Chapter 10

Tom finished the game with his wallet lighter than when he started. Poker demanded skill and deception. His time as an undercover cop had made him close to an expert in both. He refused to let ego guide him and played at a level he knew the kids would be comfortable with. He lost a few and won a few. A couple of times his concentration was severely tested. One was when Judy rested her hands on his shoulders. The light scent of her perfume washed over him. His mouth watered with the remembered taste of her. With her standing so close and constantly reminding him of what he wanted, he understandably lost that hand.

The surrounding gambling fiends noticed his distraction and begged Judy to stick around. To his relief she walked off with Trish. Poker was the guys' game. The girls hung together, listening to music and talking. Once or twice, his gaze strayed in Judy's direction. Every time, she caught his stare. Her smile made him catch his breath. He missed her real smiles for him and hoped that she wasn't faking because of the case.

Around one, Owen glanced at his watch. "I don't know about you guys, but I need to call it a night."

"It's no problem." Tom swallowed a yawn. "But I want a chance to break even."

"Dude, you're in." Owen assured him. "You played a good game tonight. I'll let you know the next time we get together."

"I'll be ready."

Dirk, a college kid from state university, said, "You had a big wad. Where did you get all that dough?"

Tom grinned. "I have a very generous grandma. Don't worry. There's more where that came from."

Dirk laughed, but the humor didn't reach his eyes. "It must be nice. Is that your Mustang out there?"

Tom nodded.

"Another gift from Grandma?"

"What can I say? I'm her only grandkid." Tom returned the kid's stare. Dirk had a weird air about him. Tom knew he'd better watch his back and Judy's too. "I promised Judy a ride home. I'll see you guys later."

"Some of us are watching the Cowboys play tomorrow night. Come over," Owen said. "Maybe you can start to break even then."

"Sure." Tom shrugged. He grabbed his jacket and went after Judy. She was already waiting for him near the door. Trish gave him the thumbs up as he took Judy's hand.

"She is dead serious about us hooking up," Judy said after they settled inside his car. "It's crazy."

"Maybe she sees something...something right between us." He eased the Mustang into traffic. "I've been thinking about what happened in her dad's study."

She shifted away from him, leaning against the door. "You shouldn't. We have to focus on the case. What did you learn from the poker game? Who was that guy with blonde hair?"

"His name is Dirk Artman. He's a junior at State," he said. "We can talk about that later. Pretending something is not happening between us is stupid. You trembled in my arms just like you did that night. You want me, Jude, just as much as I want you."

"I can't believe you're doing this. You promised to let it go. I never thought you'd go back on your word."

"I didn't know I'd feel this way," he confessed.

"What way? Lust? It's just sex, Hanson. That's all it is."

"That's a lie and you know it." He braked hard at a stop sign and twisted around to look at her. "What are you so afraid of? We already know that going back to the way we were before is impossible."

The car behind them blinked its lights. When Tom didn't move, a horn started blaring.

"You'd better keep going," she said.

He rolled down the window and beckoned for the other driver to go around them. After the car passed, Tom pulled onto a residential area and parked in front of a two-story frame house with a white picket fence. He saw her stiffen when she looked at the home with the two-car garage.

Was that what she wanted? The ideal of American happiness? He always envisioned settling down one day. The face of the future Mrs. Tom Hanson was never clear. Could Judith Marie Hoffs be "the one"?

"Tom, it's almost two in the morning. Take me home."

"I willó"

"No, I want to go now. Fuller will expect a briefing in the morning and an accounting of the money you lost. Showing up bleary-eyed and exhausted won't impress him."

"Fuller is the last thing on my mind right now." He gently brushed a stray curl from her cheek. When she didn't move, he let his fingers trail the curve of her jaw. As they neared her mouth, she grabbed his hand.

"We can't do this," she whispered. "Just because it feels good doesn't make it right."

"I can't make this feeling go away. I've tried for weeks, but every morning I wake up thinking about you, and that's after a night of dreaming of you."

"And how does that make Amy feel?"

The mention of his official girlfriend was a like a sucker punch. He slumped against his seat. "Amy doesn't know."

"She knows," Judy said with full confidence. "She may not know that it's me, but she knows you're distracted by something else...someone else. And it's not fair. She deserves better and so does Doug."

He thought of how excited Doug was lately. His best friend practically glowed whenever Judy walked into the room. What kind of jerk was Tom to make a play for his partner's girl? But dammit, he wanted her!

"They trust us, Tom, and we don't deserve them."

"I've never done anything like this before," he said.

"I know. Me either." She brushed his bangs from his forehead. "It's horrible."

He started the car and pulled from the curb. The silence of the neighborhood echoed around them. What were the residents doing while they worked hard to put their teenager kids behind bars? Did anyone have any idea how screwed up the world was? Here, they were, attempting to penalize others for failing the law when they were guilty of far worse: a betrayal of those closest to them.

"This is it," he said, parking in front of her apartment building. "Can I walk you in?"

"That's not a good idea." She reached for the door handle.


He quickly exited the car and vaulted to the passenger side. He opened her door and helped her out. "We have to come clean with Fuller about Trish's matchmaking," he said.

"I'll put it in my report."

"Even the kiss in the study?"

Panic streaked across her face. "Are you?"

"Is it necessary?"

"We've already omitted enough. You're right," she said. "It's time to come clean."