IN FULL FORCE

Charity Bishop is a small-town deputy determined to be the best law officer she can be—which had better be pretty damned good, considering her family is a bunch of crooks. When a local woman is murdered, and the sister of Charity’s high school sweetheart confesses to the crime, Charity accepts that finding a killer means partnering with the man who threatens everything she’s worked for. The man who took her heart with him when he left town twelve years earlier.

 

That man is Grady West, a struggling single father who finds it hard to forgive his high school lover for arresting his sister. But while Grady battles to prove his sister’s innocence and Charity battles to keep him at arm’s length, he finds himself falling in love all over again. Despite his determination to return to the city, Charity’s resolve to stay and run for sheriff, and a desperate killer’s plans to boost the body count, Grady realizes he has no choice but to convince Charity they deserve to be together.

Charity Bishop’s pulse bucked and her breath shuddered in and out of her lungs as she gazed down at the man she straddled. Torso heaving, hips twisting, he tried his damnedest to tip her sideways. Oh, no, you don’t. What was it with men, anyway, and always having to be on top? She squeezed her thighs tighter. He groaned, and muttered an oath.

 

With a frustrated sigh, Charity stretched through the gloom, rocking forward over a scrawny hind end. She shook her head, snagged the man’s wrists, and pulled them around to his lower back. Seriously. Was there anything more pathetic than a woman whose only opportunity to ride a man came when she needed to fit him with a pair of handcuffs?

 

And not even the fun, fur-lined kind. More like the your-ass-is-going-to-jail-so-I-hope-you’re-into-strip-searches kind.

 

Not that she had cause for a strip search. Nor the desire for any kind of hanky-panky here—the idea itself was enough to make her belly yearn for a ginger ale. The sour stench of stale cigarettes and beer muscled aside the sweet, sage-laced smell of a Montana prairie after dark and Charity’s stomach roiled. She relaxed her jaw and breathed in through her mouth as she patted him down.

 

He was clean.

 

So to speak.

She winced at the cold damp soaking through the knees of her pants and lifted into a squat. Right on cue, the man beneath her started to retch. Great. Perfect. The county was steadily hacking away at their budget and all three deputies shared janitorial duties. With her luck, tomorrow would be her day to clean out the holding cells.

 

“Upsy-daisy.” Tugging hard on the cuffs, she coaxed the drunk to his feet. The moment she’d shaken him awake, he’d bolted from the pickup. He hadn’t given her much of a chase, but her heart kicked like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. Time to get serious about cutting back on the coffee.

 

The drunk swayed beside her, mumbling, squinting toward the truck. Fretting over what she’d find in the cab, no doubt. She sighed, scooped up her flashlight, and gave her collar a push. She’d stash him in her SUV along with the pickup’s driver, then conduct a search. Another pursuit and her over-caffeinated heart just might explode.

 

The instant she opened the rear door of her Tahoe, the first drunk started screaming.

 

“I ain’t done nothin,’” he yelled, thrashing along the length of the seat until he reached the open door. He tried to spit at her, couldn’t get his cheeks working and dribbled sputum down the front of his grubby denim jacket. “You got nothin’ on me. I’m innocent!”

 

She couldn’t remember a time she’d ever believed that. By now his desperate denial of guilt had become part of their arrest ritual, like the token foot chase and the resigned rummage through his empty beer can collection.

Still she couldn’t help asking, “So why’d you run?”

 

“Everyone runs from the cops, you stupid bitch.”

 

“Sweet talk me all you want, but you’re still going to jail.”

 

“What for?”

 

“Seriously? You smell like you took a bath in a beer keg, and you were driving like you had both hands over your eyes.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

The guy in her grip chortled and Charity set her jaw. “Nope,” she gritted. “That’d be incest.”

