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One hot holiday, p.3

One Hot Holiday, page 3

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  The guy immediately bolted. Haley had a quick impression of red hair, pale skin, and frightened eyes.

  Spencer rounded on her. “Drunks. Out of town drunks and local bozos. Why the hell would you want to work in the bar?”

  “Because the tips are stellar.” Because the owner hadn’t cared about references. Because it was a fast job and the money would come in handy.

  Spencer’s dark eyes hardened. He sat back down and sure didn’t look happy about it. For the moment, she ignored him and got busy with the other customers. But she could feel his stare on her. All suspicious like.

  When she had a moment to breathe, she glanced back at him. “I’m sure you’ve dug into my background by now.”

  No confirmation. No denial.

  Haley gave him a slow smile. “Did you find out that I’m a serial killer?”

  “No.”

  “Ah…a wanted felon, at least?”

  “No.”

  Her eyes widened. “Just a woman on holiday?”

  “I highly doubt that.”

  She laughed. The sound slipped from her. It was strange, but that was one of the first real laughs she’d had in ages. “You sound so disappointed. Sorry you couldn’t solve the mystery, Scooby Doo.”

  His dimple winked at her. Oh, Jesus. He had a dimple. How had she not noticed it before? A dimple in his right cheek. Kind of a slash, really. Maybe not a full dimple. Way, way cute.

  “That’s okay,” Spencer rumbled in that toe-curling voice of his. “I’m just getting started.”

  If he dug too far…

  What would he find?

  Or…who would find him? “Leave it.” Her voice had dropped as she leaned toward him. Suddenly, she was very, very serious, and her laughter was gone. “I want to be someone new here. Let me be her.”

  His brow furrowed. “Haley? What—”

  “It’s time for Christmas Karaoke!” Maureen O’Claire called out. Maureen owned the bar. She was a lady with bright red hair and a glowing necklace of Christmas lights—she was also the lady currently standing on the bar’s small stage in the middle of a spotlight. She gripped a microphone in her hand as she preened for the crowd. Maureen had revealed that she was pushing seventy and currently on her fifth husband. Her laughter was loud and wild, her smile infectious, and her holiday spirit? Oh, on a scale of one to ten, Haley would score it a solid twenty.

  “Who wants to be our first volunteer?” Maureen’s expectant gaze darted around the crowd.

  And Haley did not know why, she had no clue what little devil inside prompted her to suddenly shout, “Sheriff Lane!”

  Silence.

  Immediate. Thick. Consuming.

  Maureen blinked.

  Uh, oh. Everyone’s attention was suddenly on Spencer…and Haley. She squirmed because all of that focus had not been her plan. And as for Spencer? His eyes were on her. His stare was blazing with an emotion that she couldn’t quite name. All the moisture in her mouth vanished.

  “Excellent idea!” Maureen boomed. “Spence, come get this party started!”

  There were hoots. Yells. Whistles. Claps.

  Spencer very, very slowly smiled at Haley. “You’re coming on stage with me.”

  “Oh, no, I’m not,” she whispered right back.

  “Yes, you are.” He reached across the bar and his fingers circled around her wrist.

  Haley couldn’t help it. She hissed out a pain-filled breath.

  Instantly, he let her go. “Haley?”

  “Sheriff Lane! Get up here!”

  More yells and claps followed Maureen’s call.

  He ignored them all. “What happened?”

  He’d seen her bruises. She yanked down her sleeve. “Nothing. Get up on the stage. Everyone is waiting.”

  “Let them wait.” His eyes glittered. “What happened to you?”

  She shook her head.

  “Whose ass do I need to kick?”

  God. Everyone was watching them. Barely moving her lips, she whispered, “Sheriffs aren’t supposed to kick asses. You uphold the law, remember?”

  He leaned closer to her. “If someone hurt you, I’m kicking his ass.”

  “Sheriff Lane!” Maureen gave a nervous laugh. “We’re ready for you!”

  He still didn’t move.

  Haley rushed from behind the bar. Too many eyes were on them, and she was not talking about her bruises now. She grabbed Spencer’s hand and tugged him from the bar stool. “Get up on the stage.”

