The law is a lady, p.21
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       The Law is a Lady, p.21

           Nora Roberts
 
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  “Oh.” Tory felt the tears spring to her eyes and pulled him into her arms. “I’m going to miss you like crazy. Would you think I was stupid if I said I wish I were a fourteen-year-old girl?”

  Grinning, he drew away. Nothing she could have said could have pleased him more. “I guess if you were I could kiss you good-bye.”

  With a laugh Tory brushed a light kiss on his lips. “Go on, get out of here,” she ordered unsteadily. “Nothing undermines the confidence of a town more than having its sheriff crying in the middle of the street.”

  Feeling incredibly mature, Tod dashed away. Turning, he ran backward for a moment. “Will you write sometime?”

  “Yes, yes, I’ll write.” Tory watched him streak off at top speed. Her smile lost some of its sparkle. She was losing, she discovered, quite a bit in one day. Briskly shaking off the mood, she turned in the direction of her office. She was still a yard away when Merle strolled out.

  “Hey,” he said foolishly, glancing from her, then back at the door he’d just closed.

  “Hey yourself,” she returned. “You just got yourself a promotion, Merle T.”

  “Tory, there’s—Huh?”

  “Incredibly articulate,” she replied with a fresh smile. “I’m resigning. You’ll be acting sheriff until the election.”

  “Resigning?” He gave her a completely baffled look. “But you—” He broke off, shaking his head at the door again. “How come?”

  “I need to get back to my practice. Anyway”—she stepped up on the sidewalk—“it shouldn’t take long for me to fill you in on the procedure. You already know just about everything. Come on inside and we’ll get started.”

  “Tory.” In an uncharacteristic gesture he took her arm and stopped her. Shrewdly direct, his eyes locked on hers. “Are you upset about something?”

  Merle was definitely growing up, Tory concluded. “I just saw Tod.” It was part of the truth, and all she would discuss. “That kid gets to me.”

  His answer was a slow nod, but he didn’t release her arm. “I guess you know the movie people left late this morning.”

  “Yes, I know.” Hearing her own clipped response, Tory took a mental step back. “I don’t suppose it was easy for you to say good-bye to Marlie,” she said more gently.

  “I’ll miss her some,” he admitted, still watching Tory critically. “We had fun together.”

  His words were so calm that Tory tilted her head as she studied him. “I was afraid you’d fallen in love with her.”

  “In love with her?” He let out a hoot of laughter. “Shoot, I ain’t ready for that. No way.”

  “Sometimes being ready doesn’t make any difference,” Tory muttered. “Well,” she said more briskly, “since you’re not crying in your beer, why don’t we go over some things? I’d like to be in Albuquerque before the end of the week.”

  “Ah . . . yeah, sure.” Merle glanced around the empty street. “I gotta talk to somebody first over at, um . . . the hotel,” he announced. “Be right back.”

  Tory shot him an exasperated glance as he loped across the street. “Well,” she murmured, “some things never change.” Deciding she could spend the time packing her books and papers, Tory walked into the office.

  Seated at her desk, casually examining the .45, was Phil Kincaid. She stopped dead, gaping at him. “Sheriff,” he said mildly, giving the barrel an idle spin.

  “Phil.” She found her voice, barely. “What are you doing here?”

  He didn’t rise but propped his feet up on the desk instead. “I forgot something. Did you know you didn’t unload this thing last night?”

  She didn’t even glance at the gun but stood rooted to the spot. “I thought you’d left hours ago.”

  “Did you?” He gave her a long, steady look. The cold water and makeup had helped, but he knew her face intimately. “I did,” he agreed after a moment. “I came back.”

  “Oh.” So now she would have to deal with the good-bye a second time. Tory ignored the ache in her stomach and smiled. “What did you forget?”

  “I owe you something,” he said softly. The gesture with the gun was very subtle but clear enough.

  Only partially amused, Tory lifted a brow. “Let’s call it even,” she suggested. Wanting to busy her hands, she went to the shelf near the desk to draw out her books.

  “No,” he said mildly. “I don’t think so. Turn around, Sheriff.”

  Annoyance was the least painful of her emotions, so Tory let it out. “Look, Phil—”

  “In the cell,” he interrupted. “I can recommend the first one.”

  “You’re out of your mind.” With a thud she dropped the books. “If that thing’s loaded, you could hurt someone.”

  “I have some things to say to you,” he continued calmly. “In there.” Again he gestured toward the cell.

  Her hands went to her hips. “All right, Kincaid, I’m still sheriff here. The penalty for armed assault on a peace officer—”

  “Shut up and get in,” Phil ordered.

  “You can take that gun,” Tory began dangerously, “and—”

  Her suggestion was cut off when Phil grabbed her arm and hauled her into a cell. Stepping in with her, he pulled the door shut with a shattering clang.