 

After kicking the door shut with her foot—somehow the jerk managed to pull his head back in time—Charity hustled drunk number two around to the other side. She shoved him in, gave an approving grunt when he intercepted the second batch of spit, slammed the door shut, and straightened. Eyes closed, she turned away and counted to ten, then tugged a pair of latex gloves from her equipment belt and marched over to the pickup.

 

The truck had skidded to a stop three feet from a cottonwood with a trunk as wide as a tractor tire. Her asshole brother and his drinking buddy were lucky to be going to jail instead of the morgue. She scowled at the battered pickup. The driver’s side door sagged open, the interior light flickering wearily. Stand back, I’m going in.

 

Her shoulder mic crackled and she froze.

 

Crap. The night dispatcher knew Hank Bishop and what he was capable of, which meant she’d be pissed at Charity for not checking in. Charity put her hand to her mic and thumbed the volume up, but the sultry female voice that could have ruled the phone sex industry didn’t transmit the expected rebuke.

 

“All units, we have a one-eight-seven on Richland Road. Please respond.”

 

Charity sucked in a breath and pressed push-to-talk. “Dispatch, this is Unit Four. Could you ten-twenty-two?”

 

“You heard me right, Charity. One-eight-seven. Unit Three’s on location.”

 

“Ten-four.” Charity stared in the direction of the river. After two days of April rain, the muddy water tumbled as madly as the inside of her belly.

 

Homicide. She’d been with the Becker County Sheriff’s Department for six years and only once had she worked a murder. Even then she’d hovered on the periphery, covering shifts for the investigators and offering clerical support. Now the sheriff was on leave, which put the undersheriff, who happened to be Charity, in charge. Her heart gave an anxious kick and she peeled off her gloves. Becker County, Montana was a small town; chances were she knew the victim. She angled her chin toward her radio.

 

“Unit Four responding. ETA twenty minutes.” Why did she have to be on the opposite side of the county? She’d have to send someone else to work her brother’s accident scene.

 

Fifteen seconds later, she was strapped into her seat and turning the key. She switched off the takedown lights and tossed her hat aside. Behind her, Hank started in with a slurred monologue of worn-out curses, threats, and pleas. He knew he was facing time. Not only did he have three DUIs under his belt, but he was supposed to be driving the Buick, already fitted with a court-ordered ignition interlock. She figured two years, minimum.

 

A burst of static from the radio. Charity’s fingers curled around the gear shift and she shot a warning glance at the rearview mirror. “I’m needed out on Richland Road. Either of you gives me any trouble, I’ll pull over and cuff you to a tree.”

 

“You can’t do that.” Hank kicked the back of her seat. “There’s bears out here. I’ll sue!”

 

“You could use the money for tires. I bet that old pickup of yours doesn’t even know what a tread is.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

She sighed. Next he’d start harping about how a sister should look out for a brother. Never mind he was ten years older. Never mind she couldn’t remember him once looking out for her.

 

“Not very original, are you, Hank?” She shifted into drive and ground her boot into the accelerator. Hank slammed back against the seat, hollering a garbled protest, while his buddy started whining about the half-empty bottle of beer he’d left in the truck.

 

Charity smiled grimly.

Twenty-three minutes later she turned into the parking lot of the Becker County Veterinary Clinic. Arriving late at the scene? Not a great way to take lead of a homicide investigation. But she’d had to pull over twice to let drunk number two out to puke.

Deputy Coroner Riley Morrissey, or “Mo,” had been busy. The lot was lit up like an outdoor court prepped for a game of midnight basketball. Someone had turned on the clinic’s floodlights, and they joined the collection of headlights, emergency lights, and spotlights, all illuminating the body sprawled on the dull asphalt.

 

The body of a woman.

 

A helpless dismay seared the inside of Charity’s chest. Dealing with the occasional traffic accident victim and household fatality was bad enough. But homicide...

 

With a quick exhale, she plucked her hat from the passenger seat and pushed out of the SUV. She didn’t have to worry about Hank; despite her driving, he was fast asleep in the back seat, snoring loudly enough to rattle the paint off the chassis. Meanwhile his less-hostile, spew-happy partner-in-crime had started singing a garbled version of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.”

