Read AintNoAngel Online

Authors: J L Taft


Ain’t No Angel

L Taft


Jessie’s divorce from a dangerous
abuser has left her wary. No man has tempted her to take a chance in a long
time. But Travis lights fires in her she’d long forgotten and they agree to one
smoldering night together.

Travis was kicked off this small
town’s police force years ago for asking too many questions. Now a bounty
hunter, he’s returned to put away the man who fired him—the crooked police
chief who desperately fought to hide his role in the murder of a young woman.
But after his incredible night with Jessie, things get complicated when Travis
realizes Jessie is the ex-wife of the man he’s hunting.

Jessie hasn’t heard from her ex in
years. When he suddenly demands money and makes threatening phone calls, she
has no one to turn to but Travis. He vows to keep her safe and close…even as he
fears their tangled past may keep them apart.


Inside Scoop:
Jessie and Travis enjoy a bit of BDSM


romantic suspense
from Ellora’s Cave

Ain’t No Angel
J L Taft



For my mom, the ultimate survivor. Thank you for teaching me
how strong women can be.


Chapter One


The day was hot and long. It was after six and the sun was
still blazing overhead. Jessie wiped her brow with the back of her hand and
fanned her shirt, trying for a little breeze. But it was useless. The heat wave
was unexpected and had hit upstate New York hard.

She had been working nonstop since early that morning.
Running a landscape business was no cakewalk. Jessie and her two employees had
been laboring to get the trees and plants that couldn’t withstand the baking
sun under awnings and into the greenhouse.

But some of them were already looking brown and scorched.
Worried that she was going to lose more inventory than she could afford, she
pushed her body until she was lightheaded.

Finally they managed to get everything out of the brutal
sun. Jessie was ready to call it a day. It was hot, sweaty, backbreaking work
but she loved it just the same. She didn’t mind that she had calluses on her
hands because it had been her decision.

She didn’t take for granted the ability to make her own

It had been three years since her husband had left town in a
cloud of suspicion and two and a half years since she had divorced him and
reopened the landscape business. It had been the best decision of her life,
even if marrying him in the first place had been her worst.

Closing the door on her thoughts about her ex, she glanced
at the guys who were spraying each other off with the garden hose. They were
both mouthwateringly gorgeous. Jessie knew most of the female population of their
small town of Hill Valley mourned their sexual preference.

Marc was tall, dark-haired and had bright-blue eyes. His
smile was quick and he was fiercely loyal to his friends and family. Brad was
tall by her standards but Marc had several inches on him. His hair was as light
as Marc’s was dark. His blond mane was always messy and his brown eyes were
deep and knowing. They were striking together.

Marc and Brad were both young and had sketchy pasts. She had
taken some slack for hiring a gay couple even though they hadn’t been a couple
when she hired them. But the people of this small town always left that little
detail out. She was happy to have them even if watching them fall madly in love
only reminded her how alone she really was.

But that was okay. She was used to being on her own and
lately she preferred it that way. Then no one could hurt her.

“Good work, guys. I think they will be fine now and perked
up for planting at that new job come Monday.”

The guys got the weekends off even if she didn’t. Marc and
Brad lived in what she still called the barn, standing to the right of the
house. She had converted the large upstairs loft into three small efficiency apartments.
They were usually around if she needed them and she liked having friends close.
It worked well for all of them. Room and board was included in their pay, which
kept her costs low.

To the left of the house, closer to the road, stood the
greenhouse that her parents had built when she was a child. She had always
loved it, the smell of the fresh dirt and new seedlings. She could still
picture her mom humming away years ago as she put together big pots with
annuals spilling out.

Her dad had been the driving force behind the landscape
business but her mother had been the heart. Jessie had grown up with dirt under
her nails and a deep love for all green, growing things. This was where she

She still felt guilty that the house had stood empty while
she had been married. The humble home hadn’t been good enough for him and she
regretted leaving it every time it crossed her mind.

Marc stood from shutting off the water and stretched. Not
for the first time, Jessie gawked at him from under her lashes. Jessie glanced
at Brad, who was doing some gawking himself, his eyes glued to Marc’s chiseled

“Have a good weekend, guys,” she called out to them as she headed
to the house and a shower.

