Read an Excerpt
The last place Dr. Cassidy Mahoney expected to find herself when she fled the city for a wilderness town deep in the Cascades Mountains was the county jail. She could honestly say it was the first time she'd ever been in one, and with the smell of stale alcohol and something more basically human permeating the air, she hoped it was the last.
And absolutely nothing could have prepared her for him-all six feet four inches of broad shoulders and hard muscles, oozing enough testosterone to choke a roomful of hardened feminists.
Draped languorously over a narrow bunk that clearly couldn't contain his wide shoulders and long legs, the man lustily sang about a pretty señorita with dark flashing eyes and lips like wine. The old man in the neighboring cell cheerfully sang along, sounding like a rusty engine chugging up a mountain pass while his cellmate snored loudly enough to rattle the small windows set high in the outside wall.
Pausing in the outer doorway, Cassidy felt her eyes widen and wondered if she'd stepped onto a movie set without a script. The entire town of Crescent Lake had turned out to be like something from a movie set and she was still having a hard time believing she wasn't dreaming.
Quite frankly, even her wildest dreams couldn't have conjured up being escorted to the sheriff's office in a police cruiser like a seasoned offender-even to supply medical care to a prisoner.
From somewhere near the back of the holding area a loud voice cursed loudly and yelled at them to "shut the hell up." Hazel Porter, the tiny woman currently leading Cassidy into the unknown, pushed the door open all the way and gestured for her to follow.
"Full house tonight," Hazel rasped in her thirty-a-day voice, sounding like she'd been sucking on smokes since the cradle. "Must be full moon." She nodded to the cell holding the old-timers. "Don't mind them, honey: longstanding weekend reservations." Her bunch of keys jangled Cassidy's already ragged nerves.
"And ignore the guy in the back," Hazel advised. "Been snarlin' and snipin' since he was hauled in a couple hours ago. I was tempted to call in animal control, but the sheriff said to let him sleep it off."
"I'd be sleeping too, you old crow, if it wasn't for the caterwauling, stripping paint off the walls."
Hazel shook her head. "Mean as a cornered badger, that one," she snorted, closing the outer door behind them. "Even when he ain't drunk."
Cassidy sent the woman a wary look, a bit nervous at the thought of being closed in with a bunch of offenders-one of whom was apparently violent-and a pint-sized deputy who could be anything between sixty and a hundred and sixty.
"So the patient?" she prompted uncertainly, hoping it wasn't the fun guy in back. Hippocratic oath aside, she drew the line at entering his cell without the sheriff, a couple of burly deputies and a fully charged stun gun as backup.
"That'll be Crescent Lake's very own superhero." Hazel headed for the baritone's cell and Cassidy couldn't help the relief that left her knees a bit shaky. "He's a recent addition and a wild one, so watch yerself," wasn't exactly something Cas-sidy wanted to hear.
The deputy slid a key into the lock and continued as though she'd known Cassidy for years. "Wasn't a bit surprising when he up 'n left med school to join the Navy." Her chuckle sounded like a raspy snort. "Heck, 'Born to be wild' shoulda been tattooed on that boy's hide at birth."
Cassidy blinked, unsure if she was meant to respond and uncertain what she would say if she did. She'd learnt over the past fortnight that mountain folk were for the most part polite and taciturn with strangers, but treated everyone's business like public property. She'd even overheard bets being placed on how long she'd last before she "hightailed it back to the city."
The sound of the key turning was unnaturally loud and Cassidy bit her lip nervously when the cell door slid open and clanged against the bars. Drawing in a shaky breath, she smoothed damp palms down her thighs and eyed the "born to be wild" man warily.
One long leg was bent at the knee; the other hung over the side of the bunk, large booted foot planted on the bare concrete floor. Although a bent arm blocked most of his face from view, Cassidy realized she was the object of intense scrutiny. Her first thought was, God, he's huge, followed almost immediately by, And there's only a garden gnome's granny between me and Goliath 's drunk younger brother.
"Is that why he's in here?"
"Heck, no," Hazel rasped with a snort. "Was the only way Sheriff could be sure he stayed put till you arrived. Boy thinks he's too tough for a few stitches and a couple of sticking plasters."
