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Hard Hart: The Harty Boys, Book 1 by Cox, Whitley (1)

Chapter One

“Come on!” Krista Matthews screeched as she hammered her palms on the steering wheel of her dark green 1993 Toyota Tercel. “Start, you motherfucker. Starrrrrrrt!”

She turned the ignition off and then on again, but the car did nothing besides groan and sputter and trick her into thinking it was going to start.

Fuck!

The clock on the dash told her she was going to be late. She glanced up at the elderly man coming out of the house in front of her. Nearly bent double, poor Mr. Geller was nearly ninety, and he still refused to use a walker.

Said his cane was just fine, even though the way he hobbled down the wet gravel driveway toward her said he should probably be in a wheelchair, not just using a walker. He lifted his cane and tapped on her window, rain dripping down over the hood of his forest-green rain jacket.

“Mornin’, Constable. Battery?” he asked with a smile.

Krista blew the dark red curls off her forehead and nodded. “I think so.”

“You need me to jump you?”

Oh, Mr. Geller, if only you were a few decades younger and not married to Mrs. Geller, I’d be all over that.

The twinkle in his soft gray eyes said he was fully aware of his innuendo.

Rolling her eyes with an amused chuckle, she nodded.

He toddled over to his beat-up old Ford. Within seconds, he had pulled it up in front of her car and was popping the hood. She did the same with her vehicle and watched as he deftly hooked up his truck to her car. He craned his head around her hood and gave her a drippy-faced nod.

Praying, with eyes shut and crossed fingers, Krista turned the key one more time.

Thank the elderly landlord, it worked. The car was alive.

It was alive!

Mr. Geller slammed her hood shut moments later and gave her a wave, telling her to git as he knew she was probably already late for work. She waved back at him with a big, thankful smile and was on her way up the driveway toward the station.

Fifteen minutes late for work, soaking wet from the run from her car to the police station, and with an earache that seemed to be a direct result of that nasty wind that had picked up overnight, Krista poured herself a cup of coffee in the breakroom at six fifteen in the morning. She prayed her partner and mentor had called in sick.

No such luck.

Today was not her day for luck.

She smelled him before she saw him. Heard him before she felt him. That disgusting body spray he seemed to bathe in. And the laugh that managed to make all the other women at the detachment swoon. To Krista, he just sounded like a creepy clown getting ready to peel off her face. It didn’t seem to matter how many times she turned him down, declined his advances or politely but firmly told him no; he still thought he could wear her down and she’d sleep with him or, at the very least, grab a drink.

Like it was some rite of passage to have sex with your superior when you became a cop, or at least a female cop. She knew that it wasn’t. He was making shit up. Using every lame reason in his arsenal to get into another rookie’s pants. But so far, nothing had worked. No man had been in Krista’s pants in quite some time, and no way in hell was she ending her dry spell with Myles Slade, king of the douchebags.

Three of them had started at the detachment around the same time, all of them women. Only Krista was left on Myles’s list of women to vanquish. To cajole and coerce into his bed. So it made sense why he was so interested in her. She was the last one. He needed to get her into bed to complete the hat-trick.

Barf!

Both Wendy and Marlise hadn’t gone into too much detail about their time with Myles; in fact, neither of them wanted to talk about it at all. They just shrugged it off. Said it was a night after drinks at the bar and that the man held their futures, their careers, in the palm of his hand, including making their rookie lives a complete nightmare. It was just easier to put up, shut up and move on.

The man made Krista sick. He literally made her head hurt and gut churn the moment he walked into a room. And it was as though he had some sixth sense about where she was, because Myles always managed to put himself between her and a doorway. Managed to position himself between her and escape.

“Ready to go?” he asked with a disgusting purr to his voice, coming up behind her, popping her personal space bubble with his body.

With flared nostrils, a grunt of disdain and rolled shoulders, she turned away from him. He’d only been in the room for half a second, and already he had her feeling uncomfortable and claustrophobic. She hated that he’d manipulated his way into being her trainer. She missed Janice.

“Yep,” she piped, determined not to let him see her flinch. He always got mad when he thought she was deliberately avoiding him, and then enraged when she’d turn him down. Only instead of taking the hint that she wasn’t interested, he’d press on as though she were simply playing hard to get and treating it all like a game. While in reality, where Krista lived, it was anything but a game.

