Here Comes Trouble
Available for the first time in print on September 24, 2013.
TROUBLE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER . . .
Growing up poor and abandoned in Trouble, Wyoming, Lacy Taylor learned to be ready for anything-and to always prepare for the worst. She can handle a jailbird dad who won’t stay lost and a sister she didn’t know she had, but Chase McDermott might be her ultimate undoing. Never could she have predicted their long standing battle of wills would erupt into a sizzling, anytime-anywhere passion. Thrown off her game for the first time ever, Lacy figures the only way to fight fire is to turn up the heat . . .
Every woman in town would love to tie Chase down, but the happily footloose cowboy prefers to roam free. Still, if keeping Lacy hot, bothered, and riled up will help her deal with her troubles, he’s happy to oblige. But when Chase gets a look at the vulnerable woman hiding behind Lacy’s tough bravado, he can’t help rethinking his no-commitments rule. Can Chase find the courage to leave his playboy days behind for good and prove he’s worthy of Lacy’s fragile trust . . . and her love?
Read the Excerpt
Tonight was supposed to be Lacy’s night off. An hour ago Becky-Lynn, one of the other servers, called begging Lacy to fill in for her. Lacy, being the gosh-darn nice person she was, couldn’t say no. Instead of spending an evening at home, listening to Boris’s snoring, here she was, waiting tables for people who couldn’t decide if they wanted their steak rare or medium. The tips tonight had better be good.
Not that McDermott’s wasn’t a fine place to work, because it was. She’d been working there for two years now. What was supposed to have been temporary until she found something better, ended up being a full-time career waiting tables. Over time McDermott’s had sort of grown on her. Kind of like a bad haircut; eventually you say to yourself, “Eh, what the heck I’ll keep it.”
Plus she was good at her job. Probably one of the best servers there, if she did say so herself. The other wait staff was friendly, and Henry was a doll. He didn’t yell at his kitchen staff the way some chefs on those reality shows did. Lacy could deal with that.
There was one teeny, tiny thing she could do without. Most women probably wouldn’t share the same complaint. But most women didn’t have to deal with Chase McDermott the way she did. The man had been the bane of her existence as a teenager. He’d single-handedly coined the phrases “Twiggy Taylor” and “Lanky Lacy.” What surely was meant to be a joke had stuck with her all the way to college. So what if she’d been a little on the thin side in high school? Was that a reason to make someone’s life miserable? She couldn’t go hang out with his brother Brody without Chase answering the door and saying, “Well hello there, Miss Twiggy.” Even now the phrase made her want to snarl like a rabid animal. Brody had never said those things to her because he was such a swell guy. Why couldn’t she have had a crush on him instead of his mean older brother?
Okay, so she really didn’t hate working for Chase. He was a good boss. And kind of, sort of, easy on the eyes. Well, more than that. She was adult enough to admit Chase McDermott had grown into a fine-looking man. Her heart fluttered a little whenever he was within sniffing distance. Not even under the pain of death would she admit that to anyone. Especially to the man in question, who had an ego the size of Saturn.
She fed her latest order into the computer and decided to use her upcoming break to her advantage. She got Matt, one of the other servers, to cover her tables while she took thirty minutes to herself. After eating a barely satisfying ham and cheese sandwich with stale chips, Lacy went upstairs to do something she’d been dreading all night: speak to Chase.
While she might not hate working for him, she hated asking him for favors. Yes, he’d given her a job when most of the other places in town hadn’t been hiring. At an early age, Lacy discovered Chase had an uncanny ability to make her feel like she always owed him something. She couldn’t fault that as a family trait, because Brody had never been like that. It had to be a unique Chase trait.
She knocked on the office door. After hearing a muffled response, she opened it. She had no idea if he said “come in” or not, but what the hell? She went in anyway.
The man who’d made her heart constantly do its own love/hate tug-of-war didn’t acknowledge her when she entered. He sat perched on the edge of his desk, remote control in one large hand pointed at the small television on the credenza.
“I need to talk to you about next week’s schedule.”
His eyes stayed on the black and white image on the television. “You know I don’t deal with scheduling.”
“I know but Anita isn’t here, and this can’t wait.”
