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by Joyce Palmer
Category: Erotica/BDSM Erotica/Romance
Description: DEA agent Lacey Parker has reached a pinnacle in her decade long career in law enforcement and is not about to let her overprotective husband squelch her plans, though living without him has become unbearable. Sheriff John Parker has worked tirelessly during their decade long marriage to get his wife where he wants her, under his watchful protection. As Lacey puts herself in the line of danger trying to take down a brutal killer, her husband's efforts at reconciliation are hindered not only by the demands of her job, but by the wily intentions of another woman to sabotage the couple's reunion.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: August 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [213 KB]
Reading time: 130-182 min.
Lacey Parker dragged herself down the lackluster corridor, wishing she didn't have to work today. Regret weighed on her shoulders as she trudged forward. Coffee in one hand, her purse in the other, she might as well been hauling a ton of bricks.
"Good morning, Lacey." A fellow agent passed.
She was vaguely nauseated imagining John's reaction to being served with divorce papers this morning. A painful bite of guilt gnawed the nerves between her shoulder blades.
This is going to be a hell of a long day.
She swallowed the bile in her throat as the dull throb of a headache threatened even more grief.
Her attorney advised that John would be served sometime before noon. They hadn't spoken for two months. She wasn't sure if he'd be surprised, angry--or relieved. Her heart ached at the thought of the latter. Was he ready to say good-bye for good?
She drew a deep, shuddering breath and slipped through the heavy, unmarked doors into the hornet's nest, the unofficial nickname for the Edison Bay field office of the DEA.
"Uh-oh." She grimaced, her personal troubles temporarily diverted. She set her requisite Starbucks coffee on her desk. "Ham is at it again, I see." She spoke softly to her partner, Jay Rodriguez, as she slipped her jacket off, then draped it over the back of her chair, dropping onto her seat across from him.
Tension charged the air. She dared a peek at their boss's glass office. He was in one of his moods. She could hear him ranting through the open door, his voice carrying over the raucous of activity buzzing around her.
Telephones ringing, one-sided conversations, squeaky desk chairs, and rap-tap-tapping of computer keys did nothing to camouflage the brusque tone of Stewart Hamilton chewing out one of his agents.
Ham's curt Southern drawl reminded her so much of her father's. Sam Prescott fought her over this job acquisition as adamantly as her husband. Did all the men in her life have to be so bullheaded? Of course, they were all cops, her father retired.
At least she had an easy-going partner. She glanced over and smiled at him. Jay was nothing like John, her father, or their boss. Thank goodness!
"What did Danny do to get Ham so worked up?" she whispered while booting up her computer and then scanning her inbox, comforted by the familiarity of the smooth keys beneath her fingers.
"I'm not sure, but the administrator just left Ham's office before he called Danny in."
"Figures," she murmured wryly. Their boss never took blame for anything. If the administrator had spoken to him, someone's ass was probably in a ringer, and her brief experience in the department told her it wouldn't be Ham's.
"Yeah." Jay nodded, then stared at her a moment. "Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? You look a little haggard."
She glared. "Gee, thanks." Grumbling, she stowed her purse in the bottom drawer and took a sip from her coffee. "Does that line work on all the girls?"
He chuckled. "Pretty much." Then paused, his sparkling dark brown eyes keen as he watched her speculatively. "I can tell something's been bothering you."
"Oh?" She thought she'd successfully masked her heartache. After all, she'd had eight months of practice, ever since she left the home she shared with her soon-to-be-ex.
Jay cleared his throat. "You may not realize this about me, but I'm a sensitive guy. I notice things, and you haven't been happy for a while." He rocked back in his squeaky chair; his fingers drummed the arms on either side of his hips.
He looked uncomfortable prying into her private life. It was a rarity for her quiet-spoken partner.
"Today it seems worse. You look really down in the dumps, like you're about ready to start bawling."
Lacey blinked back tears and swallowed the lump in her throat. She didn't want to have this conversation, but she needed to unload on someone before the stress incapacitated her. Who better than her comrade in arms?
"John's going to find out I initiated divorce proceedings." Her heart throbbed, and the lump in her throat grew bigger. "I'm a little worried about his reaction and if maybe I should have handled the situation differently." She twirled a pencil between her fingers. "I guess I'm second-guessing myself." She hesitated on a long sigh. "Oh, Jay, I'm so confused."
Jay's dark eyebrows lifted. "You mean he's not expecting you to be asking for a divorce?"
