“THIS LAND is ours, not for mines! This land is ours, not for mines! This land is ours, not for mines!”
Arms weary, voice hoarse, I furiously pumped my end of the cherry-red anti-mining banner above our heads as our protest chants echoed through my head like damn church bells, banging from one side of my skull to the other, and scrambling all sensible thought in the process. Thank Christ the Whangarei Council Chambers, the culmination of our march, was just fifty meters away.
If I hadn’t been a founding committee member, walking front and centre at the head of the march, I would’ve been tempted to run screaming for my sanity over an hour ago. But I’d be damned if I was gonna stand by and let the government sell pristine fucking conservation land out from under our feet without a hell of a fight.
This marked the first of a number of Northland protests all set to culminate in a massive rally along Auckland’s Queen Street in two weeks’ time. Local support hadn’t been a given, as the region suffered above average unemployment, something the mining companies had used to sweeten their application. But an estimated three thousand protesters had given up their sunny spring Saturday afternoon to show their democratic displeasure. Bingo. More than enough to get the voting bean counters worried.
And so they should be. Those sublime hectares of green gorgeousness belonged to the people of New Zealand. Northland was a subtropical paradise with a wealth of untapped agricultural land on offer, ripe for organics and international specialty markets. Why the hell the government wasn’t putting its support behind developing that potential rather than allowing what lay beneath it to be stripped and devastating the environment in the process, who fucking knew? And what was wrong with the damn regional councils for even considering giving the crazy proposal legs? Well, they’d sure as fuck backed the wrong voting horse there, and the numbers in this particular rally proved it.
The march slowed its pace as we hit the cordoned off square directly outside the council chambers, and relief barrelled through me. All we had to do now was form an orderly seated blockade, listen to Nick’s pitch—the guy could sell ice to Antarctica—and wait to be politely moved on by the police. Dead simple.
Or it should have been. A sudden twinge in my gut dried the next mantra midchant in my throat. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. A second stabbing pain followed by a third close on its heels, and I nearly dropped the fucking banner. Goddamn traitorous body. The march immediately forgotten, I frantically stripped the retail signs on either side of the road in a desperate hunt for a bathroom. Oh, come on, surely… what was wrong with this city?
Standing in front of the Chambers with microphone in hand, Nick was directing everyone to come forward and be seated. The committee was to rally behind him with our banner held high. Not. Gonna. Happen. Not for me, at least.
Providing of course I could find a… The Council Chambers. Yes.
“Sorry, gotta run,” I said to Carol marching next to me.
She jerked her head around. “Drake, you okay?”
“Fine. I’ll be back.” I shoved my banner handle into her hands and took off for the council building at a run, garnering some strange looks in the process. Those who recognised me were no doubt wondering what the fuck I was doing legging it just as the speeches were about to start, but I ignored the turned heads and questioning glances, taking the stairs two at a time and pushing through the glass front door into the lobby.
Once inside, I ignored the two men at the front desk who’d stopped what they were doing to stare at me—I was running like an idiot, after all—and paused just long enough to clock the necessary sign before heading off down a corridor to my left. One of the men yelled at me but I was too damn intent on finding that bathroom. In terms of priorities, mine rated light years ahead of whatever the fuck had got up his arse.
I beat a speedy track along the dim, narrow passageway with its framed photos of old downtown Whangarei until a junction with two further corridors had my head yo-yoing. Christ, what a rabbit warren. Could a government building make it any more difficult to find a fucking toilet?
I opened and closed a few doors until finally… there. An accessibility sign. Fuck it. If a guy in a wheelchair turned up, I’d wear their righteous anger. Accessible was exactly what I needed at this point, and I was more than willing to argue the fact with any idiot that dared cross my path.
I burst into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. A half second later, the handle jiggled, and someone threw their fist against the wood, but I was already in position, jeans around my ankles and a sigh of relief on my lips. Thank Christ the council cleaning budget ran to a decent-quality toilet paper in a dispenser that actually allowed you to grab more than just an ant-size allocation in one go. As far as bathrooms went, this rated a solid eight out of ten and I’d seen more than the average Joe blow in my life.
I jumped. What? Like hell. “Hold your bloody horses. I’ll be out in a tick.”
The banging continued.
What the fuck was wrong with this dude?
