Authors: Annie Solomon
Tags: #FIC027110, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Sheriffs, #General
“Evelyn, Mr. Lyle is here.” Her voice was low and gentle, as it had been for days. Like they were all at a school play and the lights had just gone down. Then, with a firmer tone. “Go to your room, Edie.”
She must have refused. Maybe she snuggled deeper against her mother’s body, hoping the physical touch would keep her mother from drifting away. Whatever Edie did, she didn’t go to her room. Not until Mr. Lyle appeared. At the sight of him, her mother’s body had stiffened. Become present and focused. And suddenly there was anger in the room. Huge, massive currents of rage. Afraid she might hear that scream again, Edie had scurried away.
Now, she gazed at the man in front of her. An ordinary man. Thinning hair, glasses. A good man. A good citizen. Harmless.
But Edie Swann knew better.
“Bullshit!” This time, the voice was louder. Edie turned to see a tall, thin man with a greasy ponytail shake a fisted arm in the air. “That’s a lie!”
People around the man frowned. “Shut up, Terry,” one of them said.
“I fucking won’t shut up,” he growled, and stalked toward the other man, who backed up quickly. “That’s what they want,” Terry barked. “To shut me up. But I know stuff. I know what goes on in that place, and it ain’t all caring and concern.”
More of the crowd eased away.
“At Hammerbilt we’re proud of the work we do,” Fred Lyle was saying. “Proud of our commitment to our town and the people in it.”
“Bullshit!” Terry yelled, this time loud enough for everyone to hear.
Lyle stumbled, adjusted his glasses, and continued.
“You’re drunk,” a man in the crowd said to Terry. “Go home.” He put a hand on Terry’s shoulder, and Terry whipped around. “Don’t you touch me.”
“I just think you should—”
Terry swung, someone swung back, and before Edie could blink, the circle of people around her had collapsed into a free-for-all. Someone cuffed her chin and she stumbled back, nearly lost her footing. A woman screamed. People were shoving and Edie struck out, trying to keep a perimeter of safety around her. Her fist connected with something, sending a shock wave up her arm.
“Jesus.” A large, sandy-haired man scowled at her, rubbing his jaw. In the seconds it took to realize what had happened, she realized something else. The man wasn’t just big. He was beautiful. Tight-jawed and wide-mouthed. Muscled shoulders and lean, powerful legs. And just now all that hard masculine energy was scowling. At her.
He grabbed her arm in a merciless grip and pushed forward into the crowd, taking Edie with him.
“Hey—let me go!”
He ignored her, shouting into the crowd. “All right, stop it. All of you!” His voice was loud and authoritative as he waded into the shoving throng.
Instead, he jerked her closer to him. She stumbled against his rock-hard ribs, and her teeth cracked together. Meanwhile he addressed the huddle of men still struggling with Terry. “I said cut it out!” He kicked one man away and with his free hand, pulled a second man back. “I’m counting to three…” The rest saw, heard, sheepishly slowed, then stopped. Only Terry still fought, even if it was just air.
One of the fighters glared at Terry, then said contritely, “Sorry, Chief. But this asshole—”
Chief? Edie stared. Not likely Native American with all those Nordic bones. What other kind of—
She groaned silently and looked him over. No uniform, no badge. Just a pair of well-worn jeans and a T-shirt molded over a broad, enticing chest. Then again, did the chief of police in a small town wear a uniform?
“Don’t think you can shut me up, Holt,” Terry said to the bigger man. “Ain’t no one can shut me up.”
“And we all know it, too,” the man named Holt said. “Come on, you can tell me your troubles on the way.” He put a friendly arm around Terry, who tried, unsuccessfully, to shrug it off. Edie noted Holt’s arm had slipped up to Terry’s neck, more of a hold, like his grip on her—tough and unbreakable. With both of them prisoners, the chief walked off.
“Hey!” Edie stumbled along. “Where are you—”
“You can continue, Mr. Fred!” Holt shouted.
“Thank you, Chief,” came Mr. Fred over the microphone, and began droning on again.
Edie tried twisting out of his grip. “You gonna let me go?”
He looked down at her. “You assaulted a police officer.”
“I did not!” She heard the screech in her voice and forcefully calmed down. “I was defending myself. Not my fault you stepped into my fist.”
He grinned. “That what happened?” He turned Terry’s head toward him. “That what happened, Terry?”
“I don’t know,” Terry grumbled.
They’d reached the edge of the crowd and the curb where a black SUV was parked. Edie found herself shoved into the front, while the lawman dealt with Terry in the back. As soon as Holt’s back was turned, Edie got out of the car.
“Don’t make me chase you.” Holt didn’t even bother turning around. “It’s my day off and I already did my run for the day. Twice in one day makes me grumpy. And you don’t want to see me grumpy.”
She was debating this when he slammed the back door on Terry, and Red ran up.
“You okay, Edie? Holt, what the hell you doing with my new bartender?”
“Ah, so that’s who she is. Well, why didn’t you say so?” He grinned at her again, and she was flummoxed by the twinkle in his eyes. Were they green? She looked closer, caught herself. Scowled.
“You didn’t exactly give me a chance,” she said.
“True. My bad. It’s just not good for my reputation to be hit in the face by a girl.”
“I need her tonight, Holt.”
“Expecting a crowd?”
“You bet I am.”
Holt rubbed his jaw again.
“You’re not seriously going to arrest me for injuring your pride?” Edie said.
“You do have a pretty mean left hook.”
“The better to pull two beers at once.”
“Holt—” Red was sputtering.
“Okay, okay.” Holt laughed. “Just wanted to find out who the little spitfire fighting the whole town was.” He leaned against the car door. Inside, Terry began banging against the window.
