Authors: Megan Hart
Lisa Shadd put down her menu and stared up into the face of the man she'd sent to jail three years before.
"I guess it really is hard to find good help these days," quipped her sister Allegra from across the table. She tilted her head toward the man waiting to take their order and added a laugh that made Lisa wince.
"Al." Lisa shook her head.
"Are you ready to order?" Deacon Campbell spoke the words with incredible dignity considering the circumstances.
Lisa studied him. His sleek dark hair was shorter, trimmed around his neck and ears. His face was thinner; his deep brown eyes a little harder. Three years had changed him, but not for the worse. If anything, time and circumstance had aged his previous good looks into an almost feral beauty that reminded Lisa of the wolf-dog hybrids Harry Keller kept on the outskirts of town.
Allegra laughed again. "I'll have the grilled chicken breast and a Tequila Slammer. Oops, I said slammer!"
Allegra's poor attempt at humor made Lisa cringe. She turned to her sister with a warning look that, thankfully, Allegra chose to acknowledge. Allegra got up from the table with a pout.
"I'm going to the ladies room," she said with a fixed glare at Deacon. To Lisa, she said, "Keep an eye on my purse."
Throughout it all, Deacon's expression had not wavered. His pen remained poised over his notepad. Only the tightening of his full mouth gave Lisa the suspicion her sister's words had affected him.
Lisa cleared her throat and tried to sound light. "How long have you been...back?"
Deacon met her stare steadily. "I got out two months ago."
"I hadn't heard." Lisa surreptitiously wiped her moist palms on her skirt. She'd thought a hundred times of meeting him again. In a town the size of St. Mary's, there'd be no way to avoid it. She just hadn't expected to see him here.
Deacon cocked his head to the left and raised one eyebrow in the way she still remembered so well. "Sorry, I guess my press agent forgot to send you the notice."
His casual but slightly bitter reply made her cheeks flush. Lisa finally dropped her eyes. She couldn't blame his bitterness. He'd spent the past three years in jail because of her testimony. She wasn't exactly his best friend.
The restaurant's owner, Tom Lee, appeared from behind Deacon and smiled nervously at Lisa. "Is there a problem here?"
"No, of course not," she began, then spotted Allegra standing across the room. When her sister noticed she'd been caught out, she looked anything but apologetic.
"Deacon was just taking my order," Lisa said firmly. "No problem at all, Tom."
Tom flashed Deacon a wary look as though he expected the much taller man to threaten him. "Remember what we talked about, Mr. Campbell."
Deacon took a deep breath, but only nodded. If she'd been in his situation, Lisa knew she would not have been able to hold her tongue. Tom nodded at her tersely and bustled away back to the kitchen, his portly frame rocking from side to side with the exertion.
"Something to drink?"
She ordered a pop and a salad, having no stomach now for the greasy burger and onion rings she'd planned on ordering for lunch. "Thank you."
There was more she wanted to say, but nothing would come out. It didn't seem the place, or the time, to tell him she was sorry for ruining his life. Instead, Lisa sat back in her chair and watched him head toward the kitchen.
The last time she'd seen him, he'd been wearing a black suit, his long hair tied back in a slick ponytail in deference to being in court. It was a far different look from the faded jeans and cotton t-shirts he usually wore, and one that didn't suit him as well.
Three years was a long time
Long enough to forget about him
. So why hadn't she?
She had no more time to think about it before a tall blond man slid into the chair next to hers and planted a swift kiss on her cheek. "Hey."
"Terrence, you're late." Lisa spoke a little more abruptly than she'd intended. Seeing Deacon had flustered her.
Terry shrugged and grinned. "Captain O'Neill had me filing again."
Before Lisa could reply, Allegra came back to the table. Her smile for Terry was a lot brighter than it usually was. "Hey, Ter-Bear."
Lisa gritted her teeth. "Al!"
Allegra shrugged, looking innocent. "What? Can't a girl tease her future brother-in-law?"
Terry laughed and squeezed Lisa's shoulder, but Lisa wanted to duct tape Al's mouth closed. "Al, please."
"What?" Al repeated. "Hey, did you order already?"
Deacon came to the table with Lisa's pop and set it down gently in front of her. His eyes took in Allegra, then settled on Terry's blue uniform. When he looked at Lisa, his eyes were faintly amused. His mouth, however, remained in its same straight, grim line.
"Ready to order?"
Terry flipped his menu closed. The men eyed each other. Lisa could practically smell the testosterone in the air.
"Campbell," Terry said coolly. "I heard you were out."
Deacon didn't miss a beat. "Nice to see you, Officer Hewitt. What'll you have?"
Lisa knew what Terry was going to order before he even said it. Smoked turkey on wheat, no mayo, no onions. No chips. Unsweetened iced tea. It ought to have been nice, knowing, but today his predictability annoyed her.
"Well." Allegra smirked at Lisa when Deacon had once more left the table. "What a cozy little reunion."
Lisa stood. "Excuse me. I need to use the restroom."
Her cheeks burning, she left the table. Behind her she heard Allegra murmuring something to Terry, but she didn't care.