  He leaned in close to her. “Only if you promise to tell me what the hell is going on.” His voice was a low growl. “I’ll go, but you do not leave this bar. You wait for me. Then you tell me who the fuck hurt you.”

  She turned her head and looked into his eyes. “It’s nothing.”

  “I know a man’s fingerprints when I see them.”

  She backed up. And realized—crap, the way they were standing, it must have seemed very intimate. People were giving them knowing glances, and she felt her cheeks sting. This was bad. So bad. “Get on the stage,” she urged.

  “Tell me everything.”

  No, she’d tell him just a little. “After you get the eyes off me.” Being the center of attention wasn’t something she wanted. She should have thought of that before she’d spontaneously opened her mouth and said he would sing karaoke.

  His hard jaw tightened, but Spencer gave a grim nod. “Don’t even think of leaving before I come back.”

  Where the heck did he think she could go? If she ran back to the cottage, she’d be on his property. She glared at him.

  He pointed at her. “Don’t. Leave.”

  He turned and made his way to the stage. She could see tension in his body. His broad shoulders were stiff. His movements were tight and jerky. But when he climbed up onto the small stage and Maureen beamed at him, Spencer managed to work up a smile.

  Catcalls filled the air. The folks in the bar burst into loud applause. Obviously, the sheriff was popular with the locals.

  Haley backed away. She retook her position behind the bar as she pressed her sweaty palms to the front of her apron. An apron that had been designed to look like a Mrs. Claus outfit. The last thing she wanted to do was explain any of her secrets to the sheriff. The sheriff.

  “I didn’t know you were involved with Spence.”

  Haley jumped.

  The other waitress—Keri—smiled at her. “Sorry. Did I scare you?”

  “No, I’m just jumpy.” A new personality trait that she hated. Music had begun to play, and her curious gaze darted back to the stage.

  “How long have you two been together? I mean…I guess I should’ve put it together when I heard you were living with him but…” Keri’s words trailed away.

  Probably because Haley was gaping at her.

  “What?” Keri blinked. “Is something wrong?”

  “I’m not living with him. I’m staying at his cottage. He’s my landlord.” And he was singing. The man could seriously sing. His voice was deep and low, and it wrapped around her and made her want to rush toward him. He was doing Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas, and the sheriff was rocking it. Holding tight to the microphone, swaying and smiling for his crowd. As she stared at him, Haley felt her lips curl. He was wearing his big, red coat, his Santa hat was perched sideways on his head, but he just seemed so damn sexy and—

  No. Do not go there. Stop. Stop right now.

  “Uh, huh…” Keri grabbed two bottles of beer and put them on her tray. “Landlord? Right. You’re staring at him like he’s the best present you’ve ever seen—a present you can’t wait to unwrap—because he’s your landlord.”

  Haley’s cheeks didn’t just sting. They burned. “That’s not…” She cleared her throat. “I didn’t realize he had a good voice, that’s all. He’s talented.”

  Keri laughed and leaned toward her. “That’s what’s called a fuck-me voice. A man who gets all deep and sexy like that…well, he can fuck me all night long.”

  Okay. Haley was not
sure how to respond to that one, but she really didn’t like that Keri wanted Spencer to fuck her all night long. “He’s the sheriff,” she heard herself say all primly. Primly. She’d never been prim. “I’m sure he’s not into—”

  “Dirty, hot, awesome sex?” Keri grabbed another bottle of beer. “Trust me, he is. The guy’s an ex-Navy SEAL, did you know that?”

  “Uh, no.” She hadn’t known, and what did that have to do with dirty, hot, awesome sex? And why did she suddenly have the visual of herself having dirty, hot, awesome sex with Spencer? Haley waved her hand near her face in an attempt to cool her hot cheeks. The bar was crowded, after all. It was normal to be warm. The warmth had nothing to do with Spencer. Or the idea of dirty, hot, awesome sex with him.

  “He’s dangerous. Deadly. Strong,” Keri said with a faint sigh. “Those SEALs, they are all about adrenaline. Living on the edge.”

