Jinx Malone didn’t expect her first story as publisher of The Hill Country Herald to be a murder. She thought moving from New York to Rowan Country would mean an end to hearing those kinds of calls on the police scanner. The story also puts her up close and personal with the know-it-all new sheriff in town—a man who has more of an effect on her than she’d ever admit to.
Rowan Country was supposed to be a quieter job where Sheriff Dillon Cross could get over a bad case of burnout. But after only a few weeks on the job, someone finds a dead body in a ditch, and Dillon is butting heads with the sexy local reporter.
They get on like two angry hornets trapped in an upturned glass, but soon it’s more than heated barbs they’re exchanging. Of course, their new beginning could be overrun with past mistakes coming back to haunt them both.
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Why in hell did I ever agree to do this? Am I out of my mind?
Jinx Malone looked around at the newspaper's small break room, a far cry from what she was used to, asking herself the question for the tenth time since she'd said yes. But she already knew the answer. She needed a major life change, and after ten years she'd come home to Rowan County, Texas to find it. The place she'd been in such a hurry to get away from.
She refilled her coffee mug from the pot and sipped at the bitter brew. The first thing she needed to do as the new publisher and editor of The Hill Country Herald was buy a better brand of coffee. Or maybe get one of those Keurig machines where every cup was brewed fresh. It would probably be the most modern piece of equipment in the building.
She looked up to see Lew Donato standing in the doorway to the tiny break room. What now? she thought. She'd only been here an hour, yet the list of problems already filled two pages of a lined yellow pad.
She reached down and dug up a smile. It wouldn't do to antagonize Lew, who at twenty-three was one of the few full-time members of what was laughingly called a staff.
"What is it, Lew?"
Lew shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans as if he had no place else to put them. Would he always be this nervous talking to her? Sheesh.
"Uh, your father's getting ready to leave and he wanted to see you first."
Of course. Dennis Malone was handing over the reins and getting the hell out of Dodge.
Jinx sighed. Well, she'd asked for it, right? Although at the moment she'd forgotten why. Carrying her mug carefully so she didn't spill any, she made her way through the big open space where the work desks were set up and into her father's office, a glassed-in cubicle in a corner of the area. He rose from his chair and waved as she walked toward him.
"All yours." He grinned as he dangled a key ring in front of her.
Jinx groaned. "Maybe I should have looked before I leaped here. I didn't know you and Mom were going to beat feet out of town the day I took over."
The man had been the owner, managing editor and sometimes chief cook and bottle washer for The Hill Country Herald for the past thirty years. He had taken over the reins from his father and now he was ready to hand them over to her. He and her mother already had their big travel trailer loaded, ready to start out on their fifty-state odyssey.
"Honey, you've been in and out of here since you learned to walk," he told her. "I don't think there's a thing about this place you don't already know."
"I've been gone for ten years," she reminded him. "Things change."
He laughed. "Not around here. You should know that."
"Dennis, aren't you ready yet?" Linda Malone's voice floated across the newsroom. "I'm finished getting the groceries. We need to get home and get this stuff in the camper."
Jinx turned to see her mother waving at her from the doorway.
"Come say goodbye to us, Jinx," Dennis said. "Wish us luck."
"You'll need it," she mumbled under her breath.
The thought of her father driving that monster machine all over the country gave Jinx a huge stomach ache. She followed him to the front where she gave her parents a goodbye hug and kiss.
"Drive carefully," she told them, "and text me every night when you stop so I won't worry."
"We'll be fine, honey." Her mom squeezed her hand. "And I know you'll do just great with the newspaper. Your daddy is so happy you've come home to take it over." She winked. "Me too."
Taking over wasn't exactly why Jinx had come back to town with her tail figuratively between her legs. But she should be grateful for the opportunity. She'd have more to do than just sit around feeling sorry for herself. And how hard could it be to put out a weekly newspaper? After all the years in New York as a reporter, she knew the mechanics and she sure didn't think she'd have to worry about any late-breaking news around here. Of either the personal or professional kind.
As she followed her parents out the front door her heel caught on the metal threshold and she tipped forward.
