Roxanne King left the big city looking for a simpler life, but after years of proving herself on a SWAT team in New York City, being deputy in a sleepy Louisiana parish is something of an adjustment. She's settling in, but she knows she made some mistakes in the beginning--Zep Guidry being the worst of them. Zep drifts through life on his looks and Cajun charm. Roxie learned the hard way he's not for her.
Zep is a man who knows what he wants, and what he wants is Roxie. He's just not sure how to get her. They spent one hot night together a year before and now all the lovely deputy seems interested in doing to him is arresting him. He's not used to a woman he can't charm, but Roxie seems immune. He's determined to win her back by any means necessary. Including becoming the kind of man she desires.
And when Roxie's past comes calling, it might be the opportunity Zep needs to show Roxie that the town bad boy might just be the man of her dreams.
Release date: December 1, 2020
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Roxanne King stared at the man who’d called her out to his small farm at three in the morning. Archie Johnson was in his late seventies, and he didn’t mind running around in the middle of the night in his underwear. The man was wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and a thin white T-shirt. His hair was wild and his glasses threatened to fall off his face.
“I’m confused. Who do you think is in your barn?” She’d gotten the call as she was working the night shift. She worked days, but she took the occasional night shift when the normal guys needed time off. Usually it involved catching up on paperwork and breaking up the occasional bar brawl. It sometimes ended up being a weird therapy session with the participants of the aforementioned brawls. She’d taken more than one person in custody straight from jail to their first AA meeting.
Sometimes the person in jail was merely a dumbass who pushed her until she couldn’t ignore him and she tossed him in the back of her cruiser because she couldn’t let herself do what she wanted to do with him.
She was not going to think about Zep Guidry. No. She was concentrating on this very important breaking-and-entering call.
“It’s the rougarou,” Archie said, pointing toward the barn. He’d said the word like it had some magical power and he didn’t want to be too loud about it.
“Rouga-what?” She didn’t recognize anyone by that name, but then Cajun ways were still a mystery to her and she was several years into this job.
How the hell she’d ended up in a tiny parish in Southern Louisiana she had no idea. To say her new home was a big dose of culture shock would be underplaying the experience.
“Archie! Archie!” The diminutive Caroline Johnson made her way down the steps, a robe in her hand. Unlike her husband, Caroline was dressed from head to toe in a housedress, slippers, and robe, her hair in a silky-looking wrapper. She held the extra robe out. “You put this on.”
Archie frowned his wife’s way. “It’s hot as stink out here, woman.”
Caroline shook her head. “No. You’re showing off for the ladies. You be a gentleman. You know how I feel about other women appreciating your body.”
Roxie was sure Archie was in fine shape for his age, but the sight of his skinny body did not inspire lust.
“You keep your jealousy to yourself,” Archie proclaimed. “It’s hot and I’m not covering up because the deputy might get the wrong idea. I’ve never cheated on you in fifty-two years.”
They started to argue about the prospect of Archie’s skinny body causing the women of Papillon to lose their minds with desire, and Roxie again wondered how she’d gotten here. She’d been on a fast track. She’d been one of the first female snipers ever to serve in ESU. One man who couldn’t be a decent human being and here she was refereeing bar fights and calming down tourists who thought Otis was going to eat them—calling a gator by his given name, and somehow that being the most normal part of her day.
This was her life. Her whole life.
A light pierced the darkness of the night around them— a vehicle coming up the long road that led from the highway. The Johnson farm was remote, but then most places in the parish could be considered remote. The Johnson farm was on the north end of town, and there was no ambient light out here. When she’d first moved to Papillon, that darkness had been a foreign thing. A moonless night had felt almost oppressive. Now she appreciated the contrast. There was night here in a way she’d never experienced, and somehow the darkness of the night made the day brighter.
Yeah, she was becoming quite the poet, but one of the things she’d learned was that when she wasn’t constantly on the move, she thought way, way too much.
The car turned up the long drive, but she couldn’t make out what kind of vehicle it was. The lights weren’t the new super-bright kind, but then most of the vehicles around the parish were older. When the Burtons had gotten their brand-new F-150 complete with LED headlights, the number of UFO sightings had gone through the roof. And it wasn’t like there hadn’t been many before.
