Authors: Jodi Linton
If I hadn’t played witness to the coach’s walk of shame a few nights ago when he’d drained a bottle of tequila at Rusty’s and spilled about how fucked he was over the losing streak the team had been experiencing this season…well, finding him all dressed up with no one to blow I might’ve been a better sport. It wasn’t a secret that the honeymoon with Pistol Rock High School was over for Rip Granger. But I’d never held a fondness for football other than cheering Gunner on back in high school. Not enough time in the day to deal with all my other ninety-nine problems.
Elroy coughed, drawing me back to the issue at hand. “You can do the honors.”
“Hang on,” I said, shooting Elroy a
Don’t push your luck
kind of look. When would he grow a pair? On second thought, he’d hung up that sack of his years ago when he’d moved in with his sister, Mary Lou, in hopes of saving a dime and never moved out. I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture for posterity.
“Are you gonna blackmail him?” Elroy asked, half appalled.
“Of course not. I wanna have a picture just in case.”
I toed Coach Granger. “Rise-n-shine, Coach,” I hollered, peering down at him.
Coach mumbled, rolling and tossing about in the trash on the ground. Maybe it was the sound of my voice, but at that moment he decided it was as good a time as any to have himself some sort of pubescent wet dream. Those delicate lace panties didn’t have the elastic hold needed to pin down his bear-sized dick when it was starting to wake up.
“Oh yeah, baby,” he moaned, sliding his hand down inside the panties and cupping himself. And then he squeezed. “Daddy likes it like that.”
Oh boy. I grimaced, knowing the memory of Coach Granger beating the snake would forever be burned in my mind. When his other hand began twisting one of his nipples, I decided I’d seen enough. Any longer and it’d have appeared like I was enjoying myself.
“Rip!” I kicked him in the thigh. “It’s Deputy Briggs and Deputy Sampson. You wanna take your hand out of your panties and talk with us about why you’re half naked at the football stadium stroking your chub?”
Both eyes flew wide open and his penis shriveled beneath the sheer pink thong. “Deputy Briggs? Ah, shit.”
I can’t deny his reaction stung, but I was used to hearing it. I was beginning to reach the conclusion that this was going to be one hellishly long night.
“Nice to run into you, too, Rip,” I told him. “Now do you mind?” I waved my hand in front of his face. “Your knee knocker is taking up a lot of space.”
All the color drained from his cheeks.
“What the hell are you doing inside my bedroom? You have no damn business being here!” he shouted, stunned and probably a little panicked. He glanced at the empty dirt next to him. “And where the hell is my wife? Missy,” he yelled.
Jeez. I know J. Edgar Hoover was a cross-dresser, too, but I’d bet he wasn’t blind like this guy. I crouched and got in the damn fool’s face, poking a finger at his nose.
“Well, Rip.” I cut an eye at the bra, secretly wishing I’d snagged myself such a looker. “When you leave the house dressed in the latest Frederick’s of Hollywood getup and find yourself blitzed on the high school football field by the end of the night, that gives me the right to make it my damn business.” I dropped my eyes to his thong just to shame him and added, “Seeing as I’m a deputy sheriff of this small west Texas town.”
The lightbulb in his head clicked on. His foggy hazel eyes widened as he slowly took himself in. I watched as confusion bled into understanding, followed quickly by mortification, finally climaxing in a full-blown defensive rancor. He floundered about the ground, trying to reclaim some morsel of dignity as he dusted off his bare thighs, adjusted the thigh highs, pinched the bra up, and rose like a destitute whore leaving a motel room after doing a three-way for less than her going rate. When he finally managed to stand straight, he smacked his head as though he were suddenly in pain. I watched him hold his noggin, waiting for the moment when his battered brain would start piecing things together. When his eyes glazed over in shock, I knew he’d clued in.
“That goddamn bitch.” Rip pressed a shaky hand to his scalp. “She’s a bitch, I tell you,” he said, looking at Elroy and me.
“Who’s a bitch?” I asked.
Elroy nudged my arm. I shook him off, but he nudged me again. Damn, but he was a persistent little pest.
“What?” I asked, looking at him over my shoulder.
“We need to talk,” Elroy said.
