One hot holiday, p.12
One Hot Holiday, page 12
Her lips firmed. “You don’t seem so easy going to me right now.”
What was she talking about? “Easy going?”
“Yes, when we first met, you were all slow smiles and southern charm. I think you were trying to Matthew McConaughey me out of my pants—”
He held up one hand. “What?”
“You were deliberately seducing me. You were—”
“If you’re saying that I wanted you from the first moment we met, hell, yes, I did.”
She gave a slow blink. “That…wasn’t what I was saying.”
“Fine. It’s what I’m saying. I wanted you from the first moment we met. I thought you were the sexiest woman I’d ever seen.” He wouldn’t lie. “And I never pretended to be someone I wasn’t.”
She sucked in a breath. “I did that.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He raked a hand through his hair. “Haley—”
“I didn’t want to lie.” Her voice dropped. “I was trying to put that life behind me.”
“What happened in New York? I need to know. Someone was shooting in my town this morning. I have to catch the bastard.”
She nodded. “It’s going to change things, isn’t it?”
He had no clue what she meant.
“I understand. I do, really. And I’m so sorry that I brought danger here. I would never want anyone else hurt because of me. I don’t think of this situation as some kind of game. I swear, I don’t. I didn’t think I’d be followed. I tried to be so careful. I traveled with cash. Switched buses and trains. Didn’t use any credit cards.” A faint line dotted her brow. “I don’t know how he found me.”
“Andrew Bradley.” Her asshole of an ex.
A nod. “Drew.” A slow exhale. “It has to be Drew. Or one of his men. No one else would care about me.”
Not fucking true. Spencer cared. One whole hell of a lot. “You were involved with him.”
Spencer recognized the jealousy burning through him. He didn’t want to imagine Haley with anyone else. Especially not some fucking jerk who’d hurt her.
“Drew owned a few clubs in the city. That was how we met, you see. He wanted art work for the clubs, and I was the manager at a popular gallery. I helped him to pick out the art, and we hit it off.”
He did not like this story, but he’d been the one to demand she tell him everything, so he was damn well going to listen.
“But six months ago, I saw him for the man he really was.” Her small hand fisted against the edge of his desk. “The warning signs had been there all along, and I should have heeded them. I was suspicious of his work, of the connections…of the clubs, but he always had such ready, easy answers for me. Always convinced me that I was the one imagining things, that I was the one with too many suspicions. That I didn’t trust him enough because of my past.”
“He was gas lighting you.” Spencer wanted to tear the jerk apart.
“Both of my parents are dead. I didn’t have a lot of close friends. I tend to…I don’t let people get close. But I was tired of being alone, and when I met Drew, I thought…why not just see what happens? I ignored my fears and hesitations. I let him lead me into the dark, and I should have—”
She nodded briskly. “Yes, I should have stopped. I should have gotten the hell away from Drew sooner.”
He wanted to see her eyes, but her gaze was directed down to the floor. “Look at me.”
She swallowed, but didn’t glance up.
“Baby…” He could feel her pain, and he hated it. “Look at me. Please.”
Slowly, her gaze lifted.
“Stop blaming yourself, you understand me? I read his file. The guy was a master manipulator from the word go. You don’t get to say this shit is your fault. That doesn’t happen. From where I’m standing, you were the only one who ever got close to sending the sonofabitch to jail.”
A broken laugh slipped from her lips. “That didn’t work out so well. I realized too late that he had a ton of cops and folks from the DA’s office in his back pocket. Evidence disappeared. The other witness—a waitress at his club—turned up dead. Everything went to hell.”
He searched her eyes. “Back up the story for me. When did you realize what a fucking asshole Drew Bradley really was?”
“When I stopped by Shade, his main club, late one night. A new piece of art had come in to my gallery, and I was sure it would be perfect for the place. I had his security code, so I went inside, not thinking a thing about it, not until I heard the voices.” She bit her lower lip. “He was working a drug deal. And I’m not talking some small change thing here. He was talking about a million-dollar deal, distributing the stuff at his club. Acting like it was nothing.” Haley shook her head. “I took out my phone. I recorded what he was saying. What the men with him were saying. Then I went straight to the police station.”
“That took some serious guts.”
“I was furious with him. And I hated myself for getting so close to someone like him.”
“My recording was the first piece of evidence to vanish. Not the last. Everything just fell apart, and soon, so did my whole life.”
“And you came here.” To me.
Her lips curled down. “I had to run. It wasn’t safe for me in the city anymore, and when I saw your rental online, it just seemed perfect.”
He was so grateful that she’d wound up at his place.
“When you trust someone, and the person betrays you so fully, it can rip you apart.”
They needed to be clear on this. “Baby, I will never hurt you.”
“That’s an easy enough line to say.” She wet her lower lip. “Drew told me the same thing. He promised he’d never hurt me. Then after the case was dropped, after I thought the nightmare was going away, one of his crew tracked me down just outside of the subway. The guy grabbed my wrist…”
Her fucking bruises.