“Woman, why are you worried about my naked knees when we’ve got a rougarou on our land?” Archie asked, pointing to the barn. “You should give me back my shotgun.”
“I hid your shotgun because your eyes are going, you paranoid old man,” Caroline retorted. “That is probably a poor bunny rabbit running around out there. You don’t need to take another shot at it.”
“A bunny rabbit wouldn’t scare the goats,” Archie shouted back.
The lights turned and stopped next to her SUV. They blinked out and she hoped Major hadn’t felt the need to follow her out here. Or Armie. She knew the sheriff and her fellow deputy often monitored the radio even on their nights off. Even though she’d promised she would call if she came up against something she couldn’t handle alone.
And she would. Probably.
“All right, could someone explain what’s going on.” She needed to take charge, and that meant getting these two to focus on something other than Archie’s ragged shorts. “You said someone was in your barn. I need to know how many people you think are in there.”
“It’s the rougarou,” Archie insisted.
Sometimes she had trouble understanding some of the more rural residents. They often broke into French. She’d learned serviceable Spanish, but French hadn’t been important to policing in the city. Especially not the Cajun French a lot of people spoke around here. “Is that a name?”
“That is the imaginings of a crazy old man,” Caroline said with a long sigh, and gave Archie a stern look. “Put your robe on.”
Roxie bit back a groan. “Is there or is there not someone lurking around the barn?”
“There is.” Archie blocked his wife’s attempts to cover his body. “It’s back and we’re all in trouble now.”
“It?” She was missing something.
“He’s talking about a swamp creature,” a deep voice said.
A familiar voice.
“Zéphirin Guidry.” Archie breathed the name with a sigh of relief. “Thank you so much for coming. It’s the damn rougarou. We thought it was gone, thought your daddy killed the whole nest of them way back in ’eighty-two, but I heard that rustling tonight and knew it was back.”
Zep stepped on the porch, his long legs hauling him up with ease. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, worn boots on his feet. It was his usual outfit. Given the time of night, most people would have had to get out of bed to get dressed, but Zep had likely come from a bar. His natural habitat. The only thing that was different from his normal clothes was the bag slung over his chest. “Hey, Rox . . . Deputy King.”
She was so glad she’d perfected her poker face at a young age because every time she saw that man, she wanted to sigh and stare for a long time. Zep was a work of art. Six foot three, with broad shoulders and muscles she wasn’t sure how he’d earned, Zep was simply the most beautiful man she’d ever met. His jaw was sharp in contrast with the softness of his too-long, dark wavy hair. It had a slight curl to it that made her want to run her fingers through it right before she rubbed her cheek against his and let the scruff she found there tickle her skin.
He was the baddest boy of the parish, and she’d already made her mistake with him.
You are gorgeous, Roxanne King. I think I could spend some time with you. I think I could spend a lot of time with you.
Unfortunately, he spent time with a lot of women. And she didn’t do bad boys. Well, she didn’t do them more than once.
“What are you doing out here, Guidry?”
There was the little frown that hit his face every time she used his last name. If she hadn’t been certain she knew the man, she would have thought it was hurt on that handsome face of his. But she knew what it really was. Frustration. Zep was a man used to getting what he wanted. He’d decided he’d wanted a second night with her, and when she’d refused, he’d begun the chase.
He was a man who lived for the chase.
“Archie called me,” he replied. “Probably right after he called you.”
Archie shook his head. “Oh, no. Before. I knew I would need a hunter, and everyone knows you’re just like your daddy was. You have ways. You can see them, talk to them.”
Sometimes she wondered if she was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You think Guidry here can talk to the rag thing?”
“The rougarou,” Zep corrected her before turning back to Archie. “You said it was in your barn?”
Archie blinked and then nodded. “Yes. It’s in there. I heard something rustling around. The goats were going crazy. I heard it growl and it cursed. I definitely heard it curse in its language. There was a light, too. I saw it under the doors, and then it was all dark.”