Let them think what they wanted.
She needed to splash her face with cold water.
Three years ago, Deacon had asked Lisa out for beer and wings after an adult education class in organic gardening they'd both taken at the Dubois campus of Penn State University. At first put off by Deacon's rough boy exterior and loud motorcycle, Lisa soon discovered he was a man who truly loved working with the earth. He didn't mind getting his hands dirty, and he enjoyed sharing what he knew with others. Deacon Campbell was a paradox, a man whose outward appearance suggested he'd be more likely to belong to the Hell's Angels than the local garden club. Her feelings about him, and about what had happened, were just as tricky.
Three years ago she and Deacon had been on the verge of something special--or at least that's what she'd thought at the time. Her hero from the wrong side of the tracks, her knight in faded denim and shining chrome, her almost-lover.
Below his rough exterior, the earring and long hair and beyond the motorcycle and dirt-stained fingers, Deacon had turned out to be a considerate and generous man. Even--dare she say it?--a gentleman. His kind words and actions had turned out to be just another game he liked to play, as she'd discovered the night he'd robbed The Circle K convenience store while she'd waited innocently in the parking lot.
Lisa left the bathroom and went back to the table. She smiled as naturally as she could at Terry, but he frowned.
"You okay, babe?"
Lisa restrained herself from reminding him for the thousandth time that she didn't like being called that. "Fine."
"She's not fine." Allegra gave Terry a nudge. "She's embarrassed because her jailbird boyfriend is waiting on us."
"Allegra!" Lisa's voice carried throughout the restaurant, and she forcibly calmed herself. "Terry, don't listen to her."
Terry glared at Allegra, who simpered and shrugged with mock innocence. "Geez, Allegra. You sure know how to put your foot in your mouth."
At Terry's chastising words, Allegra's face turned stormy. Carefully, deliberately, she got up from the table and placed her napkin delicately on the plate. Without another word, she left the restaurant, head held high.
"Your sister... " Terry broke off, shaking his head. "She doesn't like me too much."
Allegra didn't like any of Lisa's boyfriends. Feeling suddenly sympathetic toward Terry, who was always caught in the middle, Lisa leaned over and kissed him.
"Here's your food."
Lisa pulled away to face a stony-faced Deacon, who put their orders on the table and walked away without speaking again. She had no reason to feel guilty she told herself firmly. Anything she and Deacon had was over, ended when he decided to break the law.
Why, then, did she feel like she'd been caught cheating?
Deacon Campbell smoothed the rumbling Harley Road King up the driveway and parked it. His Mom's car was taking up the most of the space and he had to maneuver a little more than normal to get the heavy motorcycle into its usual resting spot. Sometimes it seemed she forgot he'd moved back in with her.
"I'm home." He crossed the enclosed back porch and into the room that served as a combination living and dining room. "Mom?"
She was in the kitchen, he judged by the delicious smells wafting over to greet his nose.
Homemade meatloaf? Mashed potatoes?
Whatever it was set his stomach to grumbling. Working around food all day usually dampened his appetite, but Mom always knew how to get him to eat.
"Any luck?" Bertha Campbell asked as he crept up behind her to snatch a sample of the cookie dough she was mixing. She slapped his hand away and offered her flour-dusted cheek for a kiss.
"Always get right to the point, don't you?" The sweetness of the dough melted away, leaving behind the bitterness of his answer. He'd spent the morning looking for another job, something a little more challenging and lucrative than waiting tables. "No. Nobody wants to hire a convicted thief."
"So you'll try again tomorrow." Bertha waved him toward the humming yellow refrigerator. "Pour yourself a cup of pop. Your supper'll be ready in about half an hour."
That meant he had time for a shower. Deacon passed up the pop for a bottle of Straub's beer, ignoring his mother's clucking tongue and disapproving eye.
He climbed the stairs he'd been climbing since childhood and headed straight for the tiny, blue-tiled bathroom at the top. In minutes the water from the shower was hot enough to steam up the one small window, and he shed his uncomfortable clothes with a sigh of vast relief.
The water stung his skin, but he endured it, hoping to wash away the stench he knew clung to him even though he couldn't smell anything more offensive than burger grease. It was the phantom smell jail had left on him, and it would take more than just a hot shower to wash it away.
He bent his head to let the scalding water work out the knots in the back of his neck. Lisa Shadd. Her face rose in his mind, making relaxation impossible. He'd known he'd run into her sooner or later. He just hadn't thought seeing her would affect him so much. And seeing her with Officer Hewitt, the man who'd arrested him, made him want to hit something. Hard.
"Deacon! Food's getting cold!"
Mom didn't climb the stairs anymore, not since her back had started hurting her so badly. Her yell startled him back to reality. Deacon shut off the water, which had grown cool, and toweled off.
He swiped away the fog covering the mirror and peered at his reflection. He should shave. Instead he just ran his fingers through his hair and scrubbed his face with the towel. In the harsh fluorescent light over the sink, several silver threads glinted in his black hair and in his beard scruff.
Chalk it up to experience,
he thought with a grim laugh that had little to do with amusement.
"I'm not calling you again!"