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NINE

LORI Soles and Sue Ellen Bass turned and looked toward the door. So did Matt. For a brief moment, utter stillness descended over the small space. Then my ex-husband smirked, leaned back in his metal chair, and folded his well-developed forearms.

If it isnt Officer Quinn, he said. What poor slob did you mistakenly arrest today?

You volunteering, Allegro? Quinns eyebrow arched a fraction. We have room in the holding cell.

Sue Ellen laughed. If you need help cuffing this guy, Lieutenant, call me. She jerked her thumb in Matts direction, threw him a flirtatious wink, and walked toward the doorway.

By the way, she told Quinn, passing him on her way out, I have a bone to pick with you.

Me? Quinn said.

Yeah. Whats this banned from the building crap Im hearing in the squad room?

Quinn raised his palms. I dont have any problem with you, Bass. Its Sergeant Friar you should be bitching to.

Did Friar call me a bitch?!

Uh-oh, Lori said.

Dont twist my words, Quinn warned. Its just an expression.

Sue Ellen tugged the lapels of her blazer and crossed her hunter-green arms. Its a simple question. Did Rocky Friar call me a bitch or didnt he?

Now Quinn looked like a doe caught on the West Side Highway. Talk to Friar.

With a pissed-off exhale, Sue Ellen strode back into the squad room, Lori Soles on her heels.

Quinn shook his head then sauntered into the room. I liked watching the man move. His tall frame was well muscled, but he was more lanky than brawny, and he operated with the patient ease of a stalking wolf. Without making a sound, he slipped into a seat at the metal table. His dress shirt was slightly wrinkled, his bronze and maroon tie well loosened.

I met his gaze again and pointed at the doorway that Sue Ellen had just stormed through. What was that about?

Quinn exhaled. Oh, Bass got herself involved with a detective in the Fifths squad. They were under the radar for months. That was fine when Rocky Friar was living in Staten Island, but then he moved into my apartment building

Quinn lived in Alphabet City near the Ninth Precinct in a converted warehouse filled with divorced cops. The owner was a retired NYPD detective who believed guys on the job who got thrown out on the street by their wives should have a place to bond. A few months back, Quinn became one of those guys when his wife left him for a younger Wall Street whiz, and their jointly owned Brooklyn brownstone was put up for sale.

Quinn shook his head. Someone spilled to poor Friar that Bass has slept with almost every man in our apartment house. He hit the ceiling.

Did Detective Bass really do that? I asked, eyes narrowing. Sleep with every man?

Not every man, Quinn said. Certainly not me. But Friar broke up with her anyway, mostly to save face. Hes pretty steamed, and he announced to the guys at our weekly get-together that from now on, Sue Ellen Bass is banned from the building.

Thats terrible. I mean, if a man really cares for a woman, he shouldnt let her past wreck their possible future.

Sue Ellens been working her way through every available cop in the department, Clare. Thats her past. And she should have been up-front about that with Friar. Quinn shook his head. Im sure shes got a side, but Im not her boyfriend, so I dont have any interest in hearing it. Anyway, what are you two doing here? Helping ID the perp in last nights shooting?

Not exactly, I said.

Matt shifted in his seat and elbowed me lightly. Tell him.

Tell me what? Quinn replied, spearing my ex-husband with a far less friendly cop stare than hed bestowed on me.

Okay, fine, Matt said. Ill tell him. Then my ex-husband unfolded his arms, relaxed his bristling attitude, and leaned toward Quinn. Id like your advice.

Mike Quinns still-as-stone face registered genuine surprise maybe two times a year. This was one of those times. He listened quietly as Matt laid out the whole Breanne-in-peril theory again.

Amazingly, Quinn didnt laugh. He didnt put Matt down. He didnt even handle him with one of those canned cop speeches reserved for city paranoids who call the NYPD about official conspiracies and UFOs.

You know, Allegro, he said instead, I think you might be right to worry.

You do? Now it was Matts turn to look genuinely surprised.

Quinn nodded. I dont like the mud on the SUVs license plate. I dont like the execution-style hit on the victim while shes dressed up like your fianc'ee and walking right beside you. And I dont like that your bride-to-be is a public figure who seems to make enemies of people who have something to lose.

Thank you! Matt cried. He turned to me. I could kiss him.

Quinns eyebrow arched. Sorry, big fella. Its not the best neighborhood for that unless you mean it.

So what do we do now? Matt asked, palms up, brown gaze expectant.

I figured Quinn would volunteer to talk to Soles and Bass about running a side investigation on Breannes possible enemies. But he didnt say anything close to that. What he said was, Use Clare.

