Then a bullet shatters her apartment window and she's forced to admit she needs protection. Especially if it comes in the form of sexy cop Warren Vitalis, who takes his body-guarding duties very seriously.
Nights of mind-blowing sex with Warren stir urges Tabitha thought had been forever tamped down. This passionate man is arousing not only her libido, but her emotions as well. What they have together is hotand very temporary. At least that's what she tells herself
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KEEPING A CLOSE REIN on his dog's leash, Warren Vitalis rounded the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich Avenue with the same wary alertness of any cop who'd been on the job for at least a decade. Around every bend lurked the possibility of danger, even for an off-duty de-tective out taking his mutt for a run.
"Hi, Warren." Two middle-aged men strolling down Bank Street arm in arm greeted Warren instead of any danger.
"You guys are done early," Warren shouted back as he sped past the partners who shared ownership of a res-taurant and an antique store on the route Warren and Buster ran every night. "Is business slow?"
"Bite your tongue, Detective," the slighter manScottcalled back. "We just hired help to close up at night so we can turn in early. We're not the party boys we used to be."
Warren flashed a thumbs-up before gaining speed through a construction zone where the street was covered by a temporary wooden tunnel. Notorious places for crime, the passageways provided plenty of nooks for thieves to hide, but Buster didn't look worried. The Akida-German shepherd mix charged into the darkness with typical speed. Warren might not be on duty tonight and he wasn't in his own precinct, but he still considered this section of the West Village to be his beat since he lived a couple of blocks over. If he could provide a little extra safety for Scott and DeShaun, the restaurateurs, or for the handful of people who were out for a walk at 11:00 p.m., he felt a little more worthy of his badge.
Either that, or maybe riding a desk at the precinct for half his shift hours lately simply made him itchy to be back on the streets. His ballistics expertise had made for a fast career rise after a rough start, but it had also tied him to cold case files more often than he cared to remember. As rewarding as it might be to catch a perp roaming free ten years after the guy committed his crime, Warren missed the adrenaline rush that came with working cases in progress.
Slowing down at a shuffling noise between the scaf-folding posts inside the construction tunnel, he spotted a homeless guy catching a few z's on a length of card-board. Buster circled back to stand by Warren's legs, vigilant even when the threat level was low.
"Hey, Larry." In his twelve years on the force, Warren had learned you couldn't save every homeless guy on the street. That didn't stop him from at least recognizing them, since one of the biggest threats to a vagrant's already tenuous grip on their pride was fading from the public consciousness all together. If society refused to see these people, sooner or later they vanished.
There was a time in Warren's life where he'd identi-fied more than Larry would ever know.
Warren started to lean down to make sure the guy was still breathing at the same time Buster's ears straight-ened. A low growl started in the dog's throat, but the warning wasn't directed toward the drunk passed out with a bottle of Night Train still clutched in one hand. Buster's sudden wariness was focused at the far end of the construction tunnel.
Straightening, Warren listened to the night noises outside the thin plywood walls that housed the laborers from cold winter winds whipping past. Cars rushing by, tires clunking over maintenance hole covers, and the music from a nearby bar were all the usual sounds of this block.
Until a shot fired.
Sprinting toward the echo the same time as his dog, Warren raced headlong through the tunnel, past endless scaffolding and walls that prevented a clear sight of the street. Tires squealed outside as a car took off, but by the time he emerged from the Gotham City passageway, the vehicle must have already turned up Hudson or a road farther down.
He would have followed his sense of hearing to chase a potential license plate, his pace as fast as any detec-tive in the city thanks to numerous Ironman competi-tions over the years, but already he could hear a woman screaming from a building nearby.
It was the worst night of his life all over again.
LONG, FROZEN MINUTES passed before Tabitha Everhart could take a breath. In reality it had probably only been half a minute. The shriek of squealing tires had faded to the normal rush of late-night traffic outside her street-level living room window. The methodic thump of cars flying over a maintenance hole cover echoed the erratic beat of her heart in the aftermath of the shot that had pierced her window, shattering it in a vast network of cracks that radiated out from one perfectly round hole in the window.
Time seemed suspended, her gaze locked on the horrible glass spiderweb that meant her world wasn't nearly as safe a she'd been hoping.
"Police. Open up!"
The pounding at the door rattled its way through her momentary daze, startling up full-blown panic. If the police were at her door, wouldn't she have heard sirens? Seen a flashing light outside the broken glass?
She scrambled toward her phone. Dialed. Fumbled. Dialed again.
