Authors: Karen Erickson
HE MAN WAS
a complete idiot.
Like straight-up ignorant, ridiculous, gorgeous, stubborn, infuriating, sexy, elusive, and arrogant . . . yet sweet at the oddest times.
Delilah Moore frowned, tapping her fingers against her desk. She was at the dance studio trying to get some work done and failing miserably. And she definitely didn’t like that bit about him being sweet intruding on her mental hissy fit. She wanted to hate Lane Gallagher right now. Hate him with the built-up anger of a million frustrated women because that’s exactly what she was. A frustrated woman who was sick to death of being rejected by the only man who had ever given her true, real butterflies fluttering in her stomach.
butterflies. Just that fluttery sensation one had when one saw the person she had feelings for. Not lust, not infatuation, not any of that shallow crap she’d experienced time and again as a way to try to rid her system of Lane once and for all. That stuff never lasted.
Nope, irritatingly sexy, aloof Lane Gallagher was the only one who ever made her feel something
No one else had ever done it. Not Weston—Lane’s younger brother—when they were briefly together. They’d been in high school and in lust; that was it. None of the other guys she’d gone out with had ever made her feel much either—and she’d gone out with more than a few. She wasn’t a celibate nun. She was a woman with needs, damn it. Had even had a couple of steady boyfriends over the years. Though for the past two years, she’d been so consumed with running her own business she’d sort of forgotten all about her own needs.
And she was too damn young for that sort of thing. She should be living it up! Having the time of her life! Look at West and Harper. Those two were up to no good in the best possible way. Harper glowed. That’s what regular bouts of sex with the man you’re madly, passionately in love with did for a girl.
Delilah’s frown deepened and she rested her chin on her hand, all computer work forgotten. Right now she was extremely jealous of her friend and all that regular sex she was having that made her glowy and dewy like a blushing bride. No wedding discussions were on the table yet, not even close but . . . yeah. Those two would end up married someday. Everyone knew it.
Okay, maybe she was feeling
of Harper, not jealous. West had come back into town after being gone for years and
. They were in a great relationship filled with love and passion. Easy peasy.
Delilah, on the other hand, had thrown herself at Lane time and again. She’d barely escaped a horrific fire three weeks ago. Lane had seemed so relieved to find her, had held her so close and whispered comforting words in her ear while she’d practically trembled with nerves and adrenaline and fear. She’d savored the sensation of his thick, muscled arms around her. The way his lips had moved against her temple when he spoke and how he’d stroked her back with his big, capable hands. She’d melted into him, closing her eyes on a sigh, imagining all the delicious ways he might kiss her. Lips she’d never touched before but that she knew would taste like heaven . . .
And then he’d set her away from him, offered up a gruff, “Glad you’re all right,” and practically ran away from her, never once looking back.
That had been the final straw. She hadn’t really seen him since. And she was glad for it. So incredibly glad. Maybe she could finally purge him from her thoughts for good. She’d been kicked to the curb for the last time. The very last time . . .
The bell above the front door chimed, letting her know someone had entered the studio, and she sat up straighter at her desk, pretending she was actually getting work done versus daydreaming—more like day
—about Lane. She figured it was Wren, her best friend and business partner, coming in to work. Wren did the books for a couple of businesses in town and was an investor in Delilah’s dance studio so she was pretty busy, always crunching numbers. Spreadsheets were her life, while dance was Delilah’s.
“Did you bring coffee with you?” Delilah yelled when Wren still hadn’t made an appearance in the back office that they shared. There were no students in the studio yet. First class on the summer schedule didn’t start until two and it wasn’t even eleven.
There was no reply. Unease slipped down her spine, and Delilah leaned back in her chair, hoping to catch a glimpse of whoever was in the waiting area, but she saw no one.
She rose to her feet, tucking a stray hair behind her ear as she made her way out of the office, down a tiny hall to emerge into the waiting area. All the breath expelled from her lungs when she saw who stood there with his back to her, eating up all the space with his mere six-foot-two presence.
