Twice in a Lifetime
When widow Talia Wasserman applies for a job with the local police department, she’s shocked to discover she’ll be working for Lieutenant Eve Poe, an officer she’d met—and been attracted to—during a long-ago citizen’s police academy workshop. Fifteen years later, the spark is still there, and no one’s currently in Talia’s life or in her bed. But there’s just one teeny, tiny problem. Eve is her boss, so she’s completely off-limits.
Eve feels a sizzling connection with Talia from the very first, but Talia works for her, and that’s just a bad idea. Besides, Eve needs to focus on the person sending disturbing emails to her office, and not on the woman who quickly makes herself invaluable to the department. It’s too bad her heart doesn’t agree with her.
Then Eve is badly injured in the line of duty, and Talia’s worst fears are realized. She may lose her chance at happiness with the woman she’s come to love, and she can’t survive that kind of loss twice in a lifetime.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: acceptance, angst, bisexuality, coming out, commitment, duty, family, first time, fitting in, grief, holiday, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, interracial/multicultural, military, misogyny, protection, religion, workplace romance
With a bounce in my step, I walked into the police station and stopped at the metal detector. I gave a half laugh as the officer at the door told me to put my things on the table. Poor planning on my part. I'd brought two tote bags full of stuff I wanted to put on my desk this first day of my brand-new job. Photos of my girls. A potted plant. A mug that said World's Okayest Mom. He looked through the items and lifted the mug out. With a snort, he put it back in, then moved my bags to the far end of the table and waved me forward to the detector.
I stepped through…and set the damn buzzer off. I flinched.
He ran the wand over me, up and down my arms and legs, over my back and then my front. When he got to my waist, the thing beeped.
"Are you wearing a belt, ma'am?"
If only. "No. But I have a navel piercing with a metal charm on it."
A low female voice came from the line forming behind the metal detector, and an unexpected shiver slid down my spine. "I can verify for you, Ramirez, if you'd like to get all these people moving along."
A middle-aged Black woman in a police uniform stepped into view, and my heart sank. My new boss, Lieutenant Eve Poe. Great. Just great. Way to make an impression.
"Good morning, Talia. Would you step over here, please?" She led me to a private corner facing away from the people coming into the lobby, which fronted the public entrance to both the police station and the courthouse. "Standard procedure."
I must've turned purple, but after I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was staring, I lifted the edge of my blouse and nudged down the waist of my trousers. "I meant to take it out before I came to work, but I forgot."
My stomach fluttered when her deep-brown eyes lingered maybe a fraction of a second too long before she nodded. "Good enough. Usually piercings don't set off the detectors. Not sure why this one did."
"My lucky day?" I quipped, trying to cover my embarrassment — and my unsettled libido. I'd only met her twice before this, once during a Citizen's Police Academy class I'd taken when my daughters were little, and once a few weeks ago during my interview for this community liaison job. Both times, I'd had the same instant reaction to the woman in front of me. A visceral attraction, simmering under the surface, an awareness I'd only ever had with one other person in my life. My late husband, Seth.
She grinned then, and it changed her angular brown face from average to heart-stoppingly gorgeous in a single beat. This was the smile I remembered from that long-ago class, one that had zinged me when I'd had no business being zinged. And it was a grin that had recently fueled some intense fantasies while I'd waited for my paperwork and background checks for this job to clear.
She led me back to the officer manning the metal detector. "Talia Wasserman, this is Officer First Class Juan Ramirez. Juan, Talia's the new civilian community liaison working in my office. She'll get her credentials today."
Lieutenant Poe — Eve, I reminded myself — led us down the hallway to a small office at the end of the floor. She unlocked the door, and nudged it open with her hip. "I'm usually here earlier than this, but I had a personal issue to deal with. And I left my access pass at home, which is why I had to come in the public entrance." She grimaced as though she'd tasted something sour, then shook her head and pointed to the desk that faced hers. "Anyway, make yourself at home. Supply cabinet is in the next office. I need about fifteen minutes to get my system up and running, and then we can get your laptop from IT and pick up your building ID. Once you have that, you can park out back with the rest of the employees and avoid the whole metal-detector thing."
