The stretch of I-89 winding down the mountain pass into Marietta was one of the prettiest stretches of highway in the whole of Montana. Hell, the whole of the USA. With Yellowstone fifty-four miles to the south and Bozeman twenty-four miles to the north, the two-lane road crossed over the Marietta River and had the towering snow-capped peak of Copper Mountain staring down on it like a slumbering giant in hues of purple and gray as the sun sunk toward the horizon.
Logan Tate hated every damn inch of it.
But especially the inches that snaked through Copper Canyon, and then hit the lowland, as the Douglas firs gave way to Ponderosa pines and grasslands.
His hands tensed on the steering wheel of his squad car as he came round the bend in the road near where Harry Monroe had died one dark, rainy night during Labor Day weekend while changing a tire for an elderly couple on the roadside.
He steeled himself against the flood of memories.
“Go on, Logan. You look beat. I’ve got this. I can change a damn tire without help, buddy.”
And the flood of guilt that followed.
Nothing good had ever come of driving down this damn road, for Logan. He could still remember another dark, rainy night when he’d been squished in between his daddy and his baby brother Lyle in the front seat of the family’s beat-up old pickup truck. The moment when the lights of the ambulance just ahead of them had stopped flashing—and his daddy had started cussing, with tears leaking out of his eyes.
Lyle had started bawling because he was scared and tired and only four years old. And Logan had been left frozen, terrified to cry in case it made his daddy even madder. He’d never heard his daddy swear before, let alone cuss God like that. Logan knew his mommy would be mad to hear his daddy talk that way. But he didn’t want to think about his mommy. Or why his daddy had gotten him and Lyle out of bed in the middle of the night. Or how his mommy had looked so pale and still as the men in navy pants and button-up shirts had carried her into the ambulance.
Sometimes he felt as if he’d been frozen ever since.
Logan pressed his foot on the gas, allowing his speed to creep up to just below the legal limit after clearing the bend in the highway. He rubbed the scar on his chest beneath his deputy’s badge. Funny to think he’d once been shocked to hear his father cuss.
The sun was lowering now over the ridge, but it was a good two hours before night would fall. He needed to get back to Marietta, report to the Sheriff and then clock off his shift as a reserve Sheriff’s Deputy, before heading back to the ranch to feed the cows they’d already moved into the calving field, then make it to Grey’s by eight. Lyle better damn well be there tonight—Marietta’s First Responders had an important meeting about what to do with the shortfall in the funding for Harry’s House. The house they were rehabbing on Church Avenue to honor their friend’s memory, which would house teenagers and troubled kids who needed a place to feel safe.
He hadn’t seen Lyle in four days, after his smoke-jumping brother had been called up out of fire season to assist at an emergency over in Gallatin County. But Logan had gotten word from one of the First Responders in Bozeman the smoke jumpers had been called off the job over ten hours ago. So where the hell was Lyle? Because he hadn’t bothered to call and let his brother know he was okay. Probably busy working off the adrenaline rush in some bar in Livingston. As soon as he saw Lyle, he was going to give his kid brother a hug to make sure he was still whole, still solid—and then he was going to give him hell.
As he drove past the exact spot Harry had died, Logan’s eye caught sight of something—or someone—crouching on the edge of a clump of Ponderosa pines thirty yards away. He eased his foot off the gas and braked.
Parking the car on the shoulder, he searched the roadside for a vehicle but couldn’t see one in either direction.
He pulled his weapon out of the glove compartment and stepped out of the car, securing the weapon in the holster on his belt as per regulation. Then he fished out the binoculars to be sure what he thought he’d seen was actually real, and not a figment of his sometimes too vivid imagination. But as he focused in on a heart-stopping face he didn’t recognize, short unruly hair, and slender limbs dressed in jeans and boots and a checkered shirt, his heart skipped a couple of beats.
And then annoyance kicked in.
What the hell? Where had that girl come from? And what the hell was she doing ten miles from town without any means of transportation? Night was coming in fast and when it did, the temperature would drop like a stone. They’d had an unseasonably warm spell in the last couple of weeks, which had melted all the snow in the lowlands, but the nights could still be brutal.
She had to be a tourist. Nobody from Marietta would be dumb enough to get stranded out here without a vehicle. He watched her for a moment.
Yup, definitely a damn tourist.
She was taking pictures. Who knew what of, out here in the middle of nowhere.
