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One hot holiday, p.2

One Hot Holiday, page 2

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  This couldn’t be happening. Could. Not. “You own the property.” The sheriff owned the property. Her safe haven—was his?

  “Indeed, I do.” He smiled as he dropped his arms and strode forward. “I thought it was suspicious that Luke Shaw wanted to pay in cash, but then I figured, I’m the sheriff. If someone is trying to pull something shady, I can handle it.”

  Her mouth had gone dry. Totally desert dry.

  “Are you trying to pull something shady, Haley?” His voice was low. Husky. In another world, she probably would have found it sexy.

  Who was she kidding? His voice was sexy. Toe-curlingly-so. But he’d asked her a question and she had to—

  Think. Give him an excuse. Because she had nowhere to go. If the sheriff turned her away, what was she going to do? “It’s not always safe for a woman traveling alone to announce that fact.” She swallowed. “I preferred to keep my identity private until I arrived, at which point, obviously, you’d realize I’m a woman.”

  He nodded. “And Luke Shaw is…”

  “A combination of two of my favorite movie character names.”

  His head cocked.

  “Luke Hobbs. Deckard Shaw.”

  A warm laugh broke from him. “So you like things fast.”

  He’d obviously caught the movie reference. “And furious,” Haley added, as the sound of his laugh seemed to wrap around her.

  “A woman after my own heart. I like things fast, too.” His laughter faded. “You know, this is the second time you’ve lied to me.”

  A fist seemed to squeeze her heart. “I told you, a woman traveling alone—”

  “Haley, come on. Let’s be real. You want to pay in cash. You booked the cottage under an assumed name. Obviously, you’re hiding.”

  The night was too still. He was too close. And she was about to panic.

  His body tensed. “I have to ask, are you involved in anything illegal?”

  “You think I’m a criminal?” Haley gave a hard shake of her head. “I’m not. I don’t—look, I haven’t broken any laws.”

  “But you are hiding.”

  Absolutely. “Listen, Sheriff—”

  “Why don’t you try calling me Spencer? I mean, after all…we’re neighbors.”

  Not just neighbors. He was her landlord. She stared straight at him and said, “Spencer, I’m vacationing. A holiday vacation. Is that such a foreign thing?”

  He leaned in close, so close his crisp, masculine scent teased her, and he put an arm out to—

  To type in a security code on the gate’s keypad. There was a little click and a mechanical whir of sound before the gate opened.

  Her breath eased out in a low rush.

  Spencer didn’t back away. “Most folks take Christmas vacations in the mountains. They want snow. They want ski trips. Guess you were in the mood for something else?”

  She swallowed. “Guess I was.” He was so big, and those shoulders were actually quite a thing of beauty. If you happened to find super broad shoulders to be—

  He stepped back. “Want me to carry the luggage for you?”

  Immediately, she clutched her handle even tighter. “I got it.”

  A nod. “You’re not very trusting, are you? I mean, you just found out your landlord is the sheriff. Shouldn’t that make you feel more at ease? After all, I’m not some crazed killer or criminal.”

  Yeah, that would be my ex.

  “Haley?”

  “I get it. You’re the good guy.” That was what he’d told her before. But she stood by her previous words. There is no such thing as a good guy.

  “You don’t believe me.”

  “Let’s just say I’ve heard the line a time or twenty. And just because you have a badge, it doesn’t make you good.”

  “You’re right. It doesn’t. A badge doesn’t make anyone good or bad. We make ourselves that way.” Spencer slipped by her. “I’ll show you to the guest cottage.”

  She kept her death grip on her luggage and banged and clunked her way after him.

  Spencer glanced back at her. “I was out front because I knew my…new tenant would be arriving tonight. If I’d known you were the tenant, I could’ve given you a ride from town.”

