Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  


Jill Shalvis

  * * *


  Jill Shalvis

  * * *

  * * *



  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14


  * * *

  * * *



  Ten Years Ago

  The line of cars heading out of the Daisy Inn was long but giddy. After all, it was prom night. The night of hopes and dreams. The night of spiked punch and lost virginity. The culmination of high school, where one was to have the time of one's life.

  Unless you were a Tremaine, of course.

  In the town of Pleasantville, Ohio, the only thing worse than being a member of that family was being a female member.

  Cassie Tremaine Montgomery, an extremely female Tremaine, looked over at her date. Biff Walters. Hard to imagine any mother disliking her newborn son enough to name him Buff. But his name had nothing to do with the reason why Cassie had agreed to go to the prom with the tall, blond, gorgeous—but stupid—football star.

  No, the reason had everything to do with his graduation present from his daddy—a cherry-red Corvette.

  Since Cassie had a love affair with all things expensive and out of her reach, the convertible had been irresistible.

  "Hey, baby," Biff said, catching her eye and putting his big, beefy, sweaty paw of a hand on her thigh. "You look hot tonight."

  How original. Not. So she was blond and five foot ten, with the stacked body of a Playboy model—she'd been that way since the age of thirteen. Which meant men had been drooling over her for four years now. Added to that was the fact that while the men in her family were bastards—some quite literally—the women were all tramps. No exceptions. There was a minor it even said so in the law books.

  She could live with the stigma, or get the hell out of Pleasantville. The town didn't care much either way.

  Unfortunately as a kid, the second option had never been viable. She and her cousin Kate had grown up learning that lesson all too well. Cassie's mother, Flo, otherwise known as the town vixen, had long ago guaranteed her daughter's fate by cheerfully seducing as many of the husbands in town as possible.

  By default, Cassie was as unpopular—or popular if you asked the men—as her mother.

  Which burned her; it always had. So Flo had a weakness. Men. So what? Everyone had a weakness. At least her mother's was basically harmless.

  "Wanna go to the lake?" Biff asked hopefully.

  Ugh. The lake was the typical make-out spot just outside of town. Tonight it'd be crowded with over-eager guys toting their dressed-to-the-hilt dates, if they were lucky enough to have coaxed them out there.

  Not for her, thank you very much. Cassie didn't share her mother's weakness for men, and never would.

  "Of course you want to go, you're a Tremaine." Biff laughed uproariously at that. His fingers squeezed her thigh and moved upward, leaving a damp streak on the designer silk dress she'd secretly purchased at a thrift store.

  "All the Tremaine women love sex." He was confident on this. "The wilder the better. It's why I asked you to the prom. Come on, show me what you've got, baby." Leaning over, he planted his mouth on the side of her neck, smearing beer breath over her skin.

  Smiling when she wanted to puke, Cassie backed away and combed her fingers through the hairstyle she'd spent hours copying from an ad in Cosmo. Fine price she was going to pay for wanting a cruise through town in a hot car. Now she had to figure a way out of the rest of the night. "What's the rush?"

  "This." Biff, panting now, put his hand on his erection to adjust himself.

  Oh, good God, men were ridiculous. The smell of beer and sweat permeated the car's close quarters. "Buff, they didn't let us buy beer before the prom, remember? We got carded."

  "I know." He looked extremely proud of himself.

  "So why do I smell it on you?"

  His grin was wide, wicked and stupid. "Jeff had a twelve-pack in the bathroom. He gave me half."

  Six beers. Cassie wasn't afraid of much, and God knows the town thought her a brainless drunk in the making simply because of the misfortune of her genes but, contrary to popular belief, she was very fond of living. "You drank them all?"

  "Yeah." They pulled out of the inn in a show-off peel of tires. The car swerved, making Cassie grab the dashboard with a gasp.

  "Don't worry, baby." He sent her another ridiculously dumb grin. "I drive better under the influence."

