Beautiful LawmanSophie Jordan
For Lindsay . . . for being there for me every single time.
The Devil’s Rock Series
About the Author
By Sophie Jordan
About the Publisher
The second time Clive Lewis grabbed her ass, she was ready for him.
The first time he’d grabbed her, she politely warned him against such a move. She couldn’t let a second time go unpunished.
Just like in high school, the former football player loved to harass her. And yet unlike high school, Piper wasn’t the same five-foot-two, flat-chested, ninety-pounds-soaking-wet girl hugging the shadows in an attempt to avoid boys like him. She was a hundred and ten pounds now. Still short and mostly flat-chested, but she had learned to fight back. She had to. Even if she did work in a strip club where the general consensus among the female staff was to be amenable to grabby men.
She whirled around, colliding the tray she held directly into his face. To the casual observer it could have looked like an accidental move on her part. It could.
The edge met the middle of his nose with a crack, breaking the skin. He howled and cupped his nose as blood ran down its length. His friends hissed in empathy.
She made out his muffled words to be: “Jesus, Walsh!”
She glared down at him. “Oops. Sorry about that. Maybe you should keep your paws to yourself.”
In high school he had been a muscle-bound behemoth. One of several that had prowled the halls. A jackal in the pack. Now all that muscle had gone to fat. His features had softened, too. Jowls gathered around his neck, making him look older than midtwenties.
“Piper!” Joe roared from across the bar.
Her gaze darted to her boss as he made his way between the small round tables toward her. Great. She would have to make a customer bleed when he was watching. He spent most of his time in his office with the blinds shut, occupying himself with any one of the girls who suppressed her bile enough to stomach his touch.
She lifted a hand, palm out in supplication, and spoke over the loud pump of “Gangnam Style” blaring from the stage speakers. “What? It was an accident. He startled me.”
She knew her boss would accept that excuse more than the actual truth—that she was fed up of getting groped by customers.
From the way Joe charged toward her, his shiny face glaring hotly, she knew he didn’t commiserate. She waitressed in a strip club. He’d told her on more than one occasion that a little grab-ass was part of the job . . . that it was even good for business.
“You have too many accidents!” He jabbed a finger toward the back of the club. “In my office. Now.”
Setting her tray down on an unoccupied table, she marched a hard line toward the office, her Chucks smacking the ground hard in defiance. That was another point of contention with him—her choice of wardrobe. No stilettos and sexy attire for her, thank you very much.
Since Joe was too cheap to provide a uniform, she wore jeans and sneakers and the same Joe’s Cabaret unisex T-shirt that the male bartenders, bouncers and DJ wore.
But really, she was a good waitress—when she wasn’t hitting customers with trays.
She always got customers their drinks quickly, and since that was half the bar’s revenue, Joe let the matter slide about her conservative choice of wardrobe. She wasn’t a dancer, after all. She didn’t need to walk around with dental floss up her butt.
As she headed toward Joe’s office, it was reminiscent of the many walks she had made to the principal’s office as a kid. She felt the stares of several customers and staff. She almost expected to hear the old singsong, “Oooh, you’re going to get it, Piper!”
Back in school, whenever anything went wrong—i.e., something was stolen, vandalized or someone just felt like making her life hell (more hell than it already was)—she was called before the principal. That’s what happened when your last name was Walsh in this town. At least it had been that way for her. She was working hard so that it wasn’t that way for Malia. Her sister deserved better and Piper was determined she get it. She owed that to her brother.
Joe waited until she passed through the threshold and then slammed the door so loud it rattled the thin wall. He pulled his pants up over his swollen midsection as he squared off in front of her.
“I just had to buy that table a round of drinks.” He jabbed a fat sausage finger in her direction. The thick diamond band wrapped around that finger seemed to wink and jeer at her. It had to’ve cost a fortune. A fortune he made off the exploitation of women. “That’s coming out of your pay.”
She inhaled sharply, mentally calculating the cost of a round of drinks. “That’s not fair, Joe!”
“You’ve used up all my goodwill, Piper. I only hired you because I thought you might change your mind and decide to dance.” He looked her up and down appraisingly. “You got what it takes. You’re small, barely got any tits, but you’re pretty and lots of guys are into spinners. You could do a great Catholic schoolgirl—”
“Ew.” She held up a hand. “Stop right there. I’ve already told you I’m not dancing. Besides. You need waitresses. You can barely serve all the tables you got.” She motioned behind her, indicating the room on the other side of the bar. “All the girls are too busy taking private dances—”
“Because that’s where the money is, sweetheart. If you want to bring home the green, then you need to do the same.”
Yes. She knew that. But she was trying to cling to what dignity she had left. It was one thing to waitress at Joe’s Cabaret and another thing to take to the stage or slink back into a private room for a lap dance. She knew more than lap dancing went on in those rooms.
