Home > Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)(9)

Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)(9)
Author: Lynsay Sands

“But he didn’t,” Mac pointed out with a shrug. “I guess that leaves you.”

“The hell it does,” she exclaimed with dismay. “I’m not a police officer anymore.”

“But you used to be, and you did agree to help out tonight,” he pointed out. “Besides, there is no one else.” Arching an eyebrow, he added, “Surely you wouldn’t just leave a poor defenseless citizen to be killed? I mean, how would that look?”

CJ opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, and then narrowed her eyes briefly on the man. She recognized manipulation when she saw it, and Mac wasn’t even trying to be subtle about it. She got the feeling he wasn’t really worried about an attack, or at all sorry Simpson was gone. She was getting the distinct impression that, for some reason, he just wanted to keep her close, and making her responsible for his well-being would definitely do that. She could hardly leave him here alone with Mrs. Dupree as his only protection. Someone had set his house on fire. If they’d stuck around the scene as arsonists tended to do, they’d know he still lived and might try to finish the job when he left here. On the other hand, if he didn’t leave the police station, he’d probably be safe enough, she thought. The trick was keeping him from leaving.

“You’re absolutely right,” she said suddenly. “You are the victim of a violent crime, and despite the fact that I’m not a police officer, I used to be, and your safety should be my main priority. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Well, it is late and no doubt you have had a long day,” he said sympathetically. “I am sure you simply were not thinking clearly.”

CJ’s jaw clenched at the words, her annoyance ratcheting up another notch even as she agreed. “Yes. Still, that’s no excuse for losing track of my priorities.” Spinning on her heel, she led the way out of the narrow hall. With Mac following, she turned left, and pushed her way through the large metal door with the little window in it as she added, “I mean, what if I abandoned you here unprotected and went off to go over the notes of the case I’m actually on? And what if something happened after I’d left you alone? Dear God, the guilt I’d feel at leaving a poor defenseless citizen to be reattacked by his attacker.”

“Well . . .” She could hear the frown in his voice even before he assured her, “I am not completely defenseless.”

“Of course you are,” she argued, leading him along the row of cells in this room. There were eight altogether. Four on each side. The first four actually had occupants in them. By her guess, the inhabitants of the first cells on either side of the aisle were both sleeping off an overindulgence in alcohol. One looked like a homeless man, the other was dressed in a slightly rumpled suit, but they were both snoring up a storm on their cots, and smelled like a dive bar’s floor.

The next two cells both held young men in jeans and T-shirts. Judging by the bruises on their faces and the way they were scowling across the aisle at each other, CJ would guess they’d been brought in for brawling. Moving past the occupied cells, CJ continued, “You’re an unarmed civilian with no self-defense training, weak and unskilled.” She clucked her tongue sadly. “Helpless as a baby, really.”

Pausing at the open door of the first empty cell, she turned back to see that her words had made his mouth turn down with displeasure. Judging by the way he scowled, the pitying look she now gave him did not improve his mood. He definitely didn’t care for the idea of her seeing him as weak and feeling sorry for him, she decided when he straightened abruptly, and assured her, “I am not helpless as a baby.”

“Of course not,” she agreed easily, turning to lead the way into the cell. “But as a civilian . . .” Pausing, she turned sideways to watch him walk past her and then took several steps back toward the cell door as she added, “You’re like a turtle on its back. All soft flabby skin, just waiting to be sliced and diced.”

“Flabby!” he squawked. “I am not flabby. In fact, it’s impossible for me to be flabby. I’m all sinewy muscle and—” Halting as he reached the cot attached to the wall several feet in front of her, he whirled back and suddenly yanked up his T-shirt almost all the way to his neck, saying, “Look!” He smacked the hard stomach he’d revealed and growled, “I am not soft and flabby.”

CJ was looking, and stared hard at what was revealed. She’d heard of the hallowed six-pack. Mac didn’t have that. It looked more like an eight-pack to her. Good Lord! The man could have been mistaken for a marble statue. Her eyes slid over his pale, muscled skin and she actually had to fight the urge to fan herself as she was hit by what she could only think was a premature hot flash. Instead of fanning herself with her hand, she used the cell door, swinging it closed firmly enough to create a slight breeze that fanned over her even as the metal door clanged shut.

Mac blinked in surprise at her through the bars now between them, and then his gaze moved down to the square metal panel holding the lock to the cell she’d led him into while distracting him with her words. Raising wide eyes back to her face, he asked with amazement, “What are you doing?”

