For the first time in her life, twenty-year-old Maggie Mason had no goal, no lofty aspirations to work toward. Having received a scholarship at the age of sixteen to the University of Alabama, Maggie graduated four years later Summa Cum Laude with an undergraduate degree in psychology and masters in personnel management. A dissertation was all that was needed for Maggie to walk away with her doctorate. The naïve girl who had her life categorized from the age of twelve made a spur of the moment decision. She was going to leave these hallow grounds and venture out into the real world. As Maggie packed her clothes and kissed her roommate good-bye, she realized where she had failed years ago. Her plans had only gone far enough to encompass a formal education.
Seven years of study had been crammed into four to the detriment of a personal life, and now Maggie felt lost. Sighing softly, she wondered if her decision would have been any different if Dean Willis had offered her the assistant professorship she had turned down yesterday six months ago. Maggie simply couldn't understand what was happening to her. She felt so restless as though she were stagnating. The regimented life she had always felt so comfortable with was gone, and the bewildered girl wasn't sure how to stop this dare devilish attitude that was now controlling her life.
Convinced that she was probably the only graduate student at the university who was still a virgin, Maggie vowed to begin cultivating a personal life. Yes, it was time she found something besides a book for companionship. Of course, her roommate had been trying to tell her the same thing for the last four years, but Maggie's entire life had been focused on her studies. She'd simply refused to listen.
This was the first time in Maggie's young sheltered life that she was even remotely amenable to accepting the premise that everything wasn't learned from a book. The turning point for the workaholic came three months ago; the night Diane returned to their apartment wearing an engagement ring.
Her roommate's happiness was the catalyst that turned Maggie's life upside down. Perhaps there was something outside the academic community worth pursuing. Having never even dated the same boy more than twice, the innocent girl was beginning to miss what she'd never had. The scholarly atmosphere she enjoyed all these years was proving to be a poor substitute for a personal relationship.
She had struggled with the agonizing decision on whether or not to accept the dean's offer of employment causing far too many sleepless nights. Even now Maggie wondered whether or not it wouldn't be easier to just stay where she felt the most comfortable instead of venturing out into that other world--a world where nothing seemed familiar.
The girl who had always felt so secure in an academic environment was sick of feeling comfortable, of always doing the right thing. She wanted excitement. Unfortunately, she was also scared, scared of what she might find.
Maggie was brought out of her trance when her roommate cried out in anguish. "Girl, I can't believe you started your program after I did, and you finished first. How will I ever get through chemistry this summer without your help?"
"You'll do all right, Diane. Just don't cut so many classes."
Maggie's happy-go-lucky roommate, Diane Hopper, loved the parties and nightlife, which accompanied her stay on campus. She was lucky to spend one evening a week studying. There were just too many distractions.
The two girls had shared the same apartment since Maggie started college. At first, Diane insisted her roommate accompany her to the various social functions; however, it didn't take but a few of these outings to realize that although Maggie was considered quite attractive, she didn't fit in.
The boys were captivated upon being introduced to the willowy, 5'10" Maggie Mason. Along with the thick, fiery-red hair cascading down her back, she had a creamy porcelain complexion offset by a pair of large, serious hazel eyes which sparkled disapproving at the antics displayed by most of the young males. The faint golden freckles splattered across the ridge of her nose were the only indication that she'd been blessed from the sun's warm rays.
Yes, Maggie Mason was certainly noticed when she walked into a room, but few of the upper classmen or graduate students were willing to try to break down that icy reserve she portrayed to the world. Generally, they would greet her then move on to the vivacious Diane, complaining that Maggie put a damper on the gathering since she didn't drink and was horrified at the mention of drugs. Maggie looked so disapprovingly at anyone who so much as lit up a cigarette; boys started avoiding her like the plague.
However, despite their many differences, both girls gradually became quite fond of each other. Diane was nearly in tears as she helped her roommate carry the last of her belongings out of the apartment. "What am I going to do without you, Maggie?"
"You're doing fine. Besides, I'm only going to be two hundred miles away. If there's something you don't understand, just call me, and we're get you straightened out. As a last resort, we can always meet somewhere and have a study session."