He pushed his ball cap up and reached for my arm.
I jerked away.
“Sorry,” he offered, clearly flustered, “but there’s something we really need to discuss, Laney.”
“Fine.” I snatched him by the elbow and pulled him two feet away from the reason we’d descended on the football field in the first place, but close enough so I could still keep an eye on Rip.
“So,” I said, strapping my arms across my chest. “What’s so important that we needed to have ourselves a girl talk?”
Elroy placed a handkerchief to his sweaty head, but it was about as pointless as sweeping leaves off the driveway during a tornado. When he was finished smearing beads of sweat across his already glistening forehead, he went spelunking for something in his front pocket. After an awkward moment, his hand surfaced, holding a picture of the coach with some of Kenny Perkins’s girls.
Kenny was the proud owner of Bristol Mills, the smallest whorehouse in Texas. To date I haven’t been able to shut him down. Well, seeing that Kenny’s been able to keep the town’s mayor deep in his pockets, this might just be the angle I’d been waiting for.
He shoved the pic in my face. “Here, Laney. Take a look.”
I took it and glanced at the grainy, distorted snapshot before asking, “Where did you find this?”
“In Rip’s hand,” Elroy said, kicking at a pile of dirt.
I scanned the pic one more time, stopping when I spotted Missy Granger next to Rip. He was hogtied to the bedpost beneath two of Kenny’s girls as Missy smiled for the camera while placing a kiss on her husband’s forehead.
Oh boy. Things had just gotten a little more interesting. There were a few questions I had for Pistol Rock’s football coach. Like how he’d come to be nose planted beneath the stadium bleachers wearing only his wife’s finest lingerie, drunk as a skunk.
But first on the agenda, I intended to have Coach Granger checked out from head to toe in the event he’d sniffed up the wrong tree, since Pistol Rock didn’t have the cleanest drug trafficking record around. And after what went down last summer, I had no intentions on cutting any corners.
Shoving the photograph into the front pocket of my jeans, I cocked my eyebrows at Elroy. He shrugged, prouder than a peacock to have pulled one over on me. I had to give it to him. He’d done good.
“Rip,” I crowed and caught a glimpse of the coach out of the corner of my eye. “You might want to take this one sitting down.”
“Why’s that?” With two fingers he plucked the floss from his ass crack. “Is there a problem, Laney?”
This one was going to pack a punch. I smiled wryly at the poor bastard.
“Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news”—I whipped out my cuffs—“but, Rip, you’re under arrest.”
“Come again,” Coach Granger stuttered, too confused to put up a fight. “You’ve got nothin’ to bring me in on.” His hands went flying. “This is a crock of shit, Laney, and you know it.”
I had already flicked open a cuff, so I ignored him. “I’m hauling you in to sleep it off in the drunk tank while I check out this picture we found on you that looks like it was taken out at Kenny Perkins’s place,” I said, keeping a close watch on his pea-green face. “You are a molder of the minds of minors in our fair town”—I slapped a cuff on his wrist—“so how do you think it’s gonna look to the school board when they find out about this?”
I never received an answer, seeing as how he’d passed out face first on my boots.
I’d placed a call to Missy en route to the station. After three attempts at trying to get the coach’s wife on the line, I concluded that it might be best to make a house call.
Back in the saddle an hour after leaving Elroy in charge of Rip over at the station, I was standing in the middle of a bad episode of
. I’d been dealt the lovely job of hightailing it out to the Grangers’ house in search of his wife, PTA president Missy Granger. From the looks of the kicked-in front door, knocked-over ottoman, Tater Tot casserole burning in the oven, and the doormat being used as the dumping ground for the contents of the empty Kate Spade purse I found there, someone was giving us the runaround.
And even though I searched the house top to bottom twice, Missy was nowhere to be found. Very unsettling. Pistol Rock had seen its fair share of crime over the past year, but still, the idea of a missing-person case creeping over our doorstep might be more than this small town could handle right now. I feared trouble was on the rise—again. And also that the little incident of a cross-dressing coach was about to blow up in all our faces. Two obstacles I could’ve done without at the moment.
I whipped out my phone and called Elroy. On the fourth ring, he picked up. “Please tell me you got something out of the coach, because it’s not looking too promising over here,” I said. “Missy is missing.”
