Officer Off Limits
a Line of Duty novel by Tessa Bailey
Story Brooks’ fiancé just called off their wedding two weeks before the happy day. As if that isn’t bad enough, her semi-estranged father, an infamous NYPD hostage negotiator, has suffered a heart attack. Not wanting to examine her lack of emotion over the broken engagement, she hops on a plane to reconnect with her father before it’s too late.
Playboy hostage negotiator Daniel Chase has never, not once, been refused by a woman, so when a debate over hospital snack foods with a delectable kindergarten teacher ends in flat-out rejection, he makes it his mission to seduce her. His only obstacle? She’s the daughter of his mentor who implicitly forbade Daniel from pursuing her.
Despite her father’s warnings and Daniel’s troubled past, Daniel and Story can’t resist their intense attraction to one another. But when the reason for her fiancé’s abrupt wedding cancellation comes to light, can Story and Daniel’s already forbidden relationship survive?
Praise for Officer Off Limits:
“A super-sexy fan-yourself read, underpinned by humour and emotion that’ll blow you away. Tessa Bailey is defintely one to watch out for!”
- Maya Blake, author of The Sinful Art of Revenge
Praise for the Line of Duty series:
“Scorching hot, and laugh out loud funny! You’ll want to read this book again and again.”
- New York Times Bestselling Author Katee Robert
★★★★ stars. “Derek is rugged, tough, and so very naughty. How he talks to Ginger is guaranteed to thrill and she gives as good as she gets. The sexy banter between the couple is hot enough to singe the pages, but the emotions remain genuine and real. Derek gives Ginger so much more than incredibly hot sex, which makes his possessiveness tolerable because it’s based on emotional need, not ownership. He also cares a great deal about her younger sister, Willa, something that means the world to Ginger.
- RT Magazine
“This book has everything I want from a story: snark, sex, suspense, and more sex. But it’s not just alliteration that got my rocks off; it was how all of those things were put together into a book that was fun to read, well written, and easy to recommend. A must-read!”
- Smut Book Club
© 2013 Tessa Bailey
He’s breaking our engagement in a seafood restaurant.
Clinking ice cubes, silverware scraping against china, and soft laughter all faded into a tornado of sound, numbing Story Brooks to her surroundings. She suspected Fisher brought her here specifically, one of San Diego’s finest seafood restaurants, to dump her in style, because he suspected she wouldn’t make a scene in such a lavish setting. Fisher hated making a scene.
A steakhouse would have been so much more appropriate. More sharp metal objects with which to stab me in the heart.
For once, Story welcomed her rambling inner monologue. It served to block out Fisher’s decidedly unwelcome words as he spoke to her from across the candlelit table, using sweeping hand gestures to make his point. She should be listening, but she’d pretty much tuned out after hearing the words, I’m calling off the wedding.
Searching for something to focus on, her eyes dropped to his empty plate, finding it a little odd that he’d managed to keep his appetite while cutting her loose. In addition to hating scenes, Fisher adored lobster, probably another reason for the elegant venue.
He’s killing two birds with one stone. And you almost married this asshole.
At that point in Story’s reverie, everything in her present snapped back into sharp focus. Fiancé breaking engagement. Right.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen, Story. We work closely together and things just kind of…progressed.”
“Hold up. What?”
Visibly flustered, Fisher took a sip of water. “This isn’t easy for me, you know. Can you please try and tune in?” He slumped back in his chair. “I was explaining to you that Diana and I didn’t seek out a relationship with each other, it simply developed into something more over time.”
Whoops. Looks like she’d missed out on some important details during her little trip to outer headspace. So he’d met someone else. She registered the information calmly, as if he’d told her they were out of milk. Maybe she was simply in shock. Or dealing with the effects of three glasses of wine and no food in her stomach. She couldn’t tell. “Which one is Diana, again?”
He released a long-suffering sigh. “The oncologist.” She showed no reaction. “From Boston…?”
Story tilted her head. “The one with the bob haircut?”
Story recalled meeting her apparent replacement, Diana, at a dinner party a month prior. Had they already been seeing each other? Did she even want to know? Their destination wedding in Maui wouldn’t be taking place either way.
The white noise of the dining room combined with the over-the-top nautical decor transported Story to the ocean and the time she almost drowned. Sipping her sparkling water, she recalled the day with perfect clarity.
