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Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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Chapter OnePanic tasted cold and dark in her mouth as Molly Brewster sat bolt upright. Her heart charged in her chest and she sucked in a harsh breath, willing away a surge of nausea. Something was gouging into her hip and she reached blindly, fingers closing over the weapon. She yanked, pulled it free and stared at it.
How to Take Control of Your Life - and Keep It. The title of the hardcover book stared back at her.
She'd fallen asleep on the couch reading. Her panic oozed away, leaving her limp. She swung her legs off the couch and huddled forward, pushing the book onto the coffee table. She was trembling and her heart still knocked crazily inside her chest, so loud she fancied she could hear it in her ears.
"It's Sunday afternoon, Molly," she whispered. "You're perfectly safe."
The knocking grew to a thunderous sound. The door. Someone was at the door. Pounding louder than her heartbeat, making the door shudder nearly as much as she was.
Shaking her head at her foolishness, Molly pushed off the couch and hurriedly crossed the living room toward the door. The nightmare she'd been having clung to her mind, making her feel more fuzzy than ever, and her hand shook as she grabbed hold of the doorknob.
She no longer lived in fear. She deliberately yankedopen the door, if only to prove to herself that the nightmare was nothing but imaginings. The tall man standing on the other side, though, nearly startled her right out of the few wits she still possessed. Her hand kept a tight, sweaty hold of the doorknob.
Control. She scrambled frantically for the silent mantra. You are in control.
She made herself look at him, gaze skimming up the blue jeans, stuttering over the badge hooked over his belt, traveling over a hard torso clad in a khaki-colored uniform shirt that was probably crisp when he'd put it on, but now looked more than a little wilted because of the heat. Beyond that, to his sharp features, black hair and dark, inscrutable brown eyes, she couldn't force herself to look. Control only went so far, and the man had made her feel itchy from the first time she'd seen him, even before she'd known what he was.
The doorknob was practically making a permanent imprint on the palm of her hand, but she still couldn't seem to make herself let go. "Deputy Tanner. What are you d-doing here?"
Holt Tanner slid his dark glasses down a notch, eyeing the woman clinging to her door as if it were a life raft. Approximate height, five-five. Weight about one-fifteen. Age had been listed as twenty-seven, but she looked even younger ... regardless, she was too damned young for him.
Annoyed with the thought, Holt pulled off his sunglasses completely and tucked them in his shirt. "I need to ask you some questions, Ms. Brewster."
There wasn't one lick of color in her alabaster face. If anything, she looked as if she'd seen a ghost. As they had almost from the moment he'd met Molly Brewster when he'd first moved to Rumor eight months ago, her eyes glanced at him, then away. Just long enough for him to get a gut-tightening sight of those incredibly light-blue eyes surrounded by lush black lashes. Just long enough for him to wonder, yet again, what she was hiding.
If there was one thing Deputy Sheriff Holt Tanner knew for certain, it was that he couldn't afford to trust Molly Brewster. She was secretive, for one thing. And she made him hot, for another. One or the other irritation was bad enough, but the combination of the two was definitely no good for his peace of mind.
To be clichéd about it - been there, done that. "Regarding?" Her delicate brows arched in query, and the coolness of her voice was completely belied by the fact that she looked as if a sharp word would make her shatter.
"Harriet Martel's death."
"I answered all of your questions at the sheriff station weeks ago."
He looked past her into the dim coolness of her living room, noticing the way she shifted when he did so. As if she didn't want him to see inside. Considering he was a good half foot taller than she was, she could shift all she wanted and he'd still see over her head into the pin-neat home.
There was a flowered couch, an armchair, a coffee table with a book on it, and little else to indicate the type of person dwelling there. "You were very cooperative when you came to the station," he agreed smoothly. "And you've been cooperative since then when we've spoken. May I come in?"
Her lips were pale, vulnerably nude and soft looking until they drew up all tight the way they invariably did whenever he was around her. "It's a, um, a terrible mess."
He considered telling her that she should never bother lying. She was pretty miserable at it. But he was used to people who didn't want to talk with a cop no matter what the circumstances. She just didn't know that he wasn't one to give up on a case.
No matter what the cost. "We could always talk down at the station," he said pointedly. "One way or the other, Ms. Brewster, I do intend to talk with you."
Her lashes swept down, and it looked to him as if she was conducting a mental struggle. "Have a seat," she said after a moment, "and I'll bring out some cold lemonade."
The concession was better than nothing. But he made no move toward the two iron chairs sitting on her railed porch until she'd carefully closed the front door in his face.
Whistling tunelessly, Holt dropped down onto one of the chairs - the one closest to the front door. He tugged loose the top button on his shirt and dragged the brown tie even looser. Who'd have thought he'd have to leave a lifetime in L.A. for a dinky town in Montana to find out just how miserable August heat could be?
He stretched his legs out in front of him and studied the quiet street on which Molly Brewster, librarian, lived. The town park was only a block away, and in the silent afternoon he could hear the occasional shriek or laugh coming from that direction.
He could feel the minutes ticking by as surely as he could feel the sweat creeping down his neck. He twitched his tie again, stretched out his legs a little more and watched an ugly little spider creep across the whitewashed eave. It, at least, seemed oblivious to the heat that had been making even the most evenkeeled people in town cranky.
The creak of the door warned him the moment before Molly stepped out onto the porch, carrying two tall, slender glasses. Lemon slices and ice cubes jostled as she carefully stepped past him to set one of the glasses on the small table separating the chairs. Without looking at him, she sat down, cradling her own glass in both hands.
He looked at her. Feet encased in tidy white tennis shoes placed squarely on the wooden porch; the hem of her lightweight blue sundress tugged down as near to her knees as possible.
Excerpted from Montana Lawman by Leigh Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.