She’d worked at Joe’s for a little over a year and she’d seen enough to know how it worked here. It always started with dancing, but then that led to other things. She couldn’t bring herself to take her clothes off for money.
She continued to apply for other jobs where she could earn what she did at Joe’s, but no luck. Sweet Hill was a small town and the name Walsh was no good in these parts. Her job before this had been as a cashier at Brothers’ Pantry. She’d worked there for almost two years when money went missing from the cash register. Of course Rick, the manager, told her he’d overlook it and she could keep her job if she gave him a hand job in one of the storage closets. Never mind the fact that she didn’t take the money. He was convinced she had. She was a Walsh, after all.
After she told him to go screw himself, he’d fired her. Without a proper reference, the only other job she could land after that was Joe’s Cabaret.
She couldn’t lose this job, too.
For no other reason did she bite her tongue and forget about her dock in pay. She adopted a conciliatory tone. “I’m sorry, Joe. You need me. You know that. I get the drinks out fast and free up the girls so that they can work the stage and private rooms.”
“I can get other waitresses to do that,” he grumbled, his gaze flitting over her. “Ones who aren’t nearly as pretty as you. We could make a lot of money together, Piper. The cu
stomers ask about you—”
Just then her phone started ringing in her back pocket.
Joe paused and scowled at her.
She forced herself to ignore it, resisting the urge to peek and reassure herself it wasn’t her sister calling. Joe forbade phones at work, but because Malia stayed home alone while she worked, Piper hid it in her pocket.
She nodded as Joe kept talking, pretending to listen as her phone went silent.
Less than five seconds later, it started ringing again. She dove for it this time, unable to ignore it. “Sorry, Joe,” she said, glancing down as she pulled her phone from her pocket, her stomach sinking at the name on the screen. “It’s my little sister. I have to take it.”
His face glowered, but she answered it, her fingers clutching the phone tightly as she spoke. “Malia? Everything okay?”
“Piper. I’ve been trying to get ahold of you forever.”
Damn. She had missed her earlier calls. She must not have switched the phone to vibrate and the music must have been too loud on the floor.
Her sister’s voice trembled as she continued. “I need you to come and get me.”
“Where are you? You’re supposed to be at home doing your homework.” Or, given the hour, asleep in bed.
“Um, I went out with some friends.”
Piper temporarily ignored the fact that her sister didn’t have permission to go anywhere, instead seeking reassurance that her sister was safe. “Are you okay?” she asked anxiously.
“Yes. I’m fine. We’re all fine. We were just walking around . . . doing nothing . . . and this cop picked us up and brought us to the station. He said we shouldn’t be walking the streets so late and we had to call our parents to come and get us.”
Of course a group of fifteen-year-olds shouldn’t be roaming the streets at midnight. That was just a recipe for trouble.
Piper bowed her head and squeezed the bridge of her nose. Guilt stabbed at her. She should have been home looking after Malia instead of here.
And then how would you buy groceries? Or pay rent so they had a roof over their heads? To say nothing of Malia’s soccer expenses. Those aren’t insignificant.
Her sister continued. “I’m at the Sweet Hill Sheriff’s Department. Can you come?”
“Of course. I’m on my way.” She hung up and faced her boss. From his expression, he got the gist of what was happening and he looked as unhappy as she felt.
“I have to go. It’s a family emergency.”
He waved a hand out toward the main floor of the club. “And what about all your tables? Who’s gonna cover them?” Before she could answer him, he shook his head and continued. “Sorry, Piper. This isn’t working out. If you leave, you’re done. You can come by tomorrow to clean out your locker and get your last check.”
“Joe, c’mon. You don’t mean—”
“I mean it, Piper. I don’t like being left in the lurch like this. I could hire a hundred more reliable girls—”
“I work hard for you and you know it. I hardly ever miss—”
“You walk out and you’re done.”
She held his unflinching gaze for a long moment before nodding slowly. “Okay, then.”
He nodded back as though satisfied.
Turning, she called over her shoulder, “I’ll pick up my last paycheck next week.”
The Sweet Hill County Sheriff’s Department was on the opposite side of town. At least a dozen traffic lights slowed her down on her way to reach her sister.
Her stomach grumbled as she waited impatiently at yet another red light, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten in a while. She’d been working since opening at 11 a.m. The only thing she’d managed to eat today was a bowl of Cheerios in the morning and the bar peanuts she’d filched.
She needed food and a bed, but unfortunately that wouldn’t be happening for a good while yet. She had to handle this first.
Her baby sister. At a police station. The situation made her stomach twist in knots.
It was like déjà vu. She couldn’t count the number of times the phone rang because her mother or brother or someone else in her family got arrested and was in jail. It wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. Mom was dead. Her father was dead, and she didn’t keep in touch with his side of the family anymore. She lived her life and they lived theirs. Her uncles and aunts and cousins might drift in and out of jail, but it had nothing to do with her. They might share a last name, but that was all they shared.
