Still licking his wounds over blowing it with the love of his life, Detective Jack Heart finds himself in over his head with corporate politics, treachery, and vipers of the female variety. Under pressure to solve the case, Jack's taste for danger will place him and those he loves on a collision course with disaster.
Still licking his wounds over blowing it with Carolyn Woods, the love of his life, Jack Heart drinks to excess daily. His apartment is in shambles, he's isolated himself from all his friends, and he stumbles to the couch every night to sleep off an alcoholic stupor. All that changes when he receives a phone call with a job offer from a man he barely knew.
Suddenly, Jack must track down an embezzler inside a swanky corporation riff with politics, game-playing, and treachery. The deeper Jack goes, the more dirt he finds. Can this out-of-place detective survive and still crack the case? Not to mention some women he works with have plans for him—plans that are way more than he bargained for.
One thing is certain: Jack's taste for danger will take him to the edge of disaster.
As he gathered his jacket up to go, another visitor stopped by. At the door stood Cheryl Wong. "Hola. Habla usted español u otros idiomas?" Cheryl was a petite woman with pale skin and dark hair that hung loosely around her shoulders. Attractive, now that he saw her up close.
Jack stared at her, perplexed.
She came in and closed the door. Then she took a seat at his desk. She seemed comfortable, like she had done this before. "Sorry," she said now in English. That's just my way with new people. I like to find out if there are any other bilinguals here and Spanish is the most common."
"Ah," said Jack. "Well, I speak a little football and baseball, but that's about it."
Cheryl laughed. She was prettier when she smiled. But then most women were.
"You are on your way out?" she asked. "I was wondering if you could do me a favor? My car is in the shop and I took the subway here this morning, but I don't want to take it back after dark. Would you be able to give me a lift home?"
Jack was nothing if not gallant. "Sure, I could do that."
Then she threw a twist in. "You know, there's a bar on the way. We could stop and have a drink."
Jack studied her. What was she up to? He'd have to go through with it to figure her out.
"If you're up to it," she added.
"Okay, sure. But I can't stay too late."
"You have a wife or partner?"
Blunt, this one. "No, I just have some work I have to get to."
"Your first day, and they're already piling it on? That hardly seems fair." She pouted her lips in sympathy.
What was that song? Maneater? He had a feeling it was an apt description of Cheryl Wong.
Jack made sure to get his parking pass from the secretary for tomorrow. He wasn't made of money, and today was gonna cost him twenty bucks. Cheryl followed him out, and they took the elevator down together. Jack thought this little get-together might be a good chance to interview her. What was she head of again? He couldn't remember. He'd have to ask her. His instincts told him to wait until the bar.
Jack made sure to put his briefcase in the trunk. Cheryl brought a satchel with her and sat up front. She directed him out. Apparently she lived not too far away from him, although in the city, even a block of traffic could turn a short drive into an hour. Stuck in rush hour, Cheryl made small-talk.
"So you dined with the big cheese today?" She opened.
"Word gets around fast."
"Yes, anytime someone from HQ comes, everyone knows it. Knows to be on their toes."
"What they can't figure out is whether to be on their toes around you."
Now he got it. She was on a scouting mission for the office. He wondered if they drew straws. "I'm just a nobody," he said.
"I doubt that," said Cheryl, "or the Deputy VP wouldn't have taken such an interest in you. So what are you here to do?"
She said it smiling and casual, but underneath he could feel the shark in her.
"I'm not allowed to discuss the details," he said.
"Oh my," said Cheryl and raised her hands as if she was being held up. "Never mind. I don't want to get you in trouble."
"Thanks," he said, then stayed quiet. She didn't try to pry anymore. He wondered if she would after a few drinks. Wait. That was his plan. Who was playing who here?
The bar she chose was a nice one, and after parking, they were seated in a booth at the back almost immediately. A rowdier crowd held court around the bar, but they sat away from the noise.
They each ordered appetizers and a drink. Jack stuck with beer. He didn't want to get liquored up. Cheryl ordered a fruity drink. Then the sparring commenced.
Cheryl started first. "So what did you do, Mr. Jack, before you came to work with us?"
For some reason Jack didn't want to say he was a detective. "Freelancer," he answered. "What did you say you were in charge of again? I've met so many people today I can't keep anything straight."
"Government Contracts," she answered.
"Oh that's right." Now he remembered.
"And what did you do as a freelancer?"
"Oh you know," he said, putting her off, "found things that were lost, protected possessions, that sort of thing. Before that I was a cop."
Cheryl's expression remained impassive. "A policeman. That sounds exciting." Cheryl took the toothpick in her drink and began to eat the fruit on it. Only the way she was doing it... Could she be? Nah... Jack thought to himself as she sucked on a cherry. Well I did wear a suit today. And shaved.
"It wasn't that exciting," he said. "Just worked a regular beat. Got shot up one too many times and retired."
"Oh," here she went with the pouty lips again, "do you have scars?"
"A few." He could picture some of his friends falling all over themselves by now. "How do you like working for Devonshire? How long have you been there?"
"I like it ok. It's a job, you know? I've been there five years. Most people have worked there longer."
"So people must like it."
"Yeah. Good salary and benefits. People stick around."
"What about Jerry Wilson? He didn't stick around."
Cheryl laughed and twirled the stick with pineapple on it around in her hand. "What is this, the third degree?" she asked, still half-laughing.
"No, sorry. I just heard he was my predecessor and wondered what happened. I like this job; I want to make sure I don't make any mistakes." Jack figured that sounded good enough.
Cheryl looked thoughtful. "Jerry was here for about six months, I think. I always got the feeling he didn't leave on his own accord, if you know what I mean."
"But I don't know any more about it. If you really want to know, ask Cindy. She knows everything. But it's probably confidential."
Cheryl looked him in the eyes and sucked down the pineapple. Their appetizers were done, and they had each downed about two drinks. Then she surprised him. "Hey, you want to get out of here?"
Their eyes met and held each other's gaze. Jack stared, dumfounded. After that comment, well...I'm game if you are. He arched an eyebrow. "Sure," he said, "my place or yours?" Jack's experience with women had usually been that they felt more comfortable in their own homes. Cheryl surprised him again.
"Yours is fine. Is it close?"
"Pretty close, yeah." He thought of his dump of an apartment. He hadn't cleaned it in forever. There were probably old pizza boxes and bourbon bottles around.
Cheryl wrapped her coat around her.
Oh well. What the hell. A month had gone by since his last blonde spree. If Cheryl was okay with it, then he would be too. "I have to warn you," he said. "I live in a pigsty."
Cheryl laughed again. "All bachelors do."
"Okay then," said Jack as they walked out into the night. "Away we go."
H.K. Sterling is an author with Breathless Press known for stories with imagination, intelligence, a kick, and twist endings. She likes to focus her writing on romantic suspense, science-fiction, shorts, and anything that is spicy and unexpected. Sometimes her books may even go dark. H.K. lives in Virginia with her husband who graciously puts up with her passion for writing. H.K. currently has a Short Spy Romance out called Eyes Only, a Mystery/Thriller titled A Taste For Killing, and two short stories in the Breathless Press Anthology, My Bloody Valentine. H.K.'s books are suitable for 18+.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/hksterling
HK Sterling "Undercover Blog": http://hksterling1.blogspot.com/