Can a feisty four-legged matchmaker help four best friends find the romance of their dreams?
Marney's 9-1-1 emergency help arrives in the form of a rugged, blue-eyed cop. Now she has the perfect bodyguard to keep her safe during those dark, steamy nights...
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About the Author
A one-time legal secretary and director of a charitable foundation, Susan Meier found her bliss when she became a full-time novelist. She's visited ski lodges and candy factories for "research" and works in her pajamas. But the real joy of her job is creating stories about women for women. In her over 50 published novels, she tackles issues like infertility, losing a child and becoming widowed with sensitivity and humor. One of eleven children, Susan is married with three of her own kids and two well-fed cats.
Read an Excerpt
The Sheriff's Secret
By Susan Meier, Shannon Godwin, Libby Murphy
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Susan Meier
All rights reserved.
"9-1-1 Operator, what's your emergency?"
"This is Marney Fields. Someone's in my house." Hiding in her master bedroom closet — behind two rows of dresses — Marney worked to level her breathing so she wouldn't hyperventilate.
"Are you at the address you're calling from?"
She turned away from the door and whispered into her cordless phone, "Yes."
"Thank you, ma'am. Someone will be at your house in a few minutes. Stay where you are."
She sucked in a breath and huddled a little deeper into the corner behind her dresses, her heart racing, her knees knocking. All her life she'd wanted to live in the country. But her very first night of sleeping in the mini-mansion she'd built for herself five miles outside of Chandler's Cove, Illinois, every creak of a floor board or swish of the wind had brought visions of burglars and serial killers to mind.
She'd checked her security system eighty times, but her frightening thoughts still ran rampant. So when she'd heard the bang coming from her kitchen, her heart had about exploded. She'd grabbed her cordless phone, run up the stairs, and hastily dialed 9-1-1.
And here she stood. In the closet. Behind her dresses. Shivering.
One minute turned into two. Two became three. Three chugged along to four. With every minute that ticked off the clock, her chest tightened. Her breathing became shallower.
Footsteps sounded outside her door.
Her heart punched against her ribs. The police had scared her intruder upstairs! And he was in her bedroom!
She searched for a weapon but the best she could find was a plastic hanger. She grabbed it and held it up.
She'd finally made it as a jewelry designer. A home shopping network had picked up her line of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, and she had money pouring in. She'd built this home, could vacation anywhere she wanted. She had a Mercedes on order for God's sake! She was not going down without a fight.
The door burst open. She yelped a battle cry and foisted her hanger like a sword. The man jumped back.
"Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute! Are you Marney Fields?"
She swiped the hanger at him.
"I'm Sheriff O'Neil." He shoved his gun into its holster and displayed his ID.
That's when she noticed his gray uniform, complete with gray winter jacket to ward off the cold from an unexpected April snow storm.
He eased the hanger out of her shaking hand. "Relax. I'm your neighbor." He pointed to the right. "I live about two miles down that road. It was quicker for me to come over than send a patrol car."
A mixture of embarrassment and relief washed through her in dizzying waves.
"Are you okay?"
She peeked up at him. "I heard a noise."
He smiled sympathetically. "That's not unusual in a new house."
His sympathy upped her embarrassment to humiliation. She squeezed her eyes shut.
He chuckled. "Come on. Open your eyes. It's smart to call the police when you think you're in trouble."
Her mortification ebbed. She opened her eyes and attempted a smile. "Sorry."
"No need to say you're sorry."
He shoved his ID into his back pocket, drawing her gaze to his trim hips. It climbed up his flat stomach, along his broad chest, to the chiseled features of his perfect face.
In three years of living in Chandler's Cove after her divorce, she'd heard about the gorgeous sheriff. She'd seen him walking down the street or driving in his car, but had never seen him up close. His disheveled black hair reminded her of long nights spent making love. His gray-blue eyes probably glowed in the dark. And that body ... Wow. Sexy was too simple of a word to describe him. Sensual was better. But rugged and masculine fit. The man oozed masculinity.
Attraction shimmered through her along with a jolt of pure lust. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. It had been a long time since a man had turned her on with his looks alone. But this guy definitely had.
Her gaze flew to his face. "Huh?"
"I said I'm going to have another look outside, but I'd also like to suggest that you get an alarm system —" He paused. His blue eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. "Are you sure you're okay?"
She licked her suddenly dry lips. "Yeah." Who was she kidding? She wasn't okay. She was melting. She saw good-looking guys all the time when she went to the television studio to do the shows for her jewelry. But this guy was different. Broad- shouldered and dressed in a neat-as-a-pin uniform, he could make a nun question her decision to be celibate.
"Do you need to sit down?"
"Um. No." She cleared her throat. "And I have an alarm system."
"Do you know how to work it?"
Confused, she frowned. "Yes, I know how to work it."
He grinned. "Why don't you just let me check it out?"
She followed him out of her soothing gray and yellow master bedroom. Her gaze automatically traveled from his broad shoulders down his torso to his butt, and she almost groaned. Perfect. Of course.
She shook her head. The trick to surviving his visit would be to quit looking at him. Especially his butt.
