Authors: Cindi Madsen
Tags: #tattoos, #wild child, #cop, #sweet, #small town romance, #stranded, #christmas, #opposites attract, #susan mallery, #snowstorm
Doing the wrong thing has never felt so right...
The last person police officer Nate Walsh expected to discover stranded in a snowstorm is his brother’s ex—and former town rebel—Kelsey Cooper. His complete opposite in every way, Kelsey’s the girl he never allowed himself to want. But when she agrees to stay with him until the storm passes, he definitely finds himself wanting the gorgeous, tattooed woman. Too bad Nate’s sure his brother is still in love with her…
Kelsey had only meant to drive through her tiny hometown, not end up spending time there. With a cop. But despite her issues with authority figures, even she can admit Mr. Serious looks pretty hot in his uniform. Unfortunately, she’s sworn off relationships—and she’ll never be the girl for a nice guy.
An Officer and a Rebel
an Accidentally in Love novella
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Cindi Madsen. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Edited by Alycia Tornetta
Cover design by Jessica Cantor
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition November 2013
Nostalgia was a nice idea and all, but what Kelsey hadn’t thought about when she’d decided to take a detour down memory lane—aka the windy mountain roads to Marion, North Carolina—was that it was going to start dumping snow, something her ancient little car with its needing-to-be-replaced tires wasn’t properly equipped for.
She could hear the mechanic’s voice in her head, warning that the tires were bald and should be replaced as soon as possible. She’d thought she could do it once she got to Lexington. Or when she got back from Christmas vacation. Time off was so hard to come by, and all she’d wanted was get to Mom’s—it’d been way too long since they’d seen each other, and for months she’d been looking forward to kicking back and enjoying the holidays.
I should’ve never gotten off the interstate.
“Come on, little car. We got this,” Kelsey said, though the tires continued to slip. The snow was coming straight at her, making it impossible to see. It was the hypnotizing kind that could make you drive right off the road without realizing it.
Kelsey gripped the wheel tighter, a bead of sweat forming between her shoulder blades despite the chilly temperatures outside.
I remember it getting cold here next to the mountains, but I don’t remember it snowing
And haven’t they heard of a snowplow?
Marion’s town slogan was “Where Main Street Meets Mountain.” That was one of the reasons she’d loved the town, with the nearby woods, its colorful shops, and the feeling that time hadn’t touched it the way it had the cities. They occasionally closed down Main Street for festivals where the entire town came out to mingle and eat hot dogs and snow cones. There was even a dress the pig contest at the Livermush Festival. Some of her happiest memories were of those events, going to ballgames, and working at Mom’s jewelry shop downtown. Yes, a lot of the older folks thought she was a troublemaker, with her constantly changing hair color, fashions they’d never seen—and obviously didn’t want to—and tattoos. But that was sorta fun, too, watching their eyes go wide when she walked into a room. Instead of easing back, it only egged her on to be louder. More outlandish.
When Mom announced she was marrying Chris and moving the shop to Lexington, Kentucky, where he was from, Kelsey had wanted to cry, even though she’d been off at college in Charlotte. She supposed that was why she’d gone an hour out of the way to see the place—a chance to see if anything had changed and to say goodbye. Only between the darkness and the snow, she wouldn’t be able to see much, and at this point, she was wondering if she’d even make it into town. Right now she felt like she was the only person in the world, nothing but her and white as far as the eye could see.
But at least she could recognize landmarks. She was only about five miles out of town, but going this slow, that distance might take a while.
A streak of brown ran in front of her and she swerved to miss the large deer. The tires slid. Depressing the brakes didn’t slow her down but sent her spinning into the other lane. The right side of her car hit the guardrail, the impact throwing her forward. Her seat belt caught, digging into her chest, and metal groaned against metal as the car rolled up and over the rail. The rail bent under the car’s weight, and the suitcase from the back bumped into her seat as the front end of the car pointed down, toward the tree-lined slope.
For a moment, there was only a ringing noise, the radio silenced, the falling snow swirling around her car as her heart pounded so fast she couldn’t tell if it or the belt hurt more.
“Holy shit,” Kelsey said, taking her shaky hands from the wheel. She ran her gaze over herself, checking to make sure she was okay. The airbags would’ve deployed if she had any, she was sure, but this car was almost as old as she was. She felt okay physically, with the exception of her jangled nerves. As soon as she was sure she wasn’t bleeding or knocked loony, she glanced out the window, where a tree was mere inches from her face, some of the branches pressed against the glass. The right side where her car had hit the rail looked pretty mashed, too.
