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Scarlet Rose glanced in the rearview mirror at the lights flashing behind her. Damn. Who got pulled over for going 75 mph in a 65-mph zone? Wasn't there a ten-mile cushion or something? Obviously not in Texas.
The cop was taking his time emerging from the depths of the silver cruiser, so Scarlet gave her lips another swipe of the Elizabeth Arden ruby-red lip gloss resting in the cup holder. After all, her lips were her greatest weapon. Overly large and plump, they had their own fan page on Facebook. She'd always thought the attention given to them a little absurd, but if she had to use them to get out of a ticket, then she would.
After all, who in his right mind would give the vampy Veronica Collins a speeding ticket? Her luxurious red locks, gleaming white teeth and kick-ass curves clad in the trademark catsuit inspired kinky fantasies for those who followed the new drama Deep Shadows, which had debuted six months ago to a rabid fan following. Currently, Scarlet was on hiatus, so she looked nothing like the naughty vampire Veronica. Just plain ol' Scarlet Rose in faded jeans and a ponytail.
But she did have those lips.
She slumped against the leather seat and watched in her side mirror as the cruiser's door opened and a police officer climbed out.
He was tall with a military haircut and wore mirrored sunglasses. Good body. Stiff demeanor. She had a fifty-fifty chance of getting out of this one.
Her director's voice popped into her head.
Veronica will smile at the officer, feigning innocence. Camera One, narrow to capture the gleam in Veronica's eyes as she knowingly plays with the unsuspecting cop.
Scarlet turned and delivered a smile. "Hello there, officer. Is there a problem?"
She pulled the end of her ponytail forward so it brushed her bared collarbone while curling her shoulders forward, smooshing her boobs so the cop had a nice vista of flesh to contemplate. She couldn't tell if it worked or not. His gaze could have been on her girls or on the steering wheel. Damned mirrored sunglasses.
"Yes, we have a problem," he said, his voice nice and melodious, like an announcer on a game show. It was definitely cultured. No Podunk, Texas accent. He wasn't from Oak Stand. "You were doing seventy-eight in a sixty-five zone, and you have a brake light out."
She smiled again before giving him a flirtatious shrug. "Surely I wasn't going that fast?"
His jaw tightened. It was a nice jaw. Cleanly shaven and tanned. He had a good mouth, too. Straight lips with a slightly sensuous curve to the bottom lip. It was the kind of mouth a girl wanted to nibble into a smile. Total challenge.
But he didn't smile. "Surely you were."
"Sorry. Look, I'm trying to get to my sister's house before she runs off with some horrible, horrible guy. No one is answering the phone, and I'm worried, you know? I guess I should have had my mind on the road, but"
"That doesn't explain the brake light," he said.
Scarlet tamped down the annoyance at being interrupted. Syrupy sweetness worked on hard-asses like this. At least it usually did. "I bought this car three weeks ago and had everything inspected. The light must have burned out without my knowledge. I'll get it replaced tomorrow. Promise."
He didn't move a muscle. She could tell he stared hard at her, even though there was mirrored glass between his gaze and hers. Seconds ticked by. Had she worked it hard enough to get out of a ticket?
"Are you asking me to overlook a violation?"
Oops. Maybe not. "Of course not. No."
"Because that's what it sounds like."
Scarlet tossed her flirting ploy aside and straightened. "I don't always agree with the laws you enforce, but I would never ask you to compromise yourself."
She gave him the schoolmarm stare she'd perfected in her off-off Broadway debut of Mrs. Tingle's Jingles. He didn't wiggle the way he was supposed to. He merely stood, straighter and taller.
"Just give me the ticket so I can get on with my day. I've got a wedding to stop."
At this, the officer's mouth drew into a line. No more semimocking curve. "What wedding?"
Scarlet gave him a New Yorker smilekind of a smart-ass smirk. "Now, that, Officer" she looked at his nameplate "Hinton, is none of your business, is it?"
Officer Adam Hinton jabbed a finger toward the city-limit sign that sat behind her black BMW convertible. "This is my town. Everything in it is my business."
Scarlet pulled on the viperous persona of Veronica as easily as she shrugged into a jacket. "Now, that's where I'm thinking you're wrong, Officer Hinton."
