Following her, I walk, noting stares, smiles, and some frowns as we approach the front door. It’s both a morale boost and a ball-buster with nothing in between most of the time. I’m still getting used to wearing this blue uniform and carrying a gun—it’s who I am now.
But I’m also the same man mourning a breakup a fucking year later, having no other distraction than the rigors of this job I’m learning, albeit rocking the boat. Audrey has texted me twice, and I’ve had to hand my phone to my police officer roommate, Tristan, to delete them and her number. It was harder to do than getting through the academy.
Taggart holds the door open for me until I’m in reaching distance before she lets it close in my face. “Goddamn it,” I mutter as I yank it open and go to stand beside her at the podium.
A gray-haired, pasty hostess smiles at Taggart and then glances at me. “Is this your new apprentice, Lynn?”
She looks up at me and rolls her eyes before turning back to Doris, or so says her name tag. “For now, at least.” Why does she have to criticize me in front of people? Doesn’t that undermine any authority I might have as long as she says I do? Fuck me.
Doris’s eyes suddenly open like she just saw a ghost. “Wait a minute. I heard a new Malone is here. You’re Chief Malone and Lieutenant Malone’s nephew, and Grant, Grayson, and Grady Malone’s cousin, aren’t you?”
“That’s the rumor.”
She bobs her head, her limp gray curls bouncing to a sad tune. “Do you know them?”
Waiting for her to laugh or elaborate on the idiotic question, I narrow my eyes and slowly answer, “Yeah?”
She smiles at Taggart. “They’re so honorable in their vocations.” Her beady eyes assess me as if I’m the garbage family member no one talks about. She then checks out my nameplate. “Dylan? You do know Grady married a Dylan?”
“You don’t say? Not the same, though. Right?” I laugh while Doris and Taggart do not. Fucking shit, I might as well be citing someone for pissing on a wall.
“I would assume not,” she answers with a huff, and I bite my lip to avoid full-on laughing in her face. “Chief Malone is your uncle,” she states like it’s an unknown fact to me, and she’s the one to break the news of this twist. Doris and Taggart both stare at me like I’m supposed to comment. It’s confirmed when Taggart clears her throat, prompting me.
“Yeah. My mother is his younger sister, and Colin Malone was their uncle and my great-uncle.” I again answer slow enough, so Doris won’t misunderstand my fuck you.
“Well, you have enormous shoes to fill, mister,” Doris mutters, shaking her head and clicking her tongue like she caught me with my pants unbuttoned at all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.
“I’m not here to fill their shoes. No competition there.”
Doris purses her thin lips, and her watery eyes make a loop over me. “You got that right.” What the hell, lady? “Your table is ready. Have a seat.”
Taggart smiles at Doris but turns to me with a glare. Then she leads the way to a corner booth, with her yanking on my leash. She slides into the furthest bench seat, and I reluctantly sit across from her, turning down the radio on my shoulder. I’m not hungry. Doris comes to our table, saying, “I figured the kid might need a menu. Maybe some crayons and a booster seat, too.” She laughs with Taggart, and I grin, taking it in stride since she’s an old woman. Still, I struggle not to pull my fucking gun, if just to jumpstart her decrepit heart.
“Be courteous, officer. They give us a complimentary lunch every day.”
I nod. “That’s nice of them.” I return to my menu, still not hungry.
Taggart says, “Good afternoon, Natalia.”
I continue to study the menu as a voice next to me asks, “Coffee and a Rueben, Lynn?”
“You know me so well.” Taggart loudly clears her throat, and I look up. “Are you going to be rude?”
“Not at the moment,” I reply, aiming to get her to laugh at one joke before training is over, now or later.
Taggart sharply but silently rebukes me as she again glances away. I follow to see a woman with her mahogany hair in a ponytail, holding a notepad. Her skin is deep, luminous copper, but her sparkling brown eyes grab my attention more than anything. However, the warmth in them ices over, and she stiffly asks, “Your order?”
I grin, not only because I’m on the clock, but because she’s hot as hell. “Uh, I don’t know yet.”
Taggart says, “He may need a children’s menu or a few minutes.”
She smiles at Taggart. “Of course. I’ll be back with your coffee.”
I watch her walk away, fascinated by her grace and her perfect ass. Several zings fly through me, a reminder I haven’t had sex or touched a woman in over a non-fucking year, not that I’ve handled more than one. I’ve found zero balance or desire for anyone other than Audrey. Until now.
Again, Taggart clears her throat, and I whip my attention to her. “What is so fascinating, Officer McGrath?”
She taps her index finger onto the table. “Let me tell you something. That young woman right there? Natalia? She’s a big no for you.”
