Gabriel Donovan knew Macy O'James was trouble the minute she rolled into town.
Hell, he knew it before she even hit the city limits. He and Johnny Angelini were sitting in Johnny's police cruiser out near the county line, shooting the bull and discussing ways to improve workplace efficiency, when he had his first Macy O'James sighting.
Not that he knew it was her at that moment. Despite old Sheriff Baxter's objection to what he considered the newfangled notion of interdepartmental information sharing between Johnny, Sugarville's sole deputy, and Gabe, the town's fire chief, the two men liked putting their heads together every now and then to talk out problems they felt had crossover potential. And that particular hot July afternoon, Gabe had just finished recounting why he thought Johnny should check out a ramshackle trailer out near Leavenston that he suspected might be a meth lab, when a candy-apple-red, drop-top Corvette roared by, trailing screaming rock and roll in its wake.
The two men exchanged a look. "Not going that much above the limit," Gabe commented laconically.
"True." Johnny nodded. "Ten over hardly seems worth the time to write up a ticket."
"That was my thought."
"Still," Johnny said. "Hot car, hotter driver, man. Blonde. Could be my future bride."
"There is that," he agreed, although how his friend could state the driver's hair color, much less her hot-ness factor, from the one quick glimpse they'd gotten as she'd blown past was beyond him. He didn't, however, doubt it was true. Johnny had eyes like a raptor when it came to the female portion of the human race.
The deputy scratched a thumbnail across his jaw. " And it is a hot day. Be a real mess if Myerson chose now to let his cows cross the road."
"Little car, big cattle," he granted.
"My civic duty to do my job. It's not like they pay me the big bucks for sitting under the trees. So." He raised an eyebrow. "You in?"
Gabe considered. Common sense dictated he get out of the cruiser, get back in his rig and go about his business. He had no real reason or even desire to check out Johnny's "future bride." Beyond the fact he was currently dating a nice woman, he was nowhere close to being the hound with the babes that Johnny was.
On the other hand, it was pretty much the male code not to let your friends have too much fun if there was any chance you could throw a wrench in their good times. "S'pose I better," he said dryly. "When she files the sexual harassment suit, she's gonna need a witness."
Grinning, the deputy started up the Ford Ranger. He eased the cruiser out from beneath a stand of Douglas firs and alders that had done a decent job of shielding their cars from passing traffic, bumped over the uneven turf and onto the highway, then hit the siren at the same time he punched the gas.
They caught up with the Corvette moments later and watched as it first slowed, then pulled to the side of the road. The blaring music cut off midnote.
Two suitcases sticking up from behind the car seats blocked the driver from view. But her door opened in the sudden silence and a long, bare leg appeared, a blue peep-toed, platform-soled, Cuban-heel-shod foot stretching for the ground.
"You can wait here," Johnny said, reaching for the door handle. "This is clearly a job for a trained professional."
Gabe snorted. "Not a chance. What kind of bud would I be if I didn't have your back? " Climbing from the cruiser, he looked at Johnny over its top. "For all we know, the woman's armed and dangerous."
"Yeah, I'm worried about that. Might have to pat her down for weapons."
That would be the day. Johnny loved flirting up females, but he also had an appreciation and bedrock respect for them. Besides, he wasn't the type to abuse his authority any more than Gabe was.
By the time he'd cleared the hood, the woman had eased out of the low-slung car and risen to stand hip-shot on the highway beside it. She relaxed her rump back against the driver-side door as she watched them approach, the heels of her hands braced on either side of her hips.
"Holy shit," he muttered, because she looked for all the world like one of those World War II pinup girls, dressed as she was in a white sailor shirt trimmed in blue, those retro shoes and even more retro little blue tap pants that showcased yard-long legs.
Hell, she was even wearing a white sailor cap, its wide turned-up brim tilted rakishly off-kilter atop a froth of curls that clung in wisps to its brim and her cheekbones.
And sure enough, she was a blonde. Shooting his friend a sideways glance, he shook his head. "I don't know how you do it, man."
"It's a gift," Johnny said over his shoulder as Gabe stopped and leaned against the cruiser's hood. Continuing to the Corvette, the deputy raised his voice to address its driver, saying easily, "Hey, sailor. New in town?"
"No newer than you, Angelini," the woman replied in a low, husky voice that ruffled Gabe's nerve endings. "Considering you and I moved here around the same time." Her shoulder hitched lazily. "'Course, I've moved on, while you…well, here you still are."
Her gaze cut to Gabe and she gave him a leisurely up-and-down examination that, to his disgust, elicited a down-and-dirty level of sexual awareness he thought he'd left in the dust long ago. "I'd say the honor of new in town probably goes to your friend there."
Johnny came to attention. "Macy?" he said incredulously. "Macy O'James?"
Hearing the name, Gabe's own interest was piqued, and he gave the woman a closer inspection. They'd never met, but he'd sure as hell heard of her. Macy O'James, Sugarville's own wild child, heartbreaker— and ultimate pariah. From his first day in this little eastern Washington prairie town, he'd been inundated with tales of Macy, a girl whose morals were no better than they should be and who had left a trail of wreckage in her wake when she'd blown town for L.A., where she'd starred in a series of music videos. Steamy videos, it was always amended. Depending on who was relating a story to Gabe, she was Sugar-ville's version of Pamela Anderson/Carmen Electra/Paris Hilton. Except—and this was always grudgingly admitted—Macy mostly kept her clothes on.
