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Authors: Susan Donovan

Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction

I Want Candy (2 page)

BOOK: I Want Candy
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This was interesting
.

The kiss kept going. That hadn’t been her intention. This was supposed to be a simple, friendly, spontaneous expression of gratitude, a genuine burst of affection for a fellow human being who had been kind enough to cut her some slack.

Right?

Which was perfectly understandable given the context. Candy was practically penniless. She’d lost millions in the Florida real estate crash and was about to declare bankruptcy. She’d foreclosed on that luxury home in Tampa. The Infiniti had been repossessed. She’d stupidly borrowed money from a less-than-savory character who wanted it back, like,
yesterday.
She had no job. She’d mishandled her mother’s retirement nest egg, a pesky detail Jacinta remained blissfully unaware of. And Candy had recently crawled back to her hometown in the western hills of North Carolina, where she’d been taken in by her best friend’s receptionist, an octogenarian floozy who couldn’t seem to stay out of her guest’s underwear drawer.

Was it any wonder she felt compelled to kiss an old buddy who’d just shown her a modicum of kindness?

Fine.

Then why were her arms now around Turner’s neck and her eyes closed in bliss? Why was she hanging out of the car window with her boobs arched out and pressed up against his hard, muscled chest? Why was one of Turner’s hands buried up under her hair while the other was on its way down her spine, headed directly to her—

“Holy hell, girl.”

“Hmm?”

Candy felt herself being pushed away from the heat, pressure, and exquisite juiciness of Turner’s mouth. She opened her eyes and the spotlight nearly blinded her, making her wonder where, exactly, she was, and why, exactly, she was there.

Turner stared at her, his eyes wide with surprise. He removed one hand from her hair and the other from the small of her back and slowly backed away from the car.

Candy slid down into the driver’s seat. “Oh, God. Sorry,” she mumbled.

“No,” he said sharply. “
I’m
sorry. My bad.”

She glanced up in time to see Turner yank off his ball cap, sweep his hand across his close-cropped hair, then smash the cap back on his head. Next he rubbed his chin and mouth, shook his head, and tapped his feet in the dirt. This strange routine was topped off by an adjustment of his gun holster.

“Drive safely,” he said as he turned away.

Candy peered out the driver’s side window and watched him practically jog to his SUV, her eyes shamelessly riveted to the grade-A specimen of man-booty tucked in those uniform trousers. “Uh, thank you!” she called out, feeling ridiculous. What exactly was she thanking him for, anyway? Not arresting her?

Or was she thanking Turner Halliday for giving her the finest, hottest, most bad-ass openmouthed kiss she’d ever had in her freakin’
life
?

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“Well, hurry up, now! No sense in dawdling! I knew you’d end up here sooner or later!”

With a sigh, Candy headed up the sidewalk of Vivienne Newberry’s home on Wilamette Avenue, her best friend, Cheri Newberry, at her side.

“Just eat whatever she puts in front of you,” Cheri whispered, still giving her survival tips for living with her great-aunt. “And if she gets cranky, offer to make her a risky slush and go heavy on the vodka. Don’t try to reason with her. Offer to clear the supper table but be aware that she’ll never actually let you, but she’ll bitch about you behind your back if you don’t at least make an attempt. Go to bed as early as possible. And—like I really have to tell you this—privacy is going to be damn near impossible in this house, so don’t say anything on the phone that you don’t want to become common knowledge.”

“Come on, now!” Viv called again, waving her fleshy arms from the porch step. “I just made ya’ll a scalloped potato and ham casserole and I’ve already called down the street for Tater Wayne to unload Candy’s things from the car!”

Cheri and Candy exchanged a quick glance. No words were necessary. It was only about six weeks ago that Cheri was subjected to a nearly identical welcome-home ritual, complete with calorie-dense casseroles and an immediate attempt to set Cheri up with Viv’s handyman, Tommy “Tater” Wayne, a perfectly nice guy who happened to sport about seven teeth and an eyeball that went schizoid in the company of attractive women.

“It’s gonna be all right,” Cheri whispered, throwing an arm around her shoulder. “It’s just temporary.”

Candy swallowed hard and nodded. “It’s not like I got many options.”

“I told you you’re welcome to stay with us out at the lake house!” Cheri bumped her hip against Candy’s and laughed. “How many times have I offered?”

