Bently winced at the bitter aftertaste coating his mouth. He lifted his cup of coffee and swallowed again. Nope. Still terrible. “Should have stopped by Remy’s,” he said aloud to the empty truck cab as he set the brown sludge passing for java in the cupholder.
The radio crackled. “Squad one, what’s your twenty and status?”
Bently picked up the radio as he turned into a side street and pressed the speaker to his mouth. “This is squad one. I’m on Everton Street. Status ten-eight.”
“Unit one, take the suspicious person walking with a bike on Shell Ave.”
He pressed the button once more. “Ten-four.”
Bently put his blinker on and went left at the stop sign, scanning the sides of the road. After making a series of turns, he ended up on Shell Avenue. Slowing, his gaze focused on a kid pushing a bike on the side of the road. His blue school backpack was nearly bursting at the seams. Bently scanned the upscale neighborhood for any signs of a threat.
“He’s just a kid walking home from school.” He shook his head and notified dispatch that he was on the scene before pulling up beside the kid.
He hopped out. Squinting at the sun, he grabbed his aviators from his pocket and slipped them on as he greeted the kid. “Good afternoon.”
The teen kept walking with his head down, swaying slightly. The flapping of deflated rubber slapping against the cement sidewalk brought Bently’s attention to the tires of his bike.
Bently stepped next to the boy. White earbuds stuck out of his ears, contrasting with his light brown skin. He moved into the young man’s periphery to get his attention. “He—”
Wide frightened brown eyes stared up at him as the boy’s trembling hands flew towards the sky. The bike crashed to the ground. Bently swiveled around searching for the danger that had the guy so riled up, but they were alone on the street.
“Sir, I don’t want any trouble. I’m just walking home from school.” The young boy’s voice was steady. His eye was swollen and bruised.
Bently furrowed his brow. He’s scared of me? Smiling in hopes to set the boy at ease, Bently motioned to his headphones. “Can you take those out for a minute?”
Slowly, the boy plucked the headphones from his ears, the steady thump of hip-hop pouring from the tiny speakers.
“Nice tunes.” Smooth, Bently.
The young man remained silent. His eyes were glued on Bently. His shoulders nearly touched his ears with tension.
“I’m Sheriff Evans. What’s your name?”
“TJ . . . uh, Thomas Jones, sir.”
Bently nodded, looking over his bike. “What happened to your ride?”
TJ looked down for a moment before he shrugged. “Flat tire.”
“May I?” Bently asked, reaching towards one of the wheels.
“Okay?” TJ’s answer was more like a question.
“I know a thing or two about bikes. This is a nice one.”
“I didn’t steal it if that’s what you’re thinking,” TJ said, his jaw tense.
“I never assumed you did. You can put your hands down, you know.” Bently ran his palm around the outer tire, finding the source of the leakage—a long slice between the folds of black rubber.
“The person who slashed these tires the same one who gave you that black eye?” Bently asked, standing to his full height.
TJ shifted nervously. “Why do you care?”
Bently sighed. “Because this is my town and I care about the people in it. If someone is being harassed or assaulted, I want to know.”
TJ nodded hesitantly.
“Do you want to file a report?”
TJ’s eyes grew wide again as he shook his head vehemently. “Nah, it was just a misunderstanding.”
“If you’re sure.” Bently knew better than anyone else that you couldn’t help someone until they were ready to be helped.
A flash of movement caught his eye. One of the residents stared out the window of her two-story home at him, her hand clutching the fabric of her shirt.
“Where do you live?”
“That’s still two miles away. Why don’t you hop in and I’ll give you a ride? I’ll throw your bike in the back.” Bently picked up the metal frame.
“You don’t have to,” TJ said.
“Wouldn’t want you to have any more misunderstandings on the way back. Besides, I’m headed that way anyway. I have a friend who lives in that neighborhood.” And the last thing I need is another phone call to dispatch about a kid walking home from school. Since when did that become a crime? “Would you like the ride?”
“Uh . . . okay.” TJ opened the passenger side and climbed in.
Bently hefted the bike into his truck bed before climbing in the driver’s side. Geez. Had anyone ever sat farther away from him and still managed to be in the same car? The kid was practically crawling out the window.
He wasn’t blind. The kid was terrified of him, and unfortunately, Bently guessed the badge across his chest had something to do with it. There were so many news stories, seemingly a story every day about clashes of police and people of color. How could Bently assure him that wouldn’t happen here in Shattered Cove? He was not a racist, and no one in his department was either—at least he didn’t think so. Maybe he should slip in the fact that his sister-in-law was Black? No, that’d be awkward.
“You play any sports?” Bently drove towards their destination.
“Oh, my kind of guy . . . You lived here long?” Bently tried to keep the strain out of his voice.