 

A member of the sheriff’s posse, or reserve unit, nodded as he passed by, walking backward while unreeling a bright strip of Do Not Cross tape. Charity scanned the vehicles in the lot. Besides Mo’s squad vehicle, the twin to her Tahoe, she noted an ambulance, a half dozen pickup trucks belonging either to members of the volunteer rescue squad or the sheriff’s posse, a battered compact no one other than the owner of the local paper would bother to claim, a minivan Charity didn’t recognize, and a two-seater convertible the bright white of a celebrity’s smile. She frowned. She knew that car.

 

A muffled, staccato sound finally registered. Dogs, barking inside the clinic. The barks faded behind a desultory clatter as two paramedics took their time offloading a stretcher from the back of the ambulance. No need to hurry when they were headed to the morgue.

 

Charity ducked under the flimsy yellow barrier.

 

The dead woman lay on her left side, left arm extended and cushioning her head, right arm bent behind her back. A long, off-white, expensive-looking coat hid her torso and upper legs. Beneath the coat she wore jeans and a three-inch pair of brown leather heels that cost more money than Charity took home in a month. She knew that because in a moment of madness she’d looked them up online, after Sarah had shown them off at the fire house’s annual pancake breakfast two weeks earlier. One look at the price and Charity had cringed. The boots were gorgeous, but not worth maxing out her credit card.

 

Her throat locked as she stared down at the woman sprawled at her feet. There was no mistaking that hair—a thick, glossy, enviable mass the color of polished pennies. Definitely Sarah Huffman. Single, smart, and successful, she’d been an agent with Tarrant Properties for years. She couldn’t have been more than thirty-five years old.

 

Charity’s gaze traveled to the purple-edged stripe of red that banded the woman’s throat. Who did this to you? No answer but the emergency lights that clicked and whirred, tinting the coat red, then blue, then red, then blue.

 

She crouched and scanned for signs of blood or other trauma. Hopefully Mo had asked Dispatch to contact the sheriff. And where was Dix? She needed her lead detective on site. Now.

 

“Strangled. Better than drowning. But not by much, I’m thinking.”

 

Charity let loose a quiet sigh. She knew that doomsday voice. Whenever she heard it she couldn’t help thinking of Eeyore. Only

Eeyore was a damned sight more cheerful. Fingers digging into her knees, she peered up at Phil Smiley—owner, editor and chief reporter of the Becker County Herald.

 

“I doubt she’d agree with you.” Her gaze dropped to Smiley’s hands. “What are you doing inside the barrier? With that?”

He gestured with the camera. “Deputy Morrissey forgot his. I’d already got plenty of shots of... Anyway, you can have the memory card when I’m done. Long as I get a pic or two for the morning edition. I’m just trying to help out here.”

 

He adopted an injured expression, but Charity didn’t bite. She reached beneath her jacket and slid a pen free of her shirt pocket, then turned back to the body. Carefully she lifted away Sarah’s hair to get a closer look at the bruising. A flurry of superficial scratches marked both sides of the throat, above the ligature line.

 

Charity swallowed. Fingernails. Despite Sarah’s tidy appearance, she’d struggled.

 

“Guess you’re wishing the sheriff was here.”

 

Slowly Charity stood, replaced the pen, and slipped both thumbs into her rig. Smiley was right. At the same time, in some tragic, twisted way, this homicide would give her a chance to prove what she could manage on her own. Maybe help the town discover a female sheriff wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

 

“He’ll be here soon enough.” She turned and headed for Mo.

 

The department’s part-time coroner stood beside his unit, a notepad in one hand and a wad of paper towels in the other. In front of him a petite brunette wavered on high heels and brushed at the front of her leather jacket with her own fistful of towels. Charity winced. Looked like tonight was puke night. Chances were someone would be disinfecting their—

 

Crap. She halted. The face on the other side of all those dark curls finally registered. She knew she’d recognized that convertible. It belonged to Justine Langford. Justine West Langford.