“And he put a knife to my throat. He told me that if I talked to the cops ever again, he’d make sure I never said a word to anyone.”
Rage nearly choked Spencer.
“Oh, God.” Her long eyelashes flickered. “You’re the cops.”
She pushed against him, and he stepped back. Haley hurriedly put some space between them. “I ran away and I thought I was safe, but if I was followed, if Drew’s man saw me…then he saw me talking to the cops. That’s why he shot at me. I was warned, and I didn’t listen.”
“I should have kept going.” She barely breathed the words. “After the break-in at the cottage, I knew that I should leave and not look back. I was in the car, I was driving away.” She spun, giving him her back.
Silence filled the room. He wanted to go to her. To put his hands on her shoulders and pull her against him. Instead, Spencer didn’t move. “Why didn’t you leave?”
“Maybe I want to hear the words.”
“I ran all the way from New York…”
“And yet the bastard still found you. Don’t you see that it doesn’t matter how far you go? He will keep hunting you.” Spencer paused. “Why didn’t you leave Point Hope?”
“Because I was tired of running.” She looked back at him. “And I wanted…” But her words trailed away.
Baby, say it. He needed those words so badly.
“I haven’t wanted another man in the six months since I broke up with Drew. Since I realized that the guy I’d fallen for was a monster in a fancy suit. And then I met this new man, and the first thing he did was save me from being run down by elves. Elves.” A weak laugh.
I will save you from every threat.
“I wanted you,” Haley told him quietly.
Yes. That was what he’d been so desperate to hear.
“I met you and I started to feel something inside again. Something other than fear. You made me laugh. You made me feel safe. And when I kissed you, my toes curled. I know it sound
“Nothing you could say to me would sound stupid.” His voice was gruff. Too rough.
“I didn’t want to put you in danger.” Her gaze held his. “I promise, that is the last thing I wanted. When we were on that beach, and I realized the bullets could hit you, I was terrified.”
“How do you think I felt when I saw the blood on your arm?”
She looked down at the bandage. “Barely a scratch.”
Her head whipped up.
“I should have done a better job of protecting you. Next time, I will.”
“This isn’t your fault.”
He was the sheriff. His town. His job. “You’re in my town.” You’re mine now. “And I protect what belongs to me.”
“I don’t belong to you.” She turned to fully face him as she wrapped her arms around her stomach. “I shouldn’t stay. I shouldn’t—”
He had to tell her. Voice tight, he revealed, “Haley, I think a hit has been placed on you.”
“Last night, I saw a man watching you while you worked at the bar.”
“I confronted him, and he told me that he was a US Marshal. That his name was Fenton Callaway and that he’d been helping you in New York.”
A quick, negative shake of her head. “I don’t know any marshal named Fenton.”
“That’s because Fenton Callaway isn’t a marshal.” No way to soften the truth. “I suspect he’s a hitman who came to make sure you never turn on Andrew Bradley again.”
“Relax,” Spencer told her as his hand brushed carefully along her shoulder. “You are completely safe here.”
She was out in the open, at Lane Park, and the lights in the trees were shining, the snow was blowing, kids were making snow angels, and high schoolers were singing Christmas carols. It was supposed to be a festive and fun event, but she was about to lose her mind. “I shouldn’t be here.”
A hitman. Jesus! A hitman?
“If a hitman is in the area, if he’s coming after me, then I could be putting everyone here at risk.” She’d tried to tell him that before, over and over, but he’d insisted that she come with him. She kept her voice low as Haley added, “This is a terrible idea.”
“I have the park secured. There are deputies patrolling every sector, and I’ve got some undercover help checking the crowd.”
“I want you at my side,” he added. “I feel better when I can keep an eye on you.”
“It’s not your job to babysit me every moment.”
“I don’t think of it that way.”
She glanced to the left. A hot chocolate station had been set up near the oak tree over there.
“You are safe here. The people in this park are safe.” He pointed to the thick trees and then to the brick wall that surrounded the park. “Getting access to this place isn’t that easy—especially not with my teams patrolling. This is probably the most secure area in the town.”
Her breath slid out. “I just…the kids are safe, aren’t they?”
“They are. And so are you.” He nodded. “The tree lighting should begin in the next few moments, and then we’ll be able to sneak away.”
“Uh, the trees are already lit.”
“Not the big one.”
They were all big. The oaks were massive. They’d probably been there for hundreds of years, and they were most definitely lit.
The high schoolers stopped singing.
A lady in a long, red dress rang a bell.
“She’s the librarian, Mrs. Wu. Been a fixture here forever,” Spencer murmured.
Mrs. Wu moved to the center of the park. All eyes seemed to be on her. “I know what you all came to see.” She smiled. “So without further ado…it’s time to illuminate our town’s tree!”
Lights flashed on. So many different colored lights flashed on right in the middle of the park. A wide smile curved Haley’s lips as she stared at the lights and at the tree that she hadn’t even noticed last night because she’d been so distracted by the snow and Spencer.
