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Authors: Katherine Allred

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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* * * * *

“Hi. Whatcha’ reading?”

The little girl inserted her finger in the book to mark her place and flipped the cover over so Jessie could see it. “Black Beauty.”

“That was one of my favorites, too. Right up there with Yukon King.”

“I haven’t read that one.” Her voice was soft, but she smiled shyly.

“I’ve got a copy at home. You can borrow it if you’d like.” She held out her hand. “I’m Jessie, your new neighbor.” A my shook her hand. “I know. I saw you moving in. I’m A my.”

“I heard you and my grandmother were pretty good friends.”

“She was nice. I kind of miss her.”

“Me too. A nd I’ve been gone so long I don’t really know anyone in Rocky Flats these days. It gets kind of lonely. I’d love to have you visit me just like you did Gram.” She leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially, “To tell you the truth, some of these people scare me. Who is that guy with the pompoms in his ears?”

A my giggled. “That’s Mr. Isom. A nd those aren’t pompoms. It’s his hair.”

Jessie looked at Mr. Isom speculatively. “I don’t know. Sure looks like pompoms to me. A nd I thought people in New York were strange.”

“Mrs. James used to tell me about you. She said you were a dancer.”

“Well, kind of.” Jessie waggled her hand. “I dance, but mostly I make up dances for other people to do. Now I’m going to teach. Do you like to dance?”

A my shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never tried.”

“Oh, my.” Jessie clutched a hand to her heart. “We’ll certainly have to work on that. Everyone has to dance at least once in their life. It’s like a universal law.”

“I don’t think I’d be very good at it.”

“I bet you would. Don’t you like music?”

“Sure. Some of it anyway.”

“A nd when you listen to it, doesn’t it make you want to twitch around?”

A my giggled again. “I guess.”

“Well, there you go. That’s all it takes.”

“Mrs. James didn’t tell me how pretty you are.”

Jessie looked at her in surprise. “Me? Listen kid, I’d sell my firstborn to have blonde hair and blue eyes like yours. Haven’t you ever noticed all the princesses in the fairy tales look like you? It really gave me a complex when I was growing up. A nytime you want to trade, just say the word.”

“Snow White had dark hair.”

“Yeah, and look what happened to her. First her stepmother hires someone to cut her heart out, then when that fails, she puts her in a coma. A nd in between the two incidents, she gets to cook and clean for seven men. Not my idea of a fun time.” A my collapsed against the tree in laughter, and Jessie smiled with her. “What say you put that book down, help an old lady up off the ground, and let’s go see if the food is ready yet? I’m starved.”

“Okay.” A my jumped to her feet and held her hand out to assist Jessie. “But don’t try any of Jeannie Rayburn’s cheesy potato casserole.

When she made it for the Fourth of July picnic half the town wound up at the clinic.”

“Right.” Jessie dusted off the seat of her pants. “No cheesy potato casserole.”

* * * * *

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Chase muttered, his gaze following his daughter and Jessie.

“Told you.” Bridget grinned at him.

“I still wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.” He ran a shaky hand through his hair. “Do you know, I can’t remember the last time I heard A my laugh. Even when she smiles I get the feeling she’s doing it for my benefit.”

“Well, at least you don’t have any problem with Jessie where A my is concerned.”

“Maybe not.” His gaze stayed fixed on the other end of the table. “But just because A my likes her now doesn’t mean she wouldn’t resent it if I started seeing Jessie.”

“You won’t know that for sure unless you try. A nd you certainly don’t have to rush into anything. Jessie isn’t going anywhere.” Chase mulled the suggestion over in his mind and discovered he liked the idea of being close to Jessie. Liked it a lot. He even liked her feisty attitude, which should indicate just how much trouble he was in here.

Suddenly, he smiled. She was barely civil to him and he was already thinking about getting her in bed. Long years of celibacy were obviously taking their toll, and in spite of his fears, his body was finally rebelling. Bridget was right. He’d take it slow and easy, try and get to know her first, then worry about the rest later. A fter all, he was a grown, intelligent man. Just because he’d been tricked once didn’t mean it would happen again.

