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Copyright: Tessie Bradford, 2014
“Professional hazard,” she mumbled before reaching for the shampoo. As she scrubbed her shoulder-length hair, Anne pondered how she wanted to incorporate today’s research into her current manuscript. Her hero had already used an impressive number of unique sexual toys to delight her heroine, but surely, he wasn’t finished yet.
A new scene began to take shape as she dried off and pulled on a pair of cotton lounge pants and a T-shirt. Despite already spending over seven hours on the computer, Anne felt a few more were about to occur, and she smiled at the rush of excitement. Her muse had been missing in action for more than two weeks, and Anne was thrilled that her days of writing and deleting pure drivel were in the past. She would ride this creative wave to the fullest. Her deadline was less than a month away.
Her tummy rumbled. “Crap, when did I eat last?” she wondered aloud on her way through the living room into the kitchen. “Oh, yeah, dinner last night,” she answered, pulling a container of leftover pasta with Alfredo sauce and a bottle of water out of the fridge. A knock on the front door caused her to jump and drop both onto the counter.
Anne couldn’t remember the last time she’d had surprise visitors, and she definitely wasn’t dressed to receive. She considered running to the bedroom to put on a bra at least, but two more knocks, louder than the first, had her heading quickly to look through the peephole. Her heart skipped a beat.
Two men stood on her front porch, each sporting a prominently displayed badge of the law. The guy on the left easily could have been on the cover of a magazine, but he wasn’t why Anne struggled to breathe normally. The guy on the right so exactly fit her vision of male yummy she actually experienced a brief moment of lightheadedness. He was over six feet tall, and his short, black hair was dramatically streaked silver-white at the temples. Instead of being pretty-boy handsome, his features were ruggedly masculine. He wore a dark blue, perfectly fitted dress shirt, which accentuated his broad shoulders and muscular upper arms. When she tried to adjust her angle to check him out south of his waist, she gave herself a mental shake. What the fuck? These are cops! On my porch!
Anne opened the big door but kept the glass storm door closed. “Can I help you?” she asked, focusing on the object of her lust.
“Anne Karmer?” His deep voice sent a shiver racing up her spine.
“I’m Detective Garth Slaiter, and this is Detective Mark Collins. May we come in and talk with you?”
They both held out picture IDs, which appeared legit, but there were stories on the news regularly about criminals impersonating people in authority. Anne glanced at the plain black car in her driveway then back at the men. “Regarding what?”
“I don’t know anyone by that name,” she responded.
Her jaw dropped. Only in my world, she marveled silently. “Oh my God, this is fucking priceless!” The irony was just too delicious. Anne burst out laughing. Seeing the expressions of utter confusion on the officers’ handsome faces did nothing to quell her fit of giggles, so she covered her eyes with her hands and fought to get her shit under control.
“Ms. Karmer, are you okay?” Despite not looking at them, she knew Mark had asked the question. His voice wasn’t as deep as Garth’s.
She dropped her hands then cleared her throat a couple of times before answering. “Yes, yes I am. Come on in.” Anne opened the storm door and motioned the officers into her home. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“Your reaction was a bit unusual,” Garth commented, staring pointedly at her.
“Not from my perspective,” she responded with a smirk. “Chuck Philips is the first man I’ve dated in longer than I care to mention, and now, the cops are standing in my living room. I find that extremely comical, unless, oh shit, has he done something really bad?” Anne nervously ran her hands through her damp hair and shuffled from foot to foot. “He must have since you’re here. God, I’m sorry. This is obviously serious.”
“Please try to relax, Ms. Karmer. Charles is a con man, not a violent offender,” Mark offered quickly.
“Thank God,” Anne said as relief rushed through her. “I mean, it’s bad he’s a crook and all, but he could have done a lot worse, right?”
“Are you defending him?” Garth asked.
“Hell no. I’m just trying to make myself feel better for picking such a loser.”
“Telling us everything you know about him could help us get the loser locked up.” Garth’s tone was encouraging but authoritative.
“Sure, of course. Would you like to sit down? Can I get you something to drink? I definitely need a beverage.” Anne turned toward the kitchen then quickly back to them. “I meant water or a pop, you know, non-alcoholic stuff,” she clarified. “Is it okay if I go get one?”
“Certainly and thanks for the offer but we’re fine, and please try to relax,” Mark said with a comforting smile.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a jiffy, and call me Anne.”
