Michelle Sapphire closed her eyes and counted to ten, straining with every ounce of her formidable self-control not to launch herself at the asshole secured in the restraint chair in front of her.
Grinning at her.
“Yes, Officer, I know this man.”
Oh, she knew this man all right. Wyatt Maverick Callahan. Also known as Marine Gunnery Sergeant Callahan, "Gunny" to the men and women in his unit, and darling boy to his doting mother. A decorated war hero with six tours of the Middle East under his belt. During the last tour, he'd been part of the security detachment assigned to her regiment. She'd been sitting next to him in the M-ATV when the mortar ripped through his troop transport and inflicted the wound that sent him home, essentially ending his military career and winning him another Purple Heart.
Now, here he sat wearing a vintage Pink Floyd tee shirt probably older than he was, faded, grass-stained blue jeans that fit like they'd been painted on and scuffed boots desperately in need of a polish. He had a good two to three days growth of beard that accentuated his knife-sharp cheekbones. And he still, somehow, managed to look hotter than fucking sin.
“Ms. Sapphire,” the older policeman standing next to Callahan started to say before Wyatt lunged forward as much as he could while strapped down to the chair.
“That’s Doctor Sapphire to you,” Callahan snarled and Michelle’s right fist ached with the need to beat his ass
Ignoring the female officer trying to block her, Michelle got right up in Callahan's face, nose to nose. She didn’t care if she was in her Hello Kitty pajama pants and a faded pink tank top, or that her hair was hanging loose around her shoulders in a blonde frizz. This motherfucker's phone call woke her up to come bail his sorry, drunk ass out of some two room jail south of Austin after she'd worked a twelve-hour night shift at the clinic. And she hadn’t had any coffee before leaving the house.
He was a dead man.
“Hi, Callahan,” she said in a sugary sweet voice.
Up this close she could see the flecks of green and gold in his now bloodshot hazel eyes. He had long, thick dark lashes, the kind women would kill for, and a full, sensual mouth. His dark hair was longer than she’d ever seen it, but then again they’d both gotten out of the military about a year ago. Sorrow flashed through his gaze and, for a split second, she got a glimpse of the suffering man behind the wise-ass persona.
He smiled that panty-dropping smile that had every female within a fifty foot radius fluttering their lashes. “Hi Doc. You said, if I ever needed you, I could call you.”
“I did.” Nailing him with her gaze, she enjoyed how he fidgeted. “Well let me inform you of something, Callahan. Right now, I really regret saying that if your idea of help is me bailing you out of the drunk tank.”
Wyatt glared at her, his perfect upper lip curling in a manner that made her want to bite it. Sweet Mary, mother of God, put her in his presence for more than five minutes and her whole body ached for his touch. She’d hoped that their time apart would have lessened the impact his presence had on her but, if anything, it had grown stronger. Electricity, sharp and biting, arched between their bodies as their gazes locked. He was so very, very angry beneath all that sorrow, a storm of emotion battering him from the inside out.
He needed her.
“Ma’am.” One of the deputies touched her shoulder.
Not breaking eye contact with Callahan, she said, “It's all right, officer. I’ve got this. Callahan isn’t going to do anything to piss me off any more than I already am because he knows that he doesn’t want to see me really angry. Right, Callahan?”
His lips twitched the slightest bit and his angry gaze softened into that familiar devilish gleam. “Ma'am, yes, Ma’am.” Michelle was sure if he'd been able to stand up, he would have saluted just to be a smart ass. The all too pleasant image of Callahan doing mountain climbers while nude flashed through her mind. Forcing her libido to calm down, she made herself focus on this moment, on him, and gave him one hundred percent of her attention. Because, God knows, Callahan could be a right stubborn bastard when he was in the mood.
She leaned forward the slightest bit, the scent of the crushed grass on his jeans mixing with his alcohol-saturated sweat. “Now, you will behave. You will do everything they ask in a polite and respectful manner. You will not disgrace me by acting like a fool in public. Do you understand?”
The rest of the anger slowly drained from his gaze and something deep inside her tightened when he was the first to look away, to acknowledge her dominance. That gesture was as old as time and always implied the same thing, submission. When he met her gaze again, he'd rebuilt some of his mental walls, but she'd already seen what she needed.
She knew what was inside his heart.
He swallowed hard. “Roger that, ma'am.”
She gave him the smile that he’d always seen right before she laid the smack-down on him. His pupils constricted and his muscles tightened, an unconscious reaction to her emotions. She longed to soothe him, to tell him everything would be okay, but that only worked in fairy tales. In the real world, she had to take charge and make things right.
Fortunately, she rather enjoyed being a cold bitch in the right situations.
“Now then, can you please tell me the nature of his charges?”
The older officer motioned her away from Callahan to speak to her privately. Behind her she heard the officers talking to Wyatt, and he was as well-behaved as could be. While she still didn’t know what she was going to do with him, she did know she would do everything she could to get him out of jail and someplace to heal. Preferably at her home.
“Well, Dr. Sapphire, we got a complaint about a drunk and disorderly, but it wasn’t what we were used to.”
“What do you mean?”
He leaned closer, near enough so she could smell the faint scents of coffee on his breath and the dry cleaning solution clinging to his uniform. “He was in a local cemetery. Scared the crap out of the caretaker. The old man was doing his last rounds through the property, getting ready to lock the gates, when he saw Wyatt sitting on a grave with a nearly empty bottle of whiskey.”
