Warning: Excerpt may contain adult language.
Dominic Jeffries stared at fellow detective Cameron Blake, wondering if he was dreaming. It was only a little after six in the morning, less than eight hours since he’d finished his latest undercover op and stopped to have a quick drink with his best friend, Joel Bustamante. Despite Dom having been gone for six months, their drink together had been quick because Dom had been focused on getting three things: a bed to sleep in, a woman to hold for a few hours, and then his next assignment before he was tempted to examine his life and exactly where it was going a little too closely. Likewise, Joel, newly promoted captain and perpetually starry-eyed honeymooner, had been anxious to get back home to his new wife, Tawny.
After talking business and then listening to Joel extol the virtues of settling down with one woman, Dom had finally gotten the bed, had lost interest in the woman, and had been prepared to nail down his next assignment—and not the one Joel had wanted him to take—later today.
Now? Standing in his living room, shirtless and in baggy sweats, his hair falling in eyes that were still half blurry, Dom locked his knees to keep them from collapsing.
He’d had a brief premonition of trouble before leaving Joel last night. Hard not to when Joel had been hinting at placing Dom on forced leave with the only alternative being Dom playing babysitter to a judge who was either in danger or dirty. Dom had dismissed the premonition as paranoia. After all, he’d just spent six months living in deep cover with a group of ruthless criminals. But not once in those six months had he felt as defenseless as he did now.
Because this wasn’t a dream. It was his life and, true to form, Dom had once again lost someone very important to him. For a flash, an image of a beautiful young girl with wild corkscrew curls flashed in his head.
Ruthlessly, Dom pushed it away, but then all he saw was Joel—dedicated cop, loyal friend, happier than he’d ever been.
“Dom? Did you hear what I said? Joel’s dead.” Cam’s voice was pitched low but rubbed against Dom’s skin like a jagged blade.
“When—?” was all that Dom managed to croak out.
“Around 3:00 a.m. He was—” Cam looked away, swallowing hard. “He was shot in the abdomen with his service weapon.”
“His weapon? How’s that–”
“There’s talk of suicide.”
The nasty word pounded into Dom’s brain, obliterating the fog and replacing it with a wash of rage. Cam’s blue-blood British accent held a trace of something Dom didn’t miss—disdain. Dom growled and suddenly he had Cam pinned against his living room wall, his arm against the man’s throat. “Take that back.”
Although his features reflected the shock Dom felt, Cam didn’t resist. Didn’t fight him. He simply stared at Dom, his muscles relaxed, his eyes shadowed. “I didn’t say I believe it,” he whispered. “He was my friend, too, Dom.”
Instantly, Dom took three steps back and lowered his arm.
“Look, we’ve reason to believe Mark Guapo was involved. That—”
At Cam’s mention of Mark Guapo, a buzzing started in Dom’s ears. Once again, his mind swept back to his conversation with Joel. Joel had been filling him in on the latest goings-on in the office—in Dom’s undercover absence, one of their fellow detectives had gotten separated and another had just been served divorce papers—as well as the scoop on recently convicted drug lord, Mark Guapo. Prison, it seemed, wasn’t keeping the man down. Last week, Guapo’s men had thrown their boss’s defense attorney off a twelve-story building. Chief Masters was afraid the judge from Guapo’s trial would be next…only Dom had sensed Joel holding something back. When he’d pushed, his friend had dropped several small bombs.
“Something’s bothering me with his whole Guapo case,” Joel had said last night. “ I mean, the affidavit Manelli filled out for the warrant was tight. It laid out more than enough probable cause for us to search Guapo’s place. But after Guapo’s defense attorney was killed, I ran his phone records and noticed something. A phone call made to Judge Butler’s chambers just hours before his estimated time of death.”
“Judge Butler was the judge who sentenced Guapo to prison. So what was it? A plea for help?” Dom asked.
“Or a warning. Judge Butler said it was simply a personal call—they’re golf buddies—and there’s no reason to think the judge is lying or hiding anything. But either way, someone on the inside might be able to tell us if the judge needs further protection or if he—or someone on his staff—is receiving information relevant to a murder. Plus, despite Guapo’s conviction, his operation is as strong as ever. There’s talk that he’s expanding beyond drugs and stolen cars to firearms. That’s why, if you continue to fight me on taking some time off, I want you to go undercover as Judge Butler’s bailiff. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious. I’ve already talked to the chief and he’s on board.”
Stroking his chin, Dom tried to ingest it all. “And the Sheriff’s Department? How do they feel about Sac PD infiltrating their territory?”
“The Sheriff’s Department knows you’re coming, but only the heads know why. As far as everyone else is concerned, you’d be going in as who you are, a cop suffering from imminent burnout who needs a low-stress assignment for a month until we can figure out what to do with you.” It wasn’t the first time Joel had insisted Dom needed to take a break—but he sensed this was the first time Joel, now that he’d been promoted to being Dom’s boss, was willing to follow through and make it happen. Pose as a bailiff or take some time off. For some reason, the latter held the most appeal. Maybe Joel was right, he thought. Maybe he could use some time to rest. To think. Lately, he’d been struggling against a strange sense of restlessness. An urge to dispense with the games and simply be himself.
Now why would he want something like that? He barely even knew who he was.
With the thought came a sudden cramping in his gut that had plagued him for the past week. His damn ulcer was acting up again. Refusing to rub it, refusing to acknowledge it, Dom gritted his teeth until it went away. A few seconds. Same as before. Which meant it was nothing. Just like his restlessness was nothing.
“Don’t worry about the bailiff assignment being too boring for you,” Joel interrupted his thoughts. “Danger seems to follow you no matter where you go. Plus, you can always hope someone recognizes you from a previous undercover op. That would certainly spice things up.”
“Quit trying to make me feel better,” Dom growled, playing along even though Joel’s attempt at humor sounded strained. “No one would recognize me once I’m out of this getup.” With his hair dyed black and the dark contacts, Dom could have passed for Joel’s brother. Once he was close-shaven, with blond hair and blue eyes again, no one, not even his last lover, would recognize him. “So what are the chances I’ll actually see action on this?”
“Slim to none,” Joel admitted. “This is all speculation. Chances are you’ll probably just be doing regular duty for the entire month.” Which was why, in the end, Dom had said he’d think about it—he hadn’t been able to decide between bored and deathly bored but working. Joel had handed him a stack of files and told him to look at them before they talked later today.
But he was never going to be able to talk to his friend again. Just like with Mattie, the only woman Dom had ever loved, he’d have to settle for memories. Memories that were never enough to comfort, only to hurt. To remind him why loving others and being an undercover street cop was so damn dangerous—eventually, chances were someone ended up feeling exactly the way he was now.