I couldn’t get Violet out of my head. All day, my mind just kept going back to her. My current casework was piling up on my desk, but the only thing I could focus on was the case that got away. I needed to figure out if my hunch was right. Even if there was only a slim chance that I could solve this case, I needed to take it. I turned off my computer.
“Where are you heading?” Damien asked as I stood up from my desk.
It felt like he had been watching me all morning and afternoon, waiting for me to sneak off and work on the case we’d been dropped from. It had made the searches I needed to do on the database nearly impossible. The only information I was able to get was that the woman who had owned the house that exploded was a ghost. No pictures. No medical records. No previous addresses. No nothing. And I was only able to get that useless information because Damien had to go to the bathroom. The whole day was pointless. The only thing I wanted to do was continue to question my lead suspect. Which was what I was about to go do. “I’m going home,” I lied.
Damien leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk. “Not heading out into the woods to harass a beautiful psychopath?”
“Violet is hardly a psychopath.”
“That wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”
“I promise I’m not harassing any psychopaths.” Damien didn’t know that I had already stopped by Violet’s place before my shift started. And he didn’t need to know that or the fact that I was planning on stopping by again. All I needed was an in with Violet. If I could get her to trust me, she’d tell me what she saw last night. Or she’ll tell me what she’s done. And she had responded well to the food I had brought. She had a dinner coming her way and hopefully a little more conversation.
“That’s still not the right answer. You’re going to her house again, aren’t you?”
“Of course not.” Out of habit, I reached for my coat on the back of my chair, but my fingers came up empty. Another reason why going back to Violet’s wasn’t a bad idea. She had stolen my jacket. I kind of wanted it back. That combined with the fact that she was a suspect were definitely the only reasons I was going back. It had nothing to do with her rosy cheeks or the adorable way she sneezed and looked angry at the same time.
“Then give me a lift home, will you?” Damien asked, pulling my thoughts away from Violet. “My car’s in the shop and Uber drivers always give me low ratings when I tell them I’m a detective. I think it freaks them out.”
“We both know you can fix anything wrong with your car by yourself. Besides, I saw you drive up today. I have better things to do than chauffeur your lying ass around town.”
“I’m only lying because you are. We’re off the case, man.”
“I know that.”
“Do you?” He dropped his feet from his desk and leaned forward in his chair. “You’re already on thin ice around here. If you keep pressing this, it’ll be the last straw they need to kick you to the curb.”
I knew that. But I also had a feeling in my gut that I was about to solve the damned thing, which would do the exact opposite for my career. “I know what I’m doing.”
“No one knows what they’re doing when beautiful women are involved.”
“Just don’t believe anything Violet says. She’s cra…”
“Crazy. I know.” But she didn’t seem crazy to me. She seemed…lonely. Whenever I talked to her she threatened me to get off her property. But I was pretty sure her eyes had been begging me to stay. Tonight I was going to up my flirting game. Besides, Damien’s constant pestering reminded me that it had been quite a while since I had been on a date. This would be good practice. Not real flirting at all. Just practice for when I got back out there.
“Please just go home. And if you do decide to be an idiot and go to her house, call me so I can be your backup!” Damien called after me as I headed toward the door.
I didn’t respond. I just waved my hand in the air to say goodbye. Having him with me was not part of the plan. How was I supposed to worm my way into Violet’s good graces if Damien was scowling at me the whole night? Or worse…hitting on her. I wasn’t sure why the thought made me angry. It wasn’t like I was actually going to be hitting on her tonight. Just innocent, fake flirting.
I put the car in park, ignoring every part of my brain telling me to turn around. Fake flirting was going to be difficult when Violet was bent over her air-conditioning unit with her perfect ass jutting up into the air. I stared at the black leggings she was wearing. A very perfect ass. She might as well have had a neon sign on her saying, “Trouble.”
I ran my hand down my face and over the scruff on my chin. I was a detective. Not a horny teenager. I could keep it in my pants for one night. This was going to make or break my career.
She bent over even more as she examined the air-conditioning unit.
I groaned. She’s crazy, I tried to tell myself. But I didn’t believe the words. She blew up a house. I wasn’t sure I believed that either. So what the hell am I doing here? I grabbed the bags of take-out before I could change my mind.
My car door slammed and Violet jumped, hitting her head on the side of the unit.
