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Authors: Marina Adair

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A Taste of Sugar

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In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

To my daughter, Thuy, who always reads the last page of a story first. You remind me it isn’t about the destination, it is about the journey and relationships we make along the way.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to my editor, Michele Bidelspach, and to the rest of the team at Grand Central for all of the amazing work and support. And to my agent, Jill Marsal, for being more than just an agent, but also my friend, partner, and sounding board.

As always, a very special thank you to my daughter for your giggles, snuggles, and including me in your Teen Wolf marathons, even when you drop the spoiler to end all spoilers. Finally, to my amazing husband for the endless love and support—you are my reason.

Chapter 1

E
very Southern belle knows it’s not so much what you do, but rather what you’re wearing while doing it. And when in doubt, always apply more lipstick.

Good thing Glory Gloria Mann had never been mistaken for a belle, because there was no shade of lipstick in the South that matched grand theft auto charges while wearing ducky galoshes.

“Either get on or get out of the way,” Glory said to the stubborn male standing between her and freedom.

Diablo had mammoth thighs, a trunk for a neck, and as Mr. Ferguson’s contracted stud bull, horns that could tear through a steel wall. And right now those horns were pointed at Glory.

But she wasn’t about to let some misinformed male with caveman tendencies and bad breath stop her from doing what was right. Even when doing what was right sucked. Even when it accompanied a brutal summer storm, interrupted the only solid sleep she had gotten in weeks, and landed her smack dab in the middle of trouble.

Even then. Because Glory could live with trouble. But regret was something she never wanted to feel again.

“I know you survived that eighteen-wheeler incident,” she said, wiping at the rain streaming down her face. “And won the county stud-off, but we both know you are no match for the Peach Prowler.” No one was a match for the nine-time Sugar Pull champion tractor—or its owner. Which was why getting it back to the mayor’s house was imperative.

Joyriding a tractor in the middle of the night would have been considered a laughable redneck offense if that tractor wasn’t the shined-up Peach Prowler—pride and joy of Sugar, Georgia.

“The only thing separating you from becoming a pair of boots is my lead foot,” she said, giving Diablo the stink eye. Because the only thing separating her grandma from going to jail was Glory’s ability to return the tractor before someone noticed it was missing.

Glory didn’t know how the tractor ended up in her grandma’s garage, or who put it there. All she did know was that while possession of another man’s vehicle was a serious offense in Sugar County—possession of another man’s tractor was a deadly sin. And between trying to graduate nursing school, and coming off a double shift, Glory was too damn tired to deal with the aftermath of what would appear to be her grandmother calling backwoods jihad on the mayor’s mother.

Not to mention, she couldn’t stand the thought of her grandmother behind bars. Jelly Lou might be a prankster, but she was Glory’s entire world.

“So unless you’re willing to offer up some rocky mountain oysters to the mayor to pay for my grandma’s bail, I suggest you move off the road and let me pass.” She revved the tractor’s engine for emphasis. “You know how much he loves rocky mountain oysters.”

That got his attention. In fact, Diablo made one last snort, his hot breath crystalizing in the rain, and then slowly walked off—down the middle of the highway.

Not wanting to follow him, but knowing time was of the essence since the sun would be up soon, Glory pulled her rain slicker tightly around her, dropped the tractor into first, and drove through the easement between Ferguson Family’s Feed Line and Fertilizer Farm and the highway.

Even before she hit second gear, spinning the tires with enough force to cover her flannel pajama bottoms with sludge, she knew that it wasn’t the easement she’d accidentally trudged through. No, Glory’s good intentions had, once again, landed her in deep—

“Shut off the tractor and put your hands in the air.” The command came through the speaker attached to the top of the sheriff’s car, which was right next to the flashing red and blue lights.

Squinting against the rain, Glory stared in panic at the speed trap up ahead. A floodlight clicked on, blinding her and causing her foot to slip off the clutch. The engine sputtered to a stop.

Determined to see this through, Glory cranked the engine and spun the tires, kicking up loose gravel and a few cow pies. She hadn’t come all this way, spending thirty minutes on the muddy back roads in the middle of the night to right someone else’s wrong, just to get caught now.

“Come on now, Ms. Hattie. Step on off that tractor so we can all get out of the rain.”

Ms. Hattie?

Ms. Hattie was the town busybody and one of Glory’s grandma’s oldest and dearest friends. Which explained how the Prowler ended up in her grandma’s garage.

