“Damn that bastard Bennett.”
Livvy Marini slammed her office door closed, then tossed the file onto her desk with a little too much force. The manila folder slid across the surface, bumped into the stack of files piled on one side and toppled off the edge. The folder landed in her chair, the contents fluttering to the floor.
Livvy closed her eyes for a long moment and breathed deeply. When she was certain she wouldn’t scream with frustration, she gathered the papers and evened them up before replacing them in the folder. Still fuming, she threw herself into her chair and shoved her fingers through her hair. A few strands whispered over her face. Damn it! She’d spent a lot of time on the elaborate French braid that morning.
Sighing, she tucked the hair she’d pulled loose behind her ear, opened the folder and re-assembled it in the correct order. Stared at the picture on the first page.
Anson Bates. Former cop. Arrested a month ago, sitting in jail, awaiting trial. Bates had been charged with four counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, drug distribution, assaulting a police officer and a whole page of lesser offenses.
Everyone in the State’s Attorney’s office knew who he was. Bates was a high profile case. National-news high profile.
Bates had been denied bail right after his arrest. But now he had a new lawyer. And Henry Bennett had just petitioned for another bail hearing.
Bennett was the most well-known criminal defense attorney in the city. The most successful.
The most expensive.
Bates’ property and money had been impounded – the fruit of his drug crimes. If he was acquitted, he’d get it back. But he couldn’t use it for his defense.
So who the hell was paying for Bennett?
More important, how could the SA’s office stop Bates from making bail?
This case was a career-maker, and Livvy wanted to be part of it. But since her sister Cilla had been the detective who’d arrested Bates, there was no way Livvy would be in the public eye on this one.
She’d begged to be allowed to do something. Her boss had handed her this file, with instructions to get as much information as possible from this witness.
Ryan bleeping Ward.
Bates’ partner. A hothead. An adrenaline junkie.
A cop her sister Cilla had arrested for roughing up a suspect.
Yeah, Livvy knew all about Ward, too.
She wondered if Gus knew about her connection to Ward. She shook her head, flopping back in the chair. Of course the Cook County State’s Attorney knew about it. Gus Swenson was the ultimate political animal. He knew everything about his assistant SA’s, and he’d use Livvy’s distaste for Ward to make sure she dug hard into what Bates’ partner knew.
And if Livvy didn’t want to question Ward? If she still harbored a grudge for the way Ward had treated her sister? Gus wouldn’t give a damn about her tender feelings.
Snorting to herself at the idea of Gus even knowing what tender feelings were, she straightened and picked up the file. Ward had been interrogated by a DEA agent shortly after Bates’ arrest. The Chicago P.D. had taken a shot at him, too.
Both organizations had concluded that Ward hadn’t known about Bates’ criminal activities. Which didn’t say a lot about Ward’s powers of observation. How had the guy even made detective?
As she read through the file, familiarizing herself with the details of the case and Bates’ interrogation, someone rapped on her door. “Come in,” she called, glancing up from the file.
The door opened hard, bouncing off the wall. A tall, glowering man stood in the doorway.
He had light brown hair. Gray eyes, and right now they were simmering with anger. They turned stone cold as he studied her. Even his thick, sooty eyelashes didn’t soften that glare.
“Can I help you?” she said, setting the file on her desk and closing it, hiding the contents.
“I’m supposed to talk to you.” His arms at his sides, he clenched his fists and released. Clenched and released.
Livvy narrowed her eyes and stood up, crossing her arms over her chest. “And you would be…?”
“Ryan Ward. Swenson told me you’re investigating Anson. I’m supposed to cooperate with you. Spill my guts.” He clenched his fists again as he studied her. “You’re Cilla Marini’s sister, aren’t you? He told me I’d be talking to Ms. Marini, but I figured, what are the odds?”
He stared at her, as if daring her to deny it.
Livvy stared back. “Yes, Mr. Ward, I’m Olivia Marini. Cilla’s sister.” She watched as he processed the information. His eyes hardened even more. So did his mouth.
