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Authors: Katherine Allred

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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He pulled the car into her driveway. “If I can do it, how much worse can watching it be?”

“I’ll remember you said that.” She opened the door and got out.

“Jessie? Can I get that book now?”

She leaned over far enough to see A my’s hopeful face. “Sure. It’s still packed with the rest of my books, but it shouldn’t take us long to find it.”

By the time A my was out of the car, Chase had Jessie’s belongings out of the trunk. “I can take those now.” She reached for them but he pulled away.

“I’ll carry them in for you.”

So much for his patience. But she couldn’t point that out with A my standing on the porch waiting for them. Becoming A my’s buddy would certainly throw her together with Chase on occasion, but she’d hoped for more time to allow her to come to grips with his advances. She still wasn’t sure the entire episode hadn’t sprung full-blown from her fertile imagination. She glanced over her shoulder to check. Nope. He was really there.

Once they were in the kitchen, she waved at the counter. “Just put the boxes there. I’ll take care of them later.” He was looking around with great interest. “You haven’t changed much.”

“I haven’t had time.” She put a hand on A my’s shoulder and steered her toward the living room. “Books are this way.” There were cartons still stacked in front of the empty bookshelves, and they had to go through several of them before they found the book A my had asked to borrow, plus three more to go with it. Chase had stayed in the kitchen, and Jessie could hear vague noises from that direction. What was he doing, going through her cabinets?

It didn’t take long to find out. By the time she returned to the kitchen with A my, he was sitting at the table, a cup cradled in his hands.

“I made coffee. Hope you don’t mind.”

“No, of course not.” She glanced at the counter. Not only had he made coffee, all the dirty dishes were now stacked neatly in the sink and the boxes disposed of. Nothing like making yourself at home.

A my confiscated the chair at the other end of the table, leaving the one beside Chase for her. Jessie poured her own cup of coffee.

“There’s some sodas in the fridge,” she told A my. “Want one?”

“Sure.”

Chase arched his eyebrow at his daughter.

“I mean, yes, thank you.”

Holding her cup in one hand, Jessie took out a can of soda and closed the fridge door with her hip. “You’re welcome.” She put the can in front of A my and sat down, trying to keep her knee from touching Chase’s leg under the table.

Nervously, she played with her cup handle then glanced at him. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the nearest car dealership is, would you?”

“New or used?”

“I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. I guess I could look at both.”

“If you can afford it, I’d go with new. With a used car you’re just buying someone else’s headache. There are a few dealers in Liberty.

When are you planning on going?”

She chewed her bottom lip for a second, thinking. “I probably won’t have time until Thursday. I’ve already got several classes scheduled for the rest of the week, and Saturday looks like it’s going to one of my busy days.”

“Need a ride?” Casually, he sipped from his cup.

“Thanks, but I’m sure I can get Bridget to take me.”

He snorted. “That should be interesting. Two women shopping for a car. The dealer will take one look and double the price. You’ll be better off letting me go with you.”

Jessie’s mouth dropped open. “That is so sexist!”

Chase nodded. “Yeah, it is. It’s also a fact of life whether we like it or not.” She hesitated. “Bridget really should keep the studio open, but I don’t want to put you out.”

“You won’t. School starts week after next and A my needs new clothes. We can do both the same day. She’d probably be relieved not to have me make the choices. She thinks I have no fashion sense.” He made a face at his daughter and she giggled.

“Please come with us, Jessie?”

“Well, I suppose I could.” Why did she feel like she was getting in a lot deeper here, faster than she’d ever thought possible? But one look at A my’s face and she knew she couldn’t say no.

With a self-satisfied smile, Chase finished off his coffee and stood. “Ready to go, Pum’kin?”

“I guess.” A my gathered up the books and then, to Jessie’s surprise, hugged her. “Thanks, Jessie.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie.” She rose and followed them to the porch. Instead of getting back in the car, A my split across the backyards, heading for home.

Jessie stopped on the top step and watched her go. “She certainly doesn’t look like you, does she?” Chase gave her a sharp glance. “No. She looks like Becky.” He had moved down two steps, putting his head even with hers.

A smile played across Jessie’s mouth. “She’s a lot sweeter than you ever were, too.”

“Now how would you know?” His voice turned soft, his drawl more pronounced. “I don’t recall you ever tasting.” Oh, lord. That stupid tingle was back in her stomach. “Back off, Sheriff.” The smile she gave him was saccharine. “I said I’d think about it.”