Stupid Lane Gallagher, Wildwood County deputy sheriff, at her service. Ha, like he’d ever
“Delilah.” He turned to face her, nodded like some sort of old-timey cowboy, and she wanted to sock him right in his perfect nose for acting like the air in the room wasn’t suddenly full of hostility. And electricity. Because it so was. Maybe the hostility was only on her part, but still. She could feel her nose wrinkle and her lip curl in a sneer.
“What are you doing here?” she snapped, crossing her arms in front of her. She wore only a hot pink bra top and baggy black sweatpants that covered the black booty shorts she’d be dancing in when she led her classes later this afternoon. Nothing too scandalous, but her goods were on display. When you were a dancer, your goods were
on display. It came with the territory.
But did Lane check out her boobs? Her stomach? Any part of her? Nope.
“Your door was unlocked.” His low voice penetrated her brain—and something else buried deep within her. She wouldn’t mind if he penetrated her in other ways as well . . .
Ugh. She hated how her thoughts went straight to dirty every time she was in Lane’s presence.
When she realized he seemed to be waiting for an answer, she gave him one. “So what? It’s always unlocked.”
“Yeah, well. That’s not real safe.” He rubbed a hand along his firm jaw and she swore she heard the faint rasp of his stubble against his palm. It made her want to feel his stubble too. Like on the inside of her thighs.
Delilah frowned. Lord help her, the man made her want to sin no matter what he did.
“It’s a small town, Lane. No one cares about the local dance studio,” she said stiffly. Oh, she tried not to take in his uniform and how sexy he looked, but it was so hard. The man was gorgeous in all black, his badge a flash of gold, that gun holster strapped to his side—the combination of potent male set all of her girly bits on high alert.
“And we have an arsonist on the loose right now, so I think you should take care with your studio, Dee,” he returned, his tone firm but his gaze . . . soft. Like he cared.
An arsonist? Really? “So the restaurant fire was purposely set?”
“Unfortunately, yeah. They’re investigating it. I’m sure whoever did it will get caught soon.” He paused. “You need to be careful.”
She didn’t like the way he just said that. His words made her nervous. “Be careful of what?”
He ignored her question. “I’d hate to see anything happen here. Or to you.”
So his coming in here hadn’t just been about giving her a lecture. He sounded genuinely concerned. His tone of voice, and especially the look in his eyes, gave her hope. Hope that maybe he’d get over whatever problem he had when it came to the two of them getting naked together and he’d finally give in.
“Well, thank you, Deputy Gallagher. Maybe I should keep the door locked during the quiet hours when only one of us is in here,” she said, taking a step closer. Oh, she could smell him. Crisp and clean like he’d just lathered up that big body of his with a bar of soap, getting his skin all slick and sudsy before he rinsed off. What she’d give to be a bar of soap in Lane’s shower . . .
Okay. She’d jumped right off the deep end and landed squarely in psycho land.
“That’s a good idea, Dee. It would make me feel better, especially since Wren’s here so much.” He nodded at her once—old-timey cowboy back in action—before he turned on his heel and hustled his very fine ass straight out of her studio, the door slamming shut behind him.
Dropping her hands at her sides, she clenched them into fists and . . .
Screamed. At the very top of her lungs. Not caring if the dude in the liquor store next door heard her. Not giving a shit if the ladies at Clip & Dip, the pet groomer place on the other side, heard either. Not really giving a rat’s ass if Lane Gallagher himself heard her. She was over chasing after him. Over. It. The man feigned concern for her when really he was watching out for his little sister.
That was great and all. Wanting to ensure that his sister was safe didn’t make him a monster. She could appreciate it. But Lane wanted her. She knew it. Could feel the attraction brewing between them, and they’d had a few near misses. Almost kisses, too-long hugs, too-lingering glances. And he
she wanted him. Had been halfway in love with him for years. Yet he wouldn’t do anything about it. Nothing.
Well, fine. Neither would she. But that one long scream had felt damn good. Super good.
“My goodness, are you okay in here?” Pam Leonard, the owner of the pet salon, barged into the studio, her hands dripping with water and dog shampoo, her eyes so wide they looked like they were ready to bug out of her head. “I heard screaming!”
