Authors: Kathleen Brooks
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #General, #Romantic Comedy
Her father had called Dr. Truett and he had rushed over to try to save him. Dr. Truett pulled buckshot from his ears and had to saw off the rope collar imbedded on his neck. He had either been hit by a car or beaten so much that his hip socket was shattered, causing his long tail to be off center. He had made it through the night and by the next morning was wolfing down bowls of dog food. She moved him home with her to continue to nurse him back to health and a month later had a seventy five pound mixed breed that refused to leave her side.
As she sat down on the bed next to Chuck, he thumped his tail against the pillow to say “welcome home”. She untied her shoelaces and kicked them off when she heard the bell over the front door sound. Either Cy had flown in from Switzerland and was joining the band of brothers to try to intimidate Cole, or they had finally given up and headed home. Her question was answered when she heard the footsteps coming down the hall.
“Hey. So, that was fun. They do that to everyone you know?” Cole strode into her bedroom as if he belonged there. “Whoa. That is one ugly dog.”
At the noise of someone coming into the house that he didn’t know, Chuck had jumped up from his nest and placed himself at the end of the bed, squarely between the intruder and Paige. His hair raised and he let out a low growl as Cole walked further into the room.
“He’s not ugly!” Paige defended. She put her arm around the tree trunk of a neck and pulled him over to her as if to shield him from the mean words.
“What’s with the ears? They stick straight out the side of his head. They don’t perk up and they don’t fall forward, they just stick straight out.” Cole cocked his head and stared at Chuck for a second. He snapped his fingers, “I got it. My mom used to watch reruns of the Flying Nun with Sally Fields when she was ironing. That’s what his ears look like!”
Paige picked up the pillow Chuck’s butt had just been resting on and threw it at Cole, hitting him right in the face as he laughed. “Here. You can sleep on the couch. And for making fun of my dog, you don’t get a blanket.”
“I am not making fun of him. Is there something wrong with his tail?” He laughed.
“Chuck, attack,” Paige said calmly as she folded her arms underneath her breasts. Chuck jumped down from the bed and started to slowly stalk Cole.
“Okay, okay. I am sorry if I offended you, Chuck. I gotta like any dog that protects his owner like you do.” Cole squatted to the ground and waited for Chuck to reach him. Chuck then attacked with a flurry of wet dog kisses, knocking Cole to the floor.
“Come on, big boy, how about I take you for a walk while your mommy finds me a blanket.” Cole scratched behind Chuck’s ear as he stood up. Her dog walked out of the room with Cole and never glanced back.
Cole’s silver eyes shined as he looked down at her. He traced the outline of her cheek and jaw with his fingertip before lowering his lips to hers. It was a kiss of dreams. So powerful she felt like she was spinning out of control. His hands moved over her as he rolled her on top of him.
Thump! “Aw, shit.” Paige landed on the floor on her stomach, cushioned by her pillow version of Cole. She tossed the pillow she was holding back onto the bed as she rubbed her hip. She’d never fallen out of bed before and was just plain embarrassed.
Chuck leaned his head over the side of the bed and stared down at her with his ears sticking straight out. “You better not say anything, traitor. You just went off with him like he was your best friend.” Chuck just wagged his tail.
Paige sniffed the air and could have sworn she smelled coffee. That couldn’t be, she didn’t even know where her coffee pot was. She had tried making it a couple of times, but it had turned out so awful she gave up and just got coffee at the cafe before work every day. She quickly pulled out a pair of khaki shorts and a white tank top before heading for the kitchen with Chuck galloping ahead of her.
“Hey there big boy.” Cole scratched Chuck’s ear as his clumsy tail beat against the table leg. Cole slid a muffin out of a basket sitting on her island and fed it to him, wrapper and all. Paige took a moment to enjoy the view of his backside as he continued to scratch Chuck’s ear. “Where’s your mommy? Do you need to go out?”
Paige felt her face flush as she thought about those hands working their magic on her in her dream. And, of course, he just had to turn around and look at her then. He gave her a little wink and she just knew he somehow knew she’d been staring at his ass, and that she’d had one heck of a dream about him.
“Morning, sunshine. Miss Daisy dropped off some breakfast for us. She said it was proper mourning food and warned us the rest of the town will be by throughout the day to keep up appearances.” Cole held out the basket and she selected a chocolate walnut muffin.