  “I liked the walk,” she answered quickly. “I didn’t need a ride.” Her gaze darted around the area. Holy crap. The main house was huge. White, with giant, white columns. Two stories. A sweeping porch on the first level and a balcony on the second level. The place was lit up by carefully arranged lights, and she swore it looked like a mansion you’d see in Southern Living or something. When she’d booked the rental, she’d been thinking it would be a room. Room. But hadn’t he called the rental a guest cottage?

  The place was insane. And…expensive. It looked super, super expensive.

  He turned to fully face her and gave a soft laugh. “Family home.”

  “What?”

  “You were wondering how in the hell a sheriff could afford this place. It’s a family home. That’s how I got it. When my grandfather died, it came to me. I’ve been working on restoring it. It’s been a slow but steady process. I’m not quite done with the main house yet. Most of the rooms are finished, but a few of the others…” Another laugh. A warm laugh that seemed to slide under her skin. “Let’s say they are in transition.”

  Okay. Transition was a nice word. Her own life was in transition.

  He started walking again, leading the way as Spencer told her, “The cottage is good to go, though. I actually fixed that up first. I was living there until last week when I decided, hey, why not open it up to guests? I put a few pics online, and you were the first person to contact me.”

  She’d been lucky. Very, very lucky because this place was perfect…for hiding.

  “Eventually, the plan is to turn the main house into a bed and breakfast. But before I can do that, I’ll have to get a manager on to help me.”

  He was looking to hire someone? “Um, when would you want that manager?”

  Spencer stopped and swung around to face her. “Why? You interested in the job?”

  Maybe.

  “Because I thought you were vacationing.”

  Haley forced a shrug. “You never know what can happen. Maybe I’ll like the town and decide to stay.”

  His gaze drifted slowly over her face. “No, you never know what may happen.” He turned away. Pointed to the left. “The cottage has a great view of the bay. You come out tomorrow evening, and you’ll see a sunset that you’ll never forget.”

  They strolled down a small path, one nestled under enormous oak trees, and she caught her first view of the cottage. One story. Small, but glowing with lights. Big shutters. Enormous windows. It looked like something out of a storybook. It was unbelievable.

  Wonderful.

  She had to blink away tears. It’s the exhaustion, that’s all. I’ve been running on fear and fumes. I’m just tired.

  Spencer marched up the steps and unlocked the door. “You have your own kitchen and bathroom. There’s a small den and a bedroom. It’s stocked with towels and food, but if you need to do any laundry, you can come to the main house.” He swung open the door. “After you.”

  She pulled her suitcase up the steps. Haley eased past him and hurried into the cottage. As soon as she crossed the threshold, some of the tension leaked from her body.

  Safe.

  That was how she felt in that warm cottage. Black and white photos of the bay and of the small town were carefully arranged on the crisp, white walls. There was a massive, white couch, one that had a comfy-looking blue throw on the arm. A big bookcase. A TV arranged in the middle of the wall. The hardwood floor shone beneath her feet. The kitchen waited to the left. A galley-style kitchen with white cabinets and a gleaming, marble countertop.

  “Put the countertop in myself,” he explained as he shut the door and followed her inside. “You watch a few home improvement shows, and what can I say? You get the urge to try things yourself.”

  She spun toward him. “
It’s amazing!”

  His brows climbed.

  She’d been way too excited. She should settle down. “I really like it. Thank you.”

  He pointed to the left. “Bathroom and bedroom are that way. Bedroom has French doors that open to a small patio area. You head straight from the patio and you’ll find stairs that take you down to the bay. By the way, I don’t recommend going for any late-night swims.”

  “Don’t worry about that.” She didn’t mention that she couldn’t swim. Haley cleared her throat. “The place is perfect, but, ah, is there a security system?”

  His dark eyes narrowed. “The sheriff is right next door. You can consider me your personal security system.”

  That was nice and all but…“I’d really rather have an alarm.”

  His lips curved as his eyes gleamed. “We don’t exactly have a lot of crime here in Point Hope.”

  “You can never be too careful. Sometimes, you think you’re perfectly safe, then you find out that you were dead wrong.” You find out that someone you trusted actually wants to hurt you, and you have to run.

