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By Lora Leigh
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Lora Leigh
All rights reserved.
He was just as handsome now as he had been in his picture twelve years before. Just as hard, just as tough, and giving just the same impression of a man a woman could depend upon.
A man a woman could find pleasure with.
For Skye O'Brien, the past six months had been an adventure in getting to know the man her foster sister Amy Jefferson had thought so highly of.
The man who had been the cause of Amy's death.
Logan Callahan hadn't wielded the knife that had slashed her throat. He had simply danced with a friend, maybe flirted a little.
The Sweetrock Slasher had taken care of the rest when he had raped, tortured, and murdered the laughing, caring young woman Skye had called "sister."
But she could clearly understand now why Amy had risked so much for him and why, as a newly inducted FBI agent, she had begun investigating the deaths that had occurred around him twelve years ago. She had died before she could ever report what she had learned.
Logan wasn't handsome in a pretty sense. He had that rough, tough, cowboy way about him that drove women crazy and no doubt had his ego stroked on a daily basis.
Broad shoulders, long, powerful legs. Big feet. Which made her wonder if what they said about big feet was true. And there wasn't an ounce of spare flesh on that hard, corded body either.
Men, her mother had always laughed, were like fine, fine wine. They only got better with age.
In Logan Callahan's case, it was true enough. At thirty-three, the small crow's feet at the corners of his sexy, velvet green eyes added to his appeal. The few fine lines at his forehead and at the corners of his lips spoke of a man who hadn't had an easy life, though she knew he'd made the most of the life he'd been given.
The gleam in those unusual eyes as he watched the women who stopped to chat, to smile, to entice, assured each and every one of them if he was of a mind to take them to his bed, then it would be an experience they would never forget.
They might not survive long afterwards, but while they were breathing, they would never forget it.
No doubt that knowledge was the reason he rebuffed each overture and flirtatious suggestion he dance with them.
After all, what man wanted to suffer the knowledge that his lovers would die simply because they were his lovers?
Instead, Logan went out of town for his amusements and he made a point to never choose a lover, resident or not, from the beauties that attended the weekend Socials hosted by Corbin County every year, much to their disappointment.
"Now, Mr. Callahan, you just know I can teach you how to move in perfect rhythm," Skye said as she moved behind him, mocking the last hussy's advances as she matched his sway. "Darlin', you just have to let me."
His lips almost quirked into a grin as he stared down at her ruefully. "I've seen you dancing in your living room," he drawled. "Sweetheart, you're so tune deaf you can't even stay in rhythm with that damn eighties music you like so well. I rather doubt you can teach me anything."
He could teach her though. In some very interesting ways.
"Oh my, be still my heart." She poured all her non-existent Southern charm into the mocking response as her fingers fluttered against the flesh above her breasts left bare by the tank top she wore. "I think I may expire of pure excitement. Dare you even deign to speak to me?" She batted her eyelashes at him as she gazed up at him from the corner of her eyes.
It wasn't far from the truth. There weren't many people Logan Callahan bothered to give more than monosyllabic response to.
He snorted at her mockery. "Sweetheart, I love a good comedy, and watching you dance has become the highlight of my evenings."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Peeping Tom."
"Exhibitionist," he countered. "You knew I was watching."
"Of course I did." The lie came easily. "I thought you needed a little amusement. Don't expect a repeat performance."
She had had no idea he watched her. She could barely keep her cheeks from flushing in embarrassment.
"Now, you're breaking my heart," he said, pretending to bemoan the loss. "Tell me you wouldn't be so cruel."
Setting her beer to the table beside her and tucking her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, Skye had to laugh at the retort. Her gaze swept out over the courtyard of the small town square called City Park.
The central courtyard was a lush summer haven of rich blooms, flowering trees, and small grottos. The gazebo held the band; around it, concrete stamped in the form of bricks served as a dance floor.
She loved it.
"I still can't believe they have a crowd like this every weekend," she commented as she watched dancers sway to the sensual beat.
"Next year will make sixty years of the Weekend Socials," Logan agreed. "I've been coming to them most of my life, along with my cousins."
His youngest cousin, Rafer Callahan, was dancing with his fiancée, Cami Flannigan. Holding her close, her head against his chest, they swayed to the music with a sensuality that was enviable.
Damn, they needed to find a bed, not a dance floor.
"So why aren't you out there dancing?" he asked her.
"Not drunk enough yet," Skye grumbled, knowing he was laughing at her.
Logan grinned. "I've been watching you come here since the first Social of the season, Miss O'Brien. You never dance and you never get drunk."
"I know better than to humiliate myself in public." He made her want to laugh.
How long had it been since she had wanted to laugh?
Was it her imagination or did he drift just a little bit closer? Could she really feel his body heat just a little bit more?