Taking a deep breath, Delilah smiled, feeling serene for the first time in what seemed like forever. “It was me. I’m fine, Pam.” Her smile grew, as did the knot in her stomach. Uh-oh. What did that mean? “Just fine.”
ANE DROVE THE
streets of Wildwood in his deputy patrol car just under the speed limit, his gaze everywhere, his mind focused on only one thing:
Making sure his little hometown was safe.
Safe from crime, safe from reckless teenagers, safe from careless tourists, and safe from a ruthless arsonist who seemed hell-bent on destroying Wildwood, one little annoying fire after another.
He frowned. Had to take back that last remark. The restaurant fire could’ve been a tragedy. So many people had been in there when the fire started. Eyewitness accounts mentioned just how chaotic it had become when everyone tried to escape at once. His sister had been in there, as well as her friend Harper. And . . .
Now he flat-out scowled, wishing Delilah wouldn’t creep into his thoughts. She was always there, sitting in the back of his mind, taunting him.
He’d stopped by her dance studio like he couldn’t help himself. He’d known Wren wasn’t there, but Delilah’s car had been parked out front. He’d walked in like a man possessed, needing just a glimpse after not having seen her since the day of the restaurant fire.
When he held her in his arms, relieved to find her safe.
When he’d been so damn close to kissing her.
When he’d shoved her away with a curt, “Glad you’re okay,” and gone about his business, reminding himself over and over he shouldn’t want her.
But he did.
Avoiding her never worked. He’d catch glimpses of her here and there—the town was too small and their circle of friends too tight—but he’d tried his best. Focused on work, which was his first true love. The fact that she distracted him so wholly scared the hell out of him most of the time.
And then there were the other times when all he could think about was seeing her. Making her smile or even making her mad, it didn’t matter. As long as he could stare at her, even for just a little bit, that was all that mattered.
He’d entered the dance studio and her scent lingered in the air, making his body stiffen. Hearing her voice call out had made him close his eyes so he could savor it and he’d turned around, not wanting her to see his face when she finally came out to greet him. Still wasn’t prepared when he turned and saw her.
That little bra top thing she wore hid nothing. So much skin on display, though he was sort of mad her legs were covered up. They were her best asset, and he’d imagined those long, lean legs of hers wrapped around his hips more than once. It had taken everything in him to keep his gaze glued on her pretty, pissed-off face and not blatantly check her out like he wanted.
She was angry with him because he wouldn’t make a move, but he couldn’t. She’d been with West a long time ago and he didn’t poach off his brothers. Yeah, yeah, West had moved on with Harper and they made a perfect couple. They seemed perfectly in love. Perfectly happy. He knew West wouldn’t give a shit if he made a move on Delilah.
But there was something about the woman that flat out scared him. She was—intense. Sexy. Smart as hell. Funny. She had no qualms showing her feelings. Meaning that most of the time she was a stressed-out, sexually frustrated woman with a grudge when they were around each other. Not that he could blame her.
She made him feel all kinds of sexually frustrated too. He hadn’t been this well acquainted with his hand since he was a teenager . . .
Pushing all thoughts of Delilah out of his brain as best he could, he refocused on his drive as he headed toward the outskirts of town, near the north end of Wildwood Lake. Spots of the mountainous landscape had been left scorched and black, a result of the latest fire set by the arsonist.
He was ramping up his activity, and the townspeople were starting to notice.
And damn it, Lane wished he could make the fires stop. But he couldn’t. Worse, he couldn’t wrap his head around the arsonist’s motives. Why was this happening?
Did arson ever make sense though? Was there ever a rational reason that made people go, “Oh, I get why he burned the entire town down”?
That would be a no. He could wrap his head around an owner burning his building down for insurance purposes. It was a bad idea, and an illegal one too, but still. He got it.
But burning down random buildings and pieces of land just for the hell of it? That made zero sense. He didn’t like it. Made him feel like he was at war with an anonymous enemy. Meaning he could trust no one.