She squirmed, and heat engulfed her face, a flaming rush of shame at the way she was handling things. "Well, I didn't know how to bring it up to him." A tear slipped over the rim of her eyelid, and she promptly brushed it away. "I can't go on like this. I had to do something." She drew a shaky breath. "I need closure."
If only she could find someplace to curl up and cry for a day or two. It was taking all her strength not to break down. Jay was right. She wanted to bawl; her life had become unbearable. Why it was true at this particular point in time she wasn't sure. All she knew was something had to change.
With a note of sympathy as he sat up and leaned against his desk, Jay responded, "What's done is done, Lacey. Maybe the threat of divorce will spur him into action." Displeasure washed across his leonine face. "Because you're right, no one should have to live in limbo forever." He frowned. "That man needs someone to give him an attitude adjustment."
Lacey smirked. "You better watch out." She glanced around to see if anyone were listening. "He might arrest you. He is the sheriff with an entire jail at his disposal."
"Ha! He could try."
"I left him. He could hardly be blamed for all this."
"Maybe if he'd been more reasonable," he argued, "you wouldn't have found it necessary to take such drastic measures."
Wow, she hadn't realized her partner would be so supportive. He'd often told her he regretted getting a divorce from his first wife, not to mention number two and number three.
If only John had accepted her career choice, none of this would be happening. Her heart ached with remorse and more than a smattering of misgivings.
They'd had a horrible fight when she informed him she was transferring to the DEA. She cringed at the memory and messaged her temples, trying to ward off the headache that threatened. Talk about a rant. Neither her father nor her boss's tirades had anything on those of Sheriff Jonathan Lee Parker. That man could intimidate. She should know; she'd been married to him for ten years.
Lacey shivered at the thought of John's anger. Thank goodness the sheriff's office was across town. Otherwise, she might be getting a visitor. That would be so embarrassing. She glanced at the clock on the wall and then down at the closed door, expecting him to burst in at any moment.
Prior to accepting the DEA job, she'd worked in the justice center as a deputy sheriff just a couple of floors away from her husband's office. He'd often trek down to see her.
Truth be told, losing his authority over her job was probably what had stuck in his craw the most. Two words described her husband best: control freak.
When they'd argued, he insisted his disapproval had nothing to do with no longer being her boss. He said the job in DEA was too dangerous. He claimed he couldn't stand the stress of worrying about her working undercover.
John was so much like her father. He hated it when she compared him to the cantankerous older man. She was determined not to end up like her mother who had drunk herself to death just to get away from the overbearing dictator.
Their receptionist, Penelope, handed her a note. "Looks like we have another buy at the convenience store on Orange Grove." Lacey rolled her chair back. "The manager pulled the video and is holding it for us."
Jay stood and plucked his coat off his chair. "Okay, let's roll."
She stood and donned her own jacket, and then trailed him toward the door.
"Lacey, there's a call for you on line two," Penelope announced before they could make their exit.
Her heart dropped as she looked at the woman. "Did they say who it was?"
"It's your husband," she answered while holding the handset.
"Uh, can you tell him I just left? I'm out in the field."
Penelope turned back without responding, pushed the button on line two, and relayed the message.
"Let's go!" She yanked Jay out the door by his coat sleeve.
He chuckled. "You're such a chicken."
"Cluck, cluck," she responded, suffering a pang of guilt for being such a coward. Oh hell, she was her mother. She grimaced.
* * * *
Sheriff John Parker removed his glasses, dropped them on the mass of spreadsheets atop his desk, and leaned back in his leather chair. He rubbed both eyes with the thumb and middle finger of one hand. He'd been working on the departmental budget since six o'clock this morning, and his vision had blurred.
Why the print had to be so damn small was beyond him. I guess so the figures would fit on one page, he answered his own question. The sheets were legal sized, so that had to be it.
"Hell, it's heck getting old," he murmured, feeling much more ancient than his forty years.
He rotated his neck from side to side, then front to back. An orchestra of snap crackle pop filled his eardrums. Without noticing, his neck and shoulders had been tied in knots.
John enjoyed his job, he really did, but sometimes he wished he'd remained a uniformed police officer. Things were simpler then. Life had been easier. He swiveled around and gazed out at the river beyond downtown Edison Bay.
A long line of vehicles made their way across the bridge. Boats dotted the surface of the glittering, aqua-blue landscape.
