Dagger releases next week, and wouldn’t you know I’m running up to the last possible moment to get it finished and uploaded into KDP! Wish me luck! I’ll be writing my little fingers off today! Family obligations, which I’ve talked about here, put me way behind my schedule on EVERYTHING, so I’m scrambling, working long hours, and hoping I don’t let anyone down. In the meantime, I thought I’d share the opening “meet-cute” between my hero and heroine in the latest installment of my Montana Bounty Hunters series. Hope you enjoy! And there’s a contest—a bribe to make sure you read to the end! Want to win an Amazon gift card? Be sure to read on… 🙂
Enjoy the excerpt!
Daniel “Dagger” Renfrew had been a lot of things—an Army Ranger, until he’d mouthed off one too many times to his CO and decided mustering out was better for his long-term aspirations than spending time in Leavenworth; a Seattle beat cop, until he’d gotten bored spending his nights sitting in a squad car in front of corner gas stations; a PI, until he’d informed the wife of the man who’d hired him that hubby was looking for the goods to violate their pre-nup, so she better sue for divorce first; and now, a bounty hunter, which, so far, suited his ADD proclivities. And, in his job, he didn’t look for the easy takedowns. He liked lying in mud or snow with his binoculars trained on a window, hoping for a glimpse of the dirtbag whose mugshot he carried in his hip pocket. If they were badasses—all the better. Dagger preferred when assholes tried to run, because then he’d have an excuse to mix it up, get physical, and blow off steam in an all-out brawl—when the situation warranted, of course.
However, he hadn’t had a job like that in a while. So, in his off-hours, he looked for cheap thrills—sweet-talking easy women out of their clothes or taking repo jobs from the local car dealership.
This morning, he was “reacquiring” a 2014 silver Nissan Altima with a fluffy steering wheel and pom-poms hanging from the rear-view mirror. After verifying the make and model, he strolled as nonchalantly as a man in black tactical pants and boots and a black GORE-TEX jacket could toward the vehicle parked in a condo driveway. Once past the driveway, he ducked low, out of sight of the bay windows in the front of the unit, and sidled up to the Nissan, close enough he could dart up, clear snow from the front windshield, and read the VIN number etched into the corner of the dashboard. After checking with the VIN in the cryptic text message from the dealership’s finance department, he ducked again and reached into his pocket for the key fob he’d picked up from Stuey Higginbotham, who’d called him about the job. He pressed the button, wincing when he accidently hit it twice, beeping the car alarm loud enough a dog in the distance began barking.
So now, stealth was out the door. Dagger cussed, hoping the woman who owned the car didn’t have a boyfriend with a shotgun beside the bed. He straightened, opened the car door, and shoved a small suitcase from the front seat to the passenger side and slid quickly into the car. Not a good move, because the woman who drove the car was obviously short, and his knees banged the dash as he felt for the sliding button to move back the seat and lower it. Seconds ticked by, and he riveted his gaze on the condo’s front door.
A curtain shifted in the window next to the door. A woman’s face, framed by something, maybe a towel, peered through the glass.
“Sorry, sweetheart.” He grinned and punched the ignition.
The door slammed open.
He pushed the gear shift into reverse, but not before he noted she wore a bathrobe that parted as she ran down the front steps, exposing well-toned legs clothed in skin-tight black leggings. Brown and cream polka dots spotted her face in a pattern. Her large blue eyes delivered a glacier glare.
Something about her…
His eyes narrowed, and his foot remained on the brake a second too long.
She slapped the hood of the car then came up beside the driver’s side window, her hands clapping against the glass. “No, you don’t, you bastard. That’s my car!”
He took a second. The towel around her head masked her long blonde hair. The creamy polka dots distracted from her lovely cheekbones and stubborn chin, but those eyes and those legs…? He hit the button to lower the window. He knew the moment she recognized him.
Her jaw sagged. “Dag? What the hell are you doing in my car?”
“Not your car anymore, Cupcake.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t call me that. And what do you mean it’s not my car?”
