Lone Star Lovers, Book 5
Texas Heroes, Book 27
His career is in her hands—will he risk his future to save her?
Clarice Sutton, daughter of privilege, was raised to lead society, but that life feels increasingly empty, so instead of taking her proper place in their social set, she’s taken a job her parents abhor: police department psychologist. The company she keeps and the people she meets horrify her oh-so-proper parents and their friends.
Santino “Saint” Valdez—hardnosed detective who is anything but saintly—is under investigation by Internal Affairs for killing a predator he’s not at all sorry to have eliminated. Now he’s supposed to spill his guts to Miss Prim and Prissy? No way—not ever.
Yet she’s not what he expects, and he surprises her, as well. A growing attraction complicates both their lives, and time spent together only strengthens the unwise bond between the mongrel from the streets and the society girl.
Saint’s future depends on Clarice’s professional evaluation, yet her feelings toward him are increasingly anything but professional. An Internal Affairs detective who trusts her wants Saint’s head in a noose, so the stakes couldn’t be higher. New on the job, Clarice can’t afford to falter, yet the urge to defend the man who won’t defend himself is powerful.
And when Clarice learns that the parents she’s tried so hard to please have lied to her all her life, the only person she trusts to understand how lost and alone she feels is the very man she must avoid in order to save him.
As the forces against Saint gather, he knows the worst thing he can do is spend time with her and risk tainting her evaluation…yet how can he turn away from her soft and valiant heart when she’s suffering so?
And when those out to get him endanger her safety, will Saint risk everything to save her?
Read an Excerpt from Texas Lost
She noted Valdez’s position. He was set apart, as though no one wanted to be contaminated. Shooting in the line of duty always triggered an Internal Affairs investigation and presentation to a grand jury. It meant time away from the job and being a pariah until the officer was cleared. That was one of the hardest parts of a fatal shooting for a cop: spending time on the other side, being a suspect. No longer automatically one of the good guys. She glanced at his empty holster; one of the first acts by a superior was to take a cop’s gun away, rendering him not only suspect but feeling naked. The roller-coaster ride commenced.
“Detective, I’m Clarice Sutton, department psychol—”
“I know who you are.” Each word was a bullet. Valdez stared into the distance, hands tucked in the front pockets of his jeans, hard cop firmly in place. “Where’s Bradley?”
“He’s out of town.” Senior staff psychologist Rick Bradley had left for a much-needed vacation, avowing confidence that Clarice could handle herself despite being relatively new on the job. Refusing to let him down, she tried again to return to her script. “Detective, our conversation is not part of the investigation into this incident. It is confidential and intended only to assist you in dealing with what has happened and with the days to come.”
One curt nod. “I know the drill.”
She’d heard that he’d been involved in a fatal shooting once before in his career and had been exonerated. Pretending it didn’t affect him was the natural instinct for a cop, but the healing would only go harder. She suspected that this man felt things more deeply than he’d ever admit. No matter how much he’d wanted the person on the ground dead, he couldn’t like what would happen from here.
Just as she was about to speak, a blond man, medium height, stepped up to his other side. “Hey, buddy. How’s it going?”
Valdez jerked his head in her direction, and the second man noticed her for the first time. “Oh— Sorry, Doc.”
“Hello, Mike. Good to see you.”
Mike Flynn, Narcotics veteran and confirmed bachelor, had never been one of Clarice’s clients, but his reputation for doing solid work while seemingly never having a serious thought was widespread in the department. He had helped her a few months back in an intervention with a troubled cop on his detail, and she’d been impressed with the brain behind the playboy façade.
Right now his eyes spoke of concern for a friend. He nodded at her and squeezed Valdez’s shoulder. “Catch you later, man. Bye, Doc.”
“Goodbye, Mike. Detective?” She eased back from the bright circle and held her breath to see if Valdez would follow. He had no choice, really—debriefing after the incident was standard department policy—but she wouldn’t underestimate this man. His walls were thick and very, very high. Perhaps he understood that she was trying to give him privacy, though, because he took the necessary steps to close the distance between them.
She kept her voice soft and calm. “I know you’ve been through this before, but I’d like to go over a few items for you to think about, then hear what you have to say.”
He stood there like a solid block of granite, gaze stoic.
Clarice pressed on, remembering the cauldron of feelings she’d barely glimpsed before he’d slammed a lid on them. “It’s human nature to second-guess yourself, particularly in reaction to extreme consequences. You may ask yourself what you could have done differently, how you could have prevented this. It’s normal for emotions to be volatile, to range from anger to sadness to anxiety because you know you’re under scrutiny, no matter how convinced you are that this was unavoidable.”
A flicker, so quick she might have imagined it, at the mention of scrutiny. For a man of action, as Saint Valdez certainly was, to be answering the phone, hearing complaints over traffic tickets, would be torture. This was a man who was used to chasing the bad guys—to street action, and plenty of it.
“You may feel guilty—”
“Not a chance—” he interrupted. “Krueger deserved far worse. He murdered a child. Made his last moments hell.”
“But that wasn’t your fault.”
His head whipped around. “No? Think again.” If anything, his jaw clenched tighter. “I waited too long for proof, and now a boy is dead.” His eyes were the blue of cold fury. “My only regret is that I didn’t make this bastard suffer more.”
“You feel responsible, protective of a child—”
“Don’t try to crawl inside my head, Doc,” he snapped. “You might not like what you see.”
“Detective—” She placed a hand on his forearm, felt his muscles tense. The move was pure instinct to comfort, yet she knew it was a mistake the moment she did it. But because he’d feel like a pariah already, she wouldn’t draw back.
That didn’t mean he hadn’t unnerved her. Clarice swallowed. “I’m not naïve. I’ve heard a lot. Seen a lot.” Yes, her life had been sheltered until she’d taken this job, but in these eighteen months, she’d learned more than she would have dreamed about the darker side of human nature.
Valdez scanned her attire, then pinned her with a stare as merciless as a laser. “You sure as hell don’t look like you belong here, Doc.”
Wishing that she’d had time to change from her cocktail dress, she stepped back. “Appearances can be deceiving.”
He leaned closer. “Can they?”
Clarice fought to stand her ground. “I’d like to see you again.”
A second perusal of her body was slow and sure. Intentionally insulting. “Me, too.”
He was itching for a fight, and he’d use whatever it took to make her back away. Very well, she’d done what was required tonight. The rest would have to wait.
“Tomorrow morning, in my office. Nine o’clock.”
“Five o’clock, and we’ll adjourn to this little place I know.” A dimple flashed in a cocky smile sure to break hearts. The smile stopped short of his eyes.
Clearly, her window of opportunity had vanished. There’d be no more revelations, and he wouldn’t accept comfort. “Ten o’clock, Detective. It’s my final offer.”
“I can make it an order if I have to. You said you understand procedure.” She exhaled. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He gave one curt nod, his gaze already shuttered, his shoulders braced against what was to come.
With an inner sigh, Clarice left. At the edge of the crowd, she glanced back. He stood alone in the darkness, an invisible circle keeping everyone at bay. Help might be available—
But this man was nowhere close to taking it.