DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DANGEROUS
by Christie Craig
Release date: November 2014
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"Funny, hot, and suspenseful, Christie Craig's writing has it all. Warning: definitely addictive." - New York Times Bestselling author Nina Bangs
This novella originally appeared in the New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance anthology Three Southern Beaches.
Reese Morris has run away from home. She’s left behind her adoring but overbearing grandmother, her broken heart . . . and most importantly, the no-good Texan jerk who broke it. She told him her secrets. He told her lies. He was nothing more than an undercover cop wanting one thing—and it wasn’t her—he was out to bust her brother and his thug boss. How could she let him con her into feeling so damn much?
For two months, Detective Turner Calder hasn’t been able to forget the betrayed look in Reese’s eyes when she found out he’d deceived her. Now two witnesses from that case have been murdered, and he’s traveling halfway across the country to protect her. If that means taking on her seventy-year-old grandma who has a black belt in Karate, a hired assassin—who scares him less than Granny—and the whole bat-shit crazy town of Hung, Georgia, he’s up for the challenge. Because the biggest danger of all would be losing her.
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Divorced, Desperate and Dangerous
Reese Morris stepped inside Casey's Honkytonk Diner-definitely more diner than honkytonk-and slipped back in time sixteen years. It hadn't changed.
She moved through the crowd, and her gaze shifted to the first booth on the right. Just like that, she was twelve years old, wearing her new vacation beachwear and smelling like sunscreen. Across from her sat her parents, and beside her, too happy to sit still, wiggled her four-year-old brother, Ricky. The beach waited less than a block away.
On the wall hung the same ol' pictures and the swordfish with a broken nose. Finally, seeing past the nostalgia, she realized the place had changed. Time hadn't been kind to the hole in the wall.
It looked like hell. But it smelled like heaven.
No, it smelled like home.
Like Granny's kitchen back in Texas. Granny, determined to live to a hundred, followed every health guideline the Surgeon General put out.
Nobody got in the way of Granny's morning meal. And if you were at her house, she cooked it, and you ate it. Since Reese had lived with Granny from the time her parents died 'til she got her job as a teacher, she had learned to associate that first meal of the day with . . . love.
Reese inhaled the smell of bacon, eggs, and white bread toasted to perfection. This was it, she decided. For the next two and a half months, she was hanging her hat in Hung, Georgia. If you had to run away from home, why not run to a place that smelled like home? Her gaze shifted back to the booth. The one that held good memories.
Now, all she had to do was secure a job to help her get by. Face it, on a teacher's salary a person could barely afford one apartment, let alone two. While she had run away from home, she planned to run back when school started-hopefully with her heart on the mend. So, a second income was a necessity.
And since she'd worked her way through college slinging hash, this place would do just fine. There wasn't a 'Help Wanted' sign on the door, but the crowd waiting to get seated, and the several un-bused booths, told another story.
Decision made, she cased out the joint for a manager-looking type. The older lady behind the bar, cooking, and spouting out orders to two waitresses, appeared to fit the bill. Now didn't seem to be the time to ask for an application, but it might be time to prove her worthiness.
Collecting a towel and a large busing tray sitting to the side of the counter, she went to work.
With the background music of southern voices, forks hitting plates, and the sound of sizzling bacon in the background, Reese stacked the dishes and wiped down three booths and two tables. With her tray full, she glanced around to find her way to the dishwashing area.
The door in the back had to be it. The young guy trying to keep up with the dishes barely gave her a glance.
For the next ten minutes, Reese cleaned and set up tables. When she got to the booth she and her parents had claimed as their own on that one vacation, she slipped back in time . . .
"Can we go next door to the toy store? Can we? Can we?" her brother asked.
Her mom looked at Reese. "Can you take him?"
Reese would've rather stayed and watched the cute bus boy, but she agreed.
"He's your responsibility," her mom told her, the same way she always told her about Ricky. "He's your little brother. Take care of him."
Inhaling, pushing back regrets, Reese looked at the empty booth where her mom had once sat and wondered if she knew Reese had failed. Oh, she'd gotten Ricky safe and sound from the toy store, but look where he was now.
Sorry, Mom. Then, because she swore not to think about that, she put some real elbow grease into cleaning a week's worth of sticky off the memory-filled booth. All the while, wishing all it took was elbow grease to push away the memories of the last two months.