Well, she wouldn’t be taking them for too much longer.
He stuffed the binoculars back in the glove compartment. Then radioed it in.
“Hey, Betty. I’m gonna be late in off shift.”
“Is there a problem, Logan? Anything I need tell Sheriff Walton about?” Betty, the Sheriff’s Office dispatcher patched back.
“Just a lost tourist out on I-89. I’ll handle it.”
“A lost tourist? On I-89? Where on I-89?” Betty said, because as well as being a top-level dispatcher she was also a top-level gossip.
“Quarter mile past the bend out of Copper Canyon. There’s no sign of a vehicle, so I’ll offer her a ride into town.” A ride he would make damn sure she accepted. No one else was going to die out here on his watch. Not if he could help it.
“Her? So it’s a lady?” Betty asked, her interest clearly piqued.
“Uh-huh, gotta go. Over and out,” Logan barked and hung up the radio, before he could get drawn into an in-depth discussion that would get broadcast all over town before nightfall.
After pulling his shearling jacket out of the car, because there was already a substantial chill in the air, that the girl seemed to be unaware of, he shrugged the jacket on and began the trek toward her, determined to keep his face impassive, and his temper in check.
That the girl didn’t have the sense God gave a gopher was obvious. That she’d chosen the wrong place and the wrong time to get lost even more so, because Deputy Logan Tate was so not in the mood to rescue pretty tourists today.
Charlotte Foster adjusted the f-stop on her Leica and fired off another ten shots of the mountain. The pine boughs framing the shots added a splash of vibrant green to the deep turquoise blue of the sky, the stark juniper green of the wintry pasture, and the mulberry wine glow of the rocky edifice in the background. Standing up, she checked her viewfinder and felt her heartbeat slow and her breath squeeze in her lungs. A sure sign she’d taken a perfect shot.
She squinted back up at the mountain. The light was glorious here. She’d never encountered anything quite like it. And they were still at least forty minutes from magic hour: that enchanted sixty minutes just before full dark fell when the natural landscape became suffused in a golden glow.
She rubbed her arms, and then breathed into her fingers, noticing the dropping temperature for the first time. Screwing her camera back onto its tripod, she reached into her pack and rummaged around for a sweater and her fingerless gloves. The cold didn’t scare her, the exhilarating thought of all the amazing pictures she was going to take more than enough to stave off the threat of frostbite.
“Hey there, Miss.”
Charlotte’s head shot up, and for the first time she noticed the man approaching her from the road, his tall, broad frame cast into shadow by the sinking sun. Panic kicked in for a nanosecond and she touched the can of mace she kept in her pack, until she spotted the squad car behind him and the badge pinned to his shirt. She dropped the mace and straightened. He had to be some kind of law enforcement officer despite the battered jeans and boots and thick leather jacket with a sheep fur collar. Which was good on one level—he was unlikely to be a serial killer. Not so good on another. Charlie had never been great with authority figures.
“Hi,” she said, shrugging on her sweater. Was she trespassing? She hadn’t even thought to ask the bus driver who’d finally agreed to drop her off here. She’d been way too busy concocting a story about the mythical rancher boyfriend who was due to pick her up and was running a bit late.
Men in Montana took the whole weaker sex thing way too seriously for her liking.
“Can I ask what you’re doing out here, Miss?”
He stepped out of the shadow and into the light, and Charlie’s breath seized. Just like it had when she’d checked her viewfinder a few moments before. Like the rugged scenery, the man’s face was beautiful in a rough-hewn way. The granite-hard jaw, dark brows, broken nose, and strikingly blue eyes complemented by the most sensual pair of lips she had ever seen. Full and bowed and surrounded by the shadow of stubble, they should have looked girly but didn’t. Every molecule of saliva in her mouth dried up, her heart pounding so hard in her chest she felt a bit light-headed.
“Miss?” he murmured.
She jerked her gaze away from those tantalizing lips. And saw knowledge and intensity and the hint of frustration in his eyes, which she suddenly realized were as deep and pure a blue as the Montana sky. And two things occurred to her at once.
I want to photograph you—and jump you, too.
“Nothing illegal,” she said, suddenly feeling besieged.
The badge on his chest—his very impressive chest—glinted in the dying sunlight. What a shame Deputy Sexy Lips was a lawman. Charlie’s natural instinct to rebel against any kind of constraint had got her into no end of trouble as a teenager, when she’d been expelled from every fancy boarding school in the UK her parents had sent her to. And some of the unfancy ones, too.