 

Grady’s sister.

 

Cold dread hit Charity’s stomach. Please let her be nothing more than a witness.

 

The moment she acknowledged the thought, it shamed her. The day she let bias affect her job was the day she gave up being a law enforcement officer. And a law enforcement officer was all she’d ever wanted to be.

 

Mo shot her an it’s-about-time look, but behind the irritation in his baby blues lurked an unmistakable edginess. She noted the sad cast to his mouth and remembered—once upon a time, Mo had dated the victim, which meant he’d have his own issues to deal with.

 

This just kept getting better and better.

 

Mo gestured in Charity’s direction. “This is Deputy Sheriff Bishop, Mrs. Langford. She’ll head the investigation until the sheriff arrives.”

 

Justine gazed at Charity through red-rimmed, tormented eyes. Navy eyes, like her brother’s. Charity looked away and waved over one of the paramedics. When she looked back, she aimed her gaze at Justine’s quivering chin.

 

“Can I get you anything, Mrs. Langford? Water, maybe?” No response. The paramedic jogged over, and Charity touched Justine on the shoulder. “How about you let Yolanda take a look at you? Just to make sure you’re all right.”

 

Numbly Grady’s sister turned to follow the paramedic to the ambulance. Her gaze landed on the body and she slapped a hand over her eyes.

 

“Cover her,” she begged in a high-pitched, breathy voice. “For God’s sake, can’t you cover her?”

 

Mo moved to block her view. “No disrespect, Mrs. Langford, but we have to finish working the scene. I promise we’ll take care of her as soon as we can.” He gestured for the paramedic to take his place, then he and Charity watched Justine Langford wobble away.

 

“She’s half-loaded.” Mo held the soiled paper towels way out in front of him as he headed for the back of his SUV.

 

Charity exhaled. If Justine had been driving, that meant another DUI. Not good. Not good at all. This did not bode well for the socialite’s reliability as a witness.

 

She turned toward the empty single-lane highway. On the other side of the aging pavement, something made a scraping sound. A rattle of displaced pebbles. Awareness tickled the back of her neck, and every muscle locked. She squinted into the night, straining to see past the borders of the crime scene to the shadows that lurked beyond the reach of the lights.

 

Was he out there? Watching them labor over his handiwork? Enjoying the shock and grief and horror he’d spawned?

 

Charity tipped her head and listened. Nothing. But she didn’t have to be trained in law enforcement to know there were times criminals felt compelled to return to the scene of the crime, to witness firsthand the aftermath, to revel in challenging the police.

 

Unless the killer had never left the parking lot.

 

“Think he’s out there?”

 

Charity cursed herself for flinching. She offered Mo a shrug. “Remind me to check across the road for tire tracks. Maybe he panicked and left the scene in a hurry. And we should search the ditches. Fifty yards in each direction.”

 

“You got it. Could be a she, you know.”

 

“Could be.” Charity led him back to his Chevy and opened the top drawer of his heavy-duty kit cabinet. Bandages and crumpled evidence bags. The next drawer contained a tangle of zip ties. The next, a jumble of gas receipts and accident forms. With a huff of disgust, Charity pushed the door shut. “You’ve got to straighten this up, Mo. How do you find anything?”

 

Scowling, he nudged her aside. “What are you looking for?”

 

She leaned around him, held up her hands and waggled her fingers.

 

“Coming right up.” He lifted the plastic bag of puked-on paper towels, revealing a box of latex gloves in the corner. He snagged a pair and with a smug flourish, presented them to Charity.

 

“Thank you.” She peered over his shoulder, checking that Smiley was steering clear of her crime scene as she worked her hands into the latex. “So what’s the story?”