  “You idiot!” Impotently, Tory gave the locked door a furious jerk. “Now just how the hell are we supposed to get out?”

  Phil settled comfortably on the bunk, propped on one elbow, with the gun lowered toward the floor. It was just as empty as it had been when Tory had bluffed him. “I haven’t anyplace better to go.”

  Fists on hips, Tory whirled. “Just what is this all about, Kincaid?” she demanded. “You’re supposed to be halfway to L.A. Instead you’re propped up at my desk. Instead of a reasonable explanation, you throw that gun around like some two-bit hood—”

  “I thought I did it with such finesse,” he complained, frowning at the object under discussion. “Of course, I’d rather have a piece with a bit more style.” He grinned up at her. “Pearl handle, maybe.”

  “Do you have to behave like such a fool?”

  “I suppose.”

  “When this is over, you’re going to find yourself locked up for months. Years, if I can manage it,” she added, turning to tug uselessly on the bars again.

  “That won’t work,” he told her amiably. “I shook them like crazy a few months ago.”

  Ignoring him, Tory stalked to the window. Not a soul on the street. She debated swallowing her pride and calling out. It would look terrific, she thought grimly, to have the sheriff shouting to be let out of one of her own cells. If she waited for Merle, at least she could make him swear to secrecy.

  “All right, Kincaid,” she said between her teeth. “Let’s have it. Why are you here and why the devil are we locked in the cell?”

  He glanced down at the gun again, then set it on the edge of the bunk. Automatically, Tory judged the distance. “Because,” and his voice had altered enough to lure her eyes to his, “I found myself in an impossible situation.”

  At those words Tory felt her heart come to a stop, then begin again at a furious rate. Cautiously she warned herself not to read anything into the statement. True, she remembered his use of the phrase when talking about love, but it didn’t follow that he meant the same thing now.

  “Oh?” she managed, and praised herself for a brilliant response.

  “‘Oh?’” Phil pushed himself off the bunk in a quick move. “Is that all you can say? I got twenty miles out of town,” he went on in sudden fury. “I told myself that was it. You wanted—I wanted—a simple transient relationship. No complications. We’d enjoyed each other—it was over.”

  Tory swallowed. “Yes, we’d agreed—”

  “The hell with what we agreed.” Phil grabbed her shoulders, shaking her until her mouth dropped open in shock. “It got complicated. It got very, very complicated.” Releasing her abruptly, he began to pace the cell he had locked them both into.

  “Twenty miles out of town
,” he repeated, “and I couldn’t make it. Even last night I told myself it was all for the best. You’d go your way, I’d go mine. We’d both have some great memories.” He turned to her then; although his voice lowered, it was no calmer. “Damn it, Tory, I want more than memories of you. I need more. You didn’t want this to happen, I know that.” Agitated, he ran a hand through his hair, while she said nothing. “I didn’t want it, either, or thought I didn’t. I’m not sure anymore. It might have been the first minute I walked in here, or that day at the cemetery. It might have been that night at the lake or a hundred other times. I don’t know when it happened, why it happened.” He shook his head as though it was a problem he’d struggled with and ultimately given up on. “I only know I love you. And God knows I can’t leave you. I tried—I can’t.”

  With a shuddering sigh Tory walked back to the bars and rested her head against them. The headache she had awoken with was now a whirling dizziness. A minute, she told herself. I just need a minute to take it in.

  “I know you’ve got a life in Albuquerque,” Phil continued, fighting against the fluttering panic in his stomach. “I know you’ve got a career that’s important to you. It isn’t something I’m asking you to choose between. There are ways to balance things if people want to badly enough. I broke the rules. I’m willing to make the adjustments.”

  “Adjustments . . .” Tory managed before she turned back to him.

  “I can live in Albuquerque,” he told her as he crossed the cell. “That won’t stop me from making movies.”

  “The studio—”

  “I’ll buy a plane and commute,” he said quickly. “It’s been done before.”

  “A plane.” With a little laugh she walked away, dragging a hand through her hair. “A plane.”

  “Yes, damn it, a plane.” Her reaction was nothing that he had expected. The panic grew. “You didn’t want me to go,” he began in defense, in fury. “You’ve been crying. I can tell.”

  A bit steadier, Tory faced him again. “Yes, I cried. No, I didn’t want you to go. Still, I thought it was best for both of us.”

  “Why?”

  “It wouldn’t be easy, juggling two careers and one relationship.”

  “Marriage,” he corrected firmly. “Marriage, Tory. The whole ball of wax. Kids too. I want you to have my children.” He saw the change in her eyes—shock, fear? Unable to identify it, Phil went to her again. “I said I love you.” Again he took her by the shoulders. This time he didn’t shake her but held her almost tentatively. “I have to know what you feel for me.”

