Chris is used to having whatever he wants—but this time, the irresistible could come at a high price.
When stubbornly independent Chris Friessen decides to pack up and travel the country on the back of his Harley, he doesn’t expect that his decision to see the “real USA” will cost him in ways he can’t imagine. He soon finds himself face down on some backroad, cuffed by small-town cops. To make matters worse, he’s told to keep moving, but when he meets the incredibly sexy daughter of the sheriff, Chris can’t resist doing exactly the opposite—even after realizing that the sheriff’s deputy is head over heels in love with her.
JD is the daughter of a South Dakota small-town sheriff, teased by locals that if she were ever to consider marrying, she’d have a line of suitors around the block. But she’s not interested, as the only man she’s ever loved up and left, and her father was behind it. When she drives up on her father and his deputy toying with the extremely attractive redheaded Chris Friessen, she can’t resist tossing him an invitation to dinner, and she never expects that he’ll take her up on it.
Now, Chris may find that the irresistible JD comes with a lot more than he’s bargained for.
Of all the decisions twenty-three-year-old Chris Friessen had made, his latest was likely to cost him in ways he hadn’t even begun to imagine, considering the flashing sheriff’s lights in his side mirrors. The car had ridden up on his ass until he’d pulled over, and he was now parked on a road—scratch that, a secondary highway in the middle of nowhere.
Actually, it wasn’t really nowhere. He’d covered roughly two hundred and twenty miles that day, with the heat and sun beating down, but he couldn’t rightly pinpoint exactly which county or, for that matter, state he was in. He’d pulled off the main highway crossing the country from east to west, and now he was having a hard time remembering whether he was in one of the Dakotas or in Montana, which, in his mind, put him in the middle of nowhere.
“Turn off the bike and step off! Show me your hands.” The deep voice of what sounded like one pissed-off cop boomed over the loudspeaker, but the twang did little to help Chris figure out exactly where he was.
He turned off his bike and kicked the support stand, then lifted his leg over slowly and stepped down, his hands going right to the strap of his helmet to lift it off.
“I said show me your hands, asshole!” the cop yelled, and the way he did so shot a bolt of fear straight through Chris.
His hands, suddenly with a mind of their own, jabbed in the air high enough that there could be no mistake he was following instructions to a T. His heart was hammering, feeling the heat of the approaching cop. He could just make out his feet scraping the pavement, and he was straining to hear everything through his thick helmet—the radio, the tick of something, and the wind that did little to cool off this scorcher of a day. He wanted to explain to this cop that he was…what, a great guy just seeing the country, travelling from state to state? Why had he been pulled over?
“If you’ll just let me take off my helmet—” He didn’t get to finish, because rough hands gripped his left wrist, and metal cuffs were slapped on as his other arm was twisted back roughly. The pinch of the metal shot through his arm. “Ah, fuck, what the hell?” he yelled from the sudden bite. Then his helmet was pulled off and dumped on the asphalt. The smash was instant as he saw the visor crack. There went two hundred and fifty dollars—and it had been on sale.
“You watch your mouth,” the cop snapped. Then Chris was down on the ground, face down, feeling the heat from the midday sun on the blacktop and burning into him through the black leather jacket he always wore on his bike.
It wasn’t just any bike, though. He turned his head, taking in his Harley, a Forty-Eight Special with a long wheel base that screamed badass class. Chris had fallen in love with it the moment he’d seen it through the window of the Arlington bike shop. Another cop was unfastening the gear tied on the back of the bike and going through the compartment where his wallet, ID, insurance, and everything of value were stashed.
“You mind telling me why you pulled me over?” Chris said, turning his head back to the side.
The cop who’d cuffed him and put him on the ground was in a black uniform shirt with a badge pinned to his chest. He was wearing dark shades and was a lot rounder in the middle, and he worked a piece of gum as he holstered his weapon and then leaned down to Chris. “You packing? Got any weapons on you?”
Rough hands patted him down, grabbing him in places no stranger had.
“No,” Chris said. “Now how about answering my question? Why did you pull me over?” He was sure he hadn’t been speeding. He was seeing the back country that everyone missed while taking the main roads that got them where they were going faster. Not Chris. No, in all his wisdom, he’d thought taking the backroads and seeing all the small towns and counties no one ever stopped in was the best way to see this country. Not one of his smarter choices, he realized now.
The cop said nothing, and Chris had to strain his neck to see him looking over to the other cop, who handed over Chris’s license with a scowl.
“Seriously, guys, don’t think I don’t know what my rights are. Why exactly am I cuffed and on the ground in the middle of nowhere?”
That was something his mother, Diana Friessen, a lawyer, had shared with him growing up, and he was thankful for it now. The knowledge of what exactly his rights were had kicked in. His brother Danny, who was just finishing up law school, had also shared with Chris all the ins and outs of the law and how rights were often violated, especially the rights of those who didn’t have a clue what their rights were.
Chris knew, though. They had to have a reason to pull him over and cuff him, and then there was the really big one: They hadn’t even read him his rights.
“Christopher Friessen, from North Lakewood in Washington,” the cop drawled. “You’re a long way from home.” He held up Chris’s registration and insurance, or so it seemed, from the papers he was holding. It was beginning to seem more and more that this was a fishing expedition—but for what, he didn’t have a clue. Something he didn’t think he was going to like.
“The name’s Chris,” he snapped. No one called him Christopher except for his mother—and his dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and brothers, Danny and Mark, but only when they wanted to push all his buttons. His brothers knew the effort he was making to get everyone to cut it out and stop calling him something he didn’t see himself as. It was a baby name, a little kid’s name, which didn’t fit badass Chris, who rode a Harley and had saved up to travel the country and really see it instead of reading about it.
“You’re a long way from home, there, Christopher. Mind telling me what you’re doing out this way?”
Seriously, what the fuck? He had to bite the words back, hating this feeling of being toyed with. “The name’s Chris, I already told you, and I’m just passing through. Didn’t think that was a crime. Now how about uncuffing me and telling me why the fuck you’re treating me like some criminal?”