Down, girl, you do not want to jump him. He’d be way too much work—and probably boring in bed. The type who always insisted on being on top.
But her fingers still itched to pick up her camera. That face. She definitely wanted to photograph that face. She did a quick once-over of his impressive build. And she could just imagine what an amazing body he would have. She would definitely love to photograph that body too, preferably sans clothing. And sans badge.
“Then it won’t be a problem telling me what it is you were doing?” he said, in that I’m-the-boss-of-you tone that should have been pissing her off. But was turning her on a little bit. Annoyingly.
“Right, no. I’m just…” For God’s sake, Charlie, stop acting like an escaped convict. “Taking some shots of your mountain. The light here’s incredible.”
He tipped his head to glance up at the mountain, almost as if he’d forgotten it was there, then cast that penetrating gaze back on her. “That’s as may be,” he said, as if he doubted it. “But it’ll be dark in an hour or so, and I can’t let you stay out here on your own.”
I can’t let you?
Okay, forget those kissable lips—that was not going to endear him to her. “As long as I’m not breaking any laws, Officer…?” She waited politely for him to fill in his name.
“Deputy Logan Tate,” he said.
“Deputy Logan Tate,” she said, going the full obsequious. “I’m fairly sure that’s not your decision. It’s mine.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Miss…?” He waited in turn. Forcing her to give up her name, too.
“Charlotte Foster.” Not that anyone ever called her Charlotte. All her friends called her Charlie, but somehow she did not think she and Deputy Sexy Lips were ever going to be friends.
“Miss Charlotte Foster,” he said, sounding the opposite of obsequious. “Once the sun goes down out here, the temperature will drop to below freezing. I don’t see a vehicle anywhere—so I’m giving you a ride into town, where you can get a warm bed for the night.” His eyes narrowed, daring her to contradict him. Unfortunately even she couldn’t make up a car that clearly did not exist. And somehow she didn’t think her mythical boyfriend would stand up to that laconic scrutiny either—which left her with only one option. Get snotty back.
“Really, that won’t be necessary,” she said, smiling through gritted teeth. “I can always hitch into town when I’m ready.”
“Hitch?” His eyebrows shot up, as if she’d just said she was planning to sprout wings and fly into town. “I can’t let you do that either. It’s not safe.”
There he went with the not-letting-her-do-stuff thing again. Her back muscles locked as her spine stiffened.
She didn’t think mentioning she’d hitched a couple of times already with no ill effects, or telling him about her trusty mace, was going to wipe the judgmental frown off his face, so she changed tack.
“If you don’t think hitching is safe in this area, I’d be foolish not to take your advice, Deputy.” She resisted the urge to bat her eyelashes at him. Somehow she didn’t think he was the type to appreciate sarcasm. “But not to worry, I’ve got a tent and a sleeping bag.” She indicated her pack. “I can always camp out.”
She noticed the ticking muscle in his jaw, but his gaze didn’t falter. “From your accent, I’m guessing you’re not from around here.”
“I’m British, originally, but I’ve been touring the US for the last six months and I’ve lived in Manhattan for a number of years.” And she was a professional photographer with exhibitions in London, New York, and Paris and several prestigious awards under her belt, not to mention a contract to do a coffee table book on America’s Hidden Heartlands and regular commissions with Vanity Fair, Vogue, and a long list of other glossy magazines. But she decided not to mention any of that. Somehow she didn’t think Deputy Sexy Lips was a Vanity Fair subscriber.
“But have you ever camped out around here?”
“Well, no I’ve never…”
“Because no one in their right mind would camp out here in March.”
Charlie tucked her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and tried to get a firm grip of her temper. “I have a fifty-tog sleeping bag that can withstand a night on Everest,” she said in her reasonable voice. “I will be fine.”
“I don’t care if you’ve got a five-hundred tog sleeping bag that can withstand a month in the North Pole. I’m not leaving you out here tonight. So why don’t you gather up your stuff and we can get going.”
The Deputy Formerly Known as Sexy Lips, who she’d just rechristened Deputy Hard-Ass flicked his eyes down for a moment. Heat arched between them. Had he just checked out her breasts? The ticking muscle in his jaw went as hard as the granite mountain she’d spent the afternoon admiring.