He pushed a button on the remote and the image on the screen froze. His blue eyes zeroed in on her. Lacy had never been able to fully prepare herself for his eyes, which were the same color as a cloudless sky. They were one of the first things that had drawn her to him and influenced her stupid teenage crush. Now was no different. Only this time she didn’t have a crush on him. Really, she didn’t. In fact, she did her best to ignore him and the way he made her insides feel like cottage cheese.
His gaze lowered to her button-up white shirt, which was the customary McDermott’s uniform. “What’s so important it can’t wait?”
“I need a few days off next week.”
“Find someone to fill in for you.”
She took a deep breath and caught a hint of his scent. It was a manly soap that reminded Lacy of Irish Spring. Chase wasn’t really a cologne kind of guy. Her eyes almost rolled back into her head. From now on she’d always associate Chase with that distinctive bar soap scent. “I’ve tried that already. No one can do it.”
He crossed his arms over his chest, which looked hard and sculpted beneath his light blue shirt.
“What do you expect me to do about it?” A mischievous glint lit his eyes, making them even bluer. Why did she still have to be affected by him?
“Find someone and make them do it.” Yes, she knew that sounded childish, but he was the boss. He could do it easily.
A slow smile graced his boyish face and developed into a laugh. The kind of laugh that rolled over her and felt like a caress of very talented hands.
His laughter died but the smile lingered. “Why do you need these days off?”
She shifted from foot to foot and tucked a strand of hair that had come lose from her ponytail behind one ear. “That’s not really any of your business, Chase.”
Again his gaze lingered on parts that weren’t her face; this time her hips drew his attention. “If I have to rearrange the schedule, it is.”
She heaved a sigh. He had her on that one. “I have some things of Ray’s I need to work on.” A bit of an understatement but still the truth. After being abandoned by her mother at the age of four and having a father who spent more time in jail than out, she’d relied on Ray as the only person who wouldn’t abandon her.
Chase slowly shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like a good enough of a reason to take time off work.”
They stared at each other a few tense moments. She really didn’t want to go into details. But Chase was going to stare at her in that unnerving way of his until she blurted it all out.
“What’s really going on, Lace?”
He and Brody had been the only ones to ever call her Lace. It was not a nickname she’d been particularly fond of. On the other hand, anything was better than Lanky Lacy.
He remained on the corner of the desk, his massive forearms crossed over his chest. He kept rolling his left shoulder, like he had an itch he couldn’t reach. She’d noticed him doing that earlier, accompanied by a wince of pain.
“Why do you keep doing your shoulder like that?”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
She motioned to his left shoulder. “You haven’t stopped moving it all night.”
His disarming smile returned. “Can’t keep your eyes off me, can you?”
Her eyes lifted heavenward. Lord help her with egotistical men. “What’d you do to it?”
“Nothing,” he answered a little too quickly.
“Nothing?” she answered back with a mocking tone of her own. “Let me take a look at it.”
“That’s not necessary,” he said with a shake of his head.
She offered him one of her sweet smiles, which probably came off more condescending than genuine. “I’ll make a deal with you. You let me look at whatever’s bothering your shoulder and I’ll tell you what’s really going on.”
“Boy, you really want to get my clothes off, don’t you?”
“Forget it.” She turned toward the door. It was impossible to have a serious conversation with a man who thought every woman wanted to get in his pants.
“Lacy,” he started with the chuckle of his she always found way too sexy. “I’m kidding. Come on, don’t walk away mad.”
When she turned back around, he’d stood from the desk. He towered over her at six-foot….well she didn’t know exactly how tall he was. But he was really tall. Lacy stood at an average five-seven and Chase had to be a good six or seven inches taller than her.
“You never did take a joke very well.”
She planted her hands on her hips. “I don’t appreciate being teased when I’m trying to help someone.”
He held his hands up in defense. “All right, calm down. If you’re that worried, you can look at it. But don’t forget your end of the deal.”
That remark earned another teasing smile. When she stopped in front of him, he flicked the end of her nose with his index finger. “You’re so cute when you get riled.”
“Oh, is that why you do it? Turn around,” she said before he had a chance to reply. “On second thought, you need to sit down.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “Why?”
“You’re too tall. It’ll be easier for me to check your shoulder if you’re sitting.”
A pregnant pause filled the air before he answered. “I don’t think it’s my shoulder. The burning feels like it’s in the middle of my back.”
“Burning? What kind of burning?”
