Authors: Coleen Kwan
Tags: #small town;cop;stakeout;yarn;fifties;opposites attract
Love can hook you before you know it…
Abigail has bigger problems than adjusting to her role as owner of a yarn store she inherited from her aunt. Petty crime is hurting her business, plus that of all the other shops in the area.
When she spots a man stealing an orange from a neighboring store, she doesn’t hesitate to give chase—only to discover the man she’s just tackled to the ground is a cop.
Detective Brody Donovan is about to slap some cuffs on the woman decked out in a yarn costume, when his better sense prevails. Her apartment is the perfect place to set up a stakeout to catch the criminal who wounded his partner. Specifically, her bedroom.
The heat between them unexpectedly fries his concentration, though he can’t figure out why. She’s into ’50s nostalgia. He’s all about his job. She yearns for a man who will court her. He goes through women like tissues.
But when the criminal finally surfaces, Brody realizes too late that he’s dangerously close to losing the one woman he never thought he wanted.
Warning: Contains a commitment-phobic cop, stolen oranges and flirty aprons, and some heartfelt Shim Sham shimmying.
Courting the Cop
To my mom, who can knit with her eyes closed.
Lesson one: dressing up as a giant ball of yarn might chase away customers instead of attracting them.
Abigail Brightwater put on her cheeriest smile for the mom and daughter who were walking toward her on the sidewalk.
“Hey there! Looking for a fun knitting project to do this winter? We’re having a sale today. Everything is twenty percent off.” She waved her arms dramatically to draw their attention to her store, A Coffee and a Yarn, and did a little jig, teetering about as the mountain of yarn and needles piled on top of her head threatened to slide off.
The little girl shrank back, and the mom gripped her by the hand to hurry them past.
“There’s a free coffee if you spend more than ten dollars,” Abigail called after the two before sighing in defeat.
Maybe the costume was too much. A bulbous globe of Styrofoam wrapped up in bright red yarn squeezed her torso, while an elaborate concoction of rainbow-colored balls of yarn and needles weighed down on her hair. No doubt she looked ridiculous, but at the time it had seemed like a good idea, and she was sort of desperate.
Saturday afternoon in early November was usually a busy period at her store, when women had time to browse through her yarns and patterns, thinking of scarves and beanies and gloves, chatting with like-minded people, relaxing over a freshly made espresso. But over the past year, business had slowly dwindled until the takings barely covered expenses. Right now, there were only a couple of customers inside, and both of them were regulars, not new passing trade she’d hoped to attract with this frivolous costume.
Hers wasn’t the only business suffering. The row of storefronts lining Main Street was punctuated by empty shops and boarded-up buildings, like missing teeth in a battered face that had seen better days. Weeds poked up through cracks in the sidewalk. Trash gathered in disused doorways. Graffiti scrawled across walls.
It hadn’t always been like this. She’d grown up in this neighborhood from the age of ten. She’d walked these streets safely day and night. She’d known almost everyone on this block. But things had changed. She’d noticed this a year ago when Aunt Edna had fallen ill and she’d moved back in to help her. People she’d known since childhood had moved away. Strangers were too busy working to be neighborly. And petty crime was skyrocketing, especially since the number of patrol officers had been reduced, due to city budget cuts. Just the other day a teenager had grabbed Mrs. Rosenthal’s purse right outside Abigail’s store. Abigail had chased after the punk, but he’d got away, and Mrs. Rosenthal had lost fifty dollars and her peace of mind. She was still too scared to venture out alone.
The teenage bag-snatcher was part of Spike’s gang. If only the police would crack down on those lowlifes then people like Mrs. Rosenthal would feel safe to walk to the local stores instead of driving to the mall a few miles away. The deli a couple doors down had already closed shop and the owners retired to Florida. That meant a third of the stores on Abigail’s block were no longer operating. At least the fruit-and-vegetable store next door to her was still open. Mr. Mariano had been there for as long as she could remember, and hopefully would remain there for years to come.
Abigail pushed up the cumbersome headpiece of her costume to scratch her itchy, damp neck.
Lesson two: even in November piling on a heap of polystyrene and yarn will make you hot and icky.
She wiped the stickiness away and readjusted the headpiece, trying to find a more comfortable position. For a moment she couldn’t see anything, but as she resettled the heavy mass, a nearby movement caught her eye. A man had stopped outside Mr. Mariano’s fruit store, where he appeared to be examining the boxes of oranges on display. There was something about him that made Abigail look twice.
