Paw and Order
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Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz
January 1st. A new year full of new resolutions, new possibilities, new opportunities.
I was lucky I’d lived to see it. A mere twelve hours ago I’d been tied to a carousel horse with explosives strapped to my chest. If not for bomb squad officer Seth Rutledge I’d be nothing more than a Hefty bag full of body parts right now. Seth had stayed on task right down to the wire, risking his own life to dismantle the bomb, finishing with a mere three seconds to spare.
What did it say that Seth had remained with me even as those final seconds ticked away, despite the fact that he’d dumped me without explanation only a few weeks before? Did he care so much about me that he’d risked his own life for mine? Was he simply dedicated to his duty as a bomb squad officer? Did he have a death wish?
“I suppose I’m about to find out,” I thought aloud, earning me a questioning glance from my fluffy Shepherd-mix partner who filled my passenger seat and then some.
I turned my metallic blue Smart Car into the parking lot of the Ol’ South Pancake House on University Drive, dragging a pair of truck nuts behind me. Why was my car sporting a pair of the ridiculous rubber testicles? Because I’d bested my fellow officer and former partner Derek “The Big Dick” Mackey by taking down the bomber. Derek had bet his nuts he’d beat me to it. He hadn’t.
Suck on that, Derek.
I pulled into the spot next to Seth’s ’72 Nova, which sported bright orange flames down the sides and personalized license plates that read KABOOM. The car was basically an oversized Hot Wheel. Sometimes I thought it was goofy. Other times I thought it was badass. My feelings about the car generally mirrored my feelings about Seth. Those feelings had been quite volatile given his drive-by dating style and the aforementioned dumping.
“C’mon, Brigit!” I called, motioning for her to exit the car via the driver’s door.
She hopped over and down, her nylon POLICE vest rustling with the movements, her toenails clicking on the asphalt. Forgoing my full uniform when I’d dressed this morning, I sported a Fort Worth PD sweatshirt, blue pants, sneakers, and my holster. Though I was off duty, I figured the restaurant staff was less likely to hassle me about bringing Brigit into the place if I wore some semblance of police attire and weaponry. Call me crazy, but I needed my K-9 partner for emotional support. Though the two of us had gotten off to a rocky start, the enormous beast had somehow become my best friend and confidante since we’d been paired together last summer. She was a good listener and always had my back. She was like a furry, four-footed wing woman.
A poster for the upcoming Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo was taped in the restaurant’s front window. The annual event, which was scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks, would be held just a quarter mile north of the pancake house at the Will Rogers Memorial Complex. With its animal auctions, competitions, and carnival midway, the show brought in tourists, breeders, 4-H clubs, and livestock dealers from miles around. The beer stand and nightly country-western concerts also pulled in a fair share of rowdy shit-kickers intent on raising hell. Luckily, those hell-raising shit-kickers wouldn’t be my problem. My beat, the Western 1 Division, sat just south of Interstate 30, a few blocks shy of the stock show grounds. Thank goodness for small favors, huh?
The aromas of fresh coffee, pancakes, and maple syrup greeted us as we stepped into the restaurant. Also greeting us were the bloodshot eyes, green-hued faces, and droopy expressions of customers who’d stayed out late bringing in the new year, only now making their way back home, and had taken a detour into the pancake house for a quick breakfast before crashing in bed the rest of the day.
A man sitting alone at a table held up a copy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The front page headline read FWPD Nets the Tunabomber. An absurd name, one slapped on the bomber after the explosive he’d planted in a mall food court sent up a shower of pizza crusts, Chinese noodles, and tuna salad, some of which had ended up in my hair. Under the headline was a photo of the bomber apparently taken from a high school yearbook. Randy Dunham was definitely 2 crazy 2 be 4gotten! It was too soon to tell whether he’d have a great summer! But it was doubtful given that he’d be spending the season in the state penitentiary.
My eyes found Seth sitting at a booth in the back corner. Like me, he’d dressed in casual fire department attire–a long-sleeved tee embossed with the department’s logo, along with a pair of cargo pants and black ankle boots. His bomb-sniffing Labrador, Blast, sat on the seat beside him. With their square jaws and short blond hair, the pair looked about as alike as two different species possibly could.
As Seth’s green eyes met mine, my heart squirmed in my chest like a feral kitten afraid of being held. Every synapse in my brain misfired.
Damn, this guy makes me stupid.
I didn’t like feeling stupid.
Forcing myself to appear nonchalant, I weaved my way through the tables, leading Brigit by her leash. Blast stood as we approached, his tail wagging vigorously, slapping the vinyl of the booth with a whap-whap-whap.
Seth stood, too, though his tail remained motionless. My gaze dropped from his eyes and ran down over his soft lips to the cleft in his chin. The odd urge to reach out and touch it struck me, just like it always did.
“Thanks for coming,” he said softly.
His eyes played over my long dark hair. Though I often wore it up in a twist or ponytail, I’d left it down this morning. Not because I knew he liked it that way and wanted to torture him or anything like that . . .
Okay. Maybe that was why.
“You saved my life last night,” I reminded him. What kind of woman would refuse to meet with a man who’d rescued her, even if he’d once cruelly broken her heart?
A dark shadow played across his face. “Is that the only reason you came?”
No, I thought. I supposed I could say it out loud, lie to Seth, but I’d never been much good at that. Still, if he thought I was going to welcome him back with open arms, he had another thing coming. Rather than answer, I gestured for Brigit to hop up onto the seat and slid in after her.
The waitress appeared with menus. “Coffee?”
“Please,” I replied.
Seth merely nodded.
When the waitress left to retrieve mugs and a coffee pot, I opened my menu and pretended to peruse it, afraid to look directly at Seth lest my eyes betray me. I didn’t want him to see how thrilled I was he’d asked to meet me, how bad I hoped he might want to resume our budding relationship and see where it might take us. With Seth, I’d felt a special spark I hadn’t with the small handful of other guys I’d dated. Of course I was smart enough to know that not all sparks lead to fire. Some fizzle out quickly with little fanfare, like a cheap Chinese firework. But, given the right conditions, I suspected the spark between me and Seth could develop into a blaze big enough to cause Smokey the Bear significant concern.
“I got you something.” Seth slid a small rectangle wrapped in poinsettia print paper across the table. “I wanted to give it to you for Christmas, but . . . ” His voice trailed off and he turned to stare out the window.
I watched him for a moment. He’d bought me a Christmas present? Even though he’d broken things off before Thanksgiving? Obviously that meant he’d been thinking of me, maybe planning on trying to work things out between us before the holiday.
But he hadn’t.
I wondered what had stopped him. Given the sentence he’d left unfinished, Seth didn’t seem inclined to provide an explanation. Maybe he couldn’t. Men weren’t exactly known for being in touch with their feelings. I’m not sure they knew why they did anything.
I reached out and slid the wrapped package toward me. There was no bow on it, but men weren’t exactly known for their gift-wrapping skills, either. Besides, it was the thought the counts, right? Carefully sliding a finger under the tape at one end, I pulled the paper off.
I’d expected something typical, like perfume or a nice pair of gloves or jewelry. But instead there was a book inside. The latest offering from David Sedaris in hardback, an autographed copy no less.
No one, not even my parents, had ever bought me a more perfect gift.
How had he known?