Damien’s parents came back in. “Sweetheart,” Phoebe told her, “I am so sorry. Your big night was ruined.”
Dabney turned to Sorrow, too, giving her a bolstering look. “She’ll get another chance, won’t you, kid?”
“She spilled grease in the oven,” Bear said.
Sorrow’s voice was dangerously calm. “Spilled grease? There’s no grease in my Coq au Vin.”
Billy put a protective arm around her. “Nobody keeps a healthier or cleaner kitchen than your daughter.”
“Well something was in that cocoa van of hers.” Bear shook his head as he told her, “I told you not to cook. That kitchen’s too big for you.”
The patronizing comment sent her over the edge. She crossed her arms tightly at her chest, edging one step closer to her father. “Too big? Too big?”
Dabney helped his wife shoulder into her jacket. “Listen here, Bear. If the girl said there was no grease, there was no grease.”
“It’s a shame.” Phoebe gave her a hug good-bye. She held her chin and looked into her eyes as she gently said, “One of these days, this town will serve something more palatable than Tom’s chicken poppers, and my money’s on you.”
Dabney went to the door. Looking back at Damien, he said, “Come on, son. I’m afraid you’re our ride.”
Billy had to give the guy some credit—at least he looked hesitant to go. Damien turned to Sorrow. “You sure you’re okay?”
She nodded. The Simmons family left, with the rest of the crowd close behind.
“Grease fire,” Chief Haskell said as he made his own exit. “There’s nothing much to do but clean it up. Believe it or not, the oven survived.”
Billy clapped him on the shoulder, giving him the hint. “All right, work’s done here. Don’t you have a wife to get home to?”
Mike laughed. “Understood. Hey, Sorrow, we’ll see you at the festival. I hear it’s shaping up to be a doozy, what with all the Buck Larsen stuff.”
“Let’s hope,” she said, giving him a tired smile.
The sight stabbed him. Billy wouldn’t stand idly by—he needed her father to listen to reason. “I wish I could convince you,” he told the man. “First the freezers, now this. I don’t think these accidents are accidents at all.”
“That’s enough for one night. I told you before, city boy. All we have in Sierra Falls is neighbors. No vandals, or gangs, or anything like that.” Bear nodded toward the door. “Time for you two to get out of here. I’m closing shop. Gonna open some windows to air it out. Between the stink and the cold, we’re pulling a goose egg on business tonight.”
Billy was quick to intervene. He was just as done with Bear as Bear was with his night. “We’ll lock up here, Mister Bailey. You go join the missus.”
Laura took her father’s arm. “Come on, Dad. Let’s go watch some CNN.” She winked at her sister.
Her father sucked at his teeth a second, then with a stoic nod, let Laura lead him back to the lodge.
Sorrow gave Billy a sad half smile. “I think Dad could use some alone time to sit in his recliner and lick his wounds.”
“Do you need to go back to the lodge, too?”
“Are you kidding? I’m not going back there until I know my father is sound asleep in bed.”
He wrapped her in his arms. “I know it’s not your fault. Not even a little bit.”
She relaxed into him, sighing deeply. “Thank you. Though I can’t imagine how something like that happened.” She pushed back enough to meet his eye. “There’s no grease dripping from a Dutch oven, and Sully keeps a spotless kitchen. So, what happened? Usually, the most exciting thing that happens in this town is when old man Ziegler has one nip too many and drives his snowplow off the road.”
“Yeah,” she admitted, “it kind of was. But that was back in Christmas ’95, and he hasn’t done it again. I think the whole episode was why Marshall finally became a deputy when he got back from Iraq.”
Billy chuckled. “That explains a lot.” They grew silent, thinking. There’d been severed freezer lines, a roof cave-in, one downed tree, and now this. Fire was nothing to mess around with, and it shot his concerns to a whole different level. But how to address it with Sorrow without scaring the wits out of her? “Your dad thinks it’s all just a run of bad luck…”
“All at once,” he said.
Their gazes locked, each reading the uneasiness in the other’s eyes. She slowly shook her head. “These aren’t accidents, are they?”