Moving to the next dirty table, she felt the lady flipping bacon-Casey, she'd heard someone call her, she was right-giving her a cautious eye. The two waitresses working the floor just looked appreciative, but they were too far in the weeds to express it verbally. One of them started seating customers in Reese's clean tables.
"Honey, I need some more coffee," said a man wearing a pink shirt and Bermuda shorts with big pineapples on them.
Reese wavered and looked back. Getting coffee meant she'd have to go behind the bar to get the pot. Considering Casey hadn't run her off yet, she decided to brave it. She shot behind the counter, got one confused look from the old woman, but snagged the coffee and refilled cups for all the tables.
Fifteen minutes later, she'd made another pot of coffee, cleared a couple more booths, and even rolled some silverware. The crowd of waiting customers was growing antsy, so Reese grabbed a couple of menus. "Follow me."
"No!" Casey's voice called out from behind the bar.
Reese glanced back, unsure if the woman was talking to her.
Casey's spatula was pointed right at Reese, her wrist shifting back and forth. Reese debated ducking, fearing the woman might chuck it at her. "Locals get first dibs on tables," Casey snapped.
"Okay." Reese faced the stunned couple sporting beachwear and smelling like sunscreen. "Sorry," she muttered, and looked at the next couple standing by the sign she'd not noticed.
"You locals?" she asked.
"Born and raised and proud to be Hungers," said the middle-aged woman, with what appeared to be her middle-aged husband.
"Follow me." Reese felt Casey staring, and expected to feel a spatula hit her any minute.
She continued busing tables and seating customers for an hour. She got scolded two more times by Casey when she forgot to ask if the people were locals or tourists. Obviously, the gray-haired owner didn't like tourists. Never mind that over half her business stemmed from the out-of-town beachgoers.
Amazingly, the smell coming from the grill convinced even the non-locals to accept their second-class status, and not one person walked out.
Obviously, Casey's Honkytonk Diner was still the breakfast hot spot in Hung that it had been years ago.
By ten thirty, the morning rush over, Reese busied herself wiping the syrup off the menus. Her phone, tucked in her back pocket, vibrated for a second time, but she ignored it. Good employees didn't answer calls during work hours. Besides, it was probably just Granny giving her more hell for taking off. She'd spoken to her late last night after she'd checked into a hotel in Katyville a mile from the bridge that lead to the island.
In the corner of her vision, she saw Casey untie her apron, hang it on a wall hook, and crook her finger at Reese. "Booth ten. Now."
Reese swallowed a knot of nerves, relieved the woman had left her spatula behind.
Shoulders held firm, she followed the woman to the back booth for what she hoped would be an interview. Surely, Casey couldn't be nearly as difficult as Granny. Could she?
* * *
Detective Turner Calder stormed into his boss's office. Sergeant Cox looked up from his desk, obviously pissed he hadn't knocked. Turner didn't give a rat's ass if Cox got pissed or not.
He ran a hand through his hair, worn long since he'd taken to doing some undercover work a year ago. "I just got a call from the DA on the Harper case."
"Yeah, I know, she called me too. Talk about bad luck, but at least we've got Rick Morris and his sister."
"Luck? Are you friggin' kidding me? Two witnesses die within twenty-four hours and you call that bad luck?"
"Whoa. Slow down, Turner. Don't go making this into something that it isn't. One was a fifty-year-old man with a heart attack, and the other was a car accident with someone who's already gotten three DUIs."
"I don't care if one of them died from an ingrown toenail, two witness deaths in twenty-four hours on a case like Jonnie Harper's can't be a coincidence. Harper swore the day we arrested him that he would never go to trial."
"I told you to calm down!" Cox said.
"I'll calm down when you do your damn job! Contact the prison and make sure they keep Rick Morris away from the other inmates, then get Reese Morris into protective custody."
"And I'll bet you would love to be the one in charge of her, too!" Cox slapped his chubby, fisted hand down on his desk. "Damn it, Turner. If this case is in any jeopardy, it'll be due to you fraternizing with Ms. Morris. If Harper's lawyer suspects you and the witness were dirtying up the sheets, her testimony won't mean shit. Then all we'll have is her criminal brother."
