Copyright © 2017 by Kristen Ashley
First ebook edition: November, 2017
First print edition: November, 2017
Cover Art by:
Interior Design & Formatting by:
Christine Borgford, Type A Formatting
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
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HIX ROLLED TO his bare ass on the side of the bed, putting his feet on the floor.
What was that?
Because it was good.
It was unbelievably good.
On this thought, he felt her move in the bed. Heard her low mew. Smelled her damned perfume.
Powdery, flowery and sweet, but it wasn’t any of that that got to him.
There was a musk to it that made all that sexy.
Add that to the scent of sex in the room. The trace of her on him (that being more than just her perfume). The dark that surrounded him cut only with moonlight and a distant streetlight, so he could see practically nothing. This meaning he only had his other senses at his command, Hix felt his stomach tighten, his shoulders, his jaw.
All this to beat back the draw of her.
He had to get out of there.
He pushed up to his feet, mumbling, “Gotta go.”
There was a quick beat of silence before he heard her soft, surprised, “Sorry. What?”
He reached for his shorts, pulling them up his legs, repeating, “Gotta go.”
The mood of the room changed. The sluggish, warm feel of post-really-freaking-great-coitus shimmered to nothing as something heavier started seeping in.
“Go?” she asked.
God, she could unravel him with a syllable.
That was right.
He had to go.
And do it before he smelled more of her. Heard more of that voice any way it came at him—the way it was before and for certain the way it sounded just then with hurt trembling through it.
He definitely couldn’t look at her.
Not in her bed, the sheets rumpled because they’d made them that way, their clothes all over the room because they’d thrown them there, her mass of hair a mess because his fingers had been in it.
Not any of that.
But also just not looking at her at all.
“Go,” he grunted, locating his trousers five feet from where his shorts had been and tearing them up his legs.
He heard her movements in the bed, sensing she was sitting up in it, not getting out of it, which was good. If the woman did more than that, and all he had to do was visualize it in his head, he’d turn back.
“I . . . well, uh . . .”
That was all she said.
But it was too much. Now each syllable seemed to coat his skin, sing to him, luring him back.
What was that?
And damn, it’d been a long time.
But as long as it had been, he’d never been that guy.
The guy he was right then going to be.
How did that guy play crap like this?
“Thanks,” he muttered.
Another quick beat of silence before she said in a voice that was low and stunned, “Thanks?”
“Yeah.” He shrugged his shirt on his shoulders and didn’t bother with the buttons. He just glanced her way without really looking at her even as he bent to tag his shoes and socks from the floor, thankful they were all in a messy pile, not thankful her lacy bra was tangled with them. “That was great,” he finished.
Lame, man, lame. And total dick, he thought.
The feel of the room went stunned, and sluggish again, this time with something that didn’t feel good at all.
“Yeah,” she said softly to his back. “Great.”
He turned her way, skimmed his eyes up the bed, noting in a forced-vague way she was up on a hand, holding the sheet to her chest, her hair falling down her shoulders, the rich, honeyed, sunshiny blonde of it made dark in the marginal light, even as her other hand was lifted, pulling the front of her hair out of her face.
Not good he looked at her.
“Later,” he said.
“Right.” There was a bite to that. Bitter and barbed. “Later.”
That made Hix pause, hearing that in her tone.
And it made him make a mistake.
He looked through the shadows into her eyes.
He couldn’t quite see but he felt they were bitter and barbed too.
“Don’t worry about locking the door behind you,” she said, now each word that came out of her was ice cold. “As you know, there’s no crime in this town.”
He knew that.
But it didn’t change things.
“You need to lock up,” he said quietly.
She tipped her head to the side sharply. “And it’s my understanding you need to go.”
She dropped her hand from her hair and a long, thick lock fell into her left eye, further shadowing her face in a way it felt like she’d taken a huge step back from him.
He didn’t need to see that either.
Her words weren’t an entreaty.
They were scorn.
He had to get out of there before he did any more damage.
Even so . . .
“Lock up behind me,” he ordered.
“Roger that, Sheriff.”
“You got a way to get your car back from the club?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about me, darlin’. I got a way to do a lot of things,” she drawled.
She would be good. She’d move on.
Now he could be done.