He was tall and hunky, dressed in black jeans, scuffed boots and casual jacket. Broad-shouldered, well-built, with scruffy, dark hair half-hidden by a baseball cap. She’d never seen him around here before, she was sure. Though his back was turned to her, he exuded a distinctive masculine aura, and she wondered what his face looked like. He appeared to be having trouble choosing an orange. At the same time he seemed distracted, as though the oranges weren’t holding his attention.
The urge to see the stranger’s face strengthened, surprising her. Maybe she was finally regaining interest in the opposite sex. Maybe she should go over and talk to this Mr. Tall and Hunky. Maybe he’d like to buy some yarn and knit a scarf. Yeah, right, probably not. But at least she’d have an excuse to check him out.
As she took a step toward him, the bell attached to the door of her shop jingled. With the headpiece weighing her down, she couldn’t make out if someone was going in or out. But she noticed the man outside Mariano’s twisted away, as if he didn’t want to be seen, and in the reflection of the storefront window Abigail glimpsed a taut, wary expression. The next moment he spun on his heel and hurried off, his hands slipping into the pockets of his jacket.
Wait a second. Did he just…? He did!
He’d slid an orange into his pocket. Mr. Tall and Hunky was a freaking shoplifter.
Abigail drew in a breath. “Hey, you!”
He ignored her completely, not faltering a step as he strode away.
“Hey!” She shuffled forward.
The guy was already halfway down the block, shoulders hunched, looking like he wasn’t stopping anytime soon. No one else had seen him pilfer the orange. No one was going to stop him. He would get away with it, dammit! It was only one orange, not even worth a dollar. But if every man and his dog thought it was okay to steal an orange, then where would it end?
Indignation fired in Abigail. She was sick and tired of these arrogant schmucks acting like they owned the place. It was time to fight back.
Hauling in a deep breath, she took after Mr. Tall and Hunky, determined to catch him or at least shame him. After a few steps, she realized the folly of trying to run in her foolish costume. The polystyrene mound covering her body jarred against her thighs as she pumped her legs. The tottering pile of yarn on her head swayed violently, strands of loose wool whipping at her eyes and cheeks, knitting needles flapping about like juggling chopsticks.
And the thing weighed a ton. Within a few seconds she was wheezing for breath, and the pressure points on her shoulders, neck and thighs were crying out for her to stop. But she wasn’t going to stop. She’d failed to grab Mrs. Rosenthal’s purse-snatcher, but she wasn’t going to let this damned orange-stealer get away. No way. She was taking a stand.
With all the difficulties of her costume, she’d lost sight of her quarry. She swung her head about, desperate to locate him. Ah-hah, there he was, heading straight for the intersection. The pedestrian light was flashing red, and the guy was already lengthening his stride. If she didn’t catch him before he crossed the road, she wouldn’t be game enough to play chicken with the traffic, not in this outfit. It was now or never.
Sucking in a lungful of air, she launched herself after him. The sound of her pounding heart filled her head. She was getting closer. The man had paused. Oh yeah, she was going to catch him!
Then, two things happened in quick succession. First, she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. Not surprising, given how she was hurtling along, eyes fixed on her prey. A millisecond after her foot caught and launched her forward, Mr. Tall and Hunky turned, no doubt alerted by the muffled shriek escaping her lips as she fell toward him.
Time seemed to slow down. She saw his eyes widen in disbelief and had time to notice that they were hazel-green and thickly lashed—beautiful, smoky eyes. His lips parted to form an O of surprise as his hands went up in a defensive position. He made as if to shift to the side, but it was too late. She was already crashing on top of him, her globe of polystyrene toppling him like a ninepin.
She heard a smack as his back collided with the sidewalk. Air whooshed out of her lungs, and time jolted back into its normal rhythm, leaving her mere inches from his stunned, furious face.
“Who the fuck are you?”
She was pretty sure her eyelashes trembled in the hot blast emanating from his mouth. She tried to say something, but with the air knocked out of her lungs all she could do was groan.
“Every day there’s another nutter.”
Mr. Tall and Hunky pushed her off him with a disgusted snort, leaving her rolling helplessly like a tortoise on her back. He glanced about him, swearing under his breath, his face like thunder. Now that she could see his face, she had to admit he was even more good looking than she’d first suspected. His strong jaw, faint stubble, and thick eyelashes exuded a dark, rugged, devil-may-care sexiness. Despite his grim expression, his lips looked full and inviting, and she suddenly found herself tempted to trace her fingers over those lips.
But how could she find him attractive? He was a lowlife, a thief, a scourge on her community.
