Dawn Hathaway is a realist. She’s not the smartest girl at Allenhurst College. She’s not the prettiest, either. So if she wants to be popular, she’ll need something else: power. What better way to get it than to start a gossip column in the campus newspaper? If she has to commit a few minor crimes in pursuit of the latest scoop, what’s the harm?
Arturo Perez loves being a campus cop. He knows Allenhurst’s nooks and crannies—and lately he’s been finding the campus gossip snooping into every one of them. He can’t deny that he enjoys bantering with the sassy schemer. But he also can’t shake the sense that there’s more going on with Dawn than meets the eye.
When tragedy strikes and Dawn needs help, how far will Arturo go to protect her?
It wasn’t like I was actually doing anything wrong. I was just standing there. Is it my fault that “there” happened to be the parking lot of the strip mall that was home to Allenhurst Discount Liquors? The last time I checked, it was a free country. I’m allowed to stand in a parking lot. And anyway, how did the campus cop who came swooping in like he was Clint Eastwood escaping from Alcatraz know that I wasn’t standing there killing time until my appointment for a fitting at Hearing Aid Depot? Or contemplating a purchase at Billy’s Bait and Tackle?
“Because these guys walked out of the liquor store directly to you, and I observed them hand you a brown paper bag, and then I observed you hand them a wad of cash,” said the hulking cop, who was apparently intent on ruining my Alpha Phi rush week assignment, which was to procure six bottles of vodka for tonight’s party at Delta Chi, Alpha Phi’s brother frat.
I had to get into Alpha Phi. Had to. This wasn’t high school. If I wanted to be at the top of the social pyramid at Allenhurst College, being an Alpha Phi sister was a sure-fire shortcut. And let’s face it, if I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t anything. I wasn’t too proud to admit that to myself. My looks were only okay, though I could rock some bitchin’ bangs and was known for my elaborate, multicolored eye shadow designs. I wasn’t hugely smart—I only got into Allenhurst College because my father went here and he donates buckets of money to them. So popularity was what I had to work with.
I had done a ton of research the summer before coming here and had decided that Alpha Phi was my ticket to social status. I wasn’t even looking to get a bid anywhere else and had focused all my rush week efforts on impressing the sisters. I had already done all the sisters’ eye makeup for tonight—and there were fifty-two of them. That was a lot of effort already invested, so I’d be damned if Officer Unfriendly here was going to tank my chances.
I sized him up, trying to figure out how to play this. He was looking at my driver’s license while the two Delta Chi juniors I’d sweet-talked into buying for me produced theirs for another officer. My officer was built, I’ll say that much about him—much more so than the one dealing with the guys. Muscular arms strained against his blue button-down cop shirt like they could barely be contained. A trim waist topped off a pair of legs encased in navy blue cargo pants tucked into a pair of black combat boots. He had close-cropped dark hair, and he was frowning. He reminded me a little of a younger Erik Estrada from CHiPS, except Officer Ponch was always smiling, whereas this guy looked like he was sucking on a Sour Patch Kid. It was hard to really get a read on him, though, because a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses obscured his eyes.
I made an exaggerated sniff, which drew his attention. “Officer”—I glanced at his name tag—“Perez, I’m really sorry.” I put on my best puppy-dog face. “I guess I got carried away with the idea of being in college. It’s the end of the first week of classes, you know, and I was feeling a little homesick, so a few of us were going to have a little get-together.”
“A little get-together?” His tone was incredulous, and I could imagine him raising his eyebrows behind those glasses even though I couldn’t see it happening. When I didn’t answer right away, he said, “You’re buying for the Delta Chi party tonight. That isn’t a ‘little gathering.’”
“I am not! I—”
“Forget it, Dawn,” said one of the frat guys. “Officer Perez knows everything about Allenhurst College. There’s no escaping him once you’re in his clutches.”
I shivered a little at that notion but shook it off. Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t getting that vodka, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t manage the fallout from the situation. Because Officer Perez was starting to look like maybe he wasn’t going to be satisfied with merely issuing a warning.
