Blurb: Fleeing a cheating fiancé, Scarlet breaks down on the Fourth of July in a sultry Southern town where the Sheriff is even hotter than the firecrackers. With no car and no money, she decides to tease the Sheriff into helping her escape. Unfortunately, the Sheriff gains the upper hand when her vengeful ex issues false warrants for her arrest. How can she convince the Sheriff to ignore those warrants? She has ideas, none of them of the innocent variety…
The Sheriff knows he needs to set a good example for the kids in his hometown. Scarlet, the sexy scofflaw with a charming ability to skirt the truth, is not a woman with whom one can set a good example. But some temptations are just too enticing for a hot-blooded man to resist…and Scarlet is at the top of that list.
Tory Stanton didn’t intend to flash the guy.
But he was seriously hot (as in cute) and she was seriously hot (as in the air-conditioner in her chugging Honda Civic had died long before encountering the triple digit temperature steaming the July day in downtown Lovestruck, Tennessee).
So call it fate, or call it foolishness, she didn’t care. She simply had to cool off.
Keeping her foot firmly atop the brake, though traffic was barely moving, she glanced at the oncoming trucker. He was nodding his head as if listening to music, not paying any attention to her.
She seized her moment, quickly lifting her pale pink t-shirt up to her neck, hoping the movement itself would create at least the illusion of a cooling breeze. Uh-oh. Big mistake. The white pickup veered suddenly, crossed the center line and, without the least hesitation, crashed into her Civic. Tory’s startled gaze collided with the goggling blue eyes of the pickup’s driver, and she knew immediately that he’d seen what she hadn’t intended him to see. Shit!
She dropped her shirt and grabbed the steering wheel as her car was propelled into the car behind her. She knew instantly that the oncoming trucker had caught her, not only because his bright blue eyes goggled out of his head, but because his white pickup crossed the center line and crashed into her Civic.
She dropped the shirt and grabbed the steering wheel as her car was pushed back into the car behind her, and from the grating sound of metal grinding and horns blaring, the chain reaction of crashing cars didn’t end there.
She rocked to a stop, cursing under her breath, and glared at the truck driver. Shit again! You’d think the guy had never seen a pair of 38C’s.
She threw the car in park, flung open the door and jumped out.
“What’s wrong with you?” she yelled at the ripped body swinging down the steps of the truck. “Can’t you drive a truck and ogle a girl at the same time?”
He shoved his fingers through his spiky blonde hair, his eyes confused.
“Surprised me for sure, girl. You all right?”
Aw, he was sweet. But not off the hook.
“No, I am not all right.” She pushed her own hair off her sweating forehead. “Haven’t you ever seen boobs before?”
“Not like yours.” His gaze bumped from her face to her chest, back and forth, as if the accident, or something, had shaken him up good.
A car door slammed behind her, and Tory turned to see a little old lady thumping up behind her, skinny stockinged legs clad in paddleboat sized white tennis shoes. Though the afternoon was hot and sunny, she carried a large black umbrella.
“What in tarnation do you think you’re doing, young man?” She pointed her umbrella at the trucker and shook it. “You can’t drive a truck five miles an hour on a straight road? You drunk?”
“Ah…ah.” He turned an agonized look in Tory’s direction. She almost smiled. Her hero. He didn’t want to give her away.
But her heart sank at the sight of a navy blue uniform approaching from up the road. A cop might demand the truth, and she couldn’t expect anyone to lie to the law for her. She sighed. Why couldn’t she ever get away with anything?
“Afternoon, folks.” The cop stopped in front of her, his large frame blocking the sun. At least she could be grateful for that, a bit of shade. Though he looked hot and annoyed, with a slight frown forming between his dark brows. Not that even a frown could detract from his yummy appearance — short, dark hair, a face straight out of a luxury watch ad, and sharp gray eyes that could ferret out a transgression before it had been committed. He glanced briefly at the tangled mess of stalled cars. “What happened here?” He looked right at Tory, as if she sported a ‘Guilty’ placard across her forehead.
She sighed, but she needn’t have worried about confessing. Everyone else was speaking.
“I was just—”
The cop held up a hand. “Who owns the white pickup?”
The blonde man nodded, a flush in his cheeks, his eyes wary.
“Who owns the Civic?”
Tory swallowed. She didn’t suppose there was any way to deny it. Besides, she needed the car, wreck or not.
