The law is a lady, p.8
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       The Law is a Lady, p.8

           Nora Roberts
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  “Still afraid we’re going to corrupt your town, Sheriff?”

  “You and your people will stay in line, Kincaid,” she returned, “or you’ll have your old room back.”

  “It’s comforting to know you have it waiting for me. Are you?”

  “Waiting for you?” She gave a quick snort of laughter. “Just like the Egyptians waited for the next plague.”

  “Ah, Victoria, you’ve a unique way of putting things.”

  Tory frowned, listening to the odd hissing on the line. “What’s that noise?”

  “Noise?”

  “It sounds like water running.”

  “It is,” he told her. “I’m in the shower.”

  For a full ten seconds Tory said nothing, then she burst out laughing. “Phil, why did you call me from the shower?”

  Something about her laughter and the way she said his name had him struggling against a fresh torrent of needs. “Because it reminded me of you.”

  Tory propped her feet on the desk, forgetting her brief. Something in her was softening. “Oh?” was all she said.

  “I remembered running out of hot water halfway through my shower in your guest room.” He pushed wet hair out of his eyes. “At the time I wasn’t in the mood to lodge a formal complaint.”

  “I’ll take it up with the management.” She caught her tongue between her teeth for a moment. “I wouldn’t expect deluxe accommodations in the hotel, Kincaid. There’s no room service or phones in the bathroom.”

  “We’ll survive.”

  “That’s yet to be seen,” she said dryly. “Your group may undergo culture shock when they find themselves without a Jacuzzi.”

  “You really think we’re a soft bunch, don’t you?” Annoyed, Phil switched the phone to his other hand. It nearly slid out of his wet palm. “You may learn a few things about the people in the business this summer, Victoria. I’m going to enjoy teaching you.”

  “There’s nothing I want to learn from you,” she said quietly.

  “Want and need are entirely different words,” he pointed out. He could almost see the flash of temper leap into her eyes. It gave him a curious pleasure.

  “As long as you play by the rules, there won’t be any trouble.”

  “There’ll be a time, Tory,” he murmured into the receiver, “that you and I will play by my rules. I still have a promise to keep.”

  Tory pulled her legs from the desk so that her boots hit the floor with a clatter. “Don’t forget to wash behind your ears,” she ordered, then hung up with a bang.

  Chapter 5

  Tory was in her office when they arrived. The rumble of cars outside could mean only one thing. She forced herself to complete the form she was filling out before she rose from her desk. Of course she wasn’t in any hurry to see him again, but it was her duty to be certain the town remained orderly during the arrival of the people from Hollywood. Still, she hesitated a moment, absently fingering her badge. She hadn’t yet resolved how she was going to handle Phil. She knew the law clearly enough, but the law wouldn’t help when she had to deal with him without her badge. Tod burst through the door, his eyes wide, his face flushed.

  “Tory, they’re here! A whole bunch of them in front of the hotel. There’re vans and cars and everything!”

  Though she felt more like swearing, she had to smile at him. He only forgot himself and called her Tory when he was desperately excited. And he was such a sweet boy, she mused, so full of dreams. Crossing to him, she dropped an arm over his shoulder. He no longer cringed.

  “Let’s go see,” she said simply.

  “Tory—Sheriff,” Tod corrected himself, although the words all but tumbled over each other, “do you think that guy’ll let me watch him make the movie? You know, the guy you had in jail.”

  “I know,” Tory murmured as they stepped outside. “I imagine so,” she answered absentmindedly.

  The scene outside was so out of place in Friendly, it almost made Tory laugh. There were several vehicles in front of the hotel, and crowds of people. The mayor stood on the sidewalk, talking to everyone at once. Several of the people from California were looking around the town with expressions of curiosity and astonishment. They were being looked over with the same expressions by people from Friendly.

  Different planets, Tory mused with a slight smile. Take me to your leader. When she spotted Phil, the smile faded.

  He was dressed casually, as he had been on his first visit to town—no different than the members of his crew. And yet, there was a difference. He held the authority; there was no mistaking it. Even while apparently listening to the mayor, he was giving orders. And, Tory added thoughtfully, being obeyed. There seemed to be a certain friendliness between him and his crew, as well as an underlying respect. There was some laughter and a couple of shouts as equipment was unloaded, but the procedure was meticulously orderly. He watched over every detail.

  “Wow,” Tod said under his breath. “Look at all that stuff. I bet they’ve got cameras in those boxes. Maybe I’ll get a chance to look through one.”

  “Mmm.” Tory saw Phil laugh and heard the sound of it drift to her across the street. Then he saw her.

  His smile didn’t fade but altered subtly. They assessed each other while his people milled and hers whispered. The assessment became a challenge with no words spoken. She stood very straight, her arm still casually draped around the boy’s shoulders. Phil noticed the gesture even as he felt a stir that wasn’t wholly pleasant. He ached, he discovered, baffled. Just looking at her made him ache. She looked cool, even remote, but her eyes were directed at his. He could see the small badge pinned to the gentle sweep of her breast. On the dry, sweltering day she was wine, potent and irresistible—and perhaps unwise. One of his crew addressed him twice before Phil heard him.