"Careful." Dennis caught her by the elbow. "Darlin', you've been in New York for too long." He dropped his gaze to her high heels, frowning. "You need to put those stilts away or you'll break your fool neck. Around here women wear stilts in court or on a date, not to work."
"She grimaced. "And still chauvinistic too, I see."
"Around here we come to work in jeans and boots." He grinned. "What about the ones you dug out of your closet?"
She made a face. "They're older than dirt and look like it. But don't worry, Daddy. I'll take care of it first thing." The heels not only gave her much needed extra height but were also part of her professional persona. She had to keep reminding herself though, that what was professional in New York wouldn't work here. Except, of course, for special occasions. "You all go on now. Get on the road."
She stood on the sidewalk, watching as they pulled away, her emotions a swirling mixture. One the one hand, she was glad they had the opportunity to do what they wanted. On the other, she had just returned home and had hoped to have more time with them.
Suck it up, kiddo. Be happy for them and get your own life on track.
Inside, she nodded to Sheila Bradbury, who was back at the front counter. The woman was the general everything in the office — receptionist, secretary, writer of obits and classifieds and anything else that fell on her desk. She was the lynchpin that held the newspaper together, and Jinx planned to take full advantage of her. She wound through the desks to her dad's office — no, her office — and dropped into the chair her father had occupied for years. Staring at the screensaver on her computer, she wondered if she was out of her mind.
No one had ever been able to understand why she took off for New York as soon as she graduated college. But the printers ink in her blood had told her that was where the action was. Her road to fame and glory. And for a while, after cutting her teeth on neighborhood newspapers and small magazines, it had been. She'd finally gotten a job with one of the top wire services, her life filled with deadlines and Max.
Oh, yeah. Max. Gorgeous Max. Hot-shot sports reporter. Darling of the sports world and of many, many women. Several of them after she and Max were married. And in their bed. The worst part was he'd become so enamored of himself he didn't even understand why she was so upset. He'd argued with her about the divorce right up until the day she'd bid him adios, had a truck pick up all her belongings while he was out and flown to Nevada. Six weeks there in a motel to establish residence and she had her divorce. And Max was out of her life for good.
She figured he was pretty busy with his harem since he'd never bothered to track her down after that. Good riddance. But the whole ugly episode had dealt a blow to her self-esteem and sent her running from the New York high life to the quiet life of the Texas Hill Country. Sanctuary that, she told herself, she badly needed. But now she had to decide what to do with the rest of her life. Taking over the newspaper would work for now, but she couldn't see herself doing it forever. She just didn't see what she'd be doing after that.
Pushing those thoughts aside, she turned to her computer and was about to pull up the next week's schedule when a familiar voice made her look up. Amy Stark Montgomery stood in her doorway, grinning at her.
"Jinx!" The petite brunette threw her arms around her in a big hug. "I heard you were back, but you've been hiding in that big old house of your parents'. What's up with that?"
Jinx hugged her back. Amy had been two years behind her in school but in a county where one high school served everyone the age lines became blurred. Although the two of them had never been close friends they'd been friendly. For a while Jinx had even had a crush on Amy's older brother Matt.
"Hi, Amy." She studied the radiant younger woman. "I have to say marriage agrees with you."
"You bet." Amy flashed her dimples. "Wait until you meet my hunk." Then her face sobered. "I wanted to call you, but your mother passed the word you really wanted some time to yourself. You doing okay?"
Jinx shrugged. "As well as someone who found her husband in the sack testing the new king-sized marriage bed with not one but two other women."
"Oh, honey." Amy put her hand on Jinx's arm. "I am so sorry."
Jinx found a smile from somewhere. "As they say — whoever they are — this too shall pass. Got time to come in for a cup of coffee?"
Amy glanced past her at the entrance to the building. "I heard you were going to take over the paper for your dad. That's great. It's all he could talk about."
Jinx sighed. "Yeah, well, it will keep me busy and that's what I need. For now. I don't want to spend any more time thinking about the bastard than I have to. So, coffee?"
"I wish." Amy checked her watch. "I have a committee meeting for the Cattleman's Association in fifteen. But soon? In fact, why don't you come out for dinner? Like tonight?"
"I'll probably be working late today, making sure I know what I'm doing. But can I have a rain check?"