Twice that summer Maggie returned to campus for a whirlwind-tutoring marathon. After one such session, Diane tried to talk her friend into staying longer as she walked her savior out to her car.
"Come on, girl, at least let me take you to dinner--my treat. It'll make me feel better knowing I've fed you before you leave."
"Okay, I guess you do need a break, but you've got to promise to come back and study for another couple of hours. I want you acing that test tomorrow."
Placing her hand over her heart, Diane piously answered, "Yes, yes, yes, slave driver. I solemnly swear to study all night, and I'll be delighted if I can squeeze out a C."
Although they drove to the restaurant in separate cars, the moment they parked and started walking up the sidewalk Maggie began drilling her friend on the various formulas. By the time they were seated, Diane wailed, "Enough, we've gone over this for two solid days. Let's take a break. I promise to start studying as soon as I get back to the apartment, but, right now, we've got to talk about something else before my head explodes."
"Okay, I can take a hint. I know when to shut up."
Both fell silent as they studied the menu.
As soon as the waitress took their order, Diane asked, "You know I heard that the teaching job the dean offered you last month still hasn't been filled. You could always change your mind and reapply. I bet he would hire you in a heartbeat. Please," Diane begged, "tell me you haven't completely ruled out taking that position this fall? Just think, with me teaching second grade over at Lancaster Elementary School, we could see each other practically everyday. I've really missed talking to you this summer."
"Actually I've decided to do something much more exciting then teaching, and my parents are about to freak out."
"I can't imagine you thinking there's anything more exciting than having your nose in a book."
"Very funny! Do you want to hear what I'm going to do or not?"
"Yeah, I wanna hear."
I'm going to become a law enforcement officer."
Diane looked at her friend in stun disbelief. It took almost a full minute before she found her voice and blurted out. "You've got to be kidding!"
Maggie made no response.
"You can't be for real."
Maggie seemed intent on remaining silent.
"You really are serious aren't you?"
"Of course, I'm serious. I've given this a great deal of thought."
"But . . . why?"
"I saw a special on A&E this summer. They were interviewing police officers from all over the country, and it looked like a law enforcement career might be quite exciting."
"So does sky diving, but I wouldn't want to do it."
"Hum, I might try that next."
"Maggie, you're actually gonna become a cop."
"I start my training at the police academy next Wednesday."
Captain John Johnson had just spent the last two hours going over the personnel records of the three female officers currently working for the department. The commissioner had received a call from Ted McClusky, some big wig with the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington. They were requesting help--the loan of a female officer, preferably one who could carry herself with poise and decorum. The feds were working an undercover operation and were in the process of gathering evidence against an alleged drug dealer name Almon Whitaker.
John certainly didn't relish recommending any of his officers to work with some smart aleck DEA agent sent down from Washington, but he didn't really have a choice. The whole idea of some outside agency coming in and telling him how to run things really irritated John, but, unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent it. The order had come from the commissioner himself.
Looking down at the glossy black and white photos staring back at him, Captain Johnson realized the only thing the three female faces had in common was that they were the same gender. Betty Amos was good-looking enough, but she was practically considered one of the boys, cursing and drinking with the best of them. And since Robin was the homeliest woman John had ever seen, that left only one officer--Maggie Mason.
"Damn, that's like putting a minnow in a shark's cage."
John had been absolutely livid when he was told about the on-going sting, which had been operational for several months without his knowledge. Even though it was located in a part of the city that John didn't have jurisdiction over, he assumed he would have at least heard rumors. Last night when the commissioner told him to be expecting a call from Max Anderson, he was informed for the first time about the depth of the Federal DEA's investigation. The feds wanted one of his boys, or in this case, one of his female officers to use as a decoy.
Scholastically Maggie was brilliant, and although the precinct was eventually planning on having a field officer employed as a full-time human resource specialist/psychologist, right now there wasn't any funding available. Personally John didn't think Maggie had the necessary maturity at this point to deal effectively with interviewing seasoned officers. She needed several years of field duty before she would be able to understand the problems officers came up against and the kind of personality needed to fill those positions.
Although John would have never admitted it, he had a real soft spot for Maggie. She was the daughter he'd never had, and even though Captain Johnson tried not to let his partiality show, he was extremely proud of the girl. She tackled every assignment as though it was of vital importance. Time was what Maggie needed. Time to gain the necessary expertise to deal with the macho ego of the streetwise cop.