The roadblock of wet and irritated officers obviously had no idea who was driving the tractor. If they had, Glory was certain that their boss would have her butt tossed in jail before she could say, “Morning, Sheriff.”

Plus she was pretty sure the smug-looking guy in the department-issued hat, weighing in at two hundred pounds of bad attitude,
was
Sheriff Jackson Duncan.

“Look, I promise my grandma won’t press charges.”
Yup. Sheriff Duncan.
The entitled drawl was a dead giveaway. And if he thought Ms. Kitty wouldn’t press charges, he was insane. “Heck, Ms. Hattie, as long as the Prowler is back in the bay before she wakes up, she doesn’t even have to know it went missing and we can all go home and back to our respective business.”

“Do I have your word on that, Sheriff?” The second Glory opened her mouth, Jackson realized Hattie McGraw wasn’t behind the wheel because he went from leaning against the grill of his cruiser to reaching for his gun. She also knew that only ten feet and some plywood separated her from a mug shot—a mug shot that was not going to happen. She had enough mascara under her eyes to pass for a linebacker and enough emotion built up that, after one too many double shifts slinging beer and a lifetime of double standards, getting arrested would fill out her already unflattering résumé.

Jackson silently made his way toward the tractor, boots clacking against the slick concrete, cuffs jangling in his hand. Knowing nothing good could come from that, she rested her hand on the gear shift and asked, “I’m guessing by the pissy look on your face that your generous offer is no longer on the table.”

“Sorry to say, but you’d guess right,” he said, not sorry at all.

Jackson Duncan had been sheriff of Sugar County for the past four years, and he’d hated Glory for at least twice that amount of time. He was uptight, by the book, and still blamed her for his older brother leaving town. Not that he had ever bothered to listen to her side of the story. No one really had. But everyone knew that he would love nothing more than to parade Glory around town in cuffs and prove that she was a menace to Sugar’s properly polite society.

“Even if I told you that I wasn’t stealing Ms. Kitty’s tractor? That I was trying to return it?”

“Even then. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

And wasn’t that just great, because in this county possession might constitute only nine-tenths, but being the girl who cost Sugar High their beloved football coach
and
the state championships all in the same year surely made up the other one-tenth. Which meant the odds of her getting out of this mess with a friendly warning were a big fat zero.

There was no way she was letting him take her in. Not dressed in flannel and fertilizer. And sure as hell not when she had a Pediatric Health Theory midterm in six hours. It had taken her the better part of a decade, juggling part-time classes and full-time bar tending, to get to where she was, and she wasn’t about to let one mistake screw up everything. Not again.

“Sorry then, Sheriff.”

Grabbing the edges of her rain slicker, she flipped it up to cover her face and gunned it. The tractor roared as she threw it in second. The gear kicked in, causing the Prowler to pick up in volume and speed—surprising speed for a machine that looked like a giant peach and was built when she’d been in preschool.

“Aw, hell,” Jackson said, racing back to the cruiser. “Let ’em go, boys.”

The deputies scattered to the side of the road and two metal strips with spikes rolled across the slick asphalt, covering both the north- and the southbound lanes.

Heading straight for the road, she vowed that she would drive right through that speed trap, over the metal spikes and all, if she had to. Her grandma was counting on her, and the entry to the Prowler’s parking bay was only a few yards past the sheriff’s patrol car. She could slip in, park the vehicle, and hightail it out of there.

Glory dropped the tractor into third and rain pelted her face. She burst through the wood-slatted fence, cow pies and feed kicking up angrily in her wake, and skidded on to the Brett McGraw Highway. Jackson had his spikes, but according to the flyers hanging around town, the Prowler had all-terrain mud tires and a steel-reinforced undercarriage.

She hit fourth gear right as the Prowler’s wheels cruised over the first set of shredders—tires unscathed, the shredder looking puny and weak as it kicked out behind them. The image made Glory grin and she sank the gearshift even lower. Only before she reached that second strip, Jackson stepped in front of the tractor.

“Dang it, Jackson,” she screamed over the roar of the tractor’s engine. “Move your overentitled, stubborn ass out of my way or I’ll run it down!”

“And miss busting yours for grand theft auto and assaulting a police officer?” he yelled back, smiling as though he’d just won box seats at the Georgia Dome. “No, ma’am.”