Her heart dropped. There was no way she could simply start up her car, back up, and go on her way. She cranked the engine to see if it’d even start—nope, just grinding followed by a clicking noise. The snow fell faster and faster and the wind blew against her car, making the windows shudder. Without the heater pumping full blast, cold was seeping in, biting everywhere her skin was exposed.
Crap. What am I going to do?
Headlights approached on the road and Kelsey’s heart lurched. Vehicles were few and far between out here this late, and she needed to get this one to stop. But she couldn’t get either of the front doors open, and she was scared one wrong move would send the car barreling farther into the trees. She undid her seatbelt and immediately fell against the steering wheel.
She started crawling to the back of the car, freezing when police lights flicked onto the vehicle. Her happiness that the truck was stopping faded. Sheriff Henderson had always treated her like a criminal—okay, so there was that time she’d been busted at a party, but there were several underage kids drinking, and she’d been the only one carted in. So not fair. Not to mention all the speeding tickets he’d given her, even when she’d
been over the limit.
f she thought another car would happen by, she might take her chances. But as much as she didn’t like the sheriff, she didn’t want to become a human Popsicle either. The car wobbled and she gripped the headrest to keep from being tossed back to the front.
The lights of the truck lit up a tall figure. Either the sheriff had lost his gut or…
Kelsey squinted at the guy as he got closer. The glowing taillights of her car illuminated him in red, but between that and the snow all she could really tell was that it was someone much younger than Sherriff Henderson.
The backdoor opened with a groan. “Give me your hand,” he instructed, extending his. The car wobbled again, and Kelsey slid toward the open door, sure she was about to fall several feet onto the ground. Strong hands caught her around the waist, but her forward momentum still caused her to bump into his solid chest. She automatically gripped his arms to steady herself. As her feet sank into the snow, cold seeped through her jeans. Her coat was still in the front seat and she shivered as the icy air surrounded her. “You okay?”
Kelsey glanced up, and for a moment, she thought it was her ex-boyfriend. But then she saw the slight differences—a couple extra inches in height, broader in the shoulders, eyes hazel instead of green, mouth set in a tight line. If he took off his hat, his hair would be dirty blond, not dark brown.
His eyebrows drew together as recognition lit his eyes. “Kelsey?”
So it might not be as awkward as it could’ve been, but she wasn’t sure running into her ex’s older brother this way was much better.
Nate thought the snow must be doing funny things to his vision, because there was no way Kelsey Cooper was actually standing in front of him. Not here in Marion. He’d thought maybe he’d run into her in Charlotte, back when he was going to the Police Academy. He’d even thought about looking her up. He could’ve played it off as just wanting to see someone from home, though it would’ve been more than that, and he wasn’t sure he could’ve convincingly acted otherwise. There was something about the girl that’d seared her into his brain, regardless of the fact she was his younger brother’s girlfriend. Even though she and Derek had broken up, he knew he should’ve never thought about her that way in the first place.
But now, watching the snow fall onto her platinum hair, streaked with purple—and he thought he spotted a feather in there—he remembered why it was he’d been so mesmerized every time she stepped into the room.
“Hey, Nate,” she said, blinking as though she didn’t quite believe her eyes either. “So there was a deer and I swerved and hit the brakes and then the next thing I knew…” She motioned to her car.
“Are you hurt?” He leaned closer so he could see if her eyes were dilated, but it was no use in this darkness.
Her gaze locked onto his, and a sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time went through his gut. Trying to focus past what seeing her again did to him, he noticed her eyes were clear at least and there was no sign of blood.
“I’m okay. My car isn’t so much.” She ran a hand through her hair and pressed her lips together, as if she were fighting tears. “How am I going to get to Kentucky now?”
Nate looked down the road, as if that’d suddenly clear the way. “I hate to break it to you, but the roads are closed. The freeway, too, headed north. There’s a storm coming, and everyone’s been advised to stay indoors.”
“Coming?” Kelsey tipped her head up to the sky.
“It’s gonna get worse,” he said and she jerked her head back down.
“Great. Well…” Kelsey shuddered and he realized she wasn’t wearing a coat. He shrugged out of his and wrapped it around her. She looked like she was about to fight him but then she sighed and slid her arms into the sleeves. “So, uh, how’s the Budget Valley Motel looking these days?”