He had her undivided attention now. “Was it Mt. Zion?”
“Yeah. I-uh I guess you know whose grave it was.”
She knew, but she needed confirmation. “Aaron Winters?”
She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, torn between the need to choke Callahan for being so reckless or hold him. “Was he armed?”
“Yes ma’am, but only with a big Damascus knife he uses for whittling." He looked uncomfortable and his mustache twitched. “See, Callahan's a local boy. His dad used to be a detective next county over before he retired and opened his carpentry business. We know Wyatt, and we know his family.”
Empathy filled her but she kept her expression carefully neutral. “Why did he call me instead of his family?”
Now his cheeks turned a deep red that made his blonde mustache stand out in an almost comical manner. “Well…I’m married to his sister and if I called their parents about him being drunk I’d be spending the next two months sleeping on the couch. Besides, nothing we’ve done seems to help and we’ve tried everything we can think of to get through to him.” He pursed his lips, his mustache pushing forward like a walrus looking for a kiss. “See, he’s talked about you before, usually when he’s drunk.”
She arched her brow.
“Nothin’ bad, just how much he admires you and I figured you bein’ a doctor and all, well maybe you can reach him.”
She blew out a harsh breath. “Are you going to release him to my custody?”
“If you feel comfortable taking him. He really isn’t that drunk.” The officer leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Between you and me he’s lucky if he gets four hours of sleep a night. The man is exhausted, but he can’t outrun his nightmares.”
A headache began to form behind her eyes as her heart ached for Callahan. “Okay, I’ll take him, but, Officer,” she looked down at his badge. “Phelps, since you're family, you should know, I’ve got a couple of conditions of my own.”
He gave her a solemn nod. “Call me Gary.”
“Gary,” she said with the sweet smile that had always made her troops flinch, “I'm going to want Callahan to sign a contract to stay with me for a month. Think of it as a personal rehab.”
“Uh, Doc, I don’t think I can do that. It’s not legal.”
“I’m not asking you to force him and I won’t approach him with it until he’s sobered up. If he doesn’t sign I take him home for one night to sleep it off, then he goes on his merry way. If he does sign…” she smiled in a way that made Officer Phelps swallow hard, “I guarantee in one month’s time you will have a changed man. But I’ll need you to keep the rest of his family away. He needs to decide for himself that he wants to live, not for his mother, not for his sister, but for himself.”
Tilting his head to the side, Officer Phelps studied her. “You were a Marine, too, weren’t you?”
“No, I was a Navy doc. We were the ones who got to patch the Marines up.”
They were interrupted by the female officer escorting Callahan. As Michelle looked closer at him she saw the telltale physical signs of exhaustion. He looked much older than his thirty-six years, and there was a darkness in his gaze, something worn and guarded that hadn’t been there before. She remembered him as being brash, larger than life, her rock, someone she could always rely on. Now, he just seemed so…lost.
“Sure thing, Doc.”
After his cuffs were removed she motioned to him, “Let’s go.”
He looked at his brother-in-law and rubbed his face. “Man, I’m really sorry.”
Phelps shook his head. “Wyatt, just get some help.”
Callahan glanced over at Michelle. “I’m trying to.”
She turned away and started walking, swinging her keys, leaving Callahan the choice to follow. Or not. Letting him see her empathy and compassion for him would not be helpful at this point. During the majority of their time together, she’d outranked him and that feeling carried over now as he walked escort behind her down the hallway. A flashback of him shadowing her in Afghanistan, always watching her back, made her dizzy for a moment.
They left the brightly lit hallway of the small police station and she continued on to her car, not saying a word to him. It scared her to the bone to think about him sitting at Winters’ grave, drunk, carrying a knife while mourning the best friend who'd lost his battle with PTSD and killed himself six months ago.
Clicking the alarm on her keychain, the Corvette chirped to life. One of the many nice things about living in a snowless part of the state was that she could drive around with the top down on her car pretty much any time of the year. Right now she needed the wind in her face to help clear her head.
Callahan made a low whistle and circled around the back of the car. “Nice ride, Doc.”
She traced her finger along the curve of the driver's side front quarter-panel, the deep sapphire blue custom paint glimmering faintly in the parking lot lights. “You puke on her, you even sweat on her and I will hang you from my rafters and beat you like a piñata.”
He laughed and slid into the passenger side with a sigh. “Just take me back to my place and I’ll be out of your hair.”
She entered the car and adjusted her mirror as she turned the key. The deep, throaty purr of the big engine always made her happy. “No can do. They released you to my custody for the night. You are staying at my place in Austin.”
He tensed and turned to look at her. “Doc, take me home.”
Ignoring him, she turned out onto the main road leading to the highway. The scent of the desert whipped through the car and she took a deep breath, purging her lungs. Next to her Callahan leaned his head back with his eyes closed, but every muscle on his body stood out in sharp relief. He was so wound up he looked in danger of snapping.
She turned on her stereo and pressed the button to play her Enigma CD. The smooth, almost luscious beats soon blended with the wind. The combination of the music and the soft desert air began to relax them both. Callahan took a deep breath and let it out, his body almost deflating. She wondered what had set him off tonight. Flashback? Panic attack? Whatever it was, she would find out later, but right now Callahan needed to sleep.