Glory looked from side to side, weighing her options. Had she been thinking with her head instead of her heart, she would be warm and snug in her bed, not facing jail time in little more than a pink slicker and ducky galoshes. Instead she was trying to solve a feud that had been brewing since Glory turned seventeen and made the biggest mistake of her life.

Before Glory could react, she crossed the second trap and the back two tires exploded simultaneously. The tractor jerked forward and she didn’t know what was thumping louder, her heart or the deflated tires struggling to roll over the blacktop.

The Prowler decelerated and slowly crawled toward Jackson, who stepped out of the way right as the tractor made its final stop—giving the cruiser a big smacker to the front bumper. The Prowler wasn’t going that fast but the thing must have been made of steel because a loud crunch broke through the night’s air, followed by an awful sizzle and finally steam, which drifted up from under the hood and into the inky sky.

“I guess I can add destruction of city property to the charges,” Jackson said with a smile.

“Damnit, Jackson.” Glory picked up a stray cow pie, which had landed in the back of the tractor during her off-roading excursion, and threw it on the ground. It shattered, splattering right up his department-issued boots and onto his pant legs. “I’m just trying to return it.”

“And I’m just doing my job,” he said as he approached the vehicle and hoisted his smug self up. “Now, do you need me to read you your rights? Or would you like to say them with me?”

And right then Glory understood that no matter how hard she tried to atone for her past, she was never going to be free of it.

  

Glory had never been arrested before, just as she’d never had to spend the night in jail, so she wasn’t sure of the exact protocol, but she knew bullshit when she heard it. And Deputy Gunther’s excuses were starting to smell worse than her manure-crusted pants.

“I bet if you called over to the Sugar Country Club, they’d tell you Judge Holden is somewhere between the third and fourth hole,” Glory said, pinning Deputy Gunther with a glare.

“The sheriff’s on it, Miss Glory,” the deputy said, shuffling nervously from foot to foot. He was built like a bull, only with puppy-dog eyes, a gentle smile, and a soft center. Glory had always liked him. He was one of the few football players who hadn’t made her time at Sugar High miserable.

“So you said. Three hours ago.” When he silently lowered his eyes to the floor, she added, “Come on, Gunther, I’m freezing and tired and you and I both know that the sheriff is just trying to mess with me.”

His ploy was working. She was about two minutes from tears. The ugly kind.

She’d been arrested, booked, and locked in a concrete square. She hadn’t eaten since her second break yesterday, hadn’t slept in over forty-eight hours, and her midterm, which she’d busted her butt studying for, had started over an hour ago—meaning the only way she was going to pass that class in time to apply to be the community outreach manager at Sugar Medical Center was to ace her final.

Gunther looked from the empty front office back to her, and the tips of his ears went pink. “I guess I could let you have another call. Just one, though. And you have to use this.”

He dug through his pocket, handed her his cell, and Glory felt her heart tighten painfully.

“And call who?” she mumbled softly. Not that it mattered. It was already too late.

Gunther’s eyes darted to the floor again.

They both knew that the sheriff wanted to milk the situation, just as they both knew that neither Glory nor her grandma could afford whatever obscene bail he’d convince the judge to set.

Her best friend, Brett, could afford it, and he’d pay it in a heartbeat, which was why in her moment of desperation she decided to call him.

Too bad she remembered
after
she’d left a voice message that he was in California and that she’d promised herself never to put him in a position to choose between his best friends again. She was trying to keep her distance, give Brett and his new wife, Joie, the space they deserved as newlyweds.

Last year Brett had added Sex-Stud YouTube Sensation to his impressive credentials, a title that nearly cost him his career as a professional golfer. The last thing he needed was more people whispering. And anytime Glory so much as smiled at a man, people whispered.

“That’s all right, Gunther.” Glory tightened her arms around her bent legs and dropped her head to her knees. Her body ached to be back at home, in her own bed, with the covers pulled securely over her head—fast asleep.

“Can I at least get you a blanket? Maybe some hot coffee?”

“That’d be nice.”

“All right, then. Sit tight.”

An aching sadness tore through her chest and Glory didn’t answer—couldn’t—afraid of what might come out. She felt her tears coming closer to the surface and the last thing she needed was a public pity party. But she was locked in a cell, facing a possible
F
on a test she was more than ready for. Her only crime being—she was too damn nice.

“I didn’t steal the stupid tractor,” she whispered to herself.

“I know you didn’t, Miss Glory.”

She slowly lifted her head, startled to see Gunther still standing there. And damn it if the tears didn’t spill.