Ignoring her mother’s caution and the signs warning of a dangerous undertow, twelve-year-old Story swam out much too far, only to be pulled under by a massive wave. As her arms and legs pinwheeled in every direction, breath whooshing from her lungs, she could still remember her brain registering the thought, maybe it’s better to just die now than have to deal with my mother saying “I told you so.” But somehow, she’d finally managed to make it to the surface, sucking in air and blinking saltwater from her eyes.
Then she’d grabbed her board and paddled out ever farther.
What happened to that girl? The brave girl who refused to sit still for lectures. Or let people force her into eating seafood. She used to be fearless. With regularity, her grade school teachers used to throw up their hands in resignation, muttering, “She has a mind of her own.”
At some point between graduating from college three years earlier and now, she’d lost her pluck. Her moxie. Her chutzpah. She’d met the slightly older, ambitious Fisher as a young postgrad and could admit now that she’d been more than a little dazzled by the attention he paid her—especially after being surrounded for four years by inexperienced college boys.
While trying to fit into his world of sophisticated dinner parties and foreign films, had she let little parts of herself chip away in the process? Obviously. The old Story, the one who’d regarded her near-drowning as an adventure, would not approve of the girl who listened politely while someone made her feel two inches tall.
That Story would kick ass and take names.
The waitress approached then, drawing her attention. “Are you still working on your halibut, miss?”
Looking down at the untouched piece of fish—Fisher knew she didn’t like seafood, the bastard—Story shook her head. “No, I’m finished, thank you.”
She cleared the plate with efficiency. “Would you like to see our dessert menu?”
“No, thank you,” Fisher replied, already reaching for his wallet.
And honestly, denying her a look at the dessert menu was the straw that finally broke the chocoholic’s back. Perhaps it made her childish, but Story figured her wasted months of planning a wedding that would no longer take place had at least earned her some damn tiramisu. Call off my wedding, but leave me my desserts.
“Actually,” Story interceded with a bright smile, “I’d like a slice of chocolate cake and a bottle of your most expensive champagne, please. To go.”
Fisher’s valuable surgeon’s hand froze in the act of removing his credit card. “Very funny.”
She merely raised an eyebrow at the waitress, who shifted rather uncomfortably. “Ma’am, we can’t sell you alcohol to leave the premises. It’s against the law.”
“Really?” She jerked a thumb toward Fisher. “Because my fiancé brought me here tonight to break off our engagement. Two weeks before the wedding.”
She nodded primly when the waitress’s mouth dropped open, her eyes flashing wide at Fisher. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Story clapped her hands once. “Excellent.”
As the waitress scurried off toward the kitchen, Fisher turned to her. “You’re making this harder than it needs to be. I didn’t want it to be like this.”
With a calm she didn’t feel, Story pushed back her chair and stood. “I think I’m going to head home now. Unless you were planning on offering me some kind of severance package…?”
“I’m sorry,” he responded, looking as though he wanted to say more, but ultimately remaining silent.
Deciding then and there that Fisher wasn’t worth another moment of her time, Story ignored him. Between his distant attitude the last few months and now his halfhearted apology, she’d had enough of feeling undeserving. Never again. She spotted the waitress exiting the kitchen holding a bottle of champagne. Her posture and expression communicated how indignant she felt on Story’s behalf and it made her want to cry for the first time that evening. A fact that definitely needed further investigation, since she hadn’t yet shed a single tear over her broken engagement.
Placing the to-go box and a bottle of chilled champagne on the table, the waitress ignored Fisher, addressing only Story. “I’m supposed to tell you that any open containers must remain inside the restaurant. But if you happen to slip out without me noticing, I guess I can’t do anything about it, can I?” After casting one final glare at Fisher, she pivoted on a heel and stalked away.
Gotta love female solidarity.
Story aimed the bottle away from her body and twisted the cork, eliciting a loud popping noise and drawing the attention of the surrounding patrons. At least the ones who hadn’t already been watching the scene unfold with rabid interest.
With a shrug, she raised the bottle to her lips and took a long, healthy swig. Whispers and uncomfortable laughter filled the room. For the first time in way too long, she couldn’t have cared less.
“Story, please stop this,” Fisher begged, as he shrank down into his seat.
Holding the bottle by the neck, Story weaved her way through the now-silent restaurant, to-go bag tucked under the opposite arm. To her right, one particular table caught her eye. A man and woman sat shaking their heads.