He leaned closer. His breath, warm on her ear, sent a shiver rippling over her. “You pull another stunt like what you did in the park this morning and all bets are off.”

“Stunt?” Her eyes widened innocently until she remembered adding the wiggle to her walk when she left him at the restroom.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Even a patient man can only take so much before he reaches the end of his endurance.” She took a step back, still smiling. “I’m sure you can think of something to do with your ‘endurance,’ Sheriff. Just use your imagination.”

“That’s part of the problem,” he murmured. “I have been. Ever since you got back to town.”

“I suspect you’ll live.”

He went down another step, then stopped. “Need a ride to the dance tomorrow night? You are going, aren’t you?”

“I’m going. A nd I have a ride, thank you.”

“Oh.”

She knew he was dying to ask her who with, but he didn’t.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you then.”

“Good night, Sheriff.”

“Can’t you at least call me Chase?”

“I’ll think about it.”

He sighed. “You sure do a lot of that. Good night, Jess.”

Chapter Four

“Jess?” Bridget’s voice floated up the stairs.

“I’m in the spare bedroom,” Jess yelled back, smoothing the fitted sheet down with one hand. Unfolding the top sheet, she flipped it over the bed just as Bridget bounced through the door.

“Dom’s not here yet?”

“No, he’s driving down. I don’t expect him until about two. Help me tuck this in.”

“Drat. I was hoping to get a look at him before tonight. I’ve never met anyone famous before.” Bridget grabbed the sheet on her side of the bed and tucked it under the mattress.

Jessie grinned at her. “Dom puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.”

“Can you verify that from personal experience?”

“A s a matter of fact, I can. When we worked on a dance routine he wore workout clothes, then put on a pair of sweats after we finished.” She added a light blanket to the bed, then the bedspread.

“That’s not how I mean and you know it.” Bridget tucked the spread under a pillow. “You dated him, so don’t try to fool me.” Jessie decided it was time to change the subject. “How did it go with Howard last night?” Instantly, Bridget’s face lit up. “I didn’t take him right back to the motel. We decided to stop at the café for coffee.”

“A nd?” Jessie prompted.

“It was wonderful.” Bridget sighed. “We talked until they closed the place down. We’re going to the dance together tonight. A nd you know what the best part is? He’s moving to Bay Town next month and he said he’d like to keep seeing me.”

“Yes!” Jessie pumped her fist in the air. “I knew it! I told you it would happen, didn’t I?”

“I think I’m in shock. I keep wanting to pinch myself, but if this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”

“It’s not a dream, Bridg. I’m so happy for you.”

“He actually told me that he’s been kicking himself since graduation for not getting up the nerve to ask me out. He said he thought he’d lost his chance, that he expected to come back and find me married with three kids.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s a CPA .” Bridget hesitated. “I’m sorry I dumped you on Chase yesterday.”

“Under the circumstances, I’ll forgive you. This time.”

Bridget curled her leg under her and sat on the corner of the newly made bed. “Chase told me he was interested in you.” Jess turned her back to the room, fluffing the lace curtains on the window as an excuse not to look at her friend. “Right out of the clear blue sky, huh? He just walked up and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in Jessie’.”

“Not exactly.” Bridget’s voice was decidedly uneasy. “He wanted to know why you seemed so cool toward him. That’s when I asked him if he was interested, and he said yes.”

She swiveled back toward Bridget, her eyes narrowed as she studied her friend’s innocent expression. “Why am I getting the impression you spilled your guts?”

“Come on, Jess,” Bridget pleaded. “Would it kill you to be nice to him? He likes you.” She headed for the bedroom door and Bridget jumped up to follow her. “So he says. But I’m afraid it’s not me he likes, it’s my body.” She stopped so fast Bridget ran into her. “We both know that if I were still overweight he wouldn’t say two words to me.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

“Yes,” she replied grimly. “I do. Chase Martin doesn’t know a thing about me other than how I look.”

“Jess, any man you meet is going to be attracted to your looks first. That’s life. If you turn them all down on that basis you’re going to spend the rest of your life alone.”

“A nd that’s a bad thing?” She continued down the stairs to the kitchen.

“I think it’s horrible. You’ll wind up one of those little old ladies who talks to her plants and has a hundred cats.” She stayed right on Jessie’s heels. “What about children? I know you love them. Don’t you want any of your own?”

“I have hundreds of children. Every one I teach is mine.” She paused for a moment in contemplation. “Okay, I’ll admit it might be nice to have one of my own someday. But there are other ways, Bridg. I don’t need a man, and I don’t need to be married.”

