Never Look Back

By: Linda Lael Miller


He eyed my yellow-stained T-shirt, allowed himself a shadow of a grin. No doubt it cheered him up to know I'd been peed on. "Get your purse, Counselor," he said. "I'm taking you home."

Half an hour alone with Sonterra, with him lecturing me on my poor career choices—just what I didn't need. I looked to Officer Atienzo for some sign of support, since I knew Culver would take Sonterra's side.

"You'll need to give a statement," Atienzo said.

"Tomorrow," Sonterra said flatly. I thought Atienzo looked mildly bent out of shape—detectives outrank uniforms in the cop hierarchy, and sometimes that rubs the guys and gals on the beat the wrong way—but in the end, Officer Friendly merely shrugged.

Sonterra, still holding the dog, fixed me with a glower. "Your car is in the alley, I take it, since I didn't see it out front?" The subtext was, I've told you a million times: park in well-lighted areas. Are you trying to get mugged, raped, or murdered?

"Right as always," I said brightly. "Good thing I didn't follow your sage advice. If I'd left my car on the street, it would look like Swiss cheese right about now."

Sonterra lowered his eyebrows and frowned, but I wasn't intimidated and I let him know it with a level look. That always pissed him off, and it prompted me to wonder what he saw in me, since he obviously preferred the acquiescent type. "Perhaps one of these good officers will do us the favor of driving it home for you," he intoned.

"I'll do it," Culver said, like a Boy Scout going for a badge. What a suck-up.

"I'm perfectly capable of driving," I submitted.

Sonterra opened my purse, helped himself to the keys, and tossed them to Culver. "Thanks," he told the other man without breaking his visual headlock on me. "Fifteen Twenty-two Cactus Creek Road. Just leave it in the driveway."

Culver jingled the keys. "Where should I put these?"

It was all I could do not to tell him exactly where to i them.

"Lock them in the vehicle," Sonterra said. "There's a duplicate set."

I took the dog back, but gently. It wasn't Bernice's fault that Sonterra suffered from an excess of testosterone.

"Done," Culver replied. He found the back door on his own and went out.

Atienzo paused beside me and laid a hand on my shoulder. "You're all right with this?" he asked, ignoring Sonterra's eyeball scorch. Atienzo had guts. I like that in a person. Plus, he was cute, with brown hair and green eyes and a very nice butt.

"Yes," I said. One of the things you learn while treading the hallowed halls of justice is to choose your battles. Sonterra being on authority overload, I was sure to lose this round, so I decided to conserve my personal resources for the next one. "I'll stop by the station tomorrow to sign the reports."

"Good," Atienzo said mildly. He ruffled Bernice's floppy ears, leveled a look at Sonterra, and strolled out to the waiting squad car.

Sonterra and I just stood there for a long moment, trying to stare each other down. I swear, if the sex hadn't been so good, I wouldn't have given him the time of day, let alone a big chunk of my life.

I watched as Atienzo got behind the wheel, switched off the blue-and-red flashing lights, and drove away. I inclined my head toward the street. "Is he married?" I asked sweetly.

Sonterra isn't the only one who knows how to get under somebody's skin.



* * *





Two





Sonterra pushed his shoulders back. "I have no idea," he said coldly, "whether Officer Atienzo is married or not."

I sagged a little as reality caught up to me. My office was a wreck, and the front window was in pieces. Locking the place wouldn't make sense, even with the bars still in place, but I didn't like the idea of leaving my computer, espresso machine, fancy phone system, and Bose radio behind for the looters.

Suddenly, I wanted to cry, and Sonterra must have picked up on that, because he softened a little. "Come on, Clare," he said. "Let's get out of here. There's nothing more you can do tonight."

"My stuff," I lamented, dropping into the ergonomic chair I'd bought at Costco just a few days before, along with the desk. The few other things I had came from my home office, in the Cave Creek condo I'd moved out of when I bought the house on Cactus Creek Road. I didn't miss the old place much—I had my reasons for reticence—but I did miss having my neighbor, Mrs. Kravinsky, close at hand. Eccentric though she was, she had been a good friend.

Sonterra sighed. "Sit down before you fall down," he said. "I'll unhook your computer and load it in the car. What else do you want to take with you?"

I told him, and he got to work. That's the thing about Sonterra; he can tick me off with the quirk of an eyebrow, but when the chips are down, he's handy to have around.

Half an hour later, we were in his rig, rolling north on the 101. A CD, Latin and sultry, provided a stirring score, and Bernice lay curled up in my lap, snoring a little.

"Do you have a mole in every squad car?" I asked, partly to counter the romantic effects of the music. "You got there pretty fast tonight."

He looked pleased with himself. "The eyes of Sonterra are upon you," he said. "You hungry? I don't think there's anything to eat at my place."