Their footsteps echoed around them as they walked down the circular stairway of the grand foyer. When he got to the bottom step, he said, "You're going to have to get accustomed to hearing noises in here. A house with a ceiling this high is bound to have lots of echoes."
"Right." More hormones awoke at the deep, masculine sound of his voice. Holding her head high and pretending she wasn't fighting the urge to rip off his shirt, she marched to the control box for the alarm then stepped out of the way.
He walked over, hit a few buttons, and a green light blinked on. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, he faced her. "That might have been the problem."
She swallowed and simply stared, wondering if he knew how lucky he was to have such beautiful eyes, a chiseled chin, and sculpted cheek bones.
A few seconds ticked by before she realized her foyer was silent and he was staring at her. And not the way she was staring at him — with undisguised interest — but with disgust.
He shook his head and turned away. "You're fine." His voice took on a hard tone. "I'll do one more check outside then I'll swing back in to make sure you're okay. But I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't make any more 9-1-1 calls to meet your neighbors."
"It's wrong to call 9-1-1 for anything other than a genuine emergency. In fact, it's a crime."
Mortification replaced attraction. "Do you think I called 9-1-1 to get to meet you?"
"Look. I've seen you around town for a couple of years now. Which means you probably knew I lived out here and that I'm the person who'd be dispatched when you called."
"I heard a noise!"
"I'm sure you did. And I'm sure you forgot to set the alarm too."
"I didn't forget to set the alarm! I was so afraid to be living out here in the dark that I kept checking it all night. I must have hit the button and knocked it off one of those times I was messing with it."
He didn't believe her! Her breath caught. She pressed her hand to her chest. "I called the police — not you — because I was terrified."
Instead of the apology she as expecting, the room became incredibly quiet. He really didn't believe her. And she was only making things worse by arguing.
She lifted her chin. "Actually, there's no need to come back after you check my yard. I'm fine. You can go."
He walked toward her front door. "I'll be back anyway." He turned and grinned at her. "For one more look."
The double meaning of that statement cut through her like an embarrassing knife. Not only did he not believe her, now he was laughing at her.
"I said I was fine."
His gaze rippled from her head to her toes. His lips lifted into a confident smile but he didn't reply.
He walked out the front door and she plopped down on the third step of the stairway.
Get ahold of yourself, Marney!
Oh, right. Get a hold of herself. It was little late for that. She couldn't remember the last time she'd behaved like a teenager in heat. So she couldn't fault the sheriff for making a bad assumption. He was incredibly good looking, and women probably did do weird things like call 9-1-1 to get to meet him. Plus, her situation did appear odd. But once she'd explained that she really had heard a noise and she'd probably accidentally turned off her alarm, he should have understood. Actually, he should have apologized for accusing her of calling 9-1-1 just to get him to her house. Instead, he thought she was some kind of sex starved ... idiot.
He returned about ten minutes later, flashlight in hand, but he didn't step inside. As if afraid of her, he stayed on her front porch, telling her not to worry, she was safe now. Then he grinned his infuriating I-know-you're-attracted-to-me grin and left.
Marney fell to her steps again and covered her head with her hands. She'd just made a colossal fool of herself.
* * *
Driving back to his house, Sheriff Dell O'Neil shook his head in wonder. Local jewelry shop owner Marney Fields was a beautiful woman with her long brown hair and dark eyes that flashed when she'd realized he'd noticed her sizing him up.
Lucky for her, he wasn't interested in romantic entanglements or he probably could have taken her on her Italian marble floor.
But her image popped into his brain as he got ready for bed and again the next morning when he drove past her house. He thought about her when he walked by the little shop she had on Main Street and again when he drove home at about three. Worse, he thought about her on the long drive to his parents' house in Chicago to attend a fund raiser for his parents' pet charity.
Since his divorce, he hadn't allowed any woman to rent space in his head and he had no idea why Marney Fields had suddenly set up residence there. But he did know he would get her out.
* * *
After work Friday afternoon, Marney drove to Chicago, grateful to be getting out of town. After her embarrassing encounter with Sheriff O'Neil, she needed the weekend to chill out.
She had a fundraiser to attend that night, an exhibit of the work of several up-and-coming artists. The gallery owner had committed his share of the profits to the Heart Association, one of her favorite charities. But more than that, this was payback for all the people who had supported her exhibits when she was new. Divorced, just starting out as a jewelry designer, she'd appreciated the gallery's support and the money she made from her exhibits. She would definitely buy something tonight.
On Saturday morning, she would visit her parents, endure the cool reception she'd become accustomed to since her divorce from Doug Stover, Attorney at Law, and come home appreciating the fact that she lived an hour away from them.
Carrying the garment bag that contained her glittery red gown, she checked in to her hotel. She luxuriated in a hot bath then dressed carefully. She didn't need the money from any jewelry commission she might get while hob-knobbing, but she had a reputation to uphold. She was Marney Fields now. Successful jewelry designer. Several women would be wearing her commissioned pieces tonight. When they pointed to her, she wanted them to be proud they owned pieces designed by her.
As she stepped out of the elevator, Victor, the concierge whistled. "Ms. Fields, if I weren't married, I drop to one knee right now and beg you to be my wife."