She gestured with the bottle in their direction. “Oh, what are you looking at? He’s leaving me for someone with a bob. A fucking bob!”
Finally outside, her painfully uncomfortable heels clicked along the sidewalk until she reached the town car Fisher had hired to drive them to and from the restaurant. The driver hopped out and opened the door for her, thankfully without acknowledging the bottle she carried. Story dug around in her purse and produced two twenty-dollar bills before rattling off her apartment address.
Leaning back against the leather seat as the town car pulled onto the highway, Story took another deep pull of the cold champagne, then held the bottle against her forehead as she swallowed. She’d have a bitch of a hangover tomorrow, but at least she didn’t have to teach a room full of kindergartners in the morning.
Thank God for summer vacation.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone with the intention of calling her mother. Instead, the device buzzed in her palm, signaling an incoming call. With a frown, she stared down at the unfamiliar area code and slid her finger across the screen to answer.
“Yes, hi. Is this Ms. Story Brooks?”
She tipped the already half-empty bottle to her lips and drank deeply. “Mmm-hmm.”
A pregnant pause. “I’m calling from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Your father, Jack Brooks, was admitted this afternoon following a heart attack. You’re listed as next of kin on his medical records.”
“What?” Story shot straight up in her seat, spilling champagne all over her legs. “He’s not…d-dead, right?”
“No. No, he’s in stable condition. I apologize for not stating that up front. We generally contact any next of kin in these situations.”
“Oh.” Her alcohol-fogged brain struggled to play catch-up. She hadn’t seen her father, Jack, in years. After his divorce from her mother when she’d been a mere child, he’d made an attempt to be in her life, but had ultimately led a separate existence in New York for the last decade. At best, she would describe their relationship as cordial, although he still managed to involve himself, forcing his opinion on her whenever he felt it necessary. Jack Brooks was controlling and a pain in the ass. But he was her father. “Does…does he have anyone there with him?”
“No family, ma’am.”
Story thanked the hospital administrator and disconnected the call just as the town car pulled up in front of her apartment building. She slid her clammy fingers around the door handle and addressed the driver through the glass partition.
“Can you wait for me? I’m going to need a ride to the airport.”
Jack Brooks, legend among hostage negotiators nationwide, was human after all.
As Daniel Chase sat in the hospital waiting room, he tried to wrap his mind around the fact that his larger-than-life, cigar-smoking, no-bullshit-taking mentor currently lay in a hospital bed, attached to a host of beeping machines and wires. He’d never seen Jack looking anything less than robust, but in mere minutes, hospital visiting hours would begin and all that would change. He could easily flash the nurse his badge and get in early, just get it over with, but he was thankful for the extra time to gather his thoughts.
He glanced around at the functionally gray, devoid-of-character walls, knowing Jack was hating every minute of being confined to this place. They’d learned a lot about each other over the last five years, after Jack had plucked Daniel, a newly minted detective, out of a negotiation course provided by the department. When Daniel excelled in the class, surpassing his fellow officers by a wide margin, he’d been taken under Jack’s wing to learn the ropes. Since then, he’d witnessed Jack negotiate dozens of hostage situations and resolved quite a few of his own.
Somewhere along the line, his mentor had become his friend, despite the gap in their age. Although if an outsider happened to overhear a typical conversation between them, he might assume they were enemies. Friends didn’t come easy to either of them, and it was with a grudging respect that they operated together so well. He still had a lot to learn from Jack.
Daniel wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge exactly where an early retirement from Jack would leave him. At thirty-two years of age, he would be the primary hostage negotiator in New York City. His professional attachment to the revered Jack Brooks all but guaranteed it. How an orphan who’d spent his youth as property of the state had managed to make it to this lofty a position, he couldn’t begin to figure out.
He pushed to his feet and left the waiting room with the intention of pacing the hallway. Sitting still did nothing to help ease his anxiety. As Daniel passed the front desk, he winked at the pretty dark-haired nurse who’d been smiling at him since he arrived.
“Good afternoon…” He discreetly checked her name tag. “Helen.”
She looked momentarily thrown that he’d called her by name, then looked down at her name tag and giggled. “Oh. Good afternoon.”
He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “You know, I’m thinking about getting really sick just so I can check in here and request you as my nurse.” Behind him, Daniel thought he heard a snort, but didn’t turn around to investigate its source.
Smiling, Helen shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way.”
