Praise for Sultry with a Twist:
"Hilarious, heartwarming, sexy, and real-you'll fall in love, guaranteed!"-Lori Foster
"Witty and fun, warm and endearing, Macy Beckett will tug on your heartstrings!"-Carly Phillips
Feeling the Heat
How do you stay under the sheriff's radar in a town that prides itself on knowing everyone's business? Leah's not sure it's possible, but she's determined to avoid Colton Bea for as long as she can. Seeing him again would be too heartbreaking-and she knows from experience his bone-melting kisses are way too tempting.
Colt still hasn't forgiven Leah for her sudden disappearing act ten years ago. He may no longer be the hellion he was in high school, but he's still willing to play dirty to get what he wants. And he won't let Leah get away again. Armed with chocolate éclairs, a killer smile, and an adorable niece, he will make sure that this time the love of his life has plenty of reasons to stay.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Well, if it ain't Crazy Colt!"
Sheriff Colton Bea pushed to standing and slammed his cruiser door hard enough to rock the front end. Tipping back his Stetson, he glared down his nose at the floppy-eared, gray heifer tethered to a cedar tree an arm's length away. A crisp November breeze stirred the loose hair at the base of Colt's neck, cooling his temper by a few degrees, but doing nothing to disperse the pungent stink of manure. Under any other circumstances, the sight of a prize Brahman wouldn't faze him-not in Sultry Springs, where cattle outnumbered cowboys two to one-but there were a couple problems on this particular morning.
For starters, a clearly intoxicated Tommy Robbins was hell-bent on riding the humpbacked heifer, barefoot, bare-assed, clad in nothing but a pair of leather chaps and a Texas Rangers ball cap. Even more concerning, the location for this impromptu rodeo was the Sack-n-Pay parking lot, right off Main Street.
Colton shook his head. It was too early for this shit.
"Been drinkin', Tommy?" Colt asked out of habit, though the shifting focus in Tommy's red-rimmed gaze said he was "stilldrunk," that three-hour window the morning after a bender when a guy could still blow twice the legal limit. It was a condition Colt had known mighty well back in his younger days.
"Gimme a leg up, will ya?"
Tommy tried hitching an ankle over the Brahman, but the old girl wasn't having it. With a snort of protest, she clopped aside, leaving Tommy hopping on one foot to close the distance while his wedding tackle dangled for all to see.
"Nope," Colt answered.
The heifer took to munching a patch of grass that had pushed through a crack in the asphalt while Tommy freed his leg and stumbled back a few paces. "Man," he whined, "I remember when you used to be fun."
If fun meant reckless, arrogant, and stupid, then yeah, Colt couldn't deny he'd been a whole boatload of fun. At least until a couple of years ago, when the consequences had caught up with him. Now he had neither the time nor the inclination for jackassery.
Squeezing the microphone clipped to his shoulder, Colt radioed, "Sheriff to base. See if you can get-" he scanned the cow's rump until he spotted a faded JD brand "-Jackson Dean to come down to the Sack-n-Pay to fetch a stray heifer." The Dean ranch was three miles outside of town, and Colt wondered how the hell a barefoot inebriate had managed to tow the thing so far.
An outbreak of chortles from behind the Dumpster gave him his answer. He should've known Tommy hadn't managed this alone.
"Out," he ordered. "Now!"
Then, like a parade of dunces, half his old defensive line bumbled into view, five equally pathetic schmucks who'd peaked in high school and now spent their free time getting hammered and rehashing the glory days. If brains were dynamite, Tommy Robbins couldn't blow his nose, and he was the smartest of the bunch. Colt couldn't believe he used to run with these fools. It especially stuck in his craw that he'd let them ruin the best thing that had ever happened to him.
No one held a gun to your head, he criticized inwardly. And that's what cut the deepest. He'd made his own choices, and on stagnant nights when insomnia forced him to lie awake and replay past mistakes, he knew like gospel that he had nobody to blame but himself. Still, he hated running into his old crew-they reminded him of what a moron he'd been.
Plus, they were a bona fide pain in his ass.
But Colt decided to look on the bright side. Once he locked up these yahoos, he wouldn't have to see their ugly mugs for at least two days. "Sheriff to base," he repeated into his mic, letting a smile lift the corners of his mouth. "Tell Horace to bring the van for six drunk-and-disorderlies."
One hour and two cups of coffee later, Colt stood facing a pile of invoices, Post-it notes, and "urgent" phone messages from the mayor-a step up from dealing with drunkards and cow shit, but not by much.