“Boss!” Marc was jogging to catch up with her. “We are
headed out for drinks later at the Shiny Penny, want to come along?”

They asked her this almost every Friday night and she always
declined. But she suddenly couldn’t remember her reasons for never going with
them. It had been a long week and maybe she just needed to relax for a few

After all it had been years since Cyrus had taken off and
she was tired of looking over her shoulder. If he intended to contact her then
he would have done it by now.

But the memory of him standing over her, his hands clenched
in fists that he had just used on her face, sent a shudder down her back. He
had almost killed her that last time and she constantly worried that he would
show back up to finish the job.

Maybe it was time to put it in the past and move on.

“C’mon, I’ll buy you a beer,” Brad cajoled as he came up
behind Marc.

“Yeah, come with us. It’s been a crazy week and you deserve
it,” Marc added.

An ice-cold beer really did sound good. “All right, guys.
Meet me back here at eight?”

“Absolutely!” They both grinned at her and she knew they
were happy she was going with them.

Jessie watched them walk away until Marc pulled Brad into a
passionate kiss and she turned abruptly, putting them behind her. Lucky them.
It had been a long few years since she had been kissed and she didn’t remember
any of them before that being that good.

Shaking it off, she entered the kitchen and smiled at Betty,
who was busy setting out dinner. Betty had been her mother’s best friend since
they were kids. Jessie had hired her as a cook when she had reopened the

“Betty, I’m going up for a shower before dinner.”

“Dinner will be ready in fifteen.” Betty ruled the kitchen
with an iron fist and Jessie sometimes wondered how she had ever managed
without her.

She headed up the stairs. Her steps were suddenly weary and
slow. It really had been a long week. Her parents had made running this place
look easy. Turning the water on in the shower and undressing, she gave herself
a long, hard look in the mirror.

She still had her looks at least, even if her face was a
little pink from the sun and her hair was a little frizzy. Her freckles were
really starting to come out now and she had learned long ago not to hate
something she couldn’t change. Her auburn hair was long, coming down to the
middle of her back, and she knew after she washed it the curls would turn into
pretty waves.

Her skin was still smooth and her breasts high and full. Her
ass might be a little wider but she would blame that squarely on Betty’s

Letting the lukewarm water run over her, she was tempted to
relieve some of the sexual tension but she knew it wouldn’t make her feel

She started to head for the kitchen, dressed in faded jeans
and a white tank top. Screw it, might as well go all out. Going back to the
dresser, she pulled out her silver hoops and makeup bag. She could spare five
more minutes in the bathroom.

The guys were showered and changed, seated with plates in
front of them by the time she got to the kitchen.

“Sorry I’m late.” Betty gave her a scowl but Jessie just
kissed her on the cheek as she grabbed a plate. The woman was all bark and no
bite and had a big heart.

Marc whistled when he caught sight of her. “Dang, boss! You
sure do clean up good!”

Smiling, she sat and dug into her food, feeling her
shoulders relax as she listened to the guys rib each other over who had moved
the most trees. It was funny and she couldn’t help but chuckle with them.

Jessie finished her food and set about helping Betty clear
the table. Betty stopped to stare hard at her as soon as Marc and Brad left the

“Going out tonight?” Betty asked.

“Yes, just for a little while and I promise to be a good
girl,” Jessie told her with a smile.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Betty said as she handed her
plates to put in the dishwasher.

Jessie stopped and looked at Betty in surprise. “What’s that
supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what I said. You are always a good girl and do what
needs to be done. For once I wish you would do something for you,” Betty

“I am doing something for me. I’m doing what I always wanted
to do, running Mom and Dad’s landscape business.”

“I don’t mean work, honey. I mean finding a good man and
letting your hair down a little,” Betty told her as she closed the filled

“Betty, you know that I don’t want a man.”

Betty shook her head. “You may not want one but you need
one. Have a good time tonight.” She put her coat on and grabbed her purse
before letting herself out.

Jessie stood in shock for a moment. Betty knew her whole
disgraceful tale so she of all people should understand that there was no way
she wanted to be ruled by another man.

Even if she wouldn’t mind doing some rolling between the
sheets, she hadn’t been tempted by anyone in a long time.

