“C’mon, darlin, I jus’ wan’ a lil’ sugar pussy. I’m only topside on this rock for twenty-four hours. You don’t wan’ me to go away lonely, now do ya?” He had a thick Centaurian accent and had obviously been drinking all night so the words came out in a drawling slur. Shaina McCullough suddenly found herself pinned against the crumbling gray concrete with the disgusting drunk leering in her face. “Jus’ a lil’ sugar pussy …” he repeated and she turned her head in revulsion as his foul breath, thick with gin fumes, washed over her.
That was it; she couldn’t stand it any more. Determined to teach him a lesson, Shaina struggled to get her right hand behind her back and grab the mini-tazer that was taped there. Cursing the stupid skintight design of her skirt that made it impossible to carry anything in the pockets, her fingers wiggled beneath the low-slung waistband of the leather mini, feeling for the small, lipstick-shaped tube. She intended to whip it out and shove it straight into the drunk Centaurian’s balls-all three of them. A good sharp jolt in the nads ought to discourage him, since he didn’t seem to know how to take no for an answer. At the very least it would teach him not to bother innocent-looking girls whoturned out to be Peace Control Officers.
“Hey baby, I knew you’d come around.” The drunk had managed to pull the magno-tabs of her crop top apart and was currently trying to get off her demi-bra. His breath was making her want to retch. Shaina fumbled grimly for the tazer. Where was it? She had taped it to the small of her back right before leaving the station, but now her searching fingers found nothing but a smooth expanse of skin-it was gone. The drunk had one hand inside her bra now and was mauling her right breast. Shaina was sure she’d have to take a scalding anti-bac shower that night to even begin to feel clean again.
“Get off me!” she yelled, beginning to feel a little panicky. Okay, it was time to call for backup. The drunk Centaurian might not be the serial rapist she was looking for but she was going to be in serious trouble if she didn’t get him off her pronto. One thick knee was pressing between her thighs, trying to spread her legs as Shaina reached for the autojewel, actually a link to her backup, nestled securely in her belly button. But the drunk’s potbelly was plastered against her own flat stomach too firmly to admit so much as a micron between them, let alone her questing fingers. She tried to push him away, but he was all over her, a suffocating, reeking flesh blanket.
Oh, this could not be happening after all her careful training and months of preparation for a case like this, Shaina thought despairingly. It was supposed to be her big break. What would Ty think if he could see her now?
As if to answer her question, a deep male voice came from the depths of the alley behind them.
“Hey, buddy, I don’t think you’re this lady’s type. Why don’t you back off and get out of here?” Shaina’s heart sank. She knew that voice. It belonged to Brent Tyson, the senior officer who had trained her not so many months ago. Damn it all to hell, what was he doing here? She’d almost rather be mauled by this disgusting drunk than have her ex-partner witness her failure.
The drunk in question was paying no attention to the commanding voice behind him. “Find yer own, mister. I was here first,” he mumbled, still pawing at her bra. He had exposed both breasts now and he was working on spreading her thighs. Thankfully, the tightness of the micro-mini actually worked in her favor there, making it impossible for her legs to part more than a few inches. Shaina continued to try and wriggle free with no success.
“Fine, we’ll do it your way,” Ty said pleasantly. Suddenly, the drunk was dragged off her and Shaina was left leaning against the cold concrete wall, gasping with effort and off balance in her ridiculous thigh-high imitation lizardskin boots. Not for the first time, she cursed the stupid costume, which was supposed to make her look like a university student out for a night on the town. She stumbled a few steps and fell to the dirty, gravel-strewn ground, cutting her palms in the process, and looked up in time to see Ty’s fist connect with the drunk’s face. The punch wiped the leering grin off in a sickening crunch of cartilage and bone. Blood that was nearly black began pouring down the Centaurian’s face. He dropped his bottle of gin and cupped his nose, bellowing in hurt confusion.
“Whyth you do that?” he gasped, his eyes flaring orange with pain. “That hurth, you thon of a bith!” He added a few choice words in his native tongue that Shaina couldn’t begin to make out, although their meaning was pretty clear.
“Wouldn’t have had to if you’d backed off when the lady asked you to,” Tyson replied, still in that same, pleasant, nononsense tone of voice. He casually smoothed back his thick black hair with one large hand and waited to see if the drunk had had enough. Apparently, he hadn’t. With an inarticulate howl, he came stumbling forward, clearly meaning to tackle Tyson and take him to the ground. This time, Ty didn’t even bother to punch him. He just stepped out of the way and let the Centaurian run headfirst into the opposite wall of the alley, knocking himself out cold.