“Elroy,” I shouted.
A cough, a few chews, and then smacking lips. Finally Elroy said, “Missing, huh? Well, it’s all quiet over here. He’s claiming he’s innocent and that he’s got amnesia all at once.”
I wanted to scream. Knowing Elroy, all he’d done was eat for the past hour. For as long as I’d known him, guarding a prisoner meant eating was the only thing he had to do. “You better get that fat ass of yours inside the cell and find out where the heck Missy Granger is right now.”
He choked on a swallow. “Are you telling me the coach’s wife isn’t at the house?”
I just looked at the phone. Wasn’t that what I’d just said?
Damn, damn, damn, Laney Briggs. Why is the good Lord always giving you a slap on the back of the head?
I’d sowed my rotten seeds, I know. Hell, I’d deliberately chosen to jump back into the frying pan with a sexy, good-timing, panty wrangler of a Texas Ranger. Still, couldn’t God throw me a bone once in a while in the form of a partner with a brain?
I bit my tongue and told Elroy all the ins and outs. How the house was a wreck and Missy was missing. He told me he’d hop right to it and muscle the information out of Rip if he had to. I highly doubted that. But why squash the man’s dreams. We severed the conversation shortly after that.
I flopped onto the Grangers’ couch, covered my face with my hands, and debated my next best course of action. A mighty long list was starting to pile up, and now the head of the PTA was missing, who also happened to be the wife of the head football coach, who’d earlier been found dressed to the nines in white-trash lingerie—with a pretty damning photograph in hand, I might add. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed pretty obvious where all this was heading.
I decided to do my due diligence and snoop around a little more. I shot up to my boots and made a beeline for the master suite. If some poor sap had dirty laundry to hide, the first place to search was behind the closed doors of the honeymoon suite, although I’d already popped my head inside the room. I came to the shitty-ass conclusion it’d be best to sweep it again since I might’ve missed a clue the first go-round.
I pushed through the door and scanned the tuna can-sized room. Not much hunting would go on today. The bed was two mattresses thrown on the floor on top of each other. There was a table lamp butted against the wall socket and a closet no wider than a pencil. I’d just started to search it when my boots grazed a plastic bag filled with price-tagged undergarments. Stuffed under a pile of dirty track pants was a mountain of brand-new, sticker-tag intact, high-dollar purses. I got the feeling Mrs. Granger had one helluva shopping itch. I was on my knees, ass pointed north and up to my elbows in shopping bags, when I heard boots stomping about the living room. A minute later a deep and threatening male voice sent my heart tripping over my ribs trying to make a break.
“Your number’s up, Kate,” the voice drawled. Something smacked the wood floor and something else plummeted into what sounded like the wall. “I’ve had it up to here, and I’m not feeling too damn nice anymore. If you come out now, I might be willing to forget about you running me all over the state, shaking down every tree looking for you.”
I pulled my gun and scurried quietly down the dank hallway. This hotheaded bastard had just met his match. I rounded the corner, and standing in front of me was a too-handsome, screwable cowboy in tight-ass jeans and killer shit-kickers. Dadgummit, he was tempting, but, I reminded myself, a) he was breaking and entering someplace he’d no right to be, and b) I’d corralled myself my very own good-timing cowboy, Gunner Wilson, who had me on speed dial. My mind definitely shouldn’t have shot straight into the gutter.
I kept my gun steady with an effort.
He scrubbed his face, his smile broadened, and then he opened his big mouth. “Well, hello there, honey pie,” he said, laying the twang on sickly thick as he pushed his Stetson up. “Why don’t you just hand over the gun before you hurt yourself.” The smile went wide, spreading into a cherry-popper lopsided grin. He stuck out a rough, sun-blistered hand. Then the cattle roper had the nerve to reach for my gun, and I put a round through the living room bay window behind him.
“Shit fire, woman!” the sexy stranger hollered. “What in the hell’s the matter with you?”
He had both of his hands even with his chest, which was just high enough to let me know he wasn’t armed, but not high enough to suggest that he was all that intimidated.
“What’s wrong with
?” I replied from behind my gun.