He realized as soon as the words were out of his mouth that it had likely been the wrong thing to say. He turned his head right and then left, seeing both their badges pinned to their chests. The cop by his bike wasn’t as old as the one who had pinned him down on the ground and cuffed him. He was dark haired wearing a hat, tall, and the way he stared down, unsmiling, his face seemed made of granite. Chris realized this was a lawman whose gun he’d never want to find himself on the wrong side of, considering the dark, completely unimpressed expression that stared him down.
“How about you settle on down there, boy, and mind your manners,” said the other cop as his booted foot kicked Chris in the shin. He was older, with a deeper voice and a potbelly.
Chris had to turn his head to the side again as he took him in. He wore a ball cap over what Chris thought was a bald head. He appeared older, maybe his dad’s age, he thought just as he spotted a car coming up behind them. It was a rusty color, an older-model import, from the looks of it, and it slowed as the older cop stepped out and lifted his hand. Chris couldn’t see much as the car stopped just behind him and the cop leaned in the window.
“Hey there, baby girl. What’re you doing out this way?”
The way the cop’s voice changed from asshole to sappy had Chris wanting to roll his eyes. For a second, he considered calling out to the driver to…what, help him out of his predicament?
“Just finished delivering meals to some of the shut-ins and was heading home. Could ask you the same, Daddy. What’re you doing all the way out here, and what did that man do?” Her voice was soft and sassy, and Chris wished he could see her face over the rusty fender and the bald tires, which were the only things in his view.
“Oh, that’s nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about. Just a routine traffic stop.”
Routine, his ass! There was nothing routine about this stop or the fact that he was cuffed, lying face down on the burning pavement in what, he was sure, was the ninety-degree heat of this late afternoon in early August.
“If this is just routine, then how about uncuffing me and letting me up?” he snapped.
Rough hands suddenly gripped his arm and pulled him up, and he had to stifle a groan at his wrenched shoulder. He took in the babe in the car. She had long dirty-blond hair and a killer smile—a knockout, from what he could see ten feet from the car with the windshield between them. He felt relief as the cuff loosened and he was suddenly free.
On instinct, he reached for his wrist and rubbed, rolling his shoulders. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could spend hours with their arms cuffed that way. He couldn’t see the eyes of the younger cop who’d uncuffed him from behind his shades as he stepped away from Chris and over to the car, lifting his hand and smiling at the killer babe.
“Hey there, JD,” he said. “I’m sure the good folks of Martin appreciate all the help you’re giving.” The way his voice changed to overly affectionate was ridiculous.
“Ah, thanks, Ray. Just doing my part, is all. We have a lot of seniors who just can’t get out anymore.” She had a brilliant smile, and the cop actually touched his fingers to his hat and smiled brightly. It was one of those smiles guys did when they liked a girl, but Chris figured the guy had to be at least ten years her senior.
The balding cop tapped her open window. “You’d best get going, JD—and did you have a chance to talk to your mother yet?”
Chris wondered whether Daddy here had any idea his partner had the hots for his daughter. At the same time, he realized neither of them were giving him the time of day now. Could he just pick up his wrecked helmet, climb on his bike, and drive away? Likely not, considering they still had his license and registration, and his gear, which had been tied to the back, was now on the side of the road.
He didn’t hear what she said, but then the car started moving, rolling the ten feet toward him, where it stopped, the passenger window still open. “Hey there, don’t let these two ruffle your feathers. They’re both harmless…and should know better than to pull over a stranger just because!” She yelled the last part back, looking over her shoulder.
Chris took in the pair he’d been shitting bricks about moments before, who now appeared a lot less threatening.
“You should stop in Martin on your way through. Come on over to Lulu’s. Dinner is on the house for your trouble. The name’s JD,” she added with that killer smile, and he could see a killer body, too, in the bucket seat behind the wheel. She was wearing a floral tank and cutoffs. Then she lifted her fingers in a wave and pulled away, and he stared at the back end of the car and then back to the cops, who still hadn’t told him why they’d felt the need to scare the ever-living shit out of him and treat him like America’s most wanted.
“Here’s your ID,” said Ray, the scowl now once again pasted on his face. He held out Chris’s papers and license.
The older cop, who was already walking to the passenger side of the cop car, where the lights were still flashing, lifted his hand. “You have yourself a great day, you hear, and move yourself along.”
Then they were both in the car, and as it drove away with one blast of the siren, he tucked his ID back in the compartment in his wallet and noted the logo, Bennett County Sheriff’s Department. He leaned down and picked up his helmet, taking in the crack right down the center of the visor. The repairs would be a pain in the ass to see through. The helmet was a big-ticket item, and he wasn’t too happy to dish out that kind of cash. He wanted nothing more than to give those two asshole cops the bill and make them pay it. Yeah, good luck there.
At least now he knew where he was: South Dakota, outside Martin, in the middle of nowhere. Then there was the gorgeous chick, the daughter of one of the asshole cops who’d pulled him over, and he realized that maybe he wasn’t too willing to listen to their advice. After all, as his mom and dad had pointed out a time or two, there was a side of him that just couldn’t resist stirring things up when the smarter course would be to walk away.
He stared at the crack on his visor, his gear on the ground, and figured, what the hell? Dinner sounded like a great idea.
Locals liked to tease JD that if she were ever open to getting married, she’d have a line of suitors around the block. But then, every one of those locals had conveniently forgotten the fact that she had already been married once, even if it had been for only five minutes at the age of seventeen. As her father had pointed out, it was a split second of rebellious teenage stupidity that had been her one and only folly.
If everyone only knew the truth of the matter.
Now she was stuck here even though said moment of stupidity had stirred a spark, the possibility of getting away from this small town and into a life she wanted to create for herself—not that she had any idea of what that looked like or could be.
“I was down at Fielding Foods, and the ground beef was marked down to half price, so I picked up thirty pounds,” her mother said. “Figured we could fill the freezer and do a special next week on meatloaf.”