His wide shoulders moved in a shrug. “I don’t know, just burning.”
“When did this burning start?”
Another pause. “This morning.”
“Okay,” she said, unsure of what to say next. “You have to take off your shirt.”
In one fluid motion, he pulled the shirt out of his pants and drew it over his head. The whole time, Lacy watched, fascinated with the way each muscle moved beneath the tanned skin. She’d seen him without his shirt before, years ago at the local lake. He’d been a boy then, somewhere around seventeen or eighteen. Years had made him bigger, taller and wider. She could count each defined muscle in his back just from watching him move. But she wouldn’t. That would be too…well, she just wouldn’t.
Without his shirt, Lacy became painfully aware of how low his jeans hung on his hips. His skin looked like satin over muscle, and she wanted to run her hands all over so her fingers could feel each and every ridge.
When she focused her attention on her task and not how delicious he was, she noticed four thin, long, bloody scratches. Right in the middle of his back.
They looked painful. Lacy also knew exactly what they were the second she looked at them. Fingernail scratches.
“Um…” she cleared her throat and touched her index finger to one of them. “How’d you get these?” Her finger came away clean as the blood had long since dried. But they had bled.
“I’m not sure.” This time he cleared his throat. “Exactly.”
“Do you have any rubbing alcohol in here?”
He threw an alarmed glance over one thick shoulder. “Why?”
“Chase, these have to be cleaned. Do you know how much bacteria is underneath a human fingernail?”
When he turned, she had to back up so he wouldn’t consume her personal space. “What makes you think these were done by fingernails?”
She held up one hand. “Look at my nails. They’re almost the exact size of those scratches.”
A rude noise popped out of her mouth. She placed her hands on his hard shoulders and turned him back around. “I know what fingernail scratches look like. So do you have any alcohol or not?”
“I think there’s a first aid kit underneath the sink in the bathroom.”
The bathroom adjoining his office was no bigger than a coat closet. Done in bland white tile and industrial, blinding light, she felt as though she’d entered a sardine can. There was a little black pouch with a red cross on top, right where he’d said it would be. Lacy opened it, found the rubbing alcohol and some cotton swabs. She walked back to Chase’s fine backside and tried not to laugh.
“What’d you do?” she asked as she poured some of the alcohol on a cotton ball. “Piss off some poor woman’s husband?”
“First of all,” he said in a strangled voice after she placed the cold, wet cotton on the first scratch. “I don’t get involved with married women. Second of all, if I had, I’d have a black eye. Not scratches on my back.”
“Pardon me.” Slowly, so as not to sting him too much, she swiped the alcohol-soaked ball down the scratch, disinfecting it as best she could. She didn’t know why she asked him how he got these. She knew. Some nameless woman couldn’t contain herself in the throes of passion and dug her nails into his back. She’d heard of women who were back-scratchers, but this was ridiculous.
“Start talking, Lace.”
“Well, I was born in a little town just south of Yellowstone –”
“Nice try, Chatty Cathy. But you made me a deal, remember?”
Of course she remembered. Being this close to his naked skin and smelling his woodsy shampoo had clouded her logical thinking. She discarded the first swab and poured some alcohol on a second one.
He flinched when she placed it on the next scratch. “Holy hell, woman. Did you pour acid on that thing?”
A satisfied smile tilted one corner of her mouth. That’s what he got for being so irresistible. “Sorry. Maybe next time you’ll go out with a woman who doesn’t have cat claws.”
“Ha ha, Twiggy.”
She paused with the cotton ball halfway down his back. “Call me that one more time and I really will pour acid on you.”
He cleared his throat. “We’re getting off subject here. Tell me what’s going on.”
She bit her teeth into her bottom lip, while lightly dabbing the cotton to his marred skin, unsure of what to tell him. One more time she decided to play dumb. “It’s really not that big of a deal.”
“Okay, Tw –”
“All right!” She bit out with a glare at his backside, then blew out an exasperated sigh. “It’s just that Ray left me with a few more things that I could do without. Well, technically it’s not really Ray’s fault.” Ray had done the best he could with Lacy. He’d clothed her, made sure she went to school and fed her three meals a day. Grandfathers weren’t supposed to do those things. There were supposed to spoil you with extra stuff like cookies before breakfast and backyard campouts. Bless his heart; he’d had no clue how to raise a teenage girl. He taught her things like how to use a lawnmower and change the oil in a car.