“You just shot at me,” he said. His eyes were narrowed, his brows were pinched, and his heavy breathing made his deep voice even hotter.
I shrugged. “You reached for my gun. What’d you expect?”
He pushed the Stetson back some more and eyed me. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“I’ve been called worse by people that mattered more,” I answered, unfazed by his assessment of me.
“I can’t believe this,” he started to mutter under his breath. “Of all the damn things that could’ve gone wrong today.”
“Some days are diamonds…” I offered as a consolation.
“Yeah, thanks,” he said sarcastically, scratching at his chin. “That really helps.”
Agitatedly, he paced around the room. All his moving back and forth had me questioning whether I should pop off another round in one of his legs just to keep him still. I sucked in a deep, calming breath and continued watching this thong bomb blow his top.
“Why me?” he asked in dismay. “How come I always seem to attract the crazy ones?” He paused, peered over his shoulder, and threw me a nerve-shocker wink. “No offense, darling, but lately I haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to the ladies.”
. I raised an eyebrow.
He tipped the brim of his hat at me and smiled.
“All right, cowboy,” I said, taking a sizable step back while keeping my gun pointed at him. “I’m Deputy Sheriff Briggs. Now tell me why you’re bird-dogging around Coach Granger’s house. And given events that have already unfolded tonight and the fact that I’ve still got five bullets in my gun, you better have one hell of a satisfying answer for me.” I cocked my revolver.
That smug smile returned. “A deputy, huh,” he said, all cowboy conceited. Then he offered a hand. “The name’s Colt.” I didn’t take it. He slowly put the hand that I had rejected into his back pocket, setting off all kinds of alarms in my head, and pulled out a wallet. He flipped it open to reveal a badge. Relief flooded over me. “Colt Larsen, U.S. Marshals Service,” he continued. “Nice to meet you, Deputy Briggs.”
“So, Marshal,” I said, “you never answered my question.”
“Forgive me. What was the question?” the cocky shit asked, looking almost proud of the fact that he forgot.
“Why are you stomping your boots around Coach Granger’s house, calling for some girl named Kate that sure as hell doesn’t live in there. Shit, as far as I know there is no Kate living in Pistol Rock”—I shoved my gun into its holster—“unless she’s some nomadic meth whore burrowed down at Horseshoe Trailer Park.”
“Forgive me, Deputy Briggs,” he offered, tipping his hat. “But I have a feeling that we’re both here for the same reason.”
“If it’s all the same to you, Marshal Larsen, I’d prefer that you just outright tell me why you’re here, and if it turns out our reasons are the same, I’ll let you know.”
“As much as I’d love to tell you everything about why I’m here,” he said, all smiling and condescending, “it’s U.S. Marshals Service business, which sort of makes it privileged information.”
“Fuck you, Marshal,” I fired back, making my way toward the door.
His boots kept time with mine. I headed for the kicked-in door, only to have it slammed shut with a hard thud before I could reach it.
“Now hang on a second, Deputy,” he said sternly.
I whirled around, just itching for a fight. “What the hell do you want?” I demanded.
“I was just wondering where you’re going.”
“I’m heading to the station to check up on the guy that lives here.”
“Aren’t you gonna invite me along for the ride?” he asked, voice low and demanding. “Seeing how I’m new in town and don’t really know my way around, wouldn’t it be rude not to?”
“I shot at you first, then asked questions. Do you think I’m worried about being rude?” I asked.
“Well, then. How about you direct me toward the station, and I can drive myself. I’d like to have a little chitchat with Mr. Granger.”
“I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you go screw yourself?”
“Only if you come with me.”
I rolled my eyes. Oh boy, this one even had a big head. I wiggled my fingers, prying my hand from his grasp. “It ain’t gonna happen.”
Colt shoved me out of his way. “Honey pie,” he said, looking straight at me with his smoky gray eyes, “I really don’t give a damn if you cooperate with me or not. It really doesn’t matter. If I want to talk to Mr. Granger, I can have him out of your jail and have you locked up in his place for trying to get in my way quicker than you can think of something snippy to say.”
“You’re on my shit list, Marshal Larsen.” I wagged a finger in his face, shoved him hard in the chest, and walked out the front door.