“Police. Unlock the door and vacate the toilet now.” The voice bounced around the small tiled room like a rifle shot.
The police? What the…? And who the hell says vacate? “Um, I’m a little busy in here, if you catch my drift? Is it an emergency?”
The handle went still. “No. Unlock the door, sir.”
“I can’t reach the damn door. It’s a wheelchair toilet.”
“The building is closed to the public. You shouldn’t be inside, sir.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. “Okay. I’m sorry. But if it’s not an emergency and seeing as I am here, do you think I might be allowed to finish, please? I have a… condition. I really need to use this toilet.”
“Regardless, you need to stop and come out, sir.”
Really? Even if he was a cop, the guy didn’t need to be a dick about it. “Easier said than done, officer. Look, I’ll come out, no problem, but trust me on this, you want to let me finish.”
Two beats of silence.
“Make it quick. And then come out slowly, with your hands up.”
Thank Christ. But the word quick and toilet in the same sentence just didn’t fly in my universe, so the guy would have to wait. And he did. More fool him. I’d long ago learned not to give a flying fuck about people listening to me do my thing. They could just deal. Crohn’s was a bitch of a mistress and it wasn’t always pretty. Ten minutes, a fuck-ton of cramping, and two more impatient reminders from Policeman Pat along the way, and I was finally done… I hoped. I really never knew.
Rinsing my hands, I felt a million times better, bar the spiked anchor chain I felt was currently resident in my arse. A hazardous waste warning on the door wouldn’t have gone amiss either. Through the window in the cramped room, Vince amped up the crowd. He was in fine form. For a retired accountant, Vince hardly fitted the meek and bespectacled model. Read: silver fox hotty in its place, not that I was looking. Daddies weren’t my thing.
I threw my hands under the air drier, bemoaning the sad truth that pretty much nothing was my “thing” these days. Still, I had a job I loved, a great family, wonderful friends, blah, blah, blah. The fact that the dryness of my love life would give the Kalahari a run for its money and win was neither here nor there. Mostly not here… or there… actually. I sighed and mentally slapped myself. Further down that track lay a damn good self-pitying sulk, which wasn’t without merit, but which I currently had no time for.
Cue the dickhead outside the door with another ear-shattering fist thump that damn near sent me through the roof.
Son of a bitch. “All right, all right. Calm the farm.”
Reassured I was safe for an hour or so… fingers crossed, I opened the door, threw my hands skyward in dramatic fashion—yes, yes, I know—and stepped into the corridor looking for the arsehole with the ham fist, more than ready to give him a piece of my mind. As it turned out, all I managed was a humiliating squeak as he pushed off the wall beside the door and had my wrist strung up behind me and my face planted against the wood before I could utter a single word, or even catch a glimpse of his face.
“Don’t move.” His tone was distinctly pissy.
Too bad. I was distinctly pissy myself. “Look, I’m sorry I kept you waiting, but there’s no need for all this.”
“You should have come out when requested, sir.”
The clean scent of citrus mixed with the heady aroma of coffee drifted as the cop shifted, and… God, I missed coffee.
“Oh, come on. I was on the damn toilet. What was I supposed to do?” Ugh. Stop antagonising the nice policeman, dear. Delivered in my mother’s voice, so yeah, it might’ve been a pattern.
He held me against the wall. “What were you looking for?”
“You looked in several offices before you came in here. We watched you on CTV. What were you doing?”
“Looking for the damn toilet.”
The cop drew breath and pushed me harder into the wall, pretty much guaranteeing I’d carry the imprint of the wood grain on my cheek for some time after. Total dickhead. And I was about to tell him just that when steel circled one wrist and then the other. Handcuffs? Holy shit. Had this guy lost his fucking mind?
“No, I have not.”
Okay, I apparently said that last bit out loud.
“You ignored a police directive… sir. That puts you under arrest for trespass. Now spread your legs.”
I did. And no, it wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked to do that.
“You have the right…”
I listened to the man read me my rights barely holding back a hysterical laugh. This had motored way past funny and straight on to ridiculous, but I reluctantly did as I was told.
“Trespass? You’re kidding me, right? For using a damn public toilet… in the public foyer of a council building. A council being an elected public body, elected by people such as myself? I have every right to be here.”
He finished patting me down, having removed my wallet and left me feeling like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole into an episode of Criminal Minds.