In spite of what his boss and a few other officers thought, he hadn't had sex with Reese. The fact that he'd been tempted as hell, and had come painfully close-meaning for the first time in his life, he understood the meaning of "blue balls"-it wasn't any of their damn business.
"Look-" Turner said.
"No, you look. Don't think I don't know what you did by talking to the DA and getting Rick Morris put away on a lesser charge."
"He thought he was working for a nickel-and-dime dealer. He never was present during the big drops."
"It was your job to put him away, not get him off."
Turner leaned both palms on Cox's desk. "Get Rick Morris and his sister some protection, or I swear if something happens to them, I'll go to the press, sing like a canary, and say you were fully warned."
Cox's bushy brows puckered and his chubby cheeks turned red. "You know, son, if your daddy hadn't taken a bullet for me before God took his sorry ass, I'd be asking for your badge right now. Hell, I'd have asked for it a long time ago. Since your divorce, you've gone off the ledge. And for what? A woman? I know you want to compare yourself to your ol' man, but he just got lucky in love. Most cops go through wives like cheap wallets. Get yourself right, or even my debt to your daddy won't stop me from doing my job and taking yours from you. You got that?"
He got it alright.
The temptation to reach in his pocket and slam his gold shield on the desk bit so strong, his hands shook. The only reason he didn't was because since Cox wasn't going to do his job, Turner would have to do it for him. And that badge, he might need it. But he would get the damn job done. He owed Reese that much. Even if he had to turn his badge in afterward. The look in her sky blue eyes when she'd learned he'd been undercover and was behind her brother's arrest hadn't stopped flashing in his head for the last two months. And by damn, he wasn't going to let some goon of Harper's lay one finger on Reese. Or her brother, for that matter.
He'd have to find a way to get to the warden. And he'd find Reese. Just because his boss wanted to stick his head up his own ass and not see the truth, didn't mean Turner had to.
He shot out of Cox's office. Grabbing his phone, he dialed her number again. It went right to voicemail. He left his third message.
"Reese, it's me, Turner. I know I'm the last guy in the world you want to talk to, but. . ." He paused. He hadn't told her his fears in the other messages. He didn't want to scare her to death. But damn it, she had a reason to be scared. And if she wasn't going to take his calls, she needed to know.
"Look, Harper might be locked up, but he still has clout on the outside. And two of the other witnesses have wound up dead. Call me, please!"
Reese sat on the opposite side of the booth and met Casey's soft brown eyes. She looked about ten years younger than Granny, her gray hair and wrinkles around her eyes told her age, but her slim and trim stature made her appear younger.
"I should say thank you," Casey said.
"You're welcome." Reese smiled, feeling confident for the first time, and ignoring her phone vibrating against her right butt cheek.
"I said I should say it, I wasn't saying it."
"Oh." So maybe Casey was as difficult as Granny.
"Tell me the only reason you did this today was because you want a free meal and I'll fix you anything you want. Blueberry pancakes and even some whipped cream. Then I'll say thank you."
"Actually, I was hoping for a job."
"Hells bells! That's what I was afraid you'd say." Casey leaned back in the booth and crossed her arms over her chest. "My blueberry pancakes are really good, you should take 'em while they're still on the table."
Reese didn't blink. "I need a job. Not pancakes."
Casey shook her head and frowned. "Sorry. It's nothing personal, but I only hire locals."
Think fast. Think fast. "Uh, well, it appears you don't have enough locals to get you through the morning rush."
"Yeah, well, that's because a couple of my gals took up modeling and another two got some job acting in a movie that's being filmed close by. But they are all good girls, and they'll realize what their calling really is, and they'll come back begging for their jobs. They always do."
"Great," Reese said, "But until then, hire me. I'm only looking for temporary work. A couple of months."
Casey let out a deep sigh. "I don't even like serving out-of-towners, I can't hire one."
"I did a good job, didn't I?" Reese gave her the look her granny called 'puppy dog eyes.'
"Now, don't you go looking at me like that!" Casey said. "If you're hard-up for money, I can give you a few bucks for your work today."
"I'm not completely an out-of-towner."
"You're not?" Casey leaned forward as if to study Reese's face.
