This was about as fucked a Christmas as she'd ever had. The concrete walls were like blocks of ice, and the floor wasn't much better. The cot was hard, lumpy in a few places, and not really any warmer than the rest of her surroundings, even though Officer Hunky had brought her an extra blanket.
And he was...hunky.
Perhaps if she started thinking about him as Michael, the way he'd introduced himself a little while after he'd settled her in the cell, she wouldn't be so frustratingly attracted to him. The more she watched him though... Nah, he was Officer Hunky. Michael might be his given name, but hunky was what fit him best in her sleep-deprived, decent food-deprived mind.
Damn, but she'd never seen a more perfect-looking man and generally speaking, perfect men didn't appeal to her. Likewise, she didn't appeal to them either, so it was never an issue, but this one...with his perfect white teeth, his perfect rock-hard body, his perfect dark voice, and his perfect heated gaze every time he looked at her...well hell, she couldn't explain it.
Maybe he was just the right kind of perfect, her right kind of perfect. Maybe she was the only woman within a hundred miles and he was horny, but as she looked at him, watched him filling out what seemed to be an endless stack of paperwork, she doubted it.
His regret at having to arrest her was genuine, as was his apology that there wasn't a decent place open for food in his little hole-in-the-wall town in the middle of Pennsylvania over the Christmas weekend. His touch had been warm and lingering, and the smile he'd fixed on her from time to time, the look he sent her way when he didn't think she saw it...no, Officer Hunky, with his sheer, unadulterated male perfection, wanted her.
And that little bit of knowledge, however unlikely in the real world outside the police department jail, made being locked up at Christmas almost tolerable.
Holli slowly refocused. Crap. Heat flooded her cheeks. Had she been staring at him this whole time? "Yes, why?"
"You were staring."
Was that a smile playing around his mouth? "Sorry. I was thinking."
You and me, naked and rockin' around the Christmas tree. "About how I'd like to get the hell out of here." She glanced up at the clock on the wall. Over twenty-four hours since she'd been brought in. Her gut had told her she could make it to Harrisburg and then stop there for gas, but no, she'd had to pee and needed a snack, some caffeine, and now, well, she was in jail. Had she not been speeding down the little two-lane road trying to get back on the interstate, her license wouldn't have been flagged on what they were finding out was a clerical error.
"I know. I've put in a call to the DA and explained the situation. Again. He owes me a favor, and unless he's gone to his in-laws, he should call me back soon."
"You're using your favor on me?" Dear Lord, that sounded so much dirtier than she'd intended. And judging by the smile on his face, he knew it too. Maybe when he'd frisked her earlier, she hadn't imagined that his hands lingered a bit longer on her hips and thighs than they should have. The idea made her tingle all over. "I mean, shouldn't you hold on to it for when you need something really big?"
"Yes, I am calling in my favor. This is something big. I'm not sure what you'd qualify as 'really big,' but things are kind of screwed up for you, and it's partly our fault. Our meaning the state of Pennsylvania. Over the holidays and on your vacation no less. Derek will have to get in touch with one of the judges about an idea I have for this whole fiasco, but I'd need someone to sign off on it."
"What's your idea?"
He shook his head. "I don't want to jinx it. Let's just wait for the call to come in."
She shrugged. Not like she was going anywhere. "Sure. Whatever." She tried to play it off as no big deal, but if there was a season of perpetual hope, this was it. It might be the day after Christmas, but she could still have hopes and wishes.
"What were you and your friend planning to do in New York next week?"
"Hmm? Oh, shopping, sightseeing. You know, touristy stuff. Neither of us has ever been there. She's from the Midwest and owns a similar business to mine. We started planning it one night in a hotel bar at a trade show."
He put his pencil down and leaned back in his chair. "New York... It's beautiful, especially all decorated for the holidays. It's crowded. It's noisy. And right now, it's cold as hell, just like it is here. But it is beautiful, and you'd have loved it, I think."
"I'm sure, and I hope she's having fun without me. We were supposed to check in last night and in true tourist fashion, I was going to leave right after the New Year's Eve party in Times Square."
His eyes widened, and he smiled while shaking his head. Holli had no idea how old he was, but when he laughed or smiled, it made him look young, like college age young. She figured him to be close to her own age of thirty-five, though. He was gorgeous, in a rougher, younger Chris Noth sorta way.
"You'd be lucky to get out of there before four or five in the morning."
"I know. Charlotte's flight leaves at eight something on New Year's Day, and I have to start work again on the second. My first appointment is at one in the afternoon. I will get out of here in time to get to that appointment, right?"
It was the first time she'd thought about work. If she didn't make it home in time, she would need to make a few phone calls to arrange for someone else to take over for her until she got there. There were a few people she could count on, if they didn't stay out all night partying.
"I'm going to try to make sure you do."
And she knew he would. She had no reason not to trust that he was doing everything he could to get the clerical fiasco fixed and get her off on her merry way.
