Authors: Carly Phillips
If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 2003 by Carly Phillips
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover design by Diane Luger Cover illustration by Daniel Pelavin
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First eBook Edition: May 2007
“Can I help you, Miss?”
The woman in the wedding gown sitting in her car turned to face him. Something about her rang familiar, but Rick couldn’t say what. “I take it you’re having car problems?”
She nodded and sucked in a deep breath of air. “Do you think you can help me out of here first, Officer?” She extended her ringless hand. As she placed her smaller fingers into his grip, a jolt shook him hard. Shaking off the unnerving feeling, he pulled her toward him. She teetered forward, falling into his waiting arms.
“Darn high heels,” she muttered in his ear. “Thank you for your help, Officer.” She smiled.
“You’re welcome,” he said, but he lied. He wished he’d never answered her SOS. Rick had been exposed to many females in his lifetime and none had ever shaken him this badly. What he didn’t understand was why
PRAISE FOR CARLY PHILLIPS AND
“A romantic romp. . . . The sexual chemistry explodes.”
“A delight. . . . Readers will enjoy this warm romance.”
Midwest Book Review
“An all-around good story. . . . The characters are real and worth rooting for.”
To Janelle Denison for being there day after day, page after page, line after line, word after word. And then starting all over again. This one couldn’t have been done without you!
Once again thanks to Lynda Sue Cooper for answering my questions no matter how small and for writing
. You’re a godsend! Any errors are solely mine.
fficer Rick Chandler brought his patrol car to a stop in front of a quiet house on Fulton Street and exited with caution. Yorkshire Falls was a small upstate New York town, population approximately 1,725. The crime rate was low in comparison to the big cities and folks possessed vivid imaginations. Case in point, the last major crime spree had centered around a panty thief with Rick’s younger brother Roman as the town’s most popular, if absurd, suspect.
Lisa Burton, the woman who’d placed the 911 call this afternoon, was a middle school teacher not prone to exaggeration or fright and though Rick didn’t anticipate trouble now, he took nothing for granted. A preliminary check of the grounds told him everything was secure so he approached the front yard and strode up the bluestone steps. The door was shut tight and he knocked loudly. The shades on the side window ruffled as wary eyes peered out.
“Police.” He announced his presence. The sound of unlatching locks followed until the door opened a crack. “It’s Officer Chandler,” he said, keeping his hand on his gun as an instinctive precautionary measure.
“Thank God.” He recognized the home owner’s voice. “I thought you’d never get here.”
Lisa’s breathless, husky tone didn’t come as a shock. For all her schoolteacher conservativism, Lisa, he’d learned, had the hots for him. She’d made sexual overtures before and though Rick didn’t want to think she’d call the police unnecessarily, her seductive voice had him clenching his jaw. “You reported a disturbance?” he asked.
The door swung open wide. He stepped inside—with caution at first—because she still hadn’t come out from behind the protection of the solid oak door.
“I reported a need for police presence.” She kicked the door closed behind him. “I reported a need for you.”
His gut told him there was no cause for procedural safeguards and he released his hold on his holstered gun. But he remained wary and as he inhaled, his instincts were proven right. A heavy perfumed odor surrounded him and every male defense mechanism he possessed kicked in. He coughed, gagging on what he assumed was meant to be a potent aphrodisiac. It was potent all right but the woman who’d made the phone call was doomed to disappointment. The only thing that was going to be turned on were the lights.
He hit the switch on the wall at the same time Lisa stepped into view. He ought to be surprised by her appearance but figured he was too jaded by recent events. The plain-looking schoolteacher had transformed herself into a daring dominatrix. From her thigh-high black leather boots to her fitted leather bustier, up to her wild, dark, kinky hair, her getup shouted take me now, on the floor, against the wall, it didn’t matter.
Rick shook his head. Though he already knew the answer, he asked anyway, “What the hell’s going on?”
She propped her shoulder against the wall and assumed a sultry pose. “That should be obvious by now. You’ve turned down every ordinary woman’s offer in town, including mine. I’m about to change that. Despite my day job and normal appearance, I can be
untraditional.” She crooked a red painted fingernail his way. “Come let me show you my props.”
A raised eyebrow was the most Rick could manage in response. Then he heaved a healthy sigh, certain of only one thing. His meddling mother, Raina, was behind Lisa’s continued, less-than-subtle attacks.
Raina had vested every woman with the notion that her middle son would settle down if only he found someone special, someone who’d keep him entertained. Lisa, like many other females in town, had obviously taken his mother’s words to heart. Though Raina was right in thinking Rick appreciated uniqueness, she was wrong believing he’d ever marry again, let alone have children. Given his past experience at the altar, his mother ought to know better.
Why put his heart on the line to be trampled when he could enjoy the vast array of women out there with no hurt involved? Though his playboy reputation was highly overrated, it was a fact he enjoyed women. Or he had until the Yorkshire Falls female population had launched their all-out attack on his bachelorhood.
“So are you ready to tie me up?” Lisa dangled a pair of fur-lined handcuffs his way.