"My family and I came here practically every summer." One summer, well, make that three weeks, but that didn't sound as impressive. But to Reese, it meant the world. Those were some of her last memories of her parents. A week later, they'd been killed in a car crash.
"Now you're lying to me, Child."
Damn it, Granny always said Reese couldn't lie worth a flying flip. "Okay, one summer."
Casey's eyes tightened. "Try again."
"Three weeks-but it was a really good three weeks and we ate here almost every day. I remember it like it was yesterday. The pictures are the same and the swordfish still has his broken nose. And it was called Casey's Honkytonk Diner back then, so I'm sure you were here, too."
The diner's owner continued to study her. "So, why are you here now?"
"I'm a teacher and wanted to do something different for the summer." That was partly true.
"What part of Texas are you from?"
She hadn't said anything about Texas, but she guessed her twangy accent gave her away. "Glencoe, right outside Houston."
"You're here for the treasure, aren't you?" Casey asked, with an accusing tone. "Damn treasure hunters, nothin' but trouble, that's what you are."
"Treasure? What treasure?"
"All you out-of-towners are the same. You flood in here hoping to find it every year."
Reese vaguely recalled the town's legend of a pirate burying some treasure. It also included something about werewolves, but Reese wasn't looking for those either. "I'm not here for the treasure."
"Then what are you here for? And don't make up no shit. I'm just like a human lie detector."
Reese swallowed and spoke with honesty. "Peace. I'm here to find some peace."
Casey leaned back in the booth again. "Some guy break your heart?"
More than one. Reese nodded. "Two years ago, my fiancé, my one and only soul mate, died the day before our wedding."
"And?" Casey asked as her eyes went to the front of the diner, where an older gentleman walked in. Reese noted the woman's gaze lingered on the customer.
"I didn't say 'and,'" Reese said when Casey refocused on her.
"I heard an 'and,'" Casey insisted and leaned forward. "Lookie here, young lady, the good Lord blessed me with three things: cooking, reading people, and a nice pair of tits that've only lost some of their bounce."
Reese didn't let her eyes lower to the woman's boobs. It just wasn't polite. Neither was bragging about your girls to a stranger! Reese took a second to ask herself if she really wanted to work for this bat-shit crazy lady.
The question hadn't made a lap around her mind when the warm, homey smell of bacon filled her nose and she saw a family of four sit in the booth where she and her parents had sat all those years ago. The answer shot back. She wanted this job. Wanted to be here. Besides, Casey kind of reminded Reese of Granny. She got along just fine with bat-shit crazy.
Casey's gray eyes never wavered as she repeated, "And . . .?"
"And . . . after two years, I met another guy who made me question the 'only one' soul mate theory. He made me laugh. He made me want to love again. Then I learned he'd been lying to me all along. And for some crazy reason, my broken heart led me back here." To remember a time before I had my very first heartbreak-losing my parents.
Yup, there were things Reese wasn't about to own up to. Things Casey didn't need to know. Like her parents' accident-Reese didn't need pity- and her being a witness to a murder, and her brother being in jail for inadvertently working for said murderer.
Reese held her breath, hoping the truth she'd offered passed Casey's lie detector test. Then she pushed the past where it needed to go, in her mental compost heap. Letting out a bit of air, she didn't look away from Casey's intense scrutiny.
"I hate broken heart stories," the woman said, and her gaze appeared lured back to the man in the booth. "Unfortunately, out-of-towners don't get my customers. And my customers don't get out-of-towners."
The woman had no more glanced back at her, when in the corner of Reese's eye, she saw the older man lower his paper and give Casey a once-over.
Remembering her objective, Reese focused back on the diner's owner. "I get your customers. I know what they want. Food. Service. A good time. Hot coffee. I . . . I make people smile, and your clientele will have a good time. They'll enjoy your cooking even more. You'll have happy customers."
"You can make people smile?" the woman asked and frowned.
"Yup. I'm just likable. It's the Texas charm." That might be some Lone Star bullshit, but her desperation called for it.
"You seem awful sure of yourself," Casey said.
"I am. Give me a job and I'll prove it."
"No, you prove it then I'll give you a job." She crossed her arms over her ample chest and her gaze shifted again back to the gentleman behind the paper. Her expression softened and saddened. Then she refocused on Reese and continued, "But if you fail to prove yourself, you'll eat my blueberry pancakes, take a little compensation for your work, and be on your way. Fair?"