“So, what exactly is your plan here? I still don’t understand how you are going to follow me around everywhere and not tip the guy off that you’re FBI. Or are you going to follow me around in your FBI baseball cap and windbreaker?” She bit into the muffin and sighed. Maybe on top of the coffee she’d have to beg Miss Violet to make these muffins for her every day too.
“No. I am not going to run around looking like Ahmed all scary and in black. I want to blend in and hopefully catch this guy scoping the area out.
“Good luck with that. I think it will be pretty obvious that you’re law enforcement if you are around me all the time.” Paige took another bite of the muffin and closed her eyes as the chocolate slowly melted over her tongue. Heaven.
“Well, there is one way.” Cole refilled his coffee mug and waited for her to open her eyes and look at him. “I am going to be your new employee in the store.” Paige laughed and choked on her muffin.
“You expect me to believe that you’d work in a store like mine? My brothers don’t even like coming in here. And if we manage to pull the employee angle off, how are we going to explain your presence during non-work hours?”
Cole leaned a hip against the island and smiled. The flush that came instantly to her face couldn’t be stopped. He was one sexy man and when he smiled that smile with a hint of smirk, it told the world he knew something they didn’t. It was irresistible.
“Actually, I have a solution to both of those problems. It would answer why I would take a job in a powder puff of a store and why we were together after work.”
“Well...” Paige tapped her foot and raised her eyebrows. She hated the feeling of being left in the dark. She liked to be in control. And there was the rub between her and Cole. They both liked being in control.
“I’m Cole Parker, your live-in boyfriend who is madly in love with you.” Cole uncrossed his leg and pushed himself off the counter. Paige was so shocked she just stood there processing what he said over and over again. Cole took a step forward and wrapped his arms around her waist and lowered his lips to her ear. “It’s okay sweetheart. There’s a lot of benefits to having me as a boyfriend,” he whispered. Cole stepped back, smiled at her stunned expression and walked out the back door with her dog.
“What the hell just happened?” she asked Chuck before realizing her dog had left her again.
Paige rushed out of the shower and flung open her closet. She was ten minutes late to open the store and with the Summer Festival coming up, she had a lot of work to do. She grabbed a belted navy jersey dress from Old Navy and slipped it over her wet hair. She found some red sandals and slipped them on as she blasted her hair with the dryer. She grabbed one of her new red ribbon bows and twisted her hair into a loose fitting ponytail.
She applied some lip gloss and went back to her closet to fetch a long red scarf. Taking off the navy belt, she slipped the scarf through the rings and tied it in a knot at her side. There. Even Cole would have to admit she looked pretty good, not that she took longer than normal getting ready for him this morning.
She opened the door at the top of the stairs bounced down to the landing. She was just excited to get to work, it was definitely not because Cole was downstairs, she told herself. She was about to turn on the landing and head down into her shop when she heard something that was enough to make her blood turn to ice and the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. It was a giggle. It was a fake giggle that reminded her of nails on a chalkboard. And that giggle only belonged to one person. Kandi Chase-Rawlings, her lifelong archenemy.
Paige crept down the stairs far enough to be able to lean forward and see where Kandi was standing near the sales counter in full slut mode. Her white tank top, two sizes too small for her plastic double D’s stuck out and pointed at Cole like a radar. Her miniskirt barely covered her perfectly toned ass that she showed off to perfection when she 'accidentally' dropped her purse and had to turn and pick it up. She had her long bottle dyed blonde hair curled in loose waves flowing down her back and expertly flicked it over her shoulder.
“I just got back from the summer at the lake. I didn’t know Paige had hired help. It’s nice to see she at least has taste in that.” Kandi ran her manicured fingernail down Cole’s muscled arm. Paige jumped back on the stairs and took a deep breath. She knew Cole was her fake boyfriend. She knew she had no claim on him, but this was history repeating itself and she wasn’t about to let Kandi ruin her life a second time.
Paige took a deep breath to calm herself. It wouldn’t do any good to assault a woman right in front of a federal officer. She plastered on her sweeter-than-sugar smile and tried to stop the anger that was making her shake.