"Don't know how to follow a lead either?" he asked.
"Whose lead?" she quipped, holding back a smile as she glanced over at him again. "Come on, Callahan, I think the only one out there that hasn't yet stepped on his partner's toes is your cousin. I like my toes unsquished if you don't mind too much. Besides," she drawled. "I hear the only nice Callahan is the one that's taken."
She gave him a wink and blew him a quick kiss before picking up the beer she had set beside her and moving off.
Logan watched silently from the corner of his eye as his friendly little neighbor stopped here and there, flirted a little, rejected every offer to dance, then slowly headed to the square's more public entrance.
He frowned. She was leaving and this was not the time for a woman to walk home alone.
The party didn't start breaking up before midnight. There were still the drawings for the homemade pies and gift baskets contributed by local bakers and businesses.
She would be on her own, and he knew, perhaps better than anyone, that there were monsters in the dark.
Setting his beer to the table beside him, Logan walked over to his cousin, Crowe, and clasped him on the shoulder. "I'm heading home."
"Go, man," Crowe murmured quietly. "I think I'm going to hang around and watch a while longer. See if I won that pie I bought chances on."
Logan stared back at his cousin askance. "Which pie?"
"That apple cobbler, a' course." Crowe grinned, though the curve of his lips belied the ice in his eyes. "You know I like me some cobbler, cuz."
It wasn't pie his cousin was fond of, but perhaps he was a little too fond of the baker of that pie.
"Good luck on that one," Logan snorted. "How much did you spend last week trying to win that cobbler?"
"Between the three of us?" Crowe growled. "Probably close to three hundred bucks."
"And this weekend?" Logan asked.
Crowe grinned to that one and leaned closer. "I had Jeannie Thompson, the sheriff, and that new deputy, John Caine, buy my tickets. I'll get it this time."
He was pissing in the wind and leaning on luck. Because only a blind man reading braille would actually call out the correct numbers drawn. That one was rigged from the start.
But hell, it was Crowe's money and his right to spend it wherever he wanted to spend it.
Moving off, Logan followed his own temptation, knowing he was making a mistake, but being too dumb to stop himself.
Was it safe? It was a question that raged through his mind day and night. Supposedly, the copycat Sweetrock Slasher who had struck out several months ago against his cousin Rafer was dead.
His name had been Lowry Berry. He had tried to kill Rafer's fiancée, Cami, and had nearly succeeded, too. He'd killed one of Rafer's ex-lovers and thought he would take Cami out as well. Instead, he had ended up dead himself.
But was it really over? Lowry's final words had been a warning that he hadn't been working alone. Had he been telling the truth, or trying to ensure, as the sheriff believed he was, that the Callahans never had any peace? No evidence of a partner had ever been found.
Moving quickly along the sidewalk and crossing to the next, he came up on Skye as she walked along the well-lit streets.
Damn, she had an ass.
He had to grit his teeth, had to restrain the urge to reach down and shift his erection just a little to the side.
That cute little rounded butt made a man's hands itch to cup it, to clench his fingers in the rounded curves and drag her closer to him.
Or to have her legs wrapped around his hips, his hands filled with those lush curves as he buried—
Hell no. He wasn't going there.
But he could still watch her ass shift and sway, and he would have kept his eyes there if he hadn't noticed her lower back suddenly tense.
She might appear as though she was walking unhurriedly to the casual observer, but Logan could now see the slight tension in her shoulders.
"You're not supposed to walk home alone, Miss O'Brien. The square has a good two dozen posted warnings about leaving the square on your own," he said when he was close enough that she would hear him easily.
Pausing, she turned back to him, her dark eyes suspicious as she waited for him to catch up to her.
"Now, Callahan, I'm sure axe murderers have better things to do tonight than pick on me," she quipped.
Any amusement he might have felt instantly evaporated. "And you should have better sense than that." Monsters existed and she should know it.
Monsters sometimes carried knives and drugs. They incapacitated their victims, raped them mercilessly, then tortured them by slicing a little here, a little there, before finally cutting an innocent woman's throat.
Long dark hair dipped across her face as she inclined her head, suddenly somber. "You're right; I didn't mean to sound so flippant. And I would appreciate some company." She rubbed her arms briskly. "The back of my neck was starting to itch the minute I crossed the street on the other side of the square. I was about to turn around and come back for one of those carriage rides home when you spoke up. The comment was more contempt for my own nervousness than an attempt to make light of it."
There was an edge to the night, he'd felt it himself and couldn't seem to shake it. But hell, his neck had been itching for well over a week now. He let his gaze carefully sweep the area. "Did you see anyone?"
His hand settled at the small of her back as they began walking again.