"Fair enough. How do I prove it?" Casey asked.
"Take your Texas charm over there and make Frank smile."
"Frank. The man in booth one, reading the paper. He lost his wife a year ago. He comes in here every day wearing that same sad face. The only thing he says is 'give me the special.'"
Casey heard the challenge in the older woman's voice, but she heard something else, too. The woman cared about Frank-and not just because he was a local.
"You make that grumpy, grief-stricken man smile, and you've got a job."
A challenge. Reese looked back at the long lost puppy face Frank wore. Not just a challenge, but a tough one. But she'd faced worse in the last two months. She'd faced watching a man get shot. She'd faced watching her brother get arrested. She'd faced Trey Freedman. . . or she should say, Turner Calder, and all his lies. Surely, she could make one sourpuss of an old man smile.
Turner pulled up in the drive on Oxford Street and tried to call Reese again. It went to voicemail. He gritted his teeth and hung up without leaving a message this time. His mind kept flashing to one of the last images he had of her. All five foot three of sweet fury, . . . looking at him with a boatload of hurt in her big, blue eyes and spouting off something about popsicles and hell.
Obviously, Reese wasn't taking his calls. He'd gone to her apartment and she hadn't been there. And neither was her purple Volkswagen bug.
That left him one option. Not one he liked, either. But he'd come here.
He got out of his car and moved to the porch of the small, white wood framed home and knocked. No one answered. Then he heard a car. He looked over his shoulder.
He studied the pink Cadillac rolling down the street. The only part of Abigail Cannon he could spot was a puff of gray hair over the wheel.
He'd faced murderers high on crack who scared him less than this seventy-year-old woman. A black belt in some kind of karate, she could crack a block with her hand. He knew because she'd shoved her phone in his face and made sure he watched her YouTube video. And she'd told him if she ever laid eyes on him again, she'd use the same move on his balls.
A better cop would have arrested her for threatening an officer, but fear and the knowledge he might deserve her contempt, had him walking away while he still could. Not, however, without a hand over his crotch.
He stood frozen on the porch while she sat in her idling car for several long minutes, giving him what his mom would call the 'stink eye.' Finally, she cut off the engine.
It was damn near embarrassing to be afraid of an old lady who could hardly see over the wheel of her Cadillac. But embarrassing or not, when her car door swung open, his boys-tucked in his Levis-wanted to hide, and shriveled up to the size of walnuts.
"Ma'am," he said as she climbed out of the car.
"Don't you 'ma'am' me, you lowlife piece of weasel dung. The world would be a better place if your mama had just eaten ya when you popped out." Like a little Rambo dressed in her karate outfit with a black belt clenched around her waist, she stormed up the porch.
He took a step back and fought the urge to cover his crotch. But, damn it to hell and back, if right then he didn't realize that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree. At first, when Reese learned he was an undercover agent, all she did was look at him with hurt. The next time, however, when he'd asked her to let him explain, she'd rather colorfully told him to go to hell.
The old woman stopped, stared, then pointed her index finger at him. "Ricky's lawyer told me what you did, talked the DA into charging my grandson for a lesser crime. And if it wasn't for you hurting my precious Reese, I might have been grateful. She already had her heart chewed up and spit out once. Damn idiot goes and dies of a brain hemorrhage the day before her wedding. Who does shit like that?" She shook her head. "Reese didn't need the likes of you hurting her again."
"I didn't mean. . ." He raked a hand through his hair. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't important. I have to talk to her. She's not home and-"
"I already told your guys, she's on a road trip. She was in Hung, Georgia last night, and I don't know how long she's planning on staying there, but you'll just have to wait and talk to her when she gets back. She's not gonna miss the trial, she wants to see that lowlife scumbag behind bars, too."
Out of town. Relief washed over him and then he reheard her words. I already told your guys. "What guys? Who was asking about Reese?"
"The two who showed up this morning."
"Cops?" he asked, his chest feeling heavy.
"You think I'd tell just anyone where she was?"
"Were they in uniform?" he asked.
Her brow creased in worry. "Well, no, but they had a badge."
Turner's gut knotted. Fake shields were a dime a dozen. Or was Cox lying to him? Had he had someone check up on Reese?