Captain Johnson was being forced into a corner. One of his three female officers had to be assigned to this damn undercover operation, and right now he was leaning toward sending the department's newest recruit. Maggie had only been out of the police academy eight months. Was she ready? Resisting the urge to really let out a tirade of foul language, John picked up the phone and buzzed his secretary.
"Morning Captain, what's up?"
"Morning Marie. I need you to call Maggie Mason. Tell her to be in my office this afternoon at 3 o'clock sharp."
"Nope. Just stress that I expect her to be on time."
Staring out the window at the passing scenery, Maggie wished she had the power to change people's attitudes. It would probably be years before the good ole boys got over their insecurities of having a woman beside them on the front line. Since the men obviously resented her, Maggie was constantly being shuffled back and forth between partners. This month the lucky officer was Hank Upton, and from the man's monotone answers to her questions, it was obvious he wasn't very happy. Just once Maggie would have liked to be paired off with someone who was at least cordial.
When Marie called with the message that the captain wanted to see her this afternoon, Maggie hadn't been able to concentrate on anything. What could possibly be the reason for the summons? Reviewing her activities over the past few days had proven fruitless. Had someone complained about the job she was doing? Lord knows, most of the patrolmen at the precinct made no bones about their feelings toward female officers, and the snide remarks purposely whispered loud enough for her to hear didn't bear repeating. Even now as Maggie contemplated what was probably being said behind her back, her complexion took on a reddish hue.
At precisely 11:05 Hank pulled the squad car into Peking's parking lot. It wasn't until after they finished eating that the young rookie realized why her current partner had stopped at this particular restaurant. He'd been expecting a free meal.
In devilish glee, Maggie walked over to the cashier and insisted on paying for her lunch while her embarrassed partner; fearful that she might take it upon herself to report him if he didn't pay for his own meal, dug frantically in his pocket. Hank found himself short by $1.82. Although Maggie struggled to maintain a straight face, she finally took pity on her partner and handed him two one-dollar bills without uttering a single word. That afternoon when they answered a disturbance call, Hank, still seething with fury, refused to leave the squad car thus forcing Maggie to talk with the feuding sisters alone.
It took almost an hour before the two women consented to talk to each other without screaming, then another fifteen minutes before they tearfully began hugging each other. Finally, Maggie felt the situation was under control enough for her to leave. Practically in a panic, she rushed out to the curb where the patrol car was parked. Breathlessly, she stuttered, "We've . . we've got to get back to the precinct."
Fairly gloating at his partner, Hank snickered, "We certainly wouldn't want you to be late for your meeting with the chief now would we?"
Maggie's current partner had never been called into Captain Johnson's office unless he was being reprimanded, so the veteran police officer naturally assumed that that was the reason for the girl's summons. Yeah, it would serve Miss Goody Two Shoes right if she were in hot water.
As the squad car came to a rolling stop in the parking lot adjunct to the police station, Maggie jumped out, breaking into a run as she crossed the lawn. At precisely 2:58, she was trying to calm her wildly beating heart as she walked down the corridor toward Captain Johnson's office.
Since John's door was cracked a few inches, he, of course, heard Maggie greet his secretary. Knowing how he would look to the young girl with his bushy eyebrows drawn tightly together due to the terrible scowl he enjoyed displaying across his lined face, Captain Johnson barked out. "Come on in and close the door behind you."
The gruff voice sounded as though the man behind it was just itching for a confrontation. Maggie could hardly keep her body from cringing as she entered the small cramped office. Dear lord, what have I done? Trying her best not to appear nervous, she greeted her superior. Fortunately her solemn demeanor only enhanced her classic beauty. "Good afternoon, Captain Johnson."
"We're informal around here. Call me John." The words were uttered without a hint of a smile.
"Good afternoon . . . John."
"Have a seat." The tone of Captain Johnson's voice softened somewhat. "Let's chat for a few minutes."
