CHAPTER FOURTEEN: state police

The state police barracks that Luke was assigned to lay twenty-three miles outside of Denton on a stretch of two-lane road where the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour. It was a squat, flat-roofed building flanked by forest on three sides. The next closest building of any kind was two miles away. Josie had been there many times and was always struck by the isolation of the place and its utilitarian feel. Every Christmas and Fourth of July, some of the guys would try to punch the place up a bit with decorations bought at the closest Walmart. Usually the multicolored lights and gaudy gold tinsel hung outside the entrance until sometime in June, the tinsel sagging and threadbare by that time, when it was replaced by patriotic fringe garland and big red white and blue bows. Those would remain until Halloween, and from mid-October through Thanksgiving, a lone pumpkin atop a small, decorative bale of hay would guard the stoop. It was better than nothing, she supposed, but it didn’t make the place look any less depressing.

She didn’t know how Luke could stand it. She loved the old, historic three-story building that housed the Denton police department; it used to be the town hall but had been converted to the police station sixty years ago. It was huge and gray, with ornate molding over its many double- casement arched windows and an old bell tower at one corner. It looked almost like a castle. With each season and holiday, someone from the historical society would come around and dress the place up. It had character. Josie missed it.

She was thinking about her desk on the second floor as she pulled into the barracks parking lot. Two cruisers sat in the lot along with a handful of personal vehicles, including Luke’s white Ford F-150. She knew he would be there. The day before, while she was outside melting down in front of Ray, he’d left her four text messages and three

voicemails, each one more frantic than the last. By the time she located her cell phone and called him back, he was ready to send a SWAT team to check on her. He hadn’t been able to get away from work, but he was clearly very worried about her. He asked if she’d gone to the hospital to have her leg checked out and sounded annoyed when she told him she hadn’t. It took everything in her not to snap at him.

“I really need to get some rest,” she’d said instead, hoping her tone came across less irritable than she felt.

She’d taken a hot shower, turned on her coffeemaker and then slept for twelve straight hours. When she finally awoke to even more missed messages, she had promised to meet him at the barracks for lunch the next day.

She felt a frisson of excitement as he slipped through the double doors to meet her. He was in full uniform and she knew what waited for her beneath. The thought of him naked woke her up more than the pot of coffee she had consumed before she’d left the house.

With a smile, he leaned into her open window. “Ma’am,” he said with mock formality. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

She grinned at him. “I don’t know, officer, but I’m hoping for a full cavity search.”

He leaned down to kiss her as she got out of the car, wrapping her in his long arms and gathering her into him. It was long, slow and tender, as always. Her body responded to him, a thunderous need rising inside her. She wanted his mouth on her body, his hands. She wanted him to blot out the frustration of the last two days. She kissed him harder, biting his lower lip lightly.

“Whoa,” he said, pushing her away gently.

Releasing her completely, he gave her a quizzical smile and studied her face. “What was that about? You okay?”

She hoped her smile didn’t look as awkward as it felt. “Fine,” she said. “I missed you.”

He reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

“I’m fine, but I could really have used some company the last two days.”

One of his hands found hers, his fingers stroking her palm and sliding over the band of the engagement ring she’d remembered to wear. “I’ll make it up to you,” he promised.

She raised a brow. “When?”

He laughed. “Starting now. I wanted to take you to lunch.”

But she didn’t want to go to lunch. She didn’t need food. She didn’t need to talk about her feelings. She needed him. Lacing her fingers through his, she tugged him away from her car and the parking lot, toward the thickest copse of woods she could find surrounding the barracks. Reluctantly, he let her lead him. “Josie,” he said. “What’s going on? Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” she said over her shoulder.

They picked their way over branches and rocks. Every few feet, she glanced over her shoulder, ignoring the look of confusion and concern blanketing Luke’s face, to check if any part of the barracks was still visible. When the building finally disappeared from view, she stopped walking and turned to Luke.

“What are we doing out here?” he asked.

Her jacket dropped to the forest floor, followed by her faded Rascal Flatts T-shirt and bra. Luke didn’t speak, but he smiled nervously as she kicked off her boots and unzipped her pants. His hands were on his hips. “You’re bat-shit crazy, you know that?” he said, but his eyes roved greedily over her body as she stripped off the rest of her clothes.

“I don’t see you running away,” she challenged.

His voice was husky. “Never.” His gaze moved from her breasts to her leg, which she had had the good sense to wrap with an ACE bandage that morning. “How’s your leg?”

“It’s fine.”

He nodded, continuing to stare. “You’re pretty bruised up. You feeling okay?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, a tinge of impatience creeping into her voice. He glanced around briefly. “We’re in the middle of the woods.”

“I know.”

She knew these woods, she trusted them. She and Ray had been exploring them since they were nine years old. They’d even named a few places where there were distinctive cliffs, valleys, or rock formations. There were few places in the county she hadn’t scoured. This was a more private place than either one of their vehicles.

Luke started to unsnap his holster belt. It was secured to his pants belt by four belt keepers and held his SIG P227, baton, mace, handcuffs, and portable radio. “You have any idea how long it takes to get this damn thing on and off?”

Her eyes narrowed and she licked her lips.

He stopped unfastening his belt, looking suddenly confused, as though he didn’t recognize the woman before him. “What’s going on

with you?”

She strode toward him. “Shut up,” she said, yanking at the keepers and divesting him of his belts. She dropped them onto the ground beside them. He was still looking at her like she was a stranger. Before he could speak, she rocked up onto her toes and captured his mouth, kissing him hungrily. Her hands tore at his zipper.

Luke gripped her upper arms, breaking the kiss but keeping her close to his body. “Josie,” he rasped, searching her face.

“Make it up to me, Luke,” she said, her tone a challenge. “Right here, right now.”

For a long, pregnant moment, her command hung in the air above their heads. She wondered if he was going to shut her down. She plunged her hand into his pants and took hold of him. Regardless of what his brain was telling him, his body was ready for her. “Do it,” she said. The next thing she knew his pants were around his ankles and her back was against a tree. He lifted and held her there as if she weighed nothing, pushing inside her with a gentle firmness that quickly turned urgent. The bark of the tree scraped into her back, hard and rhythmic, smarting against her earlier injuries.

“Harder,” she breathed into his ear as the pain went from sharp to exquisite and exhilarating, blotting out every other feeling in her mind and her body. As her own body tightened around him, she let out a long cry of pleasure. This, she could always count on. As they walked back to her car, disheveled, sweaty and satisfied, Josie felt more clear-headed than she had in days.

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