“You can’t make me go,” she said, her temper slipping through her numbing fingers. But at that precise moment a gush of frigid wind whistled over the pasturelands and right through her sweater. Her teeth chattered as a shiver wracked her body.
He swore softly under his breath. And she knew, from the dangerous look in his eyes, that there was no way on earth he was going to let her stay here for the hour she needed to get her perfect shot. She wanted to swear, too. A lot. The thought of losing the shot because of Deputy Hard-Ass’s Neanderthal attitude to women made her want to scream.
“Yeah, I can,” he said, his voice as deep as it was firm. “You’ve got a choice. You can either get in that squad car without an argument. Or I can cuff you, and arrest you and put you in it. Either way you’ll be riding into town now. But one way you get to ride up front, the other you ride in the back and get to spend a night in the cells.”
“You can’t arrest me? What for?”
“For jaywalking,” he said.
“But I’m not jaywalking,” she said. Not that she was exactly sure what jaywalking was.
“Walking down a highway would qualify.”
“But I’m not on the highway. And since when is walking down a road an arrestable offence?” If they arrested people for that in Manhattan they’d have to lock up the whole city.
“It is, if I say it is,” he said, the tiny twitch on those wide sexy lips antagonizing her more.
Was he finding this amusing? Because she sure as hell wasn’t. She wanted to stay out here and take her shots. This was her professional career. But more than that, she could feel the shimmer of excitement in her blood, always triggered when she knew she was on the cusp of taking an amazing shot. And it could only be the prospect of that causing it this time, too… Because her weird reaction to him was becoming less and less explainable the more snotty he became. Getting pushed around was not high on her list of turn-ons. Even by guys who looked like he did.
“If you’re going to arrest me, go ahead.” Sod obsequious. “But I’m not leaving until you do.”
She turned her back on him, which was her second mistake. The tiny jingle of metal on metal was followed by the cold touch of steel and the soft click on her wrist. She spun round, shocked into silence, when he took her other wrist in firm callused hands and snapped the other handcuff shut.
“I’m arresting you for jaywalking on I-89, Miss Charlotte Foster.”
“You have got to be kidding me?” she managed, the surge of something that made no sense at all annoying her almost as much as the shock of getting handcuffed.
Instead of answering, he stared her down with those cool blue eyes, and began reciting a load of rights at her, which he reeled off in a deadly serious monotone. But she could see that slight twitch on his lips was still there.
Good grief, he is totally getting off on this.
She wanted to be outraged; unfortunately she couldn’t quite be, because she could feel the melting sensation in her abdomen as he lifted her pack and her tripod on to one shoulder as if they weighed nothing at all.
“Come on,” he said, grasping her arm above the elbow and leading her to the squad car. “The sooner we get you into town, the sooner I can charge you and throw you in a nice warm cell for the night.”
“You’re actually serious? You’re going to imprison me for being sixty feet from a road?” She was so completely astonished by the turn of events—the cold steel of the handcuffs clamped on her wrists and the warm feel of his fingers firm on her arm as he directed her to the car—that she was still struggling to get to her outrage.
She’d met hard-asses before. She had never met anyone as hard-assed as this guy.
He opened the back door of the car, dumped her pack and her camera inside, and then placed his other hand on her head to direct her into the seat. After buckling her into the car, he slammed the door and got into the driver’s seat in front, then spoke through the grill.
“You’ll thank me for it, Charlotte, when you’re warm and cozy in a cell tonight and not dying of hypothermia.” The twitch gave way and a lopsided smile tipped up those beautiful lips.
Heat suffused her cheeks, and concentrated at her core.
Damn the man for being even more sexy when he was patronizing her.
She sent him an angry glare, and then ignored him, finally locating her outrage.
“I very much doubt that,” she grumbled under her breath as the rich redolent glow of happy hour began to roll across the landscape.
The car pulled onto the road and she watched her perfect shot disappear out the back window.
It took twenty minutes to drive into the nearby town. Charlie fumed every second of the way in the back seat. Cursing Deputy Hard-Ass, America’s ludicrous highway code, and her big mouth but most of all her sex-starved libido, which—if the liquid warmth in her abdomen was anything to go by—had so lost the plot it had decided that getting manhandled by a guy who obviously enjoyed bossing women about was actually sort of hot.
Consternation had given way to panic and dismay as the squad car passed the high-wire fences of a school football field. Charlie glared at the back of her tormentor’s head.