Get her off? Had she really thought those exact words? Oh dear God. Not that she'd meant them that way, but now that she was thinking of what way she could have thought them and how it would have sounded had she said it out loud... Hell, who was she kidding? She would love for him to get her off on her merry way. In that way.
"To be spending the week between Christmas and New Year's in New York, you'd have had to make those plans...what? At least a year ago?"
"Longer, and that was only to get on the waiting list, and only if there was a cancellation would we get a room. Lucky for...well, I guess lucky for her, there was." If she looked at Officer Hunky, she didn't feel quite so bad that she wasn't in New York, but when she looked around the box she was in, it was easy to feel sorry for herself.
He picked his pencil up and tapped it lightly against the papers on the desk. "Why were you traveling on Christmas Day?"
"I always do. I usually leave around five in the morning if I've had a night that's not so late. I try to get the maximum amount of time out of my vacation and not as many people are on the road on actual holidays."
"Makes sense. I prefer to travel in the early, early morning too."
"I guess that's why my speeding stood out. No one else around." She narrowed her eyes at him, then winked. "Or so I thought."
"I really am sorry."
"It's all right. It's not like you knew you were pulling over a criminal who isn't actually a criminal. I just..." Holli stood and paced the confines of her small cell. "I just can't believe one little clerical error, one little number out of place is the cause of all this. All of you know it's a mistake, and no one can fix it because it's the holiday weekend. I am missing New York City at Christmas because some little pip-squeak clerk transposed two numbers. I'm missing Rockefeller Center all decorated. I'm missing Bloomingdale's after-Christmas sale. I'm missing ice-skating in Central Park, even though I don't know how to ice-skate. I'm missing a plush, expensive-as-all-get-out hotel room in Manhattan because..." She slammed the flat of her hand against the bars, then immediately cradled it with her other hand. "Oww." She pouted but wouldn't give in to tears. "Guess this is what I get for driving instead of flying."
Officer Hunky just nodded his dark, handsome head. He'd listened patiently to her rant and rave, curse worse than a sailor, even cry at one point over the ridiculousness of the whole situation. He knew it was a clerical error, could see it on the computer, had printed out the screenshot and faxed it to hell and back, but no, everyone who had any kind of power said she'd have to sit in jail until Monday at the earliest and Wednesday at the latest.
At least come Monday some decent food might be available. Her stomach growled in anticipation. She could sure go for a nice juicy steak, or maybe some Chinese from one of those awesome places in New York people were always talking about. She'd take a cheeseburger from one of those fast-food places at this point.
"You okay? Bleeding?"
"I'm okay, and no, there's no blood, just a bruised palm and an even more bruised ego. A change of subject was in order. She needed to stop thinking about food, and she needed to stop making him feel worse than he already did about the fine circumstances she'd landed in.
So when do you get off the holiday shift?" "Eleven."
"Tonight?" She glanced at the typical government office wall clock, white face and black rim. Nine thirty. Twenty-eight and a half hours she'd been in the slammer. She wasn't in a hurry for him to leave. What if his replacement didn't talk except in one-word sentences? What if he was grumpy and only grunted at her? She didn't want to be left alone with someone else. If she had to stay there, which it appeared she did, she wanted Officer Hunky to stay with her.
"Yeah. I'll go home, take a shower, and bring you something to eat. You like salads?"
He'd come back? Bring her food? Damn. He was really one of the good ones. She suddenly felt bad about being so tart tongued with him earlier. He didn't deserve it. He'd been doing his job. Nothing more, nothing less. Except he was offering to do more, and warmth curled deep in her belly at his gesture. "You don't have to do that," she said softly. "I'm sure you're very tired, and looking at this place again so soon--or looking at me again so soon, for that matter--can't be high up on your list of 'can't wait to do's.'"
He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture at her objection. "Don't be silly. I'd be pissed if I were in your place too."
"But still...don't trouble yourself. I'm sure the next guy will be able to feed me something."
Officer Hunky barked a laugh. "Don't bet on it."
Holli shrugged, her worst fears confirmed about whom she'd be spending the rest of her night with. "Oh well. I could stand to lose a few pounds anyway. Missing a couple meals won't hurt."
Who the hell was she kidding? She was starving. She was bored. She was cold. When she looked at him, though, bored and cold were the last thoughts on her mind. The starving part simply switched from the food kind of starving to the naked man flesh kind of starving.
She bet he could keep her warm as well, much warmer than the blankets. She doubted she'd even feel the cold at all if she were snuggled up against him, making use of that whole body heat thing.
"Nothing wrong with the way you look."
Yeah, okay. So he wasn't perfect. He needed glasses. However, he had felt her body from top to bottom. It was part of his job, but as she'd observed earlier, his touch had lingered on some parts of her body. Maybe he didn't need glasses. Maybe he liked his women a little on the full side.