Without missing a beat, Tyson turned back to Shaina, who was still kneeling on the ground, feeling stunned. “Upsy-daisy, sweetheart.” He hooked one capable hand under her arm and levered her to her feet as though she weighed next to nothing. Angrily, Shaina shook him off.
“Damn it, Ty, what are you doing here?” She gazed at her former partner with disgust. As always, he looked immaculate, as though he was about to attend a meeting instead of punching out drunk Centaurians in a dark alley in the seedy port district. Shaina couldn’t stop her eyes from traveling up his muscular legs and thighs clad in skintight black trousers, to the broad chest and wide shoulders in a crisp white button-up shirt. He hadn’t even gotten dirty in the short fight, she noticed with disgust. Brent Tyson had a striking, hawklike face and his distinctive amber eyes were glinting with amusement and maybe something else as he stared at her in the dim light of the alley.
“What am I doing here? Saving your sweet little ass, McCullough. At least that’s what it looks like from here.” He grinned at her. That self-satisfied smirk Shaina couldn’t stand, showing sharp, white teeth in the half light of the alley. Ty was half D’Lonian. Usually, aside from the amber eyes and golden-tan skin, you really couldn’t tell. But when he grinned like that, it showed. That grin made Shaina nervous because it reminded her of all the rumors you heard about D’Lonian males-most of them too incredible to be real and too embarrassing to repeat. All her girlfriends whispered and giggled about it when they heard she was working with a man who was half D’Lonian. People said D’Lonian men were animalistic in their mating habits, that they had uncontrollable, unnatural lust. She tried to push the thought out of her head and concentrate on appearing self-sufficient and professional.
“I had the situation completely under control. There was no need for you to interfere.” Shaina lied as forcefully as she could. “This is my case and you shouldn’t be here.”
“What were you going to do, bludgeon him into submission with these?” Ty cupped her still exposed breasts in large, warm hands and scooped them neatly back into the lacy demi-bra, causing Shaina to gasp. The heat of that brief contact lingered, making her nipples into hard little pebbles as she attempted to close the magno tabs of her crop top, getting them misaligned in the process. She tried to ignore her reaction to his touch and remain professional.
“No, I was just about to stun him with my tazer before you interfered.” She looked up at him defiantly. Even with the absurdly high-heeled boots, she was too short to meet him eye to eye. Smoothing down the crooked crop top, she tried in vain to pull the micro-mini just a little farther down her thighs. Having those smoldering amber eyes on her body always made Shaina uncomfortable for reasons she was unwilling to explore, even to herself.
“Oh, you mean this?” Tyson reached into the righthand pocket of his skintight trousers. Shaina’s eyes couldn’t help but follow the gesture as she noticed, not for the first time, the thick bulge between his legs. Part of her wondered if it was any thicker at the moment as a result of having his hands, however briefly, on her bare breasts, but she pushed the thought resolutely away. Ty pulled his hand out of his pocket and there, lying in the center of his large palm, was her lipstick-sized mini-tazer. It still had a small curl of Stiksalot-sticks anything to anything-stuck to it.
“Where did you get that? I taped it to the small of my back before I left the station.” She reached for it but Ty pulled it back, gripping the miniature weapon firmly in his fist.
“And you dropped it about three blocks back. It fell right out the back of your skirt in front of the Green Iguana.” He mentioned the local dive the serial rapist was thought to hang out in. Shaina had spent a good part of the night there, letting herself be seen, before wandering slowly away to the darker side streets of the port district, hoping to lure the rapist into following. Instead, she had gotten the drunk Centaurian, who was currently out cold and snoring at their feet.
“You were following me!” Shaina was outraged. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Ty, my training period is over. It’s been over for months and you’re no longer my partner or training officer-you’re my coworker. That means we’re equals and I don’t need you breathing down my neck while I’m trying to work. I don’t need you to take care of me anymore.” Shaina could feel her pale skin flushing red with anger but she was helpless to do anything about it.
“Well, from what I just saw it looks like you need someone to take care of you.” His deep voice was quiet and calm, but those wide amber eyes flashed dangerously. “And I wasn’t following you. I happened to be having a beer at the Green Iguana when I saw you walk out. I noticed the tazer fall out of your skirt and came along to give it back to you. What would you have done if I had decided to leave you to your own devices and return it tomorrow?”
“I could have called for backup.” Shaina sounded sullen, even to herself. Why was it that Ty could reduce her from a grown woman to a petulant child with a few choice words?
