Wyoming sheriff Zac McHenry is fit to be tied. A new “working girl” just showed up at the local truck stop, ruining his stakeout. There’s been an influx of transients passing through the county lately. Bringing an epidemic of drugs, crime, and vice with them. The last thing he wants is another hooker setting up shop in town. He’s determined to send her packing. He’s 6′ 4″ and she’s a little bit of a thing. How hard could it be? But getting rid of her isn’t as easy as he thought. When he barges into her motel room, she thinks he’s an attacker and wallops him with her purse. He arrests her for assaulting an officer and hauls her off to jail.
Zac soon realizes things aren’t what they seem. Ali is no hooker…she’s actually a youth librarian from upstate New York. Much to Zac’s dismay, she’s also well connected. She’s friends with several state and federal judges who intercede on her behalf. He’s forced to let her go. Thinking she’ll leave town as soon as she’s released, he checks her out of her cheap motel room. But she has no intention of leaving. Ali’s staking out the truck stop too. Looking for the man who picked up a 13-year-old runaway named Peeky, there a week ago. The girl attended a teen drop-in program at Ali’s library and she’s not leaving until she finds her. There’s a rodeo in town and her room’s already been rented out. In fact, there are no rooms to be found anywhere in the area for the next several days. Ali’s temporarily homeless and its all Zac’s fault! There’s only one thing to do…she’ll just have to move in with the sheriff until she can find another place to stay. Zac thinks his houseguest is a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered hellion. She thinks he’s an interfering, arrogant bully. But when they work together to investigate a case of kidnapping, human trafficking, and murder…sparks begin to fly. Is this any way to start a romance?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The idea for Little Girl Lost came from a Dateline program I saw on the Investigation Discovery channel about 2 young cousins that had been kidnapped from Ohio and transported to truckstops out of state to be trafficked. I did a lot of research on the topic and decided it would make a good backdrop for a romantic suspense novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I decided my heroine, Ali, would be a youth librarian from upstate NY who tracks a 13-year-old runaway from Albany to Wyoming. I thought it was only fair since in a previous book I made my librarian character a homicidal maniac. Ali is a former foster kid who's struggled to make a life for herself. I decided on her background after seeing aTV show about how difficult life is for foster kids when they age out of the system. Ali runs programs for at risk teens and preschoolers at her library. The girl she's after, a foster kid too, participated in her teen drop-in program. Ali is conducting her own investigation when she runs afoul of the local county sheriff. He's big, bossy, and a conservative Republican. She's a petite, liberal Democrat with a short temper and a mind of her own. They clash, but opposites attract even if they don't realize it at first.
She shuddered as her trembling fingers felt over the wooden crate. It was small. Too small to stand in. Even when she hunched over the back of her head bumped and scraped against the boards. Her skull was covered with open cuts and bruises. She could feel the drips of crusted blood in her matted hair. Her jaw throbbed. Her cheeks and lips were swollen and sore. Every part of her body ached. Had she fallen?
She couldn't remember what happened or how she got here. It was all a blur. She'd woken up to find herself in this pitch-black, terrifying cage. She'd screamed herself hoarse begging for help. But no one came to let her out.
She'd felt over her prison hundreds of times, but there was no way out. She was underground. In a grave. Buried alive. If she poked her fingers through the spaces in the wood, she could feel moist soil and trickling water. It puddled beneath the floorboards, keeping the wood and anything that came in contact with them damp. Her clothes clung to her like a wet bathing suit that wouldn't dry. She shivered with cold, but there was no way to get warm. And no way out! There was a small hatch at the top of the crate where her jailer occasionally threw food to her. Slices of cold pizza. Raw hotdogs. Little snack packs of cheese, cold cuts, and crackers. Pouches of yogurt and fruit punch. She had to catch them before they hit the floor. As hungry and thirsty as she was, she wouldn't eat anything that landed in that filth. The son of a bitch would throw the food on the floor on purpose, and then slam the little door shut, forcing her to crawl around on her hands and knees to find her meager rations in the darkness. Sometimes he'd come three times a day, some days only once, and some days not at all. She had no idea who he was or why he was doing this to her.
She scratched at her skin. Mud and blood flaked off. She itched something fierce. Like the time she had head lice, only a hundred times worse.