"Sounds good." I moved around my new-to-me but probably forty-year-old desk and dropped into the chair, which creaked. Obviously the police department didn't spend much money on office furniture. I had plenty of my own padding on my ass, but I was going to need a cushion or I'd wreck my back inside of a week. I pulled out my phone and jotted a reminder — because what brain? — and noticed I'd gotten two texts during my fifteen-minute commute this morning, one from each of my girls.
I glanced at my new boss before taking a minute to open the texts. I didn't want it to look like I was goofing off first day on the job, but they were my babies.
I read Rissa's text first. Have a good first day. Keep your eyes open for hot cops to date. For me, not for you. Okay, for you too. Love you, Mom.
My eyes flew to Eve. Did she count as hot? Well, for a woman who was probably close to my own fifty-two and was in incredible physical condition, yeah. She did. My stomach fluttered again, and I turned my attention back to my phone. Thanks, sweetie. Love you too. I'll call you tonight.
Lila's text was next. At her prodding this morning, I'd sent her a picture of what I was wearing to the office. *whistles* You're one hot mama, Mama. I smiled and kept reading. You've got this. Love ya!
I texted her back. LOL! Love you too. You still coming over for dinner?
I was so lucky. My girls were one hundred percent awesome, and I was proud of the young women they'd become. Lila had decided college wasn't for her and had instead gone to trade school to become an electrician, and Rissa was away at her second year of college studying engineering. There were times when they'd been teens that I'd understood why some species ate their young, but once they'd passed into adulthood, things had evened back out.
I set my phone down and looked up to see Eve watching me.
"Texts from my daughters." I smiled, then pulled out my favorite-ever mug and the plant Lila had given me from a cutting she'd made me from the one I'd given her for her apartment. Full circle, which amused me. "First-day-on-the-job good-luck wishes."
"How old are they?" She leaned forward, tapped a few keys, and frowned, tapping a few more.
"Lila's almost twenty-four and Rissa is twenty."
"It's nice they keep in touch." She sounded almost wistful. "My son is twenty-five. He's a Marine deployed to Iraq, so I don't get to talk to him too often."
"Oh, that's hard." My heart clenched. I couldn't imagine fearing for my girls day in and day out. Not that I didn't worry about them. I absolutely did. But not they're in a war zone worry. That had to be a special hell for a parent.
It took a moment for her words to click in another way, and when they did, my heart stuttered. She was married? I glanced at her hands. No rings. I wanted to smack myself, though. It didn't matter, because there were a few teeny tiny items I needed to remember.
First, she was my boss.
Second, I had no idea if she was interested in women.
And third, even if she was, I had exactly zero experience in being with another woman. Fantasized about it, felt the attraction and the sexual desire, but had never put any of that to the test.
I berated myself for thinking of this now. First day on a new job, remember?
I locked my libido away and spent the next fifteen minutes grabbing supplies from the cabinet — notepads, sticky notes, pens, a ruler — and organizing things on my desk. By the time I was done, so was Eve.
"Ready for a full tour?"
"I'd love one, thanks. And while I hate to sound like a typical addict, is there coffee?"
"There is, in the squad room and also in the lunch room. Sorry I didn't think about it. I'm not a coffee drinker. I prefer tea."
I eyed her suspiciously. "Really? I didn't know people like you actually existed."
She let out a full-bodied laugh that blasted my good intentions all to hell. "A snarky sense of humor. We're going to get along just fine, Talia."
As we left our office, she brushed against me. I swear I'm not a sex-crazed maniac, but the electric jolt I got from her innocent touch made me reconsider my opinion of myself. I cleared my throat and tried hard not to notice the amazing way her ass filled out the khaki uniform pants she wore.
We spent much of the morning hunched over Eve's desk as she showed me the calendar she kept for community events. My mind was boggled by the sheer number of requests that came through the office, and I told her so.
"I can't believe you've been managing this by yourself for so long," I added.
