Jesse McCann and Cade Sinclair have floated through life, enjoying the world around them, but never allowing themselves to become a part of it. One look at the pretty attorney and Jesse realizes he’s finally found a reason to stay put. Cade isn’t so sure. He’s crazy about her, but he also knows he doesn’t deserve her.
As they begin to find their way together, a dark secret from Gemma’s past threatens to wreck their futures. Her ex-fiancé is back, bringing danger with him, and their time is running out. Jesse and Cade have to melt this Ice Queen’s heart, or she might not leave Bliss alive.
Release date: April 23, 2019
Publisher: DLZ Entertainment, LLC
Print pages: 300
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“So let me get this straight, Miss Wells. In the week you’ve been in Bliss, you’ve had and lost two jobs.”
Yep, she was on a roll. “Stella hasn’t actually fired me yet.”
But she would. Oh, there was no doubt in Gemma’s mind that the firing would come. Waitresses weren’t allowed to use Tasers on the patrons of the café. It might not have been on her employment form, but it was one of those universal things. There was also the fact that she’d been forced to leave her shift after the sheriff arrested her. She was sitting in jail in a crapass small town. Her life might have finally hit rock bottom. She’d thought she’d made it there before, but it turned out the sinkhole she was in was deeper than she’d imagined.
“She will fire you.” Nathan Wright looked every inch the lawman in a khaki uniform that clung to his well-formed torso. He leaned against the gate of her small prison cell, looking perfectly comfortable conducting the interview with bars between them.
“I suspect so.” And then the guy she’d Tased would sue the hell out of her. He wouldn’t get anything. She could sell her collection of shoes and handbags, but everything else was gone. And he would pry her coffeemaker out of her cold, dead hands. She looked out and the deputy was currently using his overly large paws to go through her Chanel bag.
“You find anything, Cam?” Wright didn’t bother looking back. He kept his eyes steady on her.
“She’s got a stun gun, pepper spray, what looks like a rape whistle, an EpiPen, more pepper spray.” The deputy shook his head as he pulled out a small air horn. “Why?”
She sighed. She didn’t particularly want to answer a ton of questions, but the deputy was almost too hot to resist. Deputy Cameron Briggs looked like he ought to be playing linebacker for a pro team. “I’m allergic to strawberries, hence the emergency dose of epinephrine I carry around in case of random strawberry attacks, and one of the pepper sprays is my backup. The air horn is for bears. And it’s a Taser.”
What could she say? As her old law school teacher used to say, prior planning prevented a piss-poor performance, and she was kind of scared of bears.
Briggs held up the small device that had already gotten her in trouble. “This is a stun gun. A Taser has darts.”
She shook her head. “Nope. I call it a Taser. It sounds better. Hey, I stunned gunned a dude doesn’t have the same ring as I tased his ass. You say potato and all.”
The sheriff frowned. “That is not right at all.”
She shrugged. She didn’t care about some textbook definition. People knew what a Taser was. That’s what she was going to call it. “And yet it is what it is. That’s my Taser.”
“But it’s…” Deputy Briggs shook his head at his boss and obviously made the choice to move on. “She’s got just about everything in here except a gun.”
“Keep looking.” They would find it eventually.
Briggs frowned, his hand digging further until he came up with her petite .38. “Yep. Here it is.”
The sheriff’s head shook. “All right, then. I guess I should be happy you didn’t shoot Max.”
“Was he the asshole with the salmonella phobia?” That cowboy had been hot, too, but slightly insane.
“Oh, yes. His name is Max Harper. He’s the man you tried to kill.”
“Don’t be a drama queen, Sheriff. I wasn’t trying to kill him. I was trying to prove a point. He was yelling at Stella. Stella is a nice lady. She shouldn’t have to put up with some jerk harassing her. And that burger was done. There was barely a hint of pink.” The Harper fellow had been loud and obnoxious and a bit of a bully. She’d stood there and listened to him harangue Stella, and she hadn’t been able to stand another minute of it. She’d walked right over to her purse, grabbed her Taser, and knocked the obnoxious hottie out. And then the strangest thing had happened. “You know the whole diner cheered, right?”
The sheriff’s lips curved up in a faint smile. “I can imagine. But that doesn’t make it any less of an assault.”
Fuck. She was in trouble. Again. For the last six months, she’d been utterly adrift. She’d had enough to stay in her crappy apartment while she’d looked for a job. She hadn’t even gotten an interview. Giles and Knoxbury was blackballing her. Hell, they didn’t need to blackball her. Her face had been all over the papers. She’d even made the national morning shows. One of the damn neighbors had taken video on their phone and she’d turned into a viral sensation. “Midtown Meltdown.” That was going to be the sum of her career.