She laughed. But men's heads turned as she walked through the lobby to the portico where a limo awaited. Stupidly, Sheriff O'Neil popped into her head. And she wasn't sure why. She didn't want a man. Didn't need a man.
And he obviously didn't want her.
She tossed her long dark hair over her shoulder and smiled at the chauffer who closed the door behind her.
The limo ride took fifteen minutes. The driver handed her out, and she headed into the gallery without a backward glance. It never occurred to her to be embarrassed that she was alone. She'd made herself a success. On her own. Plus, she had the love and support of three wonderful friends in Chandler's Cove. That was what life was really all about — connecting with people who liked you just as you were.
She snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and spent the next hour walking from display to display, examining paintings, considering sculptures, and eventually deciding to buy a bronze basket filled with shiny metallic apples for her office.
Satisfied with her purchase, she strolled through the maze of paintings, carvings, and metallic sculptures and figurines, chatting with people she knew. Some were customers. Some were women who wanted her to design pieces. Others were friends, people who had deserted her when she divorced Doug Stover, attorney at law, who — now that she was famous — had decided to forgive her for ending their marriage.
Luckily, she was gracious. She didn't hold a grudge against them. Doug affected people oddly. He had a charisma that attracted everyone to him. He could get anyone to do just about anything he wanted. Manipulative and controlling, he'd actually thought she should stay after she'd discovered he'd been cheating. He'd dragged his feet along every step of their divorce, and ultimately she'd given him their condo for her freedom.
Her glass empty, she scoured the open first floor for a waiter. Spotting one walking away from her, she turned quickly and ran into a man. Her glass rammed into his very solid chest.
Looking up with a smile, she said, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" Then she froze. "Sheriff O'Neil?"
"Yes. If you'll excuse me." He turned away.
Her mouth hanging open slightly, she let her gaze follow him. Why not? The man was eye candy personified. She might have originally thought that she'd drooled over him because of his uniform, but seeing him in a tuxedo? With broad shoulders filling out his jacket and hair disheveled as if he didn't give a damn what anybody thought of him, he was sex on a stick.
He disappeared into the thick crowd, and, shaking her head, Marney went back to her quest for more champagne.
"Wasn't that Dell O'Neil?"
Overhearing the comment, she stopped walking. Two thirty-something women with big hair and skinny cocktail dresses stared in the direction Dell had gone.
"I wonder how his parents talked him into coming to this event?"
"I thought he'd disowned them."
"Or they'd disowned him."
"I for one don't care what happened. I'm just glad he's back. Chicago society might not have missed him, but I did. He brings more sex appeal to these dull things than three or four of the other guys put together."
The women laughed.
Marney's face scrunched in confusion just as the crowd parted, and she spotted Dell again, standing next to an older man she recognized as renowned surgeon Dr. James O'Neil.
She remembered what the women had said about his parents talking him into coming to this event and she gasped.
Wow. Just wow.
Dell O'Neil was billionaire philanthropist James O'Neil's son.
Dell glanced up, and their gazes connected. She smiled. A look of panic overshadowed his handsome features.
Well, well, well, the sheriff was keeping a secret from the good people of Chandler's Cove.CHAPTER 2
He approached her twenty minutes later as she studied a statue of a blue goat done by a new artist.
"Good evening, Sheriff."
He winced. "Come on, haven't you ever known anyone who was suffocated by their family?"
"Yeah. Me. And I ran to Chandler's Cove too. But I didn't have family responsibilities. No one was counting on me for contributions and glad-handing. I wasn't rich."
He sighed. "Neither was I when I left Chicago."
"Which implies that you lost all your money, and now you're rich again." She laughed. "Tell me. How does one with family money lose it all when the rest of the family seems perfectly fine?"
He caught her elbow and dragged her to a dark corner, away from the crowd. "He marries the wrong woman."
Though she knew all about bad marriages and bad spouses and should have sympathized, the way he'd insinuated that she'd faked an emergency to get him to her house still rankled. He deserved a little teasing. "Ouch, wife took you to the cleaners?"
"Yes. Now —" He leaned in a little closer. So close she could smell his aftershave and feel the masculinity rolling from him in waves. It seeped into her pores, sending heat shimmering through her.
Her breath stuttered in and out.
"I don't think you're in any position to be laughing at me."
"Why? Because I think you're good looking?" She chuckled. "Like that's a big news flash to anybody. Every woman in the world is probably attracted to you. Outing me for agreeing with them isn't much of a threat."
He stepped away and combed his fingers through his hair. "Come on. Cut me a break. I don't want my identity getting out in Chandler's Cove."
She almost told him that he didn't have to worry. She wasn't a snitch. But she wasn't quite ready to give up the teasing yet. He'd refused to accept that she'd accidentally turned off her alarm. Worse, he'd thought she'd called him just to meet him. A few more minutes of teasing wouldn't hurt. "I'm not sure why. Most people would be proud to come from the family you come from. You're the black sheep."
Excerpted from The Sheriff's Secret by Susan Meier, Shannon Godwin, Libby Murphy. Copyright © 2013 Susan Meier. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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