“With this?” He stepped forward, crowding her a little, and ran one long finger along the soft curve of her abdomen, indicating the autojewel in her belly button, now blinking red moons and yellow daisies. The brush of his warm, callused fingertip along her skin made Shaina shiver. “Where is your backup anyway?” He smelled like warm male musk.
“They’re back a few blocks.” She wanted to move away from him, but, once again, her back was to the wall. Her boots grated against the gravel as she shifted her feet; there was no place to go. “I didn’t want to scare the guy off. I’m trolling for the Red-Head Rapist; he’s been known to hunt in the port district.”
“Yes, I know. They’re calling him that because he targets redheads, which, I guess, is how you got involved, even though this isn’t technically your area of expertise.”
Shaina bristled. “I don’t want to be stuck in Domestic my entire career. When Tony from Vice approached me about trying to draw this guy out I jumped on it. My hair just made it easier.” She flipped her long, silky auburn hair over one shoulder with a defiant little toss of her head, daring him to say anything about it.
“Is that right?” His amber eyes still glittered dangerously. He took another step forward, deliberately invading even more of her space. Shaina held her ground.
“Yes, it is. As a matter of fact, that guy you punched out might be the Red-Head Rapist, for all you know.” She gestured at the Centaurian sprawled at their feet.
“You know he’s not.” Tyson smiled a little, again showing those sharp, white teeth. “He’s just a drunk Centaurian out looking for, what did he call it? Oh, yeah-a little ‘sugar pussy’ I believe is what he said.” He leaned in closer, his warm, cinnamon-scented breath brushing along her neck and the tops of her breasts as he spoke, and Shaina felt herself blushing furiously. Goddess! To think he had heard that too … it was absolutely mortifying. She was deeply embarrassed-which must be the reason her heart was pounding so hard and she felt like she couldn’t get a deep enough breath.
“So you stood there and watched the whole thing. If you were going to interfere, then why didn’t you do it in the first place before he started manhandling me?” She fought not to notice how close he was to her. His slim hips were pressed against her pelvis until she was absolutely sure she could feel the bulge of his hard cock digging mercilessly into her flesh. The heat in his blazing golden eyes was intense and it was all Shaina could do to meet them without flinching. She didn’t want Ty to know how nervous he made her.
“McCullough … Shaina …” He sighed and took a step back. Running one hand through his thick black hair, he shook his head as he looked at her. “I was trying to leave you alone because I knew how you’d react if I interfered with your sting. But damn it-you left me no choice! I couldn’t just stand by and watch him rape you, could I?
“I only stepped in at the last minute when it became clear that you weren’t handling the situation and your backup was nowhere in sight. I don’t see how I could have done anything else. Now, come on.” Ty took her small hands gently in his. “You hurt yourself when you fell. I have a first aid kit in my craft. Why don’t you come let me bandage you up? Red-Head’s not out tonight or he would have taken the bait already. There’s no way he could have resisted you.” Those frank amber eyes raked over her again, taking in her barely concealed breasts and the too-short skirt, making Shaina feel hot and cold and completely naked all at the same time. She crossed her legs tightly, trying to ignore the throbbing between her thighs. As always, Ty’s effect on her body made her feel nervous and angry-out of control.
“I told you, Ty, I don’t need you to take care of me anymore. So why don’t you do us both a favor and stay out of my life?” She pulled her hurt hands out of his large, warm grip, taking the tazer as she did. Grimly, she pushed past him, fully aware that he was letting her go, the awareness making her angrier than ever.
“Shaina.” He grasped her upper arm and swung her around to face him once more. “I admit I’ve been watching out for you a little bit. You’re still a rookie and I get worried about you, especially when you take on an assignment like this. But if that’s really what you want, then I’ll do it. I’ll stay out of your life.” His voice was calm but dangerous; his fingers dug into the flesh of her upper arm like steel pincers.
“Fine.” She didn’t know why her voice was trembling or why she couldn’t look into those golden eyes while she spoke. “Stay out.”
“You have my word.” Voice cold, he let her go so abruptly she nearly fell again. Stumbling, Shaina got past him as fast as she could, blinking back angry tears as she wobbled in the spike-heeled boots to the end of the alley. She could feel his eyes on her back like laser beams while she walked, and she fought the urge to look back. The boots were pinching her toes and sending spikes of pain through her arches, and every extremity felt frozen solid except her hands-they were still warm from Ty’s touch.
Why wouldn’t he just leave her alone and let her prove she could do the job right on her own without always swooping in to rescue and criticize her? Shaina knew he had trained lots of other Peace Control Officers, so why did he always single her out, as though her training would never be done?
Well, now at least he had promised to stay out of her life. She wondered how long that promise would last.