Her mind raced as she hurried into the kitchen, shoved the pasta back into the fridge and grabbed her water. She’d gotten through forty-five years of life without ever having any interactions with the police. Why did one of them have to be so smoking hot that her lady parts were snapping to attention? The last thing she wanted to do was discuss her dating failure with dreamy Detective Garth Slaiter. She drew a deep, hopefully calming breath and returned to the living room.
Anne expected Garth and Mark to be seated, waiting for her. They weren’t. Mark was a step down the hallway, which led to the bedrooms and bathrooms, and Garth was fingering the envelopes on the table in the entryway where she always left them until Sunday; bill paying day.
“I’m no expert, but aren’t you guys treading into needing a search warrant territory?”
Mark came back into the room, pulled a small notebook and pen from his back pocket and sat down on the couch.
“Being curious comes with the job,” Garth stated matter-of-factly. He casually sauntered his way to one of the armchairs by the fireplace. “Let’s get started, shall we?” he asked, staring into her eyes as he took his seat.
Everything about Garth—his tone, his body language, his expression—made it crystal clear he was one powerful, alpha male. A plethora of sensations, all of which had absolutely no place in a police investigation, washed over her. Her skin tingled, her nipples hardened and her pulse pounded in her ears. She decided to sit on the opposite end of the couch from Mark, as far away from Garth as she could get in the small space, but it didn’t help. Anne stifled a moan when she crossed her legs and her clit throbbed.
“Chuck Phillips is one of a couple of aliases used by Charles Stephens,” Garth said. “He targets unmarried, mature, financially secure women.”
“How delightful,” she said with a snide chuckle.
Garth gave a slight nod. “Four women in the area have come forward and are pressing charges. All of them cashed checks for him that turned out to be bad, and two had jewelry missing after he was in their home. They each met him at one of Corbly Winery’s events.”
Anne groaned and rolled her eyes. “I heard an ad on the radio for their Finely Aged Wine Tasting singles parties. I’ve never gone to anything like that before. I figured with having to register and pay a hefty attendance fee, there would be a higher caliber of attendees. Silly me, huh?”
“Not at all. Your reasoning was sound.”
“How did you connect us?” she asked, continuing to direct her attention to Garth. “Were you following him or something? If you were, I’m kind of bummed you didn’t arrest his ass during our one and only date. It would have been the best part of the evening.”
“Sorry we weren’t there to help,” Mark replied.
“The owners of the winery were keeping an eye on Charles last Friday because they found it odd he’d been at every one of their parties.” Garth continued to command the conversation. “They told us he spent the entire time with you, and that the two of you left together. We had no idea you’d gone out on another date with him.”
“In my defense, he makes a very good first impression. He was polite, articulate and had a great sense of humor. And yes, we did leave the winery together, but we parted company in the parking lot. By the way, he drives a silver Ford Taurus,” she added. “I agreed to meet him the following night for dinner and dancing at Garbo’s on the River.”
“He didn’t want to pick you up?”
“You bet he did. Made kind of an issue of it for a few minutes, saying how it was the gentlemanly thing for him to do. I actually made a joke about wanting to be able to cut out if I discovered his intentions were less than honorable. Geez, that’s rich, isn’t it? Anyway, Chuck started prying into my personal life before the appetizers arrived. Then he went straight into gushing over ‘perfect’.” Anne made quotation marks in the air with her fingers, “investment opportunities he could get me in to.”
“Did you give him money?”
“Good Lord, no,” she answered, frowning at Garth. “And I’ve gotta say I’m sort of depressed that others of my gender fell for his lame swindling.”
“The other women said he was extremely persuasive and charming.”
“Chuck must have been off his game with me then. He couldn’t have been any more transparent once he started flapping his gums.”
“Did he give you any information about himself?”
“No, not really, but during his financial pitch he said his mansion is in Oakland Township. Who describes their home that way if that’s what it actually is?” she asked, shaking her head. “I agreed to dance with him because he begged, and I thought it would shut him up, but it was a chore for me to keep his hands from straying to places they shouldn’t be. I ended the evening as soon as I could; using the age-old headache excuse. He’s called me every day since. Can you believe that? Our date sucked hard, but he’s trying for round two.”
“Have you talked to him?”
“Nope, he’s currently having a relationship with my answering machine. His first message was hilarious. He went on and on about how I forgot to give him my cell number and what an effort he’d exerted to find my home phone number. Apparently, using the white pages was a tough thing. Oh, he actually reprimanded me for not being on any of the social media he searched.”
“It is out of the ordinary for you not to be on at least one,” Garth commented.
“You checked for me on the internet?”
“Investigating people is a big part of what we detectives do, Anne.”