Zep nodded like that made sense somehow. “I’ll go check it out.” He gave Caroline Johnson a charming grin. “And you better get your husband dressed, Mrs. Johnson. Women see all that masculinity and they won’t know what to do with themselves.”
Caroline’s eyes lit with righteous fire. “That’s what I said. You cover up, old man.”
Zep hopped off the porch and started across the big yard, his cell phone lighting the way.
“Hey, you need to hold up.” Roxie followed him. The last thing she needed was for him to walk into a dangerous situation and get himself hurt. Her ass would be on the line for letting a civilian take control.
It had nothing to do with the fact that she didn’t want to see him injured, that the thought made her stomach ache. Because she didn’t care.
“It’s nothing,” Zep insisted. “Or rather it’s not a police thing, I suspect. The Johnsons don’t have anything to steal. They certainly don’t have anything in that barn unless someone is trying to steal a goat. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Those damn goats can be mean. They’ve got horns and don’t mind using them.”
She fell into step beside him. “I should still go first. I don’t understand why they called you. You’re not a neighbor.”
“We’re all neighbors out here,” Zep said. “And he didn’t call me because I live in town. He called me because I know how to deal with wildlife.”
The parish didn’t have an animal services department. The sheriff’s office had to handle most of the wildlife encounters. She’d had to take a couple of classes from park rangers to teach her how to not freak out. “You think something got in the barn? What about the light he saw?”
“I think Archie likes to get into the whiskey, and he’s still got an excellent imagination. Unless we want to have a serious discussion about whether or not a swamp creature is hiding in the Johnson barn.”
She sighed as they approached the barn in question. “Swamp creature?”
“The rougarou is our version of a werewolf,” Zep explained. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it yet. We haven’t had a sighting in years, but folks love to talk.”
Roxie hadn’t studied local lore. Of course, she didn’t do much of anything beyond work and have the occasional beer with the guys—who treated her like one of the guys. The small group of employees at the Papillon Parish station consisted of herself, Sheriff Armie LaVigne, and four deputies. She was the only female among them, and not one of them looked at her like she was a woman.
It was exactly what she wanted.
But one night, the man beside her had sent the strongest reminder that she wasn’t one of the guys. He’d proven to her she was a woman and she could want everything a woman wanted. Love, affection, passion.
She wouldn’t get any of those things from him. Not for longer than a night or two, and then she would be one in the long line of women who pined over the gorgeous . . . what had the town librarian called him? A rakehell. The woman read a whole lot of historical romances.
In this century, they would call Zep Guidry a player.
She wasn’t going to get played again.
“Maybe you should stay up on the porch with the Johnsons,” she said as they began to approach the barn door. The night around them was eerily quiet, and she was starting to get a little adrenaline pumping. Not because she believed there was a swampy werewolf behind those doors. Rather because she didn’t.
“You want to face whatever’s in there alone?” Zep asked.
“Do you honestly believe there’s some supernatural creature in there?”
“No, of course I don’t, but I do know Archie,” Zep replied, his voice going low. “I know he sounds like a crazy old man at times, but he does know his livestock. If he says something upset those goats, then something was in there. Might not be now.”
“So what you’re saying is we might open that door to a goat massacre.” It was not a pleasant thought. “I left New York for this.”
“I think New York has its share of predators, city girl,” Zep replied with a low chuckle she wished she didn’t find so sexy. “But I don’t think there’s one in that barn.”
There was that chuckle again. “Because it’s so quiet. I assure you if those goats were being attacked, they would not be silent about it. There would be a lot of noise. According to what Archie told me, they were bleating like crazy about twenty minutes ago and then everything went silent. I think whatever was in there is likely gone now.”
They’d made it to the barn doors, and sure enough, there was perfect silence coming from inside. She held out a hand to let Zep know she wanted a minute and was surprised when he went still, too.
She should order him back to the house, but the truth was she didn’t mind having some company, and he might be able to help. The darkness could be disorienting, and sometimes these old barns could be minefields. “Have you been in this barn? Is it like some of the others I’ve seen?”