“Of course I’m bloody clear.”
“You need to watch your language, sir. Now if you would kindly step back from the wall and turn around.”
I did as he said, and every snarky pissy comment about to let loose from my lips dried to dust, because—holy shit… wow—six-foot-three, top-to-toe thirtysomething deliciousness. Hard-muscled, lean and athletic, the guy had dancing hazel eyes and dark brown hair shaved tight to his ears, but wild on top—long enough to thread my fingers through in a firm grip… and yeah, hadn’t that thought escalated at light speed?
Sporting a heavy stubble for two in the afternoon, he had a strong square jaw and a cute-as-fuck chocolate beauty spot high on his right cheekbone that I wanted to get all kinds of up close and personal with. That is if I did that sort of thing… which I didn’t… anymore.
Dressed in tight black chinos that showed off an impressive set of thighs, not that I was looking, and with an equally fitted black T-shirt sporting the word Police stretched over a wide chest, he wore an adorable scowl and presented a mouthwatering package of delicious irritation. I might have swallowed my tongue if it weren’t already rolled out panting on the damn floor. It occurred to me I should reel that sucker in before I made a fool of myself, but yeah, the man’s loitering smirk confirmed I’d already been busted. Jerk. My pissed-off quotient rose exponentially. Ogling a dickhead and being caught ogling are two entirely different things, especially when said dickhead was a cop, did I mention that bit?
He thumbed through my wallet, pulling out my driver’s licence and looking between me and a piece of paper he’d dragged out of his pocket. And then between me and the photo. A frown creased his brow.
I shrugged. “It was a bad day.” It was. I’d been a week post my last hospitalisation when that sucker was taken. I looked like an escaped nutcase with a severe case of anorexia. I’d seen more of the driver’s licencing restroom facilities that day than I had the nice lady behind the counter.
He grunted. “Close enough, Duck-Young Park?” He quirked a curious brow.
“Korean,” I explained. “Friends call me Drake.”
He smiled. It was a good look on him. No, it wasn’t.
I sent him a scowl. “You can call me Mr Park.”
He frowned… again. And yes, I know. I really shouldn’t be let out without my minder. I schooled my expression into something closer to disdain and popped a hip, the sum total of which would probably have had more impact had I not been handcuffed. I should just cooperate and be nice, but I was so over needing to explain myself every damn time my body pulled a number on me. No one gives a diabetic the third degree about needing their insulin. Well, toilets are my insulin. Actually, that sounded a lot better in my head than out of my mouth.
Officer Pain-in-the-Arse side-eyed the various slogan badges pinned to my shirt, from Save the Whales to Protect the Sun Bears and everything weird and wonderful in between, and frowned. I wore them more as an amusing talking point than a serious statement, not that he knew that. I’m sure next to tall, black, and sexy, I came across like a right nutter, and yeah, I might have been regretting that particular life choice at this present moment. I would’ve straightened my shirt and brushed off my trousers except… yeah, handcuffs.
“You’ll find my business card in there as well.”
The man read and pocketed it. “A midwife, huh?”
“Yes, a midwife. I doubt it’s a career that tops the list of ‘people most likely to cause trouble,’ I’m thinking.”
Well, Mr Park, that might be so, but it appears you are on my list.” He waved his piece of paper in the air before tucking it back in his pocket.
“The activists list. You are one of the organisers of the march, right?”
“Then that makes you a person of interest to us, today. Just a precaution, of course.”
“Of course. Look, would you mind explaining what this is all about?” I pushed. “Last I heard, it wasn’t against the law to use the council bathrooms.” I raked my gaze over his body because… well, damn. It’s not like I had anything to lose, right? May as well enjoy the show. “Plus you’re not in uniform, so I’ll need to see some ID.”
He rolled his eyes, delved in his pocket, and held his ID open for me to read. Detective Caleb Ashton. Detective? That explained the no uniform, but what the hell was a detective doing patrolling the bathrooms of the council buildings? My gaze flicked up and caught his… focussed distinctly lower than my face. What the…? Was he checking me out? But then he looked up without a trace of guilt, and I guessed not.
“Satisfied?” he asked flatly.
Not even remotely. I sniffed. “Demoted to lurking around toilets, detective? Whatever did you do?”