Alice Cayhill was a former beauty queen and runner up in the state beauty pageant just over twenty years earlier. She was slender and curvy, with honey-brown hair. JD favored her mother, something else the townsfolk liked to point out. She should’ve been flattered, especially considering her mother could still turn a man’s eye, but then, said men would have to deal with her father, the sheriff of Martin, where nothing ever happened and no one ever dared to cross him. It wasn’t so much that he was a bad man. Jorden Cayhill was a teddy bear to those who knew him, namely his family, but at the same time, he didn’t take to anyone messing with them. Hence JD’s short-lived marriage and the fact that she was now the head cook and baker at the Cayhills’ one-hundred-year-old family lodge.
“JD, didn’t you hear me?” her mom said, now looking into the open freezer. She reached for a plastic bag on the counter.
“Sorry, was just…” JD lifted her hands. One was holding a potato peeler, the other a half-peeled potato. She stood over the extra-large farmhouse sink, where she’d been staring off out the window, thinking about what could have been.
“Daydreaming again? Lord, I’d love to know what’s going through that mind of yours.” Her mother tossed the bag into the freezer and shut the door, still talking. “But I was just saying that I can handle the deliveries tomorrow for the shut-ins. I think we’re up to almost twenty this week. Saw the orders. I swear this town has more elderly and less young. Just last week the Croftons’ eldest got a job out in Cleveland, packed his young family up, and moved away. We just don’t seem to be attracting any of that young family blood. The school here is going to be in real trouble if any more of our young ones up and move off. We’ll be left with the old, the really old, and then just us, and that…”
Her mom was in the dining room now, still talking, but JD couldn’t make out anything else she was saying. It was always the same; her mom talked just to talk. JD and her dad just smiled away. He had learned to nod at all the right times, and she swore he never heard a word her mother said. Her mom, though, hadn’t quite caught on.
“JD, there’s a young man here asking for you,” her mom said as she hurried back from the front, her amber eyes popping. “Never seen him before. Rode in on one of those big noisy bikes.” As if he could hear her, she lowered her voice. “He looks like one of those biker guys. A very attractive one, at that. You got something you want to tell me, like why he’d be asking for you?”
She had to think for a minute. She didn’t have a clue what her mom was talking about as she dropped the potato and peeler into the sink and wiped her hands on the dish towel. Starting to the open door, she saw him, and she stopped cold, her hands slapping the doorframe as panic shot through her. Her mom bumped into her as she stared at the handsome red-headed biker her father had cuffed face down on the scorching blacktop.
And, of course, what was that hot biker doing but watching her with what she thought were the most vibrant blue eyes she’d ever seen? She was also getting a very real firsthand view of all his fine assets, from his height, to his broad shoulders and chest. A light of amusement seemed to dance in his expression, and even the hint of a smile that touched his lips had her knees softening in horror. She was sure her mom was reading her reaction.
“Where, again, did you meet him?” her mother whispered in her ear, loudly. Of course he heard. She wanted to shoo her away.
“Hi, uh…” JD started. Now she sounded like an idiot. She’d never expected to see him again, not after the welcome he’d gotten from her father and Ray, and now she could see why.
“JD, right? Chris Friessen. Guess we didn’t get to properly meet.” He was walking toward her in a black leather jacket and black pants, the kind guys wore to ride motor bikes, with his helmet tucked under his arm. “I can tell by your expression that you completely forgot about your offer.”
She wondered whether her mouth gaped, and then her mom whispered loudly, “What offer?” It was accusing, and she could hear shock in her mom’s voice as she turned her head and saw her very dramatic expression.
JD stepped away from the door and over to Chris. She had to look up, and oh, wow, was he tall. She stood about five foot five, and her head just barely topped his shoulders. She couldn’t remember ever having seen someone with such vibrant red hair. He really was smoking hot, and then there was the hand he was now holding out to her—large, a man’s hand, not at all neatly polished. Touching it, she wondered whether he could feel what a wreck she was now.
“Of course, yes. Sorry, I was just working on dinner and didn’t think you’d stop in.”
He was still holding her hand as he lifted his gaze over to her mom, and JD finally pulled away from his strong grip. It was the kind of touch that had her wondering what he could do with those hands.
“I offered Chris dinner on the house,” JD said, “considering I drove up on Daddy and Ray cuffing him face down on the burning pavement. Said it was just a routine traffic stop when I asked, but you know Daddy. How long would he have toyed with him if I hadn’t driven up?”
Her mom crossed her arms. “Mm-hmm,” she said, a bit of amusement in her eyes. Then she did that hair flick she did when openly flirting with an attractive man before sweeping her hand in the air as if it was nothing. “Jorden is just a big old teddy bear and wouldn’t hurt anyone, but he’s real quick to make sure certain types don’t even think about stopping and visiting—slicks in those overpriced sports cars, bikers, and those up to no good who just seem to ooze trouble. Sorry, it’s just his way. Don’t mean anything by it. He’s just protecting the community here, which is one of the safest anywhere, the kind of place…”
Her mother could go on and on.
“Mom, I think I heard the phone ringing a moment ago,” JD said. Even Chris turned to look behind him at the ancient long front desk made of dark wood and brass.
“You sure? I didn’t hear anything.”
“Mom, you should check. I don’t think anyone is booked in tonight, but that could be someone looking…” She let the words fall away, knowing her mom always needed to know what was going on with the lodge, sticking her nose in the running of everything even though everyone was looking after what needed to be looked after.
“You’re right. I should,” Alice said and tapped her wrist, then wandered off.
That left JD with Mister Hotty, who watched her mom walk away only after she let her hand touch his arm and the leather of his jacket.
“I did promise you dinner on the house, didn’t I?” she said, and now she had all his attention.
“You did, at that. When you said Lulu’s, I wasn’t expecting this.” He was looking around, and she knew he had to be considering the quaint, rustic charm. The dining room held five tables, all mismatched, which added to the old-time feel. “It’s the type of place I’ve been looking for in my travels, seeing this country and all its charm.”
