One unforgettable night leads to an unlikely shared connection, and unlikely connections never go unnoticed by the good folks in Green Valley, Tennessee. . .
Jackson James follows the rules. He has to. He’s a sheriff’s deputy in a super small town with a super big personality. However, strict adherence to the law during the day has been enjoyably balanced by rakish rules at night. Jackson, typically happy to protect and serve (and serve, and serve), starts questioning the value of wayward evenings when getting laid starts to feel more like being waylaid. Could it be that Green Valley’s most eligible—and notorious—bachelor longs for something (and someone) real?
Mega movie star Raquel Ezra follows only one rule: always leave them wanting more. Studio execs, reporters, audiences, fans, lovers—no one can get enough of the smart, savvy, and sexy bombshell. But when “generous offers” begin to feel more like excessive demands, years of always leaving has the elusive starlet longing for something (and perhaps someone) lasting.
When Raquel abruptly returns to the quirky Tennessee hamlet, her path crosses with the delectable deputy with whom she spent one unforgettable night. Unfortunately, scandal and intrigue soon follow. Raquel and Jackson must decide which is more important: following their rules? Or, at long last, finding something real.
TOTALLY FOLKED is a standalone, contemporary romantic comedy novel and book #1 in the Good Folk: Modern Folktales series.
Release date: July 20, 2021
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (1) entertaining story (1) realistic characters (1) satisfying ending (1) sex scenes (1) terrific writing (1)
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Listen to a sample
“Look your best—who said love is blind?”
“Bad day, Jackson?”
“Not at all.” I nodded once at Genie Lee, unconcerned that my smile resembled a grimace. She probably couldn't see much of my mouth seeing as how I currently wore a lemon meringue pie on my face. I hadn’t taken the time to wipe much of it off, wanting to keep my hands as clean as possible should I have need to employ them. I figured I’d either wipe it off once I finally made it back to the truck or just take my shirt off at some point and use it as a towel.
But not right now. Right now, since I was downtown, too many folks milled around. I’d worked hard on changing my reputation. Last thing I needed was stories circulating back to the station and beyond about me running shirtless through downtown.
“Anyone I should keep an eye out for?” Genie asked my back as I jogged past and scanned Walnut Street for Deveron Lawrence Stokes Jr., or as his momma and everyone else called him, DJ.
“No, ma’am. Have a nice day.”
Her chuckle followed me down the sidewalk, and I shook my head, momentarily lifting my eyes to the heavens. When I’d come upon the trio of eleven-year-olds behind Bob’s Bait and Tackle, they’d clearly panicked. I suspected the stolen pie had launched out of DJ’s hand on instinct. That kid had one hell of a pitching arm and a mighty good aim.
I didn’t mind the pie to the face, the discomfort temporary, hardly a blip on my radar. As far as embarrassing situations I’d experienced, this maybe ranked one point five out of ten.
My grimace had been inspired by the fact that they’d stolen the pies in the first place. Stolen pies necessitated a third call this month from Daisy Payton—local business owner and community heavyweight—complaining about a group of kids sneaking into her diner's kitchen during business hours to swipe fresh baked pies. This time they’d made off with six. Last time they’d only taken two.
Understandably, Daisy Payton wasn’t pleased. And when Daisy Payton wasn’t pleased, she called the sheriff, who also happened to be my father. And when my father wanted to make a show of taking action, he called either Deputy Monroe, Deputy Boone, or me. But if the complaint originated with a Payton—especially Daisy—I was always tapped for the job, regardless of date or time, regardless of whether or not I was on duty.
“I’ve got Jackson on it, Daisy,” he’d say, and that always made her feel better, settled ruffled feathers long enough for the situation to be handled.
But back to now and spending my rare Saturday off chasing down eleven-year-olds wielding stolen pies as though launched by trebuchet.
“Jackson! What happened to your face?” Bonnie Linton called from across the street.
I tipped my head in her direction while power walking, a blob of meringue falling to the steamy sidewalk in front of Big Ben’s Dulcimer Shop. “Just trying out a new beauty regimen, Ms. Linton.”
“Having a bad day, Jackson?” Karen Smith taunted from where she stood next to Bonnie Linton. I imagined she enjoyed this, probably considered it “just desserts” for her DUI arrest last year.