Cassidy hovered outside the cell, aware that her heart was banging against her ribs like she was the one who'd committed a felony and was facing jail time. Besides, she'd heard all about people going missing in wilderness towns and had the oddest feeling the instant she stepped over the threshold her life would never be the same.
Turning, she caught the older woman watching her and gave a self-conscious shrug. "Is it safe? Shouldn't we wait for the sheriff? A couple of deputies?" A shock stick?
Small brown eyes twinkled. "Safe?" Hazel cackled as though the idea tickled her funny bone when Cassidy had been as serious as a tax audit. In Boston, violent offenders were always accompanied by several burly cops, even when they were restrained.
"Well, now," the deputy said, wiping the mirth from her eyes. "I don't know as the boy's ever been called 'safe' before, but if you're wondering if he'll get violent, don't you worry about a thing, hon. He's gentle as a lamb."
Cassidy's gaze slid to the "boy," who seemed to be all shoulders and legs, and thought, Yeah, right. Nothing about him looked gentle and "boy" wasn't something he'd been for a good long time. Not with that long, hard body or the toxic cloud of testosterone and pheromones filling the small space and snaking primitive warnings up her spine.
Even sprawled across the narrow bunk, he exuded enough masculine sexuality to have a cautious woman taking a hasty step in retreat.
Hazel Porter must have correctly interpreted the move for she cackled gleefully even as she planted a bony hand in the small of Cassidy's back and gave her a not-so-gentle shove into the cell.
Her pulse gave an alarmed little blip and Cas-sidy found herself swallowing a distressed yelp, which was ridiculous, considering he'd done nothing more dangerous than sing in that rich, smooth bedroom baritone.
"Whatcha got for me, sweetheart?" the deep voice drawled, sending a shiver of fear down Cassidy's spine. At least she thought the belly-clenching, free-falling sensation was fear as goose bumps rushed over her skin beneath the baby-pink scrubs top she hadn't had time to change out of. The baby-pink top that was covered in little bear doctors and nurses and an assortment of smears and stains from a day spent with babies and toddlers.
Not exactly the kind of outfit that gave a woman much-needed confidence when facing a large alpha male.
"You get the rare steak and fries I ordered?"
Hazel snorted. "We're not running some five-star establishment here, sonny," she rebuked mildly, eyeing him over her spectacles. "You wanted steak and fries you shoulda thought about that before you decided to pound on Wes."
A battered lip curved into a loopy grin. "Aw, c'mon, Hazel." He chuckled, sounding a little rusty, as though he hadn't had much to laugh about lately-or had awakened from a deep sleep. "He was drunker than a sailor on shore leave. The coeds he was hassling were terrified. 'Sides,
someone had to stop him trashing Hannah's bar. He threw a stool at her when she tried to intervene, for God's sake."
"Your sister can handle herself," Hazel pointed out reasonably, to which the hunk sleepily replied, "Sure she can. We taught her some great moves." He yawned until his jaw cracked. "Jus' doin' my brotherly duty, 'sall."
"And look where that got you."
The man lifted a hand wrapped in a bloodied bar towel and peered down at his side. "Bonehead took me by surprise," he growled in disgust, wincing as he lowered his arm. "Was on me before I could convince them to leave." He grunted. "Better my hide than her pretty face, huh?"
"You're a good brother," Hazel said dryly.
A wide shoulder hitched. "Didn't you teach me to stand up to the bullies of this world, ma'am?"
"Ri-ight." Hazel snorted, beaming at him with affectionate pride. "Blame the helpless old lady."
The deep chuckle filling the tiny cell did odd things to Cassidy's insides and spread prickling warmth throughout her body. Her face heated and the backs of her knees tingled.
She uttered a tiny gasp.
Tingled? Really? Alarmed by her body's response, she backed up a step until she realized what she was doing and froze. Feeling her face heat, Cassidy drew in a shaky breath and took a determined step forward. She dropped her medical bag between his long hard thighs since he took up the rest of the bunk.
So what if she was dressed like a kindergarten teacher? She was a mature, professional woman who'd spent an entire day with babies and toddlers-not some silly naive schoolgirl dazzled by a pair of wide shoulders, long legs and a deep bedroom voice.
Well not usually. Besides, she'd already done that and was not going there again. Tingling of any sort. Was out.
