It was sweltering. Hotter than hell. At ten p.m. you could still fry an egg on the sidewalk. Hell, you could fry one on his desk. There was so much humidity, you practically had to swim anywhere you wanted to go.
J.T. Summers reclined in his rickety chair then braced his knee underneath his desk, because if he leaned back too far, he’d end up on his ass. He cast a mournful stare in the direction of the struggling window unit and damned the fact that once again, central air conditioning had not made it into the city’s budget.
A bead of sweat trickled down his neck, further dampening his shirt collar. He could be at home with the air turned down to sixty. Or he could be out at Seth and Zane’s doing a few laps in their pool and enjoying good company. Instead he was sitting here in a two-jail-cell department sweating his ass off.
Because he was a huge chicken shit, and he knew if he went home that she’d find him there.
He was so fucked.
He glanced down at the paperwork he’d been shuffling for the last two hours and ignored the growling of his stomach. He was turning into a f**king pussy. Wouldn’t even venture down to the café because she’d ambushed him there two nights ago.
A mournful groan escaped his chest, and he was even gladder that no one was around to see him cower like a goddamn sissy behind his desk. Mr. Bad-Ass Sheriff.
Protector of the citizens of Barley. Hiding from a woman.
Yep, all that was left was for someone to cut off his balls and tie a ribbon in his hair.
J.T. looked up to see Toby March standing in the door with a slightly queasy look on his face.
“What is it?” he asked his deputy.
“Uhm, you need to come out here and see this.” J.T.’s eyes narrowed. “Just tell me what’s wrong.” Toby glanced over his shoulder then back at J.T. “Ah, well, I’m not sure…that is, it would be better if you come out here. I have a…prisoner who insists on seeing you.” J.T. surged to his feet. “What the fuck? Why isn’t he in lock-up?” Toby’s shoulders sagged, and he gave J.T. a look that could only be described as haggard. “Maybe because I don’t want her brother to kick my ass for locking up his baby sister?”
Oh hell. Oh no, no, no. Fuck it all.
He stalked by Toby and into the small reception area. He came to a dead halt, and Toby ran into his back.
There, standing defiantly by Sandra’s desk, handcuffed, was one Nikki Durant. Their eyes met, and her expression positively smoldered. Nikki didn’t look at all affected by the heat. No, she appeared cool and composed, and damn if he didn’t want to lick her from her pretty polished toes to that delectable, fuckable mouth.
“Jesus Christ, Toby, get those goddamn cuffs off her,” J.T. snarled.
“Uh, I would, man, but uhm, she sorta insisted they stay on.” J.T. rounded on his friend. “Why the hell was she cuffed to begin with?”
“Because if he’s going to arrest me, he needs to do it right,” Nikki said in her husky, sexy-as -hell voice.
J.T. closed his eyes and prayed for deliverance. Then he slowly turned around and gave her a very pained stare.
“I’m afraid to ask. I really don’t even want to know. But since you’re standing in my jail in handcuffs, I feel compelled to ask what you did.” She gave him an innocent smile. His entire body tightened into one vicious knot.
That smile could mow down an entire army. Her gorgeous blue eyes widened, and that perfect mouth curved upward.
He mentally traced a line around those plump lips with his tongue. Then he pictured that perfect bow around his dick. More sweat rolled down his back, and he had to shift his position to disguise an erection from hell.
“Maybe you should ask your deputy?” she suggested. “I was merely minding my business.”
If it were possible, her eyes widened even further until they shone with an angelic light.
J.T. snatched the keys from Toby and stalked over to where Nikki stood.
“Cut the crap, Nikki.” He turned her around and jammed the keys into the cuffs. In another second, he had her free and tossed the cuffs back to Toby. He made a jerking motion with his thumb, and Toby was only too happy to scram.
Nikki turned around and cupped one wrist in her palm, rubbing absently.
“Not too fun, huh?”
Her expression didn’t falter.
“Now, want to tell me why the hell my deputy brought you in with cuffs on?” She lifted one shoulder in a delicate shrug, and it sent her long dark hair sliding forward. The inch-wide pink streak, the one that drove him insane, glared in the fluorescent overhead lighting.
