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Authors: Katherine Allred

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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“Really dirty, huh?” She grinned at him.

“Dirty?”

“Never mind.” She marked her place in the book then picked it up. “On second thought, I think I will go over to A unt Ruth’s now. Bye, Dad. See you in the morning.”

The instant she was through the door, Chase turned back to the window. Neither Jessie nor the stranger was anywhere in sight and there was no sign of movement from the house. He raised his eyes to the second floor, where the bedrooms were and the hair stood up on the back of his neck.

Oh, yeah. Him she had to think about, but she let some two-bit Don Juan maul her in public because he had a pretty face. Why, right now they could be upstairs in one of those bedrooms— He cut the thought off with a groan.

He had to do something, anything to stop her. Sugar. That was it. Neighbors were always borrowing sugar from each other. He stalked to the cabinet and grabbed a cup. He’d just casually stroll across the yard, look the situation over, strangle the man, then return home with a cup of sugar he didn’t need and arrest himself.

Jessie’s back door was opening when it dawned on him this might not be the brightest idea he’d ever had. She peered up at up him through the screen in obvious surprise, then leaned against the frame and crossed her arms, a smile twitching the corners of her lips. He noted with great relief that she was still fully clothed, and in the same thing she’d been wearing earlier.

“Well, if it isn’t our illustrious sheriff. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Uh,” he looked down at the cup, took a deep breath and held it out. “I ran out of sugar.” Her gaze went down to the cup, then back up to his eyes, and she grinned. “Doing your baking today, Sheriff?”

“Not exactly,” he muttered, although he was beginning to wonder if maybe he hadn’t stood in front of the microwave too long. It certainly felt as if his brain had been nuked.

She straightened and pushed the screen door open with one hand. “Would you like to come in?”

“Sure. Thanks.” He stepped by her, his gaze going immediately to the man sprawled at the kitchen table like he owned the place. For a second they eyed each other, then both men nodded curtly. “Sorry. I didn’t know you had company.”

“Yeah, I guess that Jag in the driveway is easy to overlook.” She tugged the cup from his hand. “Don’t worry, though. Dom isn’t company.”

“Dom?”

The man stood and held out his hand. “Dominic Reyes. A nd you would be…?”

“Chase Martin.” While Jessie poured sugar into his cup, he and Reyes indulged in the age-old custom of trying to break each other’s fingers. It gave him a small sense of victory when Reyes winced first and pulled his hand back.

“Here you go, Sheriff.” Jessie handed him the cup.

“Thanks.” He hesitated. “Well, guess I’ll see you later. I need to get home with this and get in the shower.” Jessie’s eyebrows lifted. “You take a shower with sugar? Better watch that, Sheriff. I hear the killer bees are headed in this direction.”

“I didn’t mean…” Chase sighed. “Never mind.”

She held the door open and when he passed in front of her he paused. They were close enough that he caught her scent, close enough that with very little effort he could kiss her. What would Don Juan think about that?

For a split second, their gazes met and he saw her pupils dilate as though she knew exactly what he was thinking.

“Goodbye, Sheriff.”

“One of these days, you’re going to stop telling me goodbye every time you see me,” he murmured. Before she could answer, he pulled the door out of her hand and closed it behind him.

Chapter Five

Walking into the country club’s ballroom gave Jessie a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Except for the wide expanse of French doors opening onto the balcony, the room was decorated remarkably like the gym had been for their senior prom. The theme had been Moonlight and Music, and what appeared to be the same huge, foil-covered moon graced the back of the stage. Gardens of tissue flowers lined the edges of the floor in multicolored splendor. There was only one big difference. This time she wasn’t alone.

Running her hands nervously down the red chiffon of her full, mid-thigh length skirt, she glanced at Dom. “You’re sure I look all right?”

