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    Prologue

    June

    Sandy Hook,KY

    “Roni, dammit, what kind of trouble did you manage to get yourself into this time?”

    Roni Andrews tried to suppress her grin as she heard Taber’s voice echoing through the corridor of the cells housed in the county jail. She sat back on the uncomfortable bunk, trying for nonchalance. No way in hell would she give him the chance to see just how much he could intimidate her. And boy could he intimidate.

    Well over six feet tall, his body corded with powerful muscles, his expression often savage, remote, he could set her heart to pounding in both fear and arousal. The fear she could handle. It was the arousal she often had problems with. It had first hit her right after she turned sixteen. It had intensified several months ago after her twenty-second birthday. There were nights she burned for him, and it terrified her. She welcomed the sensation of cool stone at her back, easing a bit of the stifling heat that surrounded her. The heat that built inside her as well. The air conditioner had broken down that night and the cells had been stifling. Thankfully, old Mort, the jailer, had opened the windows rather than let her suffer. The hard smack of Taber’s boots on the stone floor caused her to wince. He only walked like that when he was pissed. She carefully pasted an expression of bored amusement on her face. Wouldn’t do for him to know she was really scared to damned death of him when he got pissed. Not that Taber would hurt her. Instinctively she knew he would never lay a hand on her. But there was something about him when he got mad. Something primal, predatory. He wasn’t a man she wanted to risk pissing off too often. Unfortunately, trouble just seemed to find her and more often than not Taber was left to bail her out of it, one way or the other. She was terrified that one day he would get tired of being her knight in shining armor and write her off entirely. Within seconds he was standing at the cell door, his hands braced on his lean hips, a frown etched on his proud, sun-darkened face. Damn, he made her want to start rubbing against him, like a cat. He was tall and muscular, his shoulders broad, his chest powerful and tapering to a flat, corded abdomen that tempted her to touch.

    Long powerful legs were encased in snug denim and there was no way in hell she was going to let her gaze drift to…oh hell. That bulge between his thighs just looked too good to be true. Hastily she jerked her gaze back to his face.

    His eyes were narrowed on her now, the jade-green color brilliant and snapping with fury. She swallowed tightly. He was none too pleased with her this morning.

    “I didn’t do a damned thing,” she snapped back, allowing all the awakening senses he managed to flip into overdrive to fuel her own anger. “I was just standing there, Taber. Honest. That sheriff has lost his mind.”

    She fought to hide her amusement. Of course, he knew she was lying. He always knew when she was lying.

    “I should let you rot here.” She loved that growling thing he did when he was pissed. His voice would lower and just vibrate…like a cat. She had a fondness for cats. She rolled her eyes, though the muscles in her lower stomach quivered in reaction. She could literally feel her br**sts swelling, her ni**les peaking at the sound, and she knew he hadn’t missed the reaction. Instantly his expression shut down. No anger, no ire. Like a damned robot. Everything in his face seemed to tighten, to chill, causing her to shiver in reaction. She hated it when he did that, hated when he hid from her any response he might have to her.

    “Are you rescuing me here or what?” she snapped, hurt by his retreat. “It’s damned hot in here, Taber, and getting hotter.” In more ways than one.

    He sighed then, shaking his head as though being in trouble was no more than he had expected of her that early in the morning. At least it wasn’t that bland, I-don’t-know-you look that she so despised.

    “I ought to paddle your ass.” He stepped aside as the jailer, well into his fifties and grinning at her knowingly, unlocked the cell door.

    Roni didn’t fight the shiver that worked over her body at the dark sound of his voice. He could spank her any day she thought. As long as he touched her. Maybe he would kiss it and make the hurt all better later? Her own thoughts had her suppressing her smile as well as a shuddering response.

    “Spank me, daddy,” she drawled softly as she rose from the cot and strolled over to the opening door. He snorted in disgust. “Your father obviously neglected discipline while he was here or else you wouldn’t tempt me this far.”

    Roni scooted past him and walked over to where the sheriff had thrown her pack by old Mort’s desk the night before. She kept her back to Taber, bending at the waist to pick it up, feeling his gaze on her backside like a caress.

    As she rose, she slung the strap over her arm and turned back to him with a bright smile. “I’m ready whenever you are. Think Sherra would let me stay with her for a while? That old house is getting boring this summer.”

    To be honest, it was getting terrifying. She didn’t know who was playing the little pranks on her lately, but she was going to find out. She might be wrong a time or two about who the culprits were, like she was last night, but she would figure it out eventually.

    The hard look he shot her assured her that even that small lie hadn’t escaped his notice. He knew damned well she wouldn’t be asking to stay with his sister unless she was scared to death. She considered asking him to let her stay at his place. But she knew her weakness for him and she was terrified of begging him to touch her. The quiet isolation and intimacy of his home would only shatter the control she fought so hard for, though. She didn’t want to beg for his touch. Didn’t want to risk the heartbreak when he rejected her.

    This reaction to him was getting out of hand, she admitted. She blamed it on her lack of social skills, her fear of dating over the years. You never knew when a guy really wanted to go out with you or when he was trying to find a way to get back at your father. Unfortunately, she paid often anyway for the myriad crimes, both petty and felonious, that her father,Reginald, committed.

    “Sherra’s out of town this week.” He gripped her arm firmly as she made to pass by him again. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten, anyway?”

    She knew she had lost weight over the past month. Fear and worry had a way of affecting the appetite on the best of days.

    “Why, yesterday.” She tried to pull this lie off, though by the tightening of his fingers on her upper arm she had a feeling she had failed. “Come on, Taber. You bailed me out like a good boy, now I’ll just go home and twiddle my fingers a few days until you get over your mad. Do I still have a job?” She glanced back at him as that thought hit her. She needed that job.

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