“Just a few months. My sister got a job at the hospital.”
“What about your parents?” Bently turned down the end of the street.
“It’s just us. There, the blue one on the right is ours.” TJ pointed out the window to a small duplex. The burlap wreath over the door said “welcome.”
Bently pulled in along the side of the street and put the truck in park. TJ hopped out, quickly shutting the door, and Bently followed suit. He walked around to the back to grab the bike just as a door slammed behind him.
“Oh, shit,” TJ said.
“What the hell happened to your face, TJ?” a strong feminine voice growled.
Bently turned. The breath ripped from his lungs. The woman before him was the most beautiful person he’d ever laid eyes on—and he’d laid eyes on a lot. Big ringlets of curls danced around her brown glowing skin in the breeze. Her dark eyes flashed at TJ with worry before she targeted him with those stormy spheres. Fear tinged the edges of her furious glare. Her bright red lips moved as his ears rang, blood rushing to his groin.
“Did he do this to you?” She grabbed TJ’s face, checking him over like a mother hen. TJ turned away from the unnamed beauty.
“Nah, just some kids at school messing around,” TJ said. “Sheriff Evans gave me a ride.”
“You got in the car with a cop?” she snapped.
Bently closed his mouth, embarrassed that he’d been standing there gawking. Wiping invisible drool from his mouth, he cleared his throat and extended his arm, offering the smile that he’d been told melted most women’s panties. “Hi. I’m Bently.”
She stared at his open hand like he’d just stuck it in a public toilet. “Is my brother in any trouble?”
He frowned and straightened from the rejection. “No. Of course not.”
“Good, then we’re done here.” She grabbed TJ’s arm and pulled him into the house while Bently stared, utterly confused. What the hell just happened?
“Belle! My bike—” TJ protested.
“Get inside!” His sister shot him a look and TJ shut his mouth and complied.
It needs the tires fixed anyways. I can do that.
The woman shoved her brother in the house and whirled around. Her powerful gaze met his before she slammed the door shut.
Damn, she was something.
A few hours later, Bently pulled the bike from his truck bed, admiring his handiwork. This fresh set of tires and the tune-up he’d performed would be the perfect icebreaker. It wasn’t unusual for him to go above and beyond the call of duty for his fellow townsfolk. But none of them had a sister who was hotter than sin and feisty as fuck either. Does this count as breaking my no-hooking-up-with-locals rule?
Nah. This was just good old-fashioned flirting and helping a fellow community member out. It wasn’t like he would follow through.
Bently knocked on the door, noting the older model Ford Focus in the driveway that had seen better days. Red flowers bloomed at the base of the porch, a discarded pile of pulled weeds off to the side. Several potted plants were spaced around the small area and a few baskets hung from the rafter hooks. He swiped the sweat from his brow and drew in a deep breath. Nerves scattered through him as he shifted his feet. Since when was he this off-kilter over a woman?
The energy shifted as the knob twisted. His heart beat faster as he swallowed.
The door opened and Belle’s smile quickly morphed into a frown.
“What do you want?” Belle said, her chin rising.
“Good evening.” He smiled and waited a beat. Her scowl only deepened. Have I lost the touch? Did cancer steal this from me too? He cleared his throat. “Uh, I just wanted to return TJ’s bike.”
She looked at the metal object as he set it on the porch. “Okay.”
“Is he home?”
“He’s doing homework,” she answered with a hint of suspicion in her voice.
“I’ll only be a second. If you don’t mind, can I come in and ask him about who gave him that shiner one more time?” Maybe she’ll see I’m just trying to help.
“Do you have a warrant?”
“E-excuse me?” he asked, baffled. He was used to not being everyone’s favorite person as an officer of the law, but this was something more.
“Unless you have a warrant, you cannot come into my house or search my property. I know how you people work.”
What the fuck?
“You leave my brother alone. He’s smart and he’s going places. He’s a good boy. We don’t want any trouble, officer.” Belle’s voice was steady, but her trembling hand gave it away. He glanced at her dainty fingers shaking at her side.
Belle balled them into fists before he considered her face, the fear in her eyes. She’s scared of me.
“I never intended to cause trouble. Just wanted to make sure he got home safe. Have a good evening, ma’am.” He turned and walked back to his truck, utterly speechless.
Defeated, he started the engine and shifted into gear. He needed a good strong drink. A woman’s company wouldn’t hurt either. Visions of sucking on those red lips and fisting those dark curls made his cock jerk. He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white.
Too bad it would only be a fantasy and his hand tonight.
That’s it for Chapter 1 of this romance novel excerpt.
To read the full standalone novel, order your copy of Defying Gravity today.
*** No cheating. HEA guaranteed. ***