  Right. Damn it, graduation was only a week away. Freedom loomed like a rainbow over her future. Seven days and she was outta this one-horse town and she wasn't going to ever look back. She was going to show the world she could be someone. Someone special.

  But she had to be alive to do it. "Biff, pull over."

  "Now, baby—"

  "Stop the car," she said through her teeth. If he called her baby one more time she was going to scream. And then she was going to make him scream.

  "Watch this." He stomped on the gas and whipped into the oncoming traffic's lane to pass a slower car. "Woo-hoo!" He craned his neck to look backward, flipping his middle finger at the driver as he came back into the right-hand lane with one second to spare before causing a head-on collision. "Bitchin'!"

  "Biff." Cassie's fingernails, the ones she'd so carefully painted candy-apple red, dug into his dash.


  "Ah, shit," he said at the same time Cassie heard the whoop of a siren. Flashing lights lit up Biff's face as he swore the air blue.

  They pulled over. When Cassie saw Sheriff Richard Taggart coming toward them, all she could think was Thank God. He'd just saved her from a car accident. Or at the very least, a wrestling match with an idiot.

  Biff was still swearing, and Cassie couldn't blame him. The sheriff wasn't exactly a warm, fuzzy sort, though she did trust him despite his being a tough hard-ass. She trusted him because he was the only man she knew who hadn't slept with her mother, and therefore the only man she knew worthy of her respect.

  He came to the driver's window. Tipped his hat back. Switched his gum from one side to the other. Calmly and quietly assessed the situation with his sharp, sharp eyes. "You kids heading anywhere special?"

  "Are you kidding? Look at my date." Biff leaned back so the sheriff could see Cassie. "I got me a Tremaine for the night."

  The sheriff looked at Cassie. Something in his eyes shifted. "The lake, huh?" he asked.

  Biff just shot his idiotic grin. The sheriff shook his head. "Get out of the car, Biff."

  "But Uncle Rich—"

  "Out of the car," the sheriff repeated. "You won't be driving again any time soon. I can smell you from here."

  "Ah, man—" Biff started to whine, but sucked it up when the sheriff glared at him.

  "Start walking home, little nephew. Before I arrest you for Driving Under the Influence."

  Biff slammed out of the car like a petulant child and without so much as a backward glance at Cassie, whose panties he'd wanted to get into only five minutes before, started walking.

  Fine. Cassie tossed her hair out of her face and did her best impression of someone who didn't care what happened. But her heart was pounding, because though she was grateful he'd pulled them over, suddenly she felt … nervous.

  That was ridiculous. He was rough and edgy, ruled the town with an iron fist, but he was also fair. A pillar of the community.

  No reason for her to feel anxious. After all, what would he do now? He'd probably just make her walk home, too. Yeah, that worked for her. The entire evening had been a bust anyway. She had no idea why she'd thought dressing up and going out with the most popular jerk—er, jock—would be fun.



  "Don't you dress up nice."

  He was staring at … her breasts? That didn't seem right. Cassie managed to keep her shock to herself. "I—yes."

  "You think the dress changes what you are?" he asked softly. "Or who you are?" His gaze ran over the black silk, which had been designed to make men beg for mercy. She'd loved it when she'd found it, she'd loved it all the way until this very second, but now she felt like hugging herself.

  "Get out of the car."

  She didn't move, and he leaned in. "I can make you," he said silkily. "In fact, I'd like that."

  There was no one around. Not that anyone would have stood up for her if there had been. No doubt the people in the cars driving by figured she'd done something to warrant the sheriff pulling her over. Chin high, Cassie got out of the car. Casually leaned back against it. Tossed her head. Played cool as a cucumber. "What can I do for you, Sheriff?"

  "What can you do for me?" He stepped close. So close she could see the lights from his squad car dancing in his eyes. Smell his breath. Feel his hips brush hers. She wanted to cringe back, wanted to panic, but no way in hell was anyone in this goddamned town ever going to see her panic.