His phone rang. He yanked it out, praying it was her.
Not Reese. But Luke Hunter, his PI friend, ex-FBI-the person he'd asked to connect him with Ricky's warden. A bad feeling knotted in his gut.
"I gotta take this," he told Reese's grandmother. "Yeah," he answered his phone and turned to the side.
"Hey," Luke said and his tone in that one word had the knot in Turner's gut doubling in size. "You were a little late."
"Friggin' hell!" Turner seethed. "How bad is it?"
"It can't be that bad," Reese said as she refilled Frank's cup, feeling Casey's brown eyes watching her every move. Did the woman want her to succeed or fail? Reese had a feeling even Casey wasn't too sure.
"Excuse me?" Frank glanced up from his morning paper.
"You look . . . unhappy."
His gray brow tightened. "I'm fine."
"More cream?" she asked and offered him her Texas-sized smile.
He looked back at his paper, without smiling. "I'm fine," he repeated and picked up his coffee and took a slow sip.
Think! Think! Think! "You must be fine."
His eyes shifted back up and a crease wrinkled his brow.
"She's all worried about you and that could only mean one thing. That she thinks you're fine."
"Who's worried?" he asked.
"Casey. She's got the hots for ya'."
He sat his cup down rather loudly. His light blue eyes widened. Was that a good wide or an 'oh-shit' wide?
"She told you this?" he asked, looking unsure.
"Not outright, but she's had you on her radar since you walked in and frankly. . ." Might as well go for it. "I kind of noticed you had her on yours."
He frowned. Totally not what she was going for. "When did I have her on my radar?"
Crappers! Had she been mistaken? "Just now, I saw you eyeballing us."
He sat frozen, stared directly in front of him for a beat of silence, then his gaze shot up to her. "How do you know it wasn't you I had on my radar?"
"That's not possible," Reese said, suddenly feeling confident.
"How's that?" he asked.
"I have a dirty old geezer alarm that goes off when one's within a hundred feet of me." She looked down and motioned to the space separating them now. "And we're what? Two feet from each other now and it hasn't even chirped."
"Hmm," he said.
"Casey also offered me a job if I could get you to smile. She really doesn't want to hire me, so I figured it must be pretty important for her to see you smile."
"So if I smile you get the job?"
"That's it," Reese said. He didn't look all that joyful, so Reese sweetened the deal. Hey, she was desperate. "I'll pay you twenty bucks."
His expression lightened. "So you were lying about Casey having . . ."
"The hots for you?" Reese finished for him. "Nope."
He pursed his lips and seemed to ponder. About what, she didn't know. "Twenty bucks, huh?"
"Yup. It'll have to be an IOU, I don't have cash on me, but I'm good for it."
He stared in his cup as if the coffee contained the answer. After a long few seconds, he glanced up. "Consider yourself employed . . . and in debt, young lady." His lips slowly turned up, and it even reached his blue eyes. They were nice eyes, Reese decided, and smiled back.
But she had a feeling he hadn't smiled in a while. Truth be known, she hadn't smiled all that much lately, either. Maybe it was time to fix that. Stop fixating on a certain undercover cop and find a bit of happiness.
When Frank leaned forward, lifted his cup in a mock toast, and smiled at Casey, Reese did a mental victory dance.
Still smiling herself, she pranced over to Casey. The woman sat there, wearing a befuddled expression.
"When do I start?" Reese asked.
"What did you say to him?" the woman seethed.
Reese hesitated then decided what the hell? "That you had the hots for him."
Casey's brown eyes grew round. "Bite my ass!" she muttered. "I should've never trusted an out-of-towner."
"Oh, and I offered to pay him twenty bucks," Reese added.
"So he did it for the money?" Casey asked.
"No, he did it because he's got the hots for you, too."
"He never said any such thing," Casey fumed.
Reese leaned in. "He didn't have to. You see, the good Lord blessed me with three things, too. Teaching, making people smile, and reading people." With an exception to undercover cops with wide shoulders and sexy smiles. But I'm not thinking about him.
"Make that four things," Reese continued. "I can wait tables. Unfortunately, I missed out on the boobs, but what I got, still has bounce." She glanced down at her full-size B cups and then up. "When do I start work?"