Chapter Three

It was strange, Jessie mused, how much fun she was having. She glanced around the picnic table at the faces from her youth, faces that were older, yet still familiar. She hadn’t expected to have anything in common with them, but they’d treated her like one of the gang, privy to all the memories only an insider would have.

Doug Henderson was currently regaling the group with the story of their first choir recital in tenth grade. He’d been so scared that his knees had locked, and as a result he’d fallen over, taking the top three rows of singers with him. Jessie remembered the incident vividly, since she’d been standing next to him when it happened. Their teacher had panicked and the whole recital had erupted into pandemonium with parents charging the stage to check on the welfare of their downed offspring.

Jessie laughed along with everyone else until her gaze happened to meet Chase’s. He was sitting directly across the table, staring at her with a bemused expression on his face. A jolt of awareness ran through her as their eyes clashed, and she looked away hurriedly, uncomfortable with the feeling. Instead she chose to smile down at A my.

The little girl was wedged firmly between her and Bridget, with Howard Castle perched on the end of the bench next to Bridget. Howard had turned out to be quite a surprise. Not only were the thick glasses gone, he was about as un-nerdish as it was possible to get. A nd he obviously still had a thing for her friend. Bridget was blushing so much it looked like she had a permanent sunburn.

“Hey,” Doug continued. “Remember the time in eleventh grade when someone put Superglue all over the seat of Mr. Weems’ chair? Those polyester pants he wore bonded so tight he waddled all the way to the office with the chair stuck to his butt.” From A my’s other side, Bridget promptly choked on her soda. Jessie reached around and thumped her on the back, her eyes daring Bridget to say anything. She may have done it, but she’d be darned if she’d confess to it, even at this late date.

She took a quick look at Chase to see if he’d noticed Bridget’s reaction. He’d noticed, all right. One eyebrow was quirked in amusement and a grin was tugging at the corners of his lips.

Suddenly, Jessie forgot Chase as words from down the table rang in the abrupt silence.

“Those were the biggest damn panties I’ve ever seen. It was hysterical, and the look on Jessie’s face was priceless. Hey, Jess, you remember that don’t you? It took me fifteen minutes to open the combination on your locker, but it was worth it.” Heat suffused her cheeks as Frank Jackson continued.

“Did you have those things special ma—”

“Frank,” the voice that cut him off was a slow, sarcastic drawl. “When you’re eighteen, having no brain might be a legitimate excuse for being an idiot, but at your age, you’ll need a better one. Now why don’t you shut up while it’s still a voluntary choice?” She whipped around to stare at Chase, not sure if he’d actually spoken, or if she’d only imagined it.

He gave her a half smile. “Sorry about that. I guess some people never grow up.”

“Thanks, but I could have taken care of him myself.”

One of his broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. “I always regretted what they did to you that day. If I’d gotten there a few seconds earlier I might have been able to stop it.”

Jessie cleared her throat, then leaned toward Bridget. “I’m going to the restroom,” she whispered. “Be right back.” She took a deep, relieved breath as she left the table. A s badly as she hated to admit it, Chase was making her a nervous wreck. Every time she looked up it was to meet those blue eyes of his, watching her quietly. A nd each time it happened, their gazes lingered a little longer.

Even worse, she couldn’t seem to stop. It made her feel like a mouse checking to see if the cat was still guarding the cheese.

Was it possible she’d misjudged him? That he’d had nothing to do with the panty joke? She couldn’t quite bring herself to believe he hadn’t known about it.

The inside of the restroom was dark and cool after the bright sun outside. She took her time, dawdling at the sink and peering into the mirror. Hopefully, the others would be on another topic by the time she went back.

A fter washing her hands thoroughly, she dried them on paper towels and tossed the damp brown wads into the trash can. It was only a mild surprise to find Chase waiting for her when she stepped through the door.

“A re you following me, Sheriff?” She arched a brow in question.

“I wouldn’t have to if you’d stop running from me.” He crossed his arms over his chest and studied her. “Who would have thought that quiet little Jessie James was the outlaw who glued poor Mr. Weems to his chair. What else have you gotten away with just because nobody suspected you?”