An all-too-familiar set of tingles along his lower back warned him he'd better take a seat before the spasms set in. Only nine o'clock and already his muscles were tighter than a gnat's bunghole. By lunchtime, his spine would be on fire, and he'd wish he hadn't shredded his painkiller prescriptions. But he'd seen firsthand how addictive Oxy was, and when it stopped taking the edge off, folks moved on to harder substances, like heroin.
No, thanks. Despite his surgeon's advice, Colton would make do with ibuprofen and his trusty heating pad. A little suffering never killed anyone, even if his staff did complain that he was a cranky bastard.
Before he had a chance to sit down, two soft knocks sounded from the office door frame, and his secretary, Darla, stepped inside with a bulky black garment draped over one arm.
"Got your new vest," she announced, lifting it for show like one of those babes on The Price Is Right.
Colt groaned. "I hate Kevlar. Makes me all sweaty."
One corner of Darla's ruby-red lips slid into a grin. She'd wanted to get him sweaty for years, and she'd made no secret about it. As far back as Colt could remember, girls had followed him around like bears to honey. Something about his Cherokee complexion and blue, Scots-Irish eyes had made panties disappear. He'd never complained before, but once in a while the attention complicated matters, like with Darla. Everyone knew you didn't dip your pen in company ink.
"Better than dead," she chided. "You know the rule-either put it on or sign the waiver."
Without further protest, he unbuckled his utility belt, then got to work on the buttons of his short-sleeved shirt. Once he shrugged it off, Darla's eyes locked on his chest, tracing the pink keloid scar that puckered the planes of his upper torso and stood in sharp contrast against his russet skin. From there, her gaze moved down past his abdomen and lingered on the bulge beneath his fly. He knew that look.
"I can take it from here," he said firmly.
"Sure, boss." She ran her tongue along her upper teeth, big brown eyes flicking to his and back down to his crotch just as quickly. "Let me know if you change your mind." Then she took the hint and backed out, closing the door behind her.
Colt let out a breath and strapped on his leaden vest. There was a time when he'd never have refused a pair of hot, willing lips and an eager tongue. Girls like Darla-with their bleached hair, stilettos, and big jugs-had turned his head and stiffened his junk every time. He'd gorged himself on cheap sex like a hog at the trough, and pickings had never been slim.
But not anymore.
Easy women made him twitch. No lie. When temptation presented itself, his body and brain conspired against him, issuing painful reminders of Barbara Lee, who'd run him down in her Ford Taurus after a one-night-stand gone wrong. These days, he behaved like a monk, which didn't help his mood any, but at least it'd kept him alive. And truth be told, he didn't really miss the empty encounters, the endless rotation of nameless, faceless women.
Still, it had been an awfully long time. The worst part of his newfound celibacy was that it robbed him of the gift of distraction, forcing him to face demons he'd failed to exorcise over the years. One demon in particular, who was really more of an angel...
"Shit." Colton shook his head hard enough to dislodge his Stetson. He needed to get out of here and blow off some steam. After buttoning up his shirt and refastening his belt, he decided to let the messages wait. The mayor wasn't going anywhere.
He grabbed his keys and sunglasses and ambled past the front desk, calling to Darla, "I'm going on patrol." With a wave, he ignored her reminders of meetings and obligations, continuing out the door into the parking lot.
Already he felt fifty pounds lighter, despite the heavy vest tugging his shoulders. This was where he belonged-out among the people, not shackled to a desk. He slid on his Ray Bans and pulled his long black hair into a ponytail while making his way to the cruiser.
Gripping the car's door frame, he gingerly lowered to the leather seat and then started up his mobile laptop, which took a few tries because Darla had changed the damned password again. Once he'd finally logged in, he pulled onto Main Street and began scanning the area for signs of trouble.
It was a typical Monday, as yawning workers mourned the death of the weekend and shuffled slowly along the sidewalks, lattes in hand. Most waved when he drove by, with only a few exceptions, like Rachel Landry, who shot him the bird. Not very ladylike, especially for a former homecoming queen, but he just smiled and touched the brim of his hat in a sarcastic greeting. She'd hated him since high school, and he couldn't resist needling her.
Through his open window, Colton noticed a couple of business entrances that needed a little reinforcement, their wood doors marred by old break-in attempts. He also noticed that Warren Swain was still driving with expired tags, despite the warning Colt had given him last month. If the irritating SOB thought he'd get another reprieve just because he hunted quail with the mayor, he was dead wrong. Colton slowed his cruiser and reached to flip on the overhead flashing lights when an out-of-state license plate turned his attention to a gleaming, pearly Cadillac Escalade.