 

“Mrs. Langford was first on the scene. She was passing by, saw something, pulled in for a closer look, spewed her dinner plus three or four cocktails, and called nine-one-one.”

 

“What time?”

 

He pulled out his notepad. “Twenty-two thirty-seven.”

 

Just past ten thirty. “Time of death?”

 

With a roll of his eyes he offered up the usual disclaimer. “I’m a coroner, not a medical examiner. The ME in Great Falls has to do his thing before we know for sure.”

 

“But if you had to guess...”

 

After shoving his notepad back into his belt, he pulled out the drawer with the zip ties, scooped them out and replaced them with the box of gloves. “She died about two hours ago. Ligature strangulation. The marks slant upward at the back of her neck. Not wire—her skin’s not broken.” His fingers were stiff as he straightened the strips of black plastic. “No obvious signs of molestation.”

 

Charity opened drawers until she found the first aid kit and tucked the loose bandages from the top drawer inside. “Could she have been killed somewhere else and dumped here?”

 

“Always a possibility. But there’s scuff marks on the pavement nearby, and the heels of her boots are all scratched up.”

 

Pushing aside the image his words induced, Charity moved away from the SUV and looked from the road back to where the body lay. “Mrs. Langford mention which way she was headed when she spotted the body?”

 

“East.”

 

Interesting. “Where would she be going this time of night? Headed out of town?”

 

Mo slammed the tailgate closed. “Didn’t get that much out of her. She’s pretty upset.”

 

“And you?”

 

A pause. “I’ll be fine once we catch the son of a bitch who did this.”

 

Charity gave his arm a quick squeeze. “How about next of kin?”

 

“Sarah’s parents live in Virginia. Okay if I handle notification?” At her nod, Mo cleared his throat. “Looks like they’re done with our witness. You want to run her in, or have her wait?”

 

“The kindest thing would be to get her to the station. I don’t think either of us should leave, though.” She nodded her head at the men and women grouped around the back of the ambulance. The man who’d strung the caution tape was a trained volunteer who served with the sheriff’s reserves.

 

“I’ll get Tim to take her back and keep her company. While he’s at it, he can take care of booking my brother and his buddy. By the way, what happened to your camera?”

 

Color seeped into his face. She’d bet that under that surfer-blond hair, even his scalp was scarlet.

 

He dropped his head and took his time adjusting his rig. “I, uh, must have left it somewhere.”

 

“You’d better find it before the sheriff gets back.”

 

“You gonna call him?”

 

Crap. Her hands went to her hips. “You mean you didn’t?”

 

His head came up and he didn’t bother hiding his smirk. “You’re the undersheriff. I’m just a lowly deputy.”

 

“Thanks a lot, Mo. I’ll remember that the next time you’re looking to trade shifts for the sake of a hot date.” Ignoring his pained expression, Charity watched with approval as across the lot Yolanda steered Justine away from the ghoulish Phil Smiley.

 

Charity gestured to Mo and they started back toward their victim. “Heard anything from Dix?” Only a few bystanders had parked on the side of the road to watch the excitement, but with police scanners a household item in these parts, it wouldn’t take long for others to gather. They had to get this scene worked before they lost any more manpower to crowd control.

 

“He’s on his way.”

 

As soon as Charity called him, the sheriff would be, too. So much for his long-awaited fishing trip. Any trout playing hard-to-get with the sheriff’s pole would have to stay in the Gallatin River.

She stopped, lifted her hat, and scrubbed her fingers through her hair as Mo walked on. If Justine Langford proved to be anything more than a witness, yet another male would be on his way back to Becker County. The Grady West she remembered wouldn’t sit on his thumbs while his sister faced criminal prosecution.

Would he bring his wife and child?

Charity rolled her shoulders up and back. Seriously, what did she care? What was past was past. She’d moved on. Grady had moved on. She hiked her chin and trailed Mo to Sarah Huffman’s lifeless body.

Besides. Some things just couldn’t be undone.