“Ah, don’t cry.” Gunther fumbled for his handkerchief. “The sheriff’s not a bad guy. He, well, some people don’t know how to let go.”

Ain’t that the truth?

Glory made her way to the cell door, took the offered hankie—a difficult task since Sheriff A-hole had insisted on keeping her cuffed—and wiped her eyes.

“Thanks. It’s just been a really shitty night.”

With a solemn nod, he made his way toward the end of the corridor—toward freedom. Only he stopped in the doorway and turned back to face her.

“For the record, I never believed what everyone said about you and Coach. I was even planning on asking you to Homecoming, but you transferred schools.”

“I decided to homeschool,” she corrected.

Actually, she’d made such a mess of her life that she’d quit. Not her education, just the school part.

Gunther shrugged. “Yeah, well, I would have still asked you.”

“I would have gone.” Glory cleared her throat. “To Homecoming. If you had asked, I would’ve gone with you.” She gave her sincerest smile. “Your wife is a lucky lady.”

With a sheepish nod, he was gone, disappearing around the corner, the security door shutting with a resounding thud behind him. And Glory was alone. Really alone. Something she’d had thirty years to master, but never quite gotten the hang of.

She paced in front of the bars, feeling a little cagey and a lot scared. She had just been cuffed, fingerprinted, photographed, and processed, for God’s sake. Glory Gloria Mann was a criminal with a record.

At least she and her mama had something in common now. Not that she planned on seeing her mama anytime soon. If Julie-Marie Mann hadn’t bothered to come see her daughter when she’d been suspended from her senior year in high school for “inappropriate relations” with an older man, she didn’t think a grand theft auto charge would do it either.

No matter how hard her life got, and senior year had been hell, her mama had never shown up. Not even to stand by her daughter’s side when she was wrongly accused of having sex with a faculty member—when in reality all they’d ever done was kiss. She hadn’t shown up when Glory had been bullied or teased or chose not to walk the stage with her classmates even though she graduated with honors. Nope, not once in the entire time that Glory’s life was falling apart did her mama even call to see if she was all right.

A sniffle escaped as she walked back to the lone steel bunk at the far side of the cell and plopped down, the mattress expelling enough dust bunnies to give her acute asthma. Exhausted, she leaned against the concrete wall and closed her eyes, but her entire body shook as a cold chill seeped through her thin tank top and right into her soul.

She had just given up hope of Gunther finding that blanket when the heavy metal door unlocked, startling Glory to semi-alert and bringing her to her feet. With a gracious smile, she walked to the front of the cell—and stopped short.

The door swung open and in walked Sheriff Duncan. He strode down the corridor, a ring of keys in hand, a gun strapped to his hip, and a smile so smug it made her heart die a little.

She’d learned senior year that if she wanted to live peacefully in Sugar, and God, she wanted a semblance of peace more than anything, then avoiding people with the last name
Duncan
was crucial—especially ones with
Sheriff
in their title. It was scandalous when Coach Damon Duncan, hometown hero and Sugar’s favorite football coach, lost his job for being involved with an underage student. That the offense happened at the Duncan Plantation during the Miss Peach Pageant, with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, made it downright blasphemy.

That he tossed her aside and never once defended her had been heart shattering.

Glory had wanted to graduate like everyone else, wear a cap and gown, and make her grandmother proud, especially since Jelly Lou had sacrificed so much to see that Glory got a good education and had choices in life. But the thought of walking across that stage, having her classmates shout cruel or embarrassing things in front of the one person who believed in her, was too much, so she quit. She let the Duncans and the bullies take away something that she was proud of.

She glanced down at the cuffs cutting into her wrists and sighed. If she didn’t get out of here soon, she’d miss another chance to prove that she was more than her past. She only had a month left before she’d graduate nursing school and fulfill her dream of working as a registered nurse. And to do that she needed to get out of there and call her professor.

But that wasn’t what inspired her sudden urge to make a noose out of shoestrings and be done with it. No, what made her chest lodge itself painfully in her throat was that Jackson wasn’t alone. He’d brought friends. Two of them to be exact. Deputy Gunther and—she swallowed.

Oh, God! It couldn’t be him.

And when she said
him
, she specifically meant Cal McGraw.