He stared at me a minute, and I swore he was about to laugh. His cheeks twitched and that siren beauty spot sang out my name. It was all I could do not to reach up and run a finger across it.
Finally he shook his head. “Are you always this charming?”
I snorted. “No. Sometimes I can even be a bit sarcastic. Shocker, right?”
This time he did laugh and it was an effort not to join him. His whole face lit up and those sparkling eyes… holy shit… they needed to come with a caution. Have been known to cause bats to take off without warning in your chest.
“I’ll consider myself put on notice,” he said with a grin. “Now I’ll need you to step back inside the bathroom just for a minute, while I check.” He pushed me none too softly through the open door and face up against the inside wall, still keeping a hand on my cuffs, no doubt searching for the half a kilo of Semtex I apparently must have left sitting on the toilet lid, just waiting to be found. Moron.
“Well if nothing else, the unpleasant bouquet should confirm my story,” I grumbled.
He said nothing.
The disconcerting skip in my chest alerted me to the alarming notion that being held in place and ordered around had suddenly developed an appeal I had hitherto been unaware of. God, I was pathetic or maybe simply desperate. I hadn’t been touched by another man in… nope, sooo not going there.
“Okay,” he said. “Nothing untoward.”
Untoward? Really? Who said that shit?
I sniffed haughtily, which was harder than you’d imagine to accomplish with my face still smooshed against the wall. “And what exactly did you expect to find? Not that I don’t like being hauled into a bathroom as much as the next guy, given the right context… but I mean, we hardly know each other.” Yeah, yeah, I know.
But honestly? I was the least likely saboteur I knew. Hell, knowing my luck I’d get an attack of cramps or diarrhoea halfway through the operation. Not to mention I couldn’t attack anything without a packed lunch of my safe food products, or be given any target that didn’t have an available restroom within a hundred meters… with good quality toilet paper, and I needed to be home by ten to get a proper night’s sleep, so yeah.
I’d almost swear he chuckled before manhandling me back into the corridor. He studied me with a curious expression, and a sly smile stole over his face. “Is that so? Sorry to disappoint.”
Hmm. Not exactly the response I expected. The man threw off mostly straight alpha vibes, all except for that one look. I stared shamelessly until… there… a hint of a pink on his cheeks. Huh. Who’d have guessed?
Still, the guy was a jerk. “Disappointment would imply some interest to begin with,” I countered peevishly. “Can I go now?”
The jab hit home. His gaze narrowed and his mouth tightened into a fine line.
When will I learn?
He said, “Do you recall I read you your rights?”
“And?” Vaguely uneasy.
“Meaning, you are still under arrest.”
Fuck. My eye roll was epic. “Well, un-arrest me, then, please?”
He shook his head. “Not possible. We are under a directive today. And as a person of interest, you’ll need to accompany me to the station. You did trespass, after all.”
He steered me back through the corridor and up to his mate at the front desk.
“I’m taking him in,” he told the man. “It’s nearly done here. I’ll see you back at the station.”
My eyes drifted to the detective’s watch. Goddammit. We’d wasted twenty minutes already. I needed to calm down or the mild unmentionable explosion I’d just suffered was gonna look like a walk in the English countryside. But holy crap, I was so sick of this. Why today?
“Check my wallet and you’ll find my health card,” I snapped. Yeah, I was getting that whole calm thing sorted.
He turned to face me. “What?”
“My card. It says I suffer from a bowel condition that means I sometimes need quick access to a toilet.” God, I hated having to medically eviscerate myself in front of strangers like this.
He searched the wallet and pulled out my Crohn’s and colitis NZ urgent toilet card, and read it.
I blew out a sigh. “See. Now can I go?”
The look he sent wasn’t reassuring. “No.”
Caleb What’s-His-Face suppressed a charming grin, which didn’t help matters. “The building is closed. There was a sign. You’re trespassing. And your name is on the list. I have to take you in. It’s my job.”
“The Closed sign by the entrance. The one intended to keep all protesters out. That sign.” He pointed to the door I’d entered by, and the clear-as-fucking-day sign propped right next to it.
Well, shit. “Oh. I didn’t see it.”
“Not my problem.”
“If you’ll just let me explain—”
“I have no choice in the matter,” he interrupted.