Her prison reeked of pee and shit. With no toilet or pail to go in, she was forced to squat in the corner where a couple of the boards were missing. If she positioned herself just right, the mess would drop through the hole and disappear under the water. It smelled like a sewer. The stench almost unbearable. She had no idea how long she could survive here. But she didn't think very long.
She said prayer after prayer begging God to help her. To give her another chance and free her from this place, let her go home. She swore to God that she'd learned her lesson. That this time she'd be good as gold. She wouldn't lie. Wouldn't steal. Wouldn't be any trouble to anybody. But God wasn't listening! She was doomed and she knew it. She was going to die down here in this deep, dark hole. There was nothing she could do about it. No one was coming to rescue her. Why would they? She was a nobody! A nothing! Nobody cared whether she lived or died!
Bitter tears poured from her eyes. She had no hope of escaping her fate. There was no one out there who cared enough about her to try to find her, to save her. No one loved her. No one had ever loved her. She was a useless, unwanted bastard; a stupid mistake; a burden who'd ruined people's lives. An embarrassment to be given away and forgotten.
Sobs choked her. She wondered how long it would take to die.
"Hey Boss, what do you suppose that's about?"
"What do I suppose what's about?" he asked, turning to his deputy.
"Over there in the bushes. See! Every time a car goes by the light reflects off something. Maybe glasses or binoculars. I think someone's watching the parking lot." Russ pointed in the direction of a stand of trees and some tall bushes and scrub at the end of the pavement.
"Give me those," Zac ordered, grabbing the night vision glasses and proceeding to slowly scan the area. It only took him a minute to spot what Russ had seen. "Son of a bitch!" he growled. "Some asshole is trying to horn in on our investigation! It's just like the state DCI boys to set up shop in our jurisdiction and not even give us the courtesy of a heads-up. They're always sneaking around trying to take credit for somebody else's work. Well I'm in no mood to take any of their crap today. I'm going over there and telling whoever it is to take a hike. This is our stakeout and our fucking investigation!" Whatever their case is, they can damn well do their investigating somewhere else." He was ready to charge off into the darkness when Russ grabbed his arm to hold him back. That was no easy task. Russ was only 6' 1" and on the lean side. Zac, on the other hand, was 6' 4" and 220 pounds of solid muscle. It was like trying to hold back a bear!
"Now don't go off half-cocked sheriff. Could be they're looking into drug trafficking or organized crime or something. They're allowed to do that without telling us. Then again, maybe it ain't the Division of Criminal Investigation at all. Maybe it's the feds. The last thing we want to do is start a row with the feds. The ATF, DEA, and FBI can be real pains in the ass when they're asserting jurisdiction. You can't go running over there accusing them of interfering with our investigation, when could be we're trampling on theirs!"
Zac glared at him.
"I'm just saying maybe we should just bide our time till we find out what they're up to."
"I'm not here to kiss the asses of either the feds or the DCI. This is my county and my town. Something shady is going on out here and it's my responsibility to find out what it is. I don't give a shit what they're working on. I'm focused on our investigation! We've got major problems here. Drugs, hookers, and lowlifes flooding into our community. Have you forgotten? We had a kid nearly die of a heroin overdose at the ball field last week! If we hadn't had the Narcan spray, he'd be 6 feet under right now. He was just a 14-year-old kid, a snot-nosed, high school freshman. He almost died because we have no idea who's selling this shit or how to stop them! Christ, we don't even know how they're getting the drugs into town! My guess is the problem starts here," he said, indicating the big rigs. "All these truckers passing through; heading to the oil fields, the rail heads, and interstates; hauling pipe and oil, gravel and dirty water. Who knows where the hell they're from or what the hell they've done, or what vices or diseases they're bringing with them. They could be ex-cons, or on the run from the law. They could be robbers, or rapists, or serial killers, or be working for a Mexican drug cartel for all we know. This has always been a respectable town with respectable, churchgoing people. We didn't used to have a drug problem or a hooker problem either. Now we've got both. It all seems to center on the truck stops. At least that's where the ladies of the evening have started peddling their goods."
"I know! And I'm just as upset about this as you are. But I think we need to tread lightly here. We don't want to go stepping on anybody's toes."
Zac muttered and grumbled as he stepped back into the shadows. He knew Russ was right…but he didn't have to like it!