You don’t say, he thought sarcastically. Obviously Helen wouldn’t offer much in the way of conversation, but he could work around that. There wouldn’t be much talking required for what he had in mind. Another empty exchange that would help numb his mind for an hour, but leave him feeling worse once it ended. It was a cycle he’d learned to live with. One he didn’t know how to break. He wondered fleetingly if Jack would be offended by Daniel picking up a nurse while his mentor lay incapacitated in a hospital bed. He gave a mental head shake. No, Jack would approve and probably pick up one of his own right after.
Daniel slipped the nurse’s phone number into his pocket and headed in the direction of Jack’s room. He’d just rounded a corner, his dress shoes squeaking on the polished floor, when he saw her.
Daniel’s easy stride came to an abrupt halt. The nurse’s name flew right out of his head.
Staring through the glass of the vending machine, an exquisitely beautiful blonde stood looking entirely out of place in her mundane surroundings. Years of training had Daniel registering everything about her appearance in mere seconds. A natural, golden tan starting at her feet and spreading upward until it disappeared under her jean skirt suggested she either lived outside the city or had just returned from vacation.
She’ll have tan lines. Daniel nearly groaned out loud at the thought of finding them.
In sandals and a tank top, she was dressed like she’d come straight from the beach, clearly not anticipating the harsh air-conditioning in the hospital. He watched her shiver a little, rubbing her arms to generate heat. The sight of her delicate hands traveling over her mouthwatering skin kicked his heart rate up another notch.
Barely conscious of his feet moving, Daniel started toward her, his sole intention to learn the color of her eyes. Blue, he’d guess, based on the long, straw-colored hair hanging to the middle of her back, curling slightly at the ends. He watched as she blew out a breath, disturbing the thick bangs ending just over her eyes. Her posture hinted at fatigue or grief, he couldn’t tell which. Only that he wanted to make it better.
She stared at the contents of the vending machine, chewing her lip in indecision. His teeth sank into his own bottom lip in response, wishing it was hers.
As he got closer, her startled gaze flew up to meet his. Lightning rocketed through his system. Curious blue-green eyes widened on him, flicking away just as quickly. He took a step closer.
Talking to women was like second nature to him, yet he found himself stranded in silence, second-guessing everything that popped into his head. And if he didn’t speak soon, his closeness would begin to alarm her. Say something, idiot.
“I can’t let you do that,” Daniel blurted.
“Can’t let me do what, exactly?”
Her voice slid like silk across his skin and it took him a minute to recapture his train of thought. He tilted his head toward the vending machine. “You’ve got your eye on that healthy cereal bar. It’s a bad selection. Pick something else.”
She smirked at their side-by-side reflection in the glass. “Elaborate.”
“No one buys healthy cereal bars.” He tapped his finger against the glass. “That’s been there as long as the machine itself.”
She peeked up at him, a laugh flirting around the edges of her mouth. “Did you have an alternate suggestion?”
“Of course.” Daniel tried not to stare at her lips. “You see, there are three factors one must consider when choosing a snack from a vending machine. Substance, for one. It needs to hold you over until real food is available. Freshness, which your cereal bar is sorely lacking. And finally”—his eyes dropped to her mouth—“taste.”
His blatant come-on gave her pause, but she played along by turning back to consider her options. “These are strong points you’re making, but I’m going to need you to be more specific.”
“I was getting there.” Using it as an excuse to lean closer to her, Daniel stooped down to peruse the selections, catching her sunshine scent and inhaling deeply. “Ah. Peanut butter crackers. You can’t go wrong there. They’re the best bang for your buck.”
She was already shaking her head. “No. I’d need milk to eat those. It would be a disaster.” Those blue-green eyes met his once more, only this time humor lurked in their depths. “You know, I could have sworn you were going to pick the trail mix.”
“Oh, yeah? Why is that?”
“Because you’re both full of shit.”
As she turned to punch in her selection for the cereal bar, Daniel couldn’t stop his surprised laughter from echoing down the hallway. She’d caught him off guard. A rare occurrence. He liked it. A hell of a lot.
He raised his hands. “Fine. At least we’re already in a hospital if you get food poisoning.”
As she bent forward to retrieve her purchase from the machine, Daniel let his gaze drop to her sweet, heart-shaped ass. One step forward was all it would take to press himself against her, let her feel the potent effect she was having on him. How would she react? Christ, he needed to reel it back a little. They were standing in the middle of a well-lit hallway and he could barely restrain the urge to touch this near-stranger.