Keeping my eyes forward, I inspected a line of overgrown azalea bushes while slowing my steps. The second bush back from the sidewalk rustled, and it seemed to be having a heated, whispered argument with itself. I heard a harsh Shhh and a Stop pushing!
I stopped, placing my hands on my hips. “I know you’re behind there. I hid in those bushes too when I was a kid. I need you to come out.”
“With our hands up?” came a defiant little voice I recognized as belonging to Mac Hill.
“Sure, if you want. Unless one of those hands holds a pie. If you’ve still got those pies with you, just keep them safe.” I glanced to my right and took a step closer to the bush. A few folks—some I recognized, some I didn’t—had halted their Saturday window-shopping to watch.
“Are you going to arrest us?” Kimmy Mitchell squeaked. I was uncertain if she sounded worried or excited by the prospect.
There was no way I’d be arresting Kimmy Mitchell. Exhibit A, she was eleven. Exhibit B, arresting anybody for pie thievery without violence or breaking and entering didn’t make much sense. At least it didn’t make sense to me. Exhibit C, I was in the process of courting Kimmy’s momma, Charlotte Mitchell.
Although, had Charlotte and I not been courting, even I—a perpetual rule non-bender—would’ve given the law a wee little flex for Charlotte Mitchell and her kids. Around town and among the deputies, it was just understood as fact, different rules applied to Charlotte, a single mom of four kids.
Regardless, I couldn’t come right out and say No, Kimmy. I’m not arresting you ’cause your momma has enough to deal with because Kimmy wasn’t alone. If Kimmy had been alone, I definitely would’ve reasoned with her by bringing up her momma.
So instead, I said, “Now that depends,” while wiping at my left eyebrow with a knuckle. Tossing a fair bit of lemon curd to the pavement, I brought my hand back to my hip. “If y’all come out now, agree to apologize, stop stealing Ms. Daisy’s pies, and figure out a way to make things right, we can avoid a trip to the station.”
“What about my momma?” DJ asked, fear tinting his words. “Are you going to tell my momma?”
I sighed again, noting that the number of spectators had grown. “Can y’all come out so we can talk man-to-man?” The back of my neck prickled. I shoved the heightening discomfort aside, determined to focus on reasoning with the three kids rather than worrying about the good or bad opinions of a crowd.
“Hey! I ain’t no man,” came little Kimmy’s voice just before she stepped out of the tall azalea. Her eyes fierce, she balanced a pie in each hand. From the looks of it, she held a blueberry and an apple.
“Fine then, man-to-woman.” I crouched down on my haunches so that we were now eye level. “And I see Miss Mitchell is the bravest among you.”
The little girl lifted her chin proudly as the two boys still hidden in the bush grumbled.
“Having a bad day, Jackson?” JT MacIntyre’s blustery voice sounded from somewhere behind me. “You need any help?”
“No. Thank you, JT,” I said without turning, keeping my eyes on Kimmy. “It’s a fine day, and we’re just having a conversation.”
In my peripheral vision I saw that a person I didn’t recognize had pulled out their phone, probably a tourist, which was fine. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d been filmed while trying to de-escalate a situation, but it would be the first time I’d done so covered in pie.
I licked my lips to keep from laughing my frustration, the lemony sweetness and eggy meringue not at all tasty in the heat of a June afternoon. Funny thing, I’d eaten this very same kind of pie off the breasts of a naked woman a few years back, and it had been damn delicious. I reckon dessert tasted different when worn involuntarily.
Mac climbed out of the azalea next, followed by DJ. As soon as DJ appeared, I locked eyes with him. His cheeks were bright red—maybe from the earlier chase—and he wore a scowl that reminded me of his father. I’d arrested Deveron Stokes at least ten times over the last decade and seeing the familiar petulant expression on little DJ didn’t sit right with me.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” DJ spat, holding a chocolate pie of some sort in his right hand and nothing in his left. “Daisy has plenty of pie. Why can’t she just give us some?”
This statement also reminded me of DJ’s father. Deveron was always playing entitled victim, thinking everyone else owed him what he hadn’t earned.
Narrowing my eyes, I gestured for the pie thieves to come closer so I wouldn’t have to raise my voice to be heard. They shared looks with each other and then shuffled forward as a group, looking sour. Between them, they still held five pies. Well, that’s something at least. Five out of six isn’t too bad.
When they were close enough to hear my whisper, I spoke. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to return these pies to Ms. Daisy. Then we’re going to ask her if she has any work that y’all can help with.”