Tourism remained steady in this area even though the snowbirds had gone home a month or so ago, just after Easter. It was too hot for them now. But they'd be back next winter when the weather turned cold in their northern homes.
In the meantime, Edison Bay was a beautiful place to vacation. John was proud to call this home. He'd lived here all his life, except for the four years he'd attended college, and then an additional four-year stint in the military. Working-class people with families often came here for the beaches and other fun-in-the-sun activities.
He'd like to be out there in one of those boats fishing or just relaxing. But that wasn't reality, at least not now. Maybe in twenty years he'd be one of those free spirits.
Would he be alone when he retired?
God, I hope not.
He missed Lacey. His heart ached with loneliness. Just the thought of his wife caused a physical reaction. He adjusted himself in his trousers. No other woman affected him this way.
It had been eight long months since the disastrous night they'd had the fight to end all fights, and she'd stormed out of the house never looking back. The few attempts they made to talk usually ended in shouting matches. As a result, they hadn't spoken in over two months.
Lacey had gone behind his back and applied for a position with the DEA. He still didn't understand how she could have done such a thing without telling him. Surprisingly, she'd even been able to keep her father in the dark.
Sam Prescott had been anything but pleased with his daughter's career choice. John chuckled at the reminder of his father-in-law's reaction to learning the news.
Had he taken the bid for sheriff without discussing it with her? Absolutely not, he answered his own question. He wouldn't have dreamed of putting this kind of pressure on their marriage without making sure she was okay with it. Why hadn't she shown him the same courtesy?
Probably because she knew what your reaction would be. He grimaced.
She knew he would not have approved. He hadn't and still didn't. There was no way in hell he was going to agree it was okay for her to work undercover narcotics investigations. What man in his right mind would agree to something like that?
Every damn day he was on pins and needles expecting someone to knock on his door and give him the news that something horrible had happened to her. The hairs on the back of his neck stood, and he rubbed the niggling sensation away.
They couldn't go on like this. It was time he did something about the state of his marriage. He needed to make her see his point of view. He needed her back home and back in his bed. He needed her safe.
John picked up his phone and flipped through his Rolodex for her office number. Maybe he could get her to have dinner with him. They needed to talk. It was way past time. If they were in a public place, maybe they could keep the conversation civil.
He paused, mid-dial, at the sound of a ruckus outside his office. "What the hell?" John replaced the receiver and stood. He rushed to open his office door and was shocked to see his little meek and mild secretary literally manhandling a deputy sheriff.
"Ruth, what the hell is going on out here?" He shot a glance over to the opposite side of the room.
Ruth's temporary assistant, Tammy Sawyers, sat behind her desk laughing uproariously. John didn't see it as being all that humorous. Granted, little Ruth's aggression was uncustomary. The woman weighed no more than ninety-five pounds soaking wet. But the sheriff's office was supposed to conduct themselves professionally, for cripes sake.
"John, I'm sorry." Ruth snagged back his attention. "Carl refuses to serve these papers to me." She snarled at the deputy who held what looked like a subpoena, distress written across her gently wrinkled face. "He said you have to accept them personally." Her tone was anything but friendly.
It was standard procedure for subpoenas to be accepted by his assistant. As a sworn officer, there were no legal documents Ruth wasn't authorized to handle for him.
"It's okay, Ruth." John nodded. "I'll take them." He took the document from the deputy and signed his name. A tentacle of fear shot down his spine. There was only one reason he could think of why Carl was being so stubborn. This had to be something private and personal, as opposed to official police business. The issuer was attempting to protect his privacy.
Facing his secretary, John suggested, "Why don't you explain to your assistant conduct appropriate for this office?" He nodded toward Tammy, who still laughed outright.
Even the deputy's eyebrows met in the middle as he glanced over at the riotous woman in the leopard print, low-cut sweater.
"Sheriff Parker, I'm sorry," Carl apologized, regret lacing his voice. "But my instructions were to issue this directly into your hands."
John nodded. "It's okay, Carl, I'm sorry you were hassled." He frowned at Ruth for being so difficult with the poor deputy.
Carl stepped back. "No problem." He turned and hastily left the office that had transformed into a zoo.
John didn't blame him. He'd leave too if he could.
He was going to say something to the two women, but they seemed to be in a heated discussion. John decided the safest thing for him to do would be to let them hash it out themselves. He stepped back into his office and closed the door.