* * * * *

Several hours and three beers later, Jessie sat laughing at
Marc and Brad shaking it together on the dance floor. They were pretty good
dancers and several women had asked them to dance but they only had eyes for
each other.

The Shiny Penny was packed, the music blaring and alcohol
flowing like water. A man had asked her to dance early in the evening but she
had declined. She was perfectly content to sit on the sidelines and be a

It was a small town and she knew most everyone there. Most
of them accepted her for who she was, having known her since she was a kid,
even if the whole affair with her husband was still whispered about behind hands.

Maybe that was the problem. She wasn’t going to meet anyone
in this town who didn’t already have an opinion about her and her family. Her
reputation followed her around like a dark cloud and she was getting tired of
trying to prove herself.

Heaving a sigh, she pushed those thoughts, just like
everything else tonight, out of her mind and ordered another beer.

Maybe Betty was right and she needed to let her hair down a
little. She glanced around the bar and no one caught her attention. Maybe the
day for that wasn’t today.

Chapter Two


Travis Turner entered the little redneck bar called the
Shiny Penny, cursing the life of a bounty hunter. It was crowded and it took
him a while to get to the bar to order a beer.

He had once loved this little town. It had grown on him the
year he had lived here and worked on the force. But the situation that had
caused him to leave still left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He was on a case, looking for the man he had once trusted.
Sheriff Cyrus Parker had left town three years ago and Travis didn’t expect to
learn anything new. But he did want to talk to Cyrus’ ex-wife, even if in his
experience, wives, ex or not, didn’t give much away. His only hope was that the
divorce had been enough years ago that the police wouldn’t contact her until
they had concrete evidence that Cyrus was a threat to her. Unfortunately,
sometimes the warning came too late for some.

Cyrus had gotten in a bit of trouble again—assault against a
woman who had a rich father and wanted to see him behind bars at all costs. The
woman’s father was an old friend of Travis’ boss and they had gotten the case
to track Cyrus down.

After Cyrus had been arrested for a domestic dispute with
his wife he had been released on bail and had fled before charges could be
brought against him. The judge at the time had been a friend of Cyrus’ and it
had been the defining factor in Cyrus’ release.

Cyrus had been in hiding since his run from this small town
and now that new charges had been brought against him a simple match of
fingerprints had pointed the authorities to his true identity. But he had
slipped the noose again.

A man with seemingly no record had been released on his own
recognizance. But hindsight was twenty-twenty. He had run again.

Now Travis was on the case, trying to pick up the pieces.
The system was slow. Too slow and now a man who Travis suspected of murder was
on the loose again. With the new case and the old charges pending he might have
enough to put him behind bars. If he could get the right strings pulled to
reopen the murder case.

Cyrus must have known that his past was going to come back
and bite him in the ass sooner or later. If Travis could find him. He was a
slippery snake who knew the ins and outs of the law and was now using it
against the good guys.

Being back in the Shiny Penny brought back memories he would
have rather left forgotten. He immediately thought of Candy Marsh and the last
time he had seen her alive. The murder investigation had been dropped quickly,
too quickly by Travis’ standards. So he had continued with the questioning on
his own time.

That had gotten him promptly fired. The rookie on the force
going against orders from the brand-new police chief? Yeah, he had been doomed.
The sad thing was, he had been so blinded by seeking justice for Candy that he
hadn’t even seen it coming.

He had a hunch that Cyrus had been somehow involved with her
murder. Travis had seen her that last Friday night at this same bar.

He remembered that night vividly. He had been parked on a
stool next to his partner when Candy came up to the bar to order another drink.
She was obviously already tipsy and flirted with them while she waited for her

She was a looker and they both watched the sway of her hips
as she had walked away. It was then that Travis had seen who she was with that
night. Cyrus Parker.

But none of that was in the report that had been filed. When
Travis had confronted Cyrus about it, it had all been downhill from there.

Travis had left town himself but well before Cyrus had. He
had been forced to drop the case then but it had always stayed with him.
Something felt wrong about that whole situation.

Now here he was, back in a town that he told himself he had
left forever. He had left his office in Portville later than he expected and
the two-and-a-half-hour drive had taken much longer with all the construction
on the roads.