“Ow,” she mumbled. But then it was like she slowly registered what had caused her to hit her head. She quickly spun around and stared at me. There was a spot of grease right beside her nose. She was holding a hammer in her hand. A hammer that had no business being anywhere near her air conditioner.
“You again,” she seethed and pointed the hammer at me. “How many times am I going to have to ask you to get off my property?” But before I could respond, she sneezed in the most adorable way, and then proceeded to wipe the grease spot across her cheek, smearing it everywhere.
I would have laughed, but for some reason it made her look even sexier. “You’ll probably have to ask me a few more times,” I said with a smile. “It just so happens that I like coming around to see you.” This flirting thing was easy. I wasn’t out of practice at all.
She squinted her eyes at me. “Okay. Then let me ask you a few more times. Get. Off. My. Property. Get off my property. Off. Now.” She pointed to my car. “Go.”
I ignored her and walked closer. “I noticed you weren’t feeling well earlier. I brought dinner for us to share.” I lifted up the take-out bags. “Together this time, though.” I gave her my most charming smile.
For one second, her gaze dipped to my smile. But then she immediately snapped her attention back to my eyes. “Go to hell.” She started to storm past me.
“Whoa.” I caught her arm. “I’m not here on business. I’m here to have dinner with you. You know…like a date.”
She looked down at her arm and then back up at me. Her left eyebrow rose. “Like a date?” She laughed. “Look, you’re clearly from out of town, so let me help you out. I’m insane.” She pulled out of my grip and then gestured her hands around her head in a comical way, although it was a little intimidating since she was still holding the hammer. “People stay away from me. Be one of those people, Detective Reed.”
“You can call me Tucker.” I smiled again, ignoring her lame attempt at scaring me away. And I couldn’t help wondering why she so desperately wanted to be all alone. I certainly didn’t like being single. Four months of moping around were enough for me.
She sighed and looked down at her hammer. “You’re not supposed to be here, Tucker.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Here in the woods? Here with her? Here in this stupid town? She was probably right about all three of those things, yet…here I was. I shrugged. “Where am I supposed to be then?”
“Anywhere but here.” She absently tapped the hammer against her thigh a few times as she glanced at the bags of food.
“It’s a little too late for that, I can’t eat all this alone.”
She scrunched her mouth to the side in thought.
“Plus, I can fix that for you.” I nodded to her air-conditioner.
She still didn’t respond.
This wasn’t a hard decision. She was sick. There was no way that she was in the mood to cook tonight. Plus I was offering her free repair services. I was going above and beyond. “You know what? You’re right. You are crazy…” I knew I had her where I wanted her because a line in her forehead I didn’t know existed suddenly appeared. “…because you care about fixing your air-conditioner even though it’s freezing out. No wonder you’re sick.”
She frowned. “I’m trying to fix the heater.”
This time I did laugh. “That’s not your furnace. That’s the air-conditioning unit.”
She sneezed. “Ugh. I’ve been out here for thirty minutes trying to figure out how to open up the wrong thing?” She sneezed again.
“Let’s get you inside.”
She didn’t move, she just looked back down at the bag. “There’s really too much for you to eat alone?”
“I probably have enough food here for four people honestly. I went a little overboard because I didn’t know what you like.” The smile on her lips was small, but it felt like a win for me. “What do you say?”
She sighed. “No.”
What? Seriously? “I didn’t want to hang this over your head, but technically you did steal from a detective earlier. You can get into all sorts of trouble for that.”
“You gave me your jacket. I didn’t rip it off your back.”
“True. Scratch the petty thievery. But dinner’s getting cold. And I’m good at distinguishing between an air-conditioning unit and a furnace. What does a guy have to do to win you over?”
“Okay. Fine.” She pinched her eyes closed like she immediately regretted her decision. “You can stay.” She opened up her eyes again and pierced me with an intense stare. “But you have to fix my heater because the repair guy can’t come for two days and…” her voice trailed off when she sneezed again. “And this isn’t a date. Just give me three minutes.” She put up three fingers like she was talking to a child and then ran up to her house, her hammer gripped tightly in her hand.
My eyes gravitated back to her ass. She was wrong. This was most definitely a date. A fake one. Absolutely, 100 perfect fake. So stop staring at her ass.
END OF CHAPTER 6
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