"Nothin' helpless about you, darlin'," the bedroom voice drawled with another flash of even white teeth as Cassidy pulled out a pair of surgical gloves. She couldn't see his eyes but knew by the stillness of his body that he was tracking her every move.
"Save the sweet talk, sonny," Hazel sniffed, amused yet clearly not taken in by the charm. "And play nice. Miz Mahoney doesn't have time to waste on idiots."
Cassidy snapped on a latex glove and opened her mouth to correct the deputy's use of "Miz" but he shifted at that moment and every thought fled, leaving her numb with shock as she realized exactly who she was in a jail cell with.
Ohmigosh. Her eyes widened. He really was a superhero. Or rather Major Samuel J. Kellan, Crescent Lake's infamous Navy SEAL and all-round bad boy. She stared at him and wondered if she was hallucinating. Wasn't he supposed to be a local hero or something? Heck, a national hero?
What was he doing in the county jail?
Besides, he'd been injured protecting his sister and saving a couple of young women from harm. And according to local gossip, everyone adored him. Women swooned at the mention of his name and men tended to recount his exploits like he was some kind of legendary superhero. And really. There wasn't a man alive who could do half the things Major Kellan was rumored to have done and survived. Well not outside Hollywood.
Yet, even battered and bruised, it was clear the man deserved his reputation as big, bad and dangerous to know. Looking into his battered face, it was just as clear that one thing hadn't been exaggerated. With his thick dark hair, fierce gold eyes, strong shadowed jaw and surprisingly sensual mouth, the man was as hot as women claimed. She could only be grateful she'd been immunized against fallen angels masquerading as wounded bad boys.
Frankly, the last thing she needed in her life was another man with more sex appeal than conscience. Heck, the last thing she needed, period, was a man-especially one who tended to suck the air right out of a room and make the backs of her knees sweat.
Hazel cleared her throat loudly, jolting Cassidy from her bizarre thoughts. "Anything you need before you sew up his pretty face, hon?"
"He really should be taken to the hospital," Cassidy said briskly, ignoring the strong smell of hops and thickly lashed eyes watching her every move. "I'll need a lot more supplies than I have with me. Supplies I can only get at the hospital." Especially if the hand wound was serious. Nerve damage was notoriously tricky to repair.
"Not to worry," Hazel rasped cheerfully. "Sheriff keeps all kinds of stuff ready for when the doc's called in unexpectedly. I'll pull Larry off front desk and send him in. You'll have your ER in a jiffy." And before Cassidy could tell the woman a jail cell was hardly a sterile environment, the desk sergeant disappeared, leaving her standing there gaping at empty space and wondering if she'd taken a left turn somewhere into an alternate universe where pint-sized deputies left unsuspecting young doctors alone in jail cells with a violent offender and and him.
Her heart jerked hard against her ribs and a prickle of alarm eased up her spine. The closest thing she had to a weapon was a syringe and, frankly, even tanked, her patient looked like he could disarm her with a flick of one long-fingered hand.
Frowning, she slid a cautious look over her shoulder, trying to decide if she should make a break for it, when his voice enfolded her like rich, sinful chocolate. It took her a moment to realize that she had bigger problems.
"Hey, darlin'," he drawled, "wha's a nice girl like you doin' in a place like this?"
You have got to be kidding me.
Ignoring the lazy smile full of lethal charm, Cassidy sent him a sharp assessing look and wondered if his head injury was worse than it appeared. According to gossip, Major Hotstuff-her staff's name for him, not hers-was smooth as hundred-year-old bourbon and just as potent. That line had been about as smooth as a nerd in a room full of cheerleaders.
Opening her mouth to tell him that she'd heard more original pickup lines from paralytic drunks and whacked-out druggies, Cassidy's gaze locked with his and she was abruptly sucked into molten eyes filled with humor and sharp intelligence. Whether it was a trick of the light or the leashed power in his big, hard body, she was left with the weirdest impression that he wasn't nearly as drunk as he seemed, which was darned confusing, since he smelled like a brewery on a hot day.
This close she could clearly make out the dark ring encircling those unusual irises, and with the light striking his eyes from the overhead fixture, the tiny amber flecks scattered in the topaz made them appear almost gold. Like a sleek, silent jaguar.