The deputy gave a sigh of relief. It was hard getting Zac to listen to reason sometimes. He was like an ornery, headstrong grizzly, growling and stomping around, always looking like he was ready to chew up and spit out anyone who dared piss him off. He was a prickly sort. Zac had a bug up his ass most of the time and today was no different. Except maybe today's bug was a little bigger. He was in a really foul mood. But that wasn't anything new…he always was! Cantankerous, pigheaded, and tough as nails! That about described Sheriff Zachary Elias McHenry. The general consensus of opinion was that the man was "backed-up" and it was affecting his behavior. Negatively! The sheriff was a workaholic. His job had become his life. That didn't leave much time for anything else. Zac needed to release some of that pent up tension inside him. The anxiety, frustration, and stress. He needed to get laid! He needed some pretty little gal to clean his pipes out! But that wasn't going to happen! Not anytime soon at least! Zac had no use for women. He lived like a monk. He'd been burned a few times, especially by his "loving" wife…who'd left him lying wounded in a VA hospital while she ran off with another man. Everyone who knew him had tried to set him up with a "nice girl" they knew. But Zac wasn't interested. He told anyone who tried to play matchmaker that "hell would freeze over" before he'd get involved with another female. With an attitude like that he was going to die a lonely, bitter, old man. It was a shame. Zac was actually a good guy and a good man. He had a lot to offer, but he was his own worst enemy.
"Wait a second," Zac said, peering at the thicket. "I only see one set of eyes over there. It can't be much of a stakeout if there's only one person involved. Where's the second man?" He was staring at the bushes when the branches suddenly started to shudder and sway. "Good job guys! Way to draw attention to yourselves!" he smirked. "I think they need to brush up on their surveillance skills!" he said dismissively. Zac kept watch as a figure emerged from the shadows. "Well, well," he said. "What do we have here?"
Russ squinted to get a better look. "Holy cow! Think she's undercover?" he asked, ogling the woman in the teeny mini skirt that barely covered her ass cheeks. The low-cut top wasn't bad either. It looked like her boobs were about to explode out of it!
"That's no cop!" Zac announced, watching as she teetered on what had to be 5" stiletto heels. "You ever see anyone in law enforcement dressed like that before? I'd say the little lady is a working girl. And an ungainly one at that. Must have bought herself a new pair of work shoes," he chuckled. "She hasn't even learned how to walk in them yet. One false step and she's going to go ass over teakettle and break her frigging neck," Zac said, shaking his head and frowning. He had plans for the little wench. Once the stakeout was over, he was going to track her down and send her ass packing.
He watched her sneaking around the trucks, but couldn't for the life of him figure out what she was up to. "What's she doing?" he said, turning to Russ.
"I think she's taking pictures with her phone."
"Pictures of what? The writing on the doors? On the trailers?" Zac shook his head. He'd never seen a hooker do that before.
"She's taking photos of the license plates too. Why would she do that?" Russ wondered, looking puzzled.
Zac continued to watch as she weaved between the long line of trucks. "She's getting information on the truckers for later use. She parties with them now and then shakes them down later. The people those guys work for might not take kindly to them entertaining whores on company time. A man might be willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars to keep that kind of information from getting back to his employer or his wife wouldn't he?"
Russ nodded. "I suppose so. I've heard of high-priced call girls blackmailing their johns. But a truck stop dolly? That's a new wrinkle!"
"Anything to make a buck! Hold on. What's she doing now?"
"Hiding?" Russ responded uncertainly, watching her run behind a truck so she wouldn't be seen by a bunch of drivers heading back to their rigs from the diner. "What is she…shy or something?"
"Beats the hell out of me! She don't act like any hooker I've ever encountered before. How's she going to make any money if she avoids the johns?" Zac couldn't make hide nor hair of it. A couple of minutes later he watched as she hightailed it back to the bushes, but not before she tripped and nearly went flying.
The same scene played out several times over the next few hours. She may have looked like a working girl, with painted face and slutty clothes, but she wasn't acting like one. She was only interested in the tractor trailers and steered clear of the truckers for the most part. She only approached two drivers the whole night. Both had light-colored hair and were wearing red baseball caps. She didn't try to solicit or engage them in conversation. All she did was walk past them. He watched her like a hawk, but nothing changed hands. She didn't pass anything to either man. He frowned, ruling out a drug drop. Zac was getting more suspicious by the minute. He couldn't figure out what her game was.