“That would be me.” She thrust her chest out a bit. Might as well give it a try.
The cop nodded coolly, but not before taking a quick peek. “You two come with me.” He leaned over the old lady, patting her shoulder. “You okay, Mrs. Limon?”
She brandished her umbrella. “What do you think, Sheriff? Minding my own business — ”
“Don’t you worry about a thing,” he said, his deep voice mesmerizing enough to soothe a fire-breathing dragon, never mind a peevish old lady. “You just call your insurance agent and file a claim, okay? I’ll file an accident report and you can come in and sign it tomorrow.”
He straightened up, just in time, Tory noticed, to watch the approach of a slender woman dressed in a tight, pale blue sundress. Her stiletto heels clicked on the sidewalk and her high ponytail bobbed in time to the sway of her hips.
The Sheriff let his gaze wander down the newcomer’s body, and she smiled at him.
“Must be your Beemer, Chloe,” he said, nodding at the convertible behind the old lady’s.
“Thank goodness you’re here, Rand.” Chloe rested her hand on his arm, her little pink fingernails as delicate as seashells against the navy uniform. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Tory suddenly felt frumpish and unsexy with her wrinkled t-shirt clinging to her sweaty body, her faded jeans anything but cool in this heat, and her flip-flops childish. Which was a pointless way to feel as she wasn’t in the market for a man, and even if she were, she wouldn’t be in this town long enough to snag one.
“Same advice I gave Mrs. Limon, Chloe.” The Sheriff gently removed her hand from his arm. “Call your insurance agent. Come into the station tomorrow to sign the accident report.”
He shifted his gaze back to Tory. “You two need to go over to the station so we can handle the paperwork. It’s just down the road there.” He pointed out an unassuming brick building with flags hanging limply in the afternoon heat. “I’ll join you as soon as I call a tow truck and get this traffic moving again.” He reached for the cell phone on his belt.
Tory sighed. No point fighting the Sheriff. Might as well look on the bright side. Maybe they’d have air-conditioning in the station. Maybe she could be a guest of the town for long enough to score a free meal.
But when the Sheriff returned an hour later, neither of her hopes had been granted. Plus she’d had a chance to remember a few more problems facing her.
Not the least of which was the fact that the Sheriff nodded at the trucker, one Billy John, who’d introduced himself while they commiserated together. The Sheriff and Billy disappeared behind a closed door while she was left sitting in the stifling lobby, looking and feeling like a used tissue. Wilted, crumpled and not good for much.
Not much except for worrying, that is. She glanced at the reliable Timex she’d gotten to use in her art studio. Three pm. Only five hours since she’d left Nashville, Tennessee for parts unknown. And even though she didn’t know where she was going, she was sure she hadn’t gone far enough. Not if that low-down, conniving cheat decided to come after her. Not that she thought he would, now that he had a new Barbie doll to play with. But he was unpredictable.
She resisted the urge to kick the hard plastic seat beneath her. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself of the mantra drilled into her by her therapist. Control, Tory. Think before you jump, and you won’t find yourself embroiled in so many tangles. Yeah, good advice. Too bad she hadn’t remembered it before lifting her shirt in front of a too-observant trucker.
When the dispatcher at the front desk put down the phone and told her she could step into the Sheriff’s office, Tory was loaded for bear. And had remembered that a good offense was the best defense.
She sashayed into the office, smiling right into the eyes of Billy John. “You all done here, Billy?” She perched her butt on the arm of Billy’s chair, praying the furniture wouldn’t fall down beneath her. “I don’t know why he had to talk to you first.”
“Ah…” Billy cleared his throat, glancing nervously at the Sheriff.
“Please take a seat in the vacant chair, Ms…?” The Sheriff raised his eyebrows and Tory answered smoothly, grateful to move to the chair adjacent to Billy’s. “Victoria Scarlet.” No point identifying herself correctly for the nanosecond she planned to tarry in this town. She’d always wanted to be Ms. Scarlet ever since her middle-school days as a Clue aficionado.
“Ms. Scarlet, then.” The Sheriff managed to sound like he didn’t believe her for a second, but Tory could think of no reason why he should doubt her. “The registration in your car states that the car belongs to Lewis Forestiere, Jr.”
“That would be my…ah…ex-fiancé.” She waved her hand. “Of course, it’s my car. I bought and paid for it.”