“In Rocky Flats, you do,” Bridget replied glumly. “This isn’t New York. The only sperm banks we have are walking around on two legs.

A nd even with those, the choices are pretty pitiful. A t least you know Chase makes great kids.” Jessie took a head of lettuce out of the fridge. “Want a salad?”

“Sure. I’ve got some time to kill before my beauty shop appointment.”

“Speaking of A my.” She tore lettuce leaves into a bowl. “What exactly happened between Chase and Becky?”

“A h hah! You are interested!”

“I’m interested in A my. She may be ten, but her eyes…” Jessie shook her head. “I don’t know how to put it. You’ve heard of someone having an old soul? Well, A my has old eyes. Like she’s seen too much. It’s strange. There’s something going on there, but she doesn’t seem to fit the description of a depressed child.”

Bridget shrugged, then pulled out a chair. “I guess it’s not a big secret. Becky was pregnant with A my when she and Chase got married.

You know, she always was a little on the wild side, staying out late and partying even in junior high. Everyone thought she’d settle down after A my was born, but she didn’t. A nd being forced into marriage sent all Chase’s plans up in smoke. Especially college. He couldn’t do that and support a family. So he worked for the police department during the day and attended the community college at night.” Her friend sighed. “It got pretty bad, Jess. So bad that Chase had to hire someone to stay at the house when he had a class. That was after he came home one night and found A my all alone. Becky had gone out to the roadhouse and left her. Then, a little over four years ago, Becky just packed up and disappeared. The only time she came back was during the divorce proceedings, and she just stayed long enough to give Chase complete custody of A my. Didn’t even want to see her.”

Jessie carried the salad and bowls to the table. “God, what some people do to their kids.”

“I know. Chase has done his best for A my but it doesn’t seem to be working. He thinks she blames herself because Becky left.”

“She probably does. Kids get weird ideas when their parents divorce. Lord knows I did, and neither of my parents were abusive.” They dug into the salad. “My dad was always yelling at me for leaving toys in the drive. The day he left, my skates were there. I’d simply taken them off and forgotten to move them. For years I thought those stupid skates were the reason he left.”

“How are your parents? You know, I never forgave your mother for taking you away the very day we graduated.” Jessie grimaced. “Dad’s on the west coast, Mom’s on the east, and never the twain shall meet.”

“Well, I can honestly say that I’ve never heard Chase so much as raise his voice with A my. That little girl is his whole life. He’d cut off his arm before he’d hurt her.”

“Unfortunately, the damage is already done.” She glanced out the back window just in time to see Chase push a lawn mower past the end of his house. When he reached the edge of his yard, he made a neat turn and started back in the other direction. His T-shirt, damp with sweat, clung lovingly to his upper body, outlining each ripple of muscle. The bite of salad she’d taken promptly lodged in her throat. Damn the man for being so sexy. How was she supposed to make a rational decision about him when he looked like that? Or maybe she already had and her body just hadn’t clued her brain in yet.

“Well, thanks for the rabbit food.” Bridget pushed her bowl aside. “I’ve got to get going or I’m going to be late. What time will you be at the dance tonight?”

Jessie followed her onto the porch. “A bout seven, I think.”

“Okay. See you later.”

She waited while Bridget got into her car. The buzz of Chase’s lawn mower was louder out here and she snuck a quick glance in his direction. He wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to her. With a great deal of self-disgust, she squashed the surge of disappoint that hit her.

Lifting her chin in the air, she marched back into her house. There was still a lot to do before tonight, and Dom could be here any minute.

For just a second, she was tempted to turn around and stick her tongue out at Chase Martin. It would serve him right for stirring up her hormones like he had. She let the door slam behind her with a loud satisfying bang.

* * * * *

Chase grabbed the broom from the back porch and brushed the loose grass from his shoes, mentally going over everything he had to do before tonight. He knew there wasn’t really that much. It was simply a distraction technique. Something to keep his mind off Jessie.

He felt as if his body had turned into a giant compass with Jessie being true north. A nd he was trying really hard to ignore the portion of his anatomy that had become the pointer. It wasn’t easy. It had taken every drop of his willpower not to stop and stare at her when she’d come out on the porch with Bridget earlier.

Did she wear those skintight shorts just to drive him crazy? His eyes closed briefly in agony. The tiny T-shirt she was wearing hadn’t helped either. It showed a good portion of skin above the waist of her shorts, and he knew with a deep male instinct that she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath. It made the palms of his hands itch just thinking about it. What had ever made him believe he could be patient?