“I don’t know what you’re—”
“You think you’re the first police officer to lust after her?” Her creepy smile returns. “She’s not interested.”
“Uh, okay. Neither am I.” Taggart doesn’t need a status update on the happenings in the crotch of my pants.
Taggart frowns. “Yeah. We’ll see. You might just have to put your hand in the cage and get bitten before you learn that lesson. And I will warn you again…your career hangs on whether or not you successfully complete field training. So, as I have advised my previous recruits, keep your hormones in check. Being a police officer is extremely difficult, and your focus needs to be on learning and becoming a better officer, not finding your next fly-by-night fling. Your storied law enforcement family is counting on you. Understood?” I know what I have to prove and what’s at stake. I can’t fuck this up. She doesn’t need to remind me every five minutes.
Reluctantly, I nod when I’d rather tell her to go to hell. Taggart pulls her phone out of her pocket and says, “I need to make a call. Order your food. I won’t wait around all day for you to eat it.”
Taggart leaves the booth, but I shoot daggers at her skull as I observe our surroundings, always on alert now. A body obscures my vision as a coffee cup lands at our table. “Have you decided?”
Instead of ordering, I ask, “What’s the name of this place? I couldn’t make it out on the sign.”
“Dinah’s Diner. It’s a mouthful. Did they not think that through?”
“She was the cook’s grandmother and the owner. Your sandwich?”
I stall. “Do you know Sergeant Taggart well?”
Natalia’s gorgeous face rumples as if I asked for her bra size. “Since I was born. She eats lunch here every day and sits in my section. So, yes. Do you want to order?”
“Is she always so abrupt?”
“She’s blunt, yes. Do you need more time?”
“She’s my field training officer.”
“Cool,” she says, clearly bored as she taps her pen against the notepad. But inexplicably, I’m determined for a turnaround.
“Natalia? That’s a name I don’t hear often. Do you go by anything else?”
“Natalia. I can come back.”
“No, wait. I’m Dylan McGrath. Do you have a last name, or do you just go by one like Kesha?”
“Why do you need to know my last name, Officer McGrath?”
“Just curious since I’ll see you pretty much every day.”
“And you’ll probably eat the same thing every day, so I’ll get to know your usual, not your name, rank, and serial number.”
“Okay. I gave you my name. My rank is an officer, and I only have a badge number, 22506.”
I grin as she purses her lips and moves her gaze from me as she fidgets with her pen. “I have other tables, so…”
The nearly empty diner’s silence squeals as I look around. “Sure. Okay. I’ll take a club with a sweet tea.”
“Fine.” She offers a quick, courteous smile and takes my menu, leaving without so much as a fuck off.
Taggart returns, compounding the female loathing piling upon me. Taking a chance, I ask, “Natalia said she’s known you since she was a kid?”
Taggart radiates more sourness. “I told you to leave her alone.”
“I am. She offered.” Maybe I interrogated.
“I knew her father.”
“Knew? Oh, well…” I don’t know what to say to that.
“He’s not dead, for crying out loud. Let’s just leave it there.”
“Here you go…Doug, wasn’t it?” Natalia sets down a glass of iced tea in front of me.
“Right. Sorry.” She smiles, but it’s not for my benefit. Regardless, real or not, her smile is the best thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying more than I want to admit.
Natalia tucks stray hair behind her ear, and her silver nail polish glitters. “Lynn, your Reuben will be out in a few minutes.”
“Thank you, honey.” Honey? I didn’t know affection was possible from Taggart.
When Talia leaves, her body again draws me in as she walks. Her ass is flawless. My hands could cup her tits completely. Audrey’s tits are small, but I didn’t think much of it until now.
“And that was a time I was an Iron Chef.”
I look at Taggart. “I’m sorry?”
“You’re not listening to a word I said regarding needing to pass your field training. Natalia. You’re drooling.”
I send her an acidic frown of my own. “I’m positive I wasn’t drooling.” Maybe I was. I didn’t realize how much I need to get laid.
“She doesn’t need you to jerk her around.” But hell, she could jerk me.
“Lynn, your sandwich.” She sets a plate in front of Taggart and then turns to me. “Please excuse me. What was your name again?”
“Oh, yes. Here’s yours. Enjoy.”
I hear laughing, and I look to see Taggart, entertained. “She does not like you.”
“What did I do? I don’t even know her.”
“I told you to leave her alone.” She shakes her head, and I try to eat but steal glances, watching Natalia bending over tables, her uniform skirt sliding up her leg, and my once-dormant dick has so many thoughts about it.
“Ready? Let’s catch speeders.” Sure. She’ll sit there, judging me while I do all the fucking work.
I mumble, “Can’t wait,” which earns me a glare.
“Thin ice, McGrath.”
I wish I were falling through some.