She didn't look like your average prostitute. She wasn't gaunt or haggard. She was petite. No taller than 5' 2'', if she was even that. She appeared healthy and, unlike most working girls, had a little meat on her bones. He couldn't be sure what color her hair really was since she was wearing a long, curly, brassy-blond wig. It had to be a cheap one because it kept shifting on her head. Forcing her to constantly adjust it. Her eyebrows were dark so he was pretty sure she was a brunette. Her features were striking. She had high cheekbones and dimples, large eyes, and a turned up nose. She might actually be pretty, but who could tell under all that paint. She'd troweled on the makeup before heading out to work. But what kind of work was she doing? Right now, she looked like a floozy: big hair and not much clothing. A bunch of scenarios played out in his head. Maybe she was part of a truck-jacking ring. That would explain why she was casing the trucks and not the drivers. She could be relaying information about the vehicles and their comings and goings to accomplices waiting down the road apiece. Then her partners in crime would waylay the unsuspecting drivers, stealing their trucks and whatever they were hauling: liquor, cigarettes, electronics, food, or clothing. But that happened mostly around big cities where the thieves could dispose of the loot quickly. He'd heard of it being done out here too, but usually with trucks shipping cattle. The thieves would haul them to slaughterhouses and sell them before anyone was the wiser, then abandon the vehicles in a truck stop somewhere. But tank trucks filled with oil? Pipes? Where could they sell those without drawing attention to themselves? Assuming they didn't want the goods they were transporting…just the trucks…then they'd have to have a mighty big chop shop to accommodate those rigs. No, the blackmail idea seemed more likely. Then again you can't blackmail someone who's never touched you! For a whore…she was behaving a lot like a nun! It made him wonder if maybe he'd been wrong, that she really was a cop, albeit an inept one. But he quickly discounted that notion. That left only two possibilities. Either she was looking for someone in particular and that's why she was checking out the trucks…a philandering husband perhaps or…she'd just started whoring. That would certainly explain her reticence. He suspected she was out here on her own. If she had a pimp, he'd have come by to check on her by now, pushing her to get her ass out there and make him some money. In his experience pimps took umbrage at whores being picky about the johns they hustled. In fact they beat the crap out of them for not taking on all comers and peddling their pussies fast enough! The pimps didn't care what the johns looked or smelled like, the sick shit they did to the girls, or how brutal they might be, just so long as they collected the cash. Zac studied her. She must be damn desperate to even think of crawling into the back of a cab with one of these creeps. It was dangerous! Didn't she know that? He didn't suppose she woke up this morning and said to herself I need a change of career, I know, I think I'll be a whore! Whatever made her come here, she couldn't have thought it through. What she needed was a good, hard spanking to make her see the error of her ways and set her on the straight and narrow before she got hurt. He shook his head. Where was her family? Her father, brothers, or even her uncles for that matter? Someone needed to take her in hand before she ended up ruining her life.
The sky in the east was just beginning to lighten when the trucks started pulling out of the parking lot. She obviously had no idea that most truckers prefer to drive during daylight hours, since she was sneaking around the side of a trailer when the driver climbed into the cab and started it up. She took off like a shot. Unfortunately for her, she couldn't run in those heels. She stumbled, landing hard on her hands and knees. He could tell she was hurt. Probably had the wind knocked out of her. Zac's first instinct was to run and help her up, but he didn't. He had no idea who she was or what she was doing here. He couldn't jeopardize the investigation for some little tart who was probably up to no good…no matter how helpless or needy she was. He was a cop not a social worker! Zac watched as she struggled to her feet and limped back to the safety of the thicket. A few minutes later he saw her emerge again, this time without the wig or the heels. She was still limping as she walked toward the Rest Easy Motel and disappeared into room number 6.
