Authors: Cat Johnson
For all the horse farmers, bee wranglers and small-town deputies in the world, and the women who love them.
Bobby Barton sat in the farthest corner table in the diner with his back to the wall so he could watch the door. His friend, Jared Gordon, sat opposite, coffee mug in hand.
It was a sad day when a man, an officer of the law no less, had to sneak out of his house in the middle of the night just to have a moment of private conversation with a buddy.
While absently playing with the sugar packets on the table, Bobby laid out his plan. “So tomorrow, five-thirty a.m., I’m heading to the lake to go fishing. If she wants to be with me every waking moment I’ll show her exactly how awake I can be. You wanna come?”
Jared winced. “Not really, but I will. You sure are going to a lot of trouble to make this girl’s life miserable. What’d she ever do to you?”
“You mean besides her and her cameraman trying to follow me every damn place I go, including to the men’s room?”
“Sure. It’s real amusing for you, Jared.
producer is your girlfriend.”
“Yeah, which means I can’t let anyone know she’s my girlfriend so her network doesn’t fire her.”
Bobby sighed. “All right. So we agree this damn reality show has put a kink in both our lives?”
“Damn straight.” Jared nodded. “But it’s only for eight weeks, and it’s good for the businesses around here. At least that’s what you told me when you were trying to convince me to agree to it in the first place.”
Jared was right. Bobby had been for the idea in the beginning, and it was good for the small businesses in town. Mac had even had to add an extra shift at the diner when he started staying open into the wee hours of the morning to accommodate the television crews who were taping late. It turned out the local honky-tonk bar in town was providing quite a bit of grist for the television mill. There was a crew at the bar until closing every night. That was why Bobby was safely free of cameras at the diner at the moment. The camera crew assigned to the diner during the day usually moved to the bar until closing each night, hoping to capture drunks at their worst.
His own personal hell—uh, crew—had gone back to their rooms at The Hideaway for the night, thinking he was tucked safely away asleep in his bed at home. That was exactly what he’d wanted them to believe, before he snuck back out like a teenager breaking curfew.
“She is cute though.” Jared’s voice cut into Bobby’s ponderings about why they’d ever agreed to the taping of this damn TV show.
He glanced up at his friend. “Who? Your girlfriend, Mandy? I should hope you think she’s cute since you’re sleeping with her.”
Jared rolled his eyes. “I was talking about your producer. Christy. Don’t seem like such a hardship having that pretty face shining up at you day and night.”
Bobby groaned. Yeah. She was cute. She was also as tenacious as a pit bull and had the nose of a bloodhound. “Maybe under other circumstances I’d agree with you. But damn it, Jared, do you know all I had to do to wrestle that tape of me punching Cole at the ball field away from her?”
Jared grinned. “You still have it? I’d love to watch that. You, Mr. Cool, losing his head.”
Bobby scowled at his supposed friend.
Jared shook his head at him, still grinning. “Oh, stop giving me that look, Bobby. It’s funny. All right. Tell me, what’d you have to do to get the tape? Was it good?” Jared waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Bobby sighed and ignored Jared’s insinuations in favor of more bitching. “I had to agree to let them ride with me from now on during my shifts. I’d been able to at least get away from them when I was in the patrol car answering calls around town. I’d convinced them it was the sheriff’s policy, no civilians in the car. But now that’s over.”
“Hmm. A tape of you, the local deputy, punching out the famous pitcher Cole Ryan at a little league game, or you sitting in your car drinking coffee while taking a radio call that old Mrs. Brown’s cat got stuck in a tree again.” Jared made a weighing motion with his hands and cocked a brow. “I don’t know. Is that producer of yours not the sharpest tool in the shed?”
Bobby shrugged. “All I know is I would have promised them anything they wanted to get that tape. I couldn’t let Lizzie and Mikey go through that kind of embarrassment.
whole situation has been strange enough as it is.”