Candy laughed, too, but obviously her best friend was just being sweet. There was no way in hell she’d be bunking out at Cheri and J.J.’s lakeside love nest. They’d only been engaged a couple weeks!

“I adore you for offerin’, but don’t you dare bring that up again. You and I both know that wouldn’t work.” Candy waved back at Viv and smiled, slowing her step so she’d get just a few extra seconds with Cheri. “At least your granddaddy Garland will be here as a buffer, right? You know how well we get along.”

Her friend nodded. “I think he’s more excited about you moving in than Viv is, honestly. God knows he can use the distraction.”

The two women paused briefly in front of Viv’s ever-present lawn jockey, a formerly dark fellow who’d recently been painted the same mauve pink as the house. Apparently, it was Viv’s nod to the changing times.

“Good Lord,” Candy whispered. “Has Turner seen this?”

“Not sure,” Cheri said, laughing softly. “But I bet he’d have a few choice words.”

“No doubt.” Candy shot a quick glance at Cheri and felt herself frown. She hadn’t told her friend what had happened with Turner earlier that morning. She thought it was best to keep the details to herself. Besides, what exactly would she say?
Oh, by the way, I tried to dry-hump Halliday from the open car window! Doesn’t that just beat all?

“You okay?” Cheri squeezed her shoulder.

“Oh, sure. I’m great.”

“You’ll find a job soon. Or you’ll come up with one of your fabulous start-up ideas and you’ll make enough money to get set up in a cute apartment in town. It won’t be long. You’ll see.”

“Of course,” Candy said.

“Maybe you could even start that bakery you used to dream about. Bigler would be perfect for something like that—God knows we could use it!”

Candy faked a smile while thinking about how best to respond to that bit of insanity. First off, she’d have to be careful not to sound too down on Bigler, since Cheri was here to stay, but the idea of starting a brick-and-mortar business in this town made her downright queasy. And secondly—a bakery? What the hell? Candy cleared her throat. “Well, you know I don’t plan to be here long-term,” she said sweetly.

“Oh, I know.” Cheri sighed. “I was just being selfish.”

“And you realize the last time I mentioned the bakery thing I was still wearing a B cup.”

Cheri giggled. “I know, but I figured now that you were back you’d think about it again. I mean, it’s almost like you threw away that dream the second you left for college.”

“Almost,” Candy said, nodding.

“I’m just saying that I know things are going to turn around for you. They always do.”

Cheri was being outrageously optimistic, of course. It was true that Candy had always managed to come up with a business idea that got her on her feet again, but this time it was different—she was beaten down as far as she’d ever been beaten in her life. Her entrepreneurial juices didn’t flow well while being hounded by bill collectors. Go figure.

Even finding a menial job was proving to be impossible in the current economy. The entire country was in a major recession, but Bigler had gotten the life choked out of it. With her business degree and résumé, Candy had positioned herself right out of a small-town job market. She’d already been told she was overqualified for every job she’d applied for in Bigler—assistant manager at the Piggly Wiggly, a bank teller position, waitressing, even a shift on the production line at the tannery. In desperation, she’d responded to an ad for a nanny position. But, like everyone else, they told her they feared she’d only quit the moment she found something better.

Better?
Right now, anything was better than what she had, which was sixteen dollars, about three days’ worth of mascara, and a car about to die a hideous—and noisy—death.

That wasn’t counting Sophie, of course. It was far too early to even
think
about selling Sophie. The bracelet was her last defense against utter ruin, her ace in the hole, and her good-luck talisman. When the Florida housing market came crashing down, Candy refused to part with the twenty-two thousand dollars’ worth of platinum, sapphires, and pavé-cut diamonds. Even Cheri didn’t know she still had the bracelet.

That’s because when it came time to sell everything for pennies on the dollar, Candy just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She’d purchased that bracelet for herself right after making her first million-dollar real estate deal—just strolled right on into Hayman Jewelers, tapped her finger on the glass case, and whipped out a roll of cash. And now, six years later, Sophie was the only remaining link to a lifestyle Candy was determined to have again. One day soon, when the time was right and the big idea was big enough, Sophie would finance Candy’s ticket back.

As casually as possible, she touched the inside of her left thigh to make sure Sophie was in her customary place, strapped securely inside the small travel belt just below the leg opening of her panties. All was well.