He made the turn to go but twisted right back and again caught her gaze.
“It was great, Greta,” he repeated the truth in a tone that, this time, it couldn’t be missed he meant it.
“Yeah, Hixon. Brilliant.” Her words were clipped, and even though he knew without a doubt she agr
As he hesitated—in the shadowy dark he couldn’t see her eyes narrow, but he would swear he could feel them do just that—she finished, stressing just how much she was done as she gave him her, “Later.”
He lifted his chin, turned back to the door and walked his ass out.
He put on his socks and boots just inside her front door and buttoned his shirt before he walked out.
No one would be awake at that hour, but it didn’t matter.
In that moment, Hix wasn’t thinking about what would run through people’s minds if they saw him come out of a house in the very early morning with his shirt undone.
In that moment, Hix was only thinking about what would run through people’s minds about Greta if a man came out of her house in the very early morning with his shirt undone.
He sat in his truck at her curb and waited until he saw her form, shadowed from the minimal light filtering through the sheer curtain over the window in her front door and he knew she’d locked herself safely inside.
Only then did Hix drive away.
ON HIS WAY to work on Monday, Hix’s phone rang.
He pulled it out of his chest pocket and glanced at the display.
He immediately wished he didn’t have to take the call.
But even if she was no longer his wife, they had three kids. Those kids were coming to his place after school that afternoon for their week with him, so he had to take the damn call.
“Yeah?” he answered.
“Nice,” Hope replied acidly.
This annoyed him.
It had always annoyed him.
But seeing as this was far from the first time he’d answered a call from her that way (when he was driving, mostly, but also when he was in the thick of shit, even before she’d divorced his ass) since she’d divorced his ass, it annoyed him now a good deal more than it had before.
Though, he’d known for a long time Hope liked things how she liked them.
Only how she liked them.
So she didn’t much care how often she had to relay precisely how she liked them.
He just hadn’t cared when they were together, because he’d been taught by his parents that in marriage, to earn the good, you took the bad and you found a way to deal with it.
With that said, there’d been a time, a very long one, when he thought that trait was a good one. His woman knew what she wanted and didn’t back down.
He didn’t think that way anymore.
“In the car on the way to work, Hope,” he told her. “You know I’m not big on talking on the phone and driving, and you know why.” And she did. Back in the day when they lived where shit happened, he’d seen a variety of unpleasant results when people were more interested in what was happening in their ear than what was happening on the road. “The kids okay?”
She ignored his question in order to note, “You could get a car that has your phone connected right to it so you have a better shot at doing the impossible. That being multitasking.”
On his salary, how she thought he could do that and set up a house where he could finish raising his children the time he had them, he had no clue.
Hope got the new cars.
Hix had had his Bronco since his senior year in college.
In other words, he’d had the thing for twenty years.
This hadn’t bothered him either. It still didn’t. The Ford Bronco was the best vehicle ever put on the road. He’d switch her out when she died a death he couldn’t bring her back from, and not a second before.
Hope didn’t give him a chance to respond, even if he had no intention of doing that.
She announced, “We need to talk.”
This had been her refrain now for weeks.
Three of them.
In fact, it started about an hour after they sat in that fucking room with their fucking lawyers and signed those fucking papers.
“Repeat,” he bit out. “The kids okay?”
“They’re fine,” she returned. “But we need to talk.”
“Is it about the kids?” he pushed.
“No, Hix. It’s not. There’s stuff to talk about that doesn’t involve the kids.”
She was very wrong.
“God!” she snapped. “Why are you being this way?”
“I don’t know, Hope,” he replied, making the turn into the parking lot at the side of the sheriff’s department. “Maybe, considering I signed divorce papers three weeks ago, I get to be whatever way I want.”
Like always, Hope persevered. “There are things that need to be said.”
“Think you said them all when you signed your name on the line next to mine.”
He finished parking and cut the engine, saying, “Probably see you at the game tomorrow night.”
“I can’t talk to you about this at Corinne’s game.”
He stared out the windshield at the red brick that was the side of the department and asked, not for the first time, therefore he did it on a sigh, “Wanna clue me in on what ‘this’ is?”