“It’s the dealership’s? Or the finance company’s. Don’t care which.”
“But it’s my car, Dag. You can’t take my car.” Her eyes widened.
Dag saw the shimmer of tears. But he knew that tactic. Knew how often she’d gotten out of speeding tickets and detention hall throughout high school, just flashing those big baby blues and adding a chin wobble that made most men turn to mush.
The wobble started.
At the sight, he nearly groaned. “Take it up with Stuey at Higginbotham Used Cars.”
Her hands fisted on her hips. “And just how the hell am I supposed to get there?”
He shrugged. “Not my problem.” He broke from her glare and adjusted the rearview mirror, any excuse to avoid looking at the woman who’d been the Prom Queen to his Prom King. Back then, they’d had the world at their feet.
She clutched the edge of his window in a white-knuckled grip. “Stop, you can’t leave without me. I have to talk to Stuey. Give me a minute to change.”
“No can do. I have to drop off the car then head to the day job.”
Her eyebrows rose. “This is your side gig?”
Giving a shrug, he let his foot off the brake, and the car inched backward. “Have to go, Lace.”
Her hands curled into fists, and she ran around the front of the car, circling to the passenger-side door.
Afraid he’d run over her pretty heeled boots, he stopped. She tugged on the door handle, but he stared through the glass, schooling his expression, careful not to give her a clue what he was thinking. Certainly not the fact he was enjoying the heck out of seeing her this rattled.
Again, she tried the handle, and then slapped the glass. “Let me inside!”
Maybe she saw that he wasn’t giving an inch. Again, she ran—this time to the back of the car. She spread her arms wide and leaned over the trunk, her tiny frame so short only the top of her face appeared in the rear window.
Exasperated now, Dagger glanced around the quiet street. Doors were opening.
A large man in a grimy wifebeater and jockey shorts strode out of his door, wearing a dark scowl.
Dagger knew he had to get the hell out of the neighborhood. And he also knew he’d blown a clean getaway. Stuey would have his ass for bringing Lacey to the dealership before it opened, but Dagger could tell from Lacey’s steady glare she wasn’t moving any time soon. He tapped the door lock.
Lacey came around the side and slipped into the passenger seat, lifting the suitcase onto her lap and holding it against her chest.
As he pulled out of the driveway, he let out a big breath. Sitting next to his ex was not how he’d planned to spend his morning. Picking up a check from Stuey, heading to the Bear Lodge Bakery for a fresh kolache and a cup of coffee while he flirted with the seventy-year-old owner, Gladys Morton, and then making his way to the office—those events had been the plan.
From the corner of his eye, he watched Lacey as she drew calming breaths, her chin tilting high. He’d bet anything she’d forgotten about the towel and the polka dots.
“Almost didn’t recognize you,” he drawled.
Her chin jutted higher. “I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. You obviously haven’t.”
He shot her a glance, pointedly staring at the towel and the cream globs.
“Oh!” She flipped down the passenger-side sun visor to look into the mirror. “Damn, can you slow down? I need about ten minutes to fix this.”
“Like I said… Not my problem.” He pressed on the gas pedal and turned onto Main, passing the bakery and the scent of fresh bread. His stomach growled as he glanced into the shop window and spotted Gladys behind the counter.
“Yeah, you haven’t changed a bit,” she said under her breath, turning the case and flicking open the locks.
When she opened the top, he realized it was a makeup case crammed full of what had to be her “essential” beauty products. From the corner of his eye, he watched as she picked up an odd-shaped sponge and began to work on blending the light cream dots under her eyes and across her brow bone. Then she sought a brush and worked on the darker dots, swiping them under her cheeks and under her jaw. When she finished, her skin looked as flawless as a doll’s. Thing was, the woman had never needed all that goop on her face. Lacey Jones inherited her mother’s looks, and Dorothea Brownfield-Jones was still a beautiful woman. He’d seen her around town.
