"You are the most infuriating bit of baggage I have ever encountered. If I didn't care for you so much, I'd leave right now and never look back."
"You call that caring?! I call it a line of crap! The only thing you cared about begins with an "F" and ends with me losing my virginity!"
Oh, God! Had she really just shouted that?
Mac Coalson, contractor, and Dixie Harris, kindergarten teacher, don't exactly see eye to eye. He thinks her brother is vandalizing new homes; she thinks Mac's a pompous ass that treats their town like his personal kingdom.
When the two unite to catch a potential murderer, it's in everyone's best interest to keep it "business only". But that's hard to do when their combined attraction is volatile enough to burn down the town.
Mac Coalson drove his black GMC truck through his hometown, the tiny riverside community of Grafton, Illinois, and onto the blacktop road that headed toward Jerseyville, the local county seat. He gripped the wheel firmly as he tried to control his anger. The last thing he needed was to wreck his new truck. March had been an icy month in the Midwest.
The vandalism of the past few months to the new homes built by his construction company was about to finally come to an end. And the little punks were going to pay. Big Time. All that damage, the mess, the financial strain on the company, all caused by a bunch of juvenile delinquents bent on a destructive binge.
A little over a year ago, the tiny community of Grafton, Illinois, had been sandbagging against the rising waters of the Mississippi River. Ben Yates, the local sheriff, had even brought prisoners from the area correctional facility to help. It hadn't mattered. The mighty Mississippi broke through and all but decimated the tiny village. Mac's construction company, along with several others, had undertaken the arduous task of clearing, cleaning and reconstructing whatever they could, alongside the villagers who lost almost everything.
How could these brats justify destroying what everyone, their relatives included, had tried so hard to rebuild? Well, one way or another, Mac was getting some answers tonight. He cruised into the police department parking lot, slammed the brakes and hit the cement parking block.
"Where are they?" he growled, blowing through the double doors of the small county jail and jangling the front bell. He brushed his hair off his forehead with an impatient gesture as his gaze locked on the portly man in a sheriff's uniform.
"Now, calm down, Mac." Sheriff Ben Yates tried to placate the large man bearing down on him. "Those kids didn't know what they were getting into. It was a dare; nothing more. They are not the main source."
"And you believe them?" Mac was incredulous.
"Yes, I do. None of them boys have any priors and their stories match."
"So they've been ruining my business and others on a childish prank, and you're just gonna stand there and defend them? Have you forgotten the reason my construction business has been so busy here?" Mac roared. His left eye began to twitch, a sure sign that his temper was about to be unleashed.
"I remember I saved your butt when the sandbags you were trying to hold onto with your feet washed out from under you and almost landed you headfirst in the rushing water, that's one thing I remember. So don't take that tone with me, boy!" Ben's wrinkled face took on a purplish hue as he wagged his stubby finger in Mac's face.
Mac passed a weary hand over his eyes as he tried not to grind his teeth in frustration. "I'm sorry, Ben. This whole mess turns my stomach." He sighed in defeat. "Who's involved?"
Ben snorted as he acknowledged Mac's apology with a curt nod. "The Riley twins, Becky Jamieson's boy, Todd, and the new schoolteacher's brother, Jamie Harris. And I'm warning you now, all the parents are here except for ..." he trailed off, his eyes widening as the bell pealed once again on the front door of the precinct, announcing a visitor. Mac watched Ben hastily hitch up his pants and straighten his glasses. He turned to see what in the world the old guy was looking at.
"Excuse me, but I believe you're holding my brother here? My name is Dixie Harris." The soft, throaty drawl belied the spark of fire in the blue eyes of the petite woman as she closed the distance between them and held out her hand to Ben in polite introduction. She completely ignored Mac.
Mac's gaze slowly raked the newcomer from head to toe. The woman was short, barely above five feet tall, he estimated, but she was definitely curved in all the right places. He took in the faded jeans that hugged her curves and the unzipped brown leather jacket that did little to conceal breasts that would overflow from even his large hands.
Sighing inwardly, his gaze returned to the expressive face with a studied interest. There was no denying the new kindergarten teacher was a beautiful woman. Her silver blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail that made her look almost childlike. The freshly scrubbed face, completely devoid of makeup, was a velvety mixture of rose petals and cream. The full pink lips she was unconsciously biting were moist and luscious, begging for a man's kiss. An unexpected burn of sexual heat coursed through his body. Damn, but he should have made that school board meeting last fall.
At that instant, she turned slightly and noticed him watching her. Mac didn't look away, even as her eyes narrowed and her mouth turned down in a frown at his rude appraisal. She deliberately turned her back on him.
Ben brushed past Mac. "Hello, Miss Harris. We're sorry to bother you like this, but your brother and some others were apprehended on private property. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to him."
"Thank you," she murmured, casting another glance from beneath her lashes at the stone faced man in front of her. "Excuse me," she murmured as she tried to skirt around him. The keys on the sheriff's belt loop jangled as he walked. She enjoyed the sound more than his poor attempts at small talk.
The trio emerged into a large waiting area in the back of the jail. Several empty cells were along one wall, but the boys were lounging on nearby benches on the opposite side of the room, where the parents had already gathered. Embarrassment, anger, and nervousness were just a few of the emotions reflected on their faces as the sheriff approached the group and explained the reason for their summons.
Dixie allowed herself a calming breath as she unclenched her fists in the front pockets of her jeans. She risked a fleeting look in the direction where her brother now stood talking to another officer. Dear Lord in heaven what had her brother done? Her view was suddenly blocked and all she could see was the man that had followed them into the waiting area. She darted a glance at his face, then swallowed swiftly. He regarded her in silence for several seconds, then gave her a small nod, which did nothing to alleviate her frayed nerves, and headed toward the boys.
Was he the father of one of the boys arrested? He didn't appear old enough to have a teenager. His black hair gave only a hint of gray, the same steel color of his eyes. His build was definitely fit. His shoulders were as broad as a linebacker, tapering down a firm back to long lean legs encased in worn jeans. And his butt...Good heavens, what was the matter with her? She was appraising a stranger while her brother was being arrested! She blushed furiously at her thoughts and prayed no one had noticed. Her pale complexion and vivid eyes always gave away her every thought, much to her disgust.