Her palms slid down her sides in a deliberate motion then shoved into the pockets of her jeans. The action sent her waistband lower, baring the thin ring in her belly button.
Sweat beaded his brow. Why me? What kind of miscreant had he been in a past life to deserve this kind of punishment?
“Your deputy brought me here because you were here,” she said simply. “You’re avoiding me.”
J.T. blew out his breath. “Come on. I’ll take you home, honey.” He immediately cringed as the endearment slipped from his lips. She flashed him a brilliant smile. Hell, she probably thought he was encouraging her.
She closed the distance between them and moved into his space. She pressed against his chest and wrapped her arms around him, burrowing her cheek against his shirt.
His body reacted, jumping to attention. Starving. It was the way he acted around her.
And she knew it. Damn her.
“You can’t run from me forever, J.T.,” she murmured. “Sooner or later, you’re going to give in. You know it, and I know it.”
She turned her head up and brushed her lips across his jaw. When she would have found his mouth, he turned away and stepped back, out of her arms, away from her warmth and softness. Suddenly the oppressive heat lifted, and a chill settled in its stead.
“Nikki, stop.” His voice came out in a husky sound that definitely didn’t back up his command for her to halt. It sounded like an invitation, a plea.
She laughed softly. Then she pulled away and headed for the door. When she reached it, she gripped the handle and opened it. She paused and turned back to him.
“Don’t bother driving me home, J.T. I’ll walk.” Then she disappeared out the door, leaving him standing there gawking like a moron at the seductive sway of her hips. And that ass. Sweet Jesus, that ass!
And then he realized that she’d said she was walking home. Alone. In the dark.
He snagged his Stetson and stalked out the door, glancing down the sidewalk to see her walking with a lazy stride down Main Street. Like any male within a ten-mile radius could resist that come-and-get-me strut? He’d be lucky if he didn’t have to beat someone’s ass before he managed to wrestle her into his squad car.
He was going to kill Lucas. Not just kill him, but cut him from as**ole to appetite and gut him. Six months ago, Nikki’s brother had extracted a promise from J.T.
He remembered the moment well. He and Lucas had been standing outside the auditorium at the small university Nikki had just graduated from, waiting for her to come out.
“She wants to move home, man,” Lucas said as the two men stood by Lucas’s truck.
Something deep inside J.T. flared. A sudden burst of adrenaline spiked through his veins. A warm buzz blew through his head, and he shook it to ward off the reaction to Lucas’s announcement.
Playing it cool, he slid his friend a sideways glance. “You don’t sound happy about that.”
Lucas shrugged. “Barley? What the hell is she going to do in Barley? What’s there for her? She always swore she’d get out. Just like I did.”
“Maybe she just wants a place to regroup and figure out what she wants to do next,” J.T. offered. Hopefully she’d do it quickly before he found himself going down paths better not taken.
“I want you to look after her,” Lucas said. “I’m shipping out again. I don’t like the idea of her being in that town alone. No one ever understood her or tried.” Shit. He should have seen this coming.
J.T. stared at the grim expression on Lucas’s face. Hard, lean and muscled. He screamed military from the standard hair cut to the tattoo etched on his arm.
“Sure, man, I’ll keep an eye on her. You know that.” Even as the words slipped out, he knew he was damned. He’d just promised to keep an eye on a girl he couldn’t control his lust over. Real smart.
The feminine exclamation rang out. Both men looked up, and J.T. felt a fist straight to his gut. He honestly couldn’t take a breath.
Devoid of the graduation gown that had done a very good job of hiding what was beneath it, she hurried across the parking lot in a pair of extremely tight jeans and a tank top that hugged a luscious set of br**sts and bared three inches of her midriff. Her jeans dipped low on her waist, and dangling from her belly button was a very feminine piece of jewelry.
He hadn’t seen her in two years, but he hadn’t forgotten a thing about how she looked. Or how she made him feel.
Suddenly, agreeing to come to her graduation with one of his best friends didn’t seem like such a good idea.
