His Risk to Take ONLY
a Line of Duty / Crossing the Line novella by NYT and USA TODAY bestselling author Tessa Bailey
Homicide cop Troy Bennett had a reputation on the Chicago PD for being fearless and in control—until the night his daredevil partner is killed during a raid. From that moment on, he swears he’ll never again be responsible for the loss of a loved one. To escape his demons, Troy transfers to the NYPD, bringing him up close and personal with Ruby Elliott, a beautiful, street-savvy pool hustler.
Reckless and stubbornly independent, Ruby embodies everything Troy’s avoiding, but when she walks into the pub he’s at with his new coworkers and blows his carefully laid plans to hell, Troy knows he has to have her—risks be damned. But there’s a connection between Ruby’s shadowed past and a case Troy’s working involving a notorious Brooklyn felon, throwing her safety into jeopardy. Confronted with his biggest fear, will Troy push Ruby away to keep her safe or fight to keep her in his arms where she belongs?
Previously released as a Brazen in May 2013.
Title: His Risk to Take (Line of Duty/Crossing the Line)
Author: Tessa Bailey
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 162 pages
Release Date: May 2013
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Praise for His Risk to Take:
“With its combo of danger and delicious sex, this book sizzled right through my e-reader. I have a new favorite author and her name is Tessa Bailey!”
– USA TODAY Bestselling Author Cari Quinn
© 2013 Tessa Bailey
Same bullshit, different city.
From the darkest corner of Quincy’s bar, Troy Bennett took a long pull of his draft beer and watched men and women start to pair off, retreating to their own dark corners together. The bitter snow storm taking place outside had kept people inside well past their cut-off point. Loud music emanated from unseen speakers until everyone around him yelled to be heard or had given up and started dancing. Toward the back, a group of men played pool under an ancient light, their girlfriends looking on from the sidelines. He’d thought of joining the game himself, but since arriving an hour earlier, Troy had seen money discreetly exchange hands several times. Nothing new in a dive bar like this, but illegal gambling was something that, as a cop, he tended to avoid.
He took another pull of his beer and tried to focus on the debate taking place in front of him. His first week as a member of the NYPD had been long and tedious. Daniel and Brent, two officers who’d been gifted with the task of showing him the ropes, had dragged him to the bar to celebrate his survival.
“So let me get this straight, Danny boy. You’ve never once cried in front of a girl?”
Daniel heaved a breath toward the ceiling. “No, Brent. Why would I be crying if I’m with a girl?”
“To show her how emotionally complex you are.” Brent tapped his finger against his temple. “Women go crazy for that shit.”
Daniel smiled lazily in response, his attention diverted once more by the cute bartender as she passed. “When I’m with a girl, I’m a little too busy to worry about how she’s gauging my emotional maturity.”
In the one week since Troy’s transfer from Chicago, he’d watched Daniel, the hostage negotiator, date and discard at least three different women. Brent, on the other hand, seemed more interested in blowing shit up. They were good at their jobs, and Troy considered himself fortunate Lieutenant Tyler, his former superior back in Chicago, had put in a good word for him with the NYPD Emergency Services Unit.
At the reminder of his previous home and position on the Chicago police force, Troy drained his beer and signaled the bartender for another one. He shouldn’t be drinking to forget the reason he’d left Chicago, but it had become a habit of late. One he needed to get control of soon. Just not tonight.
“Weigh in on this, Troy. Do women want men who, like myself, are as deep and fathomless as the ocean?” Brent gestured to Danny with his beer. “Or pretty boy over here who hits it, quits it, and forgets it?”
Troy avoided responding right away by sipping his beer. He had a feeling his answer would inspire an entirely new debate, but he had no interest in discussing his approach to women and relationships with Daniel and Brent, who he’d known less than a week. He knew what they saw when they looked at him. Quiet, friendly guy. Passionate about his job. It’s the same thing women saw, too. In the beginning.
But Prince Charming disappeared as soon as they made it to the bedroom.
He’d tried once or twice in the past to be the guy who whispered sweet nothings into a girl’s ear when she came, but he’d never been able to keep up the façade. He’d rather be explaining in very explicit terms how and where he planned to take her next. It was a part of him he couldn’t explain, but had learned to embrace. Finding women to embrace it with him tended to be the difficult part.
Deciding on evasion as his best bet, Troy half smiled. “If I knew exactly what women wanted, do you think I’d be sitting here with you two?”