“I hope you’re not disappointed in any way. Come in. I’ll get you to a table, and, as you can see, you have your choice. We’re not particularly busy right now, just the locals who come in for the dinner rush at five. You are early…” It was only three thirty, and she still hadn’t finished prepping that night’s menu.
“Not too early, I hope.”
She shook her head and tossed him an easy smile. “Not at all.”
He was right on her heels, and she stopped, hearing the floorboards creak. She took him in as he said, “Good to hear. The way things have worked out, this’ll be kind of a late lunch, early dinner.” Then he settled his megawatt gaze on her. That one look had her rooted where she stood, not wanting to move, feeling the air between them sizzle. She was glad her mom had left. “So what’s good here?” he asked, and the way he was staring at her, she thought there was a deeper meaning hidden in the question.
“Ah, everything, considering I’m the cook,” she said, wondering why she’d added that last part.
“So not only do I get the pleasure of seeing you again, but I get to have you cook for me.”
The air sizzled, and she found herself sliding her hand around the back of her neck and lifting her hair to cool off. The room was warm. The windows were cracked, but it wasn’t the heat of the day that was making her a little crazy.
“You said you were traveling?” She thought her voice sounded a little deep and sexy. That wasn’t like her, but it was at this moment. What was it about this hot biker that was bringing out the siren inside her?
“Yeah, seeing this beautiful country, all the backroads and small towns in half the states.” He was still smiling, and not just from his mouth. He was giving everything to her in that one look.
“Wow, that sounds amazing. How long have you been traveling? I just can’t imagine being able to do something like that.” It sounded crazy, but at the same time it sounded like heaven, something her father would never allow.
“A few months. Saved up and planned for it. Was something I always dreamed of doing before I decide on what to do, where to settle down, and how. It seemed seeing this country when I’m young, with no one to depend on me, is better than waiting like most people do for when they retire. So I worked, socked everything away, and planned out the key places and states.”
She realized they were still standing, and she glanced at the table for four by the window and gestured to it. “Where’re my manners? Here, why don’t you have a seat?” She could get lost in everything about him. What was it about his charm? It oozed from every part of him without him saying one word.
“Only if you’ll join me,” he said and then stepped around her and pulled out a chair.
“Well, for a minute, but then I have to get dinner on or you won’t be eating anything.” She sat down, and he pushed the chair in and walked around the table to the seat across from her. There was an echo in the empty room, she realized, and a peace that seemed to exist only when no one was there.
“I can wait, but I’m enjoying the conversation. You know, meeting new folks is also a part of seeing this country.” It wasn’t lost on her how he filled that old wooden chair and rested his motorcycle helmet on the table. She took in the cracked visor.
“That had to have hurt.” She gestured toward it, and she wasn’t sure what she saw in his expression as he glanced to it and back to her.
“So, Lulu’s, how long you worked here?” he said, and she realized he hadn’t answered her. She wondered whether he had any idea how annoying that was.
“It’s the family business, so I grew up here, lived here. This lodge has been in our family for two generations since my great-great-grandfather moved out here and started it up mostly for travelers heading west. There were rooms upstairs and a restaurant down, but now there’re just three rooms upstairs. The back of the lodge is an addition from a decade ago for the family. I just kind of was always in the kitchen, helping, and now…” She lifted her hands, because she couldn’t remember the day, exactly, that she’d suddenly started doing all the cooking, all the baking, after her grandmother announced she was retiring. One day exactly two years earlier, Grandma Cayhill had taken off her apron, tossed it down, and said she was passing it on, and she had retired to her house a block away, where she and JD’s grandfather now lived with a social life that occupied their every waking moment.
“Family business, heritage, pretty cool. Just the kind of mom and pop place I was looking for. So you still rent out rooms?”
“We do,” she said before she heard the door and glanced around Chris to see Ray step inside. He lifted off his shades, his intense gaze going right to her, filled with a dash of a smile. Until he spotted Chris. It was instant, the change in him as he started into the lodge. It took one step, two steps, before his gaze locked on Chris and turned dark, into something she hadn’t seen in his expression before.
“Hey, Ray, wasn’t expecting you so soon,” she said but didn’t get up, and she noted the way Chris leaned back in the chair, which creaked under his weight, as if getting ready for…what? He too was unimpressed, but could she blame him, considering how he’d been treated?
Ray’s gaze landed on her for a second but then went right back to Chris until he stood right in front of him, dialing up the tension in the room. His hands settled on his belt, close to his gun, his cuffs. Then he flicked one to Chris. “Now what exactly are you doing here?”
Chris stared up at Ray, far from rattled. In fact, he crossed his arms as if enjoying the moment. “Well, I was invited,” he said and glanced across the table to JD, settling his megawatt gaze on her completely. “As a matter of fact, though, I was just about to ask JD out. So how about it?”
She stared at him. Was he toying with her? “How about what?” she said, seeing her mom now walking their way. Her dad had just come in, too.
“JD, how about I take you out after dinner or when you’re off?” Chris asked.
All she could do was take in Ray and the way he was shaking his head as if he had some say in the matter. “Chris, I would love to go out with you,” she announced.
“What?” Ray snapped just as her mom and dad stared at her as if she’d lost her mind.
“She’s spoken for,” Ray said.
Chris was staring into the face of one pissed-off cop, or was he a deputy? He couldn’t quite tell from the badge pinned to his chest. The dark-haired cop was now seated across from him in the rustic dining room of the quaint lodge, in the exact spot in which JD had been sitting just moments earlier.
Chris glanced over his shoulder to the door that led into what he thought was the kitchen, which was still swinging from where JD had been pulled away by her mother. Her father, the sheriff, had paused a second to level him a look that said, What the fuck do you think you’re doing, boy? before following the women into the kitchen. It wasn’t lost on Chris where JD had gotten her looks from, and her amazing figure.