When her mom had insisted on moving back to her Colorado hometown, Gemma had followed. It had been time to leave New York.
What was she going to tell her mom? She was thirty freaking years old, and she was worried about her mom thinking she was a loser. She’d lost two jobs due to her taciturn personality, and now she had the added threat of actual jail time.
“What can I do to make this right?” She was tired of screwing up. If apologizing to the paranoid jerk would keep her out of jail, then she would do it. She didn’t have to mean it. She was a lawyer. She was used to putting on a good show.
She used to be a lawyer. Damn it. Her money was running out. Right now, she could afford her own tiny cabin close to her mom’s. If she couldn’t keep a job, they would be living on top of each other. She didn’t want to add to her mother’s burden. Her mother had burdens enough. This was supposed to be a lovely time for her, but Gemma was doing nothing but making life hard. For the first time, she had to wonder if she was here for her mom or herself.
The glint in the sheriff’s eyes put Gemma on high alert. “Well, there might be a way we could work this out. I happen to be good friends with the Harpers.”
She bet he was. God, were they going to try to con the city slicker? She sat in stony silence, waiting for the shoe to drop.
“When you first came to town, you were given the choice of three jobs. Why did you turn me down?”
She had settled her mother into her cabin, made sure her own was livable, and then started looking for work. Three places had been hiring: The Trading Post, Stella’s Diner, and the Sheriff’s Department. It had been a hard decision between the first two. She’d utterly ignored the third. “I turned you down because the last two office managers you hired were both involved in bloody killings. And at least three people have died like right here. It doesn’t bode well for assistant number three.”
“She’s got a point, boss. This job is hours of pure boredom broken up by surprisingly frequent multiple murders.” Deputy Briggs winked her way. “And I’ve made sure to kill away from the station house so the office manager doesn’t have to clean up.”
The sheriff gave his deputy a thumbs-up. “See. We would be respectful. And the first manager was my wife. She killed a son of a bitch who was attempting to kill me. And then Hope’s son of a bitch was her psycho ex-husband. You won’t ever have to save me. All we have to worry about are psychotic exes. You got one of those?”
“Nope,” she replied. “Just an asshole, but he wouldn’t screw up his suit to kill someone, least of all me.”
“Then you’re in the clear.” He let the keys to the jail cell dangle. “What about it? You take the job, and we’ll call this time served.”
“I used to be a lawyer, you know. This is complete bullshit. I went to Harvard Law.”
The keys disappeared, and Wright winced. “Wow. No one told me that. Maybe I should rethink this. I didn’t realize you were a lawyer.”
“Come on, Nate.” Briggs practically begged. “Ever since Hope quit, nothing’s getting done. Make an exception. It’s obvious she’s insane, but she’s also our only choice. And you have to admit, she can handle some of the rougher parts of the job.”
“Yeah, but can she handle anything else? Fine. Damn it. I hate lawyers.” He opened up the cell, a frown on his face. “You can keep the stun gun and pepper spray. You’re going to have to prove to me that piece of crap gun works and you know how to use it. And lose the air horn. It only pisses the bears off. And they make my head hurt.”
She stood up, a little wary. “Just like that? You hire me, and I don’t get hauled in front of a judge?”
He shrugged. “Things work differently here, Counselor.”
She looked at the big desk in the center of the room. There was a radio, a mess of electronic equipment, and a sad-looking laptop. “I want a new computer. That thing is ancient.”
Nate frowned. “I didn’t realize this was a negotiation.”
She looked around the office. It could definitely use a makeover. “Life is a negotiation, Sheriff. I want a new laptop with a high-speed modem. I’m willing to work ridiculously long hours because I won’t have a life outside this job. You’ll discover that I’m excellent at deflecting unwanted attention from you, so you’ll have more time to do whatever it is you do. And I make the best coffee in the whole world. I’ll bring my own coffeemaker. I need my afternoon latte.”
“Please hire her.” The deputy’s eyes had lit up at the mention of coffee.
Wright nodded. “But we’re going to need a new speed trap. Laptops aren’t cheap.” He held out his hand. “Deal?”
She took it. At least she’d be off her feet, and this place actually looked like it might need something she could give. It was a dead end, but it would be good to be needed for a change. The job at Stella’s had only required a warm body with a minimum of brains and a whole lot of patience. She wasn’t patient. And apparently she scared children, which was why the very sweet Teeny Green had shown her the door with the Trading Post’s customary layoff package—a pound of fudge and a T-shirt.