She sighed, leaning back in her chair. "It hasn't been all that long, though it feels like it. Your predecessor was the organizational genius on this team. When her husband retired, they decided to move to Florida. Can't blame her, but she left a giant hole. I'm barely holding it together." She sat back up, flashed teeth. "Not that I want to scare you away from the job or anything."
I couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, it takes a lot to scare me off." The minute the words left my mouth, I mentally cringed. Stop it, Talia.
"Duly noted." She grinned, then glanced at the clock. "Time for lunch."
I startled. "Already? Wow, the morning went fast. An hour, right?"
She nodded. "How does Thai sound to you?"
I blinked. I'd brought yogurt and a piece of fruit, which would take me just a few minutes to eat. "I figured I'd eat at my desk and then go for a walk to get some fresh air and exercise."
"I try to take my new people out for lunch their first day. It's a chance to get to know each other a little better, away from the office." She tilted her head, and gave me a puzzled look when I didn't answer right away. "Unless you'd rather not?"
"No, I'd love to. Thank you." When her confusion slid into a slow grin, I got yet another zing, this time low in my belly. Oh, hell, I was in so much trouble.
Do not, under any circumstances, flirt with your new boss, Talia. Do. Not.
We walked to the restaurant, which was only about two blocks away. People clearly knew Eve, liked her, and it was patently obvious how important community relations were to her. She smiled and chatted with shopkeepers and passersby and, at one point, crouched to show her badge to a fascinated preschooler. It took us a full fifteen minutes to get to the Thai place, but if we were late getting back, who would complain? She was the boss. Mine, anyway.
They took us to a table immediately, even though there were others waiting. I flicked a glance at the line, where several grumpy businessmen stood, frowning. She followed my gaze and grinned. "I promise we're not getting special privileges. I called Friday and reserved a table. Dudes should've tried that and not assumed they'd get a seat right away, at noon on a workday."
I agreed. We sat, and I picked up the menu, scanning the whole thing. I didn't know too much about Thai food, but every single description sounded good. "Do you recommend anything special here?"
"It's all good. Which is why I'm going to get the buffet." She glanced down at her flat stomach and sighed. "Of course, at my age, that'll require extra sit-ups tonight. My metabolism went haywire when I hit forty-five."
I choked on a laugh. Nothing but the truth there. Once I hit my late forties, everything I looked at or smelled landed on my hips. Eve and I were close to the same height, but I probably had fifty pounds on her. I waved my hand in the general direction of my thicker-than-in-my-twenties waist. "You seem to be handling it much better than I am."
"Have to, for the job. It's easier because I'm always on the move. I spend half my workday out and about." She paused, gave her head a little shake as though she'd changed her mind about what she was going to say. Then she spoke anyway, the words coming as a fast barrage. "If you're interested, I run every morning before work and shower at the station. You can join me if you'd like." She swore softly and pushed up from the table. "That…did not come out right. I just meant that if you're interested in getting some exercise with me, I'm game." Air hissed out from between her lips as she muttered something indecipherable under her breath.
Oh, good lord. Exercise? Shower? Now my mind was going places it really shouldn't be going because hello, my boss for a job I both wanted and needed. I kept my tone light and shoved the inappropriate thoughts away. "I may take you up on that. I used to run, and I always felt better afterward."
I followed her to the buffet. Since I didn't know what anything was, she pointed out the different dishes to me. People gave her space — you know, woman with a badge and a gun — but crowded me as I tried to decide what to choose. The person behind me bumped into me twice, and then I felt a hand fondle my ass. I turned and sent him a withering glare. He was one of the men who'd been waiting for a table, and he now held an empty carryout box. He was close to my age, maybe mid-fifties, and I'd met so many men like him after Seth died.
Instead of looking ashamed, he gave me what he likely thought was a sexy grin, but it was wolfish and not at all welcome. If he assumed I was the kind of woman who'd take it quietly, or who'd fall at his feet for even being noticed at my age, he was sadly mistaken.
"If you touch my ass again, I'm going to knee you in the balls. I don't care who you are, and I don't care who sees it. Are we clear?"
Eve turned sharply at that and delivered a frosty, one hundred percent cop stare in his direction.