Didn't see many of those in Sultry Springs.
"Minnesota," Colt murmured to himself. Someone was a long way from home.
He followed the Escalade away from downtown, trailing two car-lengths behind as he tapped the plate number into his computer. The registrant's name popped up, along with the guy's photo-a middle-aged Latino with a crew cut and a salt-and-pepper beard. Colt leaned forward in his seat and squinted at the driver's slender neck and her white-blond hair. "You sure don't look like Benito Alvarez to me, honey."
Half the time when the driver's description didn't match the registrant, it meant someone was operating on a suspended license. But that wasn't enough to pull her over. He needed just cause.
Which she promptly gave him by making a right turn without signaling.
"Gotcha." Grinning to himself, he turned on his flashing lights and radioed to base, "Bea. Traffic stop, intersection of Main and Route Fifty."
Minnesota pulled onto the shoulder-again, without signaling-and cut the ignition. Through the SUV's expansive side-view mirror, Colt spotted her slim, ivory fingers gripping the steering wheel hard enough to make the leather bleed.
Oh, yeah. This chick had something to hide.
He carefully hoisted himself to standing and approached the Escalade, pushing his Ray Bans higher up the length of his nose. Out of habit, he sniffed the air for the smoky-sweet scent of pot, but noted only the lingering odor of exhaust. A quick glance through the tinted side windows revealed a discarded pretzel bag and an empty bottle of Snapple, nothing out of the ordinary.
Hands on his hips, he glanced at the driver and drawled, "License and registr-" then froze in place with his lips still pursed in R formation. He quit breathing, and his heart may have skipped a few beats. It was hard to tell because all the blood left his head in a rush.
"Hello, Colton." Still facing forward, she handed the documents out the open window, not the least bit surprised to see him.
Was he dreaming? This wouldn't be the first time his subconscious had summoned her, but she was usually naked during those fantasies. He tore off his sunglasses and blinked once. Twice. Three times before he was able to process what his eyes had already told him: Leah was back. After ten excruciating years, she'd finally come home. Still unable to believe it, he snatched her license and ran one trembling finger over the text.
McMahon, Leah Nicole, HT: 5-02 EYES: BLU
It was Texas-issued, dated yesterday with her father's address listed as her residence.
"God damn," he whispered. It really was her. Colton reached out a hand to steady himself but missed the mark and stumbled a few steps, knocking his shin against the running board. The pain didn't even register.
Once he recovered his balance, he barked, "Step out of the car," louder than he'd intended. There was no reason for the command other than his need to see her-all of her. "Please," he added in a softer tone.
He moved to grasp the handle for her but drew back. She probably didn't want his help, not after all the things he'd done. The tight set of her mouth confirmed it. He took two steps back, giving her space to swing open the door and climb down.
One tiny ballet flat whispered against the asphalt, then the other. She pivoted to shut the car door before clasping both hands behind her back and peering up at him beneath long, blond lashes. The little color that existed in her fair skin had drained away, her pulse thumping visibly at the base of her throat as she gnawed on her bottom lip. She'd gazed at him exactly like this the first time he'd kissed her, so nervous she'd trembled in his arms.
Christ, she hadn't changed at all.
Her hair fell in gossamer waves that reached her slim waist and shimmered in the early-morning sunlight. That was the first thing he'd noticed about her all those years ago, her hair. She'd reminded him of a Christmas angel, so radiant she'd stolen his breath. Though, naturally, he'd played it off in an attempt to look cool in front of his idiot friends.
But, oh, how he'd burned for her.
His eyes followed the outside swell of her breasts, the feminine curve of her hips, visible beneath a simple black dress that stopped just above the knee. Her legs looked every bit as smooth as he remembered, like she'd been carved from a block of flawless white marble. When he was seventeen, he'd gazed in wonder at the contrast of those ivory limbs wrapped around his waist. Together they were light and dark, snow and fire, saint and sinner. He might've been a hell-raiser back then, but making love with Leah was pure heaven.
By the time his gaze returned to her soft blue eyes, it occurred to Colt that if he stared at her any harder, he'd sear a hole through her forehead.
So, what now?
He'd had a decade to chew on what he'd done to Leah, to obsess over what he'd say if he ever got a second chance with her. How many nights had he lain awake imagining this very moment? At least a hundred. And now he couldn't manage to choke out a single apology. All he knew was this: he couldn't let her get away again.
