Read an Excerpt
A Deputy Laney Briggs Novel
By Jodi Linton, Terese Ramin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jodi Linton
All rights reserved.
Maybe it was bad luck or part of the good Lord's divine plan. At any rate, I was one of the unfortunate two hundred that called Pistol Rock, Texas, home. And today was panning out to be less peachy with each wad of doughnut deputy Elroy Sampson shoveled down his grub hole. Ordinarily I would have been smitten with the idea of no work for us law-enforcement types. It just wasn't good for my self-esteem or my waistline to be left with Elroy for an extended period of time. I got up and headed for the pastry box just as the station door burst open and stopped me dead in my lazy tracks.
"Sheriff Dobbs," I greeted him.
"Another shootout at the O.K. Corral ... Any takers?" Dobbs's eyes landed on me.
"Can't you send Elroy this time? You know Luke Wagner's in the middle of that sparring match and would get a kick out of tormenting me. It'd be really shitty to make me take this call."
"I'm a shitty old boss, Laney. Now hurry up, and get out to Arrowhead Range," Dobbs said and straggled over to the empty chair next to Elroy.
I slung my gun into the holster strapped at my waist and stamped toward the door. I stopped, my hand wrapped around the knob, at the sound of Dobbs and Elroy snickering. "What's so funny?"
Dobbs hacked at the floor. "Nothing. We were just wondering, if Wagner calls you 'cutie', are you going to shoot him?"
"Don't hold your breath," I said, pushing through the station door.
I tucked my auburn hair up under my straw cowboy hat and lifted a hand to hide my eyes from the record-breaking May heat. If luck was on my side, then the two guys might have already put an end to the shootout, but I was feeling as desperate as the button holding up Elroy's pants. I got behind the wheel of the '99 Chevy Malibu assigned to me by the department only to discover someone had stuck a purple Post-it on the windshield. I plucked it off and read the message, Watch yourself, bitch. A chill ran down my spine. This was the second weird thing I'd found this week, the first being a bunch of daisies—my favorite flower—mangled and shredded all down my front porch steps. I'd cleaned that up, not thinking much about it since it was the sort of thing kids from the area might do, but now I wasn't so sure.
Puzzled and a little uneasy, I glanced around at the mostly empty street. Then I shrugged, crumpled up the note, and pitched it into the cruiser's backseat. I climbed into the car, thinking that I couldn't allow myself to get wobbly over every dickweed who wanted to play games with me, and gunned it away from the station. The swirling buildup of cow manure floated through the air-conditioner vents. I fought the urge to gag and pressed a heavy foot down on the gas pedal, quickly leaving behind the malodorous remnants of Pistol Rock.
Five minutes later, I turned onto Spoke Road. Two barbed-wired pastures flew by, then Arrowhead Range came into view. I slowly pulled down the drive and prayed the gunfire had stopped. I turned on my siren, alerting them to my approach. The dust from the gravel drive whirled around my windows, making it hard to see. I'd just veered around the corner gate when I heard a shotgun blast. These boys really did think they were cowboys. I slammed on my brakes and put the cruiser in reverse, retreating behind a cactus. Another shot went off. I swung open my door, drew my Glock from the holster around my waist, and perched down in the dirt.
"Deputy Briggs," I shouted.
I heard whispering, then the sound of a shotgun butt hitting the ground.
"Laney, is that you?" Bosley Conrad yelled.
I waved. "Yeah, it's me. Are y'all done?"
"Yep, I suppose we're done," Bosley grumbled.
"I'm gonna need you boys to put down those guns."
"You know you ain't getting my gun, Laney."
"I wasn't thinking about it."
Taking a man's gun in Texas was like castrating him. I stuffed my .9mm into the holster and stepped around the door. Luke Wagner was slumped against a tree, rustling a toothpick around his mouth. A white cowboy hat dipped low over his smoldering deep blue eyes, and a dirt-smeared white T-shirt clung to his wide chest and strong arms. His tight-assed Levi's pretty much had my tall, smooth-talking, and handsome cowboy fantasy all wrapped up into one neat denim package.
Luke pulled off his hat, running a hand through his messy, chin-length blond hair.
"Luke, how you doing?" I tossed him a tight smile, darting my eyes about the barren land. "Mitch wouldn't happen to be around?"
Luke lifted his hat and sent a slick smile back at me.
"Nope." He placed the hat back on his head. "I haven't seen my dad all day."
Bosley spit into the dirt and gestured at Luke. "He poisoned my cattle."
Luke huffed, spit his toothpick onto the ground, and crunched it with the tip of his brown cowboy boot. "You cocksucker," he snarled.
"You spoiled son of a bitch," Bosley spat back and hiked his pants up over his fat roll.
I pushed my way past the village idiots. "Oh ... for heaven's sake, let's go see your cattle."