  She spent a moment simply looking into his eyes. Loved her? Yes, she realized with something like a jolt. She could see it. It was real. And more, he was hurting because he wasn’t sure. Doubts melted away. “I’ve been in an impossible situation, I think, from the first moment Merle hauled you in here.”

  She felt his fingers tense, then relax again. “Are you sure?” he asked, fighting the need to drag her against him.

  “That I’m in love with you?” For the first time a ghost of a smile hovered around her mouth. “Sure enough that I nearly died when I thought you were leaving me. Sure enough that I was going to let you go because I’m just as stupid as you are.”

  His hands dove into her hair. “Stupid?” he repeated, drawing her closer.

  “‘He needs his own life. We agreed not to complicate things. He’d hate it if I begged him to stay.’” She smiled more fully. “Sound familiar?”

  “With a slight change in the personal pronoun.” Phil pulled her close just to hold her. Mine, they thought simultaneously, then clung. “Ah, Tory, last night was so wonderful—and so terrible.”

  “I know, thinking it was the last time.” She drew back only enough so their mouths could meet. “I’ve been giving some thought to it for a while,” she murmured, then lost the trend of thought as they kissed again.

  “To what?”

  “To . . . oh, to moving to the coast.”

  Framing her face with his hands, Phil tilted it to his. “You don’t have to do that. I told you, I can—”

  “Buy a plane,” she finished on a laugh. “And I’m sure you can. But I have given some thought lately to moving on. Why not California?”

  “We’ll work that out.”

  “Eventually,” she agreed, drawing his mouth back to hers.

  “Tory.” He held her off a moment, his eyes serious again. “Are you going to marry me?”

  She considered a moment, letting her fingers twine in his hair. “It might be wise,” she decided, “since we’re going to have those kids.”

  “When?”

  “It takes nine months,” she reminded him.

  “Marriage,” he corrected, nipping her bottom lip.

  “Well, after you’ve served your sentence . . . about three months.”

  “Sentence?”

  “Illegal use of a handgun, accosting a peace officer, improper use of a correctional facility . . .” She shrugged, giving him her dashing grin. “Time off for good behavior, you should be out in no time. Remember, I’m still sheriff here, Kincaid.”

  “The hell you are.” Pulling the badge from her blouse, he tossed it through the bars of the window. “Besides, you’ll never make it stick.”

  Keep reading for an excerpt from

  the third book in the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy

  by Nora Roberts

  THE PERFECT HOPE

  Available November 2012 from Berkley Books

  With a few groans and sighs, the old building settled down for the night. Under the starwashed sky its stone walls glowed, rising up over Boonsboro’s Square as they had for more than two centuries. Even the crossroads held quiet now, stretching out in pools of shadows and light. All the windows and storefronts along Main Street seemed to sleep, content to doze away in the balm of the summer night.

  She should do the same, Hope thought. Settle down, stretch out. Sleep.

  That would be the sensible thing to do, and she considered herself a sensible woman. But the long day left her restless and, she reminded herself, Carolee would arrive bright and early to start breakfast.

  The innkeeper could sleep in.

  In any case, it was barely midnight. When she’d lived and worked in Georgetown, she’d rarely managed to settle in for the night this early. Of course, then she’d been managing The Wickham, and if she hadn’t been dealing with some small crisis or handling a guest request, she’d been enjoying the nightlife.

  The town of Boonsboro, tucked into the foothills of Maryland’s Blue Ridge Mountains, might have a rich and storied history, and it certainly had its charms—among which she counted the revitalized inn she now managed—but it wasn’t famed for its nightlife.

  That would change a bit when her friend Avery opened her restaurant and tap house. And wouldn’t it be fun to see what the energetic Avery MacTavish did with her new enterprise right next door—and just across The Square from Avery’s pizzeria.

  Before summer ended, Avery would juggle the running of two restaurants, Hope thought.

  And people called her an overachiever.

  She looked around the kitchen—clean, shiny, warm, and welcoming. She’d already sliced fruit, checked the supplies, restocked the refrigerator. So everything sat ready for Carolee to prepare breakfast for the guests currently tucked in their rooms.

  She’d finished her paperwork, checked all the doors, and made her rounds checking for dishes—or anything else—out of place. Duties done, she told herself, and still she wasn’t ready to tuck her own self in her third-floor apartment.

  Instead she poured an indulgent glass of wine and did a last circle through The Lobby, switching off the chandelier over the central table with its showy summer flowers.

  She moved through the arch, gave the front door one last check before she turned toward the stairs. Her fingers trailed lightly over the iron banister.

  She’d already checked The Library, but she checked again. It wasn’t anal, she told herself. A guest migh
t have slipped in for a glass of Irish or a book. But the room was quiet, settled like the rest.

  She glanced back. She had guests on this floor. Mr. and Mrs. Vargas—Donna and Max—married twenty-seven years. The night at the inn, in Nick and Nora, had been a birthday gift for Donna from
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