  “He’s living in Point Hope.” It was hardly the criminal and danger mecca of the world. Wasn’t that why she was there? Haley grabbed a cloth and swiped it over the top of the bar. “And you know what? I think I’m over the whole danger stage of my life. I like quiet.”

  Spencer was wrapping up his song. Smiling. She was half-surprised the cheering women up front weren’t throwing their panties at him. The chicks needed to calm down. It was karaoke night. Not a rock concert.

  Oh, no. No. Am I jealous?

  Keri hummed in appreciation as she glanced over at the stage. “Well, I like Spence, and if that man ever gives me the go-ahead, I’ll ride him all night long.”

  Haley’s mouth dropped as Keri swung away and headed to deliver her beers. Haley’s eyes narrowed on the other woman. Keri was attractive. Tall, with thick, black hair and an hour-glass figure. After she dropped off her beers, Keri made a point of heading toward the stage and Spencer. She put her hand on his chest and leaned close to him.

  Haley fisted the cleaning cloth.

  I am so jealous. Jealous over her landlord? Ridiculous. She turned away and marched for the storage area. She didn’t want to watch Keri put the moves on Spencer. She had plenty of other things to do.

  Things that didn’t make her want to rip a cleaning cloth into teeny, tiny pieces.

  ***

  “I told you to wait for me.” Spencer shut the door to the storage area. He didn’t want to be disturbed for this conversation. When he’d come off the stage and Haley hadn’t been behind the bar, a surge of panic had pulsed through him.

  She turned at his voice. “I was just restocking the whiskey.” She held a bottle in her hands. “Not running. You can relax.”

  No, he couldn’t. He yanked the Santa hat off his head and stalked toward her. As he approached, Spencer saw her stiffen. “Don’t,” he bit out.

  Her eyes were huge. “Don’t what?”

  “Don’t be afraid of me.” He didn’t like her fear. Not one bit. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

  Her tongue swiped over her lower lip. “I don’t know you. I don’t trust people I don’t know.”

  “Got issues with authority figures, huh? Another cop screw you over?”

  She just stared back at him. Didn’t even blink.

  Well, that’s a hell yes. Spencer cursed. The last thing he wanted to do was make her more defensive. He kept thinking about her bruises, and they pissed him off. No one should be hurting her. “Did the guy who put those bruises on you…was he a cop?”

  “No.”

  He waited for more information. She didn’t say a word. “Haley,” he growled.

  “Spencer,” she fired right back.

  He could only shake his head. “I want to help you.”

  “I don’t need helping. I’m fine. Okay? I get that you’re a SEAL, and you’re all big and bad and—”

  “Who’ve you been talking to? Who told you I was a SEAL?”

  She blinked. Her green eyes were incredible. The kind of eyes that stared straight into a man’s soul.

  She didn’t answer his question.

  “Who told you I was a SEAL?”

  “Um, Keri?”

  He nodded. A puzzle piece slid into place. “Because you were asking about me?”

  “No! I wasn’t! She was asking! No, I mean, she was telling.” Haley shook her head. “She wanted to know if we were involved, and I told her that we weren’t. That you were just my landlord. Nothing more.”

  “Nothing more,” he repeated carefully.

  Haley gave a quick nod. “Exactly.”

  Not so exactly. “Don’t see how the SEAL part came up.”

  Her cheeks turned the cutest shade of pink. “I do believe she mentioned that part after.”

  “After?”

  “After I told her we weren’t involved.”

  “Because you were asking about me?” He was trying to figure her out. The woman was a constant mystery to him, and he wanted to know her secrets.

  “Because I was curious about why she’d made a certain assumption about you.”

  His head tilted. She sure was holding tight to that bottle of whiskey. A death-grip if he’d ever seen one. “What assumption had she made?”

  Her lips clamped together.

  Wow. This had to be good. “Haley.” He loved her name. “What assumption did Keri make?”

  “That you liked hot, dirty sex.” Her eyes flared. “Oh, God, did I just say that?”

  He nodded. “You did.”

  Her eyes closed. “The floor can’t open and swallow me, can it?”

  He glanced down at the very solid-looking floor. “I don’t think it will.”