“So it’s in his name because…” The Sheriff leaned forward, his gray eyes intent.
“How do I know? He insisted on it. One of those male things.” Now that she thought about it, she was furious over how stupid she’d been. She had paid for the damn car, turning down Lewis’s offer of a brand new Camry. Maybe she’d always known, deep in the recesses of her mind, that an escape would be necessary one day.
But now this guy was watching her with his cop’s eyes, as if he wondered whether he should string her up for Grand Theft Auto.
“I presume you have a license, Ms. Scarlet? I retrieved your purse for you.” He handed it over his desk.
“I keep my license in my car.” Her hands folded over her purse. He couldn’t search her, could he? Weren’t there court cases that had allowed heinous murderers to go free because they’d been unlawfully searched?
“I see.” The Sheriff favored her with one more comprehensive look. “Well then,” he said, “to answer your original question, Ms. Scarlet, I asked Mr. John in here first because I assumed, from the position of the vehicles, that he was at fault in the accident.”
Tory didn’t dare to look at Billy John.
“Now I understand,” the Sheriff continued, “that while stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of Main Street, you decided to…ah… flash Mr. John.” He nodded at the truck driver, then turned back to Tory. Despite the heat in the office, his eyes were cold. “What were you thinking?”
“Hmmm.” She sat back in her seat, stretching, then rolled her eyes to the ceiling, as if seeking divine assistance. Which she actually could use if she had to sit here and listen to this guy talk like she was at fault. Hadn’t he ever heard of innocent until proven guilty? No, he’d just assumed the worst about her. Fine! She’d use his own prejudices against him. Because she couldn’t have him investigating anything about her too carefully. Better he should think she was nothing more than a foolish flirt.
“Oh, yeah.” She leaned forward again and looked straight into the Sheriff’s gray eyes. “I was thinking about flashing him.”
Billy John laughed out loud.
The cop pressed his lips together tightly. “Amusing, Ms. Scarlet. But Lovestruck has a town ordinance prohibiting public indecency.”
“Aw, come on. I was just giving the guy a little show on a hot day. No big deal.” If he wanted to believe the worst about her, she had no trouble playing along. Someone had to teach him not to be so judgmental.
The Sheriff leaned forward, his broad shoulders dominating the room. “You caused a four-car accident.”
“Yeah, well, see, that’s exactly what it was. An accident.” Tory leaned over a little further. “Something that was not intended to happen. So you can’t blame me for that.”
“Actually, the city can and does assign blame in the event of an accident.”
“Jeez.” Could he be any more pompous? Her eyes were going to roll right out of her head at this rate. She turned in her seat to face the truck driver. “You planning to press charges?”
“Well, uh…” He twisted in his seat. “Somebody gotta pay for the damage to my truck. The boss ain’t gonna be too happy the way it looks right now.”
Tory felt a frown forming on her forehead. Okay, Billy John looked hot, but his talking was a problem. The same problem she had with this uptight cop. She shifted her gaze to him. The man had a Grade A body, tight and toned and big in all the right places. But his speech could teach dry to dust.
Sometimes a girl just couldn’t get a break.
Still, there was no doubt which man would be easier to negotiate with. She turned back to the trucker.
“Hey, Billy, maybe you and I can make a deal.”
“Ms. Scarlet.” The Sheriff’s tone could cut glass right about now. “I suggest you do not try to ply an illegal trade right here in front of an officer of the law. Have you no sense of decency?”
She glanced back at him, and winked, just to annoy him. “No, I don’t,” she said cheerfully. “Thought you would’ve realized that by now. Anyway, now that I think about it, this whole flashing thing is your fault.”
“You don’t say.” His jaw was clenched so tightly, it could also probably cut glass.
“I do.” She nodded. “Cuz you’re the Sheriff, right?”
Silence. Which she decided to take as permission to proceed. Because if he really didn’t want to be sitting here eyeing her body like it was an oasis in the desert, he could’ve written her up and thrown her out ten minutes ago.
She soldiered on. “So it’s your job to keep traffic moving. And if you’d done that, I would’ve blown through this one-horse town like a jackrabbit on speed.”
“On that piece of junk which is now broken down in Murphy’s Muck-it-Up?” The Sheriff raised his brows.
She glared right back at him. “You got some kind of fetish for logic?”