  “What?” His eyes never left Tory’s.

  “Huffman’s on the phone.”

  “I’ll get back to him.” Phil started across the street.

  When Tory’s arm stiffened, Tod glanced up at her in question. He saw that her eyes were fixed on the man walking toward them. He frowned, but when Tory’s arm relaxed, so did he.

  Phil stopped just short of the sidewalk so that their eyes were at the same level. “Sheriff.”

  “Kincaid,” she said coolly.

  Briefly he turned to the boy and smiled. “Hello, Tod. How are you?”

  “Fine.” The boy stared at him from under a thatch of tumbled hair. The fact that Phil had spoken to him, and remembered his name, made something move inside Tory. She pushed it away, reminding herself she couldn’t afford too many good feelings toward Phil Kincaid. “Can I . . .” Tod began. He shifted nervously, then drew up his courage. “Do you think I could see some of that stuff?”

  A grin flashed on Phil’s face. “Sure. Go over and ask for Bicks. Tell him I said to show you a camera.”

  “Yeah?” Thrilled, he stared at Phil for a moment, then glanced up at Tory in question. When she smiled down at him, Phil watched the boy’s heart leap to his eyes.

  Uh-oh, he thought, seeing the slight flush creep into the boy’s cheeks. Tory gave him a quick squeeze and the color deepened.

  “Go ahead,” she told him.

  Phil watched the boy dash across the street before he turned his gaze back to Tory. “It seems you have another conquest. I have to admire his taste.” When she stared at him blankly, he shook his head. “Good God, Tory, the kid’s in love with you.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” she retorted. “He’s a child.”

  “Not quite,” he countered. “And certainly old enough to be infatuated with a beautiful woman.” He grinned again, seeing her distress as her eyes darted after Tod. “I was a fourteen-year-old boy once myself.”

  Annoyed that he had pointed out something she’d been oblivious to, Tory glared at him. “But never as innocent as that one.”

  “No,” he agreed easily and stepped up on the sidewalk. She had to shift the angle of her chin to keep her eyes in line with hi
s. “It’s good to see you, Sheriff.”

  “Is it?” she returned lazily as she studied his face.

  “Yes, I wondered if I’d imagined just how beautiful you were.”

  “You’ve brought quite a group with you,” she commented, ignoring his statement. “There’ll be more, I imagine.”

  “Some. I need some footage of the town, the countryside. The actors will be here in a couple of days.”

  Nodding, she leaned against a post. “You’ll have to store your vehicles at Bestler’s. If you have any plans to use a private residence or a store for filming, you’ll have to make the arrangements individually. Hernandez’s Bar is open until eleven on weeknights, one on Saturday. Consumption of alcohol on the streets is subject to a fifty-dollar fine. You’re liable for any damage to private property. Whatever alterations you make for the filming will again have to be cleared individually. Anyone causing a disturbance in the hotel or on the streets after midnight will be fined and sentenced. As this is your show, Kincaid, I’ll hold you personally responsible for keeping your people in line.”

  He listened to her rundown of the rules with the appearance of careful interest. “Have dinner with me.”

  She very nearly smiled. “Forget it.” When she started to walk by him, he took her arm.

  “Neither of us is likely to do that, are we?”

  Tory didn’t shake off his arm. It felt too good to be touched by him again. She did, however, give him a long, lazy look. “Phil, both of us have a job to do. Let’s keep it simple.”

  “By all means.” He wondered what would happen if he kissed her right then and there. It was what he wanted, he discovered, more than anything he had wanted in quite some time. It would also be unwise. “What if we call it a business dinner?”

  Tory laughed. “Why don’t we call it what it is?”

  “Because then you wouldn’t come, and I do want to talk to you.”

  The simplicity of his answer disconcerted her. “About what?”

  “Several things.” His fingers itched to move to her face, to feel the soft, satiny texture of her skin. He kept them loosely hooked around her arm. “Among them, my show and your town. Wouldn’t it simplify matters for both of us if we understood each other and came to a few basic agreements?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Have dinner with me in my room.” When her brow arched, he continued lazily. “It’s also my office for the time being,” he reminded her. “I’d like to clear the air regarding my film. If we’re going to argue, Sheriff, let’s do it privately.”

  The Sheriff did it. It was both her title and her job. “All right,” she agreed. “Seven o’clock.”

  “Fine.” When she started to walk away, he stopped her. “Sheriff,” he said with a quick grin, “leave the gun in the desk, okay? It’ll kill my appetite.”

  She gave a snort of laughter. “I can handle you without it, Kincaid.”

  ***

  Tory frowned at the clothes hanging inside her closet. Even while she had been showering, she had considered putting on work clothes—and her badge—for her dinner with Phil. But that would have been petty, and pettiness wasn’t her style. She ran a fingertip over an emerald-green silk dress. It was very simply cut, narrow, with a high neck that buttoned to the waist. Serviceable and attractive, she decided, slipping it off the hanger. Laying it across the bed, she shrugged out of her robe.