Casey stood, her frown seemed to spread all the way down to her toes, but Reese somehow knew she wouldn't go back on her word. "Bounce your tits back in here at four in the morning, young lady."
Four? She almost asked, but decided not to chance it. "You won't be sorry," Reese said.
"Like hell I won't. I already am," Casey muttered.
* * *
Reese walked out onto Main Street, savored the sunshine and the smell of the beach, and headed for her car. For the first time in two months, she almost felt happy.
Slipping into her bug, she decided to head to her motel, check out, and find a place on Hung Island. With the summer heat making her little car almost intolerable, she started the engine and turned the air on high-waiting for it to get cool. When a breath of chilled air hit her face, she reached back in her pocket to see who was responsible for making her butt vibrate.
Truth be told, her butt hadn't seen that much action in . . . well, since over two years. Not true. A little guilty voice whispered in her head.
She recalled that certain night with a certain undercover cop-whom she hadn't known was an undercover cop. But sex was like horseshoes, close didn't count. For all intents and purposes, Trey Freedman-or the guy she'd thought was Trey-could pull a Clinton and stand up in court and swear, 'I did not have sex with that woman.' And when the trial came to be, he probably would say that.
She wouldn't say differently. Being a fool was one thing, admitting it to a jury of twelve was another.
The fact that she'd crossed the finish line didn't count. His Tab B hadn't entered her Slot A. But he had amazing fingers. And kisses. And body. And . . . Don't go there!
He was a no-good, lying, hot-looking scumbag. The first one in two years that had her pulse dancing to the tune of romance. The first one in two years that made her let go of Jacob, her first and only love in her life. The guy who she was supposed to marry and live happily-ever-after with. She and Jacob had dated since tenth grade. They had planned their lives out. College. Get married. Buy a house. Have two kids. And there had been only one little hiccup.
Leaving her as empty, lonely and heartbroken as when the universe had taken her parents.
How was that fair? It wasn't.
But the universe wasn't finished toying with her. The one and only guy who had her thinking maybe she wouldn't wind up an old spinster school teacher ended up to be a complete lie.
But as much as she held Trey…AKA, Turner, accountable for the lies and deception, she couldn't blame him or the universe for that one night. She'd gone to him-tiptoed into his bedroom, uninvited. Oh, they'd flirted, almost kissed, but then he told her he'd been hurt before. She knew all about being hurt, and she thought maybe they could help heal each other.
With a brazenness she didn't think she'd possessed, she went to him that night, pulled her nightshirt off and slipped under his covers wearing nothing but a pair of lacy pink panties.
Shaking her head to get her mind off her stupid mistake, she studied her phone. The screen showed she had four missed calls and three voicemail messages from . . . Anonymous.
She hit a few buttons to listen to the messages.
"Reese . . ."
It was his voice. Saying her name. She tossed her phone in the passenger seat and let out a little "eek" as she tried to convince herself she'd simply imagined it. That maybe thinking of his fingers, and body, and sexy smile, had simply had her mind playing tricks on her.
She snatched up her pink-covered cell, put it to her ear, and heard the same dad-blasted sexy voice. His words didn't matter. She only heard the voice.
"No," she moaned and let the phone fall to her lap.
When she could still hear his deep tenor, she yanked the phone up and hit delete. And she kept poking at the word over and over, to make sure she got them all. Only when she didn't have any new calls left did she stop finger-jabbing her cell.
What the hell did he want with her? What part of, 'The tooth fairy will be serving cherry popsicles in hell before I give you the time of day again,' did he not understand? Had she not been clear?
Feeling a little better now that she'd gotten all traces of him off her phone, she switched the cell off. It would remain off until she needed to make a call. And since she'd checked in with Granny last night, she wouldn't have to turn it on until tomorrow.
* * *
Turner drove all night and was beginning to feel it. He tried to get a flight. But taking the first plane out of Houston would have put Turner in the closest town to Hung at eight a.m. on Sunday morning. Driving, he arrived at Hung's police department at six a.m.. They were closed. A sign said they opened at nine. In case of emergency call 9-1-1.
Exhausted, he almost dialed it, too. But knowing this wouldn't qualify, he decided to drive around town looking for a purple Volkswagen until he could have a chat with the local authorities.