“Have you called Jacinta yet? Does she know you’re in town?”

Candy stopped in her tracks and Cheri’s arm fell from her shoulder. “I told you. I don’t want to talk to her and she doesn’t want to talk to me. It’s the only thing we’ve ever seen eye to eye on.”

“But she’s your mother.”

“I hope you haven’t eaten lunch!” Viv called out, clapping her hands in excitement and looking none too sorry to have butted in on their conversation. “Look at you, Candy! I swear you look more like Marilyn
Mon
-roe every time I lay eyes on you! Ya’ll come on up here.” Viv ushered them onto the wide, wooden porch.

“Be strong,” Cheri whispered in her ear.

“Now, let me just say up front that all we’ve got at the moment is a twin bed, seeing as how Cheri took the big mattress and box spring with her to the lake house when she left without any warning.”

Candy had to hand it to Vivienne Newberry—she was a passive-aggressive
goddess
. It didn’t matter to Viv that her grandniece was insanely happy with J.J. Decourcy and had been a spectacular success replacing Garland as publisher of the
Bigler Bugle
. Viv still couldn’t resist a poke at Cheri for moving out to the family lake house after just a few days of living under her roof.

As they headed through the front door, Candy grasped at Cheri’s hand and gulped. She wondered how long
she’d
last at Land of the Lawn Jockey. She hoped to hell she was strong enough for this, because until she found employment, Viv Newberry was surely her last shot at free room and board in this town.

*   *   *

 

“’Sup, Sheriff?”

Turner extended a leg out of the SUV and smiled at his best friend, hanging out in his usual workday spot, holding up the back wall of the Bigler Municipal Complex.

“Haven’t you got anything better to do? Loitering is against the law in these parts.”

J.J. Decourcy laughed as he extended his arms wide. “What in the world would be better than this? I’m the managing editor of the freakin’
Bigler Bugle,
baby, and I’m out hobnobbing with the powers that be, looking for another award-winning scoop!”

Turner shut the door of his cruiser and headed up the back steps, the weariness settling in his shoulders and back. “You’re sure as hell chipper today.”

J.J. fell in step with him. “Yeah? And you look like you been run over.”

Turner shrugged. “Pulled a double shift. Pauline called in sick for the overnight again.”

“Ah, man, that’s rough. Sorry to hear it.”

As they strolled down the hall, Turner and J.J. waved at the usual daytime crowd that inhabited the public safety wing of the municipal building—the 911 call center employees (all two of them), the fire chief, the animal control officer, and the sheriff’s administrative support personnel, including Turner’s secretary, Bitsy, who handed him a hefty stack of paperwork as he passed by her desk.

“Thanks, Bits.” Turner gestured for J.J. to have a seat in his office. “So what’s up at the
Bugle
? How’s the new publisher working out?” Turner glanced up in time to see a wave of ecstasy wash over his friend’s face. He’d become immune to it over the last few weeks. Mostly, anyway. It wasn’t like he wasn’t thrilled for J.J. and Cheri—they’d been in love since middle school, and it had been one hell of a long and convoluted path to happiness for them. He knew that better than anyone.

But once in a while—okay, like right at that moment—Turner didn’t much care for the lovesick look that had taken up residence on his buddy’s face. It made him slightly irritable, in fact.

“Cheri is incredible. Simply incredible.” J.J. sighed with contentment as he settled into the simple chrome and vinyl chair across from Turner’s desk. “Damn, Halliday. I’m a happy, happy man.”

“Uh-huh.”

J.J. laughed. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be obnoxious about it. But you did ask.”

“Yep. I asked.” Turner turned his attention back to the stack of paperwork Bitsy had just handed him. The ongoing North Carolina Rural Drug Task Force investigation of Bobby Ray Spivey was starting to heat up. An undercover DEA agent had infiltrated yet another methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution ring headquartered in Cataloochee County, this time in Preston Valley, and the next month or so would mean lots of man-hours for Turner’s department. Or, more accurately, for
Turner
. Budget cuts had left him no choice but to hold off on the two new hires for the fiscal year, and with Pauline ready to go on maternity leave, he knew he’d better start getting used to a life of extra hours and not enough sleep.

BOOK: I Want Candy
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