For the first time, his lips twitched. “It’s a failing of mine.”
“Well, my car would’ve rolled on through just fine, if Someone hadn’t crashed into it.” That was no lie. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in the good ole state of Tennessee, waiting for her ex-fiancé to catch up with her. Not that she really thought he’d chase after her. He’d shouted something about good riddance to bad rubbish as she’d peeled, okay rumbled, out of the driveway of their lakeside vacation home. But he’d also done a bit of shouting about the expensive diamond ring he’d given her. And a bit more about his father, who was some Grand Poobah high up in the State Police. Which had forced her to flee via back roads, just in case the Poobah decided to take up his son’s cause.
Men! She was fed up with the lot of them. She turned to the trucker. “You’re not off the hook, either.”
Billy glanced up. A look of wariness crept into his eyes, but he had the good sense to keep his mouth shut.
“Why’d you have to look so hot?” She pointed at his naked, bronzed chest. “You weren’t wearing a shirt, either. How is that any different from me not wearing one?”
“Baby, I’ll be happy to show you the difference once we’re outta here.” Billy winked at her and flashed a white-toothed grin. She had to smile back. He sure was cute. Dimples and all.
The Sheriff pushed away from his desk, his chair grating harshly on the wood floor. “Could we get back on track? I am trying to do a job here.”
“Good idea.” Tory propped her hands on the desk and leaned over to invade his personal space. “And let me tell you, just for the record, I flashed this guy for fun, not profit.”
“Has it been a lot of fun, so far?” The Sheriff’s eyes flickered and she realized he had a perfect view down the v-neck of her shirt. A view he couldn’t resist.
“Ahhhhh!” She couldn’t argue with him when…when her entire body was flushed and buzzing over the way he was looking at her.
The receptionist stuck her frowzy head in. “Sheriff Hart? You have a call from Chloe on Line 1.”
“Take a message, please, Mrs. Whitcomb.”
“Sheriff Hart?” Tory pounced on the distraction. “From Lovestruck, Tennessee?” She swallowed a giggle. “I bet that made a grand campaign slogan: Vote for me — The biggest heart in all of Lovestruck.”
Tory almost jumped in her seat. He could look quite stern when he wanted to. “Okay.” She held up a hand, as if to halt a forthcoming tirade. ”Maybe you don’t have the biggest heart in all of Lovestruck.” Lord, did he have a heart at all? Because she couldn’t hang around ’til next month waiting for some court date to arrive.
“My heart is not the biggest organ in my body,” he thundered. “But the organ that is, is growing larger with every idiotic word you say!”
“You’re turned on by idiots?” Had he actually admitted that?
“Turned on?” He raised his eyebrows. “I was referring to my spleen, Ms. Scarlet.”
Oh, God. Next to her, Billy John snickered, while Sheriff Hart stared at her in perfect innocence. Until a long moment of silence had passed, then he caught her gaze. “Gotcha,” he mouthed.
And that’s when she realized he had the most kissable lips she’d ever seen. Lips that could move just the slightest bit and make a woman think of a hot, sweaty body pressing her into tangled sheets. Make a woman think of accepting his kisses wherever he’d bestow them. Of accepting him, into her body, into her life. Those were some lips.
“Now, Ms. Scarlet,” he said softly. “If you’ve finished fooling around with my name, perhaps we could get back to the business at hand.”
He held her gaze, his mouth unsmiling, even as she felt a tide of red creep over her face.
“Okay.” She stood. “Where’d you say my car is?” The best thing to do was get the hell out of here. “I thought you had it towed to Murphy’s Grade A Auto Repair and Dairy Delite.”
“That’s the name out front.”
She pointed a finger at him. “You towed it there. If they do muck it up, I’m holding you personally responsible.”
“Why don’t you deal with one problem at a time?” The Sheriff pushed some forms across the desk. “You two need to fill out these accident reports.”
“Fine.” Snatching up the form, she pivoted, marching out of the office with as much dignity as she could muster in the face of the silence behind her, a silence in which she felt certain that both men were perusing her ass. Not that she minded too much. She added a little sizzle to her wriggle, gratified when a low whistle erupted. She was sure it was the trucker, especially when she heard the cop’s deep voice say, “Nice show, but good luck getting any money out of her.”
The jerk! How did he know she didn’t have fifty dollars to her name?