If Luke being the heir to the Wagner's Four Spurs Ranch wasn't enough reason for these two to go sparring against each other just about each and every day, they had to pull me into the middle of their long, ongoing feud over who held the water rights to the spring that straddled both their ranches. They were constantly accusing each other of this misdeed or that one—and sometimes I was pretty sure it was just to get under their rival's skin. I was sick of it, but being a sheriff's deputy didn't give me a lot of choice about what calls I did or didn't answer.
Fifty acres. That was all I had to trudge across. No problem, except for the endless dirt mounds with goathead stickers attached to every blade of grass. The sun beat down on the nape of my neck. We passed a stock tank where a couple of horses were taking a drink. There were a dozen stalls off to the left, and an iron fence marked the property line where a small spring flowed through Bosley's land. I cursed myself the whole way for having that doughnut earlier. I could feel it sticking to my ribcage as I stomped across the unforgiving land. I looked back over my shoulder. Luke was watching my ass. His blue eyes blazed in the sun's rays, heightening my already frazzled state. "Luke, do you have a problem with me being here?"
"Absolutely not." He grinned crookedly. "You sure beat staring at a cow's ass."
I flipped him the bird and kept walking. Cow turds plastered the burnt grass. I pinched my nose and pressed on. Bosley abruptly stopped. My boots caught on his heels. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, tipped my hat up, and holy shit! At least half a dozen cattle were toppled over dead.
Bosley motioned me closer by flapping his hand in my face. I decided that it was best to stay put.
"I'm fine here," I assured him.
"You see." He went over and kicked a cow head. "Dead."
I wasn't going to argue. I mean, he was the expert and all. "Looks like it to me."
"Well, are you going to arrest the bastard or just stand here and look pretty?" Bosley asked, completely dumbfounded.
The flattery wasn't wasted on me. This morning I had felt sort of frumpy. So there was no harm in accepting the compliment.
"Arrest him for what?" I looked at Luke, who grinned, tipping his hat. "Thanks, Laney, for looking out for me." He threw me an indecent wink, which I ignored. Sure he was a looker, but there was something about him I didn't like. Plus—I fiddled with the engagement ring that was making my fingers itch—I was taken.
Bosley whipped his hat off his head and stroked a wrinkly hand through his thin, silver hair. "You mean to tell me Luke is going to get off scot-free on account of you not knowing what the hell you're doing?"
I threw my hands up in the air. "Sorry." I shrugged. "I can order Nathan to do tests and find out what killed your cows, but beyond that ... there's no evidence Luke did anything. Hell, they mighta gotten into some poison parsley for all we know."
The old man started snorting uncontrollably, turning his face crimson. I watched his nostrils flare as he kicked a pile of dirt in the air, flinging some ants in the process. He was sizing me up with that coldhearted glare. I nervously shuffled to the side—then started. "Holy cow."
"Laney, I thought you knew what a cow looked like," Luke cracked.
"No, there's a hand under that one." I pointed.
Bosley looked utterly shocked at the idea of a dead body on his land. This despite the number of dead cows already lying about.
I wagged a finger at Bosley, ordering, "Don't move a muscle."
"Shit," Bosley wheezed, pointing at the body the hand was attached to. He stared for an ungodly moment, locking eyes on the red bandana mangled beneath a pink pig-inked bicep. "That's Pacey Monroe. Dear Lord." Bosley pressed a shaky palm to his forehead. "You see that pig tattoo on the arm?" His hand waved over the body. "The boy got the tattoo after we won best in show at last year's national pig-calling contest."
Pacey Monroe was Bosley's ranch hand. He had the IQ of a seven year old, but he sure did know how to beef up a cow. I watched the two hotheaded guys take off their hats. They kneeled and gave a silent prayer. I kneeled, also, but there was no way in hell I was taking off my hat. My hair could have quite possibly raised the dead, including Pacey Monroe.
Pulling my cell from the back pocket of my jeans, I dialed the sheriff station. The signal died on the first ring. It was unlike me to leave my walkie-talkie in the cruiser, but I'd been distracted by two big boys thinking they were the Hatfields and McCoys of west Texas.
I glanced at each of them while shoving my cell deep down into my back pocket and said, "I need to call for back up, so don't touch anything."
"Will do, Deputy," Luke said, cocking me a sly grin.
I tugged at the waistline of my jeans and took off in a hot sprint. Sweat dripped from my cheeks, hair matted to my forehead, and my jeans stuck to my crotch. I whipped the cruiser door open and leaned over the seat, catching my breath at the same time I untangled the radio cord and pressed the switch on the mic.
"Elroy, I need back up."
"Having trouble corralling the bastards?" he asked, munching on what sounded like a mouthful of chips.
"No, dumb ass. I just found a dead body."
"Well shit ..." His voice faded.
"Elroy," I shouted, squeezing the radio mic's hard plastic in my hand.
"Yeah ... yeah, Laney," he responded. "I'll be right there."
The line went dead. I shook off the thought that I'd heard someone other than Dobbs in the background and made the burning run back to the guys. Luke had parked himself on the crunchy grass. I plunked down next to him. Stickers poked through the worn seat of my jeans, biting me on my biscuits. His blue eyes immediately drifted toward my chest.
