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Sheriff Dare Westmoreland leaned forward in the chair behind his desk. From the defiant look on the face of the boy standing in front of him he could tell it would be one of those days. "Look, kid, I'm only going to ask you one more time. What is your name?"
The boy crossed his arms over his chest and had the nerve to glare at him and say, "And I've told you that I don't like cops and have no intention of giving you my name or anything else. And if you don't like it, arrest me."
Dare stood to his full height of six-feet-four, feeling every bit of his thirty-six years as he came from behind his desk to stare at the boy. He estimated the kid, who he'd caught throwing rocks at passing cars on the highway, to be around twelve or thirteen. It had been a long time since any kid living in his jurisdiction had outright sassed him. None of them would have dared, so it stood to reason that the kid was probably new in town.
"You will get your wish. Since you won't cooperate and tell me who you are, I'm officially holding you in police custody until someone comes to claim you. And while you're waiting you may as well make yourself useful. You'll start by mopping out the bathroom on the first floor, so follow me."
Dare shook his head, thinking he didn't envy this kid's parents one bit.
Shelly had barely brought her car to a complete stop in front of the sheriff's office before she was out of it. It had taken her a good two hours in Atlanta's heavy traffic to make it home after receiving word that AJ had not shown up at school, only to discover he wasn't at home. When it had started getting late she had gotten worried and called the police. After giving the dispatcher a description of AJ, the woman assured her that he was safe in their custody and that the reason she had not been contacted was because AJ had refused to give anyone his name. Without asking for any further details Shelly had jumped into her car and headed for the police station.
She let out a deep sigh. If AJ hadn't given anyone his name that meant the sheriff was not aware she was AJ's mother and for the moment that was a comforting thought. As she pushed open the door, she knew all her excuses for not yet meeting with Dare and telling him the truth had run out, and fate had decided to force her hand.
She was about to come face-to-face with Sheriff Dare Westmoreland.
"Sheriff, the parent of John Doe has arrived."
Dare looked up from the papers he was reading and met his secretary's gaze. "Only one parent showed up, Holly?"
"Yes, just the mother. She's not wearing a wedding ring so I can only assume there isn't a father. At least not one that's around."
Dare nodded. "What's the kid doing now?" he asked, pushing the papers he'd been reading aside.
"He's out back watching Deputy McKade clean up his police motorcycle"
Dare nodded. "Send the woman in, Holly. I need to have a long talk with her. Her son needs a lot more discipline than he's evidently getting at home."
Dare moved away from his desk to stand at the window where he could observe the boy as he watched McKade polish his motorcycle. He inhaled deeply. There was something about the boy that he found oddly familiar. Maybe he reminded him of himself and his four brothers when they'd been younger. Although they had been quite a handful for their parents, headstrong and in some ways stubborn, they had known just how far to take it and just how much they could get away with. And they'd been smart enough to know when to keep their mouths closed. This kid had a lot to learn.
"Sheriff Westmoreland, this is Ms. Rochelle Brockman."
Dare swung his head around and his gaze collided with the woman he'd once loved to distraction. Suddenly his breath caught, his mouth went dry and every muscle in his body froze as memories rushed through his spiraling mind.
He could vividly recall the first time they'd met, their first kiss and the first time they had made love. The last time stood out in his mind now. He dragged his gaze from her face to do a total sweep of her body before returning to her face again. A shiver of desire tore through him, and he was glad that his position, standing behind his desk, blocked a view of his body from the waist down. Otherwise both women would have seen the arousal pressing against the zipper of his pants.
His gaze moved to her dark brown hair, and he noted that it was shorter and cut in one of those trendy styles that accented the creamy chocolate coloring of her face as well as the warm brandy shade of her eyes.
The casual outfit she wore, a printed skirt and a matching blouse, made her look stylish, comfortable and ultrafemi-nine. Then there were the legs he still considered the most gorgeous pair he'd ever seen. Legs he knew could wrap around his waist while their bodies meshed in pleasure.