“Do you mean is it full of things that could potentially stab you, and have they been left in places where you could step on them?” Zep proved that he was a perceptive guy, but then she’d never bought his himbo act. “Nah, Archie’s pretty neat. But I don’t like the thought of you going in alone. It’s dark in there and a single flashlight isn’t incredibly helpful. I know where the lights are.”
“All right, but you do what I tell you to do,” Roxie insisted. “If I tell you to run . . .”
His lips quirked up, but there was nothing humorous about the expression on his face. “I’ll run and leave you to be eaten by whatever attacks. I promise, Deputy. You know I always protect myself. I’m that guy.”
Once again she got that feeling that always hit her when she played the tough cop around him. It was a feeling she hated—like she’d disappointed someone important. Zep Guidry had been a much-regretted mistake. Not someone important. Not someone who should make her feel anything beyond minor irritation.
But one night he made you feel something you hadn’t felt in forever. He made you want something beyond a peaceful day, a cold beer, and a good night’s sleep. He reminded you that once you’d wanted something more than a place to hide and lick your wounds.
Yeah, that was precisely why she was going to stay away from him. The trouble was it was a small town and there wasn’t much cover. She ran into him a lot, and often she was irritated enough to shove his cute butt in the back of her squad car because he liked to cause trouble.
Tonight’s encounter was different. “All right, I’ll open the door and give you cover. You make your way to the light switch.”
“I will endeavor to do my best, Deputy,” he said, and she could hear that arrogant smirk of his in his tone.
She looked down and pulled open the barn door. It looked like Mr. Johnson didn’t lock the place up at night, but then he might not actually lock the door to his house, either. She’d noticed hers was one of the only houses in the area with a security system. She’d had to drive an hour to find one she could buy and had to install it herself.
She opened the door and saw the glow of eyes flash and then disappear.
Like the flash that night right before the bullet had roared through her world, tearing apart something special.
“To your left!” she shouted.
She followed her instinct and leapt toward Zep, tackling him, ready to take that bullet this time.
* * * *
Zep hit the ground, the wind knocking out of him, but the shock was mostly to his brain. Roxie. What had happened that caused the normally perfect oasis of calm that was Roxanne King turn into a tidal wave? He’d seen a vague flash of eyes in the darkness, and then she’d yelled at him and launched herself bodily his way.
He went still because he sensed that she’d panicked, and that wasn’t something she ever did.
Well, except that morning after she’d made the smart choice to take a chance on him. Then she’d panicked, and when Roxie was panicked, she could be on the mean side.
So he was going to let her take the lead in this very dangerous-to-his-manhood endeavor. He wondered if she understood how close she’d come to her knee shoving his balls back up into his body.
“Are you okay?” He whispered the question.
“Something’s in here. I saw something move,” she whispered back.
“Okay, uhm, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to stay calm even when I annoy you by pointing out that what you saw was the Johnsons’ cat.”
As if the cat knew that was its cue, the tabby purred long and loud, tail swinging into view. The cat sat down right next to them and her eyes flashed again, proving his theory.
Roxie cursed and rolled off him, and he missed the slight weight of her body against his. Though he did breathe a sigh of relief that she’d managed not to use his man parts as leverage to get on her feet.
“Hey, Snuggles,” he said as the cat rubbed her face against his.
“Seriously?” Roxie groaned in the low light as she picked up the flashlight she’d dropped when she’d attempted to save him from whatever she’d thought was coming after them. “I panicked over a cat named Snuggles?”
“Yeah, it’s not an intimidating name, but you should know she’s the bane of rats around these parts.” He sat up and reached around to find his phone. He found it and flashed the beam around. Ten pairs of eyes flashed back at him. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not used to the country. It can be intimidating at night. All the goats are accounted for.”
One of them bleated, an annoyed sound.
“Excellent. I saved a bunch of goats from a cat.” Roxie sounded equally annoyed.
He got to his feet, Snuggles rubbing herself against his leg. “The goats are used to the cat. She’s out here with them all the time. They wouldn’t be disturbed by her at all. It had to be something else.”
