Love is a dangerous choice.
Murder is the last thing homicide Detective Nick Sheridan wants to deal with when he retreats to the small, coastal town of Freedom, Texas. His last case--possibly his last ever--was the most horrific he'd ever seen. No, he wants to drink, forget, and find a warm, willing woman. The Last Shot Bar & Grill seems like the perfect place to do that.
Della Rose, single mother and waitress at the Last Shot, is anything but warm and willing. Della has baggage; she pegs Nick as a cop the moment she sees him, and no matter how hot he is, she's not interested. When her boss, Charlie Banks, is murdered and the local police chief writes it down as a robbery gone bad, Della is forced to turn to Nick for help.
Soon, Nick is unwillingly drawn in to the mystery of why Charlie was murdered and what the gunmen wanted. As Nick and Della enter a red-hot affair, Nick falls hard for Della, but Della has no intention of a serious relationship.
Della and her family are in danger. Nick's instincts are to protect and serve, but Della's are to push away anyone who might hurt her. Even him.
Can they catch a murderer and solve the mystery without Della's life being torn apart once again? And can they put aside their past long enough to trust their love?
Excerpt from Last Shot
CRAP, HE WAS BACK.
Della Rose scowled at the dark-haired man taking a seat at the corner table near the kitchen. The same guy who’d been in every night for the past week. Each night, when he first came in, he’d asked her to have a drink with him after work. Each night, she’d turned him down, but damn, she’d been tempted to take him up on it. A temptation that both annoyed and confused her.
Della had to admit he was hot. Brown hair, so dark it was almost black, fathoms-deep blue eyes, a strong jaw stubbled with beard, and shoulders broad enough to take on the woes of the world guaranteed him a second glance. And a third, and a fourth.
He waved at her and she cursed silently, realizing he’d caught her staring. Hell, he was bound to be used to it.
She glanced over to the bar at her boss. Charlie Burke was a soft touch. Everyone in Freedom, a flea bite of a town on the Texas Gulf coast, knew it. Charlie’s inability to turn away a person in need wasn’t the only reason the Last Shot was a favored local hangout. The food was good, the drinks decent, and it was one of the few places in town that stayed open past ten p.m.
No one knew more about Charlie’s generous heart than Della, since he’d given her a job and a chance for a new life eight years before. Which was why she wasn’t worried when she marched over to her boss, squinted through the haze of cigarette smoke, pressed a hand to the small of her aching back, and glared at him. “I’m not waiting on him. Do it yourself.” She didn’t have to identify him. She and Charlie had gone around about it all week.
“Oh, for—Just just go take his order,” Charlie said, his voice grating harsh from years of chronic abuse. Grinding the butt of his cigarette out in the orange plastic ashtray beside the cash register, he shook his head, shaggy gray hair falling over his forehead. “What’d he do, pinch your butt last time he was in?”
Della scowled. Charlie looked out for her, but he’d been known to say that any woman with a world class ass like hers ought to expect an occasional pinch. Della didn’t buy it, as many a customer had found out. “No, he didn’t grab my butt. Or any other part of me. But I don’t want to wait on him.”
“Last I looked, you were the waitress here.” He shuffled across the floor to draw a draft, shoving the handle back as cold beer streamed down the outside of the mug. Setting it down on the counter with a bang, he stabbed a gnarled finger at her. “Get your sweet fanny over there, or I swear to Mike, I will fire you.” He glared at her a moment. “What is your problem, woman?” he asked, sounding more exasperated than angry.
Glancing over at the subject under discussion, she saw him wave at her again and gritted her teeth. “He’s a cop.” She picked up the mug to take it to old Pete Tripper, the only other customer in the place. They didn’t do a lot of business at eleven-thirty on a Wednesday night.
Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Charlie looked at the man in question, then back to her. “How do you know? Did you ask him?”
“No.” He’d told her his name was Nick, but he hadn’t said much else, other than to ask her to have a drink. He’d been nice, pleasant, and if he hadn’t been a cop, she might have broken down and accepted the offer. She shoved her fingers through her bangs, brushing them back from her forehead as she always did. She wore her brown hair in a messy pixie, which suited her just fine. She didn’t have the time or inclination to fuss with it. Her jaw muscles twitched, tight with
irritation. “I didn’t have to ask. I can smell a cop from half a mile away.”
Charlie laughed, a wheezy, asthmatic sound. “Someday, honey, you’re gonna tell me that story.”
Oh, no I won’t. Not even for you, Charlie.
Wiping down the bar and grunting for emphasis, Charlie continued. “But for now, I don’t care if he’s the Queen of the Nile in drag, he’s still a customer. And closing time’s not for half an hour. So get your butt over there and take his order.” He gave a bark of laughter and added, “It ain’t like he’s gonna arrest you for doing your job, even if he is a cop.”
Della cussed him under her breath but she went. If Esther, the other waitress, had been there, she’d have been glad to take it for Della. In fact, Esther would have been on the guy like cocktail sauce on shrimp. But she’d been out all week with a nasty virus, which left Della working double shifts.
