Monday, June 18, 2012

Read the 1st Chapter of When Promise Meets Passion

****coarse language omitted for blog audience.


Chapter 1

United States, Present day

Cole got out from behind the wheel and slammed the door of his Tahoe so hard the entire vehicle shook. Acid rose in his throat, and he fought the urge to duck behind the Dumpster and hurl. He had closed the five-mile distance between the station and the hospital in record time once he’d gotten the call that Leah had been shot. Panic caused him to nearly walk into the automatic double doors when they didn’t slide open fast enough. There were three things on his agenda. Make sure she was okay, find out what the **** went wrong, and kick the living **** out of whoever was responsible.
Her partner, Colby, was standing in the hallway outside an ER cubicle and met him halfway. “Chief, slow down. She’s going to be fine. It’s just a flesh wound.”
He cared little for the nervous tone in the officer’s voice. It’s not like it was a secret that everyone in the damn department was afraid of him. His protective nature over Leah only made them fear him more. Walking past and ignoring the man’s comment, he pushed the curtain aside and went in.
“Sir, you can’t be in here right now,” a nurse said with annoyance.
Cole didn’t miss the displeased look on the doctor’s face as he continued stitching up Leah’s arm, nor did he care. He wasn’t there to make friends.
“You can call me Chief Bottego, and I am going nowhere until I find out how she is,” he insisted while pointing his finger in their patient’s direction.
“Chief, I’m fine,” Leah assured him.
He bit back a curse when she used his official title. It pissed him off when she did that. He’d known her since she was ten years old riding her bike and wearing pigtails for Christ’s sakes. His name was Cole, damn it.
He raised a brow at her. “Really, Leah? Because from where I’m standing, you’ve got blood trailing down your arm and the word on the radio is that it came from a bullet.”
Rolling her eyes at him, she answered him with as much sarcasm as he gave her. “Well, as usual, you know all. Yes, Chief, I was shot, but it was a through and through, clean and no damage.”
“A through and through? Colby said it was just a flesh wound!”
“Sir! There are other patients in this emergency room. Please wait outside. You can come in once the doctor has finished.” The nurse pointed to the door, not giving him a choice.
He flung the curtain to the side and saw Colby sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the hall. Seeing him relaxing with a cup of coffee in hand added more fuel to the already-boiling fire raging inside him.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
“Chief, look I know you’re upset, but...”
Cole cut him off. “Do you? I don’t think you have a ****ing clue! She’s your partner. It’s your job to have her back. You mind telling me just why in the hell she’s lying in that cubicle bleeding and you’re out here enjoying a nice cup of joe?”
“Jesus, do you think I wanted this to happen? There was no way this could’ve been prevented.”
“Don’t give me that ****! There is always a way an officer getting shot can be prevented.”
“No disrespect, Chief. But that is not the case in this circumstance. We were walking out of Harris’s Diner after having lunch and some gangbangers just opened fire. We ducked, got cover, and called for backup, but they sped away.”
This was exactly the reason he hadn’t wanted to hire her when she graduated the academy last spring. Still, he had, worried that if he didn’t one of the other neighboring towns would pick her up. Westbrook’s normally quiet and safe suburban atmosphere had taken a turn for the worse during the past year. Gangs from the city had branched out to the local middle and high schools, recruiting new members to help push their drugs and violence. There had been an influx of crime activity in the past several weeks that they hadn’t been prepared for.
“Tell me you got a description of the shooter,” he said.
“Not exactly. But, I did get a vehicle description and partial plate. Put a BOLO out on it already, but so far no leads have turned up.”
Cole ran his hand through his hair. He needed to do something with this restless energy to keep himself from punching a damn hole through the wall. It wasn’t Colby he was pissed at. The whole damn situation made him furious. She shouldn’t even be in a line of work that put her in harm’s way.
“All right. I’m sure you did the best you could in the few seconds you had. You can leave and head back to the station. Get your report filed, and head back out. I want to get the son of a bitch who did this.”
“Chief, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to stay with my partner.”
Placing his hands on his hips, he glared at Colby. “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Get back to the station, and do your damn job. That’s an order!”
Colby got up from his chair without argument and quietly walked down the corridor, leaving the emergency department. For the past several weeks he’d been getting a bad vibe about how close Leah and Colby had seemed to be getting. It was no secret in the station that most of the men thought she was hot. Several times he had walked in on men talking about her with a locker-room mentality. Despite him making it clear to the entire department that she was an officer just as they were and there was a no fraternization policy, he knew damn well any one of the horny bastards would make a move on her if given half the chance.