“You mean you want us to do chores,” Kimmy supplied, her face scrunching up.
“In my line of work, it’s called reparations,” I said gently. “But yes. Y’all took property that didn’t belong to you, and so now you need to make that right.”
DJ stepped closer. “But Daisy has—”
“It doesn’t matter if Daisy Payton has a thousand pies. If you want one of those pies, you work for it or pay for it.”
Fire flashing in his eyes, DJ shook his head. “No. No way. I ain’t doing no chores.”
My eyebrow lifted at his defiance, and I had to tilt my head back to keep an avalanche of lemon and meringue from falling into my eyes. “If you have another idea on how to make things right, go ahead. Tell me.”
DJ glanced from side to side and then focused on the crowd gathered behind me. “You can’t touch us, cop. Not now, not here. We’re just kids, and that guy over there is filming everything. You’ll get in trouble. So how’s about you let us walk?”
I felt my mouth curve into a sad smile, my heart sunk, and my thoughts oscillated between This poor kid and You little shit.
“You stole those pies. That means I can touch you.” I kept my tone relaxed, still hoping—despite the crowd, despite the clown filming us, despite the distrust and insolence in DJ’s stare—that I could diffuse his temper. “Here’s the truth, DJ. I don’t want to put my hands on you. I don’t want to force you. I want you to do the right thing, and I think you want to do the right thing too.”
“Fuck off, cop.”
Ignoring that—likely something he’d heard his daddy say—I pulled in a deep breath. “So, the way I see it, y’all got two choices: either you come with me now, on your own, making it your decision, or you spend the rest of the day running while I chase you around town.”
DJ scoffed. “You’re gonna spend all day running after us?”
“As you can see, I’m in my running clothes. I was getting ready to go on a run when I got the call about these stolen pies.” I shrugged. “I need the exercise. Either it’s running on a treadmill or running after y’all. It doesn’t matter to me either way, and I need to get in thirteen miles. You wanna run thirteen miles?”
“Don’t you wanna go chase other bad guys?” DJ eyed me, like he hadn’t yet made up his mind whether I was serious.
“First, you’re not a bad guy. You’re making some real sketch decisions, DJ, but you’re not bad. Second, today is my day off. So, no. I got nowhere to be, nothing to do. I’m happy to spend my whole day chasing you.” The first part of what I’d said was true, but the second part was mostly a lie. I did have somewhere to be this evening, namely taking Charlotte Mitchell out on a date.
Rebelliousness and irritation glittered behind DJ’s eyes, his mouth forming an unhappy curve. He looked at me. I looked at him. I waited.
“Fine,” he bit out. But before I could feel relieved, he lifted the pie in his hand. I saw the intent in his eye and ducked to one side just in time for the pie to whiz by my head and miss my face by a scant few inches.
That. Little. Shit.
I bit my lip, doing my best not to glare at the kid. I understood why—in his mind—he’d done it. He didn’t want to spend all day running and he needed to save face in front of his friends. That said, the action, though it might’ve felt good in the moment, was only going to make both his life and mine harder.
Meanwhile, Kimmy Mitchell gasped. “That was the chocolate mousse with chocolate cookie crust, you dummy!”
Mac Hill made a sad grunting sound. “Why’d you have to do that? I still have the pumpkin pie right here. If you were going to—”
“Let’s just go.” DJ held out his arms, as though he expected me to cuff them.
I’d cuffed kids before, not many times, but I’d done it. It was always the last resort and always when the minor was in the process of physically hurting themselves or someone else. Neither of those scenarios were true at present.
“Come on.” I stood, ignoring his outstretched hands and gesturing in the direction of my parked truck. I hadn’t brought the cruiser, not wanting to be the one to give young DJ Stokes his first official ride in the back of a law enforcement vehicle. “Y’all can practice your groveling on the way.”
“What about my momma?” DJ asked, sullenly stuffing his now empty hands in the pockets of his dirty jeans.
“I already called your momma. She knows what’s up, and she said whatever Daisy decides is fine by her.”
His shoulders slumped as he walked in front of me, and I could guess why. His momma was a sweet lady who’d had a hard life, but she was also a screamer. I suspected he didn’t want to disappoint her, but I thought maybe the imminent screaming fit was the true reason for his bowed posture. In my experience, folks screamed and cussed when they felt powerless.