She took the sheriff’s hand. “Deal.”
The doors to the station house opened, and Stella blasted through followed by none other than Gemma’s victim, Max Harper, a second Max Harper, and a woman carrying a wide-eyed baby.
“You let my waitress out of jail this instant, Nathan Wright!” Stella’s purple boots with embroidered stars rang across the floor.
“Now, we should talk about this, Sheriff. She did nearly kill me.” Max Harper held the spot on the back of his neck where she’d touched him with the Taser. The big bull hadn’t gone down quietly. And he’d seemed awfully surprised.
“Maxwell!” The pretty woman with strawberry blonde hair gave Harper a look that could freeze the balls off a man.
Cool blue eyes rolled. “Damn it, Rach. Stella and I were just having some fun.”
Stella turned on the cowboy. “You called me a senile old woman.”
The blonde gasped. “Max!”
Harper practically hid behind his second self. “I didn’t say it like that, baby. I told her she was losing her damn mind if she couldn’t see the burger was bleeding.”
The second Max Harper smiled Gemma’s way. “Hi, there. I’m Rye Harper, the sane half of us. Could you memorize this face so you don’t forget it the next time you get a hankering to shoot a whole bunch of electricity through a man?”
Max frowned. “Well, if I had known she was going to use a goddamn stun gun on me, I wouldn’t have agreed to this in the first place. I thought my eyes weren’t going to uncross there for a minute. That wasn’t worth the babysitting night, Nate. That shit hurt.”
Stella turned on the sheriff. “You set this up because you wanted to steal my waitress. You manipulative son of a bitch. Are you the one who set the Farley boys on her so she had to leave the Trading Post?”
Those boys had been past obnoxious, asking questions for four hours straight. They never let up. She’d finally broken down, cursing, and was shocked that two teenage boys could cry like that.
Nate Wright let loose a big, shit-eating grin. “I had to promise not to arrest them for their latest ‘rocket into space’ experiment. Though I think it might have worked. I feel bad for that frog. I think he might still be up there somewhere.”
Gemma turned to the asshole who had been making her life hell. “You are a manipulative, sneaky son of a bitch.”
“That’s ‘Boss son of a bitch’ to you.” Nate Wright looked pleased with himself as the phone rang. “Now, you need to take the spare Bronco over to Long-Haired Roger’s because the brakes are squeaking. The keys are in your desk.” The phone rang again. Wright pointed to it. “And that’s for you, Gemma. Welcome to Bliss.”
The Harpers were arguing over Max’s willingness to risk his body for a night of babysitting. Stella yelled at Nate.
And Gemma sat down at her desk. It was stupid. It was a little mean. It was the most trouble anyone had gone to over her in a long damn time. Nate Wright had plotted and planned and brought half the town into his machinations. She totally respected that.
“Bliss County Sheriff’s Department.” She used her most professional voice. And then listened in complete shock. “What do you mean aliens are attacking?”
“I’ll be fishing,” Wright said, grabbing his pole.
“I have to go set up that new speed trap. I’m going to call it Gemma’s Trap. And I’d love a tall one of those frothy coffee things with all the caramel. Thanks.” Briggs practically ran out the door.
She was left with a huffing Stella, a bickering Harper clan, and a pending alien invasion.
If her friends could see her now…
* * * *
“Hey, Cade, something’s up with one of the county vehicles. I think Cam is bringing it in this afternoon. Do you mind taking a look at it? If you can’t fix it quick, he’ll need a ride back to the station.”
Cade looked up from the Chevy he was working on and gave his boss a nod. Long-Haired Roger was known for his courteous demeanor and his lack of hair. “Sure thing.”
His boss was a gentle man who knew almost everything there was to know about the way engines worked. And he had a new friend. The town vet had recently brought Roger a rescue…dog. They said Princess Two was a dog, but to him it looked more like a rat that had maybe been thrown up by a poodle. Princess Two had weird bug eyes and a pink bow attached to her head.
And she shook. A lot.
Jesse walked in from the street, a bag in his hand. “Lunch is here. Apparently we missed all the fun. The new girl at Stella’s pulled a stun gun on Max Harper, and Nate hauled her off to jail. Did you hear about the way she made the Farley boys cry? What kind of a woman makes two boys cry?”