“You could’ve asked,” Edie said.
He acknowledged as much with a shrug. “Now where’s the fun in that?”
Asshole. The word was halfway out her mouth when Red took her arm and pulled her away.
“Edie,” Holt called out behind her back as she walked off with Red. “Nice to meet you.”
She turned to face him, walking backward. “Can’t say the same.”
Holt watched her stomp off, a tough, dark-haired woman in a town of soft blondes. Not that he minded blondes. He’d married one. But Cindy had always been modest, her butt carefully disguised in soft skirts and loose trousers. The one walking away from him swayed proudly in tight jeans. Round, juicy, touchable. He had to tear his gaze away before someone accused him of gawking. Hell of it was, he was gawking.
In a rush to stop, he whirled around, called his deputy to come get Terry Bishop, then looked out over the park, the clumps of colored balloons, the clusters of townspeople. But all he could see were Edie’s firm breasts encased in her leather vest, the tattoo peeking out of the shoulder. And that mass of dark hair piled loosely on top of her head—like one of the Ronettes from his dad’s record collection.
Not exactly what he should be bringing home to Mom. Or a five-year-old.
His pulse picked up again. Edie whoever she was spelled trouble. Big-city trouble. He’d been away from Memphis for five years now, and though loath to say so out loud, he missed it. The speed, the lights, the strange characters. Not to mention that adrenaline rush of danger. His body hummed the way a missing limb itched.
He forced himself to recall the rest. The junkies, the dealers, the pimps and gangs. And the dead. Always the dead. Strung out in alleys, outside clubs, on the street in midday, in hospital beds. Especially in hospital beds.
The dead had chased him back to Redbud.
Deputy Samantha Fish showed up in a squeal of brakes, siren and lights flashing. She jumped out of the car spic and span, her uniform pressed, her hair slicked back in an efficient bun.
“Yes, sir.” She practically saluted him.
“At ease, Deputy,” Holt said dryly. But getting ex-army Sergeant Fish to ease up was no easy task.
“Yessir.” She still stood ramrod straight, even while looking past him at the back of his SUV. Terry continued making a racket. “That the miscreant?”
“That’s him.” Gingerly, he opened the door, surprising Terry, who was in the middle of banging on it. The drunk fell out and landed on his face, making it easier for Sam to cuff him.
“Stow it, Bishop.” She hauled him upright with a powerful arm that could more than handle Terry’s inebriated state. In fact, it could more than handle most men. Holt suspected if he ever got down on the mat with her, he’d come up second, even with the thirty-odd pounds and five inches he had on her.
Terry stumbled to his feet, grinned at her.
“That’s Deputy Fish to you,” she said with a stern frown.
“Aw, c’mon, Sam. Let’s have a beer.”
She lugged him toward her car. “Beer’s what’s got you into trouble in the first place.”
“Yeah, but it’s hot, and I’m thirsty.”
That was the last whine Holt heard because Sam shoved Terry inside her car and drove off with him. A night in the new town jail would keep him off the streets and out of Red’s.
“Daddy!” Miranda ran up and hugged him around the knee. His mother, Mimsy, was right behind her. The sight of his women sent a warm ripple through him. What was he doing hankering after a dark mistress when he had his own blonde tribe to surround him?
“You said ice cream,” Miranda scolded in a clear tone that brooked no arguments. She’d inherited her mother’s fine translucent skin, the kind that had fascinated him about his wife. He used to trace the blue veins beneath the tender skin, marveling at how fragile she appeared. But Miranda was not her mother. Even at five she was demanding where Cindy had been persuasive.
He swung his daughter up to his shoulders. “And I meant it, too.”
Her small fingers grabbed the top of his head. “I want chocolate.”
“I like a woman who knows what she wants.” He kissed her knee, and winked at his mother. “Where’s Dad?”
Mimsy rolled her eyes. “I don’t know why that man calls it a game when it’s clearly life and death to him.”
“That bad, huh?”
“The last I saw, he was arguing over whether Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio was the greatest hitter ever.”
Holt smiled. Some things never changed. Not in Redbud at least. There was comfort in that, even if it was a little predictable. He looked around. The picnic was still going strong. Laughing faces, kids screaming, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn. His town. Where he was born and raised. His place in the world. And now it was Miranda’s place.
Uneasiness tried to wriggle its way up his chest, an asp searching for his heart. But nothing could go wrong in a place like Redbud.
He hugged Miranda’s knees closer to him. Maybe that was the problem.
y ten, Red’s bar was one note short of rowdy. Which suited Edie just fine. She didn’t have to scrounge for the information she wanted; the place was buzzing with the fight and Terry Bishop, as she learned his last name was. Not to mention her own part.
“Hey—you’re the girl the chief dragged away.”
“That’s me. Barely got to town and already notorious.” She swiped the bar clean in front of the three newcomers and gave them that welcome smile. “Edie.”
“Give us a couple, Edie.”
She poured the beers and set them in front of the group.
“Andy Burkett,” said the one in the middle, a small wiry man with a shock of thick, unruly hair that continually fell over his forehead. “Run Myer’s garage.”
“Yeah? So what happened to Myer?”
As one, the group pointed to the floor. “Six, seven years ago,” said Burkett. “Bought it from the widow. Thought, hell, whole county used to calling it Myer’s, why change?”
Now that was a hell of a thing, Edie thought, recalling her own decision. “What’s in a name anyway, right?” Only everything.
Burkett shrugged and introduced the other two men with him. He nodded to the stodgy one next to him. “That good-for-nothing’s Howard Wayne and the other one”— he thumbed to the scarecrow on the far side—“that’s Russ Elam. They work over at the plant.”