“But I really needed to—”
“You can explain everything back at the station. We can check with your doctor there. But I can’t just take your word for it. You get that, right? It’s a public safety issue,” he stated blandly, dragging his gaze from a particularly colourful Greenpeace badge back up to meet mine. “You never know what crazies lurk in these protest groups or what lengths they might go to.” He sent me a pointed look. “And that sign out there means you’re trespassing, bathroom break or not. You could’ve been up to anything, how were we to know? That’s why we have a list.”
The pompous dick. I was so over this ridiculous conversation. “Is that ‘we’ a royal ‘we’?” I threw back with added sarcasm for good measure. “’Cause I didn’t realise she was attending, or I’d have dressed better.”
He rolled his eyes like I was a stroppy teenager. “We,” he said so patiently I wanted to smack him in the face. “As in, we the police… as in, me. And whether you like it or not, my job is to keep people safe, all people, including your mates out there in the march, including you, as it happens, God help me.”
Fuck. He had a point, dammit. I really was being a bitch. The guy was only doing his job. I sighed. “Okay, look, I didn’t see the sign. I was in kind of a hurry. I’m sorry,” I mumbled apologetically.
“I understand,” he answered flatly. “But you’re still under arrest.”
My jaw dropped. “What? Oh, for Christ’s sake. I didn’t do anything. You’re acting like I’m a damned terrorist.”
His brows peaked. “You’re on the list.”
“Fuck the damn list.” Ugh. Yeah, maybe not the best thing to say. I counted to five, dropped the snarky tone, and did my best to look apologetic. “Sorry… again. But, come on, I’m about the furthest thing from a threat… to anyone. Unless you consider sarcasm a deadly weapon.”
Even biting back a smile, he still managed to look less convinced of my virtue than I hoped. “I’m sorry,” he explained. “But under the brief we were given, I have no choice. I have to take you in.”
I stared at those gorgeous but determined hazel eyes for a few seconds longer, then blew out a sigh. This was clearly a battle I wasn’t going to win, and though the realisation galled, there was also nothing I could do. “Okay, whatever,” I sighed. “Let’s just get this waste of taxpayers’ money over with.”
He nodded, put a hand on my shoulder, and steered me out the door and past a group of my fellow protesters, who stared in abject disbelief, coupled with some sort of weird-arse jealousy. At least a dozen phones snapped to attention to video my humiliation, to accompanying cries of “police brutality.” There was no doubt in my mind that my arrest would soon be plastered across social media sites ad infinitum, and I’d be lucky to miss the six o’clock news. Scratch that. The TVNZ crew were already running toward the parked cop car, cameras pointed my way. I ducked my head. Fuck. My. Life.
For whatever reason, Caleb took mercy on me and pushed me slightly to the side, effectively blocking their view. I mumbled my thanks but not too loudly. It was, after all, his bloody fault I was in this predicament to start with. After reaching the car, he manoeuvred me unceremoniously into the back seat and buckled me in, careful to make sure I was as comfortable as possible under the circumstances—read: not at all—and I got my first ride to a police station cuffed like a damn criminal. I briefly wondered which of my darling pregnant clients would be the first to call and fire their trespassing midwife’s arse.
“GO TAKE a look in my damn wallet, will you? You remember… the one that detective took from me. Or ring my damn doctor. He said you’d do that.” I might have raised my voice a mite, but I’d been stuck in this tiny police interview room for close to half an hour. As soon as we’d arrived, Caleb Horse-Face had been called away, and simply dumped me here, removed the handcuffs, and instructed me to wait, leaving before I even had the chance to ask to use the bathroom… again. Have I mentioned stress is never a good thing for me… ever?
The small space stank like the locker room of a rugby team after a hard game, and that was being polite. By the stench wafting from the rubbish bin in the corner, someone had pissed in it. The remains of a fast food meal of indeterminate origin, bar a purple skid mark that could only be beetroot, littered the tired vinyl floor. The battered tabletop was sticky enough to hold a black hole in place and no, I didn’t even want to think about what that tacky shit was. Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollar at work.
I’d been cramping like fuck since I’d arrived and it was only getting worse. And because I’d been arrested, everything I needed had been bagged from my pockets—pain relief, muscle relaxants, herbal remedies, the lot. Stuff I was never, ever without. And no one was listening. No one wanted to even walk me to the fucking bathroom—hell, the rubbish tin in the corner was looking more promising by the minute. What was wrong with these people? I’d been guaranteed a phone call, but that hadn’t materialised yet either. To hell with a lawyer, that sucker would be to my damn doctor. I was looking through a veil of red fury and someone was about to get an earful.