A half-hour later, after handing off surveillance duties to Undersheriff Jeb Bach, he was approaching his pickup when he saw her again. She was heading toward the diner. At first he didn't recognize her. Her face had been scrubbed clean and her light brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. She was wearing a lime green tee shirt, a navy blue hoodie, a pair of short, raggedy cutoffs, and had an enormous leather purse slung over one shoulder. He wouldn't have known it was her except that she was limping badly. He could see the oozing scrapes on her knees and the cuts and bruises on her shins. Both knees looked like raw meat. There was a cloth wrapped around her left hand that was stained with blood. She must have injured it in the fall. Those weren't her only problems, she was sneezing up a storm. As though she'd caught a chill and was coming down with a cold. Serves her right! That's what comes of wandering around half-naked in the middle of the night! The navy hoodie brought out the color of her eyes. They were a dark, almost iridescent, sapphire blue. If he was a man that noticed such things, he'd have to say she was very cute, pretty even. But he was long past that kind of thing. Been there, done that! And he had the scars to prove it! He and women were like oil and water…they didn't mix! He furrowed his brow. She seemed pretty wholesome for a whore…like somebody's little sister, with rosy cheeks and freckles on her nose. Why did that surprise him? In his experience, all women were like that. Deceitful! They pretended to be sweet, innocent, loving, and faithful. When in reality they were anything but. At least whores were honest. They told you up front that all they wanted you for was your money. So called "decent" women lied to your face. They said they loved you to get what they wanted. They were worse than the whores!
She was a little bit of a thing without the heels on. He couldn't help noticing her figure. She was curvy, with pert, full breasts, wide hips, and an ample, rounded bottom. If he didn't know better he'd have thought she was a teacher, a dental hygienist, or maybe a nurse. She certainly didn't look like your typical hooker, but then appearances were often deceiving. When she was dressed up in her whore getup, he thought she might be in her late 20s—kinda old to get started in "the game." But seeing her now, dressed the way she was, he thought maybe she was still in her teens—18 or 19 and just starting out. Stupid kid! She needed to have her ass paddled! Have someone take responsibility for her. But it wasn't his job to straighten her out. His job was keeping degenerates, drugs, and vice out of this county and this town. He was going to have a stern word with her about moving her business elsewhere, preferably over the state line, out of Wyoming entirely. He'd definitely make her life miserable if she insisted on staying in town. He'd throw her ass in jail for solicitation if need be. He wouldn't like doing it, but if she insisted on plying her trade here, staying where she wasn't wanted, he'd do what he had to do! He knew most of the women ensnared in "the life" didn't want to be. They'd been forced into it by unscrupulous men. Pimps and predators that used and abused them. They were runaways, drug addicts, and ladies who'd fallen on hard times. He felt bad for them. He really did. They were victims, trapped in a downward spiral filled with drugs, danger, violence, and even death. But that didn't change things. He neither needed nor wanted her kind in his town. Before he could say anything, she was gone, hurrying into the diner.
He followed her in and sat down at the counter two stools away from her. He wasn't really in uniform. He had on jeans and a khaki-colored tee shirt with a small sheriff's badge logo on the upper right front and the words Converse County Sheriff written across the back. It didn't look official so she took no notice of him. She ordered a coffee with cream and one sugar to go, then pulled a wad of napkins out of the holder and began dabbing at her knees. She winced in pain every time she did. He could see bits of gravel embedded in the skin. Her bottom lip quivered and her eyes glistened with moisture, as if she was ready to cry. Her wounds needed attention. They had to be cleaned, treated with an antiseptic, and bandaged, or they'd get infected. He had an emergency first aid kit in the truck. He always carried it with him just in case. He was about to offer it to her when she grabbed her coffee, another handful of napkins, and abruptly left.
Zac frowned as he got up off the stool. He was hungry dammit! He hadn't even had time to order breakfast. The lady was getting on his nerves. She didn't stay in one spot long enough for him to speak to her. He muttered to himself, forgoing his usual bacon and eggs, and followed her out.
Ali could hear clomping footsteps coming up behind her. It sounded like heavy boots. Nervous, she quickened her pace, but she couldn't go very fast. It wasn't just the pain in her knees that was hobbling her. Her right ankle was swelling up and it hurt to put weight on it. Ali limped as fast as she could, but the footsteps were closing on her…fast! He was taking one step for every two of hers. Her eyes darted around looking for someone to help her. But there was no one. Even if there had been, she wasn't sure they'd come to her aide. She knew truckers were supposed to be "the knights of the road," but you couldn't prove it by her. Every time she left her room she was either getting propositioned or groped by one. But then what did she expect? This was hardly the Ritz! It was a slightly seedy, fleabag motel! She'd taken precautions when she moved in. She'd bought a sleeping bag at the local sporting goods store. She'd been afraid to lie down on the sheets, fearing she'd catch something. Sure, they looked clean enough, but who could tell in a place that rented rooms by the hour. No sooner had she walked through the door than she'd sprayed the place for bedbugs and roaches. Then drenched the bathroom with Lysol. She had no intention of getting athletes foot from the shower or a case of crabs from the toilet seat. To stop intruders from breaking into her room, she'd bought a portable door lock, a fancy doorstop alarm, and a heavy-duty, collapsible, metal security brace that fit under the door knob. She wasn't taking any chances. There was a lot about the place that made her wary, but someone following her back to her room? Considering what she suspected went on here…that was downright unnerving!