  "What you can do for me, Cassie, is rather complicated, though being Flo's daughter…"

  "You … know Flo?"


  He was aroused. And he had been with her mother. Odd how that felt like such a betrayal. But she was very careful not to react because it was one thing to mess with a stupid eighteen-year-old punk driving his brand-new car. It was another thing entirely to mess with a fully grown, aroused man with a badge. Fear threatened to paralyze her but she tossed her hair back again. "You must have mistaken me for my mother then."

  "I don't make mistakes." He lifted a hand.

  It hovered in the air between them for a long moment, while Cassie held her breath. When she released it, his fingers danced along the very tops of her breasts, which were pushed up and out by her dress. His breathing changed then, quickened, and she realized he was no different from his nephew at all. The knowledge that any man, even this one, could be turned into a slave by his own penis was disturbing.

  Skin crawling, she slapped his hand away. "Unless you're going to arrest me for having the poor judgment to go out with your idiot nephew, our business here is over," she said with remarkable calm. "Get out of my way. I'm walking home."

  "I can give you a ride. Maybe Flo is home. Maybe the two of you would be interested…"

  She shivered at the obvious innuendo. He wanted the both of them together. And why not, right? After all, a Tremaine was a Tremaine.

  How did her mother stand this? Seducing men at the drop of a hat because she could? Cassie understood Flo enjoyed the power of bringing a man to his knees with lust, but Cassie would rather bring a man to his knees with pain. A direct kick to the family jewels would do it.

  But this wasn't the man to do that to. Keeping her smile in place, she pushed past him. "Sorry, Sheriff. Not in the mood tonight."

  Her heels clicked on the asphalt as she started walking. Don't follow me, don't follow me. She felt him watching her every step of the way, until she turned the corner.

  Only then, when she knew she was truly alone and out of his sight, did she break stride and start running. No one stopped her. No one cared enough to.

  Down Magnolia Avenue

  to Petunia Avenue

  , and then finally she turned off onto Pansy Lane

  . For the first time she didn't stop to sneer at the ridiculous flower names of the streets, and instead ran down the driveway of the duplex she'd shared all her life with her mother.

  Her aunt and cousin lived on the other side. Kate would be a huge comfort right now, the voice of calm reason, but she'd still be with her date from the prom. Probably having the time of her life.

  Cassie didn't go inside the house. Didn't want to face her mother, who would get misty-eyed at the sight of Cassie all over again. They both knew Cassie was leaving, and soon. The day she graduated, if possible. She had a life to find.

  And someday she'd come back here and show them all. She'd come back driving a fancy car. She'd live in the biggest house on Lilac Hill, just because she could. And … oh, yes, this was her favorite … she'd get the sheriff. Somehow, some way.

  But most of all, she'd … become someone. Someone special.

  She went around the side of the duplex to the backyard. Kicked off the Nine West pumps she'd saved all last month for and dug her toes into the grass. Tipping back her head, she gauged the distance she had to jump in the dress wrapped around her like Saran wrap.

  And took a flying leap for the rope ladder. In her skimpy black dress, she shimmied up the tree and landed in the tree house that had served as her and Kate's getaway all their lives.

  It was cramped. And musty. Probably full of spiders. It'd been a long time since she'd needed to be alone, but she needed that now. Desperately. She was close—far too close—to losing it, when losing it was not an option. Ever.

  Opening the small wooden cigar box she and Kate kept hidden, she took out her private and personal vice and lit it. A cigarette. It helped steady her nerves. There was also her diary, and Kate's, inside the box. She reached for hers.

  Leaning back against the trunk of the tree, she studied the stars, mentally reviewing the list of things she wanted to accomplish with her life before she scribbled them into her diary. Kate would get a kick out of the fancy-car goal, she was sure of it.

  When she was done writing, she leaned back and watched a falling star, and though she would have denied it to her dying day, she wished. She wished that life would get better soon as she got the hell out of Pleasantville.