Why had she taken him on? Why had she talked back to him and practically dared him to arrest her? An arrest could jeopardize her green card. She’d been living in the States for five years now and was already a feature on the New York art scene. Her shows had gotten write-ups in the press and she’d really broken through last year with an award-winning spread in National Geographic.
This book was her chance to finally hit the mainstream—but not if she had to return to the UK with a slap on the wrist from the Department of Immigration. And even worse than that, what would her sister Emily do if she heard? That would be the biggest catastrophe of all.
Em was precisely two minutes older than her, but had declared herself the big sister and had acted accordingly ever since they were toddlers. Where Charlie was reckless and spontaneous, Em was responsible and frankly way too uptight. She’d probably come swooping down to read Deputy Hard-Ass the riot act for abuse of power or some such nonsense. The way she had when they were sixteen years old, and Charlie had gotten caught smoking weed and snogging Jack Murray in the gym after lights out.
Em had been magnificent that day, defending Charlie to the stuffy headmaster Mr. Carmichael with a passion and purpose that Charlie knew she did not deserve—because, of course, Charlie had been guilty as sin. Consequently they’d ended up both getting expelled. Charlie for breaking two fairly major school rules pertaining to drugs and boys and Em, the model student, for insubordination. Em being Em she’d never even given Charlie a guilt trip for bringing another perfect school record to an ignominious end, but Charlie had felt lower than dirt nonetheless.
After managing to survive for the last six years—ever since she’d turned eighteen and used the money their parents had left them to travel the globe and make her dream of becoming a photographer a reality—without getting any more black marks against her permanent record, she did not want to freak Em out with this news.
All of which meant she was going to have to figure out a way to hold on to her temper—not to mention the inappropriate urge to jump Deputy Hard-Ass—when they arrived at the Sheriff’s Office. And schmooze the pants off the bastard.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much Charlie found harder than having to control her natural urges. So she needed to come up with a strategy. Em had always sworn by being properly prepared for any unforeseen disasters—getting unexpectedly arrested on a highway in Montana would definitely qualify.
Detaching her gaze from the back of the lawman’s neck, she tried to rack her brain to think about what she should do to persuade Deputy Hard-Ass he was way out of line, without pissing him off more in the process, but then she noticed the elegant wooden sign announcing the entrance to Old Town Marietta.
Her breath clogged as the cruiser turned onto the town’s Main Street and she took in the wood-framed buildings. She’d read a little bit about the town in her research for her trip. The place had been built in the late 1800s on the proceeds from the copper found in the aptly named Copper Mountain. But she hadn’t expected anything quite so stunning, its history preserved so beautifully. Her fingers itched to grab her camera.
Main Street stretched up toward what looked like a park and a magnificent nineteenth-century courthouse building, the majestic peaks of the surrounding mountains framing the scene like something out of a western movie. It was a dream location for any photographer. The dynamic juxtaposition of man and nature, old and new, functional and fanciful captured Charlie’s imagination—she could spend a lifetime photographing this place.
She swiveled her head, trying to keep the scene in view as the car drifted past an ornate Catholic church and then turned a corner on to a side street. The car took another turn and pulled to a stop in front of a glass-fronted utilitarian building between the back of the church and a firehouse, the Sheriff’s Department logo etched onto the front window—next to that of the Police Department. Charlie’s heartbeat ticked back into her throat, and threatened to choke her.
Bugger. She was supposed to have been coming up with a strategy to charm a guy with about as much give in him as a lump of granite from that mountain, not getting captivated by the town’s old-world charm.
Her tormentor got out of the driver’s seat and opened her door. “Up you get,” he said, reaching in to take her arm and help her out of the car.
She stepped onto the sidewalk, steadfastly ignoring the prickle of sensation snaking its way up her arm from the firm pressure of his fingers. The guy had the whole take-charge thing down pat.
She stood shivering from reaction more than the cold as he reached in to grab her pack.
Say something, you silly moo. The charm offensive starts now.
“Listen, Deputy Hard-Ass…” Crap. Don’t call him that. “I mean Deputy…” She glanced at the name badge pinned to his shirt as he straightened to his full height and deposited her pack and her camera tripod on the sidewalk—his expression disconcertingly inscrutable. She had to tip her head back to see his face.
How tall was he? At least six-three, for goodness’ sake.
“Deputy Tate,” she corrected herself. “Really there’s no need to arrest me. I have absolutely learnt my lesson.” Next time she’d make sure she kept an eye out for marauding do-gooders while she was taking her pictures.