The baby-faced constable staring me down was the first guy to even talk to me since I’d been left to twiddle my increasingly pissed-off thumbs. He wanted my statement, fair enough, but if he didn’t get his head out of his arse and start listening, we were both gonna regret it. The man’s pert little mouth set in a grim line at odds with his soft features, and if he was a day over twenty, I’d eat my damn hat.
An ominous rumble accompanied by a vicious stab of pain had me clutching my stomach. “Just look, please.” I wasn’t past begging at this point.
His gaze dropped to my hand and his jaw tensed. “I’ll check your wallet as soon as you’ve finished your statement,” he said painfully slowly as if I was stupid. “And I’ll ring your doctor to confirm then, as well.”
“Just get me a phone…”
“You’re not the only—”
Son of a bitch. “Look, kid. That wallet, or my doctor, has the answer to every one of your questions… argh… damn….” I paused as another wave of pain bent me double. I sucked in a couple of deep breaths and blew them out slowly, feeling the sweat bead on my forehead. Now the kid did look concerned. About fucking time.
I blinked slowly then continued, “If you would just ask the nice detective who arrested me. He said I needed to come here and explain, so I could tick your bloody boxes, and then I’d be free to go. But more importantly—” I breathed through another griping pain. “—right now, getting that wallet will save your arse from having to clean up the mess I’m two seconds away from making in your grubby little interview room because you didn’t give me access to a bathroom. Not to mention the hours of paperwork involved explaining why you ignored a valid medical claim and inflicted emotional trauma on an innocent man.” Was that even a thing? Who knew? But it sounded fucking awesome.
The kid’s eyes popped. Mission accomplished.
“Oh yeah. And Health and Safety are gonna be crawling all over your arse like flies on sugar. So check the damn wallet and get me to a bloody bathroom before you regret it.” I got unsteadily to my feet and began undoing my fly just to hammer my point home. The young constable’s eyes widened in horror.
“Stop. You can’t do that….” He scrambled to his feet.
“You get that I have no choice here? And they’re the only clothes I’ve got,” I enlightened him, leaning on the table as another cramp hit. Jesus Christ, I was seconds away from humiliating myself. “I’m not gonna get them dirty. Now pass me that fucking rubbish bin….”
His gaze flicked to the camera in the corner of the room and he licked his lips. “Fuck. Okay, okay…,” he flustered. “I’ll take you. I have to come in with you, though.”
A tide of pain threatened to envelop my head. “I couldn’t give a rat’s arse,” I snapped. “Though you might want to grab that Vicks you guys are so fond of. Keep me waiting this long and there are gonna be consequences, none of them pleasant. Now move, please.”
FORTY MINUTES later and I was standing at the main desk in the somewhat busy station lobby returning my “I can’t wait” Crohn’s and colitis NZ urgent toilet card back into my wallet and fending off the millionth apology from the senior sergeant over my inconvenience, though he too mentioned the infamous list, and the fact that the detective was only doing his job. I decided this fucking list needed to be discussed at our next protest organisers committee meeting. Still, I’d accepted the apologies with a gracious poise I didn’t actually feel—none of it was this guy’s fault, after all. I might be a sarcastic arsehole, but I tended to save it for those who deserved it. Following the restroom break and some self-medication, my gut might have been temporarily appeased but I was damn near collapsing with exhaustion. It had been a fucked-up day, and obliterating a cubicle in the men’s toilet for the foreseeable future didn’t bode well for the rest of my weekend. My mind was already manning the battle stations.
Speaking of which, Caleb watched at a distance looking somewhat remorseful. I was tempted to flip him off but decided I’d spent enough time in a police station for one day. It was unfair, I knew, but I just wish the guy had taken things at face value and given me the benefit of the doubt. I could’ve been home recovering on my couch an hour ago. There was always a price to be paid for these types of days—the protest march had been enough of a challenge without a fucking arrest on top. My gut was a ticking time bomb, and after today, there was no way it was just gonna lie down peacefully and forget about things.