A deep sigh escaped his closed lips as he concluded that at thirty-three she was even more beautiful than he remembered and still epitomized everything feminine. They'd first met when she was sixteen and a sophomore in high school. He'd been nineteen, a few weeks shy of twenty and a sophomore in college, and had come home for a visit to find her working on a school project with his brother Stone. He had walked into the house at the exact moment she'd been leaning over Stone, explaining some scientific formula and wearing the sexiest pair of shorts he had ever seen on a female. He had thought she had a pair of legs that were simply a complete turn-on. When she had glanced up, noticed him staring and smiled, he'd been a goner. Never before had he been so aware of a woman. An immediate attraction had flared between them, holding him hostage to desires he'd never felt before.
After making sure Stone didn't have designs on her himself, he had made his move. And it was a move he'd never regretted making. They began seriously dating a few months later and had continued to do so for six long years, until he had made the mistake of ending things between them. Now it seemed the day of reckoning had arrived.
It was as if the years had not passed between them, Dare suddenly thought. That same electrical charge the two of them always generated ignited full force, sending a high voltage searing through the room.
He cleared his throat. "Holly, you can leave me and Ms. Brockman alone now," he thought it best to say.
His secretary looked at Shelly then back at him. "Sure, Sheriff," she murmured, and walked out of the office, pulling the door shut behind her.
Once the door closed, Dare turned his full attention back to Shelly. His gaze went immediately to her lips; lips he used to enjoy tasting time and time again; lips that were hot, sweet and ultraresponsive. One night he had thrust her into an orgasm just from gnawing on her lips and caressing them with the tip of his tongue.
He swallowed to get his bearings when he felt his body begin responding to just being in the same room with her. He then admitted what he'd known for years. Shelly Brockman would always be the beginning and the end of his most blatant desires and a part of him could not believe she was back in College Park after being gone for so long.
Shelly felt the intensity of Dare's gaze and struggled to keep her emotions in check, but he was so disturbingly gorgeous that she found it hard to do so. Wearing his blue uniform, he still had that look that left a woman's mind whirling and her body overheated.
He had changed a lot from the young man she had fallen in love with years ago. He was taller, bigger and more muscular. The few lines he had developed in the corners of his eyes, and the firmness of his jaw made his face more angular, his coffee-colored features stark and disturbingly handsome and still a pleasure to look at.
She noted there were certain things about him that had remained the same. The shape of his mouth was still a total turn-on, and he still had those sexy dimples he used to flash at her so often. Then there were those dark eyes—deep, penetrating—that at one time had had the ability to read her mind by just looking at her. How else had he known when she'd wanted him to make love to her without her having to utter a single word?
Suddenly Shelly felt nervous, panicky when she remembered the reason she had moved back to town. But there was no way she could tell Dare that he was AJ's father—at least not today. She needed time to pull herself together. Seeing him again had derailed her senses, making it impossible for her to think straight. The only thing she wanted was to get AJ and leave.
"I came for my son, Dare," she finally found her voice to say, and even to her own ears it sounded wispy.
Dare let out a deep breath. It seemed she wanted to get right down to business and not dwell on the past. He had no intention of letting her do that, mainly because of what they had once meant to each other. "It's been a long time, Shelly. How have you been?" he asked raspily, failing to keep his own voice casual. He found the scent of her perfume just as sexy and enticing as the rest of her.
"I've been fine, Dare. How about you?"
She nodded. "Now may I see my son?"
Her insistence on keeping things nonpersonal was beginning to annoy the hell out of him. His eyes narrowed and his gaze zeroed in on her mouth; bad timing on his part. She nervously swiped her bottom lip with her tongue, causing his body to react immediately. He remembered that tongue and some of the things he had taught her to do with it. He dragged air into his lungs when he felt his muscles tense. "Aren't you going to ask why he's here?" he asked, his voice sounding tight, just as tight as his entire body felt.
She shrugged. "I assumed that since the school called and said he didn't show up today, one of your officers had picked him up for playing hooky."
"No, that's not it," he said, thinking that was a reasonable assumption to make. "I'm the one who picked him up, but he was doing something a bit more serious than playing hooky."
Shelly's eyes widened in alarm. "What?"
