The Badge and the Bunny

an excerpt

Chapter One

Speakers fizzled and sparked. There was a harsh grating noise. "Welcome to New Hope, Illinois." The bus driver's voice sounded like a cross between Elvis Presley and a chainsaw. Roscoe had been hanging on her every word since Baltimore. "For those of you continuing on, you've got fifteen minutes to grab some chow. Everyone else? Make sure you don't forget your gear and it's been a pleasure having you."

Roscoe was the only one who got off. Then again it was six in the morning and most of the passengers were sticking around until Chicago. He pulled his hood up over his ears and looked around for his cousin Peter. Unfortunately, the street was relation free, but that didn't make it any less adorable. Really. Brightly colored farmhouses competed with lace fronted Victorians. In summer the trees would be lush and green, but for now their leaves had been replaced with yard after yard of twinkling lights. A handful of shops stood out from the residential buildings, huddling together on the far side of Main Street. He took a picture and sent it to his little brother, not that Simon would be able to see it until he got to the computer lab at school. If he squinted, he could make out a used bookstore, the outdoor goods' store, and a brightly lit coffee shop with rack after rack of muffins in the window.

Bingo. Roscoe could grab a coffee and warm up while he called Peter. He hoisted his powder blue duffel bag over one shoulder and stretched out his long legs. Each breath created a tiny frost cloud in front of him. Every step destroyed it. Snow and ice crunched under his hand-me-down boots. The clothes that had seemed impossibly warm when he left home were overpowered by the Midwest cold. His teeth clattered together. His ears were going to fall off. A big SUV pulled into an empty spot between Roscoe and his destination. The driver's side door creaked open. A booted foot poked out. The vehicle shifted under the occupant's weight. A leg emerged and then the driver's body. He stood up, and up, and up. Roscoe's mouth went dry. It had to be a trick of the light.

His cousin would have mentioned if he lived in a town populated by giants. It wasn't just the man's height--he had to be over six-and-a-half-feet tall--it was the breadth of his shoulders and muscles like boulders under his button-down shirt. His jaw was square. His silver buzz cut gleamed in the darkness. There were fine lines around his eyes, but he didn't look old.

If anything, he looked ageless.

A roughhewn monolith carved by nature from the native rock. His gaze flicked over Roscoe, assessing him in a moment. His steel blue eyes were only a few shades darker than his hair. Lesser men would have faltered under the weight of his attention, but Roscoe had faced down dragons.

Okay, Roscoe had blown a werewolf in a dragon costume the previous Halloween. That had to count for something.

Plus, he was freezing his balls off. He gave the giant a nod before shouldering past him into the lemon-yellow coffee shop. The heat hit him like a wall followed quickly by the scent of warm goodies.

Even early in the morning the little coffee shop--bakery, Roscoe corrected himself as he watched a pan of cinnamon rolls being pulled out of the oven--was full of men and women in suits getting ready for the commute to work as well as high school kids getting their first hit of java before morning classes. A matched pair of bouncy haired blondes had staked out a table by the door. Electric colored yoga bags were hanging off the back of their chairs, and he made a note to ask them where they practiced.

If he ended up sticking around, teaching yoga was always a good way to pull in extra cash. He stuck his hands in his pockets and stepped into line behind a teenager in a pair of black track pants. Everything up on the menu board looked so damn good. His prepacked snacks had run out the day before and he hadn't wanted to spend his hard-earned pennies on bus stop French fries. He rummaged through the pockets of his winter coat and he came up with enough for a cinnamon bun. One cinnamon bun.

He was charging Arthur double for this job. How long had it been since he'd had a decent place to sleep and a good meal? Triple. And he was going to find that yoga studio.

The line moved slowly. A few more steps forward and it stopped altogether so the woman behind the counter could fill an oversized order. Awareness pricked the back of his neck. He turned and blinked.

The giant was even more imposing close up under the bakery lights. Roscoe shifted uneasily on the balls of his feet, trying to look anywhere but at those blue eyes, plush lips, and muscles. Peter might have found his Prince Charming in New Hope, but it was still a small town in the Midwest. No point in scaring the natives. Roscoe tugged at the collar of his jacket, but that didn't stop the sweat from pooling at the base of his spine. The clothes that had seemed too light outside on the street were suddenly oppressive and stifling.