If her brother wasn’t an inmate at Devil’s Rock Penitentiary, she would have taken Malia and moved a long time ago, but she couldn’t abandon Cruz.
Cruz had asked her to move away with Malia, but she couldn’t leave him. Staying in Sweet Hill meant she got to see him at least every other week. If she left, who knew when she would manage to visit? She couldn’t abandon him like that. Not after everything they had been through together.
Sweet Hill was the closest town to the prison. The next one was hours away. Out here, cities were remote like that. You could drive hours without even hitting a gas station. People actually traveled with fuel canisters.
Cruz would be released someday and then they could leave this godforsaken place and never look back. They had promised each other that. Now that he had quit trying to convince Piper to take Malia and move far away to some location where they could have a fresh start, he settled for looking ahead to the future they would all have when he was free. He worked on his degree and kept out of trouble while inside—at least, that’s what he told Piper. Every time she visited and they talked via phone through soundproof glass he assured her he was okay.
She only had to hold it together until Cruz was paroled. It was her mantra that got her through . . . well, everything. All the visits to the prison when her brother showed up bearing the marks of a brawl. The nights when she couldn’t sleep because she didn’t know how she was going to pay the bills.
The light turned green and she charged ahead, careful not to speed. The last thing she needed was a ticket—especially considering she was out of work again. She winced at that reminder.
What had her sister done? Tonight had to be a mistake. It had to be. Malia was a good girl. She never got into trouble. That was the one bright light in Piper’s life. Malia’s goodness. She and Cruz had agreed they would do all they could to see that their sister had everything they never had. A good home. Guidance and love. College. A future.
Cruz sent what money he could and Piper worked every shift she could, especially since Malia was old enough to stay home alone now. Especially since her sister started high school and made the varsity soccer team. As a freshman, no less. The cost of soccer cleats alone was three days of tips, but she had talent. Piper and Cruz both agreed it was worth the sacrifice. Coach Chapman said she had a real shot of getting a scholarship.
“Malia,” she grumbled, beating the steering wheel with the heel of her palm.
She thought school and soccer would keep her sister out of trouble. Hard to get into trouble when you didn’t have an idle moment.
She thought back to the last time she spoke to Malia. Piper had called home on her break earlier and briefly talked to her. Malia had just gotten out of soccer practice. Dani’s mom dropped her off. She said she had homework to do and then was going to bed. It was a tournament weekend so that meant an early game tomorrow.
So how did Malia end up at the sheriff’s department when she was supposed to be at home in bed?
After hitting what felt like every red light in Sweet Hill, she finally pulled into the parking lot of the sheriff’s department. Only a few cars occupied the asphalt lot, a testament to the lazy life of Sweet Hill. This wasn’t a crime-riddled big city, which is why her family always stood out.
For a moment, her gaze focused on the bold black letters at the front of the white stucco building. She gnawed on her bottom lip, hesitating. Sweet Hill Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff. As in Sheriff Hale Walters.
bsp; She’d finally met him a few months ago. She’d heard rumors that the new sheriff was a hottie, but she had never met him before then. They didn’t exactly move in the same circles now and he was older than Piper so she never saw him in school. Plus, he went away to college or somewhere. Like all the kids from good families.
The image of him from their first meeting hadn’t dulled. How could it? There weren’t many hulking Thor look-alikes walking around town. He’d left a definite impression. Still, sheriff or not, he was decidedly un-Thor-like in character. Explaining why she’d dumped a pitcher of ice water in his lap.
He was surprisingly young for the role of sheriff, but then he had all the other criteria she associated with the role. Arrogance. Small-mindedness. The ability to rush to judgment. He was every misogynistic small-town sheriff she ever saw stereotyped on TV. And he’d deserved that pitcher in his lap.
Sighing, she climbed out of her car and headed up the walk, telling herself she wouldn’t come face-to-face with him. He wouldn’t be on duty this late. A big boss man like him had to have underlings. She would probably have to talk to the desk clerk or one of his deputies.
The first thing she noticed upon entering through the double glass doors was that the place smelled like cinnamon rolls. She stopped and blinked. Equally unexpected was the apple-cheeked gray-haired woman sitting behind a wide desk positioned in front of a dividing wall who gave her a cheerful wave.
The top half of the partition was glass so Piper had an open view into the building. There were several more desks beyond the divider and a couple doors that led (presumably) into offices or rooms. An opening spilled into a hallway. She couldn’t see very far into the hall and she imagined this might lead to holding cells.
When her brother was arrested, he was taken to the City of Sweet Hill Police Department where they held jurisdiction over his crime. She had been eighteen at the time and went down in the hopes of bailing him out.
That never happened.
From day one of his arrest, her brother had never been released. There was no bailing him out. The judge hadn’t even offered it. That’s what happened when you went to jail for killing a beloved member of the community.