“I’d like to. In person,” she answered, also not for the first time. Then suddenly, her game changed. He heard it in her voice when she coaxed, “Lunch today. My treat.”
“Unless there’s something up with the kids, we’re not talking, Hope. So it goes without saying we’re not gonna have lunch.”
“How long is it gonna take before you get over this and let me back in?”
Hix felt his chin move slowly back into his neck at the same time his eyes blinked just as slowly.
Get over it?
And let her back in?
“You divorced me, Hope,” he reminded her quietly.
“I remember, Hix.”
“Do you remember the part where I shared repeatedly over the year we were separated that I didn’t want that?” he asked.
“Can we talk about this? Face to face?”
It was Hix ignoring her now.
“I didn’t want it. Not for the kids. Not for our family. Not for me or you. Not for us.”
“We were good. We were happy.”
“I wasn’t happy,” she said softly.
“You made that clear enough,” he returned.
“Honey, can we—?”
Oh hell no.
“You got something to share about the kids, we can talk. Over the phone. Unless you catch Mamie injecting heroin. Then we can talk face to face.”
“Oh my God! She’s thirteen years old!”
Jesus, how did his baby get to be thirteen years old?
He didn’t ask his ex-wife that.
He stated, “Now I gotta get to work.”
“I cannot believe you.”
“Take care of yourself, Hope.”
With that, he hung up wishing that would be the last time he had to deal with a call like that from his ex-wife but knowing it would not.
He was unsurprised when this thought came true as she called him back while he was putting his hand on the handle of the front door to the department.
He declined the call, opened the door, stepped inside, stopped and took in his department.
His office was at the back, a big window to the room.
Dispatch was to the right, behind bulletproof glass that was put in before he got there for reasons unknown, since practically everybody in that county had a gun, but the zombie apocalypse would have to hit before anyone would use it in a police station. The only things more sacred for Nebraskans were churches, cemeteries and Tom Osborne Field at Memorial Stadium.
Most likely it had been because they had a surplus in the budget.
One woman working in that room. Reva. She did weekday shifts.
In front of him, a long, tall, old, nicked, battered wood counter that still gleamed with care and age.
Reception. No one working that. Any deputy who saw someone walk in would take it.
Beyond reception, past a freaking swinging half door, just like in the TV shows, four desks. Two by two, side by side and stacked.
Behind the wall to the right, past dispatch, their one interrogation room, their one observation room, the locker room, the secure vault, which was the munitions room, and their processing area where they did fingerprinting and took mug shots.
The two cells they had were at the back, opposite his office, mostly open to the room. Open, of course, not including the bars.
Not surprisingly, the one deputy at her desk looked like she had nothing to do.
This was because there was nothing to do.
That county lived in a throwback bubble that made Hix wonder why all the girls weren’t wearing petticoats under their poodle skirts, bobby socks and saddle shoes, and all the boys didn’t have pomade in their hair and their jeans turned up at the hems.
In that county, people left their keys in their cars and their house doors unlocked.
In that county, most businesses closed on Sunday because that was when you went to church and then went home for family time, Sunday dinner, and if it was the season, football.
It was a county of Cleavers.
It was eerie.
Hix had felt that way about Hope’s hometown since the minute he’d stepped foot in it twenty years ago to meet her mother and father.
He hadn’t wanted to move there from Indianapolis, but she’d wanted to raise their kids there (and also wanted her mother close so she could foist the kids off on her when she wanted to do something else). So once they started having them, she’d started in on him. And in pure Hope style, she hadn’t let up.
On that, Hix had held out.
It took nine years.
Then, before Shaw could get too entrenched in school and the friends he’d make, and Hix had seen the way things were going in public schools in the city and he didn’t like it much, he’d given in.
That was seven years ago.
His boy was seventeen now. Corinne, his second child, his first girl, fifteen, sixteen in January. Mamie, his baby, thirteen.
Hope had been thrilled with the move.
Hix and his kids had been bored out of their minds. No Children’s Museum. No Colts. No 500. No Monument Circle lit up for Christmas. No Eagle Creek Park. No special occasion dinners at St. Elmo Steak House. No weekend trips up to the Dunes or rental cottages on Lake Shafer, or family treks up to Chicago to catch a Cubs game and then hork down the best pizza known to man.