Those shorts were cut too high to be decent even with a swimming suit under them. Her skin had a dark rose color from the sun she had taken during the day.
Logan made a tsking noise and shook her head. “You’re going to be sore tomorrow. You got too much sun.”
Cole felt the tight pull and tingle of the sunburn. His abs and shoulders were bright red. He shrugged and picked up his t-shirt off the deck chair. “Yeah, too much time in a suit. No worries, I usually tan quickly.”
She nodded as her eyes focused behind him. “Shit. Looks like it’s show time. Are you ready to start this charade?”
He put on his shirt and glanced at her. “Yeah, why?”
She nodded slightly toward the pier and the two men walking up the boardwalk. They were heading for the boat. Time to start playing house. Cole crossed the deck and took her into his arms. She leaned into him, and he kissed her softly. He pulled just far enough away to create the illusion he couldn’t resist and then lowered his lips to hers again, parting them with his tongue. He explored her mouth and tasted her. Her scent and flavor, sweet and hot, intoxicated him. If not for the men behind them, he might have given into his baser desire to explore more than her mouth.
Logan’s hands traveled up over his arms and shoulders and entwined in his hair. The bite of pain from his sunburn didn’t diminish the attraction he felt. If anything the sensation spurred his response. Cole pulled the elastic band from her hair, spilling the thick mass of brown waves around his arms and over her waist. Her body molded into him and his tongue slipped once again into her mouth and danced against hers.
A muffled cough sounded behind them on the boardwalk. He reluctantly pulled away from her. Putting his forehead on hers, he whispered, “Game time, baby.”
She nodded, and he turned with her still in his arms. Logan’s voice was cool and distant like it had been with him when they first met. “Cole, I would like you to meet two of the deputies from our department. Deputies Scott Ladner and James Saucier, this is Cole Davis.”
Cole kept his arm around Logan and reached out with his right hand to make their acquaintance. “Nice to meet you.”
The poorly veiled shock on their faces would have been funny if their relationship hadn’t been a cover. But as the shocked look did relate to their cover, the response drew deep concern. Cole and Logan would have to work hard to make sure the pretense flowed.
“What are you two doing here?” Logan’s question held no hint of warmth and only mild curiosity.
“Isn’t it obvious? We came to meet the new guy. Selma said he came in this morning before the sun was up. James, here, figured you were trying to hide him from us.”
Cole laughed. “Sorry, nothing so diabolical. When Logan told me Frankie was expecting to go fishing today, I didn’t want to screw his day up, so I drove through the night. I know how important keeping promises are for people with Down Syndrome.”
The blond man introduced as Scott seemed confused. “I don’t follow.”
Cole pulled Logan closer, and she leaned into him draping her arm around his waist and burying her fingers in the waistband of his board shorts. Both deputies openly did a double take. “It is quite simple actually. Some people with this particular disability can gain independence living their life by a schedule, and they count on that for normalcy and consistency.”
The blond removed his ball cap and scratched his head. “Yeah, guess it makes sense. I never thought about it.”
“Yeah, Scott?” The sarcasm dripped from her voice.
The blonde continued, not put off at all by her venom. “Janie and I are having a get together tomorrow night at our house. I know you don’t usually come hang out, but the guys would like to meet Cole.”
Logan’s eyebrow rose as she stiffened his arms. Turning, she asked Cole, “You feel up to meeting everyone tomorrow night?”
She reached up and pushed his bangs out of his eyes. The act was intimate and sexy as hell. Those types of things would definitely sell their cover. Cole could see the deputies in his peripheral vision as they shot a quick what-the-hell look at each other.
“Sounds great. What time?”
“Seven. See you then?”
Logan nodded and asked, “What can we bring?”
James, the stockier man with brown hair, laughed. “Beer, what else?”
The two men shook Cole’s hand again and walked down the pier casting backward glances every now and then. Logan slipped out of his arms and reached for her duffle.
“Grab the ice chest will you?” She turned, lifted her eyebrows and in a saccharine tone called in a singsong voice, “Come on honey. Time to go home.”
Cole chuckled and grabbed the huge chest full of ice, drinks, and fresh fish. His, “Yes dear,” response won him a light and melodic laugh—the first real laugh he’d heard from her. Something told him those little outbursts were rare.