As Lacey continued to don her “armor”, Dag thought back to the countless times he’d watched her touch up her makeup before he’d dropped her home after a date. Flushed face hidden behind powder, swollen lips masked by a swipe of nude lipstick…
When she was satisfied with her face, she unwrapped the towel from her hair, combed her fingers through the long, wheat-blonde strands and pouted her lips to apply a “friendly” peach shade. Then she wrestled off the bathrobe, revealing a soft powder-blue sweater underneath. One that lovingly hugged her curvy chest.
He forced his sideways glance to her face again. “Practicing that pout for Stuey?” he murmured.
“Girl’s gotta use what God gave her,” she muttered.
He frowned as the question niggling at the back of his brain wouldn’t let him go. “So, Lace, why did I receive a repo order for your car?”
Her lower lip protruded before she glanced away.
Realization dawned, and he nearly crowed. “Baby, what happened? Did Daddy finally cut you off?”
She placed the case at her feet on the floorboard. “Your turn’s coming up.”
Her deflection answered his question. Well, well… He’d never thought the judge would show the backbone to teach his little princess a life lesson. “You went to college. Why can’t you make your own payment? You went where? Northwestern? Fancy college like that, why are you back here in Bear Lodge, anyway?”
“My situation is none of your business, Dagger Renfrew. And you have no room to judge me. We share the same damn zip code.” A sudden frown marred her brow. “You missed your damn turn.”
Dagger shook his head. “I don’t remember you having such a potty mouth—outside of sex, that is. Still haven’t answered my question. Why are you back in Bear Lodge?”
Her mouth pursed. “I went to Northwestern—I just didn’t…finish.”
Better and better. Keeping amusement from his voice, he asked, “You flunked out?”
Her face reddened.
He smacked his hand on the steering wheel. “You did! Huh. I’m surprised. You were always on the honor roll. What happened? You enjoy the Greek life a little too much?”
Her shoulders slumped. “I got bored.”
She said it in such a little voice, he almost didn’t hear her. She got bored? She’d had a free ride to college, and she blew it. No wonder her daddy wasn’t happy. “But that happened years ago. What have you been doing since?”
“Enough about me.” She turned her head to give him a steady glare. “What about you? What are you doing back in Bear Lodge? Thought you were eager to see the world. Thought that was why you joined the Army.”
He shrugged. That was only part of the reason he’d left. “I saw part of the world.”
“Heard you were in Iraq.”
He tightened his jaws. “Yup. Not gonna talk about it.”
“And you’re back now. In Bear Lodge.”
Christ, she was like a pit-bull tugging a rope. “I’ve got a job. One I like. I’m getting reacquainted with old friends. Funny who you run into when you’re bounty hunting or repossessing a car.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “You’re a bounty hunter?”
She paused for a few seconds. “Does it pay well?”
“Does, if you’re willing to go after the worst of the worst and don’t mind getting dirty.” He turned into the used car lot. “We’re here. Better get those tears going, sweetheart.”
Stuey Higginbotham’s jaw sagged as Lacey sauntered through the back door leading into the office area.
The fluffy blue sweater hugged her assets and ended at the top of her hips, which were displayed in skintight leggings that didn’t hide the sweet curve of her bottom or the shape of her femininity in front. An attribute Dagger enjoyed viewing in other women, but for some reason, seeing her sex outlined irritated him. He wanted to reach past her and grip Stuey by the neck until his gaze lifted to meet Lacey’s eyes. Eyes she’d coated in sparkly blue and outlined in black eyeliner that extended beyond her lids like Cleopatra’s.
“Hi, Stuey,” she said.
Her voice was as soft as a shy little girl’s and slightly breathless. Oh, brother. Already, Dagger watched Stuey’s face flush and his pupils overtake his mud-brown irises. And was that a touch of drool at the corner of his mouth?
“Good morning, Miss Jones.” Stuey swallowed. The son of the owner, he had plenty of power to decide which way this situation would go.
Dagger was pretty sure Lacey had already won.
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