Don't make me bite you, dude.
She loved Veronica, the alter ego she sometimes donned merely because the vampire queen could control everything about her world. So what if it were pretend? Playing the dangerous, sultry vampire allowed her to feel powerful. She showed him her teeth for good measure. It was a hard smile, sans fangs, designed to put him in his place.
"Can I have your license and registration please?"
Okay. So she had no effect on him. Fine. He probably squeaked when he walked. Even his damn badge was perfectly lined up adjacent to the button on his uniform shirt. He probably flossed three times a day and took a multivitamin. Jogged the same path, ate the same foods and cut his lawn with methodical precision.
She tugged her wallet from the oversize purse, flipped it open and pulled out the license she'd obtained last month. Her very first driver's license procured specially for the trip to Texas. As a New Yorker, she'd never learned to drive. Subways and cabs had worked fine.
She handed her license over without a smile. "Here you go."
"Registration?" he asked, taking the hard plastic license from her hand.
She leaned over, popped open the glove box and rooted around. Stefan had said he left everything she'd need in there. A string of condoms slithered to the floorboard along with a pack of cigarettes, a package of Zingers and a small airport bottle of rum. Nice. Her roommate had a weird-ass sense of humor. Finally she located a zippered owner's manual and found the registration inside, along with a proof of insurance. The insurance card had her name on it. Stefan must have placed it inside for her. Okay, she'd let him live.
"Here. Everything should be inside." She jabbed the manual at the police officer. Then she dismissed him, flipping down the visor mirror and checking her bangs, for no other reason than it pleased her to shut him out.
The sun pressed on her shoulders. The end of August was hotter than hell in East Texas, but it was her first road trip so she'd kept the top down most of the way along the East Coast and hadn't put it up on her trek across the South. She'd stopped to see an old friend in Atlanta, putting her behind schedule in getting to Oak Stand. She'd gotten even with the city-limit sign when Officer Tight Ass had pulled her over.
She was tired, too warm and not feeling friendly at all. Texas hadn't been on her list of vacation destinations, but saving her sister, Rayne, from the ridiculous fascination she had for Brent Hamilton topped lounging on the beach in France. Well, almost topped it.
Scarlet's bangs looked fine, so she snapped the mirror shut and tried to look bored as the lean cop scribbled stuff onto his little notepad.
"Have you been drinking this afternoon?" His voice seemed monotone. Automated.
Crap. The stupid minibottle of rum.
"Of course not."
"Would you mind stepping from your car, ma'am?"
"Actually, I would mind. Why do you need me to get out of the car if you're merely giving me a speeding ticket?" She studied the teal polish on her fingernails. It was very divalike behaviorsomething she never did. But at this point, she knew it aggravated Officer Hinton. So it felt good.
"Out of the car," he said, swinging the door open. "Step around to the back of the vehicle, place your hands on the trunk and wait. Please."
He'd nearly choked on the last word. She'd ticked the cop off. Might not have been the smartest move, but that was Scarlet's modus operandireact, then regret. A car passed by on the highway, and she caught a glimpse of a curious driver. She waved.
"What an excellent way to make an entrance," she said, climbing from the car. She was glad she'd left her flip-flops at her friend's house, because the mile-high wedges she wore boosted her five-foot-eight frame by four inches and made her feel more powerful. It brought her eye level with the cop, who watched as she unfurled from the car.
Her tank top had tiny jewels embedded around the low neck and hugged her torso all the way down to the tight, ripped jeans. Aside from her plump lips, her body was her trademark. Scarlet had kicking curves that looked so good in a bodysuit they'd given her the part of Veronica before she even read for it. Not really. They'd made her read to make sure she could act. But still, she felt as if she'd been born for the role of Collinstown's audacious vampire.
Her director's voice came back.
Stroll to the rear of the car. Make sure it's a do-me walk. Then place your hands on the trunk, feet apart, and arch your back. Slowly smile at your prey.
Scarlet stretched like a cat, then moved into position. She purposely stood far away so the pose she struck looked seductive. She didn't know why she did it, other than she got perverse satisfaction in needling Officer Hinton. It was rapidly becoming her new favorite game to play.