He should never have taken the job. He wouldn’t have if the
money hadn’t been so good. But his partner Ian Davis had handed him the case
because he knew that he had never gotten over the fact that Candy Marsh’s
murderer was still out there somewhere.

So here he was, on a wild goose chase for a paycheck. It was
a job he hated but at least it gave him a chance to bring some criminals in off
the streets.

The murder case was old and no new information had been
offered. But Travis had an edge. He had worked with Cyrus for several months
and he had lived in the same town. So Travis figured it was worth a shot do to
some poking around. Even if the case hadn’t been reopened, yet.

His plan was to have a drink or two and go back to his hotel
for some sleep. Tomorrow was soon enough to go looking for Cyrus’ ex-wife. He
had never met her but he didn’t figure she would be too hard to find.

Striding up to the bar, he ordered another beer and took a
long swallow before he turned to gaze around the crowded space. The two men on
the dance floor grinding on each other caught his eye.
What the hell?
Glancing around, he noticed that no one else seemed to mind. Certainty not what
he expected to see in this small town.

Then a woman caught his eye, sitting at the end of the bar,
a huge smile on her face as she watched the guys dance. She had a beer in her
hand and a wild mane of shiny red curls and he wondered if they had named the
bar after her. Her full breasts were displayed by the tight white tank top, and
even in the dim light he could see a dusting of freckles. She was tapping her
toe and shaking to the music as much as the barstool allowed.

Just the sight of her sent a pulse to the neglected part of
his body that now hung heavy between his legs. She was sexy as hell and he
regretted that he didn’t have the time to get to know her better, in his bed.

The kind of sex he liked usually took time. He needed her to
trust him before she could let go completely. Once she did he could tie her to
his bed and learn her body from the inside out.

But it had been a long time since he had a chance to play
like that. Or the desire to do so.

She suddenly glanced his way and their gazes collided before
she quickly looked down.
He hadn’t felt a surge like that in…well,
ever. He was here, so there was no harm in talking to her. He finished the beer
in his hand with a couple quick swallows.

Turning to the bartender, he had to raise his voice to be
heard over the music. “A couple more beers.”

The big, beefy bartender handed him the two beers and Travis
made his way to the sexy redhead at the end of the bar.

* * * * *

Jessie was having a blast. She knew that she was going to
pay for the overindulgence in the morning but she really couldn’t bring herself
to care at the moment. It was so wonderful to just relax and hang with her
friends, because Marc and Brad were more than employees to her, they were
friends she trusted. She was feeling sappy toward them at the moment and she
was happy for them.

Turning from their antics on the dance floor, she tried to
get Johnny’s attention. She wanted another beer, but the place was so full he
was hopping at the other end. Damn.

“Want a beer?”

The voice was low and close to her ear, sending a shiver down
her spine, but it was one of those thrilling shivers. The kind that let her
know there was a predator on the prowl and she was the prey.

Turning, she stared into steel-gray eyes. He was tall,
taller than both Marc and Brad, who were both almost six feet. His shoulders
were wide and his arms, big. He must have spent a lot of time working out. But
what really caught her attention was the tattoo that peeked out from under the
collar of his tight black t-shirt.

There were more tats on his big arms but she couldn’t tell
what they were. The one coming out of the neck of his shirt was some sort of
tribal design, black and bold, that came up the side of his neck to end just
below his ear. His head was shaved smooth and she had to control her hands from
reaching out to run across it.

He smiled at her and she realized she must look like an
idiot. She took the beer from his hand. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” He leaned against the bar next to her as she
took a sip from the icy-cold bottle. “So, out and about for a bit of fun
tonight?” he asked, leaning down again to be heard over the music.

“You could say that,” Jessie answered but didn’t turn to
look at him. He was so close that she could feel the heat from his body and
smell his cologne. It was something dark and musky and she wondered what it

Jessie took another healthy sip of her beer and laughed at
Brad and Marc, who now were twirling each other about on the dance floor. Glancing
at the man still standing next to her from under her lashes, she was struck
again by how sexy he was.

He turned to her and she quickly looked away.

“Do you want to dance?” he said close to her ear.