His daughter was sitting at the end of the table, her nose buried in one of the books she’d gotten from Jessie. While he approved her interest in reading, he did wish she would occasionally put the books down and get involved with kids her own age.

“Did you get your room straightened up?” He took an icy soda from the fridge and held it against his face for a second before opening the tab.

“Uh-huh.” A my didn’t even look up when she answered. “A lso vacuumed and dusted.” Chase pulled out the chair across from her and sat down, studying her bent head. “Got a minute?” She looked up. “I guess.”

“A re you sure you’re okay with me going to the dance tonight? I can always stay home.”

“I don’t mind. A unt Ruth rented some movies for us to watch.”

“Got your overnight bag all packed?”

“Yes, sir.” She glanced out the window.

Chase hesitated, rolling the bottom of the soda can in a circle on the table. “You really like Jessie, don’t you?” Her whole face lit up. “Jessie is great. She doesn’t talk to me like I’m just a kid.”

“Oh, meaning I do?” He smiled at her.

“Sometimes. But you’re my dad, so I guess you have to. You like Jessie, too, don’t you?” She was suddenly looking a little anxious.

Trying his best to appear nonchalant, Chase took a drink of soda. “Sure. She’s okay.” A my took a deep breath in relief, then suddenly held it as she looked out the window. “Wow.” She expelled the air in a whoosh.

“What?” Chase leaned over to see what had caused the exclamation. It was a car, pulling to a stop in Jessie’s drive. Not just any car, either. It was a shiny black sports car. He couldn’t be sure, but from here it looked like a Jaguar.

Even as the driver exited the car, Jessie flew out the back door and launched herself at him. The stranger caught her, lifted her feet from the ground and spun her in a circle before kissing her soundly. Furthermore, not only was she not protesting, she seemed to be returning the sentiments.

Every organ in Chase’s body clenched with anger. If he’d touched the soda can at that instant the contents would have boiled away to steam. His reaction was gut level, primitive in a way he’d never experienced before. A low growl rumbled in his chest as he assessed the enemy, the male who was intruding on his personal territory.

He barely noticed the puzzled look A my shot him before she turned back to the window.

The man was only a few inches taller than Jessie, but well-muscled, his size exactly proportioned for his height. Obviously of Hispanic descent, his dark hair waved down to his shoulders. He had the classic features that some women seemed to find irresistible, the kind that belonged on a movie screen.

Unconsciously, Chase’s lips curled back to expose his teeth, his entire being focused on the arm casually draped around Jessie’s shoulders as the couple turned toward her house.

“Dad, are you okay?” A my was staring at him again.

“I’m fine.” He ground the words out.

“You look you’re going to bite something,” she commented. “A nd you were growling.” Chase forced himself away from the window, wondering when he’d stood and moved around the table. “I was not growling.”

“Yes you were. I heard you.”

“I’m just hungry. I missed lunch.”

“Want me to make you a sandwich?”

“I’ll do it.” Food was the last thing he wanted, but he had to do something with the adrenaline spurting through his body. He didn’t realize his hands were fisted until he reached for the bread, and even after he’d relaxed them he still mangled the first slice out of the loaf.

Why the hell hadn’t it occurred to him that she might be in a relationship with someone? He glowered at the peanut butter he was spreading. Because he hadn’t wanted to think about it, damn it, and he still didn’t. But it was stupid to think a woman like Jessie wouldn’t have been snapped up long before now.

He slapped the top on the sandwich and took a bite, leaning back against the counter as he chewed. His gaze went to A my as he tried to pry the bread off the roof of his mouth. For once she had completely abandoned her book and was watching him, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.

“Fwhat?” he mumbled, spewing bread crumbs over the front of his shirt.

“Nothing. I just thought you hated peanut butter.”

Chase looked down at the sandwich in his hand as if it were a green-horned alien. “I do. I mean, I did.” Determinedly, he took another bite and almost gagged. “Maybe you should head on over to A unt Ruth’s before it gets dark.”

“Dad, it’s two-thirty in the afternoon,” she said with the air someone explaining the obvious to very small child. “I don’t think it’s going to take me four hours to walk next door.”

“Well, in that case, I’m going to go jump in the shower.” He dropped the rest of the sandwich into the trash then leaned over and kissed her cheek. “If you leave before I’m done, have fun with A unt Ruth tonight.”

BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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