  Vanish.

  Start your whole life over.

  Haley let go of her suitcase. “There are dead bolts on the front door. That’s good.”

  His square jaw hardened. “What are you afraid of?”

  My past coming back to swallow me whole. “It pays to be careful.”

  “True.” Spencer nodded. He stepped closer to her, and she tipped back her head to stare up at him. The man was ridiculously attractive. He looked like he should have been on a magazine cover or making blockbuster movies. Muscled and sexy, he was the last man she’d expected to have as a landlord. Sheriff Sexy.

  He leaned toward her. “If anything scares you, I’m right next door. My cell number is already written down next to the phone in the kitchen. If you need me, I’ll be here in a flash.”

  She didn’t know him. She certainly didn’t trust him. But at his words, a little more of her tension slipped away. “I have my payment for you. Just give me a second.” She turned away and bent as she fumbled with her suitcase.

  “How long have you been traveling?”

  “Too long.” She’d gotten tired of looking over her shoulder. Tired of always being afraid. So she’d packed up. She’d left. No forwarding address. No clues given to her whereabouts. She’d taken all of her cash, and she’d vanished.

  Haley found the envelope that she’d prepared, and she slid it from her suitcase. She rose and extended the payment to him. “Here you go. You’ll find all the cash inside. Full payment for a month’s rental.”

  He took the envelope. His fingers slid over hers. A surge of heat and awareness flooded through her.

  Well, hello, trouble.

  Haley yanked her hand back.

  He didn’t count the money. Just stared at her. “I can help you.”

  Her stomach knotted. “What makes you think I need help?”

  His lips thinned. Then… “I can tell when a person is running.”

  “I’m not running. I’m at my destination.” But thanks, Sheriff Sexy, for making me nervous.

  “Are you in trouble with the law?”

  Oh, jeez. “If I am, would I confess that to a sheriff?”

  His lips quirked. “Probably not.”

  She shook her head. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just a woman who wanted a vacation and decided to go someplace new.” She wondered if he would call her on the lie.

  She was even holding her breath as she waited—

  “Good night, Haley.”

  He turned and headed for the front door. She stood, rooted to the spot, in the middle of the cottage. He reached for the doorknob. Stopped. Looked back at her. “Welcome to Point Hope.”

  A little dot on the map. A random place that she’d found because the name had intrigued her and because it had been so very far away from her home.

  Spencer’s deep, dark eyes pinned her in place. “I promise, you’ll be safe here.”

  Such a strange promise to make. Did he realize that she never felt safe? Not anymore.

  But he opened the door and walked away. She rushed forward and locked the deadbolt. She spun around and stared at the cottage. Everything seemed cheery and warm. And quiet. So incredibly quiet.

  Haley slid off her coat. Dropped it on the back of the couch. Then she pushed up the sleeves of her shirt. Time to get busy unpacking—

  She stilled. The bruises were still visible on her left wrist. Dark bands that circled her skin. A shiver slid over her.

  He won’t find me here.

  He probably wouldn’t even look for her. She was long gone from his life. And soon, he’d be nothing but a bad memory for her.

  A nightmare that she’d finally escaped.

  She yanked the sleeves back down and reached for her suitcase even as Spencer’s words seemed to ring in her ears…

  “I promise. You’ll be safe here.”

  She knew better than to believe a man’s promise. She also knew better than to trust Spencer Lane. After all, she’d been burned by a handsome face before. Sometimes, a man could look gorgeous on the outside, but inside…

  He was a real fucking monster.

  ***

  She was totally lying to him. Did Haley think he couldn’t see her lies? This was far from his first ball game, and he knew the whisper of a lie when he heard it, even when the lie fell from lips as sexy as hers.

  Spencer went back to the main house, booted up his computer, and he had the main details of her life in about five minutes.

  Turned out…Haley Quick was her real name. When she’d hesitated over saying her last name, he’d thought she might be giving him an alias. Maybe she’d hesitated because she almost had given him a fake name.