“Kandi! It’s so nice to see you again. How was your trip to the lake?” Paige made her grand entrance down the stairs pretending to be Scarlett O’Hara.
“It was divine. Too bad you can’t afford to do something like that yourself.” Kandi smiled and flashed her overly bleached teeth.
“How are Bill and the kids? Cole, dear, did you know that Kandi here has been married nine years already? And how old are your kids now? Ten and eight?” Paige smiled again and even threw in an innocent bat of her eyelashes.
“That’s right, honey. I am fortunate enough to have two wonderful boys. Any man’s dream.” Paige’s smile almost faltered when Kandi pressed her breast against Cole’s arm showing him pictures of her boys in football uniforms.
“That’s great. They seem to enjoy football. I played all the way through college.”
“Oooh. That’s wonderful. Where did you go to college?” Kandi turned to look at Cole and managed to shove her breasts out even further. Maybe she had an air pump in there - like those tennis shoes from the nineties where you could pump them up.
“Centre College, down in Danville.”
“Sexy and smart. Whatever are you doing stuck in this little store then? You should come talk to my husband. He owns Rawlings Car Dealership. I bet he could get you a nice job.”
“Aw, gee Kandi. That’s nice of you. But, see Cole and I are living together and he’s happy here with me.” She wanted to kiss him when he walked past Kandi and put his arm around her.
“Sure, we all know how long guys stick around you.” Kandi giggled her annoying little giggle and Cole tightened his grip on her shoulder. “I’ll see you real soon then.” Kandi winked at Cole and bent over to pick up her purse she had somehow dropped again.
“Oh, Kandi, I have a cream to help with that cellulite. Make sure you pick some up next time you come in. I sure hope I get to see you soon. It’s always such a pleasure.” Paige smiled as Kandi huffed out of the store.
“Ewww, that woman!” Paige shook with such anger after her encounter with Kandi that she couldn’t stand still. She had to move. She knew what had to be done. She had to organize.
She rounded the corner of the sales counter and pulled out all the pencils, sales receipts, gift boxes and dumped them on the floor. Cole came around the counter and took a seat next to the register and watched with one eyebrow raised.
“No good, snooty, man stealing slut,” Paige mumbled to herself as sprayed the shelf and ferociously wiped it clean, “Coming into my shop, flirting with my imaginary boyfriend.” She restacked the gift boxes and moved to the tissue paper dispensers. She then moved to the displays and dusted, shook out the tablecloths, and redesigned the displays all before her next customer came in.
Paige wrapped the homemade bourbon vanilla candle in tissue paper. She had heard Cole’s phone ring a couple minutes ago and saw him head upstairs. She was only listening with half an ear as her customer happily prattled on about her granddaughter in college and how she had been enjoying the trip into Keeneston for some gift shopping before the summer family reunion they were having.
Paige smiled and nodded at the appropriate times, but couldn’t tear her eyes from the staircase. Was there news? Was everything okay with Kenna and Dani? Did the assassin get caught? It was bothering her that this worry was consuming her life. She loved running her shop, now she flinched every time the bell rang over the door thinking it could be the assassin coming to finish her off. She loved talking to her clients about their kids, grandkids, horrible mother-in-laws, or how great or horrible their spouses were. It’s one of the reasons she worked so much at the counter instead of giving more hours to Betty Jo. But now she couldn’t even focus on her client. All she could focus on was her speculation over Cole’s call. Maybe it wasn’t even about the case. Maybe it was his mother. Or girlfriend? Oh, God, did he have a girlfriend, or worse, was he married? Did it look like that candle display needed to be moved around? She said goodbye to her client and started reorganizing he candle display.
“Uh-oh. Did Kandi come back while I was upstairs?”
“How could you not tell me you were married?” She slammed down one of her new scents and grabbed her dust rag.
“Married? Paige, what are you talking about?” Cole’s hands moved to his hips and his posture read pissed off instead of guilty. Whoops.
“You’re not married?”
“No.” The cold stare he was directing at her was giving her frostbite. “Whatever made you think I was married?”
“I’m sorry. I was just thinking that I didn’t know anything about you and in my stressed state I just made an illogical jump to that being your wife on the phone.” She knew her face was red and she felt as if she had been caught being bad by a teacher. Cole ran his hand through his hair and let out a frustrated breath.