A fairly mean one. Cade hadn’t gotten a look at Gemma Wells, but he knew the type. He’d already heard her story. Big city lawyer. Some of the women had been talking about her shoes and the purses she carried. She probably looked down on everyone and everything. And sure Harper could be an ass, but what the hell kind of woman stunned a man like that?
“She’s a tourist.” Cade walked to the small sink and washed his hands. He was covered in motor oil, but the smell was soothing. Even all these years later, the smell reminded him of his father. He shook off the feeling and the crushing guilt that threatened to overwhelm him any time he thought about his dad. “She won’t hang around here for long. Hey, do you mind looking at the seal on that radiator?”
Jesse nodded and headed to the sedan they were working on. The owner was supposed to pick it up in an hour or two, but damn it was giving him hell.
Long-Haired Roger shook his bald head. “Naw. Gemma’s not a tourist. Her momma was born here. I remember Miss Lynn Griffin. What a pretty thing she was. I even went out with her for a while, but then a musician named Donald Wells came into town and she left with him. She always wrote her momma, though. Nice lady, Lynn. She’s come back home. I heard Don died a long while back, but she’s been traveling. A bit of a gypsy, that one.”
“And she brought her problem child with her?” Cade grabbed his burger and hopped up on the counter after tossing his oil-stained shirt to the side. Despite the chill in the air, he felt more comfortable without it on.
“Lynn was real sick from what they say,” Roger explained. “I think her daughter was helping to take care of her. Do you have a problem with shirts, son?”
He shrugged. “Don’t like ’em.”
Jesse came back up, a wrench in his hand, eyes rolling. “He would be happier up the mountain, if you know what I mean.”
Roger gave him a blank stare for a moment and then gasped. “Oh. Like up the mountain and off with the clothes. Well, that’s fine, son, but you have to keep your pants on in here. I can’t have a naked mechanic. Those boy parts dangle. You remember that.”
Roger walked off, the tiny poodle-looking thing yipping away.
Jesse snorted, putting the wrench down. “It’s done. It needed a jimmy. Boy parts dangle. Damn, I love that man. And I heard Gemma Wells didn’t have much choice about staying in New York. The word is she got fired and had some sort of trouble. I have to admit, I’m intrigued.”
He stared at Jesse. His best friend had become a wretched gossip since they’d settled into Bliss. He should have known Jesse would get involved with their neighbors. Even when they’d lived in big cities, Jesse found a way to build a community around himself. Jesse genuinely liked taking care of the people around him, and he particularly liked having a woman to take care of. Cade liked to join them for sex. He sighed. It was starting to sound pathetic even to his own ears. “Who have you been talking to?”
Jesse shrugged, picking up his drink. “Everyone. You know how it is. New people come to town and everyone talks.”
Cade took a long breath. “Damn it, Jess. You saw her, didn’t you?”
He smiled, a smug grin. “It was a brief glance, but she made an impression. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Great tits. She seemed a bit lost though. She seems arrogant at first, but I would bet anything it’s a shield.”
He’d seen her and decided she needed a man who could take care of her? Jesse was getting more and more desperate. “Why did she have to leave New York?”
“Laura and Holly were talking about some incident there where she tried to kill someone.”
Cade groaned. “Damn it. We are finished with the dangerous portion of our lives. I’m not hopping back in, and I’m not going to allow you to turn into a cautionary tale. Here’s what we know about this chick. We know she’s mean, and she tries to kill people. Stay away. The ski bunnies will be here soon. Once we get some powder on the mountain, you’ll have your choice of women.”
Ty could help out on that front. They’d become good friends with one of the EMTs who worked at the resort. Ty had assured Cade that once the Elk Creek Lodge was in full swing for the winter, the party would begin. Cade liked tourists. Well, he liked the nice ones. They came. They had fun. They left town.
Jesse stared at him. He tended to let Cade lead for the most part except with a couple of the women they’d shared, but there were times when he was as stubborn as the day was long. His mouth twisted into that grimace that let Cade know he’d pissed Jesse off. Still, Jesse took a long drink of his soda and sighed. “I’m sure that will be fun, brother.”
Cade put the burger aside, his appetite gone. Jesse was the only real family he had left. Everyone else was dead, and he didn’t make friends the way Jesse did. “We’ll find someone. It’s just not going to be a ball-busting, big-city girl.”
“You forgot to mention that I’m a soul-sucking lawyer,” a throaty voice said from the front door.
