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Protect & Serve(5)

By:Nikki Wild

He had no idea what it was like to be a cop, and a female cop at that. He had no idea what failing to convince him to testify would do to my career. It was no coincidence that I’d been chosen for this task. The Chief knew I had some bad blood with Nathaniel Hale, and setting me up to fail meant that I’d be easier to write off in the future.

And that wasn’t fair.

I’d clawed my way into this detective position, but the Chief seemed determined to keep me from going any higher. For all the talk of equality, the upper echelons of the force were as much of a good old boys club as they ever were… Everything I’d earned up until now hinged on Nathan seeing the light. It made me sick to my stomach to think that he might be holding the future of my career in his hands.

“It’s detective now,” I said, pulling myself out of the doomsday spiral I’d sent myself into. “May I come in?”

Nathan shrugged. He opened the door wider, gesturing into the atrium. “I thought you’d never ask.”

I tried not to roll my eyes as I stepped past him and into his mansion. Sunlight glinted off the crystal chandelier above us, spraying fragments of light across the dark wood paneling of the walls. I caught a few Technicolor prisms dancing on Nathan’s skin as he closed and locked the door.

“It’s certainly been awhile,” he said, his voice a thick, honeyed purr that, despite my best efforts to resist, made my skin ripple with goosebumps. “If I’d known you were coming, I would’ve prepared the good stuff.”

“I’m here on business, Mr. Hale,” I corrected him as gently as I could. There was no use ruining my chances by bruising his ego. “And I think you know exactly what kind of business I’m talking about.”

I looked around, taking in the vastness of our surroundings. I didn’t like being out in the open like this, even within the relative safety of Nathan’s house.

“Is there someplace we can sit and talk?” I asked him.

Nathan nodded, sliding his hands into his pockets. His grin was gone, and the light in his eyes had faded like the setting sun giving way to twilight. He gestured up the flight of wooden stairs run through with a strip of plush red carpet.

“Come up to my office,” he said, though he let me mount the stairs first. I glanced up as I began to climb, remembering my first trip up these stairs. Fitting that we would talk there… Knowing Nathan, he was just doing this to make me uncomfortable.

But it wouldn’t be the only thing making me feel uncomfortable right now.

Nathan’s home was big, but it felt hollow. Every step I took on the hardwood floors echoed throughout each chamber like an errant round ricocheting in the dark. It was empty, cavernous, and though from the outside it was truly an enviable estate, traversing its innards like this made me shiver.

Most houses had some kind of life built right into them, the product of the people who lived there spilling their energy and warmth right into the walls. Hell, even in the worst cases, you could still feel something below the surface, some vibrating remnant of what the house had seen.

Nathan’s mansion was barren, devoid of life.

Despite all those parties I’d had to interrupt, and all the times I’d let myself get lured inside, there was not a single spark to be found. It was like I was walking a museum for a relationship that never was, and never would be.

I turned over my shoulder to him, only to find his gaze glued firmly to the steady sway of my ass. I rolled my eyes. No wonder he’d let me go up first.

We reached the landing, and I felt him lay his hand every so lightly on the small of my back. A chill shot up my spine, then a rush of heat as he guided me toward a door at the end of the hall.

It’s not a big deal, I told myself as Nathan’s fingers sent little electric arcs to play across the flesh beneath my blouse. Stay focused. I have a job to do.

I waited as Nathan opened the door for me, ushering me into his private study. I raised my eyebrows as I looked around. I’d expected the cold, sleek and heartless room where Mr. Hale had taken my virginity, but what I found instead was the only room in the whole house that seemed to have a pulse.

He must have hired an interior decorator… Or maybe it was some small sign that Mr. Hale was finally starting to act his age.

We were surrounded by bookshelves. They ran from floor to ceiling, each one brimming with the colorful spines of dozens of books. There were too many of them to count, their subjects so varied that this one room could have doubled as a public library.

I spotted some classics, like Moby Dick and The Wizard of Oz, and more contemporary titles, like Gone Girl and The Life of Pi. He had a wide selection of Asimov’s works near his desk, an executive-style Louis XVI reproduction that very nearly looked real, and on a small end table near a hulking stone fireplace, I saw a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince.