“I’m going to kill him!”
Ally Kendal ripped the slim plastic bag from under her windshield wiper and stuffed it in her pocket. She got into her battered truck, backed off her driveway with a screech of tires, and drove the five minutes into the center of Spring Falls. She was barely aware of anything except the red mist before her eyes, and the urge to wrap her fingers around Rob Ward’s neck and finish him off once and for all.
There was only one parking space left outside the small historic building that doubled as both the courthouse and the sheriff’s department. She slammed out of the truck, into the reception area and straight through the metal detector, which thankfully didn’t go off.
“Hey, Miss, hold up.”
Too intent on her prey, Ally ignored the uniformed officer, and headed down the narrow hallway to the door marked Sheriff’s office.
She entered without knocking, saw the source of her troubles sitting at his desk and marched right on up to him. He flicked a glance at her.
“Hey Rich, can I call you back? Something’s come up.”
He put the phone down with a decisive click and looked beyond her to the officer who had just caught her up at the door.
“I’ve got this, Jeff; you can go back out front.”
His pale blue eyes contained no hint of his feelings, as he turned to study her from head to toe.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Kendal?”
His polite lazy drawl made her clench her jaw so hard her teeth hurt. She yanked the plastic bag out of her pocket and held it out.
“You can stop giving me frickin’ tickets!”
His frown was so genuine that if she hadn’t known him better she might have doubted herself.
“I haven’t given you a ticket since the day you arrived back in town.”
“Yeah, when I had to park on the street for a pathetic half an hour while I cleared a space on the driveway.” She waved the bag. “So what’s this? A mirage?”
He held out his hand and she tossed the package onto his desk, waited, foot tapping as he unfolded the single sheet of paper.
“Did you actually read this? It isn’t from the Spring Falls Sheriffs Department.”
Ally leaned across and snatched the paper from his unresisting fingers. His smile was so condescending she wanted to scream.
“It’s from your local homeowners association. They want you to water your lawn and put your trash cans away every night.”
She bent her head to read the note allowing her long dark hair to shield her blushes. After reluctantly paying the first ticket, she’d chucked the rest in the garbage without reading them. Shit, now what was she going to do?
“Can these people actually enforce this?”
He regarded her steadily, then leaned back and put his hands behind his head. Damn he looked good. He was thirty: why couldn’t he have developed a paunch and thinning hair like most guys his age while she’d been gone? It was typical of him to try and undermine her by still looking hot.
“It depends. Was your mom’s place part of a homeowners association?”
She put her hands on her hips. “How would I know?”
“If you’re getting mail from them I’d assume it was. You’ll need to check.”
“But I don’t intend to live in the house, just clear it out, sell and leave.”
Rob raised his eyebrows. “You’re gonna leave again? Who’d have thought it?”
Ally sighed. “Don’t try and be sarcastic, Rob. What did you expect me to do? Settle down?”
“Why not? Even though my parents have retired to Florida, Spring Falls is a great place to live. That’s why I’m still here.”
God, he was so arrogant. “Why is that? I thought you were planning to go away to college with me and never come back.”
He shrugged. “Things changed after you dumped me. I didn’t want you to think you’d run me out of my own home town as well. After college, I decided I’d rather come back and live in the place I loved.”
“After I left, I never thought about you at all.”
His blue gaze sharpened. “Yeah, I should imagine guilt does that to a person. Much easier to pretend you never slept with my best friend and dumped me right before our engagement party.”
Ally took a deep calming breath and wished she’d kept her mouth shut. “All I want to know is if this stupid homeowners association can actually bring charges against me for not watering my lawn. Can you at least do your civic duty and tell me that?”
“Actually, it’s got nothing to do with me. You might consider getting a lawyer.”
He sat up straight and folded his hands on the desk. “It depends on the agreement your mother signed. They might just fine you, or get it done themselves and send you the bill. Ted Davis is the guy in charge of your neighborhood, try asking him.”
The anger had gone from his eyes and his voice was as bland as pureed carrots. Ally, braced for further confrontation, unaccountably felt let down. “I remember Ted; he lived just down the street from my mom’s. Is he still there?”
“Of course he is. You know what it’s like here—nothing much changes.”
She held his gaze, fascinated by the subtle alterations in his face, the laugh lines around his pale blue eyes and the corners of his mobile mouth, the slight shadow of his dark stubble. Ten years had only added to his allure, strengthened his features and made him a man to be reckoned with.
“I’m not intending to stay here long. As soon as I can sell the house, I’ll be off again.”
He inclined his head an inch. “So you said. Good luck with that in this market.”
She raised her chin. “I just need to fix it up a little and it’ll sell. My mom inherited it outright eighteen years ago, so it must be worth something, remember?”