He’d gone so far as to request to train her, and since he seemed to have the staff sergeant wrapped around his finger, Myles got away with pretty much anything, and Krista was stuck with the predator as a mentor.

“All right.” Myles rubbed his hands together, a maniacal gleam in his eye. “Well, move it. We want to get a move on. We’re going to go patrol the highway later today. Set up a roadblock for a bit and maybe a speed trap. Write some citations.” He went to smack her butt, but at the last second, Staff Sergeant Wicks walked by, so he let his hand travel past her hip and land on the table.

“Everything okay in here?” the staff sergeant asked, wandering into the small staff kitchen.

“Everything’s just peachy, sir,” Myles said with a serpentine smile. “Matthews and I are on highway patrol today. Friday at four o’clock on a weekend is sure to nab us a few speeders.” Myles was all grins. It didn’t help that he looked like one might expect a serial killer to look. And not like the type of serial killer that hides in a dark alley or storm drain and uses a machete to hack their victims into tiny bite-size pieces.

No.

Myles Slade was the kind of serial killer that was handsome. His smile was almost too big and too perfect for his face, and his features were masculine and sharp. Tall and blond with square shoulders and a round face. It was easy to see why several the women at the precinct fawned over him. And his cheeks held that forever rosy glow, liked he’d just come in from the cold outdoors.

But none of that mattered when you looked into his eyes. They were the eyes of a predator. The eyes of the devil. So brown they were almost black. You couldn’t see the pupil—ever. Not even in a dim room or under a lamp could you find the pupil. It ceased to exist. More often than not, Krista found herself turning away from his stare, avoiding eye contact at any cost, because the longer she held his gaze, the more it felt as though Lucifer himself was staring back at her. Soulless, vacuous holes—demon eyes.

“Good, good.” Wicks chuckled. His eyes briefly flicked to Myles, and Krista almost missed it, but there was a hint of what looked almost like unease there before he masked it with a big smile. “All right, well, be safe out there.” And with a nod and smile so fake not even the coffee maker was believing it, he left the room.

* * *

“Is this everything for you?” the teenybopper with overdone eye makeup behind the checkout asked. “You managed to find everything you were looking for okay?”

Brock Hart grunted, nodded and tossed cash onto the counter and then, without even waiting for the receipt, headed out the door to his big black pickup truck. Why was he so angry about a burned-out headlight? It happened to everyone, and yet for some reason, the inconvenience of it had him seeing red.

Though if you asked those closest to Brock, they’d all say the man only seemed to see the world in various shades of red. And not the rose-colored glasses kind of red. More like the “I hate the world and everyone in it” kind of red.

He pulled out of the parking lot and gunned it onto the road, hitting the highway in no time, where he really let the rage inside flow. Weaving in and out of traffic like a Formula One driver. Horsepower and metal his to command. The windshield wipers were on full bore and the roads were slick from the sudden rainstorm. They still had a week or so left of summer, but fall seemed to be rearing its ugly head early.

He noticed the speed trap up ahead easily enough. Enough cars had flashed their lights as a warning, so with another grumble, his big size thirteens applied pressure to the brake before he tossed on the cruise control.

Snorting, he shook his head. She was right out in plain sight, way, way up ahead, radar gun pointed directly at oncoming traffic. Anyone coming toward her would see her and have time to slow down before she got a read on their speed. Heavy rain and gray sky be damned, she was easy to spot.

Must be a noob.

She stood on the side of the road with her hip cocked and the radar gun pointed directly at his truck.

Better luck next time, sweetheart.

Then she waved him over.

What the fuck.

He glanced behind him. She couldn’t be waving him over. He was going the speed limit. Had been for the last eight seconds. But when he looked back, she snagged his eye and pointed at him. Directly at him, ordering him to pull over.

What the fuck. He’d never been pulled over before.

He slowed down and pulled over, bringing his window down in the process, ready to educate her on her error, when he came face to face with sex in a uniform. All dark red hair tucked up into a no-nonsense bun and the most piercing blue eyes he’d ever seen. And the body, holy jeez, if she looked half as good out of her uniform as she did in it, any man privileged enough to take her to bed wouldn’t last long.

Where the fuck were these thoughts coming from?

“Good afternoon, sir. License and registration, please.” Her voice was like smooth chocolate, but there was also a slight tremor to it.