It was at least a twenty-foot tall Christmas tree, completely decked out. A tree that still grew in the ground and it was absolutely gorgeous.
Haley spun toward him. “You did not show me that tree last night.”
He grinned. “I was saving it as a surprise. I know you like big trees…thought it might make you feel more at home.”
The snow machines kicked up a notch.
Her gaze darted back to the tree. “It’s beautiful.”
Her head turned toward him. His eyes were on her.
“You…you’re talking about the tree.”
“Sure, it’s pretty, too. You, though, you’re stunning.”
Her body felt a little warmer. “You are, too. I mean…” Jeez. “Thank you.”
That dimple of his slid out, then disappeared. “High school seniors decorate the tree every year. It’s a tradition. Mrs. Wu watches them in action, then they do the big reveal for everyone to see.”
“We try.” He stepped a little closer to her. “So did it work?”
She couldn’t look away from him. “Did what work?”
“Does the place feel more like home to you?”
It was starting to feel more like home than anything else ever had before. Except she didn’t think that feeling had to do with the tree or the snow. She thought it might all be due to Spencer.
His radio crackled. He was wearing his sheriff’s uniform, and the radio was strapped to his side. He lifted the radio, talked into it quickly, and she heard the response from his deputy that the area was “All clear.”
Some of the tension slid from Haley’s shoulders. It had truly been one hell of a day. Every time she thought of those gunshots and she thought of how close Spencer had been to being hit…
A shiver slid over her.
“You’re cold.” He immediately shouldered out of his jacket and slid it around her shoulders.
It wasn’t even close to cold out there, but his jacket was cozy and it carried his crisp scent. He pulled the edges closer and smiled down at her. His head started to lower—
The radio crackled again.
“Duty calls,” Haley murmured. “I think I’ll grab a hot chocolate.”
He pulled out his radio again as she headed the few steps over for the hot chocolate. She smiled at the teens manning the booth and slipped a few bills into their donation jar.
Someone bumped lightly into her arm. Haley glanced over.
A woman smiled at her. “I’m so sorry.” A little wince. “I think I was overeager for the hot chocolate. Didn’t mean to hit you.”
“It’s fine.” Haley reached for her cup. Thanked the teens.
The woman got her hot chocolate as well. “You all really put on a fun show.” There was no accent in her voice. “So glad my fiancé convinced me come down here before the holiday.”
“It’s not my show.” Haley glanced at the kids making snow angels. “I’m just visiting, too.”
“Well, then it’s nice to meet another traveler. I’m Blair.” She offered the hand not holding the hot chocolate.
“I’m Haley.” She gave a quick handshake.
“How long are you in town, Haley?” Blair asked.
Haley hesitated. The woman certainly looked harmless enough, but Haley wasn’t exactly feeling the urge to trust strangers. “Not sure.” She sipped her hot chocolate.
“I’m only here for a few days. It’s nice to meet folks, you know?”
“Um.” She took another sip. I am so damn suspicious.
Blair laughed. “My fiancé just got involved in a snow ball fight. I’d better go pull him out before all the kids attack him.” She inclined her head toward Haley. “It was great to meet you.”
Blair hurried away.
Haley tightened her hold on the cup as she watched Blair pull a tall, muscled guy out of a snow ball fight. Well, Blair tried to pull him out. At the last minute, he turned and nailed her with a snow ball.
Haley laughed. Okay. She’d definitely overreacted. They were simply a couple at the park, having fun. They weren’t stalking her or anything like that. She had to get a grip. It was just hard considering—
“We found him.”
Spencer’s voice was low and grim.
Haley’s gaze whipped up to him.
“Titus said our pretend marshal was spotted a few minutes ago. He’s down near the town’s main pier. Titus is keeping him in sight until I get down there.”
“You mean, until we get down there.”
Spencer blinked. “Uh, no, that’s not what I meant—”
“I’m going with you, Spencer.” She was adamant on this. “I will stand back, I will let you and Titus do your jobs, but I need to see this man.”
His jaw hardened. “I don’t fucking want him anywhere near you.”
“If he shot at me today, then I want to face him.”
“You’re not going down to the pier. He’s probably armed, and I’m not risking a shot hitting you while we take the SOB into custody.”
Her heart raced in her chest.
“But you can go to the station. I’ll bring him there. Once he’s secured—once he’s locked down and not a threat—then yes, you can see him.” He motioned to a nearby deputy. Then glanced down at her. “I will meet up with you at the station.”
She grabbed his arm. “Be careful.”
The sonofabitch tried to run. Why did they always run? Just once, couldn’t the bad guy raise his hands and surrender? And make everything one hell of a lot easier? But no, when Spencer called out a warning and told the jerk to freeze, the fake marshal spun and immediately ran.
The fellow wasn’t at the town’s main pier when Spencer arrived. Instead, he’d been hurrying down the old path that trailed near the small beach. At Spencer’s shout, though, the dumbass took off, obviously trying to make it to the shelter of the trees where he thought he might be able to escape.
by Cynthia Eden / Romance / Thriller have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes