Read an Excerpt
Artemis525: I'm thinking someone needs to break *Bennett's* heart. *Literally.* Like maybe snatch it from his chest, then run over it with a lawn mower.
EDEN RUTHERFORD READ the new drive-by post and felt another nudge of unease prod her belly. Granted she was still a bit of a rookie on Hell, Georgia's, police force, but even a rookie could discern the somewhat unsettling menace behind this most recent message. She instinctively picked up the cordless to call Kate, her best friend and cofounder of the Ex-Girlfriends' Club, but the thought was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. A quick check of the caller ID confirmed that Kate had beaten her to the punch.
"Did you see it?" Kate asked gravely.
"I did," Eden told her, equally unsettled. And annoyed, dammit. The board was their cyberspace playground and this weird chick was kicking sand.
"I was just about to call you."
Kate released a worried breath. "This woman is really starting to freak me out, Eden. Run over his heart with a lawn mower? Sheesh. She's got issues. I seriously think we need to consider banning her from the board."
The same thought had occurred to Eden, but she wasn't even certain it was possible. Granted the sole purpose of the Web site and message board was to bash Bennett Wilderor any other man who employed his hit-and-run style of romancebut this!
A huge proponent of the old you-reap-what-yousow adage and justice in any formbe it poetic or otherwiseEden still thought this fell smack-dab into over-the-top territory.
Quite frankly, after all the heartache he'd heaped upon her and the rest of her little club, Bennett having abroken heart in the figurative sense would be particularly gratifying. She inwardly snorted. Hell, he'd certainly left a lot of casualties in his wakemost notably her, Eden thought.
But literally was out of the question.
Or at least it was to all of Bennett's victims but one. Artemis525 had started posting to the board a couple of weeks agowhich was strange in and of itselfand there'd been something about her even then that had given Eden pause.
Though the site was dedicated to Bennett, within a couple of months after it had gone live, their cathartic vengeful-humor sort of therapy had served its purpose, and now the site was more about lamenting daily woes: problems at work, meddling mothersusually hers, Eden thought with a mental eye rollPMS and the occasional Mr. Wrong. Having a broken heart courtesy of Hell's third generation bad boy might have been what had originally gotten them together, but it certainly wasn't what kept the group talking now.
That's what made Artemis525's posts so strange. Despite the fact that she seemed to have materialized out of thin air, they hadn't even been discussing Bennett. Hadn't in months.
Without warning, dark brown hair, even darker heavily lashed old-soul eyes and lips a little too full to be anything short of sexy materialized all too readily in her rebellious mind, making a melancholy tide of longing rise up inside her. Tall, hard and lean with a smart mouth, a smoother tongue and a smile that epitomized wicked, Ben Wilder should come with a warning label. After all this time, the mere memory of him could still cause her foolish heart to jump into an irregular rhythm and a hollow, woeful ache to appear in her belly. Eden released a small breath.
Bennett might have left town three years ago, but there was rarely a day that went by that she didn't think about him. Pathetic? Eden rolled her eyes. Without a doubt. Despite considerable evidence to the contraryparticularly where Bennett was concernedshe wasn't stupid.
But!Eden couldn't seem to help herself.
In fact, to her immeasurable shame and chagrin, she'd never been able to keep her wits about her when it came to Bennett, a fact that became glaringly evident with each botched attempt at resisting him. He crooked his finger, she came. The end. The emotional tug and off-the-charts attraction she'd always felt for him had never been governed by anything remotely close to rationale. It had beening her brain and anything close to common sense.
He was Bennetther Benand, as such, he would always hold a special place in her pathetically miserable broken heart.
Though he'd been a good kid, an A-plus eagerto-pleasealmost desperate-to-please, in retrospectstudent and a budding athlete through the majority of their school years, something had happened to Bennett in their senior year of high school, and for no apparent reason he'd done an about-face.
For starters, he'd dumped herright before prom, which at the time had been the mother of all humiliationswithout reason, without provocation and without warning.
She'd been devastated, and to this day Eden still didn't know why he'd done it.
Then his grades had plummeted, he'd started hanging out with the wrong crowd and within a month had become their ringleader. Most painful of all, he'd turned into a skirt-chasing fiend bent on bedding practically every girl in the county.