Logan let the agent she was supposed to be in love with into her home. She lived across the street from the beach, about three miles from the marina. The modest two bedroom, two bath house boasted an expansive view of the Gulf. The view was the reason she’d bought it. Logan gave Cole the nickel tour. Darkening rays of deep pink and orange tinted by the sunset cast a hue over the furniture in her living room. A huge antique gun safe and a seventy-inch flat screen television hung over a massive fireplace garnered most of Cole’s attention. Typical guy. She showed him the newly renovated kitchen. It had been updated but still appeared as if built a hundred years ago. Logan deviated from the tour long enough to pull a covered dish from the refrigerator and quickly shove it in the oven, cranking the temperature up. She led him upstairs to his room.
“The bathroom off the hall is yours.”
Logan watched him as he walked to the windows and took in the last glimmer of the sun on the horizon.
“How did you know about people with Down Syndrome?”
He didn’t turn but talked instead to the window. “My niece has Down’s. She is
Logan nodded as a knot formed in her chest. Emotion was not something she embraced easily, but his shared care of a loved one with Down’s struck a chord deep inside her—one she didn’t want to admit. “I’m showering then heading downstairs to finish dinner. See you there.”
Logan walked into her bedroom and closed the door leaning heavily against it. The FBI agent had found her one and only weakness, her brother Frankie. With his quiet understanding, he’d effortlessly broken down walls which had stood guard around her heart for years. Her mind raced as she tried to shore up defenses against the invasion the sexy agent probably didn’t know he’d mounted.
Pulling herself off the door, she walked into her en suite bathroom, stripping out of the ocean-salt soaked clothes she wore. Turning on the shower, she stepped into the claw-foot tub and pulled the curtain around the antique porcelain masterpiece. Cool water poured over her as she tried to formulate a plan to deal with the relationship they would have to portray during the investigation.
Crap. How could she deal with the attraction she felt? It was obvious he felt it too. If he didn’t, he was one hell of an actor. She’d be damned if she was going to get all googly-eyed over a man who wasn’t going to be here a couple months from now. Still, everyone needed to believe they were a couple. How was she going to maintain distance from a gorgeous, dynamic, sexy man?
Her mind raced trying to formulate a situation where her two worlds, investigation, and cover story, would be mutually compatible. Okay Logan, stick to the basics. Deal with the facts.
Fact: He only wanted the advancement to his career this case could bring. He hadn’t denied it when she had labeled him with it earlier. For that matter, he had stood impassively as she had accused him of it.
Fact: He’d be gone the second the case was closed.
Fact: He had her pegged as a bitch.
Fact: She’d avoided any type of personal relationship for the last four years.
And there was her solution. God knew she pushed the ‘ice princess’ persona to the limit with her co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else who wanted to get close. She’d be damned if she’d ever let anyone see her vulnerable again.
Logan did the wash, rinse, repeat thing and smiled to herself as the answer to her problem presented itself. When they weren’t playing a couple, she’d treat him with the same ice cold distance as she did everyone else. Establishing it early, as in tonight, would set the tone.
Logan peeked up from taking the cast iron casserole out of the oven as he came down stairs. Her brain blanked momentarily, before she nodded to a bottle of wine on the counter. Wow. Just…wow. Thirteen…no fourteen on that ten point scale. Damn, maybe she needed a new chart.
“Beef tips, cheese grits, roast carrots, and biscuits. The wine is supposed to be a decent merlot. Would you open it, please?” Sounded normal, right? Cool, polite…good.
Logan turned her back to him, trying to push the image of the Adonis in her kitchen out of her head. His brown hair was still wet and tussled, his chin darkened with a five o’clock shadow and his chest, shoulders and biceps stretched his t-shirt to its limits. His jeans hung low on his hips encasing his muscled thighs and a fantastic ass. Deep breath…dinner, yeah, continue with what you were doing.
She turned back toward the Dutch oven holding the beef tips and grabbed the handle of the lid immediately searing the skin of her thumb and middle finger. The falling cast iron lid shattered the silence, crashing to the granite tiled floor. Logan hissed and spun around to the sink, slapping on the cold tap and shoving her hand underneath.
Beside her instantly, Cole grabbed her hand as she tried to pull it out of the water. “No, keep it under the water. The heat is still trapped under the skin. Cool it thoroughly before you bring it out.”
Logan nodded as he held her hand under the stream. Her body clenched tightly from the pain radiating through her fingers. Vehemently she lamented almost to herself, “Of all the stupid idiotic things to freaking do. What in the hell was I thinking?”
She moved her fingers under the water and once again hissed in a deep breath. “Crap on a cracker! It hurts!”
He chuckled softly. “Then stop moving it.” His massive body was hard against hers as he stood close and continued to hold her hand under the water.
Logan’s head whipped around. She sent daggers in his direction. “Am I entertaining you?” His surprised dark blue eyes met her pissed grey-blue ones.