Jared blew out a breath. “Tell me about it. Who the hell would have guessed Cole was Mikey’s father? You know, there was a time that I was afraid it might be Jack. I actually counted the months from the last time he was home on leave.”
“Believe me, I did the same thing. But if it had been Jack, I needn’t have worried about killing him myself. Mary Sue would have done it for me.”
Jared laughed. “Got that right. Mary Sue considered Jack her property back then.”
“When I first found out Lizzie was pregnant, I’d even considered it could be you for a little while, until I figured out it was Cole,” Bobby confessed to Jared.
“Wait a minute.” Jared slammed his coffee mug down onto the table. “You knew it was Cole all this time? Ten years and you never told me?”
Bobby nodded and got very interested in drinking from his own mug.
Jared raised a brow and shook his head. “Well, I guess I know who to go to next time I need a secret kept. You’re a frigging vault.”
He shrugged. “Hey, she’s my sister. I needed to protect her and her baby.”
“Sheesh, Cole’s lucky you didn’t drive out and kill him right there on the pitcher’s mound the minute you knew.”
“There were times I almost did. In hindsight, it’s damn good I didn’t. I never imagined Lizzie was keeping Mikey a secret from him. Poor guy didn’t even know he had a son.”
“Women.” Jared shook his head.
Bobby laughed bitterly. “Yup. Can’t live with ’em—”
“Can’t get laid without ’em.” Jared finished the sentiment.
Choking on a swallow of coffee, Bobby laughed. “
what I was going to say, but yeah, that too.”
Christy Dunne sat in her boss’s room at The Hideaway Motel, currently on the receiving end of a ranting fit.
Mandy, her boss and the show’s head producer, stormed around the room while yelling. “You gave up the most valuable tape we’ve gotten so far? And for what? So you can ride around with Deputy Bobby? This is Pigeon Hollow, North Carolina, Christy. It’s not New York. It’s not L.A.. What do you think you’re going to capture by riding around in the deputy sheriff’s cruiser in a bumfuck town like this? Huh? Just tell me one thing, what the hell were you thinking?”
There was a time, not very long ago, that Mandy’s rant would have sent Christy running away in tears. But since their arrival in Pigeon Hollow for this show Christy had, much to Mandy’s chagrin, seen the softer side of her boss. The fact that Mandy was sneaking around with one of the town’s main characters made her often-bitchy superior actually seem human.
That Christy had stumbled upon her in the midst of a breakdown over Jared Gordon the first day in town meant that Christy was the only one on the shoot privy to their illicit romance. That fact had to provide her with some modicum of job security. No?
She sure hoped so, since it was not a smart decision to relinquish to Bobby the tape of him knocking former major league pitcher Cole Ryan right on his famous ballplayer’s butt. Next to that, Mandy’s eventual discovery that she’d been avoiding filming Cole, Lizzie and Mikey since then would seem trivial. At least Christy hoped so anyway.
“I honestly think that I can get some really great footage by riding with him, Mandy. It will be hysterical to see how he handles even the mundane situations around town. He’s so serious all the time. We can edit it to make him like the straight man in a comedy.”
Christy couldn’t tell her boss the truth, that she would do just about anything to spend more time in the company of the dashing deputy. Anything so she could make her dreams come true and run her fingers through that wavy black hair while gazing into those ice-blue eyes. Anything to divest him of those khaki uniform pants and wake up with his black cowboy boots parked under her bed.
No, she definitely couldn’t tell Mandy all that, even if she had spotted the Gordon truck pulling away from Mandy’s room obscenely late at night on more than one occasion.
Mandy stood in front of her now, hands on her hips. “I sure hope you’re right, because I’ve staked my career on this show. If it fails…”
Christy knew what would happen if it failed. They’d both be on line at the unemployment office. The television business in L.A. was cutthroat, and producers were a dime a dozen. “I can do this, Mandy. I promise. I’m putting my job on the line too.”