Maggie wasn't the least bit interested in chatting. If there was one thing she'd learned as a student, it was that when a professor wanted to chat, it usually was a prelude to some serious infraction committed by that person. Blast it, what kind of trouble am I in? Keeping her facial features in check, the slender girl dressed in the crisp blue uniform somehow managed to walk over and take a seat in one of the uncomfortable straight-back chairs placed directly in front of the captain's desk without tripping and making a fool of herself.
Even though Maggie still hadn't decided what possible transgression she might have unknowingly committed, she suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to start apologizing. Having no idea what she would be apologizing for, Maggie resolutely vowed to keep her mouth shut until she found out what this meeting was all about.
The fifty-six year old captain stared at the immaculate dressed officer and bulked at the premise he was ever as young or innocent looking as the fresh-faced kid sitting in front of him. This girl belonged at a country club not in some seedy dive working an undercover assignment where she could get herself raped or even worse--killed.
Clearing his throat, John managed to wipe out the offending images before proceeding. "Let's see, you've been assigned to this precinct eight months. How's everything going?"
"Everything is going just fine."
"The men treating you okay?"
Even though the city had a fairly large police force for its size, Maggie was sure the captain knew how the men were treating her. After all, there were only three women currently hired as patrolmen at this particular precinct, and gossip ran rampant around the office. Captain Johnson had to know what was going on, but, regardless of how she felt personally, Maggie wasn't about to complain. "I'm being treated all right."
John knew most of the officers resented this attractive, well-educated girl doing what they considered a man's job. And since most of them had no trouble voicing their petty complaints, he admired the girl's spunk in not whining about what many women might consider unfair treatment.
"I'm really glad to hear that." Clearing his throat a second time in less than two minutes, Captain Johnson decided to skip the small talk. Being careful not to reveal the scope of the operation, John outlined his dilemma.
"I called you in this afternoon because we need a female officer to go undercover."
When the captain didn't elaborate any further, Maggie interjected, not quite believing what she'd just heard. Perhaps she misunderstood his meaning. "Am I to assume that since I'm the only one present, you're thinking about giving me this assignment?"
"You need to understand, Maggie, that this is certainly not an order. Personally I don't think you're ready, but you're the only one qualified."
"Captain, you have two other females on the force with a lot more experience than I have."
"Yeah, I know. Let me ask you a question off the record, and I want a straight answer. It's obvious the men resent you because you're a woman, but I get the feeling it's a little more complicated than that."
Silence descended over the small office for what seemed an eternity while Maggie attempted to formulate an appropriate response without sounding bitter. "Well, actually I believe they think I look down on them, but, honestly, I really don't. It's just that I don't smoke, I don't use crude language, and I don't drink. And to be quite candid with you, I think they're slightly uncomfortable with me."
"That's what I thought, and that's precisely the qualifications that are needed for this assignment."
"I . . . I don't believe I understand."
"We or rather they need someone who can conduct herself as a lady regardless of the circumstances, and I believe you're that person."
"This setup's dangerous. You could get yourself killed so don't feel obligated out of some warped sense of loyalty to accept."
"Can I ask what type of undercover work I'd be doing?"
"You'd be dealing with drugs."
"Drugs!" The word was whispered softly. Looking directly at her boss, Maggie asked, "How much time do I get to think about this?"
Glancing down at his watch, John sighed audibly. "Actually, you have about three minutes to make your decision. I'm supposed to let the man know if we have someone by 3:30 this afternoon."
"Whom will I be working with?"
"You've never met the guy."
"Will he resent me for the same reason the rest of the officers do?"
"He shouldn't since he's the one who laid out the criteria that's forcing me to recommend you."
Maggie could hardly believe what she was hearing. She was actually going to have a chance to make a difference, perhaps to even get some big-time drug dealer off the street. Taking a deep breath, Maggie choked out the word although common sense told her she needed more time to evaluate the situation. "Yes!"
"Good. You're officially off duty. Go home. Meet me at Sailor's. Nine o'clock sharp."
"But I still have some paper work to do."
"Forget it. Let Hank do his own damn paper work for once."
"Shouldn't I at least let him know I'm leaving?"
"Don't worry about Hank. I'll have Marie call and talk to him after you've gone."
Thinking this should really endear her to the loudmouth bully, Maggie decided it wasn't worth worrying about. Since Hank already despised her, there was no reason to think their relationship could deteriorate any further.