“No, Logan. Your pain does not entertain me. I was, however, amused at your exclamation. I can honestly say I’ve never heard, ‘Crap on a cracker,’ before.”
He turned and reached for a dishtowel on the counter and shut off the water. “Where is your first aid kit?”
She put her hand on the soft terry cloth. She flinched at the pain screaming through her hand as she nodded toward a cupboard.
He opened the kit and took out ointment and bandages. “Come, sit over here and let me take care of your hand.”
She walked to the kitchen island and sat on a barstool. He swiveled her chair toward him and moved so close his legs separated her knees. He blotted the moisture off her skin and held her hand close to his chest as he examined the blisters already starting to form. The sensation of his hands gently holding hers sent ripples of pleasure through her body despite the radiating pain from the burn. She drew a deep breath. His male scent surrounded her, the clean, fresh smell of his shampoo…or was it his soap…Logan couldn’t tell, nor did she care. Her body was committing treason against her brain’s recent decree for cold detachment. Where in hell was her ice princess and frigid distance now? It was everything she could do to focus on her hand. Her mind imagined those amazing arms wrapping her. She breathed in sharply trying to stop her wild thoughts. The stupid ice princess had bailed on her. The bitch.
Cole applied a topical ointment to relieve the pain. He froze at Logan’s gasp. “Did I hurt you?”
She lifted her face to his and he stopped breathing. Her thick brown hair fell away from her face and revealed full, red, heart-shaped lips. Her flushed cheeks and tear-moistened eyes revealed a vulnerability he wouldn’t have guessed hid under all the layers of ice.
Logan licked her lips. His eyes followed her tongue. “No, please finish.”
He waited, watching her breasts rise and fall as she tried to control her breathing. His body grew tighter against his jeans as he tried to discourage his mounting desire. The attraction sizzled between them, the currents almost visible…definitely tangible. Cole let go of her hand to open the band-aids. The minor task done, he turned back to her and sensed a resolve run through her. A curtain dropped. The minute crack hiding the tiny glimpse of vulnerability disappeared. Once again the woman cloaked herself with the distance he had felt this morning on the boat.
After bandaging her fingers, he turned and put the kit away. “Take those off tonight when you go to bed to get some air to the blisters.”
He shrugged, “No problem. If you point out where the dishes are located, I’ll get dinner on the table.”
Logan sat at the island and watched as he set the table, opened the wine and served dinner. When he sat down, she cleared her throat. “You want to discuss this?”
This what? The sexual pull we feel? Hell, am I so transparent? Shit. Quickly deciding he wasn’t going to be the first to talk about it, he turned and raised an eyebrow waiting for her to continue.
“We need to discuss our cover. There will be questions we’ll need to answer. But more importantly, we need to discuss the case in detail. I know how I would like to proceed, but I don’t have your experience. Since you’re in charge, I’ll follow your lead. However, I know these people, and we need to proceed cautiously.”
Oh, thank you, God. If he’d responded, he’d have looked like an idiot. He nodded as he took a bite of the beef tips and c
Logan cast a glance from him to her plate, “What? Is the beef bad?”
“No, the food is fantastic. Which is the problem.”
Logan’s brow furrowed as she rubbed her temple with her good hand. “Excuse me?”
He filled his fork again. Damn, the flavors were beyond amazing. “I’m going to have to spend more time running. I could get fat down here.”
Logan shook her head and chuckled without any real humor. “Thank you… I think. Anyway, I jog every morning. You’re welcome to run with me, and the station has a decent gym. We all use it.”
“Oh believe me, it is a complement. Your food is fantastic. I’ll run with you in the mornings, especially if you continue to feed me like this. But you had concerns with the cover, and you wanted to run the details of the case. Which first?” He shoveled another mounded forkful of beef into his mouth as she took a drink of her wine.
“Let’s talk about the case first. Okay?”
He nodded and stood. “Established facts.” Cole walked back to the stove and ladled more food onto his plate. Damn the woman could cook.
“Alright, I have a confidential informant statement that indicates the clerks of the district court are taking bribes to ensure certain cases are assigned to specific judges. A computer-generated randomized program assigns the judges’ cases. The fact this process is being manipulated is concerning and at a minimum and a reason to look deeper.”
“Not to mention illegal.”
“Right, so I looked. Based on the evidence, we can pull in the two clerks we know are manipulating the system and try to flip them. But until we have an iron-clad tie into the judges, I don’t want to show our hand.”
Cole leaned back in the chair and contemplated the information as he buttered a biscuit. “The association between the judges and the extended cases is flimsy at best. What evidence do you have to indicate their involvement?”