Cops And...Lovers?
uncomfortable for him.
    "I should tell you up front that most of my deputies have picked Stephanie up at one time or another." He grimaced. "She's been cutting school. Most times, I'm around. But if I'm not, I expect whoever's on duty to drive her home."
    "I'll be happy to drive her home when you're not around."
    " Steph's a good kid. She's just going through a tough time right now."
    "How old is she?"
    "She'll be nine on Saturday."
    Erin didn't have any idea what kind of birthday gift a nine-year-old girl would want, but knew she wanted to get her something. Anything to bring some joy—no matter how minute—into that little girl's life.
    "How long has she been cutting school?" she asked.
    "About a year."
    Remembering he didn't wear a ring, she said, "Divorce is tough on kids, but they're amazingly resilient."
    His jaw tightened, but he didn't look away. "I'm a widower."
    The shadow in his eyes came and went so quickly, Erin wasn't sure she'd seen it at all. Appalled by her blunder, she cringed. "I'm sorry. I just assumed—"
    "It's a common assumption. Don't sweat it."
    Considering Nick was a widower, Stephanie's behavior took on a whole new light. A pang went through Erin when she thought of her own mother, and how lonely a young girl could be growing up without one.
    "Here's your coffee."
    Erin looked up, relieved to see Mrs. Thornsberry coming from the kitchen with a tray. The coffee smelled like heaven.
    "Thank you," she said, accepting her cup.
    "Did you invite Erin to Stephanie's party on Saturday, Chief?" the nanny asked.
    Nick shot the older woman a warning look over the rim of his cup. "No."
    Judging from his expression, Erin deduced he wasn't necessarily glad the nanny had brought up the subject. Erin couldn't blame him, after the way she'd reacted to his daughter's wheelchair. Besides, she didn't know any of them well enough to expect to get invited to a party. Vowing not to take it personally, she moved to let him off the hook. "I'll probably be tied up unpacking—"
    "Nonsense," Mrs. Thornsberry said. "It will be a good opportunity for you to get to know Stephanie and Nick. Hector will be here, too. We'd like you to come—"
    "She's going to be on duty, Em ," Nick interjected.
    Mrs. Thornsberry barely spared him a glance. "Well, maybe you can stop in for a piece of cake after your shift."
    Nick's cell phone chirped. Murmuring a quick apology, he set his cup on the dining room table, tugged the phone from his pocket and answered with a curt utterance of his name.
    "When?" he asked sharply.
    His tone caught Erin 's attention, and she set her own cup on the table.
    "I'll be right there." Shoving the phone back into his pocket, he turned to Erin . "We've got an emergency call."

----
    Chapter 3
    « ^ »
    N ick sprinted to the truck and jerked open the door. Emergency calls didn't come often, but when they did, he took them very seriously. Sliding behind the wheel, he snatched up the radio mike. "What do you have, dispatch?"
    Vaguely, he was aware of Erin settling into the passenger seat beside him, strands of hair streaming out of her bun. Hell of a thing for him to be thinking about when he should have his mind on the voice coming over the mike.
    "Code three at the Brass Rail Saloon," the dispatcher's voice said. "Robbery in progress."
    "That's the second time in two weeks. Who called it in?"
    "Passerby saw a white male in a blue shirt kick in the front door."
    "Well, that's real subtle." He started the Suburban and slammed it into gear. Dust and gravel spewed into the air as he sped down the driveway. "Put out a call to the sheriff's office," he barked into the mike. "Tell Hector to put on his vest and get over there, too. No one goes inside. I'm on my way." Once on the highway, he flipped on his emergency lights, no siren, and floored the accelerator.
    "Juvenile delinquents?" Erin asked. "Domestic disputes?"
    He looked over to see her strapping on her seat belt. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes wide and alert.

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