Ali reached into her bag and felt around for the canister of pepper spray. Relief washed over her when her fingers touched the cold metal. Thank God she'd remembered to put it in her purse last night. If the guy was too insistent about wanting a "date," refusing to take no for an answer, she'd teach him some manners with this!
She had to get into her room and lock the door behind her before he caught up with her. She thought about turning around and confronting him, spraying him even, but she wasn't feeling very brave today. Right now she just wanted to get away from him!
"Hold up! Hold up!
"What the hell? Her heart began thumping in her chest. A hold up? Did he mean to rob her? Or worse? Holy shit! He was right behind her! She grabbed the room key out of her pocket and lunged at the door. Hands shaking, she got the key in the lock and turned it. As soon as the door was ajar, a huge paw of a hand shoved it all the way open.
"I'm Sher…" before he could finish, Ali let out a scream, loud enough to wake the dead in the next county.
She quickly slipped the heavy bag off her shoulder and turned on him, first throwing the hot coffee in his face, then slamming the end of her satchel-style purse into his crotch. He bellowed in pain, sounding like an angry moose. The pain was so intense he paled then staggered. She hadn't stopped him, only slowed him down a little. And not for long. He was flailing his arms, one hand trying to wipe the burning coffee from his eyes, while the other reached for his testicles. Before he could move his hands to protect his balls, she swung the bag back, then forward, walloping him again, only this time harder! He groaned in agony, dropping to his knees. A few seconds later, he was howling in pain and making gagging sounds like he was gonna puke. Wanting to make sure he didn't get up again, she swung the bag and hit him upside the head. He felt like his skull was exploding. Stars and sparkles of light danced in front of him as he crumpled to the floor; sprawled on his belly across the threshold.
Ali looked down, trying to get her breathing under control. She was so scared she was hyperventilating. The last thing she needed was to pass out now. She had to get out of here before he came to. She couldn't step around him or over him. He was huge! She'd have to walk on him to make her escape out the door. That wasn't going to be easy…he was writhing on the floor like a snake! She started yelling for help at the top of her lungs. She grabbed the door jamb for support and stepped up on his shoulder. From there it was one step to the middle of his back, then another to his ass and then she'd be out the door, safe and home free. She was about to take the next step when she heard an enraged growl. Before she knew what was happening his body shifted, his shoulder lifting. She lost her footing and he threw her off. Ali shrieked even louder as she fell backward into the room. Landing with a thud on her butt and causing excruciating pain in her ankle. She watched in terror as he struggled to his knees. His face was red and contorted in rage, his burning eyes glaring at her with fury. She let out another bloodcurdling scream. "Help! Help! He's going to kill me!" she wailed as she scrabbled back away from him. Her right hand plunged into her purse and began searching frantically for the pepper spray and her stun gun flashlight. She pulled them out and brandished them in front of him, but that only seemed to piss him off more. She was still screaming when she heard running footsteps.
"What's going on here?" a loud, authoritative voice demanded to know. A tall dark-haired man wearing a brown Stetson and a sheriff's badge appeared outside the door.
"This man broke into my room," she choked out. "He tried to attack me!"
"Like hell I did!" He turned his head to face the man.
The officer's mouth gaped open. "Sheriff, what in God's name happened to you?"
"Sheriff?" her eyes widened in disbelief. Oh shit!
"This…this…" he struggled to find the words. "This she-devil happened to me."
"Here Zac. Let me help you up." Grabbing the big man by the arm, he lifted as his injured boss struggled to his feet.
Ali gulped, her cheeks growing hot. He looked really pissed! Make that really, really, really pissed! Hair on fire, smoke coming out of your ears, the top of your head blowing off and exploding in a mushroom cloud, fire-breathing dragon, snorting bull type pissed! She couldn't help notice that he still had his hand clamped over his nuts. She hoped she hadn't hurt him too badly or made him sterile. That would be awful! Hopefully, he could still have kids. In hindsight, maybe she'd overreacted. But in her defense, he'd scared the crap out of her. How was she to know he was a cop?