Both men laughed, and Brent changed the subject. Kind of. “On to more important topics, gentlemen. Blondes or brunettes?”
Daniel winked at the bartender. “You left out redheads.”
Brent snorted into his beer. “I guess Danny’s picked out tonight’s lucky winner.” He checked his watch. “Took you long enough. We’ve already been here a whole hour.”
Troy caught a flash of something desolate pass over Daniel’s face, but it disappeared just as quickly as he laughed at the joke made at his expense. “What about you, Troy? Any preference?”
He picked up his beer and tipped it to his lips. Not that he didn’t appreciate their attempt at levity, but in his current mood, the hair color of a potential conquest was the furthest thing from his mind. Daniel and Brent knew the reason he’d been transferred from Chicago and thankfully, hadn’t brought it up once during the week. But they were rapidly nearing the portion of the evening when he’d need to head home, since he knew too well that alcohol-plied cops didn’t shy away from sensitive topics.
He had no desire for a heart-to-heart about the circumstances of his transfer.
Dragging his attention away from the empty-bottle-strewn bar, Troy realized both men were staring at him, waiting for an answer. What had even been the question? Oh, right. Blonde or brunette.
He set his beer down, ready to deliver some half-ass answer when she walked in. His response of “both,” died on his lips, to be immediately replaced with, “Her. I prefer her.”
Yoga mat slung over her shoulder, she weaved her way through the bar with casual grace, observing everything but acknowledging nothing. She wore a tightly belted trench coat and jeans, remnants of the snow storm outside on her shoulders. The coat did nothing to hide the lithe body beneath, the gentle swell of her ass that begged for a man’s hands. His hands. A long, black wave of hair obscured part of her face, but she tossed it back over her shoulder as she neared him, flashing exotic green eyes in Troy’s direction, as if she’d sensed his gaze following her through the bar. That single look hit him like an uppercut to the jaw.
Brent leaned back from the bar to follow his line of sight, emitting a low whistle when he saw her. Even Daniel turned to cast an interested glance over his shoulder. A slight tightening of her mouth was the only indication that she’d heard them, but she breezed past without comment on her way to the back of the bar. After a minute, he realized Daniel and Brent were watching him, amusement blanketing their features.
“I guess we have our answer. Troy’s got a thing for leggy, black-haired yoga enthusiasts.”
Troy ignored them both, turning instead to follow her progress. He watched in surprise as she skirted around a group of pool players with a polite smile, then signed her name in chalk on a blackboard mounted to the wall, claiming the next game. Ruby. Their attention already riveted on the newcomer, the players laughed when they saw her intention was to join their obviously competitive game. She wrinkled her nose and laughed as though she was in on their joke before sauntering back toward the bar to await her turn.
She sidled up next to Troy and signaled the redhead with a dollar bill. “Hi. Can I get some quarters, please?” When the bartender turned to make change, she spoke to Troy without looking directly at him. “So, blue eyes. Why don’t you stop staring and buy me a drink? I don’t want to dehydrate before you work up the nerve.”
Keeping his surprise well hidden, Troy studied her. He didn’t want to admit how much her straightforward approach turned him on, but it did. Bad. It also made him curious, and that irked the hell out of him. He wasn’t ready to feel interest, or to care. Not yet. No, he craved a distraction. Something, or someone, in whom he could lose himself for the night. He wouldn’t be required to think of anything but the way she moved, sounded, felt.
Her hand rested on the bar’s edge, feminine fingers curling and uncurling into her palm as if restless to touch something. He thought of that hand sliding down the front of his jeans while he sucked on her bottom lip. Her breath would catch against his mouth, right before those graceful fingers gripped him.
All at once, the idea of taking her home became irresistible. Urgent. Unable to help himself, he leaned in closer. Too close. “Ask nicely, and I’ll think about it.”
She stilled, the smirk vanishing from her face. Troy could practically see the wheels turning in her head. He’d shocked her right back. Good. “Now where’s the fun in that?”
“I’m not particularly in the mood for fun.”
“That’s too bad.” She accepted a handful of quarters from the bartender with a nod. “I’m a regular laugh riot.”
He flicked a glance over her shoulder at the pool table. “If you’re looking for fun, you won’t find it there, either. I think you might be a little out of your league.”
“You think so?” Amusement flashed across her face. “Care to make it interesting?”
“Bet on you to win?” Troy shook his head. “I don’t gamble.”