She squared her chin. “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me. Besides, you can’t prove I did it, and the statute of limitations has run out on it by now.” She paused. “A nd I am not running away from you.” Defensively, she reached for her sunglasses.

“Don’t.”

Her hand stopped like someone had turned off a switch. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t hide your eyes. They’re too beautiful to cover up.”

“Why, Sheriff, I do believe you’re flirting with me.” She straightened. “Too bad it’s not working.” A smile softened the line of his firm lips. “Just being honest. Even in high school I thought you had the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, yeah. Right.” Her voice oozed sarcasm. “That’s why you spent so much time looking through me.”

“I wasn’t looking through you, Jessie. I was staring at you. There is a difference.”

“A nd I know it when I see it. You didn’t know I existed, which was fine with me. A s a matter of fact, do you think we might go back to that arrangement now?”

“No, I don’t think so.” His gaze dropped to her mouth. “A nd since I’m being honest, I should probably tell you that I’ve been dying to kiss you since I walked into your studio the other night.”

It felt as though her heart did a rapid somersault, dived down to her toes, then tried to escape through the top of her head. Her eyes widened and her lips parted in surprise even as she took an involuntary step back.

“Don’t worry.” His smile was wry. “I won’t jump you.”

“Well, thank God for that. I’d hate to have to hurt you.” Even to her own ears her voice sounded weak. She could barely think. Vaguely, she waved her hand toward the pavilion. “We’d better get back.”

“Wait.” His hand touched her arm, slid down her bare skin until his fingers curled around hers. “There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

To her chagrin, Jessie discovered she was having trouble breathing. Her entire focus narrowed to the point where he was touching her, and an echoing heat pooled low in her stomach. Panicked, she tried to pull her hand away from him, but he hung on.

“It’s about A my.”

The surprise of that statement helped her regain her balance and she looked up in puzzlement. “What about her?” He gazed down at their hands. “When Becky left it did something to A my. She seems to keep slipping further and further into depression.

She’s withdrawn from everyone and everything. She has no friends and doesn’t act like she wants any.” He hesitated. “A t least until today. She made a connection with you.”

“Does that bother you?” She tried again to pull her hand away and this time he let her, sticking his own in his pockets.

“No. I’d like to see it continue. You may be just what she needs. Nothing I’m doing seems to be helping.” Jessie looked up at him suspiciously. “A nd what do you get out of this?”

“A happy daughter and the chance to get to know you a little better,” he replied promptly.

“What if I don’t want to know you better?”

He shrugged. “It’s a small town and we’re neighbors. You can’t avoid me forever.” His voice went soft. “I don’t plan on giving up, Jess.

I’m a patient man. Take all the time you need. I can wait.”

For a spilt second, surprise held her speechless. She simply could not believe what she was hearing. “A re you always this blunt?” That “drop them dead where they stand” smile flickered across his lips again. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been interested in any woman. I’m afraid I don’t remember how to play the game anymore.”

She hesitated. How often in the past had she dreamed of this moment? So many she’d lost count. Still, she wasn’t sure she trusted him.

“Just out of curiosity, since you were so bemused by my beautiful eyes and spent so much time staring ‘at’ me, what stopped you from asking the fat girl on a date?”

He glanced away, then looked back at her. “I’d been going with Becky for almost a year at the time. I don’t cheat, Jess.” She studied him intently. “So, if you hadn’t been going with Becky you would have asked me out?”

“It would be easy to say yes.” He ran a hand through his hair. “The truth is, I don’t know. I was going with Becky. A lot of things would be different if I hadn’t been.”

Jessie paused, her mind spinning. A t least he hadn’t lied. “Okay, I’ll think about it.” When he opened his mouth she held up one finger. “I was talking about you. A s for A my, I like her. She seems like a great kid. If I can do anything to help her, I will. But for now, I’m heading back to the picnic. Bye-bye, Sheriff.” She swaggered back toward the pavilion.

“Jessie?”

She turned so suddenly that she caught his gaze fastened to her rear end. Without the slightest bit of embarrassment, he lifted his eyes to meet hers and grinned.

“Thanks.”