"How should I dress?"
"Uh . . . like you would if you were going out on a date."
"Am I auditioning for this position?"
The girl was pretty perceptive. "Yeah, I guess you are. If our man thinks you can handle the job; then you're to tell everybody we're sending you to a class in Newark, New Jersey. If it doesn't work out, you're to report to work at the regular time in the morning and pretend this conversation never took place."
Thinking the whole scene sounded like a sound bite out of Mission Impossible and assuming this was the end of the interview, Maggie stood. "I'll see you at nine."
"Be sure to call me John tonight."
Although the girl turned back around to face her boss for a brief second before walking out the door, John couldn't tell if what he saw on her face was a grimace or the beginning of a smile. "Don't worry, John, I will."
Maggie glanced down at her watch as she walked into the crowded bar, amazed that she was actually on time. The decision of what to wear had taken far longer than she anticipated. In an effort to appear older, Maggie had decided to wear her thick, fiery-red hair piled high on her head instead of down around her shoulders or in a braid. The simple short-sleeve, black-knit dress, accented with a three strand pearl necklace and earrings, caused even the most critical eye to nod in appreciation at Maggie's model thin figure.
The girl had been in turmoil since walking out of Captain Johnson's office. First, she agonized over how she should dress; then she wondered if she needed to talk more genteel. Throwing up her hands in frustration, Maggie finally decided that since she considered herself a lady, she would simply act natural. If the mysterious man from Washington didn't like how she handled herself--tough. He could go team up with someone else. Maggie was going to pretend she was on a first date.
"Yeah," she whispered nervously, "I've had a lot of experience with first dates. It's the second one that usually gives me problems."
From the number of cars in the parking lot, either the Commodore Motel was having a convention or Sailors was indeed a very popular nightspot. Maggie ended up having to park in one of the few available spaces in the rear of the motel. Knowing the captain's abhorrence for tardiness, she quickly grabbed her purse as she stepped out of the navy-blue Cherokee. Even in the best conditions, the lighting in this section of the parking lot left a lot to be desired, and thanks to an afternoon thundershower, the visibility was now almost nil. A dense misty fog was beginning to settle over the city making the shadows between several parked vans appear eerie and full of unspeakable horrors. With her imagination already working overtime, Maggie quickly locked her door and began briskly walking toward the club's entrance. When a stranger mysteriously appeared out of nowhere, Maggie unobtrusively opened her beaded purse. Her service revolver lay within an inch of her fingers.
"Hey babe looks like we're headed to the same watering hole."
Thinking perhaps she was being tested, that the odious man was the undercover agent, Maggie remained calm. Of course the moment she thought the situation through she discarded that theory. Why in the world would she be supposed to meet her boss here if the agent was going to try to pick her up? After all, he would be blowing his cover if she didn't measure up to his expectations.
"Ahhh, come on, honey, don't be no prude. Let me buy you a drink."
"I appreciate the offer, but I'm meeting someone inside." Thinking to dissuade the persistent man from further conversation, Maggie decided to skip Sailor's entrance and walk around to the lobby of the motel. As she veered away in the opposite direction, the intoxicated man muttered, "Well, you'll never know what you're missing."
Maneuvering her way though the two dozen or so guests in the lobby, Maggie continued down the corridor through the double glass doors leading into the bar. It took a full minute for her eyes to adjust to the dark, smoky interior. Fearing that she wouldn't be able to find her boss or even worse that he hadn't gotten there yet, Maggie's eyes darted frantically around the room. As crowded as the nightclub was, she had no trouble identifying the man who had just tried to pick her up outside in the parking lot. In horror, she watched as he moved off the bar stool and started toward her.
Oh dear Lord! What if he doesn't believe I'm meeting someone? Maggie certainly didn't relish becoming embroiled in a nasty scene. That would really impress the federal agent.
"Good heavens, Maggie, I almost didn't recognize you. You look so . . . so different."
Hearing her boss's gruff voice, the anxious girl stifled a sigh of relief as she turned to greet Captain Johnson. "I'm assuming you mean that in a positive manner."
"Damn straight." What the captain had wanted to say but didn't was that she looked absolutely stunning.
