Hot On His Trail
Linda Winstead Jones

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She didn’t kill the engine, but jumped out of the driver’s seat to circle the truck and open his door. She offered an arm in assistance, and he took it and stepped down.

“You wait here,” she said softly, “while I hide the truck in the barn.”

“There’s a barn?” He leaned on her and remembered…something. The way she smelled, the way she tasted. The way she tasted?

“It’s pretty far back on the property and hidden from the road, so I don’t think anyone will even think to look for the truck there. It’s too far for you to walk, though.” She left him leaning against the kitchen door and hurried back to the truck. As it rumbled away, he watched the tail lights. When he couldn’t see them anymore, he closed his eyes and slumped to the ground. How did he know what she tasted like?

The next thing he knew Shea was there again, and he was sitting on the porch with his back against the door. He’d fallen asleep, or passed out, while she’d been taking care of hiding the truck. She lifted a potted plant and reached beneath it, pulling out a key. What kind of a town was this?

“The kind of town where people trust their neighbors,” Shea said as she assisted him to his feet and placed an arm around his waist, propping him up while she slipped the key into the lock.

“Did I ask that out loud?” he whispered.

“You mumbled,” she said, opening the door to a dark kitchen.

“No lights,” she said. “I don’t expect any of the neighbors are up this late, and most of the house is shielded by trees anyway, but I don’t want to take any chances. We haven’t come this far just to get caught because we turned on a light.”

We, she said.

“The moonlight will do,” she said sensibly. “For now.”

He let her lead him through the kitchen, through a huge dining room, to the foot of the stairway.

“Can you make it up the stairs?” she asked, uncertainty in her voice.

“Of course I can,” he snapped, angry at his weakness, at his inability to think straight. Tomorrow morning everything would be better. Tomorrow he would know what to do.

Moving up the stairs was slow going, with Shea on one side, the banister on the other and his body being completely uncooperative. He was breathless when they reached the first landing, near to passing out again when they reached the second floor.

“Carol’s room is the closest,” Shea said, turning him to the right. “I hope you like purple.”

Nothing had any color in the moonlight, but oh, the double bed looked soft, and warm, and if he could just make it that far…

At the edge of the bed he tumbled, falling to the soft mattress, pulling Shea with him. She squealed a little, in surprise, just before they landed with a gentle bounce.

He held on tight to still the spinning in his head. Shea Sinclair could make the spinning stop. She could ground him. He drew her close, testing her softness and warmth. Feeling the wonderful way her curves settled against the length of his body.

“You can let me up now,” she whispered.

“Not yet.” He buried his face against her hair, reached out and removed the rubber band that contained the dark strands, so her locks spilled down and around. “You smell so good.”

“So I’ve been told,” she muttered unhappily.

“You smell like sunshine and soap and…sex.”

“I do not,” she insisted, pushing against his chest.

He didn’t let go. He hadn’t slept in a real bed in ten months, had forgotten what a soft mattress felt like. He’d forgotten what a woman felt like, but Shea brought it all back. The feminine shape. The gentle suppleness.

“How do I know how good you taste?” he asked, pulling her close and resting his head against her shoulder as he laid one leg, the uninjured one, over both of hers.

“You don’t,” she snapped. “You’re delusional.”

He pressed his lips against her neck, very briefly. “No,” he said. “I’m not.” He used what little strength he had against her, holding her down gently, locking his leg around hers, laying an arm over her chest.

“Let me go.”

“I just want to sleep,” he said, feeling himself drift away. “And I want to hold you while I sleep. Smell you. Taste you.”

“Taggert…” she said, her voice distant and uncertain.

“I won’t hurt you, I swear,” he whispered. “I would never…”

As he drifted away he heard her whisper, “I know.”

Taggert was heavy, warm and massive, and sound asleep. It might’ve been possible to slip out from under him and make her way to Susan’s room for the night, but Shea allowed herself to remain beneath him as her own exhaustion washed over her.

Besides, maybe he really did need to hold her as he slept. She liked that idea, that someone needed her in such a simple way. She didn’t have to worry about him trying anything funny. He was in no shape, physically, to be a threat to her.

Stretched out beside and over her exhausted body, touching and holding her, Taggert seemed massive and overwhelming. He fixed her to the mattress with his muscled arm and one long leg. He leaned into her, too, in a way that pinned her down without crushing her beneath his weight.

Still at last, safe in the dark, she finally had time to ask herself the big question. What had she done? Taggert had given her the chance to escape, and other chances had come and gone. Yes, this was a big story, but it was more than that.

The same sense of right and wrong that had driven Dean to the U.S. Marshals Service and Boone to the Birmingham Police Department and then into his own P.I. practice lurked within her, too. She couldn’t stand by while an innocent man went to prison, and maybe even to the electric chair. It went against everything her parents had taught her. Justice. Honor. Moral integrity. Okay, they were old-fashioned ideals in a technical world, but they were what she knew and believed in.

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