"Not really." He felt her shoulders shift in a light shrug. "Your normal culprits. A raccoon in Mrs. Jakes's yard and Mr. Jakes peeping from his window."
"There's not much crime on Social weekends," he told her quietly. "Those not attending keep a careful eye out. The cameras installed on the corners help to ensure culprits are identified. If anything happens, it's usually in the more rural areas. And the courts are damned hard on anyone caught attempting to take advantage of the families attending. But those from outside of town don't always attend on a regular basis, so it's never easy to predict who's going to be where."
"The Socials are more a 'town' party then?" She looked up at him, seeing the dark, almost forbidding cast on his face as he watched the night.
"Pretty much." He nodded slowly. "Though 'most everyone is welcome."
'Most everyone. She knew from the investigation Amy had made into the Callahans' history a dozen years before that the Callahans hadn't exactly been welcome.
It had been during one of those Socials that Amy had died just outside town, her body left at the base of Crowe Mountain, the highest peak in the county and owned by Crowe Callahan himself.
Skye crossed her arms over her breasts. That chill was racing over her again.
"Here, you're cold."
Logan stopped, drew the long-sleeved over-shirt he wore off and helped her ease her arms into it.
Chivalry wasn't dead after all.
"Sure you don't need it?"
He snorted at her question. "I wear it just in case some little girl is too forgetful to wear her own."
She had to laugh at that. He was gruff and rarely talkative, surprising her with the fact that he was actually doing more than saying "yes" or "no" to her questions.
"What are you doing in this county, Skye?"
The serious, quiet question almost managed to throw her off guard. She'd expected it long before now to be honest. She was surprised he'd managed to hold off through the months she'd all but ruined the solitude he seemed to seek while he was home.
"It's as good a place to work as any," she told the partial truth. "And I needed someplace to hide for a while, I guess."
And she wasn't going to talk about it. She had her reasons for being here, and one of them really was to hide for a bit. She was on a forced leave of absence, paid thankfully, while she dealt with a few nightmares from her last case. A case that had touched too close to her sister's death and the unresolved injustice of it.
But tell Logan Callahan that and he would withdraw so fast it would make her head spin.
"Hiding from choices or a person?" he asked as she pulled the shirt more firmly around her.
"Choices, I guess." She glanced up at him again with a slight smile. "Sometimes we don't make the right choices, do we?"
"So why come to Corbin County to hide?" There was still that edge of suspicion.
"I could go wherever I wanted. Besides I have a friend here from school. My last year of private school I was a mentor to a first-year student, Anna Corbin. She suggested I check Sweetrock out and I loved it."
He tensed, as she had expected him to. "Know Anna well, then?" The question was voiced carefully as though he were now doubting his choice to speak with her, let alone walk with her.
"As well as possible considering her granddaddy hates me." She gave a light, unconcerned laugh. "An orphan with no connections and few prospects isn't exactly the type of contacts the Corbins want for their children or grandchildren." He should know that well enough.
"Ah, yes, the life of privilege," he drawled. "The princess must have the right sort of friends."
"Or so her family believes." She gave another light laugh. She had to be careful here.
She didn't want to trip any alarms with this man. Logan Callahan had the ability to dig deep into a person's background, uncover all their secrets. If he managed to uncover even the slightest deception, he would completely distance himself. She couldn't afford that. Not if she wanted to learn the identity of a killer.
"You mentioned you're an orphan ...?" he finally asked as she felt him glance down at her.
"My parents are dead." She shrugged. "They were killed when I was young." She didn't want to discuss it. Not here and now.
His hand tightened at her back, slid to her hip and drew her closer.
"Yeah, you're right, John Corbin would strenuously protest your friendship with his granddaughter," he said, mercifully changing the subject. They crossed another street and stepped onto the street they both lived on.
"Corbin, his son, his daughter-in-law, his cowboys, their wives, their children, their business associates." She couldn't help but laugh.
"Sounds like the Corbins," he agreed. "Hell, it sounds like the barons, period. Not one of those families has much worth where decency is concerned."
And he should know. He was the grandson of one of those barons. His grandfather, Saul Rafferty, along with John Corbin and Marshal Roberts, Rafer and Crowe's grandfathers had disowned the three of them. They had nearly destroyed them and it had only been in the past year that they had won the twenty-year-old battle for the inheritance that each of their mothers had left them.
"Yeah, well, I don't have to deal with them, thankfully. And Anna's different. At least, so far. She's still a good kid."
But she worried, Skye admitted. Anna was still young, still impressionable, and possibly so very easy to turn into the puppet John Corbin wanted, under the right circumstances. Or with the right betrayal.
"Looks like we're home."
Excerpted from Deadly Sins by Lora Leigh. Copyright © 2012 Lora Leigh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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