Taking Maggie's arm, John chivalrous escorted her over to the only empty table in sight. "We better grab this one before someone else does."
"I was afraid I'd be late, but traffic was pretty light driving over."
"That's probably because everyone under the age of thirty is in here."
After flagging down the waitress and ordering mineral water for Maggie and another whiskey sour for himself, John sat there awkwardly trying to make small talk. Captain Johnson certainly wasn't used to carrying on a conversation with a woman that practically took his breath away, so he felt rather inept. The senior officer knew he would have felt a lot more comfortable discussing police business.
Maggie, on the other hand, was acting like a real pro. She hadn't asked the first question about the man they were supposed to be meeting, just kept the insane conversation they were trying to have moving along. The police captain grudgingly admitted he was definitely impressed with the way Maggie was handling herself. But hell, this was probably right down her alley. After all, she was single, so she was used to dating.
Although the DEA agent had left strict instructions that he wanted to observe the girl for at least a half-hour, John decided after glancing down at his watch for the tenth time since Maggie's arrival that twenty-two minutes was more than enough time for Max Anderson to make up his mind.
"Come on, let's go."
Relieved to be leaving the noisy congested room, Maggie wasn't sure whether she was expected to keep quiet or if she should be asking questions. However, since they were still in an open environment, she assumed it would probably be best to keep her mouth shut.
The thoughts of her gruff, stiff-necked boss being so gentlemanly as he gently took hold of her elbow made Maggie grin mischievously. Surmising they were probably on some kind of time schedule since neither had finished their drink; Maggie hoped they didn't run into any of the other officers from the precinct. She certainly didn't relish the type of gossip this scene would generate.
Captain Johnson awkwardly guided the chic young woman through the throng of human flesh while the younger officer continued making non-essential chitchat. By the time they had walked out into the lobby, Maggie was tired of trying to carry on both sides of the conversation. They rode the elevator in silence.
What am I doing here? The girl once again questioned her impetuous decision to participate in the undercover assignment. She really didn't know anything about drugs, only what she'd read in books and learned at the police academy. Surely one of the other two female officers would have been a better candidate.
It took less than a minute for the elevator to stop at the third floor and for the couple to silently walk down the corridor to Room 346. When John stopped and knocked on the rather hollow-sounding door, a voice, deep and sensual, sent a ripple of awareness through Maggie.
Both officers stepped into the darkened room.
Not bothering to offer any additional greeting, the man sitting in an armchair stood and walked silently over to shake hands with Captain Johnson. The stranger began speaking to Maggie's boss as though the two of them were the only ones present in the room. "I was watching your girl downstairs in the bar, and for her age and experience, she handles herself remarkably well. She must have known I was there, yet not once did she succumb to the temptation to glance around and try to find me. I do believe she'll do."
It wasn't exactly what he said so much as the way he made the words sound that ticked Maggie off. Not able to let the comment slide, the furious girl wanted this stranger to know that she had indeed noticed him. "You were sitting by yourself at one of the smaller tables. I thought perhaps you were waiting for someone."
Acknowledging Maggie for the first time since she'd entered the room, Max Anderson turned to face her with a mocking grin plastered on his face. "Being observance without being obvious is a very good trait, Miss Mason."
Striving to maintain her cool demeanor, Maggie, nevertheless, snapped, "I do appreciate your confidence in me, but I'm afraid I'm at a disadvantage sir since Mr. Johnson failed to give me your name."
Putting special emphasis on the word your, Maggie definitely wanted this man to know she considered him rude to the point of being boorish. She also didn't appreciate being critique as though she was an inanimate object.
Not batting an eyelid at the girl's subtle chastisement, Max actually had the audacity to chuckle. "Yes, I think you'll do very nicely."
Watching this female closely, the DEA agent noticed that although she was really quite irritated with him, she was every bit the lady--haughty to the point of making you feel as though you had committed some faux pas without actually saying one derogatory word. Yes, this lady was exactly what he was looking for.
Maggie was sure the federal agent was struggling hard not to laugh as he extended his hand. "Please excuse my bad manners, Miss Mason. I'm Max Anderson."
