1st Chapter of Shot in the Dark
Devan Burke tapped his finger on the steering wheel and waited for the person in the car in front of him to get his drink order at the drive-thru espresso bar.
How sad is this? He blew a disgusted snort out his nose. Every night, Dev actually looked forward to coming to the Naughty Latte after his shift at the station. This ritual was as close as he’d gotten to a woman in more months than he’d care to admit.
The last thing he needed was more caffeine flooding his system, but at this point it didn’t really matter. The whiskey shots he’d take later would combat his caffeine intake.
He wouldn’t sleep anyway.
Inching the car forward, he glanced at the reader board of drink choices and pondered which one he’d order. The red taillights of the car in front of him finally moved off, and he edged his car next to the window.
Smiling, the woman inside leaned her elbow on the ledge and put slender fingers under her chin. “Evening, detective.”
“Evening, Luci.” He forced what he hoped was a cocky look on his face as he met her gaze. He also fought to keep his eyes from wandering to the glorious cleavage pressed between the triangles of her hot-pink bikini top. God bless whoever dreamed up the idea of bikini espresso stands. Dev couldn’t see what Luci was wearing below his line of sight, but he was sure it was just as tantalizing.
In the past he’d only dated fancy, high-maintenance, stick-thin women. Luci had a natural look mixed with playful sex appeal and curves that had no end in sight. But his lady-cruising days were all in the past.
“You’re early tonight,” she commented, wiping her hands on a towel and stretching her back.
“Only about ten minutes.” It was fun to flirt with her every night… and safe. The most fun he allowed himself anymore on his way home to an empty house. He tried to imagine having someone like Luci waiting at home for him. “Why? You keeping tabs on me?”
“Should I be?” she tossed back. “You plan on getting in some trouble tonight?” Her eyes were an amazing shade of dark blue, with long, dark lashes that fanned the edges. Full lips smiled over straight white teeth. Her ash blonde hair was pulled up in a fountain tumble on top of her head with pink streaked bangs the same color as her bikini top.
“I could get into all kinds of trouble with you,” Devan said and widened his lady-killer grin. In these few minutes at Luci’s drive-thru window, he could be his old self again: confident and sure. Two words that no longer existed in his vocabulary.
Seated solidly behind the wheel of his car, the cute girl he hit on couldn’t see his half crippled leg or the way he limped when he walked.
“Promises, promises.” She looked over her shoulder to see if there was a car at the other window. He knew she got these pick-up lines every day. Shit, probably every few minutes. But she was always a good sport, placating him night in and night out for his few minutes of fantasy role-playing.
It had to be unbearable having hard-up guys like him hitting on her while she was trying to work.
His gaze drifted to take in the perfect globes of her breasts. How difficult would it be to ask her out for a cup of coffee? Dev almost laughed aloud when his plan played through his brain. Yeah, brilliant, I’ll ask a bikini barista out for coffee. That would be exactly what she’d want after working in an espresso joint all night.
He had nothing else to offer.
“Detective, will you be having your usual?” she asked and smiled sweetly.
He’d planned to order something different. Breaking out of the box. But who the hell was he kidding? He was a box kind of guy. “Yeah, fine. Triple-shot latte, extra hot, two packs of sugar.”
“You order the same thing every night. Hot and sweet, just like you. I got it, handsome.” She turned toward the espresso machine and thumped the grounds into the disposal, then flipped on the grinder to pulverize the beans for his drink. He could just see the waistband of her pink knit shorts. It made him wish he had a pick-up truck. The view would be much better.
Handsome. Right. Hot and sweet. Bullshit.
Women had once referred to his ruddy, shadowy looks as handsome. Now, he knew he looked like he felt— crap. His dark eyes burned and were always red-rimmed. His dreams wouldn’t let him sleep more than a few hours at a time. That’s why he’d gone into work two hours early, and then decided to call it a night ten minutes before eight. He couldn’t sleep. No woman would want to screw him. What else was there to do other than push more paper around his desk?