Glory’s heart pounded against her chest, so hard and fast she was afraid she might just pass out. As far as everyone else knew, her connection to Cal was nothing more than his being her best friend’s older brother. Which was sadly true. But to Glory, Cal was so much more. Always had been. Not that he knew—or even if he did, that it would change things. She’d long ago given up hope that he would see in her what she saw in him.

Forever.

Panic welled up and she mentally struggled to keep it together as his intense blue eyes locked with hers. She wasn’t sure if it was a low blood sugar thing, since she hadn’t eaten in nearly twenty hours, or if the huge lump in her stomach had slowly expanded its way to her throat, cutting off her air supply. But Glory knew that if this was karma, it packed one hell of a punch.

One look at the six-foot-plus wall of sexy contractor for hire encased in butt-hugging denim and high-octane testosterone making his way toward her cell and Glory knew that her day, which was already smothered in cow patties, was about to turn into a gigantic pile of 100 percent, grade-A shit.

And no amount of lipstick could cover that.

Chapter 2

L
ooks like you made bail.” Jackson sniffed the air and grimaced.

Brett owed Cal big time. When his kid brother had called earlier that morning, asking him to post bail, Cal had no idea how it would screw with his day.

Glory was the last woman he wanted to see. She was a walking wet-dream, and Cal wasn’t interested in going there—ever. At least that’s what his head said. His dick on the other hand gave up listening the second he saw her in a thin tank top that showed off every womanly curve she possessed. Which was why he’d always kept his distance.

A hard thing to do when Gunther was huddling protectively at the cell door, making Cal wonder just how badly Glory had been treated. Jackson was all but smiling and Glory looked as though she was one smart-mouthed comment shy of bursting into tears. Something he figured she’d done earlier, since she was sporting two faint tear tracks down her pale cheeks.

It was obvious from the way she was doing her best to ignore him that she wanted him there about as much as he did. Brett had his loyalties, but so did Cal. Another reason he should head out. He’d posted her bail, she was alive, and—

What else did Brett expect him to do?

But instead of excusing himself, he stood there, staring and wondering (a) if she was wearing a bra, (b) if so, what color it was, and (c) how the hell a woman who looked like she’d been bathing in manure could still look so damn good.

God, he needed help.

“What the sheriff was trying to say is that you’re free to go, Miss Glory,” Gunther corrected with a glower.

“Why don’t you go make sure the paperwork is all filed properly, Deputy?” Jackson said.

“Seeing as how you forgot to mention that your daddy called, I figured I’d come in and tell her the good news myself,” Gunther said to Jackson, before turning to face Glory and lowering his voice. “Mayor Duncan is dropping all charges. And I hope that you will accept our apology for the delay in telling you. I know that last night was pretty awful.”

Apparently not as awful as his statement, because Glory didn’t move. Those big mossy eyes of hers zeroed in on Gunther, wide and expectant, waiting—for what, Cal didn’t know. From the way the deputy stood silently shifting his weight, he was equally confused. Jackson just looked pissed.

“So, that means you’re free,” Jackson grumbled, turning the key. “For today anyway.”

The cell door slid open and the clanging of metal echoed in the silent corridor, but Glory didn’t move.

“How long?” she whispered, and that small catch in her voice did something to Cal’s chest that had him sweating. She cleared her throat, threw her shoulders back, narrowed her gaze on Jackson, and tried again. “How long ago did he call to have me released?”

“About three hours ago,” Jackson said.

“Three hours?” Glory tucked her arms under her chest and glared.

The movement pushed her breasts slightly up, answering questions A and B—no, and he was fucking toast—and proving what Cal had long suspected but diligently ignored: Glory Gloria Mann had one spectacular body. She had legs to her neck, a surplus of curves, and enough sex appeal to make Cal forget why he stayed away from women like her.

Not that he was interested—because women like Glory were tempting and tantalizing and a whole lot of trouble.

The kind of trouble that’s bound to disappoint
, Cal warned himself even as his eyes slipped over the length of her—incarcerated, coated in sludge, but damn near the most incredible woman he’d ever seen.

He forced his gaze away from her chest, and when they settled on her face, he called himself a hundred kinds of bastard. Because the way her lips trembled, she was in desperate need of a champion in her corner.

Not your problem, buddy.

Cal had enough problems of his own without adding another woman to the equation, especially a woman who came with more baggage than he did, and who was a walking talking reminder of the kind of heartache that came with chasing wild. So he shoved his hands in his pockets and stomped down every protective instinct that gnawed at his gut.

Nope, his days of playing the shining knight to a beautiful lady were long over.