He allowed his eyes to scan the room, taking his time before looking back to Ray, who had to have at least ten years, if not more, he figured, on JD. “Didn’t seem that way to me,” he said. He knew he was playing with fire but just couldn’t help himself in wanting to push the small-town cop. He was well aware this was likely to get him in a heap of trouble, especially since his family didn’t know exactly where he was today, but then, Chris had never been known to follow any of the rules or play it safe. Hence his bike and this little cross-country adventure.
“Well, now you know,” Ray said. His hands were big, and the one on the table flicked to him as he relaxed in the chair. Chris wasn’t fooled for a second into thinking the man wasn’t ready for him to move or try anything. “So it’d be best now if you moved on.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t really work for me. You see, I was offered dinner, and that’s exactly what I plan to have, and I do keep my word. Not really the kind of man to ask a lady out and then take off. That would be rude, Ray.” He knew he was provoking the man, and he took in the way his eyes flashed from icy blue to something a little colder. Chris was pushing a line Ray didn’t want him crossing. Ray let out a rough laugh that dragged an icy chill up Chris’s spine.
“That’s chief deputy to you, asshole,” he said, and he winked. “And as I said, JD is not for you. She’s been spoken for, so you just get back on your bike and ride on out of our county and keep going to where you came from.” He nodded then as if it was all settled, but Chris had no intention of leaving.
“You keep saying that, spoken for. What exactly does that mean, by you?” He eased back in the chair, hearing it creak. His leather jacket was making him sweat. He should have taken a moment to take it off, but not now, as the man across from him had every intention of keeping Chris from seeing JD. If he were smart, he’d have made his excuses and left. Good thing he wasn’t that cowardly.
“It’s not your business…” Ray started, but the sound of the kitchen door opening had him stopping midsentence.
“So sorry about that, Chris,” JD said. “I brought you an ice tea, not that I asked you what you’d like to drink.” She rested a tall glass complete with ice and a mint leaf on top in front of him, and he did his best to ignore the deputy seated across from him, who was staring at JD like a man in love. What was the story there?
“Ray, are you behaving yourself, or are you trying to intimidate Chris again?” JD added as she set a menu in front of Chris. It was just a single page with four items to choose from: a blue-plate dinner special, chili, steak, and the staple of every restaurant around, a house burger.
“I’m doing no such thing, but, JD, you don’t know nothing about this man here. Inviting him for dinner and then saying you’ll go out with him? No, that’s not right. I’m sure your dad in there was likely telling you…”
She held up the flat of her hand, and he stopped talking as she rested both on slim hips outfitted in a loose pair of jeans. She had one of the nicest asses Chris had ever seen, and add in her long legs and slim waist, she was the entire package. Chris was in no hurry to walk out of there. Cop dad or not, there was something about JD that intrigued him so much that he thought it was worth a moment of his time to get to know her.
“Ray Briggs,” she said, “you know very well that no one tells me what to do, and that includes my parents. I’m of age and can make my own decisions, and I’ve invited Chris for dinner—and, just so everyone is clear, after the dinner rush, I’ll also be going out with him. So you’re welcome to move on over to another table and take a seat, or if Chris is fine with you sharing his table, I’ll take your order in just a moment.”
His interest was piqued even more, and he found himself taking in the deputy, who was staring up at her with what resembled puppy dog eyes. Clearly, the infatuation was one sided, but the fact was he was head over heels in love with her.
“Ah, come on, JD,” Ray said. “I was planning on taking you out. We’d go park up on Slater’s Hill and watch the sunset.”
Even Chris gave him a look that said, Seriously, dude?
JD was shaking her head, and he wondered whether she had any idea how Ray had set his sights on her. “Sorry. Now, are you going to behave yourself here, or do I need to move you to another table?” she said. JD could make that deputy asshole toe the line, Chris realized, or maybe that was just the effect she had on men. Then she gave him that sassy expression, the one that had stared up at him through the open passenger side window. It was beyond gorgeous, revealing everything about her. “So, Chris, what can I get you for dinner?”
“Well, I’m thinking, why don’t you surprise me?” He lifted the menu and handed it back to her, taking in something rattled in her expression.
She hesitated before giving her head a shake and pasting a smile back on her face. “Okay, one blue-plate special.” Her gaze lingered a minute before turning to Ray. “And how about you, Ray? What would you like tonight?”
He had both hands clasped now over his belt as he leaned back. “The same,” he said, inclining his head to Chris, “and be sure to hold back a piece of your apple pie. I’ll be wanting that for dessert.”
She gave him a nod before turning over a cup. “Coffee then, too,” she added as she walked over to an antique buffet, where a coffee station was set up. She strode back, and he noticed the flip flops on her feet.
“I do, just the way you make it,” Ray said as she poured him a coffee and then dumped two creamers beside the cup. As she walked away and Ray stirred his coffee, then tapped the spoon against his mug, Chris didn’t miss the fact that he was still sitting at his table, and this man who was the last person he’d ever want to share a table with was now staring at him with a look in his eyes that Chris was smart enough not to press.
“If you hurt her, or mess with her in any way, I will kill you and bury you where no one will ever find you,” Ray said. “So have your dinner. You want to take her out? You be sure that she returns safely, early, and you don’t mess with her in any way.” Then he lifted his coffee and jabbed his finger over to Chris. “You just remember who her father is. She belongs here, and if you step out of line in any way, I’m watching you.”
Now what the hell was he supposed to say to that? Nothing, if he was smart, but instead he lifted the ice tea and took a swallow. It was even better than he’d thought it would be. Then he flicked his gaze over to the deputy and said, “So how long have you been in love with her?”
Who would have thought that tonight, of all nights, every person in town, or so it seemed, would show up for the dinner rush? Her mom and dad had both pitched in and carried out plates as she dished up the orders, and even Ray had stepped into the kitchen a time or two to help out their only waitress, Sue, a single mother of three, who worked four nights a week. Word had gotten out that the blue-plate special was grilled pork chops with steamed carrots over creamy whipped mashed potatoes, gravy, and buttermilk biscuits. JD would have to make a note of the favorites and time it better.
