Olivia Bennett is not having a happy birthday. Instead of blowing out her twenty-nine candles, she’s stuck in jail, caught red-handed in a graffiti incident that (perhaps) involved one too many strawberry margaritas. Worst idea ever. The only bright side is that she ended up in the strong arms of the most gorgeous lawman she’s ever seen.
Pete Sampson (aka Deputy Hot Stuff) faces intense pressure from the sheriff to find out who’s behind a string of vandalisms. And after her spray-painting spree, Olivia is suspect number one. Still, Pete can’t stop thinking about her. Wanting her. Now he’s torn between his duty and his overpowering desire for the vivacious waitress. But he may have to bend the rules because true love is more important than the letter of the law . . .
* * *
I grew up with a passion for reading and an unquenchable need to write stories of my own. As a girl, my journals and, later on, computers were always filled with snippets of stories and dialogue. These characters got inside my head and wouldn’t rest until I’d written them down. The number one item on my bucket list has always been to publish a novel, and I am beyond thrilled that my dream came true with Unleashed.
The first thirty years of my life led me around the globe on some amazing adventures. I’ve been climbed by a monkey on a mountain in Japan, gone scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and camped out overnight in New York City for a chance to be an extra in a movie. These days, I’m a work-at-home mom with a seven-year-old son, and the majority of my adventures take place in the books I write. I currently live in warm and sunny North Carolina with my husband, our son, and a variety of rescue pets.
Rachel can be found:
* * *
Red paint dripped from Olivia Bennett’s fingers. She tightened her grip on the metal canister in her right hand and gave it a solid shake. Beneath her feet, the ladder wobbled. With a startled squeak, she sent a burst of spray paint onto her boots.
“Sorry, Liv,” Terence called from below.
“Watch it, will you?” She pressed her palm against the cool, corrugated metal of the factory wall and took a deep breath. Then she lifted her right hand and pressed the valve on the spray paint canister, forming a brilliantly red “S” on the side of the building.
“Almost done,” Kristi said.
Easy for her to say, standing safely on the ground next to Terence. At the top of the ladder, Olivia fought to keep her balance as the remnants of several margaritas sloshed in her stomach. Hell of a way to end her twenty-ninth birthday.
The beam of Kristi’s flashlight cast Olivia’s shadow in stark silhouette over her red-painted message. She leaned right to spray another “S” but couldn’t reach. She’d have to come down and move the ladder to continue, but a muffled sound captured her attention.
The sound was soft yet keening. A kitten? Some other baby animal? She craned her head, peering into the darkness. “Did you guys hear that?”
“Hear what?” Terence asked, his tone wary.
“It sounded like a kitten.”
Kristi panned the flashlight around them, plunging Olivia into darkness. She leaned a hip against the side of the building to steady herself.
“I don’t see anything,” Kristi said.
“Okay, put that light back on me so I can get down.”
The flashlight’s beam once more illuminated her, and Olivia scrambled quickly to solid ground. “I heard some kind of little animal crying while I was up there, so keep an eye out.”
“Will do.” Terence moved the ladder over so that she could reach the next section of wall to be painted and held it steady as she climbed back up.
Six letters to go, and they were out of here. Terence would drive them to his place for a post-graffiti celebration. Olivia was in no condition to drive herself anywhere tonight. Adrenaline mixed with trepidation as she stood at the top of the ladder yet again. The margarita buzz had faded enough to know she was doing a crazy, stupid thing that wasn’t going to do a damn thing to help the chickens who arrived here daily, their only hope that death would be quick and merciful.
Based on what the undercover cameras had captured, that hope was slim.
She ground her teeth, her fingers clenched around the spray can. It was inhumane the way those birds were treated. Actually, it was inhumane the way most factory-farmed animals were treated, but this was happening right here in her little hometown of Dogwood, North Carolina.
A flash of white fur caught her eye, disappearing into the bushes behind the factory. If it was a kitten, it was tiny. Was its mother nearby? There weren’t any houses for miles around. Dammit. Now she was going to have to go on a kitten hunt before she went home. She couldn’t leave it out here to fend for itself.
“Hurry up, Liv,” Kristi called from below her.
Olivia raised the canister and let loose another blast of red paint. She’d just started “I” when the sound of an approaching vehicle reached her. Her finger slipped, and a fresh coat of paint soaked her hands.
Kristi and Terence must have heard it too, because the flashlight shut off, leaving her at the top of the ladder in pitch darkness, afraid to move. Headlights slashed through the night from Garrett Road, some two hundred feet to her left. They slowed, then tires crunched over gravel as the car turned into the factory parking lot.
Christ on a cracker.
“Get the hell down, Liv. We’ve got to get out of here!” Terence whispered.
A swirl of blue lights turned the night into a kaleidoscope of oh, s***. She pressed against the side of the building, stymied by paint-slickened fingers as she fumbled for the top of the ladder.
She was so not getting arrested on her birthday.
Except that she so was. A spotlight shone from the cruiser, illuminating her in a blaze of light so bright she could do nothing but press a hand over her eyes and count how many ways spray-painting Halverson Foods’s chicken-processing plant had been a bad idea.
The ladder shifted beneath her, and she groped for the top rung. The combination of the spinning blue lights with the piercing glare of the spotlight was seriously disorienting.
“Hands where I can see them,” a male voice boomed.
She shoved her hands into the air, managing to smack herself in the face with the can of spray paint in the process. It fell to the ground with a muffled thump. Oh, this sucked.
“Come down from the ladder, nice and slow, and keep those hands up,” the cop instructed. He sounded nice-ish. Maybe he’d go easy on her. Maybe…
Awkwardly, she fumbled with her right foot for the next rung of the ladder. It swayed dangerously to the side. “Terence!” she hissed, her fingernails scoring metal as she tried to steady herself.
Silence. She looked down, but the spotlight’s glare blinded her, preventing her from seeing past her own paint-spattered boots. “Terence? Kristi?”
She managed to get her foot settled onto the rung and took a step down. No answer came from her friends. What the hell?
She lifted her left foot to take the next step, and the ladder just dropped out from beneath her. One second it was there, the next she was plummeting through space.
“Oomph,” came a masculine grunt, as she slammed into someone’s chest and big, strong arms closed around her.
“Terence?” Her voice was a squeak, because Terence was nowhere near this strong, and he didn’t smell as good either. This man smelled faintly of cinnamon, his arms solid as steel behind her thighs, and based on the hard bulge stabbing into her kidney, he was also armed.
Oh, crap. Crap. Crap!
“Sorry,” he answered her question, setting her roughly on the ground. “Not Terence.”
“Oh.” She staggered, still blinded by the spotlight aimed at her. Disoriented, she turned her back and blinked at her shadow on the factory’s gray wall. Terence and Kristi had deserted her. Bastards.
“Keep those hands where I can see them,” Invisible Cop said.
With a sigh, she placed them on the wall before her. Her hands glistened blood-red in the harsh light. She had been caught red-handed. Dammit. She’d always hated being a cliché.