“And what lesson is that?” he said, in that rumble of sound that seemed to come up from deep inside his chest. His very broad, very magnificent chest.
Stop looking at his chest. Focus, Charlie, focus. Or your American adventure is going to come to an abrupt end.
Her gaze jerked to his face, but the arresting combination of tough-as-granite jaw, sky-blue eyes and far-too-kissable lips dazzled her for a moment.
“Um…” What had they been talking about?
“You’ll have to be more specific,” he said.
Her temper prickled, seeing the glint of amusement. She searched her mind for something to say that would appease him, while ignoring the muscle twitching in his cheek that was having an unpredictable effect on her libido.
“I’ve learned that lawmen in Montana take the whole serve and protect thing very seriously,” she managed at last.
One skeptical eyebrow lifted, and the muscle kept twitching. Obviously one not-entirely-sincere compliment wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy his I’m-the-boss-of-you complex. Maybe a shot to his common sense would do the trick.
She lifted her hands, making the cuffs jangle.
“Come on, Deputy, uncuff me. You’re not really going to arrest me for taking a few photographs. That’s just silly. Imagine if the story got out? It would be a disaster for the Marietta tourist trade.” A town that looked as breathtaking as this one must do a roaring tourist trade. “Surely you of all people wouldn’t want to jeopardize that?”
The skeptical eyebrow lowered and she realized she’d made a major tactical error. However much of a hard-ass Deputy Hard-Ass was, he wasn’t stupid. Because he’d understood exactly what she had implied—that tourists like her paid his salary.
“A tourist freezing to death out on the highway would be worse for the tourist trade.”
The laconic tone made it clear she was the one being patronized.
“I don’t know what you expect me to say?” she said, refusing to take the only other option open to her.
She didn’t care how much trouble it would get her in with the authorities… And her twin sister… The one thing she was not prepared to do was beg.
She’d done that once before, with her parents. The night before she and Em had been sent off to their first boarding school. And all it had done was make her feel small and insignificant. She’d promised herself after she’d cried herself to sleep that night she would never beg anyone for anything again. Much better to simply seal off your emotions, then you would never ever have to hurt that way again.
Not that Deputy Hard-Ass had the power to hurt her, no man did. Because she never got that invested in relationships. But his take-charge attitude and killer face and physique had already had an unpredictable effect on her libido. So cutting this conversation off at the pass would be a smart move.
“I expect you to say you’ll stay safe from now on,” he said. “And not do dumb things like hitch rides with strangers or camp out in below-freezing temperatures.”
Her heartbeat punched her ribs, the simple, stupidly overprotective statement touching the raw nerve she thought she’d cut out a lifetime ago.
“Well I’m not saying that,” she shot back. “Because the risks I decide to take with my personal safety are none of your business.”
Logan stared at the girl—her short hair rioting around that slender face made her look like an enraged pixie—and tried to tramp down on the twin tides of admiration and arousal.
Jesus, she was quite the little firecracker.
Who the hell got riled about being given a ride into town so they wouldn’t freeze their butt off in the middle of a forest?
His intention had never been to actually arrest her, only to teach her a lesson about personal responsibility. And yeah, paying attention to her own personal safety dammit. And he refused to feel bad about that.
But now he had a problem on his hands. Because he could all but feel Betty’s eyes boring holes into the back of his skull as she watched this exchange from the station house’s front desk. And he didn’t have a damn thing to actually charge Charlotte Foster with. Cuffing her had been over the top enough, but it was the only way he could see to get her into the damn car before they both froze their butts off.
Something about the way she had squared off to him and challenged him and insisted on putting herself in danger had called on all his natural instincts to serve and protect and some unnatural ones that he did not intend to examine too closely.
If he thought he’d seen a similar spark of arousal in her eyes he was not going to dwell on that either. He liked his sex life predictable—that way it didn’t get in the way of the rest of his life. And this spark of arousal, the desire to cuff her and then sink his fingers into that wild hair and hold her in place so he could ravish those sweet cherry red lips until she moaned her surrender against his mouth wasn’t predictable. Hell, it probably wasn’t even legal. So there was no way on earth he would ever act on it.