Jessie hesitated, but only for a moment. Nodding to him, she
set her beer on the bar as he took her hand and led her into the crush of
people on the dance floor.

He swung her around and into his arms, making her laugh. He
smiled down at her as the music abruptly changed to a slow number. His big
hands rested on her hips and she could feel the heat of them through her thin
tank top.

He swayed her gently as other couples paired up around them.
He was so dang tall that she only came up to his shoulder. Her hands were
resting on his biceps and they flexed under her fingers when his arms pulled
her in closer.

Her belly gave a slow roll and her nipples tightened as they
brushed against his chest. Lifting her face to stare up at him, she stilled
when he lifted a hand and brushed her hair back from her face.

She shouldn’t be doing this. She should go home and forget
all about him. Men were nothing but trouble.

But his other hand started rubbing her back in small
circles. If it was meant to be soothing it was having the opposite effect. Her
heart started racing and there was a quick clench between her legs.

The song ended and the people around them erupted into a
frenzy of movement but Jessie stood still as his gaze held her hostage.

His head lowered and for the first time in years she wanted
to be kissed. He had sucked her in and she was helpless to stop him.

“You fucking fags! Get the hell out of our bar!”

Whipping her head around, she was just in time to see Brad
get a face full of fist. He staggered and blood spurted from his nose. Marc
planted himself between Brad and the upset and very drunk customer. Jessie didn’t
think twice, untangling herself from her sexy dance partner, and headed for the

Marc and the man were now struggling, Marc trying to
restrain the man from causing any more harm.

The music stopped and as she got closer she saw who the
culprit was. Harry, one of the more outspoken people in town about the nature
of Marc and Brad’s relationship, was just fighting free of Marc’s hold.

“Harry! What in the hell are you doing?” Jessie yelled and
stepped between Marc and Harry before they could start up again.

Harry pointed a menacing finger at her. “Damn you to hell
for bringing them here! This is all your fault!”

Jessie blinked in surprise at the verbal attack but didn’t
back down. The new guy looked between them and asked her, “Do you know these
two?” He inclined his head at Marc and Brad.

“Yes, they are my friends,” she told him.

Jessie stood stone-still as he planted his big body next to
hers and put his arm around her waist. His silent support had more than a few
eyebrows going up in the bar.

Harry looked between them and took a step back when the big
hand on her back eased her a step forward, but she didn’t take that step alone.

Harry glanced around him, looking for help. The people
standing behind him watching obviously weren’t on his side. He had stopped the

Johnny, the bartender and owner of the bar, chose that
moment to elbow his way through the crowd.

“What the hell is going on? I leave for two minutes to take
a piss and all hell breaks loose,” he grumbled.

It took him all of three seconds to figure out who the
problem was. Between Marc helping Brad to his feet, blood dripping from his
nose and Jessie and the guy’s big body blocking Harry from them, it was pretty
obvious. “Damn it, Harry. That’s it. Get out of my bar!”

Harry sputtered and tried to plead his case but Johnny cut
him off. “I don’t want to hear it. You’re bad for business. Out!”

Harry turned and slammed himself out of the bar and Jessie
breathed a sigh of relief. Marc helped Brad to a stool and Jessie passed the
cloth and bag of ice that Johnny gave her to him.

Marc looked at the man who had stood next to Jessie and
stuck his hand out. “Thanks for helping,” Marc told him.

The guy shook his hand and said, “No problem.”

Jessie watched the exchange. Marc turned to her then. “Are
you ready to head home? I think Brad is done for the night.”

“Sure, of course,” she answered as she glanced at the
helpful stranger from under her lashes. She would probably never see him again.

“I’m fine, Marc,” she heard Brad say. “Jessie hasn’t had any
fun in ages and she isn’t ready to leave.” But Brad’s eyes were glued to the
big man standing next to her.

“Are you good to drive?” the new guy asked Marc.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing but Pepsi for me tonight,” Marc
told him.

It made her like him even more. Most men never thought about
that. It was how her parents had died. A drunk driver had hit them head on.

His gray gaze caught hers. “Do you want to go for a little
drive and then I’ll take you home?”

She didn’t know what to say. Her first reaction was to say
no. She didn’t know this man and he could be a serial killer or something.

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