  Outside, the streets were quiet. She hoped they stayed that way, as she’d put Merle in charge for the evening. People would be gathered in their homes, at the drugstore, at the bar, discussing the filming. That had been the main topic of the town for weeks, overriding the heat, the lack of rain, and the Kramer twins. Tory smiled as she laced the front of her teddy. Yes, people needed their little entertainments, and this was the biggest thing to happen in Friendly in years. She was going to have to roll with it. To a point.

  She slipped the dress over her head, feeling the silk slither on her skin. It had been a long time, she realized, since she had bothered about clothes. In Albuquerque she took a great deal of care about her appearance. A courtroom image was as important as an opening statement, particularly in a jury trial. People judged. Still, she was a woman who knew how to incorporate style with comfort.

  The dress flattered her figure while giving her complete freedom of movement. Tory looked in the bureau-top mirror to study her appearance. The mirror cut her off at just above the waist. She rose on her toes and turned to the side but was still frustrated with a partial view of herself. Well, she decided, letting her feet go flat again, it would just have to do.

  She sprayed on her scent automatically, remembering too late Phil’s comment on it. Tory frowned at the delicate bottle as she replaced it on the dresser. She could hardly go and scrub the perfume off now. With a shrug she sat on the bed to put on her shoes. The mattress creaked alarmingly. Handling Phil Kincaid was no problem, she told herself. That was half the reason she had agreed to have dinner with him. It was a matter of principle. She wasn’t a woman to be seduced or charmed into submission, particularly by a man of Kincaid’s reputation. Spoiled, she thought again, but with a tad too much affection for her liking. He’d grown up privileged, in a world of glitter and glamour. He expected everything to come his way, women included.

  Tory had grown up respecting the value of a dollar in a world of ordinary people and day-to-day struggles. She, too, expected everything to come her way—after she’d arranged it. She left the room determined to come out on top in the anticipated encounter. She even began to look forward to it.

  Phil’s room was right next door. Though she knew he had seen to that small detail himself, Tory planned to make no mention of it. She gave a brisk knock and waited.

  When he opened the door, the glib remark Phil had intended to make vanished from his brain. He remembered his own thoughts about seeing her in something silk and vivid and could only stare. Exquisite. It was the word that hammered inside his brain, but even that wouldn’t come through his lips. He knew at that moment he’d have to have her or go through his life obsessed with the need to.

  “Victoria,” he managed after a long moment.

  Though her pulse had begun to pound at the look in his eyes, at the husky way he had said her name, she gave him a brisk smile. “Phillip,” she said very formally. “Shall I come in or eat out here?”

  Phil snapped back. Stammering and staring wasn’t going to get him very far. He took her hand to draw her inside, then locked the door, uncertain whether he was locking her in or the world out.

  Tory glanced around the small, haphazardly furnished room. Phil had already managed to leave his mark on it. The bureau was stacked with papers. There was a notepad, scrawled in from margin to margin, a few stubby pencils and a two-way radio. The shades were drawn and the room was lit with candles. Tory lifted her brows at this, glancing toward the folding card table covered with the hotel’s best linen. Two dishes were covered to keep in the heat while a bottle of wine was open. Strolling over, Tory lifted it to study the label.

  “Château Haut-Brion Blanc,” she murmured with a perfect accent. Still holding the bottle, she sent Phil a look. “You didn’t pick this up at Mendleson’s Liquors.”

  “I always take a few . . . amenities when I go on location.”

  Tilting her head, Tory set down the bottle. “And the candles?”

  “Local drugstore,” he told her blandly.

  “Wine and candlelight,” she mused. “For a business dinner?”

  “Humor the director,” he suggested, crossing over to pour out two glasses of wine. “We’re always setting scenes. It’s uncontrollable.” Handing her a glass, he touched it with the rim of his own. “Sheriff, to a comfortable relationship.”

  “Association,” she corrected, then drank. “Very nice,” she approved. She let her eyes skim over him briefly. He wore casual slacks, impeccably tailored, with an open-collared cream-colored shirt that accented his lean torso. The candlelight picked up the deep tones of red
in his hair. “You look more suited to your profession than when I first saw you,” she commented.

  “And you less to yours,” he countered.

  “Really?” Turning away, she wandered the tiny room. The small throw rug was worn thin in patches, the headboard of the bed scarred, the nightstand a bit unsteady. “How do you like the accommodations, Kincaid?”

  “They’ll do.”

  She laughed into her wine. “Wait until it gets hot.”

  “Isn’t it?”

  “Do the immortal words ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ mean anything to you?”

  He forced himself to keep his eyes from the movements of her body under the silk. “Want to see all the Hollywood riffraff melt away, Tory?”

  Turning, she disconcerted him by giving him her dashing smile. “No, I’ll wish you luck instead. After all, I invariably admire your finished product.”

  “If not what goes into making it.”

  “Perhaps not,” she agreed. “What are you feeding me?”

  He was silent for a moment, studying the eyes that laughed at him over the rim of a wineglass. “The menu is rather limited.”

 
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