"A little winded, Laney?"
I sent an elbow to his ribs. "Don't look at me that way."
"Darling, you used to enjoy it."
He sent me a look and tossed his arm across my shoulders. There was no use trying to defend myself, so I whipped my head back and waited. The blistering sun pounded my face. I'd given in to the idea of a long wait when a black Yukon came billowing across the land. It stopped two feet in front us, screeching tires grinding down the caked dirt. Dobbs jumped out of the passenger side, with Elroy tagging behind. I would like to say it didn't get to me, but, hell, it pissed me off when I caught sight of that Route 44 soda in Elroy's hand.
"Come on, you stopped for a coke and didn't bring me one?" I shouted.
Elroy took a long slurp. "You weren't at the office."
I was still glaring coldly at him when the driver's door popped open. No, it couldn't be ... That son of a bitch. I wiped the bubbles of sweat from my nose and shot to my feet. Then I marched up to him. He'd cocked his black cowboy hat to the side and stuffed his hands into the back pockets of tight Wranglers, stretching the black T-shirt around his big biceps. That damn black rattlesnake tattoo rippled along the hard muscles of his right forearm as he walked to the front of the Yukon. With my stomach climbing up my throat, a spark that definitely didn't belong there fired in my chest as I watched him kick some dirt, then step out in front of me.
"Well," Gunner Wilson drawled, "if it isn't Laney Briggs." He threw a dirty wink at me.
I ignored him, still trying to figure out what the hell my personal Texas Ranger nightmare was doing riding shotgun with Elroy and Sheriff Dobbs. "What are you ...?"
"Still tongue-tied at the sight of me?"
My blood was blazing as I glared at him. I thought when I'd sent a load of rock salt into my ornery ex-boyfriend's ass over things I preferred not to think about, he'd never show his face in Pistol Rock again. I'd thought wrong, because holding me prisoner with those deep, assessing brown eyes was the only man who could light my panties on fire in eight seconds flat. We'd duked it out before, and I reckoned this time would be no different. The problem was I had a damn job to do, and folks were watching my every move, making damn sure to jot down each misstep I made. Taking a good step back from the jean-creamer cowboy's pulse-charging, leathery vanilla aftershave, I swallowed hard and pulled up my big girl panties to play the part of the deputy I knew I was capable of being. "Why the hell are you here? I thought you were in Houston."
His grin widened. "I'll tell you later, sweetheart."
Dobbs sidled up between us, placing a hand on my shoulder. "Let's not jump to conclusions, Laney"—he continued the heavy petting of my shoulder—"I invited Gunner to come along on the morning joyride after he wandered into the station looking for you." He looked at Gunner, smiling. "Don't you remember me filling you and Elroy in on the Rangers investigating a case out here in Pistol Rock?"
That memo must've slipped through the cracks. I nodded anyway, allowing my gaze to linger on Gunner's sinfully good-looking, rugged cowboy face. He hadn't missed a beat since I'd seen him last. I, on the other hand, could've slapped on an extra layer of foundation and ditched the sheriff's department-issued uniform shirt with "Pistol Rock Sheriff Station" embroidered across my upper left breast.
"Yeah, I remember." I kept nodding mindlessly as I watched Gunner's smile grow. This was so not good. I always turned to putty in that Texas Ranger's hands. He'd been my first lover and, for a while, I was sure he'd be my last, too. That had changed, but Gunner's effect on me hadn't. I looked him directly in the eyes. "It's just that I didn't figure the Rangers would let him"—I jutted my chin at Gunner—"anywhere near this jurisdiction after last time."
Dobbs only grunted at that, but Gunner's deep, throaty 'I'd do your body good' laugh threw me off my high horse. I grabbed him by the elbow. Bad move. Just the feel of him underneath my fingers made my heart skip a beat. I steeled myself not to look at the third finger of my left hand where the diamond Nathan had given me seven months ago seemed to stare at me. "Dobbs, will you excuse us?"
Dobbs smiled some more. "I've never been one to deny a good old-fashioned reunion."
Give me a break, I thought, tugging on Gunner's arm.
We trudged across the dead grass, coming to a stop next to a weather-eroded fence post. He inched closer, placing a boot in my personal space. Our eyes locked into that old swoon-girl gaze. Once upon a time, I'd stripped him of his tight Wranglers and had my way with my own personal good-timing Texas Ranger, but we'd all grown out of our school-yard crushes.
I swallowed down my cotton mouth, took a good step back, rear-ending the termite-infested wood, and jammed my finger at Gunner's broad chest. "If you think for a minute I'm going to let you make my life a living hell again just because you take a notion, you have another think coming."
He started to flick my finger away but stopped midslap, grabbing my hand instead, staring from my ring finger to me. Abruptly, he let my hand fall. "Getting hitched?" he asked, displeased.
Excerpted from Pretty Reckless by Jodi Linton, Terese Ramin. Copyright © 2014 Jodi Linton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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