As she stared at the stacks of dirty plates and pots, she wanted to weep with weariness. It had to be after eight now, and her feet were killing her.
“Well, that young man is still here,” Alice said, “and you should know that your dad and Ray are both there breathing down his neck. He says he’s not leaving, that he asked you out and intends on taking you out. Never seen anyone so persistent. Not sure if that boy is just plain stupid or if he has more grit than is good for him.”
How could she have forgotten? She pulled off her apron, wanting to change, feeling the dampness of sweat leak through her tank top. “He’s still here? Why didn’t you say something?”
Her mother was no longer horrified at the fact that a biker no one knew anything about had not only showed up for a dinner she’d offered but also had asked her out. Her father, of course, after following her mother and her into the kitchen, had said in no uncertain terms that she could go out with Chris only over his dead body. Her mom, though, had rolled her eyes and patted his chest, knowing what not to say, and instead had questioned JD on the wisdom of going anywhere with someone not from around Martin. JD, without saying a word to either, had poured ice tea for Chris and walked out, leaving her parents to discuss who this Chris was.
Now here she was, sweaty and gritty, wanting a shower and to get off her feet, not to go out on a date or on the town or anywhere except to bed.
“Well, I’m saying something now,” Alice said. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? I mean, you know nothing about him, where he’s from, and who his people are. Then there’s Ray. You know he’s not happy about you going out with him.”
Her mom was so dramatic about everything. She wanted to roll her eyes. It was all she’d ever heard growing up, as if anyone not from Martin was from another country. It was as if everything and everyone that mattered was right there, and any other place didn’t exist. Then there was Ray.
“Mom, hate to break this to you, but Chris is just like you and me, and yes, I’m going out with him.” Where, she didn’t have a clue, but right now she wasn’t about to waste another minute being questioned by her parents. “And about Ray, I’m going to say this one last time: He has no say in my life, in who I see or talk to,” she added just as her mother gave her a disapproving glance and then shook her head.
“You know Ray has been stopping in here every night and has intentions of asking you out. He’s already spoken to your father…”
JD was already shaking her head. She knew Ray was interested, yet he’d never kissed her. He’d taken her out a few times, walking, to a movie, even dancing a time or two, but as far as she was concerned, it was as friends. He’d listened to her, being the sympathetic ear when her father had pulled her and Matt apart and ended any future they could have had.
“Mom, Ray is just a friend. How many times have I said that? He’s nothing more, never has been, never will be. So can you please stop, already? Both you and Daddy need to learn that my life is my life.”
There it was, the eye roll again, as if she were spouting nonsense. It seemed her parents would never see her as an adult with a life that was hers alone. She would never be free of them continually poking their noses into her business and arranging her life as they saw fit.
She pushed open the kitchen door and saw three sets of eyes turn her way. Ray and her dad were both standing in front of Chris, their arms crossed, and it wasn’t lost on her that they were eye level, and not one of them towered over the others. Then there was Chris, who must’ve been staring right back at them, his arms also crossed over a rust-colored T-shirt. She noticed he’d shed his leather jacket, and wow, his arms showed he was a man who could hold his own, which was maybe why he was standing up to Ray and her dad as if it were no big deal. That alone bumped him up a double notch in her book.
“You ready?” he said to her and then walked her way.
She didn’t dare look over to her father, because she already knew he likely had a few things to say, and she wasn’t about to hear any more. “Yes, just let me change into a clean shirt and we can go.” Then her gaze did slide over to her father and Ray and back to Chris, wondering how much longer he could hold them off. “You okay here?” she said. There had to be a point where he realized she was too much trouble and walked out. Anyone in their right mind would have. Wasn’t that what Matt had done?
He shrugged as if it were no big deal. “Of course. Go get changed. I’ll be here,” he said.
She took another step back, taking in her dad and Ray. “You two, behave yourselves,” she said, then left, glancing back only once to see her mom step out of the kitchen and over to Chris. Good grief, she hoped her mom at least would behave.
* * *
JD didn’t linger as she wanted to. She pulled off her damp and sweaty shirt and tossed it in her dirty clothes hamper the moment she stepped into her bedroom, which had a queen bed, a night stand, a chest of drawers that was as old as the house, and two antique chairs in front of a fireplace that didn’t work.
She crossed into her private bathroom, with its claw-foot tub and single sink, and turned on the tap to splash water on her underarms and over her face. She grabbed the towel, taking a whiff to make sure she didn’t smell, and dried off before putting on deodorant and grabbing a deep blue tank with frills on the front, which she pulled on over a lacy bra. She grabbed silver hoops from the square box on her dresser and put them on, glancing at her image in the bathroom mirror. Not bad, considering she’d been sweating over a hot stove for hours.
She quickly brushed on blusher and then a thin coat of mascara, then glanced at the clock, seeing that only five minutes had passed. “Good girl,” she said as she kicked off her flip flops and pulled open the closet, then shoved her feet in black toeless sandals. She was out the door, half expecting for Chris to be gone this time, but she froze as she saw her mother behind the ancient front desk and Chris filling out a registration card. They both looked up at her as if what they were doing was completely normal.
“Since it’s getting late, I suggested that Chris get a room for the night,” Alice said. “No point in him having to hit the highway in the dark.” She slid a key across the counter. “5C, the first door at the top of the stairs.”
Chris pulled out his wallet and tossed several bills down. “Thank you,” he said and took the key, which scraped across the counter. He looked from her mom to her. “You ready?”
She found herself looking into the dining room, expecting to see Ray and her dad there, but she saw no one, instead hearing a clatter from the kitchen.
“Well, you two have fun,” Alice said. “I’d best go give Sue help cleaning up.” Then her mother did the oddest thing: She walked away, leaving Chris and JD alone.
“Your mom…” He gestured to her retreating back. “You look just like her.”
She dragged her gaze back to him, taking in the leather biking pants he was still wearing.