“You know I’m not exactly a newbie,” she said. “I’ve been here a couple of years now.”
“You’ve been in the station house ninety-nine percent of the time. You haven’t exactly been hanging out in the woods at night.” He moved to the side and found the light switch. In a second, they were in the soft glow of the barn lights. Soft because only one of them was functioning. There were supposed to be five, but it looked like they’d burned out.
He would have to come out tomorrow before his shift at Guidry’s and find an excuse to change them or Archie would get the ladder out and likely need his other hip replaced. Or he could slip that bit of information his brother-in-law’s way. Harry lived to be helpful. When Zep tried it, people tended to think he was up to something.
But that was what happened when you got a reputation as a bad boy. People never thought you could do something out of the goodness of your heart, and pretty deputies used you for sex and then tossed you aside. Story of his life.
Though he had to admit he’d earned his reputation. He couldn’t even lie to himself about that.
“I work a lot. And I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a hiker.” Roxie slipped her flashlight back onto her utility belt. He didn’t know a single other female in the world who could look so damn gorgeous in a set of khakis. Her golden-brown hair was usually in a severe bun, but wisps had escaped and framed her face. There was a brushing of freckles over her cheeks and nose that she almost never hid with makeup. “All right, Guidry. You seem to be the expert here. What do you think happened?”
“Something slipped in, scared the goats, and the cat did her job,” he said, walking around the barn, Snuggles at his heels. “Scared it away. That’s what she’s here for. That and keeping the rodent population down.”
“The cat doesn’t seem to mind you,” she pointed out, sounding disgruntled.
“They all tend to like me.”
She made a gagging sound. “Yes, all females fall at your feet.”
But then again, she hadn’t shoved him into the path of whatever she’d thought was coming their way this evening. She’d done the opposite and actually put her own body over his to save him.
It could mean she was just a really good cop.
Or it could mean something more. He was an optimist at heart, and he chose to believe that meant there was still a connection between them.
God, he had to believe it because it was the only time he’d ever felt that connection in his life, and it had to be with the toughest, most complicated woman he’d ever met. Lucky for them both, he was real simple. And hey, he’d heard opposites attracted.
“I was talking about cats,” he corrected as he inspected the west end of the barn. “And dogs. Most small animals, really. I do well with horses. I try my damnedest to stay away from Otis, though. The last thing I need is a gator to decide I’m a friend of his. But cats and dogs are excellent company. Birds, too.”
He was good with birds. He’d learned from his father at a young age how to take care of injured birds or to gently nurse along babies in their shells when they were abandoned. When he thought about his father, he could see him standing over the incubator he’d put together after they’d found a dead swallow and noticed her nest above. He’d climbed up and brought the eggs down, and they’d nursed those birds until they were ready to be on their own.
They’d been tiny things and his father’s hand so large and yet gentle.
Roxie stopped. “Do you think Archie sits on the fertilizer a lot? Maybe uses it as a ladder?”
She was standing in front of a bunch of stacked bags of fertilizer Archie likely wouldn’t use for months. There was a good-size indention there, as though someone had been sitting on them. The rest of the top bag was coated in dust, so whoever had disturbed it had done it recently.
“I don’t think so. He doesn’t spend a lot of time out here this time of year. He pretty much only comes in to let the goats in and out of their pens. His sons come through a couple of times a month. They do a lot of the upkeep on this place.”
Roxie leaned over and picked up an orange wrapper that had been sitting on the floor. “Do any of the Johnsons eat a lot of flaming-hot chips?”
“Archie sure doesn’t. At least not anywhere his wife could see him do it,” he replied. “He had a mild heart attack a couple of months back and Lila convinced Caroline that eating a healthy diet might prolong his life.” Lila LaVigne ran the town’s medical clinic and had lots of thoughts on nutrition.
“Convinced? You know Lila is an expert, right?”
“I’m well acquainted with her skills. I’ve still got my pinkie finger because of them, but I’ve seen what Caroline’s putting on his plate, and death might be a good alternative,” he shot back. “So yeah, that absolutely could have been him sneaking some treats.”
He stopped because he heard something in the distance. A whine.
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