Reaching his table, Della held her tray in front of her like a shield and looked down her nose at him. “What’ll you have?”
She knew she sounded cranky. Hell, she had reason. Her feet hurt, her back ached, her head pounded, and she had a bill due that was going to take a big chunk of change. Her daughter had called earlier to tell her she’d ripped a hole the size of the Gulf of Mexico in her best pair of jeans—the non-holey variety—and Della’s budget wouldn’t stretch another millimeter, much less spring for replacing them. To top it off, hunk of the year here had to pick her to fixate on.
He didn’t push when she turned him down. No, the sneaky bastard just looked at her and smiled. And damn, what a smile. Every time he came in, he gave her that smile. The one that made her wonder just what she was missing.
Maybe her internal radar was wrong, for once. Nah, it didn’t matter either way. She had no time for men. Especially not a tourist passing through town looking for an easy lay. Which is what she figured he wanted, even though he’d only asked her to have a drink with him. Men, in her experience, were one hundred percent predictable.
“Hi, sweet thing, I’m back,” he said, his deep, husky voice sending ripples of awareness zinging up her spine. “Did you miss me?”
She had to clamp down on her lips to keep them from twitching. He took rejection well, she gave him that, not getting obnoxious when she shot him down, and not making free with his hands, like so many men. She’d thought he wasn’t coming tonight, and had told herself it was a good thing. So why had she felt that ridiculous flash of pleasure when he’d shown up an hour before closing time?
“Desperately,” she drawled. “Last call. What do you want?”
His gaze ran over her, lingered on her legs for a moment, raised to her face. Dressed in denim shorts and a loose maroon T-shirt, Della couldn’t think why he seemed so appreciative of her. Or why the way he looked at her didn’t piss her off more.
“I want a lot of things,” he said, and smiled at her. “Doesn’t look like I’ll be getting any of them anytime soon, though.”
Della tapped her foot. “To drink. What do you want to drink?”
He shrugged. “A draft.” Before she could leave, his fingers wrapped around her wrist, but gently. “Have a drink with me. Come on, Della, what can one lousy drink hurt?”
“What makes you think I’ve changed my mind from the last time you were in here?” she asked, her voice huskier than she liked. She didn’t mind his fingers touching her, and she should have.
His smile widened, an easy, sexy smile. Her pulse picked up and she cursed silently. “Hope springs eternal,” he said with a laugh. “Why are you such a hard sell, Della?” he said when she didn’t respond.
There was a question she could answer. “Not hard. Impossible.”
“Why?” His thumb circled her wrist as he held her gaze.
Because you’re dangerous, she started to say, staring down at him. The sincerity in his eyes sucked her in, asked her to believe he was on the level. That all he wanted was a little time with her. Della didn’t like the way that made her feel, didn’t like the way she found it hard to catch her breath, and she especially didn’t like the fact she enjoyed feeling the soothing rasp of his fingers over her skin.
Before she could sink any deeper into those eyes, raised voices broke the spell. Della turned toward the bar to see two new customers—lowlifes, both of them—had come in and were having what looked like a deep discussion with Charlie. She didn’t like the vibes she sensed. She liked what they were saying even less. Tripper, the only other customer, must not have liked it either. He was nowhere to be seen.
“Where is it, old man?” the one with a face like a bucket shouted, banging a fist on the counter.
“We know Leon’s been here. So just hand it over and make it easy on yourself.”
“Hand what over? I got no clue what you’re talking about,” Charlie said, annoyance stamped on his face. “Or who you’re talking about, either.”
“Leon Rivers,” said the other dirtbag, the one who had a face like a shark. “Don’t act like you don’t know him. You and him go way back.”
Charlie hesitated briefly before he shrugged and spoke. “Yeah, I knew him. Twenty years ago. And that’s the last time I saw him, too.” He threw his towel down on the bar and jerked his head toward the door. “Beat it. I don’t need your kind in here.”
Della started toward Charlie, but the fingers locked around her wrist tightened. Impatiently, she yanked her arm, but he didn’t loosen his hold. She looked down at him to demand he let her go but her words failed at the sight of his face. Intent, implacable, he was staring at the scene at the bar, and he looked like a man she didn’t want to cross.
“Be still,” he said, so softly she almost didn’t hear him.
“Shut up.” Again, he said it quietly, but his tone meant business.
Bucketface reached across the bar and grabbed Charlie by the shirtfront. “Goddamn it, you tell me where it is! Don’t fuck with me, old man.”
Charlie reached beneath the bar. Della’s stomach tightened with fear, and though she’d never been a big believer, she started praying. Bucketface released Charlie, who brought up his hand, holding the 9mm he kept close to the cash register for just this kind of occasion. Della stood frozen, unable to move even without the steely fingers restraining her. A gun appeared in the second man’s hand. His arm jerked just as Charlie’s gun spit fire, and one loud crack of an explosion followed another and another. Then there was nothing but blood, blood everywhere.