“You look fantastic.” His brown eyes swept over her with appreciation. “Better than fantastic.” She had bought the dress at Bergdorf’s in New York a few days before she’d left. The front bodice was slit almost to the waist, each side fastening behind her neck to leave her shoulders and back bare. While giving the impression that she might fall out of it any second, it actually fit quite snugly over her breasts. She’d left her hair down and the only jewelry she wore was a set of ruby teardrop earrings that matched the dress.

The noise level in the room had dropped audibly since they’d stepped through the door, but Jessie was under no illusion as to why. It wasn’t her. It was Dom. Even in normal attire the man oozed sex appeal. In a tux he was devastating. From the craning of necks and turning of heads, it was apparent that every female in the room recognized him instantly.

“Nervous?” He smiled at her.

“Stupid, isn’t it? But dancing in front of strangers is a whole different ball game than putting on a show in front of people you grew up with.”

“Then don’t put on a show. Let’s just relax and enjoy ourselves. I haven’t seen you in two weeks and I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too. I’m so glad you could come this weekend.” She gestured toward one of the tables set to the side of the dance floor.

“There’s Bridget and Howard. She’s dying to meet you. Think you can stand another adoring fan drooling on you?”

“I live for drool.”

“It’s a good thing. You may need a napkin the size of a bedsheet before tonight is over.” Jessie led the way through the maze of people and stopped at Bridget’s table. “Hi. Do you mind if we join you?”

“Not at all.” Howard stood, Bridget gaped.

Jessie grinned at her. “Bridget, Howard, this is Dominic Reyes. Dom, this is Bridget McMillan and Howard Castle.” Dom picked up Bridget’s hand and bent over it gallantly. “Bridget, it’s a pleasure. I feel like I know you, Jessie’s told me so much about you. However, she failed to mention what a beautiful lady you are.”

It was all Jessie could do to keep from laughing out loud. Bridget’s eyes were practically rolling back in her head, and her face was three shades darker than her hair.

“Th-thank you,” the redhead stuttered. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”

The men shook hands, then Dom held a chair for her. Jessie put her handbag on the table and sat, her gaze sweeping the room as a waiter placed a glass of champagne in front of her. “Looks like everyone is here,” she told Bridget. Except Chase, she added mentally. If he was there, he was well hidden. “It’s hard to believe these are the same people who were at the picnic yesterday.”

“They clean up pretty good, don’t they,” Howard said. “You certainly look beautiful tonight, Jessie. A lmost as beautiful as Bridget.”

“Thank you, Howard.”

Bridget did look beautiful. Jessie had seen her dress earlier this week, but not when she was wearing it. The emerald green silk really brought her friend’s eyes out, and the upswept hairstyle suited her. Or maybe it was just Howard who suited her. Either way, Bridget was glowing.

“Jessie told me you’re on your way to California to start work on a movie,” Bridget ventured hesitantly.

Dom nodded. “Unfortunately, I have to head out first thing tomorrow. We start shooting next week.”

“What kind of movie is it?”

Jessie sipped her drink, only listening with one ear as Dom told them about the action adventure film he was starting. She’d read the script herself and already knew all the details. Instead, she let her attention drift around the room. The band had finally started to play, and several couples were moving toward the dance floor. She was watching them with a professional eye when her skin tingled and a flush of warmth stole over her.

Trying to make the movement appear casual, she turned her head slightly to the right. A nd met Chase’s eyes dead-on. He had one broad shoulder leaned against a Grecian column, a fluted goblet held loosely in his hand. Jack Delaney, Rocky Flats’ mayor, was with him, talking earnestly, his hand waving with each word.

A slow heat built inside her as Chase continued to hold her gaze. Suddenly, a hint of a smile lifted one corner of his lips and he raised his glass, tipping it in her direction before taking a sip.

Jessie inclined her head regally in acknowledgment. Damn it. The man was even sexier in a tux than Dom. Black was definitely his color.

God help her if he ever found out the effect he still had on her. She could barely breathe.

A bruptly, she turned to Dom. “Let’s dance.”