He dropped his bag to the ground and put one foot on the strap, a trick he'd learned two years earlier in a bus station outside Sacramento. His jacket unzipped quickly. He wriggled to get the first sleeve started, but the second peeled off easily enough leaving him in the clothes he'd thrown on almost twenty-four hours earlier... a mint green cardigan with sunflower buttons, a pink V-neck T-shirt half a shade lighter than his duffel, and shiny blue yoga leggings. His boots had been passed down between half a dozen other relatives before they'd ended up in Roscoe's Christmas stocking. He was pretty sure his cousin Tina had chosen the floral pattern originally. The Day-Glo purple laces were of unknown origin.

No wonder the big man was staring. His lips pressed together in a thin line. Blood rushed upward staining the skin on his neck a deep red.

Sassafras. Klaxons blared inside Roscoe's head as instinct took over. Danger. Danger. Predator. Breath left his lungs and he froze like one of his wild cousins face to face with a bear. Where the hell was Peter? Or, better, Peter's six-foot-four hunk of a husband who claimed to know his way around a shotgun. Roscoe had definite opinions about hunting forest animals, but he could still appreciate a good defensive weapon. The intruder took half a step forward. He was close enough to scent over the cinnamon rolls now. Lime and bergamot. Roscoe's mouth fell open as he struggled to take it all in. Lime, bergamot, and something undeniably masculine that had him wanting to bury his face in the other man's skin and not come out until Christmas.

Another half step forward. "What do you want?"

"World peace," Roscoe said automatically. "World peace, a pair of jeans that doesn't make my ass look fat, and free condoms on every street corner."

"I'm pretty sure none of that's available here." He nodded toward the counter. "It's your turn to order."

"Right." Roscoe recounted the collection of coins in his hand. It hadn't doubled while he was taking off his jacket. His stomach rumbled. His gaze drifted back over to the racks of baked goods. He could practically taste the cinnamon swirled with brown sugar and nuts, but if he was going to be hanging out for a while then he needed to make his money stretch. He pasted on a smile and stepped up to the wide wooden counter. "I'll take a cup of coffee."

"Make that two," the stranger said. "And we'll take a pair of cinnamon rolls, Angelica. You got any of those lemon things left?"

"The lemon custard brioche?" The woman working the cash register had to be seventy if she was a day, but the mountain of a man made her blush like a schoolgirl. "I made a special batch just for you."

"Thank you, darling." There was just the hint of a drawl to his voice, drawing the last word out until it was practically its own paragraph. Damn. What would it take to have him turn those vowel sounds in Roscoe's direction?

He'd learn to bake.

Or not. "I can pay for my own breakfast."

"Of course you can." The man had the good manners not to look down at the coins clutched in Roscoe's hand. "Just consider me the town welcome wagon."

"And if I say no?"

"Then I'll have to eat the cinnamon rolls myself." White teeth flashed against tanned skin. "You're doing me a favor really--saving me from all those calories."

"Uh huh." If the man had a dollop of fat on his body, then it was well hidden behind ten tons of swagger. Roscoe's teeth cut into his bottom lip. His entire body clenched. "I'm sure you'll be fine," he said. "I'll take that coffee."

Angelica huffed. He couldn't hear what she was muttering under her breath, but he imagined it had something to do with ungrateful out-of-towners. Her lips twisted into a sneer as she completed the transaction, counting his three quarters, six dimes, and ten pennies twice before handing over a paper cup. Thanks.


Roscoe took the cup down to the end of the counter and inspected the three giant carafes. Unleaded. Leaded. Diesel. He bit back a grin. The bakery's service might be subpar, but it had a fully functioning sense of irony. He poured himself a cup of diesel before adding a healthy dollop of heavy cream and enough sugar to make a hummingbird drunk. He was stirring the concoction together when a brown paper bag full of goodies landed on the counter beside him. "Are you always this insistent?"

"People don't usually give me the opportunity."

"Hard to imagine." He sipped his coffee carefully then added another heaping spoon of sugar. "It must be your sunny personality."

"Like I said, I'm the welcome wagon. I like to introduce myself to all the newcomers in town."

"And you know I'm new in town because?"

"It's my business." A hand the size of a ham stretched out between them. "Chief Thisbane, New Hope Police."

Oh, sassafras.