Ruby crossed her arms and leaned against the bar, facing him. “You don’t gamble, and you’re not in the mood for fun. Maybe I picked the wrong guy to buy me a drink. Should I ask one of your friends instead?”
Over his dead body. They weren’t getting within two feet of her. “I wouldn’t advise it.”
“Then I’d advise you to be a little nicer.”
“Now where’s the fun in that?”
At having her words thrown back at her, Ruby tossed back her head and laughed. Heat flooded Troy at the sight of her long, elegant neck exposed in the soft bar light. Her lips parted to release a slow, throaty sound that he immediately wanted to hear again. “I’ll tell you what…” She raised an expectant eyebrow.
“Troy Bennett.” She repeated his name, and the muscles in his belly tightened. He had a sudden vision of her moving beneath him in the dark. Eyes closed, head thrown back as she screamed his name. “My turn is up. If I win my game, you buy me a drink. Is that fair?”
Leaning back in his chair, he nodded. “And if you lose?”
She didn’t answer, merely sent him a wink and sauntered toward the pool table. After exchanging a few quick words with her opponent, who looked to be humoring her, Ruby took off her coat and threw it over a chair. Troy watched dumbfounded as she shook her yoga mat and two unconnected ends of a pool stick fell out. As she screwed the two ends together, she blew him a kiss.
Ruby leaned against the wall, chalking her stick, waiting for the dickhead wearing artfully ripped jeans to break. Feeling eyes on her, she looked up and met Troy’s gaze where he sat with his friends at the bar. To his credit, he hadn’t turned to them the second she’d walked away to dissolve into a dude-giggle-fest over their decidedly odd encounter. Instead, he sat there watching her, all steamy and intense-like, as if he didn’t want to let her out of his sight. It kind of rattled her. She liked it.
As a lifelong gambler, she’d put money on him being new in town. He hadn’t quite developed that polite, polished disinterest New Yorkers tended to have. His dark brown hair hadn’t been cut in a while, his clothes were a touch too casual for a Friday night. A little rough around the edges, Troy stood out.
And he’d actually refused to buy her a drink. First time for everything. She mentally shrugged, pushing his presence out of her head and focusing on the game.
Although Denim Dickhead had pretended to be shocked by her offer to play for money, he’d ponied up in the end. Twenty bucks a ball. Not bad, considering it had been a slow night. Finally, he leaned across the green felt and broke. Ruby smiled as the colorful balls rolled into various positions, none of them ending up in a pocket. She began to circle the table.
All right, here we go. Mama needs a new pair of shoes. I’m taking stripes. Sink that eleven hanging over the pocket and use the rail to knock out the nine ball where it’s wedged against the six. That’ll leave open the twelve, fourteen, and fifteen. Once I drop the fifteen, using a little English to bring me to the other end of the table, I’ll sink the nine and the thirteen into the same corner pocket, gently tapping the eight off the rail in the process so I don’t get stuck later having to bank it. Knock in the ten, then I’m wide open to finish it off. I’m 160 dollars richer, and he’s still a dick in ripped jeans.
Ruby leaned over the table and got to work. She tried not to let the whispers from the guy’s girlfriend unnerve her as she followed her plan, methodically and precisely. It had always been her Achilles’s heel. Girls her own age whispering about her. Commenting on her clothes. Wondering what kind of a girl shows up to a bar alone, late on a Friday, and proceeds to hand their boyfriend an ass-whipping on the pool table. This kind of girl. The kind who doesn’t know any other way to put food on the table.
As she lined up her shot on the ten ball, she looked up at Troy and felt a little of her concentration slip. He didn’t have an ounce of amusement on his face, like his two friends did. More than anything, he looked fascinated, like she was a puzzle he wanted to figure out.
She didn’t need figuring out.
“Go ahead and order me a Maker’s on the rocks. I’ll be there in a second,” she called to him and had the pleasure of watching his mouth tilt up at the sides. God, but the man was drop-dead, crazy-as-hell sexy. She’d dropped into Quincy’s on a whim, never having stumbled across much competition there before, but felt lucky now that she had. If Troy turned out to be half as interesting as she suspected, she might even let him kiss her before she hopped on the R train back to Brooklyn.
As Troy turned to signal the bartender, she leaned back over the table and sunk the remaining two balls. When she finished, her opponent stood next to his girlfriend, looking, well…hustled. And not the least bit happy about it. Ruby tamped down a flare of apprehension when he pushed away his consoling girlfriend with a muttered obscenity and strode toward her purposefully.