Mandy raised her brow. “Yes, you are.” Glancing at her watch, she continued. “Why are you back so early?”
Early? It was midnight now and Bobby was going fishing at the crack of dawn the next day. Maybe losing this job wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
“Bobby’s off work for the night and went to bed already. I waited in the car until after his bedroom light went off just to make sure.” And drooled imagining him undressed and slipping under the sheets.
Mmm, mmm. What was she going to tell Mandy again? Oh, yeah. “He—I mean
—are going fishing at five-thirty in the morning.”
“Fishing? At five-thirty?” That actually made Mandy laugh, which didn’t happen all that often as far as Christy knew. “What exactly does a person wear to go fishing?”
“Got me. I guess I’ll wear shorts and flip flops in case I have to wade into the water for something.” Christy shrugged. Thank goodness the entire crew had been given permission to abandon any semblance of a dress code, given both the heat and the fact that none of them were ever on camera themselves.
Still looking amused, Mandy shook her head. “Better you than me.”
“Actually, Bobby said he’s inviting Jared to go.” Which meant that Mandy and her cameraman, assigned conveniently to Jared for the shoot, should be there too. Theoretically.
As if reading her mind, Mandy raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow. “You don’t need two camera crews to go fishing. I’ll take my cameraman into town. Maybe Cole Ryan will piss somebody else off enough to take a swing at him again.”
Christy physically felt that not-so-subtle verbal slap.
“You just make sure you stick to Deputy Bobby like glue. I mean that,” Mandy continued with a thinly veiled warning.
Oh, Christy had every intention of doing that, direct decree from the boss or not.
The sun was just making its presence known in the eastern sky when Christy and her cameraman, John Fletcher—Fletch for short—pulled up and parked on the road in front of the Barton house.
Christy spared a moment to take a second glance at the peachy glow on the horizon. She didn’t see the sun rise in L.A. often. There was that one night her girlfriends took her out for her birthday and then to a diner for breakfast after the dance club closed. But she didn’t remember noticing the sunrise. No surprise there.
Fletch yawned. “You have no mercy, dragging a man out to work before his first cup of coffee.” The video camera balanced tenuously on his shoulder, making Christy want to put her hand up to steady it.
She put one finger to her lips. “Shhh. I want to sneak in and get him as he’s waking up.”
Fletch managed to raise a sleepy but suggestive-looking eyebrow. “You’re just hoping he’s naked.”
Christy frowned at him and opened the back door stealthily, hoping he didn’t notice she hadn’t denied the accusation.
It still amazed her how everyone around Pigeon Hollow left their doors unlocked. Once Mrs. Barton had assured her she was welcome to let herself in at anytime, day or night, she had begun to plan how to best capture Bobby without his being on guard because of the camera. Today’s little fishing excursion was the perfect excuse to sneak in and find the man right where she wanted him, in more ways than one—in bed. Which was why she was sneaking in just before five, when he’d told her to arrive by five-thirty.
She crept through the silent kitchen and down the hall to where she knew Bobby’s bedroom was. Mrs. Barton, the quintessential southern hostess, had given her a tour of the house on the first day. Bobby, unhappy Mandy had named him as a main character for the show, had scowled the entire time.
At first Christy had assumed Bobby’s reaction to her being privy to his home life was caused by embarrassment. After all, he had to be thirty, but he still lived with his parents in spite of having what appeared to be a good job. That was before Christy gleaned the real situation. Bobby was there to help raise his sister’s fatherless son, or
fatherless son. But that was a whole other story, one she’d had on tape, the tape she’d turned over to Bobby. The decision that would likely cost her job.
When she had realized that the reason Bobby wanted that tape was because he didn’t want his nephew or his sister exposed to the entire world, and not to protect his own reputation, she’d finally given it up to him. But the bonus side, which made up for the crap she’d taken from Mandy over it, was that he now owed her. He owed her big and she intended to collect.