*     *    *

Grady West strode across the poorly lit parking lot of the Becker County courthouse, gaze locked on the innocuous beige door that separated him from the family he’d seen maybe a handful of times since he’d left town twelve years earlier. He knew his parents were inside—he’d parked his rental car beside a gleaming Mercedes sporting the IMADOC vanity plate. His father had claimed a space reserved for sheriff’s office employees.

 

Good ol’ Dad.

 

Grady straightened his tie. He should have stopped at the house and changed his suit before rushing here from the airport.

Especially now that he knew his parents hadn’t been home.

He grimaced. No doubt Drs. Hampton and Roberta West were raising quite a ruckus on the other side of the courthouse door. Justine had asked him not to contact their parents, which meant someone else had clued them in.

 

Dammit, he wasn’t ready for this. For any of it. Returning to Becker County, making nice with his mother and father, finding some way to sort out Justine and her troubles. He’d been out of the loop a long time. But not long enough.

 

Hell. The sudden heaviness of shame slowed his stride. Grady hesitated at the edge of the lot, next to an SUV made doubly brown by the fresh mud spattered across its paint. His parents weren’t getting any younger. His sister needed him. Besides, he’d never managed to ditch the feeling he’d let Justine down by moving away. Answering her call for help was the least he could do.

 

He exhaled, his thoughts settling on the other woman who’d ruled his brain the past few hours. Charity Bishop. He hadn’t seen her since that god-awful night after high school graduation. And now she’d arrested his sister. For murder.

Didn’t bode well for a cheery reunion.

 

He jerked at the cuffs of his jacket and stepped up onto the concrete path. The overpriced ham sandwich he’d forced down his throat at the airport lay heavy in his gut. Justine hadn’t exactly been coherent over the phone, but Grady had heard enough of the pieces to allow him to put together one hell of an outrageous puzzle.

 

Disturbing the peace, he could understand. When they were still married, Justine and her husband had regularly entertained their neighbors with their disagreements, producing about the same number of decibels as a subway train passing ten feet away. Sadly enough, Grady could even buy that his sister had been picked up for driving under the influence. But murder?

 

As he reached for the door handle, he froze, and squeezed his eyes shut. Oh, Jesus. Don’t let it be a hit and run. He pulled in a breath, held it, felt it burn inside his lungs. He yanked open the door.

 

At the end of a short corridor, he found a layout not unlike an emergency room waiting area, with rows of battered plastic chairs on one side, reception area behind glass on the other, outdated posters scattered across the walls, and rusted rings on the floor mapping the rearrangement of furniture. In the corner, a soda machine gave off a quiet, continuous hum.

 

Besides the positions of the chairs, not much had changed.

 

“What are you doing here?” a female voice demanded.

 

Including this.

 

“I came to help,” Grady said, and held out his arms. “How are you, Mother?”

 

She didn’t answer, stepping out of his hug as fast as her three-inch heels would allow. He caught a whiff of her signature scent—the finest bourbon money could buy—and noticed a few extra lines had sidled onto her face. He shifted his shoulders up and around, but they wouldn’t settle back into place.

 

Lately his son Matt had been pestering him about needing more time with his grandparents. Seemed Grady had been right to put him off.

 

His mother patted the hair gathered at the back of her head and gave Grady the once-over. “Where’s Matthew?”

 

“I left him with Valerie.”

 

“Was that wise?”

 

“Wiser than yanking him out of school so he could visit his aunt in the pokey.”

 

An amused, muffled sound wafted from behind the thick glass window. His mother yanked at the hem of her blouse. “That woman will let him stay up all night and eat cold pizza for breakfast.”

 

And yet two more reasons for his preteen son to hope Grady took his time getting back to Seattle.

 

“‘That woman’ is his mother,” Grady said. “He’ll be fine.” He hoped. Valerie didn’t seem to have much time for their son anymore, and it was ironic as hell, considering Matt had made it clear he’d rather live with her. Grady extended his hand to his other parent. “Dad.”