I nodded to JT MacIntyre, Genie Lee, and a few unfamiliar faces as we approached. “You’re in the passenger seat, at the front of the truck, DJ. Kimmy, I got a booster seat for you in the back.”
“You mean you don't have your cop car?” Mac sounded regretful.
“I didn’t think I would need it today.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the same stranger from before still recording. As soon as we were buckled up in the truck, I was going to wipe my face off.
“That’s too bad,” Mac said on a sigh.
I split my attention between the kids and the man with his phone as we walked closer to my truck. “If you want to do a ride-along, I’ll call your momma and get one scheduled.”
“Oh!” Mac sent me a quick grin.
“Can I come too?” Kimmy turned to walk backward. I took one of the pies from her grip.
“I’ll ask your momma next time I see her.” Charlotte hadn’t told her kids about us dating yet. I’d always been in Charlotte’s life—and their lives—as a friend. We were still just friends as far as they knew.
Charlotte and I had been together for a while, but we’d only managed three official dates so far, if you didn’t count grabbing a quick bite for lunch every so often. I understood her hesitation. She needed to be certain of a man before taking that kind of step, and I was determined to be someone she could be certain of.
My eating-pie-off-naked-ladies days were over. Unless, you know, Charlotte brought it up if we eventually got married.
“Y’all are traitors,” DJ grumbled. “He’s not cool, he’s a pig.”
“Hey, the only reason I got food on my face is ’cause y’all put it there,” I said, hoping to lighten the mood. “Once we get in the truck, I got a towel in the back to wipe it off.” Unable to stand it anymore, I used the back of my hand to push globs of pie from my forehead and chin.
Kimmy abruptly stepped closer to me, peering at the onlookers who hadn’t yet dispersed. “Why are so many people watching us?”
“They’re looking at me.” I patted her shoulder, making sure I sounded unconcerned. “Ignore them.”
“This is so embarrassing.” She lowered her face, her hair falling forward. “Oh no. There’s Mrs. Smith. She’s so mean.”
“Is that guy still filming us?” Mac was looking over his shoulder at the stranger in sunglasses we’d just walked past. The man was now following us, still holding his cell out.
I opened the passenger side of the cab and handed the pie I’d taken earlier back to Kimmy. “Here, get in. I’ll go talk to him. And be careful with the pies. The more we can return to Daisy, the better.”
Giving the man filming us a hard look that was likely disguised by the remaining sticky residue, I strolled the short distance over and ignored the phone he held. “Hello, sir. Can I help you?”
“Where are you taking those kids? You a cop? What’s your badge number?” He thrust the phone forward and into my face.
Genie Lee, standing nearby, lifted her voice to holler, “Put that phone down, you fool. That’s Jackson James. He’s having a bad day.”
“No worries, Genie. Day’s been just fine, thank you.” Working to make my smile appear more natural, I lowered my voice so only the man—and his phone—could hear me. “I don’t mind if you record me, sir. But these kids are underage, and you shouldn’t be filming them."
“Is that a threat?” The stranger straightened, peeling off his sunglasses to glare at me. “I know my rights.”
“Nope.” I shook my head. “And it’s not against the law to film in a public place, so I’m not gonna do anything other than point out that you’re scaring them. So, if you could stop scaring the kids, I’d sure appreciate it.”
That done, I turned back toward the truck as a bystander in the slowly dispersing crowd called out, “Bad day, Jackson?”
I lifted my head to offer a friendly retort when something—or rather, someone—caught my eye.
Doing a double take, I spotted Jethro Winston standing among the remaining crowd, his movie star wife next to him, and his three boys. But their faces hadn't been the source of my surprise or stunned focus. Breath whooshed out of me like I’d been punched in the gut, and my heart hammered between my ears. I stopped mid-stride. I stared.
The woman who, for the last handful of years, had never been far from my thoughts.
Holy fucking shit.
Looking right at me.
And I’m covered in pie.
“Jackson?” A heavy hand on my shoulder brought me back to reality. Shaking myself, I stared at the arm, shoulder, and face connected to the hand, finding Fire Chief McClure giving me a paternal smile. “You got a little something on your face, son.”
I glanced down at the handkerchief he held out. I blinked at it.
“Bad day?” he asked.
I nodded, dumbly accepting the folded square. “Yes, sir.” I spoke around a sudden roughness, my mind wild. “You could definitely say that.”
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