Another time, another place, hell another woman and he might be interested in her charms. But with Lisa, the chemistry didn’t exist and he preferred her friendship to her feminine wiles. He folded his arms across his chest and told her what he’d said the last two times she’d propositioned him, though not as overtly as this. “Sorry. I’m not biting.”
She blinked, a sudden hint of vulnerability in her eyes. “That’s fine. I can do all the nibbling necessary for us both.” She smiled, baring her white teeth, her words dispelling any illusion of softness he thought he’d seen.
“Not now, Lisa.” He rubbed his aching temples. “To be honest, not ever.” The words didn’t come easily. Rick worried about her feelings despite her predatory actions. After all, his mother had raised him to be a gentleman. But he’d bet even Raina, for all her pushing, hadn’t anticipated how far the women of Yorkshire Falls would go to get his attention.
If Lisa favored leather over lace, she probably had a tough hide. Besides, she had to know with a blatant gesture like this, she was risking rejection. Just as he knew that if he softened toward her at all, he risked a repeat episode. It had happened before, not just with Lisa. Other women, other outrageous stunts. This was the third attempted seduction this week.
She shrugged and glanced away, obviously more fazed than she wanted to admit. Yet once again she recovered, this time by licking her tongue over glossed lips. “One day I will strike the right chord.”
He doubted it. Rick started for the door, but turned back. “You might want to take note of the fact that it’s illegal to call 911 unless you’re truly in distress.” He ought to take out a reminder ad in the paper, but why waste trees and ink when the women wouldn’t listen? Why should they when his determined mother wanted grandchildren and didn’t care which son provided one first.
“I’ll see you at the teacher DARE training program,” Lisa said before he shut the door behind him.
“Swell,” he muttered.
An hour later, his shift nearly over, Rick used the time to fill out a report, omitting select details of his last stop. He couldn’t see causing Lisa any trouble by reporting the incident as anything other than a false alarm. But he hoped this latest rejection had taught the teacher a new lesson about calling the police unnecessarily.
He picked up a rubber band and aimed it across the squad room. At one time he’d found his mother and her myriad women amusing, but no longer. He had to find a way to get them all to back off but damned if he knew how. He narrowed his gaze and fired away. The rubber band hit his target, a torn magazine photo of a sappy-looking bride and groom hanging against the backdrop of the dingy beige wall. “Bull’s-eye.”
“Better not let Mom see that.”
Rick turned as Chase, his oldest brother, walked up behind him, joining him at his desk.
Chase laughed but Rick wasn’t amused. Raina’s determination was legendary. Not even her heart condition had slowed her down. It wasn’t enough that his mother had married off their youngest brother, Roman. No, now in her quest for grandchildren she’d set her sights on Rick.
Chase was the ultimate bachelor who’d already helped Raina raise his younger siblings after their father’s death twenty years ago. Having done his familial duty, he’d been exempt from most of their mother’s matchmaking schemes—so far.
Rick wasn’t as fortunate. “You’d think Mom had her hands too full with her renewed social life to bother with mine.”
After years of being a widow, his mother had begun dating. Weird term for a woman of her age, Rick thought. But that’s what she was doing, dating Dr. Eric Fallon. Her loneliness had been a concern to all three sons and Rick couldn’t be happier that she’d finally moved on. He’d just hoped she’d be too absorbed in her new life to bother digging into his.
Chase shrugged. “Mom’s never too busy to meddle. Look at what she’s juggling now: the good doctor, angling to get a baby from Roman and Charlotte,” he said, speaking of their youngest brother and his new wife. “And being director of your social life.” He picked up a pencil and twirled it between his palms.
Rick rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen the tightness from too much time spent on patrol. In their small town, hierarchy didn’t mean squat, and the guys all pitched in for shift duty.
“At least Eric’s keeping her busy,” Chase said.
“Not busy enough. Maybe it’s time to give her a job. You ought to offer her employment.”
“As what?” Chase’s tone didn’t hide his shock.
“Gossip columnist seems appropriate to me,” Rick cracked, getting a smile out of his brother too.
But Chase sobered quickly. “No way am I bringing her into the office. Next thing I know she’ll be interfering with my social life too.”
“What social life?” Rick asked with a grin. Chase was so damn private Rick couldn’t help but give his more serious sibling a hard time.
Chase shook his head. “The things you don’t know about me.” A wry smile twisted his lips as he folded his arms across his chest. “For a cop, you’re awfully dense.”
“Because you keep everything to yourself.”
“Exactly right.” Chase nodded, satisfaction glittering in his blue eyes. “I like my privacy so I vote we let Mom focus on your love life for a while longer.”
“Gee thanks.” Speaking of Raina reminded Rick of her meddling and took him back to his last stop of the day. “You seen Lisa Burton lately?” he asked his brother.
“In Norman’s this morning, eating breakfast. Why?” He shrugged. “Just wondering. I had a false alarm at her house this afternoon.”
Chase perked up, his journalistic instincts obviously kicking in. “What kind of false alarm?”