 

His father had money, smarts, charm, and a solid reputation as an orthopedic surgeon. What he wasn’t smug about? A son who’d snubbed medical school, a divorcée daughter who continued to reject his hand-picked candidates for spouse number two, and a wife who exceeded her husband’s height by a solid three inches. When she managed to stand upright.

 

Oh, yeah. Hampton West was a bitter man. He clasped Grady’s hand and squeezed hard. Too hard. Surgeon’s roulette, Grady liked to call it. Because one of these days someone would squeeze even harder in return and shatter the good doctor’s livelihood.

 

Then Grady looked closer. His father’s eyes were red-rimmed and dazed, like he hadn’t been sleeping. “You okay, Dad?”

 

“I had to get him over here from the hospital. He was working late.” His mother pursed her lips. “Again.”

 

Christ. “Neither one of you should have been driving tonight.”

 

His father swayed, and promptly sat. “How’d you know about your sister, anyway?”

 

“Justine called me.”

 

“Why would she do that?” His mother looked like she’d caught the housekeeper bringing in the groceries through the front door.

 

“Maybe she thought I could help.”

 

His father made a flicking motion. “If you’re that determined to be useful, why don’t you get someone to tell us why they haven’t released her?”

 

“No one’s talked to you yet?”

 

“And while you’re at it, apply some of that crisis management training you’re so proud of and put a gag on the local paper. That damned Phil Smiley—”

 

“That’s what you’re worried about? The press?”

 

His mother, sought after more for her talents as a hostess than a psychiatrist, gave a throaty huff of anger and rifled in the outside pocket of her handbag for the mints she always carried. “You don’t have to live here. We do. We all know who’s behind this, don’t we?” She tossed back a handful of mints as though they were aspirin. “Keeping us waiting here on purpose,” she seethed.

 

“Making sure the entire county knows exactly where we are. Arresting Justine for no better reason than to promote a run for sheriff.”

 

“We haven’t arrested Mrs. Langford. At this point she’s a witness only.”

 

Grady’s stomach dipped. That voice. He’d never forgotten that voice. Huskier, after twelve years. An even stronger a reminder of his grandfather’s favorite drink—heated rum and honey, with a splash of lemon.

 

His father struggled to his feet. His mother frowned, wavering as she pivoted on too-high heels. Grady turned more slowly, memories of the sass he’d heard spoken in that voice tempting his lips into a smile.

 

He resisted the temptation. He needed answers, not a rehashing of the past. Still, when Grady met Charity’s cool hazel gaze, every nerve in his body quivered as if strummed. He had to admit, there were some moments in the past he wouldn’t mind reliving.

 

And some he’d give anything to undo.

 

Charity stood before him in a long-sleeved, mud-brown uniform, same pretty face, same pale skin, same wicked curves. She’d exchanged her curly ropes of butter-colored hair for a short, wispy cut, and the bridge of her nose sported a telltale bump. He wanted to ask her about the injury, about her job, longed to pull her close and hear the lusty laugh that once upon a time had never failed to pull him back from the edge.

 

But that fairy tale was long since over. And even though she’d forgiven him, or once claimed she did, one glance at the jut of her chin made it clear she’d never forget.

 

Didn’t matter. Grady had come to help his sister, not make nice with an ex-girlfriend. Despite the gravity of the situation, though, he couldn’t help feeling smug that Charity had no choice but to see him. Ten years too late, but still. This time there’d be no blowing him off over the phone.

 

“Charity.” He offered a grim nod. Then his mother’s words worked their way to the front of his brain. Arresting Justine for no better reason than to promote a run for sheriff. He narrowed his gaze on that pale, no-nonsense face.

 

Charity was running for sheriff, and a high-profile case had just dropped into her lap. Complete with a convenient suspect. One whose brother had once managed to get Charity arrested.

 

Shit.