Stranded with the Detective
May 22, 2018 (paperback)
June 1, 2018 (eBook)
Tennessee SWAT Series (Book#4)
A routine investigation turns deadly
Now they’re running for survival
SWAT officer Colby Vale and horse rancher Piper Caraway are left to die in the remote wilderness of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But for Colby, death is not an option. He vows to protect Piper as they navigate the treacherous way home. Surviving against nature is difficult. Fighting their attraction is harder. But when their tormentor makes his move…living to tell their tale may be impossible.
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Piper leaned around the edge of the tent that enclosed the temporary stables and curled her fingers around her pocketknife. Ahead and to the left, two more enormous tents partially concealed the winter-brown field that formed the fair’s makeshift parking lot. And, of course, the truck and horse trailer that she specifically wanted to see were in the part of the lot that she couldn’t see. Was Palmer still trying to figure out what she’d done to his truck? Or had he fixed it as soon as he’d popped the hood? Maybe she should sneak back to see whether her diversion was working.
No. Too risky. If he saw her, that would ruin everything. She needed to trust her plan, give it one more minute to make sure he didn’t come right back. Then she could duck inside and take what was rightfully hers.
The area in front of the stables was mostly empty except for a few stragglers by the food trucks. Most of the people were in the bleachers a hundred yards away, erected for the week-long event on the outskirts of a little town called Destiny, Tennessee.
Its entire population could have fit several times over inside Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park back home. Tucked into the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Destiny was smack dab in the middle of Blount County. She supposed the central location made it the perfect spot for the fair because it would draw people from all over the state.
The distant rumble of engines signaled the beginning of the smash-`em-up derby, the main event. The audience was probably freezing as they huddled together watching fools crunch cars into each other while speeding around a dirt track. Bumper cars for adults. Not Piper’s idea of fun, especially early in the morning, in forty-degree weather.
A metallic bang had the crowd cheering. She shook her head in bemusement. Tucking her chin into the collar of her hooded jacket, she watched two couples approach a food truck. One of them was pushing a pink baby stroller piled high with blankets. A lone man trailed a few steps behind, obviously with them but the expression on his face clearly said he’d rather not be.
Piper smiled in commiseration. This was the last place she wanted to be, too.
Maybe a hair’s breadth shy of six feet, the loner had thick coal-black hair that reminded her of the mane on one of her bays. It was a shame he kept it so short, not that it wasn’t attractive cut that way. The style accentuated the sharp angles of his face, his strong jaw.
He wore a hip-length jacket, but it did little to conceal his thick biceps or the way his muscular thighs filled out his worn blue jeans. He looked fit and strong, the kind of man who could easily control even the most stubborn of stallions. But there was an innate gentleness in his easy smile as he bent over the baby stroller that spoke of a kind heart. Piper couldn’t imagine him wielding a whip to force a recalcitrant horse to bend to his will.
She shook her head at her silly thoughts. His dark good looks definitely appealed. But making assumptions about his temperament based on appearance was just as foolish as judging a Thoroughbred without running it around a track. It was also a waste of time. Why had she become so fixated on him when she should have snuck into the tent by now?
The answer hit her like a fist to the stomach.
It was that black jacket that he was wearing, and the fact that his two male friends, and even the blonde woman without the baby stroller, wore the same kind of jackets.
Exactly the same.
The hair prickled on her arms. All four exuded an air of confidence and authority, of temporarily banked power, ready to spring into action at the slightest provocation. Behind the smiles and laughs, there was a guardedness about their posture, as if they were keeping a well-practiced eye out for trouble, hyperaware of their surroundings.
Just like police officers did.
That would explain the matching jackets. She’d bet the overdue mortgage payment on her ranch that those jackets were reversible, and if you turned them inside out they’d have words printed on the back, something like Destiny Police Department.
Her hand tightened around her knife.
There’s nothing to see here. Keep moving. Go watch the silly car-bashing on the other side of the field.
The couple with the stroller stopped at a cotton candy booth about thirty feet from Piper’s hiding place. The other couple didn’t seem lovey-dovey like the first. It dawned on her that maybe, since they were wearing matching jackets that screamed “cop,” they were just coworkers out having fun rather than a couple. But the loner of the group—the dark-haired man she’d been admiring earlier—stood a short distance away from the rest of them, arms crossed over his chest.
In spite of the brisk air, a bead of sweat trickled between Piper’s breasts. Had she thought him kind-looking before? Because now the concentration and focus on his face as he studied his surroundings seemed almost lethal, dangerous, like a feral predator looking for his next meal.
His head suddenly swiveled toward her. She sucked in a breath and jerked back around the corner.
Stupid, stupid. She shouldn’t have stood there so long. It wasn’t like she was seventeen again, crushing on the high school quarterback. High school was six years ago, a lifetime ago. And she had far more important things to worry about—like salvaging her livelihood, and the livelihoods of everyone who worked for her. She couldn’t let them down. Had he seen her? Did she look as guilty as she felt? Cops had a sixth sense about things.
She listened intently for the sound of his boots against the hard-packed dirt coming toward the tent. Her heart hammered so hard she could hear it pulsing in her ears.
Calm down. No one knows what you’re about to do. Not even hot-cop.
A sharp whinny sounded from inside the tent. Piper’s breath caught. She knew that beloved whinny. Tears sprang to her eyes. She drew a shaky breath, then another. There were no sounds of footsteps approaching. Maybe he hadn’t seen her after all, or hadn’t been concerned if he had. If she was going to do this, she had to do it now. She was all out of options and this was her run for the roses.
The whinny sounded again.
She flipped open the knife blade, then slipped into the tent.