“There’s no way they are,” he said. “I just can’t figure out who’d want to harm you.”
“Harm me?” She gave a weak laugh. “Have you noticed how all this stuff started to happen when Laura showed up? Maybe I can blame her.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at her suggestion. “You’re remarkably droll about this whole thing.”
She sighed. “If that means I’ve got a sense of humor about it, then yeah, it’s either laugh or cry.” She dropped her forehead against his chest.
“So, what do we do now?”
“Without a suspect or clues, there’s nothing we can do. The best plan of action is to keep you close.” He slid his hands down her back. “You know, there is something we can do to deal with the stress.”
Her head sprang up, and she mimicked a grave nod. “And the uncertainty. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Wrapping an arm around her, Billy steered Sorrow to the door, plucking her coat from the rack on the way out to his car. “Let’s go.”
“Whoa, cowboy.” She halted to lock up. “I thought you were on duty.”
“This is my duty.” But then he paused—it’d been an intense night for her. He needed to be certain she wanted this as much as he did. “Unless you want to stay home, hang in for the night…”
Hearing her resolve, he urged her back into a walk. “Then we’re a pair, Sorrow. Because I happen to want you back. A lot.”
She chuckled. “But what about all those speeders and lawbreakers?”
He ushered her into his SUV and walked around to the driver’s side. “Calls get routed to Silver City dispatch starting at ten P.M. Until then, Marshall has one ear tuned to the radio and will call if anything comes up.”
She turned to give him a perplexed look. “So this is how a sheriff figures out who’s up to no good?”
“No, Sorrow.” He reached over and squeezed her thigh. “This is how a sheriff gets up to no good.”
Once she’d made it clear it was what she wanted, Billy had put her in that car like he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Which was fine by Sorrow. She had zero intention of telling Billy no to anything.
Not much time had passed since their first kiss, but Sorrow realized now just how long it’d been since she’d known deep down that she wanted to be with Billy. This was it. Tonight would be the night. Their night.
She’d wanted him for a while now, and after tonight’s scare, she needed him. Needed to feel his strong body surround hers, to be safe in his arms. She needed to experience that feeling she knew when she was with Billy—the sense that she was no longer in it alone.
He drove them to his house. Her bag, their coats, his keys…everything dropped to the floor the moment the door slammed behind them.
Billy was such a man’s man, so in charge, and she’d barely gasped in a breath when he brought his mouth to hers. Her body exploded to life, every nerve, every inch of her wanting more from this kiss, deeper and harder.
Her hands roved eagerly along his body, fingers catching over foreign bits of his uniform. His belt, his cuffs. The newness of him turned her on in a way that startled her, excited her.
He unbuckled his belt, keeping his mouth on hers. Finally he pulled from her, and she heard the clatter of his gear where he put it on the entryway table. He was back at once and twined his fingers in her hair, tilting her face to lay kisses along her cheek and down her throat.
Oh God, he was good. But his hands, she wanted more of those hands. She’d never been good at the sexy banter, but she spoke now in a voice she didn’t recognize, words coming from some unknown wicked part of herself. “You gonna frisk me, officer?”
His husky, sexy laugh sent a shiver rippling across her skin. “I’m going to do more than that.” He took her shoulders in his hands and stepped forward until his body was hard along the length of hers. His leg pressed against her leg, guiding her backward.
“What are you going to do?” Her voice was weak—she couldn’t catch her breath for the fire burning inside her.
He unbuttoned her top button, guiding her back another step. His head rose from where he’d been kissing her neck, her ear. His eyes were dark with intent. “I’m getting you naked.” He nuzzled her neck again, popping another button. “You can stop me.”
They went back another step. He popped another button.
“I can,” she said breathily. She tangled her fingers in his hair, guiding his mouth lower. “But I won’t.”
“That’s a good thing.” He undid a third button, and cool air kissed through the lace of her bra. She sucked in a breath at the sensation, every inch of her skin pulled tight with desire. “I’ve been thinking about this moment for some time.” He swept a thumb over the peak of her breast.