"I caught him throwing rocks at passing motorists on Old National Highway. Do you know what could have happened had a driver swerved to avoid getting hit?"
Shelly swallowed as she nodded. "Yes." The first thought that came to her mind was that AJ was in need of serious punishment, but she'd tried punishing him in the past and it hadn't seemed to work.
"I'm sorry about this, Dare," she apologized, not knowing what else to say. "We moved to town a few weeks ago and it hasn't been easy for him. He needs time to adjust."
Dare snorted. "From the way he acted in my office earlier today, I think what he needs is an attitude adjustment as well as a lesson in respect and manners. Whose kid is he anyway?"
Shelly straightened her spine. The mother in her took offense at his words. She admitted she had spoiled AJ somewhat, but still, considering the fact that she was a single parent doing the best she could, she didn't need Dare of all people being so critical. "He's my child."
Dare stared at her wondering if she really expected him to believe that. There was no way the kid could be hers, since in his estimation of the kid's age, she was a student in college and his steady girl about the same time the boy was born. "I mean who does he really belong to since I know you didn't have a baby twelve or thirteen years ago, Shelly."
Her gaze turned glacial. "He is mine, Dare. I gave birth to him ten years ago. He just looks older than he really is because of his height." Shelly watched Dare's gaze sharpen and darken, then his brows pulled together in a deep, furious frown.
"What the hell do you mean you gave birth to him?" he asked, a shocked look on his face and a tone of voice that bordered on anger and total disbelief.
She met his glare with one of her own. "I meant just what I said. Now may I see him?" She made a move to leave Dare's office but he caught her arm.
"Are you saying that he was born after you left here?"
Dare released her. His features had suddenly turned to stone, and the gaze that focused on hers was filled with hurt and pain. "It didn't take you long to find someone in California to take my place after we broke up, did it?"
His words were like a sharp, painful slap to Shelly's face. He thought that she had given birth to someone else's child! How could he think that when she had loved him so much? She was suddenly filled with extreme anger. "Why does it matter to you what I did after I left here, Dare, when you decided after six long years that you wanted a career with the FBI more than you wanted me?"
Dare closed his eyes, remembering that night and what he had said to her, words he had later come to regret. He slowly reopened his eyes and looked at her. She appeared just as stricken now as she had then. He doubted he would ever forget the deep look of hurt on her face that night he had told her that he wanted to break up with her to pursue a career with the FBI.
"No, Dare. I think we've said enough, too much in fact. Just let me get my son and go home."
Dare inhaled deeply. It was too late for whatever he wanted to say to her. Whatever had once been between them was over and done with. Turning, he slowly walked back over to his desk. "There's some paperwork that needs to be completed before you can take him with you. Since he refused to provide us with any information, we couldn't do it earlier."
He read the question that suddenly flashed in her gaze and said, "And no, this will not be a part of any permanent record, although I think it won't be such a bad idea for him to come back every day this week after school for an hour to do additional chores, especially since he mentioned he's not into any after-school activity. The light tasks I'll be assigning to him will work off some of that rebellious energy he has."
He met her gaze. "However, if this happens again, Shelly, he'll be faced with having to perform hours of community service as well as getting slapped with a juvenile delinquent record. Is that understood?"
She nodded, feeling much appreciative. Had he wanted to, Dare could have handled things a lot more severely. What AJ had done was a serious offense. "Yes, I understand, and I want to thank you."
She sighed deeply. It seemed fate would not be forcing her hand today after all. She had a little more time before having to tell Dare the truth.
Dare sat down at his desk with a form in front of him and a pen in his hand. "Now then, what's his name?"
Shelly swallowed deeply. "AJ Brockman."
"I need his real name."
She couldn't open her mouth to get the words out. It seemed fate wouldn't be as gracious as she'd thought after all.
Dare was looking down at the papers in front of him, however, the pause went on so long he glanced up and looked at her. He had known Shelly long enough to know when she was nervous about something. His eyes narrowed as he wondered what her problem was.
"What's his real name, Shelly?" he repeated.
He watched as she looked away briefly. Returning her gaze she stared straight into his eyes and without blinking said, "Alisdare Julian Brockman."