But after arguing with her for ten minutes out front of the Station House, the urge to pick her up and fling her over his shoulder and carry her off somewhere dark and private where he could show her exactly who was boss was starting to get the better of him again. And that could not be good. Because Logan Tate didn’t have unpredictable, unnatural urges. And even if he did, he sure as hell didn’t act on them.
But even as the smart, sensible, steadfast part of him was telling him to defuse the situation, something else entirely came out of his mouth.
“It sure as hell is my business, when you’re planning to put yourself at risk of frostbite or worse in my town.”
Her eyes flashed green fire, and her chin jutted out as if she were planning to challenge him to hand-to-hand combat and he felt the tug of reaction deep in his crotch.
Damn, he’d never found feisty women a turn-on. But there was a sense of vulnerability beneath that tough outer shell that called to his inner caveman.
“Go ahead and charge me then, Deputy Hard-Ass,” she said, squaring off to him.
I don’t want to arrest you. I want to spank you and then make love to you until we both can’t walk straight.
The erotic thought came so far out of left field, it was like a bucket of ice-cold water thrown over him.
He stepped back.
He would never raise a hand to any woman. They were the fairer sex. There to be respected and treated with care and attention at all costs. He’d never even had rough sex before—the urge quashed before it could take root—but he’d cuffed and, yeah, manhandled this woman without due cause.
And gotten pretty damn close to taking things a whole lot further.
He pulled the key for the cuffs out of the pocket of his jeans. “I’m not going to charge you this time,” he said, undoing the cuffs—and clipping them back onto his belt. He saw her shoulders sag with relief, and felt like the worse kind of bully.
No better than his father.
Shame engulfed him as he noticed the slight redness on the delicate skin of her wrist. Without thinking, he took her hand and massaged the pale flesh with gentle fingers, the way he would stroke the newborn baby calves.
“You should have told me they were hurting,” he said.
“I didn’t notice.” She trembled and their eyes connected. What he saw shocked him to his core. Damn, she was as turned on as he was. What the heck was happening here?
He could feel the rapid beat of her pulse beneath his thumb and arousal surged. He could feel himself getting hard. He needed to get away from this girl. She was bad for him. But even as he acknowledged the need to keep his distance from her and the powerful effect she had on him, his thumb pressed against the delicate flutter of her pulse and the thought of that little flash of vulnerability he’d spotted beneath the feisty façade had him adding: “You can go, as long as I get your word you won’t do anything dumb—like hitching out of town tonight.”
She stiffened and drew her hands out of his. For a moment he thought he’d blown it and she was going to refuse. And then he’d be forced to charge her. Because no way in hell was he risking her going back out on to the highway again tonight. But then her lips tipped up on one side. And her green eyes sparkled with mischief.
Which only made her more damn attractive.
“My word?” she said, as if testing the request for flaws.
“Yeah, your word of honor.”
She grinned outright then, the smile so smug it was as infuriating as it was spellbinding. He had the perverse thought that if that was how she looked when she was sexually satisfied he could get a real kick out of holding her right on the edge of orgasm for hours.
Not appropriate, Tate. Not appropriate at all.
“Absolutely you can have my word of honor,” she said, the knowing light in her eyes telling him loud and clear she considered the whole concept of honor and accountability as outdated and inconsequential as following the rules he’d spent his whole life living by.
She lifted her pack onto one slender shoulder. He resisted the urge to offer to help her as she picked up the camera tripod.
“I’ll see you around, Deputy,” she said, rolling the address off her tongue, reminding him of the nickname that had slipped out during their argument.
Instead of calling her on the cheeky comment, he tapped two fingers to his forehead in a mock salute.
As she walked off toward Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church on the corner of 4th and Front Avenue, he noticed the sway of her slender hips in the tomboy jeans and the shot of heat hit him squarely in the crotch.
“Not if I see you first,” he murmured beneath his breath as he slammed the squad car door and tore his eyes away from her butt.
Charlotte Foster was trouble.
Smart-mouthed, feisty, and far too sexy trouble. Exactly the sort of trouble he did not need in his life. Because he had enough trouble already dealing with the upcoming calving season, his kid brother Lyle’s addiction to jumping out of planes into the middle of forest infernos, and figuring out how he and the rest of Marietta’s First Responders were going to raise enough money to bring Harry’s House up to code in less than ninety days.
The good news was, Miss Foster was a tourist who would be gone on the first bus out of town tomorrow morning.
Not so good was the squeeze of regret as he watched her slim figure stroll round the back of the church and disappear.
End of Excerpt