  “Right.” Her shoulders straightened. Her eyes opened. “For the record, Keri is the one who thinks you like hot and dirty sex. I asked why she would assume that, and she said it was because you were a SEAL.” She winced. “Something about SEALs and danger and adrenaline and—look, can we stop talking about this? Please?”

  “Absolutely.” We will totally revisit this. “You can tell me who put the bruises on your wrist.”

  Her breath blew out. “You don’t let go, do you?”

  “You’re in my town.” He turned serious. “You’re obviously running from something—someone. If you need help, I am here.”

  She peered down at the bottle in her hands. Haley bit her lower lip. “I just wanted to get away for a little while.”

  “Did your boyfriend put those marks on you?”

  “I don’t have a boyfriend.” Her head snapped up. “No lover. No anything right now.” A hard exhale. “I had a bad relationship. It ended months ago.”

  “That bruising is fresh. It’s not from months ago.”

  “I-I was mugged before I left home. The guy grabbed my wrist. I jerked away. That’s how I got the bruises.”

  He had the feeling she was giving him a very condensed version of the story. A version that left out a lot of facts. “Tell me the bastard was arrested.” But Spencer knew he hadn’t been. When he’d done his search on Haley, he hadn’t found any indication that she’d filed a police report on anyone.

  “He got away in the crowd. After that, I decided maybe it was time for me to get away, too. Time for a change.” One shoulder lifted. “So here I am.”

  Yes, here you are.

  She swallowed. “Now, if the interrogation is over, I need to get back to work. You’re blocking my path.”

  He moved to the side.

  Haley started to walk past—

  “You don’t need to be afraid of anyone or anything. No one should ever put bruises on you.” And if an asshole tries, I will kick his ass. “When you decide you’re ready to tell the rest of the story…” Because he knew there was a whole lot more she was leaving out. “You find me.”

  Haley cleared her throat. “There is no rest. The story is over.”

  He hoped so. No one should hurt you.

  She reached for the doorknob.

  “Keri is right.”

  Haley froze.

  He strode closer to her. Didn’t touch her. Wouldn’t, not until she asked for
his touch. But just so they were clear… “I do like hot and dirty sex.”

  “Uh…” Haley glanced back. She licked her lower lip one more time.

  He loved her mouth. “But I also like slow and tender sex.” His voice deepened. “It all depends on who you’re with, don’t you think?”

  “I think…” Her gaze was on his mouth. Her voice had turned husky. “I think I have to get to work. Now.” She yanked open the door.

  Rushed out.

  Spencer rolled back his shoulders. He still held the Santa hat. He shoved it into his pocket as he followed Haley to the main bar area. A couple was up on the stage, singing about The Twelve Days of Christmas. Everyone was laughing and drinking. And a few guys were already heading toward the bar, probably because they’d caught sight of Haley. They weren’t closing in because they were thirsty. Well, maybe the jerks were. But not thirsty for booze.

  Haley looked sexy as hell in her boots, tight jeans, and red sweater. The apron she wore was cute as could be. Her blonde curls danced over her shoulders as she got to work making drinks. The men were smiling at her. Their eyes were drifting all over her, and his own gaze narrowed on them. He was discovering that where his new tenant was concerned, Spencer felt quite protective.

  So protective that he was going to do a little more digging. He had some favors that could be called in—favors that would be performed by people who knew how to get intel without arousing suspicion from anyone. Haley was running hard and hiding. If danger was stalking her, he wanted to be prepared.

  As he watched, Spencer saw one of the eager jerks at the bar nudge his friend. Haley had just darted from behind the counter and she was making a drop-off at a nearby table. The fellow at the bar rose quickly, and Spencer saw that his eyes were on the mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

  Mistletoe that Haley was just about to walk under.

  I don’t think so.

  Before the guy could reach his destination, Spencer was there. The fellow was so intent on Haley that he didn’t even notice Spencer. The man bumped right into him. Spencer recognized Zane, the owner of the local car lot.

  Spencer lifted a brow. “That eager for a kiss, huh?”

  “What?” Zane tried to maneuver around Spencer. “No, I was trying to get, um, I was, uh—”

 
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