Dropping down in his desk chair, he picked up his glasses. Upon scanning the document he held in his hands, heat rose from his diaphragm up through his neck and over the top of his head.
He dropped the papers, his hands unsteady. He'd waited too long. Lacey had given up. He couldn't believe she'd filed for divorce. He swiveled in his chair and rested his forearms on his thighs. Shutting his eyes, he dropped his face into his hands--and prayed.
God, please don't let me lose her. Don't let this be the end.
His eyes burned. He blinked rapidly against the moisture. Agonizing grief over the loss of something so special, something he should have been nurturing, knotted behind his ribcage. He'd let her slip away. He groaned aloud, unable to contain the heart-wrenching pain.
Ruth knocked on his door before opening it and sticking her head in. "John, is there anything I can do?"
Turning away from the door, he stared out the window. "No, Ruth. Please, just shut the damn door and leave me alone."
He sensed her hesitation, no doubt at his uncustomary abruptness, and then she slipped out, closing the door behind her.
How long he sat there staring, John wasn't sure. He needed to apologize to his secretary. She hadn't deserved to be spoken to so harshly. She had only wanted to help, and he'd been an asshole.
John stood, took a deep breath, and brushed his hand over his face. He was a man. It was time he acted like it. He was not going to let the only woman he'd ever loved get away. At least he wasn't going to let her go without a fight.
He opened his office door, walked purposefully to Ruth's desk, and dropped down into her visitor's chair, facing her.
She looked up over the top of her half glasses and offered him a compassionate smile.
Her powdery scent comforted him. He returned her smile and said a heartfelt, "I'm sorry." His voice came out huskier than he would have preferred.
"I know," she replied as she removed her glasses and let them drop to her chest. "It's okay, John. We all have bad days."
"I shouldn't have snapped at you. It's not your fault."
"Were those papers what I think they were?"
"Probably. Lacey's filed for divorce." A mix of anger and bitterness laced his voice.
He looked back over his shoulder to see if Tammy was listening. Annoyingly, she was. If the look on her overly made-up face was an indication, his bad news pleased her. That tore at his heart. It also made him want to knock the smug smile off her face.
Her stock, in his book, just took a swift dive. Not that he thought much of her anyway. He'd already decided he didn't care for the temporary assistant who had been with them only a couple of weeks. Flamboyant and unprofessional, she wore animal prints, leather, and lace, always overly tight and revealing. There was no doubt her breasts had been surgically enhanced, which he didn't normally have a problem with, but she seemed awfully proud of her investment.
Her nails extended an inch past the end of her fingers. The tips painted an ungodly glittery green, sounded like a dog running across linoleum when she typed. It grated on his nerves. She constantly chewed a horrific clove-scented gum. He shuddered as he wondered how Ruth stood working in the same room with the annoying woman.
"Is there anything I can do?" Ruth placed her hand over his.
"No, but thank you for offering." He smiled. "I don't know what I would do without you to keep me straight." He covered her hand, sandwiching it between the two of his.
"Pfft," she tsked. "You'd do just fine." Ruth pulled her hand free and sat up, presenting a commanding figure. "Now, you aren't just going to give up without a fight, are you?"
He chuckled. "No, I don't believe I will." It was amazing how well this woman could read him. "What do you suggest I do?"
Ruth had been married for over twenty-five years. If anyone was qualified to give him advice, it was her.
"Well, I'd pay the little lady a visit," she drawled, shooting him a teasing glance. Sobering instantly, her brow furrowed in concentration. "You two need to communicate more effectively. Avoidance has gone on too long. Pretending it doesn't exist solves no problem, and that's what both of you have been doing." Her crystal-blue gaze directly met his.
"You're right. This riff should have never gone on so long or been permitted to grow into something so big. I should never have allowed her to leave." He shook his head. "I didn't even try to stop her, I was so angry at the time."
He slapped his thighs and stood. "I'm going to see if I can reach her by phone, make a date with her." He stepped around Ruth's desk and toward his office. "I'm not sure how receptive she'll be now." She'd made a pretty bold move by filing for divorce. "But, we're going to talk whether she wants to or not." Filled with determination, he added, "It's time the little woman learns whose boss around here."
Ruth chuckled. "Now, John, I'd rethink the caveman routine. You know that doesn't work with Lacey. She carries a gun, remember?"
"Oh yeah, I'm aware of that. But mine's bigger." He grinned with a wink.