Not a purple bug in sight.
Still thirty minutes before he could show up at the police department and ask for assistance, he pulled over and parked at the beach. Six different groups of people were out there with metal detectors. One group was dressed like . . . pirates. He blinked, thinking he'd imagined it, and gripping the wheel, he pulled himself forward to get a better look.
Nope. Pirates-outfitted like Black Beard with swords and old-fashioned guns strapped to their sides.
He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and almost dozed off when his mind flashed an image of her face again. Blue eyes. A wide smile. Then he saw her standing at the foot of the bed, pulling her white nightshirt over her head-completely naked except for a pair of lacy panties. All that perfect skin, dips and curves, bathed in the moonlight that spilled in through the window. He couldn't remember ever wanting a woman so much.
And he'd almost let himself go there. He'd lied, and said that they didn't have protection to put a stop to it. Then she'd moaned and told him how much she wanted him. So he'd slipped his hands in those silky panties and made her come with his hand.
His jeans got tight remembering how soft she'd felt against him and how sweet she'd tasted and smelled. He could still hear that little sound she'd made against his neck as he took her to the peak of pleasure. In painful detail, he recalled how he'd ached to let himself go there. His conscience wouldn't let him do it.
He'd pretty much figured out that she was going to hate him when the case was over. But the last thing he wanted her to think was that he'd used her.
And he could still remember how much hurt she'd held in her eyes the next day when she'd learned he was undercover. That his name wasn't Trey Freedman. That he was behind her brother's arrest.
Hell, she could hate him all she wanted. He just needed to know she was safe.
"Where are you, Reese?"
His phone rang and he answered so fast, thinking it might be her, that he didn't even check the number.
"You find her?" Abigail Cannon asked.
He pressed his palm to his forehead. "Not yet. How is Ricky?"
"Doctor says he's gonna be fine. I tried calling Reese, but she's not answering. That's not like her. Please tell me this asshole hasn't gotten to her, too."
"I'm gonna find her," he promised her. And he hoped like hell he could keep his word. He hung up, and drove right to the police department.
There was one police car parked out front, so he knew someone was there. As he got out of his car, he saw her-blond, body of an angel, walking a half a block down the street.
"Reese?" he called out, slammed his car door shut and shot off.
He only got about thirty feet when some big dude walked up to her, turned her in his arms and kissed her. One word echoed in Turner's head. Mine.
He clutched his hands. His chest filled with unjustified jealously until he realized his mistake. The blond bombshell being kissed, and kissing back, wasn't Reese.
Exhaling, he ran a hand over his face, and started back to the police station. Walking in, he saw an empty desk in the corner.
"Can I help you?" a deep voice came from behind him.
Turner turned as a tall, dark guy wearing a uniform walked out of the office door. "I'm Sheriff Wilson."
"Yeah." Turner pulled out his badge. "I'm with the Glencoe, Texas police. I'm looking for a girl."
"We're all looking for one," said another deep voice.
Turner looked back and saw a guy also wearing a uniform, stepping from out of the hall. The man, almost a carbon copy of the sheriff, had to be his relative.
"My brother, Deputy Wilson," said the Sheriff. The man in charge eyed Turner's badge for one second. "She must be something to bring you all the way to Hung," the deputy said.
She was something, Turner thought, but kept that to himself. "Her name's Reese Morris. I got word yesterday she was here in town."
"What did she do?" asked the sheriff.
"She didn't. She's a witness on a case I worked. I've got reason to believe that the asshole drug dealer who's in jail waiting for trial might have hired someone to make witnesses disappear." Turner slipped his badge back into his pocket. "She'd be easy to spot. Drives a purple Volkswagen bug."
Turner saw the Sheriff's eyes flinch and then the two uniforms looked at each other. "You sure she's here on the Island and not in Katyville?"
"Why?" Turner asked, thinking the guy knew something.
"I heard about an incident involving a purple Volkswagen and a woman. The report called it a car accident, but the authorities are suspicious that it wasn't really an accident."
Turner's chest gripped. "Name? Did you get the woman's name?"
"No, they hadn't released the name when I heard the report."
"Is she okay?" Turner's mouth instantly went dry and he had to push the words out.
"Sorry," the sheriff said, looking remorseful. "She didn't make it."