“The mayor figured that stealing his tractor was a prank gone bad, but then he found this in the parking bay. Right next to an empty bottle of moonshine.” Gunther approached the open door and held out his hand. Resting in his palm was a single red poker chip with
THE FAIRCHILD POKERS
engraved in gold.

Cal looked at the ceiling and groaned.

“I’ve never known you to be a big gambler, Miss Glory.”

Gunther also knew what everyone in that cell now knew. Cal’s Grandma Hattie and her Bible-toting poker cronies had stolen Ms. Kitty’s tractor. Not Glory. She was just trying to put the Prowler back before things got out of hand. But why hadn’t she just told the truth? They could have avoided this entire effed-up situation.

She strode out of the cell and, stopping in front of Jackson, held out her cuffed hands. “Take them off. Now.”

“Your sentencing is next Monday at nine,” Jackson said, slipping the keys into the hole. He paused. “So don’t think about taking a vacation between now and then.”

“Sentencing?” Those gorgeous eyes went wide with confusion. “I thought Mayor Duncan dropped the charges.”

“He did.” Jackson smiled, a little too smug for Cal’s liking. “Against my advice. But there are still the resisting arrest and assaulting an officer charges to be dealt with.”

“Assaulting an officer?” Cal laughed. He couldn’t help it.

Glory was all of five-seven and a buck twenty to Jackson’s towering six-plus feet. With her dark hair pulled up into a ponytail and those flannel pajama bottoms, which were fuzzy and pink and kind of adorable, she looked more like a co-ed than a criminal. And the only thing her sleepy state and vulnerable eyes dealt Cal was a kick to the gut.

“You can’t be serious,” he heard himself say. “There is no way you’re claiming that. And why the hell is she still cuffed?”

“Can. And am. What part of assaulting me and my men did you miss?” Jackson sounded betrayed. “And since I’m not easily swayed by a pretty face and neither is Judge Holden, I think these charges will hold.”

“For Christ’s sake, JD, just uncuff her so we can go.” Jackson shot Cal a look, serious as hell, and he knew just how Brett had felt all these years being stuck in the middle of this feud. “Look, I don’t know about you all, but I have more important things to do than stand around arguing about a silly tractor that she may or may not have stolen.”

“Right,” Glory clipped off. His comment only seemed to make her more upset.

Jackson released her hands, and as Cal watched Glory rub at her reddened wrists, a slow anger began to twist in his gut.

“I believe that Judge Holden will be swayed by the truth.” Glory picked the chip out of Gunther’s hand and settled on holding it when she realized she had no pockets. “And I happen to be an excellent poker player. So thank you for returning this.”

And with that she strode toward the exit, her backside every bit as tantalizing as her front. But what had him doing a double take was the lengths she’d clearly go through to protect her grandmother. That kind of loyalty was as surprising as it was sexy.

“Hold up, are you admitting to stealing my grandma’s tractor?” Jackson said, hot on her trail.

“I’m not admitting to anything,” Glory shot over her shoulder, her tone dripping with smart-ass. But Cal noticed that her hands were trembling as she pushed open the metal door—and it wasn’t just from the cold. “Does it even matter? What is a grand theft auto compared to assaulting an officer, right?”

  


May or may not have stolen
, my ass,” Glory mumbled as she yanked open yet another door. She stomped past the break room, past three glaring deputies, and—ignoring the steady drizzle—across the parking lot, not stopping until she reached the steel gate enclosing the Sheriff Department’s new parking area.

At eight feet high, with cross bars too small for a baby coon to squeeze through, the only way out was up. Glory stood on her tiptoes and reached to grip the top of the fence—crap!—make that twelve feet.

The light drizzle turned more end-of-summer storm, and she looked back at the closed door and swore. She had no phone, no way home, and no jacket.

Even worse, Glory thought, resting her head against the bars and letting out a stifled sniffle when she looked down and saw that her ducky galoshes were ruined, Jackson’s little stunt had cost her the chance to graduate nursing school summa cum laude. He probably even cost her her dream job.

Charlotte Holden, head of family medicine at Sugar Medical Center, had taken a chance on Glory, putting her recommendation behind Glory’s proposal, which, if approved by the hospital board, would make her the community outreach manager for the soon-to-be-built Fairchild Pediatric Center. The position would be working directly under Charlotte, whom Glory admired and respected, and working with kids—which was what Glory wanted to spend her life doing. And although she was pretty sure that her current situation counted as an “excusable absence” for missing her exam, it wasn’t as if she could call her professor and say, “Sorry I missed the second most important test of my life but I was incarcerated for grand theft auto and, oh, I might have accidentally assaulted an officer of the law with a peach-colored tractor.”