“You mind if I grab my gear and put it in my room? And I’ll take off these bike leathers,” he said, tapping his leg.
“Of course not. Was wondering whether you’d wear those all night. You have to be hot, I would think,” she added.
Chris pulled open the front door. The jingle of the bell was as familiar as the night sky, and he waited for her to step through it. “I am hot, but it’s a safety thing. They won’t protect against broken bones, but they will against road rash.”
He was behind her as she stepped out. The sun was still up, but it was starting to dip lower. It really was magical out there when the sun went down. Chris pulled the door closed, and they started down the four long steps, the wood creaking under his weight. His bike was parked right in front beside her father’s cruiser. It really was a nice bike, as far as motorcycles went. He said nothing as he unfastened the bag on the back, and she took a moment to really look at him. Something radiated from him, a charm she’d never felt from anyone before.
“So you’ve traveled all over on this bike?” She stepped off the curb and ran her hand over the metal and onto the leather seat.
“I did, the only way to see the country.” He hefted the bag over his shoulder and then waited for her. The smile that touched his lips along with those intense blue eyes was giving everything to her and making her feel as if she were special in a way that no man ever had, not even Matt. Then he was walking back to the steps, and he paused as if waiting for her. Stay there or go with him? Then he did something she didn’t expect. “So you want to show me the way to 5C, or do you think your father is waiting in the room for me?”
The way he said it, she wasn’t sure whether he was kidding, but at the same time, she realized that was exactly what her father would do, and she winced.
“Sure I can. Should I apologize again for my father and Ray? Or maybe I never apologized,” she said as she stood right beside him, so close she could feel his heat.
The way he was looking at her now, she wasn’t sure what he was thinking. Then he ran his hand over her arm and down to her hand, over her fingers, in a touch that sent a shiver through her. His hand was hard, rough, and warm, and her body seemed to want it. “You don’t need to apologize for anyone. Whatever happened, whatever they’ve done, that’s not on you.”
He was still holding her hand as they started up the steps, where he opened the front door of the lodge. Ray was now behind the front desk, and his eyes went right to their hands before landing solely on her.
“You know what, Chis? Go get changed, and I’ll wait right here,” she said, pulling her hand from his and resting it on his arm, feeling the muscles tighten.
He glanced to Ray and then pulled his questioning gaze back to her. “You sure?”
Those two words, the way he said them, she realized he really meant it. Maybe that was why a lump jammed in her throat, cutting off her voice. She had to swallow as she stared into the intensity of his eyes, the strength and something else that had her wanting to step closer to him.
“It’s fine.” She forced a smile to her lips, dropped her hand, and squeezed her fist from wanting to touch him again.
He nodded, lingering just a second more before starting up the steps to where the three guest rooms were. JD watched him for a breath and then another before forcing her gaze back to Ray, who apparently had something more on his mind and was determined to have his say.
“So let’s have it,” JD said, lifting her hands with emphasis as she took a seat on the old-fashioned settee, which was covered in vibrant green velvet. At least her feet were thanking her, and she hoped her face didn’t betray the relief she felt.
“Not saying anything, JD. You’re a grown woman who’s entitled to make her own decisions,” Ray said. His blue eyes were more of a steely gray that lacked the brilliance of Chris’s, but at the same time, Ray had been the one there on the sidelines when it seemed her life had fallen apart. He’d listened, sympathized, and provided a much needed shoulder to cry on. He’d been the best friend she’d ever had. “But what exactly do you know about him?” he finally said. His expression appeared cross, annoyed, and for a minute she was at a loss for words.
What was she supposed to say? “I know he hasn’t let you and Daddy run him off, scare him away, that he hasn’t caved under all the intimidation you’ve heaped on him since he hit the county line.” She crossed her arms and saw the moment her words had impact.
“Point taken. So he’s made of stronger stuff—although there is a point for every man, and every man gets there. It’s just a matter of finding it,” he stated as he stepped around the desk and over to her. He stopped just in front of her, and she was forced to look up. Ray’s dark hair was wavy, a little on the messy side, and his build was a fine thing to look at. She’d been pulled into those strong arms and held a few times as she’d cried into his chest. She’d been comforted there and knew how good a place it was, how it felt. She had to blink away the memory, reminding herself he was a friend.
“I seriously hope that isn’t your way of saying you’re about to pull out all the stops with him and maybe take things a little further with the intimidation, bullying. I don’t think I want to know what else you’re willing to stoop to,” she stated, and Ray had the grace to glance away as if thinking of what to say, or maybe he was running a little thin on excuses and was deciding whether to keep his plans from her or share them. Well, considering what he’d done already, both him and her father, the law seemed to do what it wanted for the good of the community.
“I’m going to say it again, JD: He’s not for you. You know nothing about him, just a no-good drifter who’ll be gone tomorrow, and then what?” He reached out and slid his hand over her chin, then tilted it up so she had to look at him and see the caring he had for her.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Would you and everyone stop this? Chris just asked me out. You’re all acting as if this was a marriage proposal.” She shook her head and moved back enough that he dropped his hand and placed both over his belt, where his gun was holstered along with the pouch where he kept his cuffs—a cop who was always ready.
“Well, that’s the thing, JD. I remember not so long ago that you were sweet talked into that very thing, and if I recall, it didn’t work out so well for you. If you need a reminder of how low you were and who was there for you…” he said, but she didn’t need a reminder of the moment she’d seen the papers with Matt’s signature and the note that he was gone.
“Of course I remember.” She pulled her arms closer, crossing them under her breasts, feeling the giant ache that had taken a chunk out of her heart. She knew that Ray had been there, letting her cry it out away from everyone’s prying eyes. He’d been a shield from everyone and the world when she’d needed it.