In short, the seemingly manic effort he'd put into toeing the linea misguided attempt to atone for the bad reputation of his parents, she knewhad been nothing compared to the effort he'd put into crossing it.
He smoked. He drank. He cursed. He grew long hair and pierced his ear. Tame by regular standards but positively scandalous in their little hometown. A strange set of rules for a city named Hell, of all things, she'd admit, but just as rigid as any Bible Belt burg below the Mason-Dixon Line.
And the first time he'd tossed one of those heavy lidded, baby-I-could-rock-your-world glances at her, she'd melted.
She'd fallen hook, line and sinker. Eden let go a shallow breath.
But Bennett Wilder had the rare ability to make a girl feel as though she were the only woman on the planet, and more importantly, the only one for him in the entire galaxy. When he'd looked at her and smiledjust smiledthe rest of the world had simply fallen away. Eden grimaced.
Unfortunately, being with Bennett meant that her world was in danger of being rocked, flipped, shattered and otherwise knocked for a loop and off its axis.
Prior to his move to what she'd dubbed his dark side, they'd been high school sweethearts. The term sounded so blasé, so casualunsubstantial, even. And yet even now Eden couldn't competently describe what that timeevery minute spent with Benhad meant to her.
Holding hands, planning futures, building dreams while she watched him whittle away on a piece of wood. He'd been funny, earnest, dark and sexy and, though she hadn't realized it at the time, curiously grateful for being with her. She smiled sadly, remembering. He'd been her hero, her warrior, her confidant and best friend. And on a hot summer night by Fire Lake, he'd been her first. She'd been his, too, which for Eden had made it all the more sweet.
Call her stupid, but even after all this time and even knowing what she knew nowthat years later they'd get back together and he'd dump her again without so much as a goodbyeshe still believed that they'd had something special.
Regardless, that second breakup had been particularly hard to swallow. Four years at Georgia Tech followed by three inAtlanta as a probation officer had given Eden seven years' worth of distance and perspective which had promptly fallen by the wayside the minute she'd returned to Hell at twenty-five.
Come home, her dad, Hell's longtime mayor, had pleaded. Hell needs you. More like he'd needed her, but Eden had been homesick all the same. She hadn't necessarily missed her mother, who sadly she'd never been close to. But she'd missed her aunt Deviher mother's sister and surrogate mama and all the people of her little town.
Just as she'd feared, though, she hadn't been back in the apartment above her parents' garage two weeks before she'd been right back in Bennett's bed. Time hadn't changed a thing. The pull, the need, the absolute unadulterated desire to be with him had been stronger than ever.
He'd been working construction for Ryan Mothershed at the time, and she'd happened upon him at the Ice Water Bar and Grill. An hour of playing pool and a single slaying glance later and predictablypoof!her panties and her good sense had both fallen away. Given his particular talent for making her brain and her undergarments disappearnot to mention his own penchant for vanishing from her lifeEden had secretly dubbed him "the Magician."
The only thing that never actually managed to fade was the way she felt about him. That, Eden thought with a tired smile, was purely magical.
She'd tried dating a bit while in college and later, working for Fulton County, but nothing had ever compared to the way Ben had made her feel. Sure, she could develop a certain fondness for other guys and drum up a bit of sexual enthusiasm, but it was barely more than superficial, and ultimately Eden had given up the business altogether. Other than the requisite ricochet lay after Bennett had left town three years ago, to help soothe her wounded pride, Eden hadn't been with anyone since.
Her mother was constantly harping on her to find someone new, get married and produce some grandchildren, but Eden had decided those things simply weren't in her cards and she'd come to terms with that. Did she long for a family? Sometimes get lonely? Of course. But settling wasn't worth it, and she enjoyed her own company too much to compromise.
"Do you think we should let him know about this woman, Eden?" Kate asked, thankfully detouring her unproductive walk down memory lane.
Eden blinked, jarred back into the present. "Let him know about it?"
"Yeah," Kate said. "Something's not right." Eden rubbed an imaginary line from between her brows, tried to gather her focus, which was hard anytime her thoughts drifted to Bennett. She agreed that something wasn't right, but the idea of contacting him didn't feel right, either.
Distinctly wrong, in fact.