She wouldn’t be a stranger for long. Not if he could help it.
As she straightened, peeling the cereal bar from its foil wrapper, she turned to face Daniel. Looking him straight in the eye, she sunk her teeth into it. Slowly. His mouth went dry and he might have groaned out loud at the sight of her pink lips closing around it.
After a few chews, all motion of her mouth ceased. He watched her choke down the bite with what appeared to be considerable effort, eyes tearing slightly. Then she skirted around him and beelined for the water fountain to Daniel’s left. He barely found the willpower to suppress his laughter.
When she’d drunk her fill, she still looked slightly pale. “Okay, fine. I should have gone with the peanut butter crackers.”
Daniel smiled. “It takes a confident woman to admit when she’s wrong.”
Something dimmed behind her eyes. “Oh, I’m frequently wrong.”
His smile disappeared. She’d gone back to looking slightly lost and he didn’t like it. He wanted the teasing smirk back on her face. Closing the distance between them, he didn’t stop until she needed to tip her head back in order to maintain eye contact. That sunshine scent curled around him, drawing him in closer, until he’d firmly breached her personal space.
Her eyes narrowed at his proximity, but he didn’t let it deter him.
“There’s only one way to solve this problem.”
She raised an eyebrow. “The only problem I have is your lack of boundaries.”
“You sure about that?” He felt satisfaction when she hesitated. “You’re hungry. When you’re done here, let me take you to lunch.” Let me take you home.
He caught her sharp intake of breath and knew she’d recognized his intentions. Breaking the spell, she backed away with a disapproving frown. “I’m not here to snag a lunch date, but I appreciate the subtlety of your offer.”
A sudden thought occurred to Daniel then, blackening his mood. For all he knew, she was in the hospital to visit a husband or lover. It would explain the forlorn expression he’d seen on her face. Daniel felt a sharp jolt of jealousy and it startled him. He’d been talking to her for two minutes and already abhorred the thought of her distressing over another man’s health. What kind of man did she prefer? Probably not the kind who propositioned her within minutes of their first meeting, he thought with a flare of disgust. “Why are you here?”
A brow quirked at his harsh tone, but she answered anyway. “I’m visiting my father.”
Relief calmed him, but not nearly enough. “Are you alone?”
Another flicker in her eyes. “Why? Are you planning on abducting me from the hospital and force-feeding me peanut butter crackers, but withholding milk?”
Daniel tamped down the need to smile even though his curiosity was far from satisfied. “No. I was thinking more along the lines of Italian food.”
“Well.” She crossed her arms over her middle. “As long as we avoid seafood.”
“No objection there. I have a shellfish allergy.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Seriously?”
Why such an ordinary fact seemed to delight her, Daniel couldn’t fathom. But he’d take what he could get. He just couldn’t let her walk away. “Is that a yes to lunch?”
She looked incredulous. “No, it’s not a yes to anything. The only thing I know about you is your weird philosophy on snack foods.”
“What would you like to know about me?”
“Nothing. I’m not going to lunch with you.” Blue-green eyes scanned the surrounding hallway. “In fact, being that we’re in a hospital, it just occurred to me that you could be an escaped mental patient. Maybe I should call for help.”
He gave up the battle with his smile. “I’m taking you to lunch, sunshine.”
“Like hell you are, trail mix.”
“My name is Daniel.”
“And who are you here to see, Daniel?” She tilted her head, one elegant hand reaching into his pocket to pluck out Helen’s number and wave it in his face. “Besides the nurses.”
God. Damn. Daniel felt as though he’d been dealt a knockout blow. For the first time in at least a decade, he’d been rendered completely speechless. She didn’t wait for a response, just winked at him as she turned and sauntered toward the front desk, tossing Helen’s number into the trash as she passed. After a brief stop at the nurse’s station, she turned down the corridor without looking back once.
She. He hadn’t even found out her fucking name. Disgusted with himself, Daniel mobilized, catching sight of her just as she stopped outside one of the hospital rooms. Unaware that he watched, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, appearing to steel herself for what lay on the other side. Something foreign clutched inside his chest at seeing her so vulnerable, but Daniel hung back, knowing she would resent any intrusion.
Finally, she straightened her spine and reached down to push open the door. Daniel followed slowly, but froze completely when he heard Jack’s weakened voice emanating from inside.