He stopped, his attention focused on the woman at the front of the garage. Gemma Wells was petite with honey-blonde hair, and she wore a Stella’s Diner T-shirt and jeans that clung to her every curve. Fuck. Jesse was right. Her tits were nice. They weren’t incredibly large, but they would make a good handful, and he would bet her nipples were a decent size. He liked nipples. He liked to twist them and pinch them and suck them into his mouth. He could spend an hour merely playing with a woman’s breasts.
“Oh, and coldhearted bitch, vampire bitch, cast-iron bitch, pretty much everything goes with bitch.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And I didn’t bust Max Harper’s balls. Those are still on his body. Now, Bare-Chested Ape Man, if you could be bothered to look past my boobs, maybe we could have a conversation.”
“Bare-Chested Ape Man?” Cade crossed his arms over his chest, mimicking her squared-off stance. Every damn word out of her mouth made his blood pressure tick up. And it, unfortunately, had his dick jumping, too.
“Well, I don’t know your name and you seem to have zero problem with calling me names, so yes, you will be forever known as Bare-Chested Ape Man.” She turned to Jesse, her eyes narrowing.
“Gemma Wells.” Jesse grinned like the cat who’d swallowed the canary. “You’re Gemma Wells. Sorry if I looked at your chest. You should know that I like your face, too.”
A hint of smile crossed those ridiculously hot lips. “Fine. You get a name.”
Jesse stared at her.
Gemma looked back at Cade. “He has a name, right?”
“Why don’t you ask me politely, and I’ll give you the courtesy of an introduction.” Jesse’s words came out in that low rumble that meant he was damn serious.
Cade felt a deep sense of satisfaction. There was no way the city girl would let a mechanic talk to her like that. She would unleash some serious vitriol Jesse’s way, and Jesse couldn’t stand an impolite woman.
Except she didn’t hurl sarcasm his way. “Hello, my name is Gemma. What’s yours?”
“Jesse, ma’am. Jesse McCann.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. It sounds like you practically know my life story.” Her eyes were warmer as she looked at Jesse. What color were those damn eyes? At first he’d thought they were blue, but now there was a hint of green in there.
Jesse walked forward, holding his hand out. It was a good thing since he was pretty sure Jesse would need it to wipe away the drool. “It’s a small town, Miss Wells. You’re new. Pretty much everyone knows everything.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Cade kept steady eyes on her. “We have a few secrets here in Bliss.”
She shook Jesse’s hand. “I’m sure you do. Now, can you tell me where I can find someone called Long-Haired Roger?”
Jesse flushed as he pulled away. He hadn’t been thinking. He had motor oil on his palm and a little grease. Gemma looked down at her now filthy hand.
Well, at least Jesse would figure out she wasn’t for him. She would show that bitchy mouth off and prove she was the type of woman who wouldn’t fool around with a couple of blue-collar guys.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I’m sure I have something you can clean off on.”
Gemma looked at her hand and then slowly drew it across the thigh of her jeans. Somehow the action of that small hand wiping filth off was deeply erotic. “Don’t worry about it. I used to be a lawyer. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.” She held out a set of keys. “Now, I’ve recently been blackmailed into becoming the office manager for the sheriff. He’s a son-of-a-bitch, manipulative, rat-fink bastard. And his brakes squeak. Can you handle that for me, Jesse?”
Jesse’s smile was slow. “Yes, Gemma. I can handle that problem for you.”
He watched the invisible tether catch Jesse. Damn it, but he didn’t like being left out. “And what would you have called him if he hadn’t been able to come up with your name? If I’m Bare-Chested Ape Man, what would he have been?”
There it was again, that devil in her smile. “The Sweet One. Miss Stella tells me there’s always one. Call the station when the car’s ready, boys.”
She turned and started to walk out.
“Hey, do you need a ride?” Jesse looked like he might offer to carry her all the way back to Main Street.
She didn’t turn, simply let those hips sway as she walked to the door. “Nope. Both my legs work and the longer I stay away the less I have to hear about something called Reticulan Greys and their plans to take over the world. Apparently I should have skipped the law degree and gone straight to psychology.”
The door closed behind her.
There was a dippy grin on Jesse’s face. “I was right about her.”
“The jury’s out on that.” She hadn’t exactly been sweet as pie, but he could handle that. “We do know she’s a little crazy.”
Jesse’s smile went wide. “Damn straight. I love a psycho chick.”
He did, too, though this one seemed dangerous. He watched through the bay windows as she started walking back toward the sheriff’s department. She walked in a straight line. She didn’t look around. She tackled the walk as though it was a task to get through before she took on the next one.
Copyright 2019 Lexi Blake
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