“How could I forget?”
How could she forget, either? He’d been her first friend, the first person to punch another kid in her defense and the first boy to kiss her. She shook back the memories and took a deep breath. “Rob, why haven’t you returned my calls?
He frowned at her. “What calls? What the hell did you want to talk to me about?”
Ally turned on her heel and headed for the door. She grabbed the door handle but couldn’t resist a last look over her shoulder. Rob was standing as if he meant to come after her, his fingers drumming on the desk.
“I sure don’t remember you being willing to talk much, Ally before you walked out on me.”
“That’s because you’d already told me what you thought of me. Perhaps I knew there was nothing more to say.”
He shrugged. “So it’s all my fault now?”
“That’s not what I said.” Ally sighed. “God, why are you doing this? You’re supposed to be the law around here. If you don’t choose to answer my calls, why aren’t you at least out catching those idiots who scrawl stuff on my car and break my windows rather than fixating on the past?”
“The ones I’ve reported at least six times since I got back. Some people obviously aren’t as pleased that I’ve returned as you are.”
“I didn’t say I was pleased about it.”
Ally barely resisted the urge to bang her head against the door.
“Okay, I get it; just do your job, won’t you?”
“Hold up a minute.”
He moved so fast that he was beside her before she even fully gotten the door open.
His shout echoed down the narrow magnolia-painted hallway, making Ally wince.
“In here, Sheriff.”
She tried to squeeze past, but Rob held onto her upper arm and propelled her alongside him into another office. A familiar elderly woman with large blue-rimmed spectacles and white bouffant hair looked up. A cloud of cheap perfume surrounded her like a poisonous shield. Her expression hardened when she saw Ally.
“What does she want?”
Rob didn’t relax his grip on Ally’s arm. “Miss Kendal says she has attempted to contact me here on more than one occasion. Why haven’t I seen a message or a report?”
Jenny folded her hands in her lap. “I didn’t want to bother you with such minor issues, boss. We all know how busy you are.”
Ally glared at the older woman. Yeah, she bet that was it. It had nothing to do with the fact that Jenny had always disliked Ruth, Ally’s mom, and was obviously itching to get back at Ruth’s equally faithless daughter.
Rob didn’t look pleased and that made Ally want to smile. He’d always been a big believer in telling the truth and doing the right thing, and he hated being in the wrong.
“I like to see every report and every message that comes through here, Jenny. Please remember that in future.”
Jenny pursed her thin lips. “I make sure Deputy Smith gets all that information. I thought he would’ve passed it on to you, but maybe he didn’t think it was important either?”
“He’s been out of town for the last three weeks, so nothing’s been getting through him. That’s why it’s important that you copy me.”
Ally frowned. Smith was a common name but somehow from the way Jenny was smirking at her, she guessed it wasn’t just any old Deputy Smith being talked about. Rob put a hand in the small of her back and maneuvered her out into the hallway. She turned to face him, aware of his height and breadth, inhaled a hint of the citrus aftershave he’d always worn.
“Don’t tell me, Deputy Smith is Jackson. Right?”
He raised his eyebrows. “It’s a small town, Ally, everyone comes back eventually.”
“And I bet you were a lot more pleased to see Jackson than you were me.”
She started to walk away from him, but he followed her, pushing open the door to allow them both out into the parking lot.
“Yeah, I was pleased to see him—eventually, so what?”
“So how come you welcome him back with open arms and can’t wait for me to leave? There were two of us in that bed, you know.”
A muscle flicked in his cheek as he stared at her, arms crossed over his chest.
“I didn’t exactly welcome him back. We worked it out eventually. Jackson and I have been friends for years.”
Ally swallowed hard, “And we weren’t? God, Rob, you have such double standards.”
“And you don’t? Hell, you’re the one who fucked him, not me.”
Ally bit down hard on her lip. There was so much she yearned to say to him, but was there any point? She’d been judged and condemned years ago, and he had a right to be angry. She glanced around at all the open doors. This definitely wasn’t the place to have a heart-to-heart. She’d have to wait until they were in a far more neutral place to broach that idea. There was no way she was giving him the satisfaction of using his power over her as sheriff. She pulled her keys out of her pocket and headed for her ancient Toyota truck.
“Ally, I’m sorry that I didn’t get your messages. You’re right. We do need to talk.”
His voice stopped her. She stared at his reflection in the dirty window of her truck and tried to imagine he was really only eight inches tall. He still looked too big and intimidating. This time she wasn’t going to turn around and give him the satisfaction of thinking she wanted to listen to him.
“Okay.” She opened the door and stepped up into the cab. “You take my complaints seriously and I’ll talk to you.”