The nightly breeze did nothing to cool my temper. As I stormed across the Grangers’ yard, the wind nipped at the back of my neck, making the hairs on my arms shoot up. I climbed behind the wheel of my cruiser, cranked down the windows, and switched on the radio. Kacey Musgraves’s “Blowin’ Smoke” crackled through the scratchy speakers.
. “Blowin’ Smoke” seemed like exactly what had happened tonight, from the coach’s unseemly appearance on the football field to his wife’s disappearance from home, to another badass federal LEO—law enforcement officer—turning up and sniffing around the Grangers’ property without probable cause.
Then, of course, there was me being lonely with Gunner out of town. I hated being alone with a passion. Though things had gotten better in the time Gunner had been staying with me and working in Odessa, I still wasn’t right enough with myself or my past to go for any extended period without him around to take away my midnight pain. All of which meant that, right now, my nerves were shot, my pulse was galloping ninety to nothing, and my pussy was like an open nerve just cranking out the hormones.
Also, that unwelcome cowboy, Colt Larsen, had left me all tangled up in ropes. I needed to wrap my head around this damn case.
It didn’t sit well with me that Missy was missing at the very same time shit had gone down with Coach Granger, and that Colt Larsen had suddenly appeared and apparently knew something about all this mess that he didn’t intend on spilling yet. There was definitely more to this than a small town’s football coach’s marital affairs gone awry if the marshals were getting involved.
I placed a boot on the gas, revved the engine, and reversed down the dirt drive. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the front door being flung open and a pair of gray Lucchese cowboy boots claiming their spot on the porch. Abruptly, I threw the cruiser into drive, whipped the wheel around, and turned onto the dirt road. I stopped the car, rolled the passenger side window down, stretched belly flat across the console, and hollered, “Eat shit, Colt Larsen.”
Yeah, nobody ever said I took the high road when the low road was available.
“Seeing how you live here,” he hollered back, “I’m sure you can recommend a place.”
He lounged indolently against the doorway, and when his eyes locked in on mine, he tipped the Stetson up and sent me a killer smile. In response I flicked him the middle finger and hit the gas, blowing down FM 167. On any other given day, that level of trash talking would’ve made my day. Hell, there were nights when Gunner and I considered it foreplay.
The Pistol Rock Sheriff Station wasn’t much to brag about. Personally, the joint was a low-down dirty shame. It was sandwiched between a quarter-mile-long block of vacant storefronts with cardboard box-covered windows and redneck-graffiti brick walls. I chugged the cruiser up to the curb and stared at the headquarters of my promising career.
I know. It’s pitiful
In a town of two hundred, it was slim pickings when it came to finding a good man and a good job. I’d just unsnapped my seatbelt and placed a boot on the pavement when the sound of screeching tires caught my attention. I got out of the cruiser, rounded the rear bumper, and saw a pair of Levis stretching out of a red Jeep Wrangler two slots down. We locked eyes until that cocky grin formed across his face.
“Oh hell no!” I hauled ass to the front door of the station.
A car door slammed, and then he started to chase after me. I fumbled with my station keys. A cowboy as good-looking as Colt Larsen could be problematic, and that meant I needed to get as far away from him as possible as quickly as possible. And stay there. Also, I wasn’t too peachy about the fact that some outsider lawman felt the need to trample all over my damn turf. I stuck a key in the lock and turned the deadbolt, practically tripping over my feet as I stumbled inside the station.
It was a close call, but I shoved the door closed, giving Colt’s nose a close encounter with the glass.
“Go home!” I hollered through the glass. “You aren’t welcome.”
He pounded on the door. “Open the damn door, deputy. You’re stepping on the wrong toes here.” When he saw the unmoved expression on my face, he pressed his marshal’s badge flat against the glass door. “Need I remind you that you’re impeding an investigation being undertaken by a federal marshal, Deputy Briggs?”
“Don’t act like I’m impressed by your badge. I saw it already.”
“I can have you arrested for trying to keep me away from my goddamn case!”
I held up an assertive middle finger to the glass. “Welcome to Pistol Rock!” I huffed, fogging over the glass, then wiped it clean. “Now unless you wanna tell me what’s going on, I recommend you piss off.”