He glanced at the cane propped against the front seat, frowned, and knocked it to the floor. The doctors told him his rehab would go smoother if he actually showed up at physical therapy on a regular basis. He’d tried it for a while, but the pain was still there, and the doctors couldn’t tell him why. He’d stick with the whiskey. At least he knew that would work to ease the pain.
Dev leaned back on the leather seat of his Plymouth GTX 440. He’d owned the car since he was a teenager, fixing it up one piece at a time with any extra cash he earned. People referred to his car as a muscle car. Dev used to think it was cool to drive, but that was before. Now, it just made him feel stupid. The car reflected something he wasn’t.
He sat listening to the sounds of whirring steam in the pitcher of milk as Luci made his drink. He glanced though the open window. “Hey, where’s your sidekick?”
“Becky went home about an hour ago. She has a bad cold. It’s only another hour until I close.” Luci poured the steaming milk into the cup and tore off the tops of the sugar packets, stirring them into the drink with a long metal spoon. Tapping the foam from the pitcher, she pushed the white lid down to make sure it was secure.
The overhead lights lit streaks of gold in her hair. It was starting to get dark earlier every day, and there was a noticeable nip in the air. Fall was just around the corner and that wasn’t good. It meant there would be more of the night for Dev to contend with. It had been six months, but he still had to make it through the dreary, dark days of winter. That is, if he decided to make it at all.
Leaning forward, he fished his wallet from his back pocket, flipped open the worn leather and pulled out two five-dollar bills. One for his drink and one for Luci. What else did he have to spend money on? It wasn’t as though he was going out on the town to eat lobster and dance the night away.
Isn’t there a ball game on?
Instead of handing him the latte, Luci set it on the ledge and crossed her arms. She leaned forward. “You look kind of rough tonight. You okay?”
“Why?” Her question caught him off guard. He shoved the bill into the tip cup and ran a hand through his short, unruly hair.
“You just look… sad. You want to talk about it?”
“No.” He didn’t want someone searching his head. He just wanted his coffee so he could leave. He’d had enough of psychiatrists trying to help him. He didn’t need anyone’s help—especially not a woman wearing a hot-pink bikini.
“You sure? I’m a good listener,” she said, a look of concern etched her brows.
If he was the kind of guy to pour his heart out; she had the face of someone who cared. Innocent. Open. Dev had forgotten what that looked like until he started coming to the Naughty Latte every night. Luci was about as far from the likes of him as they came.
“Only because I’m a good tipper.” He gave her what he hoped was a wicked wink. “There’s only one thing I’d like from you, baby… and it’s not to be psychoanalyzed.” His words were cold, just like the way he felt inside. She’d touched a nerve. He knew it and so did she. She held his gaze with a look of interest, as though she wanted to ask another question. “Can I have my damn coffee?” He gave her his best icy stare and glowered. He’d been practicing it on criminals for years.
“Sure. I didn’t mean to upset you. I know you come here to look at my boobs. I just thought maybe I could help.” She’d taken his crude comment and matched it. Her eyes flashed a darker shade of blue as she tipped her chin up, waiting for him to answer.
Dev couldn’t stay mad as he watched her attempt her cute badass attitude. “So you picked tonight to start asking questions? I was having such a good day.” That was a lie. Anymore, he never had a good day. He hated being on light-duty, stuck at a desk. He wanted to be back in the field, but that was his choice—he wasn’t ready.
“It’s slow. You look like you could use a friend.”
“I don’t have any friends,” he replied.
“I’m your friend, aren’t I? You come here every night. I feel like we’re old friends.” Luci slid the cup across the counter before handing it out the window to his waiting grasp. She hadn’t said it like a come-on, and he’d be even more of an ass if he said the first thing he was thinking.
Dev stifled the sigh of relief that threatened to escape his lips. Back on safe ground. It was back to being flirty. This was much better. He thought for a moment she’d gone off the deep end and he’d have to find a new place to go.
“Yeah, you’re my friend,” he answered and took a deep drink of the rich, hot coffee that flowed down his throat. “You were right; you’re the best friend I have these days.” He’d finally said something that was completely true.