What?! I said.

Clare? Matt repeated.

Yeah, Allegro, at the moment, youve got nothing concrete, right? The PD cant get involved with hunches. We need evidence. Have Clare stick close to Breanne this week, snoop around, look for something that might warrant police involvement.

I dont have time for that! I have a business to run and a gourmet coffee and dessert bar to finalize before the end of the week!

Calm down, Quinn said.

Mike! I wanted to throttle him.

Allegro has some genuine hunches here, and you know I subscribe to the Blink theory on hunches.

Blink theory? Matt said. Whats that?

It means you know more than you think you do, I replied before Quinn started gassing on about it. You take in a lot of data in the blink of an eye, which is why youre supposed to trust your flashes of inspiration. Those flashes are usually right. Malcolm Gladwell researched the theory and put it in his book.

Blink? Matt nodded, looking pleased with himself. Then I am right. Breanne is in danger.

I shook my head. That may not be true-

So find out, Quinn said. His tone was pushy, almost taunting, yet his eyes seemed to be laughing, as if he were having fun!

What is this? A schoolyard dare?

Quinn ignored me and leaned toward Matt. Shes good at it, you know. Clare has all the qualities we look for when we promote from the uniformed force, especially the four Is.

The four what? Matt said.

Inquisitiveness, imagination, insight, and an eye for detail.

That last one starts with an E, I said flatly. And what about intelligence?

Quinn shook his head. We dont want intelligent cops on the force. We want smart ones.

Theres a difference? Matt asked.

She might be able to turn up a lead, Quinn continued, ignoring the question. Unless she does, the Fish Squads going to go after the usual suspects on the stripper.

Fish Squad? Matt said.

Soles and Bass. Its what we call those two around here. Not to their faces, of course. Lori Soles has a sense of humor, but I wouldnt repeat the term within ten feet of Sue Ellen-not if you value an intact skull.

Mike, come on! I protested. This is ridiculous-

Your ex-husbands scared, sweetheart. Cant you see that?

Quinns tone was dead serious. His eyes were blue stone. I stared for a moment in dumbfounded disbelief. Oh, I didnt doubt his words; I knew Matt was very worried. I just never thought Id hear Mike Quinn express genuine concern for my ex-husband.

Its true. I am scared, Matt confessed. If you could have seen the way that SUV came right for Breanne on the sidewalk He shook his head and grimaced, his expression intensifying for a moment into a look of almost physical pain. I think Quinns right. I think you should do this, Clare. Will you? For me? As a wedding gift?

I couldnt believe this was happening! Ill give it a day. But if I dont turn up any leads, Im off the case.

That seemed good enough for Matt. He thanked me. Then he actually extended his hand across the table. Thanks, Quinn. Youre not so bad.

The detective shook Matts hand, declining to return the compliment. Listen, Allegro, he said instead, can you give me a few minutes alone with Clare here? Id like a word with her.

Yeah, sure, Matt said. And Ill bet I know which word.

Matt! I said.

He rolled his eyes. Ill meet you downstairs.

As my ex stood and walked away, Quinn unfolded his lanky frame from the metal chair and crossed the little interview room to shut the door.

I rose, too, and stepped right up to him. Why did you set me up, Mike? I dont appreciate-

His lips found mine before I could finish the sentence. Despite my complete and total annoyance with the man, my arms drifted north, circled his neck, and hung on. He backed me against the wall and got serious.

God, the man liked to kiss. He took his time with his lips and tongue, let my taste and smell roll over his receptor cells like a sommelier whod finally found the time to get down to his cellar and savor the rarest vintage in his collection.

When we finally parted, he smiled down at me. There were stray locks of chestnut hair on my cheek. His fingers brushed them aside, curled them around my ear.

Tonight, sweetheart, he said softly. My place.

No way. Im not forgiving you for this.

For what? He knitted his brow, a shameful attempt to appear clueless.

Dont even try to play innocent with me. Youre obviously pissed that Matteos moved back in with me for a few days. Hooking me up to investigate Breanne is your pathetic ploy to steer me clear of the man.

Youre way too cynical, Cosi. You know that? I honestly think Allegros theory is worth checking out.

I might have believed him, if I hadnt caught his fleeting half smile.

You owe me, Quinn. I poked his hard shoulder. Do you hear?

Yeah, I hear. And Ill make it up to you. I promise starting tonight.

I parted my lips to protest again, but once again Mike Quinns mouth was faster.


EIGHT | Espresso Shot | c







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