Right. In what universe? Perpetual hope didn't mean perpetual lunacy, Hol.
"You're staring at me again."
Holli smirked. What would he do if she let some of her thoughts about him out into the open? "Sure I am. You're prettier than the gray walls."
"Pretty? You think I'm pretty?"
He scowled, looking completely affronted, and she couldn't keep from laughing a little. He was pretty, but not in a feminine way. Oh no, he was pretty in the handsome, hot, sexy, let's-get-you-out-of-that-uniform way.
"Well, relatively speaking. I mean, I wouldn't ever say that these walls in here are anything close to handsome, so..." She tossed him a wink and, in a bold move, blew him a kiss.
He made a move, like he was intercepting it, and then he laughed. She found she liked the sound of it: warm, rich, full-bodied. It sent an invisible shiver through her. Flirting with him was a lot more fun and a lot better than pouting, spitting fire, and feeling sorry for herself.
Lust for the cop was more than she'd expected to feel on this trip. Hell, she hadn't expected to feel any kind of lust at all. She'd just wanted to get away, spend some downtime before she had to get back home and tear down the beautiful decorations she'd so painstakingly put up over the last month. Spending her precious week off in a cinder block-walled room with iron bars was not what she'd expected either, though.
At the same time, Holli figured it could have been worse. She could have been arrested by someone less delicious, less sympathetic, less kind than Officer Hunky, and she should thank her lucky stars he was the one on duty.
He started to ask something, but the phone interrupted him. She watched the way his long fingers wrapped around the receiver, the way he cradled it between his ear and his broad, strong shoulder, the way his mouth moved as he talked, and her mouth went a little dry.
There was a slight bit of scruff on his face, and she wondered if he was normally clean shaven or if he was always a little scruffy. Personally she liked his current look. His eyes were hazel with light brown, thick lashes, and as he talked, he glanced up and pierced her with those eyes. More heat curled in her belly. She took a couple of steps back as if the movement would make his stare any less potent. It didn't. She was still just as affected by it.
His conversation consisted of a lot of "Yes sir, I understand" and "No sir, I won't let that happen." He reached up and scratched the back of his head. His brown hair was cut in a short style and was slightly spiked on top. He really was a good-looking GQ kind of man, but with the scruff, the spiked hair, and her own imagination, he was far from the boy next door. He was the good guy with bad boy written all over his smile, the charmer, the guy who all the mothers warned their daughters about. The one guy Holli would have had a crush on, but who wouldn't have looked twice in her direction.
He was waving his hand at her in front of the bars. When had he gotten up? She blinked and shook herself out of her thoughts. The man completely stupefied her. "Yeah?"
"That was the DA and one of the local, very unhappy at the moment judges. They've been discussing this on and off."
"Okay." Were they going to let her go finally? Did they believe her? Could she get back to her vacation? "And?"
"I can release you, but there are conditions."
Conditions? She could live with conditions if she could just get the hell out of dodge. "What are they?"
"You have to stay close by. I can't let you go to New York."
Damn. Damn damn damn. "What else?"
"You have to be watched. House arrest until the offices officially open on Tuesday."
"So that means you're going to put me up in a no-tell motel and station someone outside the door until Tuesday?"
He was hedging around something, and she couldn't put her finger on it. At the moment, she would have agreed to just about anything. "But I get to take a hot shower, put on some other clothes, get some food, and curl up in a bed?"
"I can live with that." And she really could. It wasn't Manhattan. It wasn't her posh, boutique hotel. But she could live with it if it meant she could get out from behind the gray, iron bars. "Just point me in the right direction."
"I can put you in a motel, or...you can come home with me."
Option one: a motel. Four walls that would essentially be another cell.
Option two: go home with Officer Hunky. She likely wouldn't notice any walls at all if she were looking at him.
Was that heat she saw flare in his eyes when he suggested she go home with him? She may not celebrate Christmas the way others did, but man oh man, she must have been a really good girl all year for Santa to give her a belated gift like this. To heck with New York...
"Holli? Are you okay with these conditions?"
As if he needed to ask. "Yeah, I'm good," she said, trying hard to keep from jumping up and down and singing "Joy to the World." Oh yes, she was really, really good with his conditions.
"Great. I'll get the paperwork filled out, and when my replacement gets here, we'll go." He unlocked the cell and slid the door to the side. "Feel free to walk around and stretch your legs."
"You didn't ask me which of the two options I chose."
One brow lifted as he looked down at her. "Do I need to?"
Holli grinned, no longer trying to play it cool. She wanted the man. "Not if you think you know me well enough."
Officer Hunky leaned down and got right in her face. His breath smelled like coffee and mint. She remembered the gum he'd chewed after the two cups of coffee earlier. Up close like this, she could see the flecks of brown and gold in his eyes, and if she leaned toward him just a scant inch, her lips would be touching his.
"I know you well enough. I know your choice."