“You’re not getting a dime of my money,” he said inches from her face. “I don’t pay cheaters.”
Ruby held her ground, even smiled pleasantly. “I didn’t realize winning equaled cheating. It’s no one’s fault but your own for assuming I couldn’t play because I have boobs.”
His cheek twitched in warning. “You know what you need? A good—”
“Stiff drink?” Troy spoke up behind Ruby, handing her a rocks glass of bourbon over her shoulder. “That’s what you were going to say. Right?” His words were smoothly good-natured, but she could hear the underlying steel in his tone as he addressed Angry Denim. The guy looked like he wanted to keep arguing, but when Troy silently edged around to stand in front of her, he thought better of it. Splitting a furious look between her and Troy, he tossed a wad of money on the table and walked away. Ruby slipped it quickly into her back pocket without looking at Troy.
She unscrewed her cue and replaced it inside the yoga mat, then hopped up onto one of the bar stools surrounding the pool table. Troy leaned against the high, round table, close enough that her knee brushed his stomach.
His discerning gaze swept her. “Hell of a show you put on. How much did you make?”
Ruby sipped her drink, deciding to ignore the edge in his voice. For now. “Enough to buy groceries for the week. Pay my phone bill.”
“What happens when you run into someone who doesn’t appreciate being hustled and no one is there to step in?”
She set her drink down. “I appreciate your concern, but I know how to take care of myself.”
“Yeah? It looked like it,” he said wryly. “Who taught you how to do that?”
She pursed her lips. “You know, this is getting a little deep for a first date.”
“You call this a date?”
Something her father always used to say popped into her head. God hates a coward, Ruby. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and met his stare head-on. “Since you bought me an alcoholic beverage and I’m planning on kissing you, then yes. I’d say this qualifies as a date.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and she couldn’t stop herself from biting her bottom lip. If the music wasn’t so loud, she knew she would have heard him groan. “Sorry. I can’t kiss you.”
Heat suffusing her face, Ruby pushed her chair back and stood. “No kissing, no fun, no gambling. I’m starting to forget why I found you interesting.”
Before she could blink, he moved to stand behind her. On either side of her, he laid his hands on the table, effectively blocking her escape. When he spoke, she felt his every word against her neck. “I just watched you bend over a pool table in those ridiculously tight jeans. Over. And over. You think I could stop at kissing?”
A shiver moved down her spine at the change in his tone. “What else did you have in mind?”
“Do you really want to know? Think very carefully before you decide.”
She swallowed with difficulty. Interesting didn’t begin to cover this man. “Tell me.”
He moved closer, his chest brushing her back. Enough to tease her, make her want to arch against him just enough to say, the next move is yours. His mouth hovered an inch away from her ear when he spoke. “After watching that show you just put on, I have a lot of things in mind.”
One hand left the bar to brush her hip. Ruby couldn’t stop herself from backing up, bringing her body flush against his.
Troy hummed, as if satisfied by her boldness. “Next time you bend over a table, I’m going to wrap all that hair around my fist and pull your head back. I want to watch your eyes glaze over when I fuck you into oblivion.”
Heat shot through her entire body and settled between her thighs. She could hear her own quick intakes of breath, her accelerated heartbeat. The air she dragged into her lungs felt thick. This never happened to her. Her carefully constructed aloofness never deserted her, especially around men. But when Troy slid his hand from her hip to her belly, she shuddered under the simple contact.
“I didn’t say you could touch me.” Ruby forced the words out, her breath harsh to her own ears.
“Do you want me to stop?” A single finger traced the waistband of her jeans. Slowly. Invitingly.
She shuddered. “No.”
“Good. Come home with me. Let me worship that beautiful body. All goddamn night.”
She regained some of her composure then. What the hell was she doing? She’d stopped into Quincy’s to make a quick buck and bail. Instead, she was letting this near-stranger put his hands on her. Talk to her in a way that should feel wrong, but didn’t. At all. It felt sinfully good. Still, she didn’t make a habit of going home with men she’d just met. Or engaging in casual sex. She needed to put some distance between them so she could think clearly.
Ruby pushed off the table and moved away from him, already regretting the loss of contact. “I’m not going home with you.” She glanced over his shoulder where Troy’s two buddies still sat at the bar, one attempting to flirt with a blonde, the other playboy-looking guy leaning back in his stool, the redheaded bartender parked between his outstretched thighs. “Why don’t you follow their lead? You’d have a better chance of getting laid with someone else.”
He shook his head once. “Not interested in someone else.”