“Leaving you in protective custody where you’ll be safe,” she said easily, giving the cell door a tug to be sure the lock was engaged. “This is the safest place for you until Captain Dupree can arrange someone to guard you. Maybe even until he finds out who tried to turn you into a shish kebab with that fire. Please enjoy your stay.”

Turning then, CJ headed back along the cells, a smile sliding over her lips as she ignored his shouts for her to return and let him out.

“Hey! Come back here! Let me out!” Mac shouted, his gaze dropping to CJ’s behind as he watched her walk away. Realizing what he was doing, he jerked his eyes up to her shoulders instead. It was his staring at her ass as he’d followed her inside that had landed him in the cell. He’d been so busy ogling her legs and butt and even her cowboy boots that he hadn’t paid attention to where she was leading him until she’d distracted him with that flabby turtle business and then had closed the cell door between them. Now he was stuck in the cell. At least temporarily. The moment anyone entered, and surely someone would enter eventually, he would take control of them and make them let him out. As long as it wasn’t CJ who returned, of course. Her, he couldn’t control.

“Women, eh?”

Mac glanced to the man in the cell next to his and quickly read his mind. He’d been pulled in for drunk and disorderly after getting in a scrap at a bar with the man in the cell across from him. Both men were pickled, which was a shame. He might have been able to feed off the one in the next cell if he weren’t. A little mind control on him and the man across the way, draw his neighbor’s hand through the bars, and he could have fed from his wrist. However, alcohol made the man’s blood pretty useless to him. It would just leave him more depleted. He’d have to wait for one of the officers to return and check on him, he supposed, and settled on the hard bench in his cell with a sigh.

CJ was still smiling at what she’d done as she strode up the hall toward the bullpen. In fact, it wasn’t until she was crossing the bullpen itself that her smile began to fade and her footsteps to slow as guilt started to worm its way up through her.

Mac Argeneau had endured a hellish day. He’d nearly died in a fire, had lost everything he possessed, and now she had just rounded out his evening by locking him up in a jail cell.

Poor bastard, she thought guiltily. How cold was that?

Sighing, CJ shifted on her feet, her gaze moving longingly to the door to the reception area and the exit beyond. She wished she could just leave, go back to the bed-and-breakfast, go to sleep, and forget the man and his troubles altogether. But she just didn’t have it in her. CJ’s conscience wouldn’t let her leave him in that cell. But once she let him out, she’d have to keep him safe, and she didn’t want to hang out here either. Maybe she could take him back to the bed-and-breakfast with her? She was pretty sure he’d end up there anyway. The town only had one hotel and it was presently closed for renovations. That was how she’d ended up at the bed-and-breakfast. So, whoever ended up guarding him would either have to take him to their home, or a room would have to be booked for him at Mrs. Vesper’s bed-and-breakfast. She might as well escort him there, get him a room, and sit around in the common area to be sure no one came in and tried to finish the job they’d started with the fire. At least until one of Captain Dupree’s officers got free and could come take over the job.

Hopefully, that wouldn’t take long, CJ thought grimly, and turned, intending to go back and release the annoying man from the cell she’d put him in. But she paused when Mrs. Dupree appeared in the door to the captain’s office and announced imperiously, “My husband, Captain Dupree, wants to talk to you.”

The little woman made the announcement as if CJ had to “jump to” and take the phone. She nearly disabused the woman of that idea and refused to speak to the man, but then had second thoughts as it occurred to her that she could dump Mac in his lap if she spoke to him.

Nodding abruptly, CJ changed direction and strode to the door of the captain’s office, vaguely amused at the way Mrs. Dupree backed warily out of the way to let her enter.

“Where is Mr. Argeneau?” Mrs. Dupree asked as CJ crossed to the desk to pick up the phone receiver.

“I put him in one of the cells,” CJ answered, knowing it would upset the woman and rather enjoying the idea.

“You what?” Mrs. Dupree gasped with horror.

CJ ignored her and picked up the phone. The moment she said, “Captain,” into the receiver, Mrs. Dupree rushed from the room, muttering under her breath about “uppity SIU people.”

“You put the fire victim in a cell?” Captain Dupree snapped in response.

“Well, Simpson didn’t stick around to see to his safety and it seemed to me there was nowhere safer for the man to be than in a jail cell. I consider it protective custody,” CJ said mildly, settling herself on the corner of the captain’s desk and grinning as she watched Mrs. Dupree bustle through the bullpen. She suspected the woman didn’t often move that quickly.

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