Minutes later, the doctor and nurse exited the curtained area and motioned him inside with as much kindness as they showed before. He took a deep, calming breath, trying to steel his nerves against the emotions that had wracked his body in the past twenty minutes since he’d gotten word Leah was injured.
****! How he hated that she insisted on being a cop. She had a college degree, was intelligent and capable of doing thousands of other things. Still, he had promised her brother, his best friend, that he would take care of his baby sister. His vow to do just that was something he took seriously, but damn he hated how ****ing stubborn she could be.
The only saving grace was that he had talked her out of joining the Marines and following in her big brother’s footsteps. No longer in the corps and now in law enforcement, Cole knew he stood a better chance of keeping an eye on her as an officer of the law than as some corporal off in butt-**** middle of nowhere getting shot at by the Taliban.
“Are you going to come in here now? Or you going to stand out there stewing and rehearsing your speech to me about how dangerous this job is?”
He shook his head and couldn’t hold back the grin at her calling him out, knowing exactly what he was thinking. She was a piece of work, that one. Pushing his smile aside, he thought back to the moment when he got the call. There was no way he was going to walk in there with anything but a stern look so she knew just how serious this was.
Pushing the curtain aside, he walked in. “I wasn’t going to say that, but since you bring it up, we might as well get into it.”
“Or we could not, because the argument is growing tired.”
“Better to be tired than dead, Leah.”
She let out a growl of frustration and stood up from the bed. After just one step she lost her balance and started to sway. He went to her, wrapped his arms around her, and held her up.
“Jesus, would you sit the hell down? Let me get the doctor.”
“Stop it! I’m fine. They gave me a shot of morphine for the pain. I just stood up too fast and felt a little light-headed. That’s all.”
Cole looked at her lying down against the wide hospital bed. The contrast in size made her seem so tiny. He couldn’t help but remember a time four years earlier when she’d been lying just like this after a car accident. The only difference was that night she had cuts all over her face from the impact with the windshield. Her parents had held it together fairly well in spite of the trauma they’d endured. He didn’t handle it as well. She had scared the **** out of him that night.
It was the day after her brother’s funeral. Her whole family struggled with the loss of their only son, but Leah had taken it the worst. Even though they were ten years apart, Dex and Leah shared a special bond. She was his little pip-squeak and he her hero.
Cole still missed him, too. He’d been one of the best snipers the corps ever had, and Cole was his spotter. While a bullet had always been his method for taking out an enemy, in the end an IED was what had taken him from them.
Eighteen at the time, Leah was already at a sensitive time in her life. The death of her brother sent her over an emotional edge. In the blink of an eye she went from daily correspondence with her brother to never being able to speak to him again. She never outright said it, but he knew she was angry with him. Mad that he’d chosen to serve in a war over being home with his family.
All of it proved to be too much for her, and she stole a bottle of whiskey from her parents and headed toward the lake she used to fish at with Dex. Several hours and a third of Jack Daniel’s later and she wrapped her small Honda Civic around a telephone pole.
He fought the chills as he remembered the pictures of the vehicle from the accident scene. It was a miracle she’d survived. An angel in the form of a marine had been with her that night, he was sure of it. There was no way Dex had left her. He may not be with them in the flesh, but he was there and would always be watching over his baby sister.
“Cat got your tongue, Chief?”
Her sarcasm brought him back to the present. “Damn it, Leah. Why do you have to be so goddamn stubborn? Can’t you just take it easy? You were shot, for crying out loud.”
“Don’t baby me, Chief. I’m an officer just like any other on the force. If I was a man, would you tell me to take it easy?”
****. ****. Damn.
He wanted to scream she was so infuriating. So what if he coddled her a little more than the other officers? He had known her for thirteen years, since she was a child, and watched while she grew up from a little obnoxious girl to a beautiful young woman. All the more infuriating was that she was right. He wouldn’t have treated any other officer the way he did her. How could he though?
“Do you really have to pull the woman card today? I think you’re over your quota on that one, and besides a bullet wound does give me a right to worry. Let me just take you home and get you settled. It will make me feel better, and then I can focus on finding the bastard who shot you.”
“I’ll stop pulling the woman card when you start to realize and respect the fact that I have a badge and earned it regardless of my lacking in the penis department.”