Not to mention I’d been humiliated enough to send me packing to my bed for a week with the curtains drawn. The station bustle and noise had covered most of the embarrassingly detailed apologies, in particular one furious family of an arrested teen kicking up a stink about wanting to see their son “right the hell now.” You could smell the alcohol fumes a mile off of them, and holy crap, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
When I’d gotten my phone back, fifty million texts littered the inbox, from protest committee members to friends who’d seen the footage of my arrest on social media, all wanting to know what the hell happened. Not to mention my family, who’d been blowing up my phone for over an hour, wanting to come to my aid, which was the absolute last thing I needed. If I thought I was embarrassed now, watching my family systematically pull apart the police hierarchy with their indignant outrage would have led to a whole new level of mortification.
With everything accounted for in my possessions, I was hellbent on the front door, only to freeze at the cool touch of a hand on my arm. The hackles on my neck rose instantly. I’d know that citrus tang anywhere.
“Unless you’re going to arrest me… again… detective, I suggest you remove that.” I eyeballed Caleb’s hand, his very… large, smooth hand. I know, I know. Even dickheads can be hot… apparently.
He jerked back as if he’d been burned. “Sorry. I just wanted to say… well, sorry… I guess. I got called to another interview and things took longer than I intended. We’re a bit undermanned… what with the protest march. I… fuck. I forgot till it was too late about… I didn’t mean for you….”
His cheeks pinked adorably. No. No, they did not. There was nothing adorable about the man whatsoever.
Behind me tempers were heating up with the teen’s family, and after a concerned glance, Caleb pulled me to the side, out of the way.
He continued. “Anyway, I’m sorry.”
I blinked slowly. “So you’ve said.”
His expression hardened. “Look, I wasn’t doing it to be a dick. It was procedure for the day. We were required to transfer all troublema….”
I arched a brow.
He cleared his throat. “All people of interest to the station. But yeah….” He winced. “I could’ve been less of an arsehole about it.”
The angry wall I’d built shuddered before I could stop it and I heard the clattering of bricks on the floor. Goddammit. Who knew I was such a sucker for an apology?
“What was that?” I turned my ear to him. “I’m sure I misheard.”
He rolled his eyes. “I said, I could’ve been less of an arsehole. At least passed on the information about your card sooner. You had to stay to be interviewed but you didn’t have to wait to use the bathroom.”
“Whatever.” I cut him off. I didn’t want any more apologies, or any reminder of how embarrassing the whole fucked-up experience had been. “So, are we done now?”
He never got to answer as all hell broke loose behind us. Two family members grabbed at the poor constable tasked with calming them down, and he hit the floor cupping a bloodied nose. Caleb put himself between me and the ruckus, which did funny things to my stomach, and then directed another constable to hit the desk alarm. Bodies burst from the back of the station, and the whole thing was over in seconds as instigators were handcuffed, and the family dispersed under threat of arrest. They left, muttering drunken obscenities.
With calm restored, Caleb stepped away and faced me again. “Sorry, you said something?”
I had? I had. Oh, right. “I said, are we done now?” But in the face of Caleb’s protective behaviour, the words sounded petulant, and I felt like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.
“I….” He hesitated, looking like he wanted to say something more but didn’t. In the end he simply nodded. “Yeah, we’re done.”
Which left me vaguely… disappointed. Stupid. I’d got what I wanted, right? Now I could go home and forget this fucked-up day ever happened.
I drew breath. “Good, because I’d like to get home.” I stared out the door, shaking my head. “Though I’m not sure how the fuck I’m gonna do that, seeing as how my car is still parked downtown.” I side-eyed him meaningfully.
He looked almost sheepish. “Ah yeah, sorry about that. I’d offer, but we’re….”
“A bit short-staffed,” we both said at the same time.
“Uber?” Caleb suggested, eyes intense above that fucking beauty spot.
I glared and said nothing, my gaze catching that of the desk sergeant, who was watching us with interest and more than a little amusement. Super.
Caleb looked a little… rattled, to be honest, and I almost felt sorry for him… almost. Then his teeth caught that juicy bottom lip, and I was immediately transfixed when I should have just legged it out of there while I had the chance. I could fuel a lot of fantasies with those lips and… oh my God, I was sporting a semi. Unbelievable, not to mention fucking inconvenient.