Livvy held out her hand, and after studying it for too long, he finally shook it. His palm was warm, and the calluses on his palms and the pads of his fingers scraped over her skin.
“Have a seat,” she said, her back ramrod straight as she curled her fingers into her palms and waited for him to lower himself into one of the chairs in front of her desk.
As he glowered at her, his expression was an open book. He hated being here. He wanted to leave. His jaw worked. His gaze slid toward the door. His foot tapped out a nervous rhythm on the tile floor.
“Why am I talking to you?” Ward finally asked.
“Because I’m part of the investigative team for the Anson Bates case,” she said, her voice steady. She was in the power position – standing while he sat. She didn’t intend to lose her advantage. “Gus Swenson gave me your file. You and I will be working together.” She forced herself to uncurl her hand. No way would she let this rude man know he’d rattled her.
“Is this Swenson’s idea of a joke?” Ward leaned forward, his gaze as hard as winter ice. “I thought he wanted me to cooperate. Tell you everything I know. So why did he turn me over to you, knowing we have history?”
“We don’t have history, Mr. Ward. What happened between you and Cilla has no bearing on this case.” She slid into her chair, holding his gaze.
Ward gripped the arms of the uncomfortable chair. A muscle jumped in his jaw. “Right. You think what happened between your sister and me isn’t going to affect how you and I work together?”
Since he was laying it on the table, so would she. “I won’t let it. The Anson Bates case has nothing to do with the disagreement between you and Cilla. As long as you cooperate, I can work with you.”
“The ‘disagreement?’ Is that what you call it?” He laughed. The cold, hard sound matched his icy eyes. “Your sister arrested me.”
She had no intention of getting into an argument about what had happened between Ward and her sister. “Cilla’s a good cop. She didn’t arrest you for fun. Or because it was ‘that time of the month.'” She punctuated her words with a vicious slash of air quotes.
“I never said that. Never implied it, either.” His face was stone, his eyes hard as granite.
Livvy shrugged one shoulder. “You created the atmosphere. You didn’t think one of your buddies would go a step farther? Make a crack like that to Cilla?”
He flinched. Barely, but enough that she noticed. Satisfaction hummed through Livvy. She leaned toward him, her hands pushed flat against her desk. “If someone had said that to me? I would have kicked his ass. Then yours for starting it. And believe me, I’d have enjoyed the hell out of it.” Her nails dug into the old, soft wood of the desk. She still got angry every time she thought about what Ward had done. “Regardless, it’s in the past, Mr. Ward. Leave it there.”
He narrowed his eyes. “So you’re just going to forget about what happened?”
“Not at all. But I know how to separate my personal life from my professional life, Mr. Ward.” She straightened her back, realizing anger was painting her voice with sharp edges. She had to work with this guy. Get him to confide in her. Obvious anger wasn’t going to get her what she needed. “Can you?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “We’ll see, won’t we?”
“I guess we will.” Livvy swallowed the ball of temper lodged in her throat and pulled the file toward her. “Have you read Mr. Bates’s interrogation transcript?”
“I didn’t have to read it. I was there.”
“I’m not talking about your own interrogation,” she said. “I’m talking about Bates’.”
“I heard every word Anson said. I was in the observation room during his interrogation.” His jaw worked again and he stared out the window behind her, as if fascinated by the vista of rooftops and air conditioning units.
Was Ward pissed off at Bates? Or was he angry he had to cooperate with the SA’s office? “It’s been a month,” she said. “You’re a detective. You know witnesses forget details after a few days, let alone four weeks.”
He slanted her a glance, but didn’t say anything. Didn’t have to. The muscles clenching in his jaw told her everything she needed to know.
He needed to read the transcript. Didn’t want to admit it.
Savoring her tiny victory over Ryan Ward, she nodded once. “I’ll make you a copy so you can review it. Look for anything the prosecutors might have missed. An expression Bates used that has special meaning to him. Some reference that only you would understand. Anything we might not have caught.”
Ward rolled his shoulders, drawing her attention to them. His blue dress shirt emphasized how wide they were as it clung to the muscles in his upper arms. “I can recite almost every word of that interrogation in my sleep,” he said, shifting his eyes to hers again.