I manufactured a louder sniff. This one drew everyone’s attention: the two frat guys, Officer Perez, and his partner all turned to me. I noted that Officer Unfriendly and his sidekick were wearing different uniforms, a fact I filed away for later. Right now, I had to follow up on that sniff.
“You aren’t going to call my parents, are you?” Never mind that I only had one, and that Daddy finding out I was drinking probably wouldn’t even rate a phone call. I stuck out my lower lip and tried to make it quiver, not enough that I could be accused of purposeful manipulation, but enough—I hoped—that I was communicating some remorse.
“Nope,” said Officer Perez, totally unaffected by my emotional display. “You’re eighteen. Welcome to adulthood.”
“Welcome to adulthood, yet I’m not allowed to buy alcohol?”
“That is correct.” He handed my ID to the cop next to him, and that cop flipped open a little notepad and started writing on it.
“You’re a campus cop,” I said, letting my gaze rake over Perez’s belt. It held a baton and handcuffs and a few other things I didn’t recognize, but no gun. The other guy had a gun. And there was the difference in the uniforms I’d noticed earlier.
He glanced at the patch on his right biceps that read allenhurst college pd. It was stretched taut over the muscle. “And you have a talent for stating the obvious.”
“Do you even have jurisdiction here? Because we’re not actually on campus.” We were a mere two blocks from it, but still. If he wasn’t going to respond to my remorseful-little-girl act, maybe I could wiggle out through a procedural loophole.
“That’s why this guy”—he jerked his thumb at the colleague I’d come to think of as Good Cop—“is writing your ticket.”
“Teamwork,” Good Cop said, smiling as he ripped off the ticket and held it out to me. “Allenhurst PD at your service, miss.”
“Oh, so you need a real cop to close your deals.” I was being a brat now, but I hated the fact that this big guy, this big gunless guy, could just step in and ruin everything.
The big gunless guy in question took a step toward me. God, he was big. Maybe he didn’t need a gun because of those tree-trunk arms. They looked like they were more than sufficient to take on any villain. “Perhaps you’d prefer that instead of issuing you that fifty-dollar possession ticket, I have my ‘real cop’ friend here arrest you,” he said. “And hey, while we’re at it, we’ll get your friends for furnishing alcohol to a minor.”
“You can’t do that!”
He took another step, leaving only a few inches between us. My eyes were level with the middle of his chest, so I had to crank my neck back to maintain eye contact. He was probably doing it on purpose, trying to intimidate me and compensate for his lack of a gun.
He smirked. “Perhaps you’d care to add resisting arrest?”
Ugh! What a dickweed! The last thing I needed was to get the Delta Chi guys in trouble. That would hurt my Alpha Phi chances more than anything. So I took a step back—grudgingly. “No . . . sir.”
I wasn’t sure why I added the “sir,” but something flared in his eyes when I said it, and he took the ticket from the other cop and held it out. I extended my hand, and instead of letting go of the paper once I had hold of it, he pressed it into my palm and used his hand to close my fingers over it. Then he used his other hand to cradle mine, which resulted in him holding my closed fist between his hands like it was the filling in a hand sandwich. It was the kind of gesture you’d make if you were giving someone something really important, like a lost heirloom or, I don’t know, the keys to the kingdom. Not a ticket for underage drinking.
His hands were—of course—huge. They engulfed my fist. It occurred to me, with a jolt, that these were the hands of a man. I’d had boyfriends in high school, but looking at Officer Unfriendly’s behemoth chest and feeling his warm, callused hands totally surrounding mine made me feel like the emphasis with past boyfriends had been on the boy part.
I’d been unknowingly holding my breath, which was stupid, because when I remedied that fact, the resultant inhale came out sounding perilously close to a gasp. Officer Unfriendly dropped my hands and pressed his lips together as if the stick up his ass were being shoved even higher. “Welcome to college, Miss Hathaway.”