She must have interrupted him mid-sentence because he still had his mouth open.

He raised one eyebrow. “Sure.” Standing, he took her hand and helped her to her feet. “If you’ll excuse us.” He smiled at Bridget and Howard.

Dom kept his grip on her hand as he led her toward the dance floor. “This urge to dance was rather sudden. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the sheriff was ogling you, would it?”

“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed. “I didn’t even notice he was here.”

They stopped in the middle of the dance floor and he raised her hand above their heads. “Yeah, I saw you not noticing.” The band was playing a salsa, and on his last word, he spun her in a circle, catching her in mid-twirl with one arm around her waist, her back to him. Jessie threw back her head and laughed. There was nothing in the world like dancing with Dom.

* * * * *

She was doing it deliberately. There was no doubt in his mind. Jessie had moved back to Rocky Flats with one goal in that gorgeous head of hers. She was trying to drive him crazy, and doing a damn fine job of it.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her as she moved on the dance floor with Reyes. She was like a flame, a lone tongue of fire that swayed and spun, flickering with a siren’s call that invited the unwary to touch. A nd burn.

Even from across the room he felt her heat. It set his blood boiling, melting him from the inside out. Every time she turned, her skirt flared, exposing the most amazing length of legs he’d ever been privileged to see.

Chase was totally furious with himself. He’d acted like an idiot this afternoon. A my probably thought he’d gone over the edge, and he didn’t even want to consider what Jessie thought.

Casting another look at the dance floor, he turned and made his way to a table, sitting where he couldn’t see her. A waiter took his empty glass and replaced it with a full one.

It would be a lot easier to handle his emotions if he didn’t feel like he was getting mixed signals from her. A fter ten years in law enforcement he had learned to pay attention to body language. Jessie might be telling him she needed time to think, but her body was sending him an entirely different message. Or was he just seeing what he wanted to see? He wasn’t sure he could trust his own instincts where she was concerned. He lifted his hand and massaged the bridge of his nose.

“Headache?”

Chase dropped his hand and smiled at the blonde taking the seat next to him. “Hi, Donna. A permanent one, I think. A re you here alone?

I haven’t seen Frank tonight.”

“They had a crisis at one of the stores in Houston. He promised he’d try to be back, but I don’t really expect him to make it. You know how the traffic is.” She hesitated. “I think they tried to send Becky an invitation for tonight, but no one knew her address.” Donna had been Becky’s best friend in high school, although he’d never understood why. Donna wasn’t the party girl type.

“I doubt she would have bothered anyway. A nd if she had, it would only be to cause problems.” Donna sighed. “You’re probably right.” She was looking at a table behind him. “Jessie turned out to be a real surprise, didn’t she? She’s nothing like I remember from school.”

Chase stared fixedly at the drink he’d barely touched. “Isn’t she? I don’t think any of us bothered to get to know her well enough to judge.”

“You may have a point. Don’t you wish sometimes you could go back and do it again, knowing what you know now? Maybe we wouldn’t have been so stupid.”

“Yeah. Maybe we wouldn’t have been.” He took a sip of his drink.

“Karen Richards came into the shop a few days ago. She was looking at evening dresses.” She studied Chase. “I think she was hoping you’d ask her to the dance tonight.”

“Now why would she think that?”

“She cleans house for you two days a week, Chase. A blind man could see she’d like to do more.”

“She cleans for a lot of people. I’ve never given her a reason to think I was interested in anything else. I barely even speak to her, since I’m usually on my way out when she gets there.”

“Sometimes people don’t need any encouragement. There aren’t that many available males in Rocky Flats. Especially ones that look like you. It’s natural that Karen would be attracted. It’s been four years, Chase. Don’t you think it’s time to start a new life?” Jessie’s image popped into his mind. “Maybe. But if it is, I’ll do my own picking. A nd I’ve got A my to think about too.” She nodded. “Well, I have to get busy. Try not to look so depressed. This is supposed to be a party.” She patted his arm then stood and headed for a long table where their class mementos were spread out.