"How about this weekend? Saturday. We'll grill some steaks. I'll invite Reenie and Matt too. You haven't met my sister-in-law but you'll love her."
An evening out when Max and his sins wouldn't be the topic of conversation? How could she resist?
"Sounds good. I'll bring dessert."
"Let me give you the directions to our place." Amy reached into her big purse to pull out some paper. "I'm dying for you to see the ranch and meet my hunky husband."
Jinx held up her hand. "I've got it. One of the things Dad did was give me a map of the county with all the important places marked. Yours is one of them."
Amy laughed. "Figures. Okay. Seven sound good to you?"
"I'll be there."
She watched Amy hurry off down the street then headed back inside.
Lew was sitting at his desk, working diligently at his computer. Two of the other desks were occupied by stringers, freelance reporters who were paid by the column inch. Thank God, this week's edition would run in the morning and be bundled for Friday delivery. That gave her until next Wednesday to get the first edition ready all on her own. She'd have time to really dig in and get a sense of everything.
But before she buckled down to work she really had to do something about getting decent coffee in the place.
Dillon Cross signed off on the latest paperwork in front of him and tossed it into the wooden box on his desk. Terrie Molina, his secretary, would fetch it after a while and finish processing it. Leaning back in his chair, he placed his booted feet on his desk and crossed his hands behind his neck. Through the open door to his office, he could see the activity in the bullpen. Two deputies were filing reports. Cheryl, his dispatcher, was on her headset with someone. Another deputy was just coming in from the break room with coffee. His entire staff as sheriff of the county was four office employees and twenty deputies. For a county the size of this one that was more than enough.
This was a far cry from his last job as a homicide lieutenant in San Antonio. The SAPD was ten times this size because it had a far greater population to serve. He'd worked damn long hours, seen the worst side of humanity and had a scar on his thigh to show for it. He rubbed the area automatically, still remembering the sharp bite of the bullets, the overwhelming pain and the tremendous discipline it took to still take down the shooter before he collapsed.
He'd thought at first he might go back to the department, even on limited duty. He sure wasn't ready to take disability retirement. But between the shooting and the shock of his almost-fiancÃ©e's deception, he'd decided he'd had enough of San Antonio. Maybe of any big city. When his boss had told him about the opening here and offered to give him a recommendation, he'd decided it was a sign to make a change.
The pace of life here was slower. Much more enjoyable. In two years he'd have to stand for election, but according to Matt Stark there weren't a lot of people waiting in line for the job. Matt had been one of three people who'd interviewed him when he applied and they'd taken an instant liking to each other. In fact, Matt was the only person besides his old boss who knew the entire story of what had happened in San Antonio. He planned to keep it that way. Burying the memory was the only way to deal with it.
Little by little, he made himself a part of the community. He'd bought a small house at the edge of town, one with a couple of acres where he could keep a horse if he ever tried to ride again.
Gotta have a horse when you work in horse country.
He was actually looking forward to it. Not much happened around here except for some malicious mischief, a few speeders and maybe unlawful discharge of firearms. The pace here was slow enough that he could enjoy life a little. That had been one of the biggest draws when he'd interviewed for the job. If he ever thought about changing his mind, the constant ache in his thigh was enough to dissuade him.
"Glad to see you working so hard."
Dillon grinned at Matt Stark standing in the doorway to the office.
"Your tax dollars at work, my friend."
Matt laughed and dropped into one of the uncomfortable chairs in front of the desk. "Maybe we can drum up a little more crime in the county."
Dillon sat up in his chair and leaned forward. "Actually, what we've got here is just fine with me, thank you very much."
"Not missing the tempo of the big city? All those criminals you had to keep chasing?"
Dillon rubbed his thigh. "Nope. Not missing the gun battles either."
Matt's face sobered. "No, I don't imagine you are. How's the leg, anyway?"
"Still reminding me that I made the right move coming here. And thanks for your help with that, by the way."
Matt shrugged. "Just wanted the best man for the job."
When the previous sheriff had a heart attack and died literally at his desk, the county had advertised for a replacement. Matt had headed up the interview committee and convinced the others that Dillon Cross and Rowan County were a good fit for each other. The two men had become friends, a situation that continued to ease Dillon's way into the community.