She started the engine and backed carefully out of the parking space. Rob tapped on her window and she reluctantly opened it.
“Don’t park there again, honey, that’s Jackson’s spot.”
“Don’t call me honey.” She glared at him as she gunned the engine. “What are you going to do, give me another ticket?”
“Sure I will. That’s my job and I’m not letting you get any ideas about taking up any of Jackson’s space again.”
This time his smile didn’t reach his husky-dog-blue eyes, and it transformed his face into a man she hardly recognized. She swallowed hard.
“Jackson’s a big boy. I’m sure he can take care of himself.”
Rob’s expression didn’t change. “He’s not the same, Ally. The army nearly destroyed him.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, right after you left. He was honorably discharged about three years ago. After he got his shit together, I was able to offer him a job as a deputy.”
Ally fought an impulse to cry and bit the inside of her cheek instead.
“I suppose you blame me for that as well, don’t you?”
Rob sighed. “You asked, I’m just telling you what happened.”
“Well thanks, I’ll see you around.”
She pressed her foot on the gas and roared out of the parking lot. A stupid thing to do in front of the sheriff, but she had to get away. As she drove, she wondered about Jackson. Had he left because of her? He’d known where she was headed, but he hadn’t bothered to keep in touch. Was that why? Had he been too busy getting shot at?
Tears stung at her eyes as the familiar tree-lined streets unrolled around her until she found herself parked on her mother’s driveway. She stared at the single-story ranch house and groaned. It needed painting both inside and out, the floors required refinishing and the plumbing was a disaster. Her plans to run in, sell the house and get out had taken a big hit. In the current market there was no way the house would ever sell.
Ally got out of the truck and headed for the peeling front door. An all too familiar burning sensation gripped her stomach and she struggled to force it down. There was no way she’d allow her mother’s unwelcome legacy to defeat her. And, if she was honest, she hadn’t come back for the house or for her mom. She’d come back to face the people she’d hurt, which was way more frightening than she could ever have imagined.
Rob Ward watched Ally’s dented green truck screech out of the parking lot and head out of town. In her pink T-shirt and cut-off jeans, she’d looked way too thin and pale for his liking. His memories of her were warmer, her skin tanned all over from the Californian sun, her cheeks sunburned and her dark hair held back in a long braid.
He smiled slowly as he headed back into his office. Whether they realized it or not, the homeowners association had done him a favor. Rob had wanted Ally’s attention and now he’d gotten it. Her expression when she realized she’d come after him and he hadn’t been hounding her after all had been priceless. Rob’s grin faded as he shut the door to his office and sat down.
Why the hell had she contacted him? He’d half-hoped she would and yet half-dreaded it. Okay, so she’d looked tired, but he still wanted her. Wanted those long legs wrapped around his hips while he fucked her stupid. His cock stirred at the image and he smoothed his palm over his impatient shaft.
He still had no idea why she’d come back to sort out her deceased mother’s house. It wasn’t as if they’d ever been close. He frowned as he remembered the scandal of her departure, Susan Evan’s death that had followed and Ally’s mother’s defiant disregard for everyone in the town. Was there something at her mother’s house Ally wanted? Surely she didn’t need the money. From what he read in the tabloids, she earned more in a year modeling than he would probably make in a lifetime.
And why the hell was she driving that ancient truck? Something wasn’t right. He glanced down at his brown uniform pants, which were now tented. He thought she’d ripped his heart out when she’d run out on him, but time had shown him that wasn’t true. He’d moved on, hadn’t he? Fucked other woman, eventually made things right with Jackson, created a new life and career for himself…
So why did he care whether Ally was back or not? Because she was unfinished business and she knew how he felt about that. She’d probably say it was because he’d never gotten over being dumped and maybe she had a point.
But it was a lot more complicated than that. He’d missed her, and not just for the sex. She was right. She’d been a part of him for too long for it just to be about that.
He turned on his computer. Yeah, it was definitely time to seek closure with Ally. He’d been semi-hard ever since he heard she was back and that wasn’t good for a man. Sure, there were plenty of women who’d be glad to help him out with his problem, but now his dreams were all of Ally, of her on her knees begging his forgiveness before he gave in and fucked her.
And there was Jackson to consider. How the hell would he feel about Ally’s return? Her scathing comment about his forgiving Jackson and not her stung. Why was it so much more difficult to forgive Ally than his oldest friend? Jackson had betrayed him as well.
Rob pretended to check his email but he wasn’t really in the mood. It had taken him a long time to even consider trusting Jackson again. Would he be able to start afresh with Ally? The idea was tantalizing and too damned attractive to ignore. Whatever happened, the next few weeks were sure going to be interesting.