Leaving his glass on the table, Chase rose and slipped through the French doors. He needed to get outside for a while. A few couples were scattered around, talking, and he moved to the darkened end of the balcony. He was in no mood to engage in friendly chatter.

The lake was visible from here, moonlight glinting off the water. He leaned his arms on the concrete rail and propped one foot on the bottom edge, watching the lightening bugs dip and sway. It would have been better if he’d stayed home with A my tonight. A t least he wouldn’t have to suffer the torture of watching Jessie with her boyfriend. He’d give it another thirty minutes then leave.

Half that time had passed when suddenly the hair on the back of his neck prickled. He hadn’t heard the doors open again, but he knew without doubt that Jessie was near. He turned his head slightly. She was leaning against the railing, her hands braced on the balcony rim behind her while she stared back into the ballroom.

Silently, he straightened, intending to step farther back into the shadows, but she must have sensed his movement. She looked in his direction, hesitated, and then walked over to stand next to him.

“Hi. I thought you’d left.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets to keep from touching her. “I was thinking about it.” For a moment they both remained silent. “Jess, about Thursday…maybe you should get Bridget to take you to look for a car after all.” She leaned her hip against the rail, which put her facing him, way too close for his peace of mind. “What about A my’s school clothes?” He shrugged. “A unt Ruth can take her.”

“Why the sudden change in plans, Sheriff?” She was studying his face intently.

“I didn’t know about your friend when I asked you to go.” He forced himself to smile and hoped it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “I’d rather not be the cause of any problems.”

Turning, she looked out at the lake, offering him a view of her profile. A sigh escaped her. “I told A my I’d go, and I don’t want to disappoint her. She’s looking forward to it. For that matter, so am I. I need Bridget to keep the studio open, so she won’t be able to take us. I really need a car, Chase, and I’d rather not take a bus to Liberty. I’d consider it a personal favor if you wouldn’t back out.” He tried desperately to hold back the tide of elation that was threatening to burst his chest. Maybe things weren’t as serious with Reyes as he’d thought. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m positive.”

“Okay.” Cautiously, he moved closer and leaned beside her until their shoulders were brushing. “It looked like you were having fun in there tonight.”

A smile curved her lips. “I didn’t come tonight to have fun. I came because it’s good business.” She glanced over at him, the moonlight glinting off her hair. “These people may be your friends, but I barely know them. For me, there aren’t any fond memories of high school that I want to rehash. If it weren’t for Dom, this wouldn’t be any different than our prom.”

“What do you mean?”

This time she was the one who shrugged. “Not a single person has asked me to dance. A s a matter of fact, other than Bridget and Howard, no one has even spoken to me.”

“I don’t think you can blame them for that. Watching you and Reyes dance, even Fred A staire might be a little intimidated. You’re very good. Where is your boyfriend, by the way?”

“Poor Dom. They’ve got him pinned up in a corner signing autographs. But he’s not my boyfriend. Not like what you mean. Next to Bridget, he’s the best friend I’ve ever had. He came tonight as a favor to me, to help jump-start the studio.” Relief left his legs weak, but he didn’t care. The music from inside was clearly audible on the balcony. It was fast, but he didn’t care about that either. “Dance with me, Jess?”

“Here?”

“Why not? A t least if I step on your toes no one will know it but us.”

“In that case, I’d love to.”

She hesitated a bit when he held out his arms. “It isn’t a waltz.”

“I know, but there are limits on how badly I’m willing to embarrass myself, even in private.” Grinning, she put one hand on his shoulder and took his hand with her other one. “You did a pretty good job of it this afternoon. Be honest. You didn’t really need sugar, did you? You were just dying of curiosity.”

“I’m the sheriff. It’s my job to be curious. What if you were being held hostage?”

“A nd if I had been, you were going to save me with an empty cup?”

BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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