Was he thanking her for A my, or for the view? she wondered. Without answering, she started for the picnic table again, knowing exactly where he was looking. So, the sheriff had the hots for her, did he? The thought sent a wild surge of excitement through her. Impulsively, she added an extra swing to her hips and was rewarded by a low groan from behind her.

It was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud. God, it was fun to turn the tables on him. She had lusted after him for years. Even after she’d gone to New York she’d dreamed about him. Let him do the suffering now.

* * * * *

The parking lot was slowly emptying and the sun was a huge orange ball on the horizon as Jessie repacked the bowls she and Bridget had brought with them. She’d only caught glimpses of Bridget after lunch and each time her friend had been with Howard. Not that she’d been lonely. A my had stuck to her like a conjoined twin all afternoon.

She hadn’t managed to coax the little girl into joining the softball game, but at least A my had sat on the bleachers and cheered Jessie on.

A t the moment the girl was helping pack.

“Is this yours?” A my held up a blue Tupperware bowl with a spoon of coleslaw left in the bottom.

“Yep.” Jessie took it and popped the lid back on. “I think that’s the last of them.” She added it to the rest.

Chase stopped behind A my, one hand on her shoulder. “You about ready to go, Pum’kin?” A my leaned her head back to look at him pleadingly. “Can’t we wait until Jessie is ready to leave?” Chase smoothed her blonde hair down and smiled. “I guess we can do that.”

“It won’t be long,” Jessie said. “Here comes Bridget and Howard now.”

The couple stopped in front of them, Bridget blushing furiously. “Howard is staying at the motel, Jess. If it’s okay with you, I told him we’d give him a ride back.”

She smiled at Howard. “I don’t mind a bit.”

“Why can’t we take Jessie home?” A my turned to her father. “Please, Dad? She lives right behind us.”

“Oh, really,” Jessie began. “That’s not nec—”

Chase looked up and met her gaze, cutting her protest off in midstream. “It does seem kind of silly for Bridget to go out of her way.”

“Thanks, Chase.” Bridget beamed at him before shooting an apologetic glance at Jessie. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Jess.” Not if she strangled her first, Jessie thought in disgust, watching the couple walk away. This clinched it. She was definitely going to have to buy a car.

“I’ll get those for you.” Chase lifted the boxes. “We’re parked over here.”

She followed him to a dark blue sedan, A my walking sedately beside her, and waited while he opened the trunk and put the load inside. “I figured you’d be driving a patrol car.”

“It’s at home.” He came around to her side of the car and opened the door for her. A my was already climbing into the backseat. “I don’t use it on my off days.”

While he went around to the driver’s side, she did a rapid scan of the inside. The car was clean enough you could have eaten off the seats and she caught herself wondering if his house was the same way. A s he slid under the steering wheel she watched him, trying to picture him washing dishes or running a vacuum. Nope. The image just wouldn’t come. Not Chase Martin.

He backed smoothly out of the parking space and headed for the street while the silence inside the car grew thicker. Chase cleared his throat.

“It was fun seeing everyone again.”

Jessie grimaced. “I still can’t believe I let Nancy talk me into helping with their production of Grease.” She smiled over the seat at A my.

“Can you just picture Mr. Isom in a black leather jacket with his pompoms all slicked back? It boggles the mind.” A my was giggling again, and Chase looked puzzled. “Pompoms?”

“Private joke.” She winked at A my.

“The theater company isn’t that bad. It may not be up to Broadway standards, but we’ve got some pretty good actors around here.”

“Dad belongs to it,” A my piped up. “Last year he played the lead in Hamlet. He was great.”

“Oh. My. God.” Jessie started laughing. “A re you telling me that you actually put on tights and pranced around on a stage? In public?” Chase squirmed in his seat. “I wouldn’t exactly call it prancing.”

“I can’t believe I missed it.” She shook her head sadly. “Now that’s a sight I would have paid money to see.”

“A unt Ruth taped the whole play,” A my commented.

“A my!”

Jessie laughed again. “I expect you to sneak it over to my house the first chance you get,” she told the little girl. “I’ll make popcorn and we can watch it together.”

“Can Dad come too?”

She glanced at Chase. “Think he can stand the humiliation?”

BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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