Maggie had indeed noticed this man in the bar, but she'd only given him a cursory glance as she searched for Captain Johnson. Even now with only one lamp on in the room, it was extremely difficult to see the agent very clearly. However, with a single fluid motion, Max Anderson stepped out of the shadows to shake Maggie's cold, clammy hand.
The young officer immediately realized her earlier glimpse of this man hadn't done him justice. Standing before her was one of the most handsome men Maggie had ever seen. At 5'10", the girl was taller than average, but Max Anderson seemed to tower over her by at least five inches. You could see every muscle in his chest and arms quite vividly through his skin tight T-shirt. Even the jeans he was wearing fit ridiculously snug. Max Anderson apparently enjoyed flaunting the fact he was in tip-top condition.
Thick, dark, almost to the point of being black, curly hair fell to the nap of his neck. Maggie surmised that if the man hadn't been in the process of smirking as he watched her expression with dark knowing eyes, he probably would have had a dazzling smile. Why the arrogant little . . . . He knows exactly how women react to him, and he's expecting me to respond the same way.
"I'm sure you've read ample material depicting my life from the time I was born through today, so I think it might be nice if you could afford me the same courtesy."
"Touché." Obviously this girl was young, but to her credit she was also quick with a retort and not afraid to speak her mind. One of the concerns Max had when he first read her file was her obvious lack of experience. She had been on the police force less than a year, and very little of that time had actually been spent in the field. But Max considered that a plus. It meant she probably wasn't known except in the area around her own precinct.
Having watched the way Maggie Mason handled herself with the drunk out in the parking lot; Max could certainly see why the men she worked with might be intimidated. Brains and beauty didn't always win you friends.
"I'm with the DEA out of Washington, and there's a major drug network being set up here. Your little town is about to make the big time."
"You've got to be kidding. I mean I know we have pushers here, but surely not the scope that you would have in a big metropolitan area."
"When you get to know me better, Miss Mason, you'll find I don't joke about business. Besides, you'd be surprised what's happening right under your pretty little nose. But enough of that. Right now we need to get you settled; then we'll talk the rest of the night if you like."
"Excuse me, but exactly what do you mean by getting me settled?"
"Didn't John tell you?"
Tired of being constantly baited by this federal officer, Maggie lost her polished manner as she snapped, "No, John didn't tell me anything about this assignment except that it involves drugs."
"Well, Maggie, you don't mind me calling you Maggie do you? After all, we should be on a first name basis since we're going to be living together."
"I beg your pardon!" Maggie was very much aware that the man knew she was nervous and was enjoying himself at her expense. The intuitive girl never understood why she seemed to bring out hostility in most of the males she met. How was she going to be able to work with this agent effectively if every sentence she uttered caused him to reply with sarcasm?
"Mr. Anderson, you sure as hell didn't mention any of this on the phone when we talked." Captain Johnson was beginning to get a little irritated himself. The innuendo, insulting jerk had wanted a female officer to work with. He never said anything about them living together.
"It's the best way to keep security from being breached."
"Listen, hot shot, I don't appreciate what you're implying. Officer Mason has an irreproachable reputation."
"Chief, she doesn't have a reputation. She's worked for the department less than a year. She's still wet behind the ears."
Before Maggie had a chance to take offense at his words, Max turned toward her. Without apologizing for his previous comment, he began briefing her on her cover.
"You're a rich girl out slumming, and since we're lovers, how would it look if you went home every night?" Max cocked his eyebrows in a questioning look, interested in seeing how the young officer would handle this scenario.
Maggie knew exactly what Max Anderson was doing, and if he expected her to cringe with embarrassment and run for cover, he was going to be sorely disappointed. "Let me get this straight. You're looking for a female who carries herself with a touch of elegance--who doesn't use vulgar language, smoke, or drink--yet, who runs off to live with her boyfriend."
"I think shack up is probably the term to be applied here."
"Well, whatever you wish to call it."
Maggie was dressed impeccably, every inch the lady, and Max was absolutely fascinated by the smidgen of freckles across the bridge of her nose. "Don't you have any vices, Maggie?" he whispered seductively.
The man had such a sneer on his lips as he softly uttered the words; it was all she could do not to slap the condescending smirk off his face. "My vices are my own concern. Besides, the profile doesn't call for any," she replied sweetly, a trifle imperiously.