Feeling helpless and out of options—no way was she going back inside to ask for a ride—Glory kicked the gate.

Still not satisfied, she hauled back her left boot and kicked the metal bars as hard as she could. The gate didn’t even rattle, but managed to split the rubber, right up the duck’s face and over the big toe.

“Stupid piece of shit!” she yelled as loud as she could, kicking it again.

A low masculine whistle made her stop mid-kick. “Assaulting an officer and now an innocent fence? I never took you for such a rebel. Especially not in rubber ducky boots. Those come in steel toe?”

Glory spun around, ready to show him just how painful her ducky boots could be, when she stopped. One look at Cal and everything inside her went still and she felt like she was going to crumble right there.

Cal leaned back against the side of the sheriff’s cruiser, one arm resting leisurely on the roof of the car, the other hung loosely from his belt loop, looking big and safe and badass. He wore a
M
c
GRAW’S CONSTRUCTION
cap, a really warm-looking jacket, and that sexy grin which always managed to make her stomach do these silly little flips. The man looked so at home in his own skin it ticked her off even more.

“Apparently, it
may or may not
have pissed me off,” Glory said, proud her voice gave off that unaffected tone she’d mastered over the years.

Cal’s smile died at her comment. His boots clicked on the pavement and he walked forward, not stopping until he was standing so close she could smell the rain on his skin. “I know you didn’t steal Ms. Kitty’s tractor. Never thought you did, not for a second.”

Glory felt her chest tighten and all she wanted was to do was lean forward and disappear into his big, strong arms, just for a minute to know what it was like to have someone to lean on. But she wasn’t sure if he’d hold her back and, she realized with a wrinkled nose and a sinking heart, that if she could smell every ounce of yummy-macho-male on him, then he could smell Mr. Ferguson’s cows on her.

She stepped back and to the side, making him turn so he was standing upwind.

“Maybe you could have voiced that opinion a few minutes ago, while Jackson was twisting the rope for my public lynching.”

Cal let out a tired sigh. “I was just trying to diffuse the situation, remind everyone that this was all over some stupid tractor so we could get out of there.”

“Really?” she said in a tone that translated into
bullshit
. “Because it seemed to me that you were reminding everyone there you are a bros-before-hoes kind of guy,” Glory said, hating that her throat caught on the last few words.

She wasn’t an idiot. She knew what everyone in town thought: that she had slept with an off-limits man—just like her mama. But the truth was, Glory and Damon had never made it past second base. Not that
that
made what she’d done any less wrong. He’d still been a teacher at her school, a judge in the pageant she was entered in, but he’d made Glory feel something that she’d never felt before—wanted.

Not in a sexual way; she’d never had a problem with that. She’d been fending off boys since she grew boobs in the sixth grade. But Damon had sought her out, taken an interest in her life and her dreams, told her how smart she was. Made her believe, for the first time in her life, that maybe she deserved what everyone else had.

As an adult looking back, Glory could see that he had taken advantage of a confused and lost girl. But at the time he’d made her feel as though she mattered, as though she wasn’t just her mama’s cast-off, as though she wasn’t a complete waste of space.

“Does it hurt?” Cal asked, reaching out to touch her wrists.

Shocked that he would try to touch her, since he’d clearly gone out of his way to avoid being near her over the years, she stepped back right before his fingers made contact. Not your fault, Glory reminded herself, since she couldn’t remember the last time Cal initiated a conversation that extended beyond what kind of draft he preferred, let alone physical connection.

Irritation curled at his lips and he reached up to fiddle with the bill of his cap, cupping it in his palm and pulling it farther down on his head. The movement tugged his shirt up, giving her an unobstructed view of his flat stomach disappearing behind his button fly.

Oh my…

She jerked her gaze up and off his more than impressive package, hoping it was raining too hard for him to notice her ogling. “It’s fine.”

Cal pushed up the bill of his hat, his intense blue eyes flickered with amusement, and—
crap!
He’d noticed. “You sure, Boots? Because you’re looking a little flushed there.”

“Allergic reaction. Close proximity to assholes for extended periods of time tends to have that effect on me.”