Did he make her nervous? Was this her first ticket? Was he going to pop her ticket cherry? He handed her his license and then dug the registration out of the glove compartment.

“Do you have any idea how fast you were going … Mr. Hart?” she asked, the shake still in her voice and now in her hands as she continued to avert her eyes and read over his information.

“In fact, I do. I had the cruise control on.”

Her head snapped up from the registration, and her perfect little mouth widened. “You did? How fast did you have it set at?”

“The speed limit … of course.”

She grabbed the radar gun out from under her arm and studied it intently, as if it were a piece of scripture and she was trying to quickly commit it to memory. Brock raised his eyebrows patiently, getting a kick out of how clearly flustered this little champion for justice was getting.

She appeared cold. Water dripped off the brim of her hat and tips of her lashes, and her cheeks burned a bright pink. He remembered cold, wet nights out in the field on missions. All was well until his underwear got wet. Once his drawers weren’t dry then he was a more miserable fucker than normal.

She narrowed her eyes and looked back up at him. “I’ll be right back.” Then she stalked off toward her patrol car, his license and registration still in her hand.

All part of the scare tactic. Make ’em sweat.

Brock knew the drill.

Not that he’d ever been pulled over before, despite his need for speed, but he’d been in the passenger seat enough times with friends who were pulled over to know she was going to take her sweet-ass time coming back.

She hoped to come back to a truck where a frazzled driver waited. Ready to confess that he had indeed been speeding, had jaywalked yesterday and may or may not have a dead body in the back of the cab.

But Brock Hart was no ordinary man.

No ordinary driver.

It took more than being pulled over for speeding and waiting for a cop—a hot cop no less—to rattle his nerves. So instead he simply watched the headlights of the oncoming traffic and the rain bead down the passenger window in meandering rivers.

To his surprise, she didn’t make him wait. Within three minutes, she was swaying her saucy little hips back to the truck, a smug smirk on those sensuous lips.

She glanced down at his license and then back up at him. Yeah, he didn’t look at all like his picture. His buzz cut had grown out a bit, he had what his mother called “a permanent five o’clock shadow” on his jaw, and his face had filled out a bit. That picture felt like a lifetime ago. Taken just days after he’d returned from his final mission overseas. The only thing that would never change were his green eyes.

She squinted at him and then back down at his driver’s license again. “You may not have been speeding, Mr. Hart. It would appear I mistook you for the car behind you, but your headlight is out and that’s a”—she began filling out the citation on her citation pad—“sixty-dollar fine.” She licked her lips and swallowed a few times.

He smiled, a real rarity for him, but for some reason this woman pulled it from him. “All right, but just so you know, generally, a blown headlight usually results in a verbal warning, at the very most a written warning.”

Her head jerked, and she nearly dropped her pen. “You a cop?”

He shook his head and shrugged. “No. But I know how it goes.” He enjoyed the dash of red that raced across her face. “Plus, I’m heading home right now to go change it.” He grabbed it off the passenger seat and held it up. “This is the new light right here. And if you issue me the ticket, I can just dispute it in court once it’s fixed.”

She looked like she was about to puke. “Did you keep your receipt?”

“Yes.”

A big ol’ lie.

She puffed up her chest, pushing her breasts toward him, and he couldn’t stop himself. As hard as he tried to keep his eyes on her face, he let them fall to the name plate on her chest for just a second, Constable K. Matthews. She caught him looking and made a noise in her throat, which forced his eyes to fly back up to hers. Her jaw was clenched firm, and the flush that had been snaking its way up her neck and cheeks now worked its way into her hairline. The woman was the color of a poppy.

“Listen, don’t tell me how to do my job. Yes, a warning is typical, but if I want to issue you a fine, I will.”

He liked her fire.

He bit the inside of his cheek. He was determined not to smirk if it killed him. “Sorry, officer.”

She huffed, a little bit of wind appearing to have re-entered her sails. Her blue eyes glowed in an oncoming headlight. “Just get out of here … and it’s constable.” The last part was whispered so low he could hardly hear her. She handed him back his information and, without looking back, headed toward her car.

Brock shifted in his seat, the half-chub in his pants twitching uncomfortably against the zipper of his jeans.

Well, that was weird.

For some strange reason, as he pulled back out into traffic, he felt lighter, less angry. The red in his vision was less scarlet and more of a burnt orange, kind of like Constable Matthews’s hair …