Should he arrest her? No, that'd probably do more harm than good, and besides, he didn't have legal cause. Shit. He had to do something-she was waiting. On impulse, he opened his mouth and forced out five words.
"Get back in your car."
Thank goodness Daddy had prepared her for this, because if Leah had rolled into town and come face-to-face with "Crazy Colt" Bea wearing a cop uniform, she would've assumed he was on his way to a bachelorette party. As the entertainment.
But this was no flimsy tear-off costume. Twin patches embroidered on his short sleeves proclaimed him Sultry County Sheriff, displaying three words she'd never before associated with Colton: integrity, courage, valor.
He wore a thick black belt low on his hips, laden with pistol, taser, handcuffs, mace, plus half a dozen other testost-o-gadgets she couldn't identify. A gold star winked at her from above Colt's fickle heart, and she couldn't help noticing that a bulletproof vest strained the brass buttons lining his chest. Its bulk concealed the hard, sinful contours she knew lay beneath-not that she cared about Colt's chest. Or any of his other manly parts, for that matter, like the rounded biceps in her direct line of vision that seemed to have grown in direct proportion with the rest of him. No, she didn't give a fig for those.
Maybe she should just get back in the car like he'd asked.
"Okay." She opened the door and scaled the massive Escalade, trying to sound like someone who hadn't shoved a fake ID beneath the front seat moments earlier. "Is there a problem?"
Instead of replying, he turned on his booted heel and stalked slowly back to his cruiser.
That didn't seem like a good sign.
Ten minutes later, she began to worry.
In an effort to steady her quickening pulse, she unclenched the steering wheel and drew a deep, slow breath. Why was Colton detaining her so long? Did he know what she'd done? Had he sensed it?
No, of course not, no need to act paranoid. It's just that she'd always been a terrible liar, and when she'd stepped onto the street and faced him, it had taken all her willpower not to break down and confess everything.
God, give me strength.
So much for getting through the next month without crossing Colt's path. She hadn't even made it a full twenty-four hours. From now on, she'd have to do a better job of avoiding him, maybe call the county office and learn his schedule, then plan her trips into town when he was off work. She should swing by the library, too, and stock up on books to keep her occupied at home. The only other safe haven in the county was Daddy's church. Colton would never set foot in there-too much risk of spontaneous combustion.
She glanced at him in her rear-view mirror, wondering what was taking so long. He kept opening and closing his trunk, but retrieved nothing new. With her documents in one hand and the other resting on the butt of his pistol, he paced a slow circuit in the middle of the road, not even bothering to glance over his shoulder for oncoming traffic.
With a loud curse, he opened his car door and slid behind the wheel with the exaggerated care of someone in a great deal of pain. Misery was part of Leah's job, and she recognized the grimace distorting Colt's stunning face, his one visible fist clenched so tightly he could squeeze water from a stone.
Daddy had told her about the accident a couple of years ago. No, not accident-attack. Some psycho stalker had run over Colton with her car.
It was clear he needed physical therapy, but that was none of her business. The therapists at Sultry Memorial were every bit as skilled as she was-even more so, since they were accredited. The last thing she needed to do was to get anywhere near Colt's body.
To err was human, to forgive, divine, but to fall for the same shtick twice was just plain stupid. She'd forgiven Colton-had to for her sanity-but that didn't mean she wanted to be friends. Besides, if he had any intentions toward her, she'd bet dollars to doughnuts they weren't friendly in nature. Once a selfish prick, always a selfish prick, pardon her language.
Leah checked her watch. The drug store would open soon, and she needed to pick up her daddy's Lovenox injections so she could regulate his blood coagulation level. Nothing wrecked a brand-new mechanical heart valve faster than a clot. And with Daddy so frail, she didn't like leaving him alone more than a few minutes at a time.
"Hey," she called out the window. "Is this going to take much longer?"
Colton flinched as if he'd forgotten she was there. Then their pseudo-reunion got a whole lot weirder. Without another word, he tugged his car door shut, started his engine, and pulled a u-turn, flinging tiny bits of gravel in his wake as he tore back into town...taking her license and Benny's registration with him.
"Wait!" Leah waved one arm to hail him down, but he made a left on Main Street and sped out of sight. For the next few minutes, she stared at the intersection and waited for him to return.
He never did.
Well, nuts. What was she supposed to do now? Did he expect her to follow? Or keep waiting there? She checked her watch again and then punched the Cadillac's fancy ignition button. To heck with it. She was heading to the drug store. What was he going to do, arrest her? She hadn't done anything wrong.
At least not anything Colton knew of.