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(Excerpt unedited at this time.)
“Put me down!” I screamed, pounding against Robbie’s ass with my fists. When he set my feet on the ground in the middle of the parking lot, I hid the fact that I had a little buzz going and attempted to control my swaying.
“Christ, I’m trying to save you from those idiots in there and the stalker. If that bottle had hit your head—”
“Yeah, well, it didn’t. And don’t think for a minute that wasn’t my first bar fight. I’ve probably seen more action in podunk town bars in my lifetime than you have.” My fists were tight at my sides and I glared up at him.
“Okay, yeah. You’re right, tough girl. I forgot you were trained by the School of Rockology to manage a lunatic whose every intention is to hurt you on stage or off.”
I didn’t like his sarcastic tone one bit, but damn I loved kissing those full lips of his. “Don’t talk to me like that. I know what I’m doing.” I headed back toward the bar, but he caught my arm and swung me around to face him.
“Like how you’re laying low singing in front of a hundred people in a crowded bar when there’s a stalker on the loose? You call this keeping a low profile in town?”
“I call this living my life. Not cowering in a corner.”
“Guess that’s rock and roll for you. Living on the edge.”
“I don’t know any other way.” I yanked my arm away from him and stomped on his foot with the heel of my boot.
“Ow. What the fuck?” He yelped and doubled over.
I ran to my car, dug the keys from my pocket, and hit the button to unlock the doors. I launched myself into the driver’s seat, but his big hand prevented me from closing the door. Tears threatened my eyes, but in no way would I show him. “Let me go.”
“You’re not getting away.”
“Yes, I am. I’m leaving this town. Driving anywhere and getting away from everything—”
“No. You’re not driving when all four of your tires have been slashed.” He pointed at my back tire.
“What?” I climbed back out and sure enough, it was flat. I ran around the entire car eyeballing each one, then ended up back in front of him. A stupid tear rolled down my cheek and I angrily swiped it away. “Who could have done this?”
“My guess is the stalker.” He turned his back to me, caging me in between the door, my car, and him, as if he was my armor. Only then did I realize that he somehow had produced a gun and was pointing it down at the ground with both hands gripping it at the ready as he scanned the parking lot, just in case whoever did this was still nearby.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. In the dark like this, could a mad person be watching us? The reality of it all hit hard and swept me up into emotions I could no longer contain. Robbie was right; I wasn’t as tough as I acted.
“Sir, you got her?” I jumped at the man rushing up to us, and my hands automatically went to Robbie’s waist as if he were a shield. “I was pinned in by the melee inside. I couldn’t get to her fast enough.”
“No worries, Andrew. Her tires are slashed, though.”
“Shit. This is getting serious now.”
I peered around Robbie’s big frame to see the man he was talking to, but gasped when the door to the bar opened and the fight spilled outside. Men were pushing and shoving each other shouting obscenities. Women were just as worse. Sirens blared coming closer as cop cars pulled into the lot.
“My men have arrived. I need you to stick around and help them sort things out. I’m taking her with me. I’ll text you the address. Have one of your guys post there overnight and keep watch. I’ll check in with you in the morning,” Robbie ordered with a mean all-business tone.
“You got it.” Andrew jogged off toward the nearest police vehicle.
Robbie turned back to me. “We’re not sticking around here to see how this plays out. I don’t care what the fuck you say, my job is to keep you safe, darling, and that’s what I’ll do.”
Suddenly, I was being flipped over his shoulder again, and this time I didn’t fight it as he rushed across the parking lot. Wherever he was taking me didn't matter, as long as it was with him. Somehow I knew—I trusted—he would do exactly what he was supposed to and protect me.
In a black SUV, he sat me down in the passenger seat. I kept my head low, so my hair would hide my face. I didn’t want him to see how really scared I was, but it was no use. With a finger he gently lifted my chin.
“I’m sorry if I was rough. I didn’t mean to scare you. But if anything happened to you…I couldn’t live with that.” His voice soothed as if he’d flipped a switch. The tough lawman showed a softer side, wiping away a few of my tears. In his eyes, dark blue and so true in the moonlight, how could I doubt his intentions?
“Need anything chief?” A male voice called out behind us. I jumped again, my hand holding my heart.
“It’s okay. It’s just one of my officers,” he reassured me. “Nah, Colt. Text me when you all get this under control. And call Tony to tow that red Mercedes over there to our lot. Have it dusted for prints.”
“Sure thing.” The sound of footsteps jogging away indicated we were alone in the vehicle again.
“Here.” Robbie turned back to me and reached behind the seat and produced a sweatshirt. “Put this on. You look cold.” He bunched it up and I ducked into it and put my arms in. The gray sweatshirt with blue KSPD bold letters instantly warmed me and smelled like him, like a promise of security and sanctuary. I imagined it might be as good as being in his arms. In the small space, our eyes connected and I almost thought he’d kiss me, but then he reached over and buckled me in.
“Where are we going?” I asked, my voice almost hoarse. Between a rough day at the studio with Mutt, almost getting into a yelling match with him over creative differences on my song, then singing my heart out at the bar, and dealing with Robbie, it was too much. I long ago learned how to take proper care of my throat—my most precious gift—and today I abused it.
“Already, on our first date?” I deadpanned. It worked, too, and his chuckle broke the tension.
“That’s good. Keep your humor through this and you’ll be all right.” He ran around to the driver’s side. We took off, leaving a mess of people behind us, but we hardly talked as he received call after call from his guys through a special radio in his car.
I listened to Robbie continuing to give orders and admired his ability to be cool under pressure. I overheard that the guys who’d started trouble were some cousins of Charles and Dillon.
The way Robbie reacted, I figured he must not be a big fan of the Montgomerys. He muttered something about history there, and I made a note to ask him about it sometime, considering Sara was shacking up with one of them.
I watched outside the window as we wound through the dark streets of Kissing Springs. All the pretty old homes were lit up at night and so picturesque, each one unique compared to Southern California where houses were often cookie cutters of each other. Eventually, he parked in front of a little white house behind the bed and breakfast manor I’d stayed in the first time I came here last summer.
“You live here?”
“Yep. Hope this is okay? It’s not much, just a little one bedroom cottage. You can have the bed and I’ll take the couch.”
“I could call Sara and have them come get me.”
His jaw tightened. “I’m sure Charles would do his best to protect you for Sara’s sake, but other than locking you in my jail cell, the only place I’m certain you’ll be safe, darling, is right here under the same roof with me.”
“Well, when the sheriff makes a demand like that, how can I resist?”
“I’m not a sheriff,” he chuckled and shook his head. “I’m in charge of this town, yes. Sheriff Woolsy oversees the entire county. Understand the difference?”
“Sure. But everyone calls you chief. I just like calling you something all my own.” I peered at him through half lashes, partly because the night wore me down, and I stifled a yawn.
He nodded. “Whatever you want. Come on. Let’s get you inside.”
Whatever I wanted…I wanted a lot of things. I wanted it all, and why shouldn’t I expect the best life could offer after everything I’d been through?
Robbie ran around to my side and opened my door, holding out his hand to help me out. I took it, shocked by the warmth I found there. My eyes landed on our joined hands, linking us for only a moment and solidified one thing. Right now, all I wanted was to explore the connection I seemed to have with this small town protector.