All of which he had supposed was marginally titillating. It was a helluva lot more so now. Because, looking at her lounging provocatively against her red convertible, the sun shining on the creamy expanse of those long legs and limning the curves of pink lips that were currently crooked in a sardonic smile, it was easy to understand the town's preoccupation with her exploits. Once upon a time, he, too, had allowed girls like her—sexual girls with magnetism to spare, too pretty and knowing for their own good—to consume too many of his waking hours.
Well, hey, that was then. This was now. No skin off his ass what she did. He believed in live and let live, in allowing people to be who and what they were. While he had a self-acknowledged issue or two with good-time girls, having been, loosely speaking, raised by one, he'd do his best to accord O'James the same courtesy he'd show anyone else.
Settling more firmly against the hood, he crossed his arms over his chest, watching as she gave his friend a sultry smile.
"Hello, Johnny," she murmured to the deputy. "Long time no see." She raised a slender brow. "You planning on writing me a ticket for going a few miles over the speed limit?"
Her tone was negligent, but even as Johnny appeared to consider the question, the hint of dare-ya attitude beneath her casualness rubbed at Gabe's edges, abrading the Zen calm he prided himself on. The realization was surprising, and more than a little annoying. Yet even so, he couldn't stop himself from watching her.
As if sensing it, she turned to him and slowly slid her sunglasses down her slender nose. Her eyes were big and green. Or possibly hazel; it was hard to tell for sure with the sun hitting her from that angle.
Whatever the color, they were set for stun when she trained them on him. And it bugged the bejesusout of him that if he were any other man, he'd find the ploy's effectiveness factor off the charts.
"Well, you're certainly taking in the scenery," she said. "Here. Let me give you the nickel tour." And, her elbows bent close to her waist and slender-fingered hands held palms up in the air, she spread her arms and slowly pivoted to display first the view from the left, then the back, then the right.
And they all looked good.
Turning face-front once again, she gazed at him from up under her lashes. "Like the view, sugar?"
He shrugged. "Not bad."
One corner of her mouth curved up. "To say the least."
But inside Macy wasn't smiling. That was the trouble with this burg—you couldn't live down your reputation no matter how long you'd been away or what you had accomplished in your absence.
But she'd had years of practice slapping on an insouciant expression and she did so now as she considered Johnny's sidekick.
My God, he was huge. The guy was six-six if he was an inch and must weigh in at about two-thirty.
Nary an ounce of which was fat. Unexpected heat scalded her veins, and her heartbeat performed a quick pitty-pat. In a knee-jerk attempt to negate the awareness she felt, she consciously bumped up the wattage on her bimbo meter. Slicking her tongue over her bottom lip was inadvertent. But the aren't-you-just-so-big-and-strong look she gave him was definitely deliberate. "And you are…?"
"This is Gabe Donovan, Macy," Johnny said. "Sug-arville's fire chief. Gabe, this is Macy O'James."
"Sugarville's celebrity tramp," she murmured.
Johnny, bless him, winced. While he'd always been hot for anything in skirts back in high school, he'd still been a fairly decent guy.
Fire Chief Donovan, on the other hand, merely gave her a clipped nod as if he wasn't the least bit surprised. And for some reason that stung. For a nanosecond when she had met the guy's intense gray eyes, looked at his big, hard body, she'd felt…some-thing. Something that made losing it in almost the next heartbeat a crying shame. It was clear, however, that whatever-it-had-been had zero chance of going anywhere now that he knew who she was.
But that felt a bit too boo-hoo, I'm-just-a-poor-misunderstood-waif for a woman who had learned young that life was messy, life was unfair, but you sucked it up and dealt with it. Her shoulders squared. Well, guess what, pal? I'm not wild about you, either.
And she wasn't, whether the guy was a big hot number with pretty, cool eyes or no. Not when he'd taken one look at her and embraced the role assigned her by the good people of Sugarville without even bothering to find out if there was any validity to it.
Not when he made her feel like that girl the town loved to hate.
As if, she reminded herself, I give a great big rip. She was what she was. She had no regrets.
But she did know she'd had enough of this. Tilting her chin up, she looked at Johnny. "So," she said. "What's it gonna be? Yes or no on the ticket?"
"I'll give you a pass this time."
"That's my preferred option," she agreed, opening the car door and sliding inside. She started up the car with a roar and slid it into first gear. "See you around, boys."
And without sparing either man another glance, she eased her Corvette off the shoulder and headed down the road toward home.
"Love the getup," Macy's cousin Janna commented dryly. "But I can't believe you wore it all the way from wherever you spent last night."
Macy paused, glancing from the closet where she was unpacking to her cousin, who sat in a chintz chair in the study of their family's boardinghouse. Her leg was encased in plaster from knee to crotch, a pair of crutches propped within easy reach.
"Medford," she replied, naming the Oregon town six hours away. "And please. Of course I didn't wear it the entire way. Do I look crazy to you?"
"That's probably not the question you wanna ask when you're wearing the wet-dream version of a sailor suit."
Macy grinned. "Let me rephrase it then. Have you ever known me to be a martyr? No, you haven't," she hastily asserted when she saw her cousin open her mouth and just knew it was to bring up That Night.
But she wasn't going there—it had all happened too long ago to rehash at this late date. "I changed in Wenatchee, baby.