Mac, his ex-best friend and now ex-partner, had moved on. Sure, he called a few times a week to check up on him, but Dev made sure to keep the conversations short. He had nothing new to say. No one wanted to be with a keg of nitro and a screw-up who had cost others their lives.
“You can never have too many friends. You never know when you’re going to need them,” Luci said. When she smiled it lit the smooth silk of her skin to a happy glow.
Dev wanted to smile back, but he had to think about it before actually doing it. He’d forgotten how.
He struggled to keep his gaze off her breasts, but they were just so damn good. Perfectly tanned, and one for each hand.
Safe in his car with one arm braced on the rolled down window, Dev calculated that from her perch she wouldn’t be able to see his erection which had sprung to life. That would be the last thing he needed. He spent his days being humiliated enough. But the thought of all that tight, luscious skin lying underneath him made him wonder: was she was tanned all over?
“I better get going. I don’t want to take up all your time.” Using his free hand, he tugged the seam of his jeans to loosen his hard-on.
She shrugged. “As I said, it’s slow. With the economy the way it is, people are cutting back, even at this place. I need more regulars like you. People I see on a daily basis.”
“Yeah. Happy to help the economy.” Just one more second, and he’d ask her out…
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. Sleep tight.” She waved her fingers and slid the window closed.
The only thing that was going to be tight tonight was his balls. Dev pulled the car away from the espresso stand and eased out onto the street. When he got home he’d take a long hot shower and imagine what Luci looked like naked.
Was she a true blonde? Did the rug match the drapes? I’m a pig.
Lately it had been Luci in his thoughts as he’d stroked himself to a quick sexual release. But he needed a real woman clenched around his shaft, not his own hand. He’d never be able to have a woman like Luci. She was out of his league.
He’d forgive her for asking so many questions, and tomorrow he’d be back at that tiny drive-thru for his triple-shot, extra hot, and five-minutes of her companionship.
Dev took a sip of the coffee, licked the foam off his lip and tried to let his mind and body relax. Stretching forward, he flipped on the police scanner under the dash. It wasn’t as though he was ever going to be back on the streets, but he liked to stay in touch with what was happening in the city around him.
A call came across as soon as he’d flipped the knob.
“A two-eleven at 6415 Meridian. . .”
A robbery… at Luci’s coffee stand?
He cranked the handle and tossed the nearly full cup of coffee out the window.
“Shit!” He slammed his fist against the steering wheel.
He flicked a glance in the rearview mirror and jammed on the brakes. Tires squealed as he spun the car in the opposite direction and punched the accelerator. TheV-8 engine roared to life.
Impossible. He’d left her five minutes ago. Maybe someone called in the address wrong?
But how long did it take to commit a crime? He knew the answer to that question all too well.
His gut tightened and his pulse raced. He jerked the car into the small turnaround as a squad car screamed up beside him.
Dev opened the car door, grabbed his cane and attempted to run to the coffee stand. He pulled on his leg and stabbed the cane into the pavement. Automatically he unhooked his gun from its shoulder holster and drew his weapon.
The neon “Open” sign blinked, but inside the brightly-lit stand it was dark. A man stood halfway in the side door.
“Police!” Dev yelled. “Put your hands where I can see them! Back away from the door.”
The large man in suspenders put up his hands. “I’m the one who called you guys.”
Dev flicked his gun for the man to move as Brady, a beat cop he knew from the squad car, pulled the man roughly away.
Luci was on her knees, her bikini top ripped off and her hands trussed behind her in a pair of cuffs. In the dim light her skin glowed ghostly white as she tried to turn, struggling for balance. Her bare breasts touched the dirty floor beneath her.
“Jesus,” Dev muttered as his insides turned into coils of barbed wire. Had she been raped? Her shorts were still on. There hadn’t been enough time, had there?
The world can change in a minute.
Wallace, Brady’s partner, trailed in after him. “What the hell are you doing here, Burke?”
Dev couldn’t drag his eyes from Luci. “Get your key and get those fucking cuffs off her.”