His bleak look told her he probably had, and a tiny breath of sympathy drifted through her. Regardless of what she thought of Ward, it had to be hard to testify against a former partner. Wrenching and painful.
“I don’t need a transcript.”
“I’ll make one anyway. Reading a document is different than listening to someone talk. You might see something.” She reached for the folder, opened it and pulled out the transcript. “It can’t hurt.”
“Fine. I’ll read it tonight. Is that all you need from me?” He stood up, and once again filled her small office.
“I’m afraid not,” she said, standing as well. He towered over her. “I’ll have a lot of questions for you. About where you and Bates went on your shifts, who he talked to, who he ran into more than once. But for starters, read the transcript and mark anything that strikes you as…interesting.”
“I want to get this over with,” he said.
She raised one eyebrow. “You know you’ll have to testify at his trial.”
“Anson’s a smart guy. He’ll take a plea.”
“You think so?” Livvy shook her head. “He’s had a month to sit in his cell and think about doing serious time. He hasn’t budged. Still says he’s not taking a deal. Now he’s got a new attorney. The best in the city. Bennett is asking for bail again. So why would Bates take a plea and lose his chance to get out of Cook County jail?”
Ward scowled. “What the hell? Henry Bennett’s his lawyer now?”
“Yes. And he’s asking for a bail hearing. Based on the charges against Bates, he shouldn’t get it. Bennett must have something up his sleeve.” Livvy clenched her teeth and glanced at the picture of the guy on the cover of the file. Bates’ smirk made her angry all over again. “My job is to figure out what it is, and how to counter it.”
Ward snorted. “Anson knows he won’t get bail. He’s a master at chess. He has his next five moves planned out.”
“Then I’ll figure out a way to checkmate him,” she said, standing up. “It’ll take a couple of minutes to copy the transcript. I’ll be right back.”
As she edged past his chair, the heat from his body washed over her, carrying his scent. Was he wearing aftershave, or did he always smell like cool fresh air and sunshine?
What the hell? She was wondering about Ryan Ward’s aftershave?
Clearly, anger at the thought of Bates getting bail had short-circuited her brain. The only thing she should be wondering about was how quickly she could complete her work with Ward.
She absolutely didn’t care what he smelled like. Or looked like, for that matter.
He could be the most gorgeous hunk in the history of hunks. He was off-limits. On top of the ethics issue and the loyalty to her sister issue, what if he was working with Bates?
They were partners. It was possible he’d run back to Bates with information on how the SA’s case against him was shaping up.
Her hands weren’t quite steady as she set up the copy machine. She braced herself on the machine as she watched the copy spew out. She needed to focus on the case. Keep her head and be careful about what she shared.
Her hands were rock steady as she removed the papers and tapped them on the lid of the copier. Breathing deeply, she headed down the hall toward her office.
When she walked in the door, Ward was holding Bates’ file. Thumbing through the contents, he paused to read something.
Rage, accompanied by the bitter taste of déjà vu, roiled her stomach. “What are you doing?” she asked, snatching the folder out of his hand. She held it against her chest and stared at him,
“Doing what you told me to do,” he said coolly. “Looking through your notes.”
Slamming the folder onto the desk, she stood over him, blood roaring in her ears. “I asked you to look at the transcript. Not the entire file.”
“Why not?” he asked, leaning back in his chair and letting his gaze drift over her. “You want my help, I need to know everything you know.”
“No. You don’t.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “There’s sensitive information in that file. Confidential. Not for general distribution.”
The memory of James Dugger, her ‘boyfriend,’ going through her briefcase a few months ago, looking for his friend’s file, made her cringe with shame. The betrayal was still raw. Still fresh.
“I’m cooperating with you, aren’t I?” He pushed out of the chair and stood, towering over her. Too close. Staring down at her. “I’m on your side.”
She stared right back. Angry witnesses didn’t intimidate her. They made her push harder. “Are you?” she asked softly. “When was the last time you saw Bates?”
