“Brix, you’re next.”
“Yes, sir.” Cadet Eden Brixton’s pulse took a quick, ready pounce. She spared a glance at the classroom door before stepping to the front of the semicircle of fellow students completing the twenty-week basic training academy at Kentucky’s Department of Criminal Justice. Instructor McMasters acknowledged her with a brisk nod and resumed inspecting the class roster on his clipboard in an effort to pair her with another cadet for the frisk exercise.
The delay didn’t fray her nerves. Like most of the curriculum, this particular practicum she could do in her sleep. Conduct a pat down, find the concealed weapon, disarm the suspect. That Chief Shaun Buchanan of the Bluelick PD—her new boss, once she completed basic—was expected any moment only added to her anticipation. Buchanan termed the visit “new recruit outreach,” but she suspected it also involved sizing up the cadet her father, SEAL Team Commander Noah “Brick” Brixton, had possibly pushed on his former subordinate. She looked forward to demonstrating to Chief Buchanan that she actually knew her ass from her elbow. And she was confident she would, so long as…
“Swain,” McMasters barked.
…shit. Talons of a tension headache scratched at the back of her right eye as she watched the cocky son-of-a-bitch wield his allegedly panty-dropping smile and saunter his empirically perfect ass to the front of the room to stand on the other side of McMasters.
Their instructor handed Swain a shoebox and pointed to the door that led to the room behind the whiteboard wall. Her least favorite classmate shot her that smile he used like a fisherman with a surefire lure—all the more lethal thanks to the flash of white teeth against sun-gilded skin—and walked toward the anteroom to conceal whatever weapon McMasters had placed in the box. The SWAIN stenciled across the back of his T-shirt in big, block letters mocked her as much as the curve of his lips. He moved his six feet, three inches of athletically honed muscle with a loose, unhurried grace that suggested the man refused to be rushed, even with a classroom of cadets and one senior instructor waiting. His bone-deep self-assurance always managed to raise her hackles.
Those sneaky talons sank a little deeper, causing a muscle around her eye to twitch. Perfect. Swain embodied everything she detested in a person—joker, wild card, devil with deep blue eyes and deceptively heroic shoulders. He did absolutely nothing by the book but still managed to stay a measly five points behind her number-one status in the class ranking. He was creative, which she could admire, and unpredictable, which she distrusted, but it was the occasional flashes of genius that really troubled her. She was a nose-in-the-books, outstudy-everyone, do-more-work-than-humanly-possible-and-then-do-it-again kind of student. Swain did the bare minimum, as far as she could tell, but damn, the man read people, or situations, or whatever the hell. And perhaps because she hadn’t dropped her panties in response to the fuck-me grin, he routinely baited her. He was quick. He was tricky. If she wanted to look good in front of her new boss, Swain was the worst possible cadet to be partnered with.
If Marc Swain messed with her today, she was going to kick his ass all the way back to whatever bilge-water bayou he hailed from.
To reclaim the protective shell of professionalism she prided herself on maintaining, she used the wait time to run through the procedure in her head, adjusting for tactics she imagined Swain might stoop to. Would he hide the weapon somewhere inappropriate? Yes, of course he would. Any excuse to remind the world he had a penis and wasn’t afraid to use it. But the joke was on him if he thought she’d shy away from patting down a personal zone. She would do the job. Thoroughly. Competently. Successfully.
When Swain returned to the classroom, she noted he’d untucked his shirt from his academy-issue blue sweatpants—all the better to conceal a weapon in the waistband. He approached, hands raised, palms facing her. “I’m all yours, choux. Be gentle with me.”
Refusing to respond to his idea of humor, she took hold of the arm closest to her, twisted it behind his back, and maneuvered him chest-first against the whiteboard. His breath burst out of his lungs with a satisfying “Oof.” Eden had inherited a generous genetic dose of her dad’s height, but Swain had a good six inches on her. He outweighed her by about a hundred pounds. No way was she giving him a chance to leverage those advantages. The sound of the classroom door opening to admit Chief Buchanan and another uniformed member of the Bluelick Police Department only emphasized the importance, for her, of coming out on top in this particular encounter. “I’m going to release your arm, sir. Put your palms to the wall, head level so I can see them, and step out of your shoes.”
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