Colt yanked at the door handle.
“Good night, Colt Larsen,” I said, backing away from the door.
The corners of his mouth tugged up and wrinkles formed around the corners of his eyes as a slow, devious smile pulled at his lips. “Fine,” he conceded. “Just know payback is hell, Deputy Briggs.”
Then he turned on his heel, and I watched his Stetson vanish into the darkness.
“Who was that?”
I practically shed my skin at the sound of Elroy’s voice coming at me out of the blue. I spun around and propped my hands on my hips, coldly glaring him down. “What’s wrong with you, sneaking up on people like that?”
He shoved another chip in his mouth. “Sorry. I thought you knew I was here.”
“Yeah. I knew. I just—” I began.
“Well, aren’t you gonna tell me who you were talking to?” he asked, a tad more snappy than usual.
“Sure. But let me sit down first.”
I plopped into my chair, tossed my hat on top of the desk, then did the same with my legs. Leaning back, I shifted my weight to get comfortable and opened my mouth to begin telling him everything that had gone down since we’d parted ways at the stadium. “The gentleman I was speaking with is—”
“What the pretty lady was about to say,” a voice said, cutting me off in mid-sentence, “was that I’m the federal marshal she met at the Grangers’ place.”
I peeked past Elroy and wanted to die on the spot. There, hunkered down in the back corner of the station, a hip resting against the wall, and a muscular arm tossed over the Igloo water cooler, was Colt Larsen. “How the hell…?” He moved away from the wall and stood in the middle of the room, straight and tall. “More precisely, I’m Federal Marshal Colt Larsen from Tarpon Pass.” The smug asshole extended his hand toward Elroy.
“Tarpon Pass,” Elroy said, shaking his hand. “Now where might that be?”
“It’s down on the coast. Not too far south of Rockport,” Colt answered.
“Never heard of the place,” Elroy said.
“It’s a nice town,” Colt replied, then fixing his eyes on me, he added, “We’d love to have you come out and visit. We welcome folks of all kinds in our town.”
Elroy wiped his mouth. “My, my, a federal marshal.” He shot a look my way. “I bet Gunner’s going to lose it when he finds out you’ve tagged yourself another cowboy.”
Colt let out a short cough. “Do you mean Gunner Wilson?”
“Yeah. Who else would I be talking about?”
“I’ll be damned.” He smiled. “You’re
I shrugged. “And your point is?”
“It just all makes perfect sense why you shot at me tonight, that’s all.” He smiled some more, crossing by the desk and making a turn down the corridor leading to the single jail cell.
I got up and stalked after him. “Colt Larsen,” I shouted at his distancing back, “I’m warning you. If you take another step, I’ll…”
He spun around. “You’ll what? Shoot me?”
“Maybe.” I fisted my hands at my side. “Are you always a pain in the ass?”
He pulled off his hat and scratched his head. “Yes, ma’am. Well, that’s what my ex-wife used to always tell me.”
That silenced me for a minute. Before I could cough up a reply, Colt took it upon himself to help me out.
“I can’t believe it. The infamous Laney Briggs is speechless,” he taunted, winking. “Is it that you don’t see me as the marrying type?”
I narrowed my eyes and called, “Elroy, get the keys to the cell. We’re about to have ourselves a little chat with Mr. Granger.”
Rip was on the metal toilet reading a newspaper. He’d exchanged the pink nightie for a pair of ratty track shorts and an old Willie Nelson concert shirt that Elroy had picked up for Jacey Riggins, Pistol Rock’s local streetwalker, after stopping him for violating indecent exposure laws. Elroy must not have been able to stomach Rip in those sheer thongs anymore. Hell, I didn’t blame him. Frankly, I appreciated the fact he had taken the notion to wrap up the coach.
I approached the cell and thumped a bar. He looked up.
“You think you can wrap it up in there, Rip?” I dropped my chin at the paper slowly getting tangled up in his hands. “The boys and I have a few questions we’d like to ask you.”
He folded the paper in half. “No problem. The turtle ain’t coming out of its shell now.”
A few seconds later we were all seated around my desk, eyeballing and assessing each other. Finally, the cowboy seated across from me exhaled and hunched forward on his elbows.