A recent change in my medication regime meant I was temporarily lucky to manage a slight chub, outside of an extended and very determined dialogue with my hand, so it was all I could do not to unzip and verify the data. My body would adjust in a few weeks¾it always did… so far. I covered the traitorous appendage with my jacket instead, and if Caleb noticed, he didn’t show it. That at least removed the temptation for me to palm it and shout hallelujah.
My nether regions had been a minefield of trivial but irritating issues for a month or so as my Crohn’s had niggled away in one form or another, putting paid to even entertaining thoughts of sexy times. Nothing major, just enough to send my libido on a vacation till things settled, so much so that I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d got a random semi in the full light of day.
The last couple of weeks had seen things returning to a little more of what passed as my normal, thank God, but rather than being relieved to find I still had the required skillset, I found it vaguely unnerving. Being reacquainted with desire and arousal in the presence of a man who clearly pushed all my buttons only served to underscore the pathetic state of my sex life. Absent libido at least meant no decisions to make, no risks, no rejection, and no mind-numbing, vacant-hole-in-my-bed loneliness, although the latter, with or without sex, was increasingly screwing with my head. Not desiring was a much easier option all round.
At thirty, there were an appallingly large number of years ahead of me to navigate without a soul mate, and even thinking about it spun me into a black hole. Wanting the sexy man in front of me was a complication I didn’t need, a nest of vipers even on a good day. Getting laid to take the edge off wasn’t really an option for me most of the time either. I wasn’t really that guy even without the Crohn’s. And as for spontaneous sex? Get out of here. I mean, holy fuck, any sex at all could be dodgy some weeks.
Having Crohn’s added a whole extra level of physical and emotional complication that made casual sex anything but, let alone finding a boyfriend prepared to accept the impact on a relationship. Working around my laundry list of necessities in life could be daunting, even for me.
Spontaneity? What the fuck was that? Something a young Drake vaguely remembered from preteen years. Nowadays, I was lucky if I didn’t need to plan a damn outing to the supermarket. And no, that’s not a joke. If it doesn’t have a good public toilet handy, I don’t go. Game over. And that pretty much applied to every other event in my life—work, social, whatever.
Walks, day trips to the beach, even shopping trips to town have pre-scheduled restroom opportunities. And that’s not even starting on the diet restrictions—restaurant menus, what a nightmare—sore joints, painful eyes, weight loss, and a fucking partridge in a pear tree. And then there was the mind-numbing pain. Hours, days, sometimes weeks couch-bound, with cramping and the kind of agony only an ulcerated, bleeding, and totally fucked-up digestive tract can offer. Mouth to arse and everything in between.
So, yeah, Drake Park wasn’t an easy or a good bet, not in anyone’s books. I knew that.
Caleb eyed me warily, clearly wondering why I hadn’t left him in my dust already. Join the club. I don’t know why, but I wanted to hear whatever it was he seemed so conflicted about, and so I waited him out. I should have known better.
“So, I was wondering—” His gaze fixed almost nervously on mine.
Oh, fuck no. My throat tightened. This I hadn’t expected. Surely, he wasn’t….
“—if maybe you’d like to get a coffee… sometime… if you want, that is?”
Yes. What? No. I nearly choked on my tongue. Was he joking? “Are you joking?” He got ten for audacity if nothing else.
“No, I wasn’t, actually. I mean, you are gay, right? Or have I totally screwed this up?” He threw me a wide, bright smile, hazel eyes running over my face as if he sincerely liked what he saw. In my current affection-starved state, I was tempted… and flattered… and did I mention tempted? But… ugh. I mentally slapped myself sideways so I didn’t fall to my knees and offer to have his children right then and there. Okay, that was an exaggeration… probably. Jesus Christ, I needed to get my head on. Actually I needed to get laid but, yeah, about that, see above already.
I narrowed my gaze. “No to the coffee, and yes to the gay. But I’m not in the market for a date with anyone, let alone someone who just arrested me, and was then responsible for my near humiliation. Are we clear?” I spun to leave.
“So, does that mean you already have a boyfriend?”
I stopped in my tracks. The man was either epically determined or seriously socially handicapped. My money was on the latter. I turned slowly to face him.
“No, I don’t. Not that it’s any of your business. I’m just not currently dating. And now I have to go. Have a nice life, detective.”
This time I turned and kept going. It really was best all round.