He looked up and prayed to the good Lord above to grant him the serenity to deal with her antagonizing ways. It drove him mad when she talked like that. Ever since she’d been sworn in and received her shield and gun, she’d been on a constant mission to prove she could hang with the boys. She was too blind and na├»ve to realize that their department was essentially filled with a bunch of male chauvinist pigs who couldn’t see past her petite frame and generous curves. Not to mention how much it pissed him off that even he noticed how good of a body she had. Between her lingerie-model physique, rich dark-brown hair, matching chocolate-colored eyes, and olive skin, she was every man’s dream.
More than once he’d wished she didn’t have a natural and alluring beauty about her. Some tomboyish features and less eye-catching curves and the other men wouldn’t even notice her. No such luck though. Leah was one of those women, a knockout with very little effort on her part, and she didn’t even know it.
“Would you cut the tough talk out, already? I get it. You are woman. I hear you roar. Can we go now?”
“Thanks anyway, but I’ll have Darren take me home,” she replied.
There it was. The one thing that was sure to send his nerves over the edge to the absolute ****ing breaking point. Darren? She was calling him Darren now? His name was Officer Colby. Not ****ing Darren.
He knew it was a mistake partnering her up with Darren Colby. Well, that wasn’t totally true. The fact of the matter was Colby was the best option he had at the time. The kid came from a good family and didn’t have the reputation of being a womanizer, so Cole figured he would be the safest choice. All the other officers would’ve tried to get in her pants in the first week. Of that, he was positive. Damn it all to hell. Now he was going to have to worry about this ****, too.
“Darren? Oh, I assume you mean Officer Colby. Yeah, well, your partner left.” He tried to keep his tone even and calm despite his unsteady nerves.
“He left? I can’t believe he didn’t stay to see if I was okay.”
The disappointment he heard in her voice was even more evident on her face. She liked her partner, and now her feelings were hurt. He ignored the uneasy feeling that knowledge gave him. Surely she would eventually meet men and start to date. She was nearly twenty-four years old. He couldn’t keep her in a protective bubble forever. Could he?
“There’s work to be done, kiddo. In case you haven’t heard, a car load of gangbangers opened fire on some officers today. Kind of takes priority over carting your stubborn **** home.” He said it with a smile, hoping to cut through some of the tension between them. He hated fighting with her.
“Fine. Would you please take me home, Chief Bottego?”
“I suppose. No one else is going to do it. Lord knows you’re a damn handful and a half. Come on.”
He put his arm around her waist to steady her as she rose from the bed. A few steps and she seemed to be doing okay. The same nurse who made it clear she wasn’t his biggest fan rushed to them. She pushed a wheelchair toward Leah and insisted that she had to be escorted out of the hospital in it. She stated her reasons, something about policies and procedures that Cole cared little of hearing about. He waved her off and continued down the long corridor to the parking lot.
Once he ushered her into the Tahoe, he went around to the other side. Stopping just behind the driver’s side taillight and taking a deep breath. The realization that things could have gone very differently and she could be dead right now finally hit him like a ton of bricks. The thought shook him to the core. Hell, everything about her shook him to the core. He was constantly worrying and thinking about her. The first week she was on patrol he hadn’t caught a minute of sleep. He ignored the uneasiness and got in behind the wheel.
“Everything all right?” she asked.
“Other than you getting shot? Yeah, everything’s just peachy,” he answered without looking back at her, afraid his eyes would give him away.
Pulling out of the lot, he glanced back to check for cars before changing lanes. In his peripheral vision he caught a glimpse of her bandaged arm. It wasn’t a bad wound. He’d sure as hell seen bullet wounds worse than that more times than he cared to remember during his years in the corps. So, why in the hell couldn’t he get past the gut wrenching thought of a bullet penetrating her tiny body?
They drove to her house in silence. He couldn’t speak for her lack of words, but he could find none to say. None that she would want to hear anyway. The only thing that sat on the tip of his tongue, just dying to be heard, was that she needed to quit. He wanted her to find a nice, safe line of work, something that didn’t involve guns, violence, and crime. Anything but being a cop.
A common phrase from the corps came to mind. Wish in one hand, **** in the other, and see what fills up first. He knew all the arguments in the world wouldn’t change the fact that she was bound and determined to wear that badge. She was on some sort of a mission to live up to her brother’s memory. He wished she would realize that this was the last thing Dex would have wanted for his baby sister.
That which does not kill me only makes me stronger. Or some kind of bull**** like that.

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