Piss Off Hinton. Coming to stores near you. Oops, I dropped my license in the vodka. Is that a nightstick in your pocket or are you happy to see me? Make Officer Hinton crack, and you can win all the marbles!
He cleared his throat, snapping her out of the board-game commercial playing in her head. "Is this all the alcohol you have in the car?"
"Yes. And I have to say, your detective skills are lacking. That little bottle hasn't been opened yet."
Officer Hinton stared at her a good two minutes before approaching. "I'm doing my job, ma'am. Now, I'm going to briefly pat you down, Miss Rose."
"No dinner first?" she said as she stared at the back of her bucket seat and pretended she got pulled over and frisked all the time. No big deal that a cop was about to run his hands all over her on the side of the road. She braced herself for his touch.
His hands moved beneath her arms, over her ribs, down her waist and hips to her thighs. Quickly, his hand slid inside her knee and moved down to her calves. It was quick, methodical and professional. No reason for any match to be struck. Nevertheless, Scarlet felt strange. Little pulses erupted in her belly. It shocked her. She hadn't felt even a nudge of sexual interest since John. It made her want to get away from this small-town cop. Made her want to hide her emotions. Protect herself. Pretend she felt nothing.
The whole thing was crazy.
"Turn toward me, please."
He'd taken off his sunglasses and it was as if a mask had been removed. He was damn gorgeous in a Robert Redford/Clint Eastwood sort of way. His eyes searched hers, presumably for signs she'd been swigging cough syrup. But the perusal didn't feel accusatory. It felt raw. As though he was peering inside her soul. Inside to where her self-doubt hid along with her insecurities.
She pushed her sweaty bangs back and pretended she was on set.
Now Veronica portrays impatience. She needs to get rid of the cop. She can't allow the cop to see who she really is.
But it didn't work.
His green eyes were clear and searching. They unnerved, and she wanted to escape them.
"See? I haven't been drinking anything other than a Diet Coke." She looked down at the sunglasses she held. She should put them on. Protection from his all-knowing eyes.
"I'll be the judge of that," he said, sliding his hand under her chin and tipping her face so her gaze was forced to meet his. His touch sizzled. Like, seriously scorched her bare skin. He jerked his hand away and a frisson of unease crept into his eyes.
He wasn't supposed to touch her outside of the initial frisk. She knew that. Or she thought she knew it. But it had seriously felt sexy. Almost like a caress.
Veronica will not react to the cop's touch. She must retain control. Even if she wishes to slide her hands up his shoulders, even if she wishes to taste the mouth of the man who could tame her, who could
Please. Who got hot and bothered by a cop on the side of the road in some backwater town?
She had to be suffering from heatstroke. Or low blood sugar. Anything to explain her reaction to Mr. Tall Blond Jackass.
She needed him to give her the damn ticket so she could head toward Aunt Frances's bed-and-breakfast. Away from whatever strange thing pulsed between her and this cop. She'd driven too long without sleep and had to be partially delirious from road tripping.
"Okay, I've seen enough drunks to tell you're clean. Wait here." Officer Hinton spun on one motorcycle boot and stalked toward his cruiser. She was accustomed to following direction. Just not that of a pompous cop, so she sidled toward the open door of her car and sank onto the leather seat she'd abandoned moments before. She jabbed her sunglasses on her nose and tapped her fingernails against the steering wheel in an impatient manner.
She heard him approach. Heard the crunch of gravel beneath the boots. Heard the sound of a ticket being torn from the pad he'd carried.
"Here you go. Please note the ticket must be paid by the date on the bottom. There is also a court date listed if you wish to contest the citation."
He handed it to her. No flourish. Matter-of-fact.
"Slow down and be safe."
She took the ticket, slammed the door and cranked the engine of the secondhand-but-still-gorgeous convertible BMW. She also tugged the seat belt across her chest and clicked it. She didn't need another ticket, thank you very much. But the devil inside her wouldn't allow her to slink away like a meek mouse. No, the devil inside her bade her to crumple the ticket and toss it onto the floorboard.
The devil inside her usually won.
She flashed a blinding smile at Officer Adam Hinton as she pitched the wadded ticket toward the fast-food sack that held gum wrappers and gas receipts, along with the remains of her noon meal. "Thanks for the welcome home."