A shadow flickered in his eyes. “A couple of weeks ago.”
“You visited him at Cook County jail.”
“No, we had a beer together at the Pipe and Shamrock.” His jaw twitched, as if he was grinding his teeth. “Of course I went to Cook County. Only way I was gonna see him.”
“What did the two of you talk about?”
His gaze slid to the side. “This and that.”
Livvy lifted her chin as she stared at Ward. “Was it something you told him that made him think he could get bail?”
When Ward sucked in a breath, Livvy grabbed the file and slid it into a desk drawer. Didn’t look away from him. “He’s your partner. Are you going back to the jail and tell him what you saw in his file?” she demanded. Just like that asshat Dugger planned to do.
“How’re you going to prevent it, Marini? You going to take me into protective custody?” His gaze drifted over her, lingering at her mouth, her breasts, her legs.
A flash of awareness sparked between them, and she sucked in a quick breath. “I’m not interested in babysitting hostile witnesses,” she said, although her skin tingled every place his gaze touched. What the hell was wrong with her? Why was she always drawn to the jerks? The guys who wanted something from her?
She took an empty manila folder off the bookshelf, dropped the transcript into it and shoved at him. “Here’s the transcript. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
His fingers curled around the file folder. “My phone number is 773…”
She interrupted, crossing her arms over her chest. “We already have it.”
“Of course you do.” He lingered for a moment, studying her. “You going to check the logs at the jail? See if I visit Anson?”
“Will I need to?” She raised one eyebrow and held his gaze.
“What do you think?” he asked, staring back. After a few moments that felt like hours, he stepped into the hall, glancing over his shoulder. “It’s been fun, Ms. Marini. I look forward to talking to you tomorrow.”
He turned and headed down the hall. Livvy stepped to the door to watch him walk away. To make sure he went right to the reception area. She didn’t want him snooping around the office.
It was hard not to appreciate the way he moved. Smooth, flowing steps, no wasted motion. Graceful.
His ass was worth a second look, too.
If she was thinking about Ryan Ward that way.
Which she most emphatically was not.
She stumbled back into her office and closed the door. Where the hell had that come from?
Yeah, he was attractive, with those cool grey eyes, wavy brown hair and that sculpted body. She had a weakness for big guys. So sue her.
But this was Ryan Ward. The guy who’d orchestrated her sister’s shunning at her police station. The guy who’d made Cilla’s life so miserable she’d had to transfer to another district.
The guy she was investigating because his partner was a criminal.
She sat heavily in her chair and rubbed at her forehead. As if James Dugger wasn’t bad enough, now another loser was ringing her chimes.
Apparently, her string of being attracted to the wrong men continued.
She fumbled for the drawer where she’d stashed the Bates file and pulled it out. Opening it, she tucked the original copy of the transcript where it belonged and began paging through the notes again.
After fifteen minutes, she closed the file. She didn’t remember a thing she’d read.
She glanced at her watch. Six pm.
Time to leave. She’d get some takeout Chinese and work on this at home. She needed to concentrate on this case. Go over all the information in the file and make notes about what to ask Ward tomorrow.
As she stuffed the folder in her briefcase, she glanced at the chair on the other side of the desk. It was horribly uncomfortable, with a broken spring that poked you in the ass if you sat in it. There was no money in the budget for new furniture.
Ward hadn’t seemed to mind. He hadn’t shifted in his chair, hadn’t squirmed. Almost as if he hadn’t noticed the broken spring. It spoke to a single-mindedness, a focus, that could be dangerous.
Or seductive. She shivered, remembering the way his gaze had swept over her. Maybe he’d been focusing on…other things.
And maybe she was a complete idiot.
As she slipped on her jacket and headed down the hall, though, an image of Ward appeared in her mind again. Standing at her door, asking if she was going to check the visitor log at Cook County Jail.
Great ass or not, she wasn’t going to take anything on faith.
Livvy pulled her phone out of her pocket, googled the number for the jail’s visitor office and added it to her contacts.
She’d check with them tomorrow to see if Ward had visited Bates.