  * * *

  Chapter 1


  Ten Years Later

  Sheriff Sean Taggart—Tag as he was commonly known—had eaten, showered and was sprawled naked and exhausted across his bed when the phone rang.

  "Forget it," he muttered, not bothering to lift his head. He didn't have the energy. God, he needed sleep. He'd been up all night helping a neighboring county sheriff chase down a man wanted for two bank robberies. Then this morning, before he could so much as think about sleep, he'd had to rescue four stupid cows from the middle of the highway. He'd also wrestled a drunken and equally stupid teenager out of a deep gorge.

  Then he'd delivered a baby when the mother had decided labor pains were just gas so that she'd ended up stranding herself thirty-five miles from nowhere.

  Now, though it was barely the dinner hour, he just might never move again. He lived alone on a hill above town. Not on Lilac Hill like the rich, but in a nice, comfortable, sleepy little subdivision where the houses were far apart and old enough to be full of character—aka run-down. His place was more rundown than most, which was how he'd afforded it.

  Renovation had come slow and costly, so much so that he'd only gotten to his bedroom and kitchen thus far. But it was his, and it was home. After growing up with a father who ruled not only the town with an iron fist but his kid as well, and no mother from the time she'd left for greener pastures when he'd turned eight, having a warm, cozy home had become very important to him.

  Truth be known, he was ready for more than just a home these days. It wasn't his family he wanted more of, as he and his father had never been close. How could they be when they didn't share the same ideas, morals or beliefs, and to the older Taggart, Tag was little more than a disappointment. Regardless of the strained relationship with his father, Tag felt he was missing something else. He was ready for a friend, a lover, a wife. A soul mate. Someone he could depend on for a change, instead of the other way around.

  But right now, he'd settle for eight hours of sleep in a row.

  The phone kept ringing. Turning his head he pried one eye open and looked at it. It could be anyone. It could be his father, ex-sheriff, now retired, calling to tell Tag how to do his job. Again.

  Or it could be an emergency, because if life had taught Tag
any lesson at all, it was that just about anything could happen.

  "Damn it." He yanked up the receiver. "What?"

  "Dispatch," Annie reported in her perpetually cheerful voice. Off duty she was his ex-fiancée and pest extraordinaire. On duty, she was still his ex-fiancée and pest extraordinaire. Not long after becoming engaged, they'd decided they were better coworkers than co-habitors, and they'd been right. Tag could never have taken her eternal cheerfulness in bed night after night.

  "Heard you didn't even kiss Sheila good night after your date," she said. "I'll have you know I went to a lot of trouble to set that up. You've got to kiss 'em, Tag, or you're going to ruin your bad-boy rep."

  He groaned and rolled over. "God, I hope so."

  "I just want you happy. Like I am."

  She was getting married next month to one of his deputies, which was a good thing. But now she wanted him as almost married as she was. Sighing would do no good. Neither would ignoring her—she was more ruthless than a pit bull terrier. "If it's any of your business, which it's not, I didn't kiss Sheila because it wasn't a date. I didn't even want to go in the first place—" Why was he bothering? She wouldn't listen. Rubbing his eyes, he stared at the ceiling. "Why are you calling?"

  "Know why you're so grumpy? You need to get laid once in a while. Look—" As if departing a state secret, she lowered her voice. "Sex is a really great stress reliever. I'd give you some to remind you, just as a favor, mind you, but I'm a committed woman now."

  Tag wished he was deep asleep. "Tell me you're not calling me from the dispatch phone to say this to me."

  "Someone has to, Tag, honey."

  "I'm going back to sleep now."

  "You can't."

  "Why not?" He heard the rustling of papers as Annie shifted things on her desk. He pictured the mess—the stacks, the unified reports, the mugs of coffee and chocolate candy wrappers strewn over everything—and got all the more tense. "Look at the computer screen in front of you," he instructed. "Read me your last call."