The pounding continued. Harder. More ominous. The man at her door broke through, half falling on the floor in a roll he leaped out of, his gun drawn.
"Has anyone been hit?" He asked the question with the weapon trained on her as his gaze spun around the room.
Words failed her. He was going to shoot her.sprawled across her coffee table in the race to dial 911.
"I" Her throat closed. And then the strangest words came to mind despite her fear.
"Since when do the cops point guns at the victims?" Anger at long-ago police officers who'd once shown up at her door for a domestic dispute couldn't help but in-fluence her reaction to this man.
But oh, God, would he answer her stupid question by shooting her?
"Since we have no way of knowing who's a victim and who's a whacked-out killer, ma'am. Warren Vitalis, NYPD." He dug in a back pocket and came up with a leather case that unfolded to show a badge and official-looking identification.
Some of the unreasonable anger fizzled away. Fear returned to weaken her knees.
"May I see?" She kept the phone to her ear and told herself she needed to put 911 on speed dial even though she prayed she'd never have to use it again after tonight.
Her heart still raced from the rush of adrenaline and mind-numbing fear that had robbed her of the ability to remember three simple digits. Nine. One. One.
"Look all you want." He winged over the badge like a Frisbee while he glanced around her humble apart-ment and makeshift decorating before slowly lowering his gun. "You're alone in the residence?"
She blinked and nodded quickly, a wealth of unex-pected emotion suddenly clogging her throat. She ought to know by now that if you suppress your fears long enough they'll come out to bite you in the butt even harder when you're not looking.
Her brain still didn't seem to be functioning as she stared at his identification labeling him as Detective Warren Vitalis of the New York Police Department, true to his word. If she'd only seen his headshot, she would think he looked like a cold, hard man despite the attrac-tive features. He wore his hair so tightly cropped he could have been a marine, the shorn hint of dark hair making him appear dangerous.
A round diamond rested in one ear, moving him more in the category of gangster than military man. She looked up at him now to see the bright white stone wink in the muted streetlight filtering in through sheer curtains that fluttered in the wind now that a hole had been blown through the window.
He studied the broken pattern of the glass for long moments before busting out a pocketsize plastic ruler with a hinge in the middle that allowed it to fold in half. But then she watched him angle the two sides near the bullet hole and realized the tool must have been a pro-tractor since it seemed to measure angles, too.
Deep-set green eyes looked over at her suddenly, as if he just remembered her presence.
"Feel free to call my department, Miss?"
"Everhart." She stood, dropping the phone back into its cradle before returning his badge. "Tabitha Everhart."
He took the leather case from her hand, their fingers brushing briefly. The current of awareness surprised her since it was something she hadn't experienced in a very long time. Had he felt the jolt?
Yanking her hand back, she recalled her promise to herself when she first realized she needed to leave her ex. No more men for a whilesizzle or no sizzle.
"Warren Vitalis. I'm not on duty tonight. I just happened to be walking my dog when I heard a shot. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. Just startled." She felt as though she'd been living on too much sugar and caffeineall spun up but shaky and empty. "You said you were walking a dog?"
"Buster's outside. He's not a police dog so he didn't get to come in." The detective packed up his protractor and shifted his attention to the back of her sofa. He frowned at a dark mark in the middle of the worn fabric.A bullet hole.
"Got a plastic bag or some household gloves?"
Tabitha could only stare at the bullet lodged in her couch. The bullet that had invaded her privacy, her life, her safety.
"Ms. Everhart?" His voice softened on the syllables of her name, making her eyes burn with the realization that she could be in serious danger.
"Yes." Grateful for a job that would pry her eyes away from the tiny bit of metal that could have been deadly, she raced into the kitchen before she lost control of her emotions. Ten seconds with her head under a faucet pouring cold water on her face and she'd be okay.
Please God, let her be okay.
It wasn't until a bit of lace around her thighs snagged on a shelf in the pantry as she leaned in for the sand-wich-sized plastic bags that she remembered she'd been wearing a silky little nightgown around her apartment tonight. In an effort to ward off a dark mood she'd tried to pamper herself and feel beautiful, to soak her toes in a foot bath and luxuriate in her best silk nightie, instead of hanging out in a ten-year-old T-shirt and flannel pajamas with her hair in a ponytail.
No wonder Detective Vitalis had quickly busied himself with crime-scene investigation instead of asking her about what happened.
She'd been giving the man a free show he'd been too polite to point out.