And he didn’t seem to be ashamed at being caught red-handed by a woman dressed in a yarn costume, dammit. He ignored her as if she were merely a pile of garbage in his way, all his attention focused on something on the other side of the street. She rolled this way and that, trying to get to her feet, and failing, and none of the passersby appeared interested in helping her. Guess she couldn’t blame them. She must look like the nutter he’d labeled her.
Mr. Tall and Hunky stepped over her flailing body.
Oh no. He wasn’t going to get away. Not after she’d humiliated herself so comprehensively. She grabbed him by the ankle. He crashed to the ground again. He swore again.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, woman?”
She wrapped both arms around his leg. With the polystyrene in the way, she couldn’t hold him as tight as she’d like, but she clung to him like a limpet.
“I’m making…a…citizen’s…arrest,” she panted out.
“You’re what?” he snapped, his voice vibrating with incredulity.
“Have you no shame? I saw you back there. I caught you red-handed.” She squeezed his calf tighter. Beneath the black denim, she felt firm, well-developed muscle, but her spark of appreciation quickly changed to apprehension. This guy was fit and solid. He could do some serious damage to her if he wanted. Had she been too reckless charging after him?
She cleared her throat, wanting to sound fearless, authoritative. “I’m arresting you for shoplifting.”
Those beautiful, hazy-green eyes of his seemed to sizzle with confusion and anger as they focused on her. His shoulders bunched up, his breathing quickened, and she was visited by an image of a cobra coiling up, ready to strike. Her heart fumbled for a second.
. She was in trouble.
He moved with cobra-like speed. One moment she was lying on the ground clinging to his leg, the next she was hauled to her feet, and he was behind her, gripping her arm and hustling her down the street and into the rear lane that ran behind the shops. The lane was deserted and lonely. He pulled her to a halt against a brick wall.
“Before we go any further, I’m going to cuff you so you can’t attack me a third time.” He hauled out a pair of handcuffs.
“What?” she squeaked, terror rolling around in her stomach like icy grease. “You…you’re a cop?”
“Detective Brody Donovan.” He flashed a badge at her. “Turn around, hands behind your back.”
Well, at least he wasn’t a criminal. Not officially, anyway. And he was going to cuff her, with those steel handcuffs. A tiny frisson shivered through her, so quick she almost didn’t catch it. Sweet lord, was she the tiniest bit turned on by the thought of handcuffs? Biting her lip, she attempted to twist her hands behind her back, but the costume got in the way.
“Um, I can’t,” she mumbled.
He sighed. “Okay. I’m arresting you for obstructing a police officer, public nuisance and assaulting a police officer.”
“But—but—but you can’t!”
“Just watch me. I’ll do it so fast it’ll make your head spin.”
“This is wrongful arrest,” she protested. “I didn’t know you were a cop, and I didn’t fall on you on purpose. I tripped. It was an accident.”
“Oh, yeah? And grabbing my ankle and making me fall a second time? Was that an accident too?”
“I told you why I did that.” She tried to stand with arms akimbo, but the costume prevented her. Hard to demonstrate indignation when she looked like the Michelin Man. “I caught you shoplifting. You stole an orange from Mr. Mariano’s store.” A mystified look passed over his face, causing her to continue vehemently. “Oh, yes, don’t even try to deny it. Clear as day I saw you sneak that orange into your jacket pocket.”
Detective Brody Donovan shoved a hand into his pocket, and Abigail enjoyed a moment’s sweet satisfaction when he pulled out the orange and stared at it as if a magician had put it there.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing.” He looked like a schoolboy, all sheepish dismay, and she felt a disconcerting tug in her chest region.
“How could you not realize you were stealing an orange?” she challenged him, not liking the pull he seemed to have on her.
He huffed out a breath. “Because I was on police business.”
Oh. Oh crap
. “Following a suspect?”
His eyebrows drew down into a sharp V. “I can’t discuss it with you.”
“Did your suspect get away because I fell on you?” Stupid question. Of course he had. She hung her head. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
The headpiece slid forward, making the straps dig into her ears and jaw. The thing was killing her. She scrabbled at the chinstrap and managed to unclip it, but when she tried to lift the mountain of yarn and needles off, the damn thing caught in her hair.
“Um, could you help me, please?” Heavy, suffocating wool blanketed her face. She couldn’t see a thing, and vague claustrophobia swirled inside her.
“Hold still,” his gruff voice said. “You’ve got a goddamn knitting needle jammed.”
He wiggled something loose and lifted the whole pile off her. Cool air smacked her in the face. Her neck cricked in relief. She blinked up at the detective, uncomfortably aware of her sweaty, tangled appearance. She must look a complete mess, and not the hot kind either.