Nikki Durant launched herself into her brother’s arms, and J.T.’s mouth went dry.
Then she stepped away from her brother and threw herself at J.T. He caught her as she wrapped herself around him. His arms were full of a mouthwatering, gorgeous woman.
Her curves molded to his hard body. Her ni**les tightened and poked at his chest.
Ah hell, she wasn’t wearing a bra. Her swift intake of breath verified she was just as affected as he was.
He stepped back hastily, desperate to put as much distance between him and Lucas’s little sister as he could.
Her smile was breathtaking. Her wide blue eyes danced with merriment and mischief. She knew.
After so long of hiding his reactions to her, in one moment, it was all in the open. He tried to conjure regret. Shame. Something other than the prickle of excitement that tightened every muscle in his body.
Hell. He was so busted. Now he just waited for Lucas to beat his ass.
But she turned and waved at someone across the parking lot. Then she looked back at her brother.
“Give me just a second, Lucas.”
And she ran across the parking lot, her dark hair flying behind her.
“Was that a pink streak in her hair?” J.T. asked.
Lucas chuckled. “Uh yeah. Her latest method of driving me insane.” J.T. was trying to act casual, but his body was in overdrive. A lot had changed since that night five years ago when he’d held her as she cried. Then she’d been a broken girl, unsure of herself and her place in the world. Now she was a breathtaking woman who seemed very in charge of her destiny.
Lucas turned, his eyes serious. “I meant what I said, man. Look out for her, okay?
Nikki…well, she’s a free spirit. She’ll never fit into a small town like Barley. She never did. People like to give her shit.”
His gaze tracked Nikki across the parking lot. “And guys tend to think she’s an easy mark because she’s so outgoing and…flamboyant. I won’t be around to kick some ass, so I’m counting on you to do it for me.”
Easy mark? J.T. frowned. He knew Lucas and Nikki didn’t have it easy growing up.
Even in a poor small town they’d been on the lower rung of poor, and when no one had much, those who had slightly more liked to lord it over those who had nothing.
“They’ll look at her and see our mother,” Lucas said quietly.
“Don’t sweat it, man. I’ll make sure she stays safe.” Especially from me.
Lucas bumped J.T.’s arm with his fist. “Thanks. I appreciate it.” J.T. closed in on Nikki and reached for her arm. Yeah, keep her safe. Who the hell was going to keep him safe from her?
She stopped when his fingers curled around her wrist. Her eyes glittered in the glow from the street lamps, and that pink streak in her hair sparkled and flashed with the movement of her head. Did she have glitter too? Hell.
“Get in the car, Nikki,” he said as he swung her around and herded her back to his vehicle.
“Well, if you insist,” she murmured.
His eyes narrowed. She was playing him like a fiddle. He heaved an exasperated sigh as he opened the door and all but shoved her inside. When she was seated, he leaned into the car, his hand gripping the top of the window.
“I am not ha**g s*x with you, Nikki.” Her lips curled upward in a faint smile. “If you say so, J.T.”
Nikki watched J.T. flop into the driver’s seat. Tension radiated from him, and he refused to look at her. His fingers gripped the steering wheel until she was sure his knuckles had to be bloodless. He backed out of the parking lot of the police station without a word and headed down Main Street in the direction of her house.
She suppressed a grin. He was pissed. Maybe she’d gone too far this time.
Too far would be showing up na**d at his office.
Her eyebrow lifted. That idea certainly had merit. Maybe just a trench coat. She could walk in, crawl onto his lap and let him open her up like a present.
Her ni**les puckered and strained then beaded into tight little knots. J.T. was certainly proving more of a challenge than she’d thought. Not that she ever imagined he’d be easy. But she’d known he was attracted to her when she’d hugged up to him at her graduation. She’d felt his c**k swell against her and heard his swift intake of breath when her br**sts had pressed against his chest. Yeah, he wanted her.
And lord but she wanted him.
She glanced at his profile and narrowed her eyes. War. She’d declared war as soon as she’d stepped back into this shithole town. Like she’d stick around if it weren’t for the fact that J.T. was firmly ensconced in his life and job here?