Excerpt from Talk Me Down - HQN Books, January 2009!
CHAPTER ONE - Molly Jennings stood frozen in dismay, staring over the tiny coffee section of the tiny Tumble Creek Market. Folgers, Sanka, and a few brands she’d never heard of. And not a dark espresso roast in sight.
Instant coffee mixed with the smell of laundry detergent when she drew in a deep, sad breath. She’d forgotten all about small town markets. They didn’t carry whole beans or special roasts, though a lonely can of French Vanilla Kreemer lurked at the back of the shelf. Molly shuddered.
Thank God for the Internet or she’d never have a homemade latte again. Or a Hostess Fruit Pie. Molly threw a scornful look at the so-called snack section near the registers. She was holding out hope for the gas station across the street, because she was pretty sure they were legally required to carry All Things Hostess. And Corn-nut.
“Ooo, Corn-nuts,” Molly murmured, suddenly perking up. She hadn’t had those since high school. She hoped they still made the barbecue flavor.
Grabbing a can of Folgers before she could think too much about it, Molly put it gingerly in her cart and pushed toward the frozen food section.
The teenager stocking baby formula barely looked up as Molly passed. Clearly, Moe Franklin was no longer managing the store. He’d ruled with an iron fist and a frighteningly loud voice and had hated teenagers with a passion. Thieves and punks, every one of them, according to good old Moe.
So things had changed around Tumble Creek, but that was fine. The past ten years had changed Molly too. She’d left behind a gorgeous loft in Denver, along with a lively social life and, hopefully, a bad case of writer’s block. Not to mention the cause of that writer’s block: the bastard burning all the happiness from her life, otherwise known as Cameron Kasten, stalker ex-boyfriend.
Cameron was now a five hour drive away on a good day, and Molly was starting fresh. No need to look over her shoulder or scan a store before walking into it. No need to skip a party at a friend’s place, because he would be there. Funny, how a simple thing like that could cheer you up.
Another thing cheering her up. . . the possibility that she might have sex again sometime in her young life. Not that moving to a town of fifteen-hundred people would normally offer outstanding sex prospects, but she did have a specific person in mind. . .
She hadn’t seen him in ten years, but Ben Lawson had been kind enough to make an appearance in her imagination almost every day, usually buck naked and looking for a good time, bless his heart.
She smiled at her reflection in the freezer door, but her smile chilled to ice when she saw the selection. Not exactly a Super-Walmart spread, another drawback for a woman like Molly. Tumble Creek had only one diner and she couldn’t very well eat there every day. Probably.
Man, she was already missing her favorite Thai restaurant. Mouth watering at the thought of spicy noodles, Molly reached into the freezer and pretended she wasn’t buying frozen mac and cheese.
“That all, Chief?” a girl’s voice asked, sounding barely awake. Despite the bored tone, those words sprang Molly’s shoulder’s straight. She pushed her cart quickly toward the high-pitched beep of the register and stopped at the end of the aisle, frozen solid by an arresting sight.
A startling, terrifyingly gorgeous, arresting sight.
Him. And not in her imagination this time.
Ben Lawson had been her very first thought when she’d heard about her aunt’s will and known she might be moving back to Tumble Creek. But she hadn’t honestly realized what the sight of him would do to her.
He was perfect. Still. Harder and more muscular than the last time she’d seen him, which suited her grown-up tastes just fine. Also, he was clothed, a stark change from their last meeting. But the clothes were just fine too. Faded, broken-in jeans and a deep brown uniform shirt. The sleeves were rolled up to reveal strong forearms that glinted with golden hair.
He nodded at the clerk, handing her some cash. His serious eyes were the same dark chocolate she’d pictured in so many late-night fantasies. His eyes were almost the same shade as his hair, which she supposed should have been boring, but the combination had always fascinated her. Those eyes crinkled a little in Ben’s version of a smile. And then they rose and locked with hers.
They were separated by twenty feet, but Molly was sure she felt his shock reach out and hit her. His eyes widened. His hands froze on his wallet, a dollar bill pushed halfway in. The clerk glanced over her shoulder toward Molly, and that snapped him out of his shock. Molly watched him say, “Thank you,” as he grabbed a small plastic sack and stepped away from the counter. Away from the entrance. Toward her.
He remembered her, of course he did, and Molly was horrified that she found that so gratifying. You are not seventeen anymore, she chastised herself as his body grew larger in her vision, making her feel small in a very good way.
“Molly?” That tentative word rumbled from his chest and gave her goose bumps.
“Ben! Hi! It’s been a long time, huh?”
Uh-oh. Wrong thing to say. He looked stunned again, and a dull flush crept over his face.
Yes, it had been a long time, ten years, and there was a reason for that. He was thinking of the last time she’d seen him, and now she was thinking of the last time she’d seen him. Hoo boy. She felt her own face heat in response.
Ben cleared his throat. “I, uh. . .” His mouth thinned and he nodded, perhaps chastising himself as Molly had done moments before. You are the chief of police now. Pull it together. “I’m sorry about your Aunt Gertie. She was a lively woman.”
Lively indeed. Violently opinionated was more like it. “My mom always said she was too stubborn to die, but all the same, it wasn’t unexpected.”
He tipped his head. “I’d heard she left you the house, but no one expected you’d move from Denver. Are you here to put it on the market?”
Wariness crept into his eyes. “Closing it up for winter?”
“Nope, sorry. I’m actually moving in.”
The wariness shut down to a cold blankness that Molly imagined served him well as chief of police. “Moving in,” he repeated.
“Yep. My stuff should be here in about an hour.”
“You’re moving back to town?” His eyes swept down her body before they jerked back to her face, and Molly was reminded that she wasn’t exactly dressed to impress. She had on a pair of loose khakis and a t-shirt that was almost as old as her beat-up Keds. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail. Thank God she wasn’t wearing shorts. She hadn’t shaved her legs in a week, theorizing that October in the mountains was pretty darn cold and she might need the extra layer of insulation.
Molly swept a look over his body just as he’d done hers. Cold or not, she was going to shave.
“But you work down in Denver, don’t you?” he finally managed.
His face was impassive with innocence, but Molly wasn’t fooled. Ben was her brother’s best friend. No way was he unfamiliar with The Molly Jennings Question. She smiled up into his deep brown eyes and winked. “Nice try, Chief.” He raised both eyebrows, silently protesting confusion, but she was unmoved. “Speaking of work, congratulations on making it to chief so quickly.”
His head tilted in acknowledgement. “Nobody else wanted the job.”
“Wow, such modesty.” Oops.
Ben blushed again, and then she blushed, knowing exactly what he was thinking about, picturing it until the heat spread from her face to her whole body.
“Well. . .” Ben stuck out his hand and when she took it, he gave her a curt, professional shake. “Welcome back to town, Molly. I’ll see you around.” Before she could respond, he was gone, the door of the market closing behind him and cutting off an excellent view.
Watch for Talk Me Down in January 2009!!!