There was a creak, and Ray turned and stepped back. Chris stepped off the last step in blue jeans and a dark blue T-shirt, his hair a little damp as if he’d taken a second to clean up. Then he was looking from her to Ray, his expression telling her he’d heard something, but at the same time he seemed questioning, confused. He said nothing as he stood there, staring at Ray, and the look in his eyes let her know he would push at Ray until he either snapped or pushed back. They were two alphas who weren’t about to be pushed around, the kind of guys who won or ended things badly.
JD slapped her hands on her thighs and stood. “Well, I see you’re ready and had time to change. That’s great. We should go.”
Maybe that was all Chris needed, because he pulled his gaze from Ray with no smile, just a hard and unforgiving expression, but it softened as he took in JD and stepped over to her. He slid his hand over her shoulder and down her back as he turned her and pulled open the door.
She froze, feeling Chris’s hand on her shoulder now as she turned back to Ray but said nothing.
The look on his face said everything. “You need me for anything, I’m just a call away.”
She turned and stepped out onto the front porch, hearing the door close behind her, and she stopped when Chris pulled his hand away. She glanced up to him.
“Seems as if I’ve walked into the middle of something, and I’m now wondering if maybe this is more than I bargained for,” he said.
For a second, she felt her heart dip.
“There’s only one thing I want to know,” he added as she forced herself to swallow past the dryness in her throat.
“And that is?” she said, then waited.
He nodded and glanced into the distance, then pulled his gaze back to her. “Is there anything I should know about going on between you and the deputy?” He jammed his thumb to the door.
She could see it then: His charm and chemistry had been neatly pulled back and tucked away as if he indeed had something to protect. “Ray and I are not involved. We’re friends, that’s all. I’m not involved with anyone or seeing anyone, and if I was, I wouldn’t have accepted your invite to go out. Now, if that’s it for the questions…or maybe I should ask you if you’re still interested in going out?” Please say yes, she thought, but she feared he’d come to his senses and shake his head and decide to get on his bike and leave town.
He looked up the street and then over to her. “Since I’m not familiar with this place and what there is to do around here, I suppose you could show me around.”
There was her answer, followed by the smile that eased back into his expression.
“Come on,” he said, his hand skimming over her lower back as they went down the stairs, and she took in his bike and the street that went east and west.
“Well, how about we walk and I show you all the finer points of Martin?” she said. The lodge was at the center of town, and she started down the sidewalk, Chris right beside her, so close his arm was brushing hers. “So, Chris, since this has been kind of an unusual start, maybe you could tell me where you’re from. You said you’re traveling. I’d like to hear about it.” She was dying to hear about it, actually—an adventure, something she’d only dreamed of and couldn’t imagine.
“Actually on my way home now. I’m from a place outside North Lakewood in Washington. Grew up on a ranch, my dad’s place, but I always had this bug, as my mom called it, to travel—and not just any travel. I wanted to see places no one else does, so I worked my butt off after getting out of school, socked money away, bought my bike, and then made a plan. I left home, went through Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and crossed over into New Mexico. Made my way across the country for the past three months. Some places have been unforgettable, and I’d go back, but there are others I hope to never see again.”
She watched him. The way he said it, she could see there was an experience or something else there, a memory that would likely haunt him, or so it seemed. “But mostly good?” she said.
He glanced down to her, forced a smile, and nodded. “Mostly good.”
“And you don’t want to share the bad?” She wondered whether he meant what had happened that day, what she’d driven up on.
Whatever it was, he shook his head. “No, some things aren’t worth sharing. That’s the problem with this world, I think. Everyone keeps stirring up what’s not working and talking it to death, keeping it alive in everyone’s minds when it’s best to let it go. So no.” He was being cryptic, and this was the first time she’d ever heard someone not willing to share a problem.
“So is today one of those things? I mean, when I drove up on you…” She let her words fall away as his expression darkened and his gaze fell heavy on her.
He shook his head. “No, that was more an annoyance than anything, but I have to ask, is that a regular occurrence around here?”
What could she say? She suspected it happened more often than not, considering the town didn’t see many troublemakers, but she didn’t think she’d share that last part. Seeing a lone biker on a backroad stretch of highway, her dad and Ray would’ve been wondering what he was up to. She tensed her jaw and felt his hand slide over her lower back and rub before he pulled it away.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I think you just answered my question.”
“Well, wait.” She stopped and stepped in front of him, pressing her hand to his chest, feeling the ripple of muscle, and she instantly responded to him. Damn! She pulled her hand away, needing to make her point. “My father isn’t a bad man, and neither is Ray. In fact, they care about everyone in this town. They want to see that everyone is safe. Maybe in some of those places you stopped, whatever those experiences were, they wouldn’t have happened if those places had people like my father and Ray seeing that everyone was safe and protected.”
And sheltered, she thought. Martin was a place where nothing overly exciting happened, but there hadn’t been a murder in the county in over ten years.
The way he was looking down at her, she wondered what he was thinking. “That’s too simplistic an answer, JD. I can see you feel you need to make your dad’s case, and the deputy’s, but it’s not necessary.”
She had a feeling he was blowing her off, or rather, he wasn’t willing to hear any of her dad’s or Ray’s good points. “I think it is necessary,” she said. “My father wouldn’t hurt a fly, and while I’m sure you may have been inconvenienced unnecessarily, I can assure you that was all that would’ve happened. My father has done so many things to help this community. He was the first one to set up and sponsor meals for the shut-ins, all the elderly, so they can stay in their homes longer instead of going to nursing homes where they’d be stuffed in a corner, waiting to die. He’s on the council of three community organizations that provide food, shelter, and aid to those who need it here. He cares, and so does Ray,” she added, wanting him to see her father and Ray the way she did, through the eyes of everyone in Martin.
“I get it, JD, I do. Seriously, it’s not a problem,” he said, reaching out and pressing his hand to her shoulder, running it over the edge, and squeezing. Then he gestured behind her. “So how about I take you for a drink?”
She turned and saw the flashing sign of the Moose bar and grill. Not much of a place, but at least they could sit and talk, and she could get off her aching feet.
“Sounds like a plan.”
Copyright 2017, Author Lorhainne Eckhart