"Not that I don't appreciate the visit," Dillon said, "but did you drop by to shoot the breeze or do you have some crime you need to report? He chuckled. "Cattle rustling, maybe?"
Matt owned one of the biggest ranches in the county. His sister had been an active partner until her recent marriage. Now she served as ranch manager for the spread she and her new husband Buck Montgomery owned.
"Actually, I'm here with an invitation from my sister to come to her ranch for dinner Saturday night. Reenie and I will be there, of course. Nothing fancy. Just cold beer and steaks on the grill."
"I hate to horn in on a family meal."
"You aren't. Like I said, just a casual evening. Give you a chance to talk to someone besides yourself." He grinned. "But I warn you, Reenie will be eying you as a prospect for the Cattleman's Ball, trying to decide which of her friends she wants to match you up with."
Dillon laughed again. "Tell her to do her best. I'm single and glad to stay that way."
His relationship had blown up when he got shot, his fiancÃ©e deciding she couldn't take the strain of being married to a lawman after all. He was blessedly single now and determined to stay that way.
After Matt left, he went back to studying a report on his computer, trying to absorb the details, until Cheryl called to him from her dispatch station.
"Hot call, Sheriff. Neil Guthrie says he's got a body on State Road 45 about four miles out of town."
Dillon stood up so fast he nearly knocked over his chair. "A dead body? In Rowan County?" he looked at Matt. "You didn't tell me you had real crime here."
"We don't, usually."
"He says the body's naked as a baby," Cheryl added.
"A naked body?" Matt groaned. "That ought to be interesting. I'd better get out of your hair so you can get going on it."
"Does he know who it is?" Dillon asked.
"Says it's such a mess he can't tell. Someone blew his face off with a shotgun."
He thought he'd left all that behind.
Matt lifted his eyebrows. "Damn. We haven't had something like that in as long as I can remember. You'd better get to it."
"Tell him I'm on my way," Dillon called to the dispatcher. He picked up the keys to his county-owned SUV and rounded the desk. "And get someone else out there with him to help contain the scene."
"Neil said Greg Benson was patrolling not too far away and is already headed there."
"Good." He opened the door of one of the interview rooms where his forensics officer, Lieutenant Ric Nevada, was reviewing some files. "Hey, Ric. We've actually got a crime that can use your skills. A body on State Road 45. A naked one at that."
Ric looked up, an expression of disbelief crossing his face. "No kidding? Let me blow the dust off my kit and get it there."
Excerpted from "Stripped Naked"
Copyright © 2013 Desiree Holt.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Stripped Naked is another fantastic read by the talented Desiree Holt. Ms Holt has once again delivered an awesome story loaded with amazing characters. This is a fairly quick read, perfect for those with limited time for reading. Jinx has left her husband, her job and New York behind and returned home to Rowan County to take over her family newspaper. Dillon left his job as homicide lieutenant for San Antonio PD after being shot and is now the sheriff of Rowan County. Their story is loaded with drama, humor and smokin' hot sex. This is a fun read and I loved every page. I can't wait to read my next book by Desiree Holt. Stripped Naked is book 3 of the Naked Cowboys Series but can be read as a standalone. This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger.
Would kids with serious issues read this? Mom- BUSTED!!!!!!!!!!!!
This iss horrible.
Heyyy im back
Jinx Malone takes over as the Publisher of The Hill Country Herald. Before moving back, her life in New York had been pretty disastrous. So now it is time to put that all behind her and start fresh. Dillon Cross was ready for a change so he moved to the quit Rowan County and became the new sheriff. After a horrible relationship with a hag of a reporter and then a gunshot wound he is ready for some normalcy. Wait…dead bodies in ditches aren’t normal! Rowan County is usually a pretty laid back town with NOTHING going on. Well that is all about to change when naked, dead body shows up in a ditch. This is when our lovely publisher and sheriff meet and things get crazy! If you are looking for some suspense and some steamy romance you def want to check this book out! I love Desiree’s books and she def did a fabulous job on this one! Great series!
Yes she walks in her hands cuffed behide her back
Good i un cuff u and tell you to go to crp res three and pick pumkins and sell the big ones
Kyle where are you?
Swings hair and smiles