“What does that mean?”
She tossed aside her current cotton ball and soaked another one. “Ray had a friend of his handling his will, if you could even call it a will. I don’t know exactly what the guy did, or how he managed to get away with it, but he hadn’t been entirely truthful when he disclosed Ray’s assets.”
Okay, so it was a bigger deal than that. Lacy really didn’t want to tell him this. Why did she have to go and make that stupid deal? So she could clean his sex-induced scratches? So not worth it.
“What exactly does that mean?”
“That’s the problem. I can’t tell you exactly.” She pulled in another breath. “The IRS is auditing me because there were hidden assets not included in the final accounting. I didn’t fully understand so I saw a tax attorney this morning. He said what the guy did was borderline fraud. Apparently the IRS has been investigating it since Ray’s death and now wants to collect on these unpaid taxes.” The whole thing came out in a rush, like the words had been waiting for the opportune time to force themselves out. “At the time of Ray’s death, it seemed like everything was in order. And I didn’t have any reason not to trust the guy.”
Chase turned to face her. “How much money are you talking about?”
She lifted her shoulders in a pathetic shrug and tossed the last ball on the desk. “Somewhere in the vicinity of twenty thousand dollars,” she mumbled to the ground beneath her scuffed black shoes.
“Twenty grand? Jesus, Lacy. When did you find this out?”
“I got a letter today in the mail.”
“And this is why you need some time off?”
Time off wasn’t going to fix her problem, she knew that. But, jeez, she’d never given thought to things like this. Ray had only been dead for about a year and he’d always taken care of it. At least, she thought. She’d never even seen a bill, until the one she got this morning. Ray had been the only person in her life worthy of her love and he’d always meant the world to her. How could he have left her in this position? Or, maybe he hadn’t known his friend was a borderline crook?
Her eyes grew hot as moisture built in the corners. She would not cry in front of Chase. Dammit, she was stronger than that.
“I just need time to think and go through Ray’s paperwork.” Her voice came out thick from her frustration and helplessness.
“What you need is money.”
No, shit. Money was the one thing she didn’t have.
“Gee, is that all?”
“Do you need some?”
From him? No flipping way.
She shook her head. “I’ll figure something out. Maybe I’ll sell the Lincoln.” Upon Ray’s death from lung cancer two years ago, Lacy had become guardian to an aging and outdated ranch house and a 1975 Lincoln Continental with rusty gold paint. Ray probably thought he was being generous by leaving her his most prized possessions. Lacy wasn’t so sure. Half the time the Lincoln didn’t start, forcing her to walk to work, which was not energizing despite what some people might think.
Chase snorted and slipped his arms back into his shirt. “You won’t get a thousand dollars for that piece of junk.”
“Maybe I can make monthly payments to them,” she wondered aloud, more to herself than Chase. Why did she have to include him in this?
When she’d thrown out the cotton balls and faced Chase again, he’d put his shirt on and buttoned it up. Probably for the best. The last thing she needed to do was drool over him.
“I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. I’ll figure this out,” she said again.
He stared at her with two thick brows pulled low over light blue eyes. “It’s okay to ask for help if you need it. You can’t do everything by yourself.”
Desperate to change the subject, Lacy searched her brain for something, anything. Then she remembered he’d been watching something. She nodded her head toward the T.V. “What’re you watching?”
He glanced at the frozen screen of the television. “Nothing exciting.”
O-kay. “In other words, you can’t tell me because I’m an employee?”
His response was a smile and a nod.
“And here I thought we were sharing things.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Miss Taylor.”
Well, he could just keep his secrets then. If there was trouble at the restaurant, she’d find out eventually. Half the other waitresses were notorious blabbermouths.
She glanced at her cheap, drugstore watch. “My break’s over.” When he didn’t respond to that, she added, “So, you’ll take care of the schedule?”
Once more, his bone-melting eyes raked over her ho-hum white-shirt-and-black-pants uniform. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Instead of uttering a thank you, she just smiled, not trusting her voice to come out even. She walked to the door and opened it.
Halfway through the doorway, she paused. “Yeah?”
“You can clean my back scratches anytime.”
Oh, for Pete’s sake. The man was incorrigible!
With a shake of her head and a smile, Lacy stepped out the door.