He almost tripped over himself apologizing. "It was an accident. My apologies, ma'am." He didn't look my way again as he filled his carryout box, and kept a good foot between us.
Eve and I went back to our table, where the waiter had filled our water glasses, and sat.
"Jesus, it's no wonder I only date women." Eve picked up her fork, stabbed at her food. "You okay? You handled that like a pro."
I couldn't help but laugh, even as my heart stuttered at her revelation about her sexuality. "I'm a little shaken, but it doesn't trigger anything for me except contempt, if that's what you mean. I've never been…. I'm one of the lucky ones."
"You are." Her eyes clouded over, then cleared. "That's one of the reasons I like being a cop and working in this department. Women should be able to feel safe wherever they are. They sure as hell shouldn't get their asses grabbed — or worse — in a restaurant, or at school, or walking down the street. And kids — both girls and boys — need to learn that early on, so Community Relations is incredibly important."
I started eating. The food was decadently good, and I let out a noise that was almost embarrassing. "Exactly. I worry about my girls more than I worry about myself, honestly. But since my husband died, you'd be surprised at how many men think I should be grateful for their attention, especially at my age." I paused, fork to my mouth. "Or maybe you wouldn't."
A tiny smile quirked her full, lush lips. "You're right, I wouldn't." Her smile faded. "I know this is going to sound weird, but we've met before, haven't we? I feel like we have, only I'm drawing a blank at where."
So much for my zing moment being something we'd shared. I'd put the Citizen's Police Academy training on my application, but we hadn't discussed it in detail during my interview. "We have. It's been a while, though. I'm surprised you remember. I'm sure you meet a lot of people."
Her grin flashed again, and damn it, it still affected me. "I do. Are you going to tell me when and where? Or do I have to guess?"
"I think you should guess."
This time she laughed outright. "We really are going to get along great. Clue me in, Talia."
I grinned back. "About fifteen years ago. You helped at the practical exercise day for the Citizen's Police Academy class I took. You showed me how to fire a gun during our target practice. I kept missing the target completely and everyone in my group was laughing at me for being such a mess, so you got behind me and helped steady my stance."
I had never forgotten the feel of her body against mine, the heat of her chest against my back, even though we'd both been wearing body armor that day. Her hands had been warm and capable and strong, and her minty breath had fanned across my cheek. I'd been incredibly, blissfully married to Seth, but she'd made me think things I'd had no business thinking as a married woman. She'd made me wonder, for the first time in a very long time, What if?
Her eyes widened, and she set down her fork and took a long swallow of her water. "Christ. I…. Yeah. I remember now." She blinked, picked up her fork again, and pointed it at me. "You did suck at that."
I snorted. "Which is why you're the cop, and I'm the civilian."
Between bites of food, we got to know each other. I told her becoming a widow at forty-eight had knocked me for a loop, and how excited I was about this job and the new chapter in my life now that my girls were out and on their own, though I was looking forward to having them both home for the holidays. She told me how she'd started out as a beat cop right out of college, how she worried about her only child being deployed in a war zone, and how she couldn't wait to see him when he came home on leave at Thanksgiving. Conversation flowed as though we'd known each other for years, and the half hour passed quickly. Eve paid the tab, and we left, making our way back to the police station. When we got there, I took off my jacket and sat, but Eve stayed on her feet.
"I hate to do this to you on your first day, but I've got an unavoidable meeting from two until five. Can you answer the phones and take notes on what people are looking for? I'll deal with it when I get back. I'd rather have them speak to someone than make them leave a voicemail. More personal, less bureaucratic. And check group email too. Respond if you can, and if you can't, forward them to me."
"Answer phones? Send email? No problem." I smiled at her. "You're the boss, so you tell me what to do, and I do it, whatever it is."
It wasn't until I caught her raised brow that I realized what I'd said, and heat rushed into my cheeks. But she let it slide, maybe because of her own unintended innuendo earlier. "Thanks, Talia. Don't wait for me to get back, because it's likely we'll go past five."
I nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks for lunch."
She picked up a thick folder from her desk and headed toward the door, then glanced back over her shoulder at me. "I'm glad to have you on board."