Thinking they had sparred long enough, Max decided to get down to business. "We need to go by your house, so you can pick up some clothes. While you're packing, we'll discuss what you need to tell your friends and relatives."
"Just how long do you contemplate this operation lasting?"
"Well, I've already been here awhile, so I think another three or four months will probably do it."
"Are you saying I can't see or talk to my family or friends for three or four months?"
Watching the look of absolute horror pass across Maggie's face, Max suddenly realized he didn't want this girl, this Maggie Mason, to back out of her commitment. He was actually looking forward to the challenge of working with the young female officer.
"Listen, don't worry about it. We'll work something out. I've been thinking on how you can handle questions about this so called school you're supposed to be attending in New Jersey, and I've come up with a few ideas."
Wanting to vent a little of her own frustration against the DEA agent who had been taunting her a moment ago, Maggie continued glaring at the handsome man. She didn't bother disguising the note of contempt in her voice as she snapped, "I hope you have an open mind that comprehends the possibility that a female might possibly have an idea worth pursuing."
"Oh, you'll find I have a very open mind as far as females are concerned, Miss Mason."
Wondering how these two volatile personalities were going to mash, particularly housed under the same roof twenty-four hours a day, Captain Johnson felt the need to break up the mounting tension. "How often are you gonna contact me?"
"I won't ever call you at the office unless it's an emergency, but I'll try to touch base at your home every couple of weeks."
John didn't like Max when he first talked to him on the phone and meeting the man certainly hadn't changed his mind. Maggie was his responsibility, and he highly resented some pretty boy from Washington telling her what to do. "Maggie, I want you to excuse us for just a moment. I need to have a word with Mr. Anderson."
There was only one place the two men could go and not be overheard, and the DEA agent was finding it rather difficult to keep from laughing as they crowded into the motel's pocket-sized bathroom. "Okay, Captain, what's so dog-gone private you can't say it in front of your officer?"
Captain Johnson was having trouble restraining himself at this point. Normally he had no perchance for violence, but John had to resist the urge to grab Max Anderson by the throat as he hissed out his fury. "Listen to me, you arrogant asshole. I don't care if you are a federal agent. I'll personally crucify you if you hurt that little gal in there. Maggie has the potential for making a damn fine police officer, and I want her treated with respect while she's with you. You're the senior officer in charge, so I better not hear that you mistreated her, especially when you're alone. Do you get my drift?"
"No problem. Look Captain, regardless of what you may think of me personally, I don't go around seducing pristine young ladies. Besides, she doesn't look as though hot butter would melt in her mouth."
"Good, I'm glad we understand each other."
When Maggie watched the two men walk into the bathroom and close the door, curiosity caused her to step closer to where they were sequestered. Why were they acting so secretive? Surely if she were to be part of this undercover operation, she should be in on the plans. Unfortunately, muffled mumbling was all that could be heard over the running water.
A minute later John stumped back into the room looking as though he had just eaten something, which violently disagreed with him. Amazingly enough, Max Anderson's features were unclouded, almost pleasant looking.
Maggie was left speechless when John reached over and gave her a peck on the cheek. "I'll leave first. I'm sure y'all are gonna have plenty to talk about. If you need anything, you can always reach me at the office or at home anytime night or day."
"Thanks, Captain. I'm sure Mr. Anderson will keep you posted on what's happening."
Thinking back to that particular moment months later, Maggie knew she should have followed her instincts and walked out with her boss instead of meekly obeying Max Anderson's orders. Captain Johnson had made it abundantly clear earlier that afternoon he wouldn't think any less of her if she decided not to participate in the undercover operation.
Max Anderson stood by the window silently watching Captain Johnson, a man who obviously hated his guts, walk across the parking lot and open the door of a light blue sedan. Both men knew there would be very little communication between them.
Turning around to face the woman he was going to be living with, Max wondered if perhaps he should have his head examined. This girl/woman looked too fresh and innocent. Would she be able to lie, to sweet-talk a man, or maybe even kill him? Shaking his head as if to ward off the unpleasant thoughts, Max decided it was a little late in the game to be thinking about changing plans now. Getting on with the business of the day, Max began issuing orders, "Okay, let's go. I'll follow you home."