  But, no, Haley Quick was real.

  She’d shut down her social media pages. Tried to erase her digital footprint, but he found her. After all, he had connections that most people didn’t. And he used those connections without a hint of remorse. Hacking into a few government resources that showed him…

  Haley Quick. Age twenty-four. Graduate of NYU. Single. No children. An up and coming gallery manager who had organized many high profile shows in the past. No criminal record. No outstanding warrants.

  No red flags.

  Maybe she was a woman who’d just come down south to escape the winter snow. A woman who wanted a quiet vacation.

  Spencer thought of the fear he’d seen on her face. In her eyes.

  And maybe I’m fucking Santa Claus.

  Haley Quick was running scared, and he didn’t like it. Not one damn bit. He rubbed his chest as he stared at the computer screen. Distantly, he could hear the waves crash onto the beach below. In his mind, he saw Haley. Beautiful Haley. Lying Haley.

  If Spencer had his way, there would never be fear in her eyes.

  Never.

  Chapter Two

  “You’re Santa Claus.” Haley took a step back and eyed the red hat and red coat. “I think you need a little more fluff, Sheriff Santa.”

  He smiled at her.

  Oh, jeez. She felt the impact of that smile all the way through her body. They were in the town’s small bar, one that had holiday music blaring from old speakers. Mistletoe was hung everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. She’d been dodging it all evening. The place was loaded with old, vintage decorations, and the crowd was obviously feeling ever-so-merry.

  “What can I get you, Santa?” Haley lifted a brow as she waited for his order.

  His smile slipped. “You’re working here?”

  “Obviously, your detective skills are killing it. Yep, I’m waitressing.”

  “Since when?

  “Um, an hour ago?” Since she’d realized it would be a good idea to start earning more cash for her new life.

  Spencer blinked. The man had ridiculously long lashes. Black and so thick. “I thought you were vacationing?”

  “Even vacationers need extra spending money.” She gave a fake shrug.
“I saw the sign in the window, asking for help, and figured, why not?” Haley grabbed a bottle of beer and pushed it down the bar top toward a waiting customer. “I worked a bar back in my college days.”

  He sat down on the stool in front of her. Glowered.

  Well, someone looked like a grumpy Santa. “No Eggnog Surprise for you,” she murmured.

  A low whistle followed her words. The whistle hadn’t come from Spencer.

  A brown-haired guy with a wide smile and a reindeer sweater sauntered toward the bar. “I must be dreaming, because I swear I am looking at an angel—”

  Spencer put one hand on the fellow’s chest and stopped the guy mid-pick-up line. “Get your ass back to your table, Sean. Your wife is only gone for two days. She’ll be back before you know it.”

  Sean instantly deflated and scurried back for his table.

  Haley couldn’t help but smile. That had been fast.

  Spencer watched the guy walk away and then turned back toward Haley. “He’s a dick.”

  “Duly noted.” She saw a patron motion for another beer near the end of the bar. Briskly, she popped the top on a bottle and sent it sliding toward him.

  A woman cheerfully called out, “A sleigh bell!”

  Haley nodded. Yep, the bar’s signature drink. Well, one of many, anyway. She got busy mixing the vodka and Sprite. It fizzed nicely as she added cranberry juice and a cherry.

  Spencer gave a loud and unhappy sigh. “Guys are going to hit on you all night in this place.”

  “Right. They have been.” She looked up. Pasted a smile on her face. “I can handle them.”

  He glowered again. Those full lips of his turned down as his jaw tensed. “You don’t need to handle them. They need to back the fuck off.”

  She passed the sleigh bell to her customer. After the lady headed for her friends, Haley put her hands on her hips and turned to the grumpy Santa. “You haven’t told me what I can do for you yet.”

  His lips parted. Before Spencer could reply—

  A loud voice began, “Oh, I will tell you what you can do for me, sweet—”

  Then…the voice stopped.

  Just stopped.

  Because Spencer had lunged up from his stool. “Watch the fucking tone with her.”

 
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