Frowning, she studied his features and found nothing but honesty. Where the hell had this guy come from? How could someone she’d just met make her want to break her own rules? She wanted to go home with him, she realized with a jolt of surprise. To see exactly what worshiping her body entailed. She’d never been so tempted in her life. It scared her a little how much. “That’s too bad. I have a train to catch back to Brooklyn.”
Troy scoffed. “You’re not taking the subway this late. It’s nearly one o’clock in the morning.”
“Excuse me?” She laughed in disbelief. “I’ve been taking the train since I could walk.”
He considered her for a moment, then shrugged. “Fine. Let’s go.”
She hesitated. “What do you mean ‘let’s’?”
“I’ll ride with you to make sure the enemy you just made doesn’t follow you home to take his money back. Then I’ll walk you to your door and leave.”
No way. Couldn’t let it happen. She didn’t want him to see where she lived. Not that she felt ashamed, exactly, of her microscopic studio apartment located above the Chinese take-out place.
“Your concern is touching, but I don’t need an escort.” He looked nowhere close to budging. “Fine, I’ll just take a cab.”
“You won’t get a cab in this snow storm.”
“You know the city pretty well for being new in town.”
He regarded her curiously. “How did you know I was new in town? I didn’t tell you that.”
Troy was silent for a moment, contemplating her. “There’s an easy solution to this. You stay at my place. I take the couch. I’ll drive you home myself in the morning, when I haven’t been drinking.”
She could probably lose him if she wanted to. Weave through the crowded bar, duck out the door, and shortcut down a side street before he even got his coat on. It’s what she would do under most circumstances. Another part of her, however, wanted to appease her curiosity. To see where he lived, to find out what made him tick. She didn’t want to say good night just yet.
And at the end of the day, she’d always loved a good gamble.
“Let me see your wallet.”
His head jerked back. “What?”
“Let me look through your wallet,” she repeated. “Then I’ll decide if I can trust you enough to stay with you tonight.”
Troy barked a laugh. “I just watched you fleece a guy for a chunk of cash and you want me to voluntarily hand you my wallet?”
“How can I trust you if you can’t trust me?” They were both still a moment, eyeballing each other in the middle of the rowdy bar. Finally, with an expression that said he couldn’t believe his own decision, he reached into his back pocket and tossed his wallet onto the table. She stared down in shock at the black leather wallet clipped to a shiny NYPD badge. “You’re a cop?”
“Now I know I can’t trust you.”
“Explain that logic.”
She gestured to the pool table where a new game had started. “You just watched me fleece a guy, as you put it, and did nothing to stop me.”
“I’m not on the clock.”
Ruby narrowed her eyes. Damn, she usually had the ability to pick out cops from a mile away. How he’d managed to slip under her radar, she couldn’t fathom. She reached down and picked up the wallet, weighing it in her hands for a moment before she flipped it open. The first thing that caught her eye was a picture of an older couple, presumably his parents. A point in his favor. They looked happy, the older man who shared Troy’s good looks, and the much shorter merry-looking woman he had his arm thrown around. Pushing aside a flash of melancholy, she moved on. Gym membership, credit card, condom. She flashed him a look. He shrugged. No pictures of any kids or wifey-looking chicks. No frequent buyer card for a massage parlor. No Post-it reminders to chop up and eat anyone. He appeared to check out.
Ruby was nearing the end of her inspection when another picture grabbed her attention. Troy standing next to a man, about the same age, both wearing police uniforms. Wrigley Field towered behind them in the background. Abruptly, the wallet was snatched from her hands.
She looked at him curiously. “Who is that?”
With jerky motions, he yanked his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it on around his broad shoulders. Ruby followed suit with her own coat, watching him as she did so. Something about the picture had struck a nerve. In seconds, his demeanor had gone from teasing to rigid.
“My ex-partner, Grant,” he explained finally. “Did I pass muster? Can we go now?”
She’d always been too curious for her own good. “Why ex-partner? What happened?” As the words left her mouth, she realized what was coming and immediately wanted to take back her question.
Troy sighed, pinning her with a look. “He’s dead. Shot during a raid earlier this year.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered before he’d even finished his explanation. Her stomach felt hollow. She wanted to rewind the last minute and start fresh, make him smile again. An odd reaction to have over someone she’d just met, but there it was. Damn her nosiness. With a shaky swallow, she reached over and took his hand. “Let’s go.”
With a curt nod in his friends’ direction, he led her from the bar.