“Probably the same way it did as when you left.”
The corners of her mouth turned down. “So like drug dealers and rats fight it out for control?”
He smiled, despite the situation. “They recently redid the Hampton, and it’s really nice, but it’s on the other side of town and the storm’s only going to get worse. It’d be tricky getting there.”
“That one’s probably out of my budget, anyway. Hell, the Budget Valley Motel’s probably out of my budget. Especially now that my car’s going to need a total overhaul. I mean holy shit on a stick, I just fixed the damn thing.”
Nate clamped his lips together. His parents had taken a while to warm up to Kelsey, and even after that, he’d heard Mom ask Derek if he could ask his girlfriend to watch her language.
“Poured all my money into it, and just because I didn’t get new tires…” She exhaled a white puff of air. “Anyway, if you could give me a ride to the inn, I’ll figure out something. Let me try to grab my suitcase first, though. The only thing worse than being stuck would be being stuck with nothing.”
“Here, let me.” The car looked like it was going to roll forward, and the last thing he wanted was for her to have come out okay in the wreck, only to get hurt going back in.
“I can get it,” she said, but then she eyed the distance to the open door and probably realized she wasn’t tall enough. Nate climbed onto the bent up guardrail, spotted the giant hot pink suitcase, and leaned forward.
“Be careful,” she said as the car wobbled and the door closed enough to slam him in the back. He tugged the suitcase out, letting it drop onto the snow. He noticed something metallic on the floor, glinting in the light, but then the car shuddered and he jumped back, deciding not to press his luck. As he picked up the suitcase he noticed all the stars and hearts drawn on it in black marker—it was also heavier than it looked.
Nate cleared his throat. “You know, I have two extra rooms at my house. I’m cheaper than the inn, I cleaned in the last month or so, and it’s only a couple miles from here.”
Kelsey scratched the back of her neck, the many bracelets lining her wrist rattling together. Her eyes came back to his and he held his breath, thinking this was the stupidest idea he’d ever had. He hadn’t seen the girl in six years, and even back in high school, they’d barely talked. But he hated the thought of her stuck in town, snowed in at the dingy motel with no car.
“Seriously?” she asked. “I mean, that’d be great, but I don’t want to put you out.”
“It’s no trouble. I swear.” He hefted her suitcase into the back of his truck. He reached inside the cab, pulled out an orange tag and stuck it on the car. He’d make sure it didn’t actually get towed, but he wanted to signal that it’d been taken care of, so no one thought someone was trapped inside—not that he thought a lot of people would be driving by tonight.
He helped her inside the cab of his truck, noticing a tattoo peeking out of the top of her shirt that he hadn’t seen before, though it was too dark to make out what it was. When he climbed in the other side, she was her rubbing her hands together, so he cranked up the heater.
“I really appreciate this,” she said. “Hopefully the snow will let up and I can get my car into a shop tomorrow.”
He nodded, though he doubted it. This storm was supposed to hammer all night and go well into the next afternoon, possibly longer. Not to mention it’d be Christmas Eve, and it’d be hard to find a mechanic’s shop open, much less one that would have all the parts and could get her car fixed in less than a week. He didn’t want to upset her more, though. In fact, he worried he was skipping a step.
“If you feel like you need to see a doctor, I can take you to the hos—”
She put her hand on his arm and the last of his sentence died on his tongue. “I’m okay, seriously. In fact, this heater is, like, a bloody miracle. My car’s heater blows. And that was before it decided to go for a rail slide.”
Her hand was still on his arm and he could feel how icy her fingers were through the fabric. He could also smell something vanilla, either her perfume or shampoo or whatever it was girls did to themselves to smell so good.
She flashed him a tight smile and scooted back in the seat. He pulled onto the road—the four-wheel drive was already engaged so the tires dug in—and headed toward home. He’d never been good at small talk, and even though he’d imagined what he’d say if he ever ran into Kelsey again, his mind was completely blank.
There was also the fact that over Thanksgiving, while he and Derek had been rehashing “the good ol’ days,” Derek had said Kelsey was the one girl he wished hadn’t gotten away. That put her off limits, and Nate wasn’t going to cross that line. But he wasn’t going to leave her stranded either—especially not for the holidays. So he’d simply help her out and move on with his life when she was gone.