"What exactly happened here?"
"She assaulted a law enforcement officer while he," Zac said, his eyes shooting daggers at her, "was engaged in the lawful performance of his duties. That's Felony Interference with a Peace Officer!"
"Did not!" Ali retorted indignantly. She turned to the officer. "That big oaf," she said pointing at Zac, "tried to force his way into my room. He never said he was a police officer. How was I to know? He was acting suspicious. He followed me back from the diner! Then pushed open my door and tried to barge into my room! I thought he was planning to rob and rape me! He kept yelling 'Hold up! Hold up!' What was I supposed to think? So I tried to defend myself. I didn't assault him! All I did was hit him in his…" she hesitated, not knowing what she should call them. His nut sack, his balls, stones, gonads, his family jewels? Those names sounded so crude. "His…his privates," she stammered, "with my purse a couple of times." She stopped talking when she saw the horrified look on the deputy's face. He was grimacing and wincing. She noticed that his hand was moving protectively to his own clankers.
Privates? Was she for real? Even the Holiness and Baptist church ladies he knew didn't call them that. She was awfully prissy for a working girl.
"How bad are you hurt boss? Do you need to see the doc? Go to the hospital?"
"No. I'll be OK Jeb. I just got the wind knocked out of me is all. I'll just sit here awhile until the pain eases," he said, plopping down on her bed.
"Do you want me to write this up? Arrest her?"
"Arrest me?" she huffed. "What are you crazy? I didn't do anything wrong!"
"No. You can go on back to work. I'll handle this pint-sized hellion! But first, can you grab the emergency first aid kit from my truck?"
Ali gulped. Handle? She didn't like the sound of that.
"Are you sure Zac? That might not be such a good idea," he eyed Ali suspiciously.
"Don't worry," Zac assured him, "me and the lady, and I use the term loosely, are going to have us a little chat and then she's going to pack her bags and leave our fair town or else I'm going to throw her belligerent butt in jail.
That's what you think asshole! She frowned but held her tongue.
"OK, but suppose she'd hiding a weapon in here?"
"I doubt it," he said, smirking at her. "But I'll ask! You got a gun missy?"
"No!" she said, horrified. "I don't own a gun!"
"See! I told ya. If she'd had a gun she would have pulled it, rather than use that damn purse of hers to beat and batter my balls."
Ali's face turned scarlet.
Zac arched his eyebrow. Was she blushing? Wow! A prudish hooker! Don't that beat all? "Give me that damn suitcase of yours!" he ordered. "I want to see what you're hiding in there."
Seeing the "if looks could kill" glare she was giving his boss, Jeb quickly left to get the first aid kit, leaving the door open a crack. The way they were getting on, they were going to need it.
Her first instinct was to tell him to go to hell. That he had no right to search her purse! But when she saw the way he was scowling at her and how his jaw was clenched so tight that the muscles were protruding…she decided she wouldn't argue the point! Ali rolled her eyes as she handed him the bag.
He was surprised at how heavy it was. It had to weigh a good 20 pounds, maybe more. What was she carrying in it…bricks? "Now get your butt in the corner," he growled at her, pointing to it.
"What?" Was he demented? Maybe the whack on his head had addled his brains. "Are you joking? You want me to go stand in the corner? Really?" she huffed. The nerve of this yokel!
"Do I look like I'm joking?" his voice had an edge to it. There was an implied threat in his tone.
"Well then you're crazy. I'm not a child and I'm not going to allow you to treat me like one! I'm not going to stand in the corner. This is police harassment! And what you're doing is an unwarranted and illegal search of my property. I know my rights!" Ali snorted, refusing to be intimidated. She would have stomped her foot if her ankle didn't hurt so bad.
"I'm not going to tell you again!" his eyes darkened. "If you were a man, you'd have a black eye, a split lip, and a busted nose, and already be on your way to jail for assaulting an officer, so consider yourself damn lucky! Now get! Before I forget I'm a gentleman!" he said, pointing to the corner again.
Sputtering and fuming, she stood her ground.
"Do you have a hearing problem?"
"No sheriff! I'm not the one with the problem here! Black eyes? Busted noses? Split lips? That sounds an awful lot like police brutality. More to the point…it sounds like a threat!" She would not allow this bully of a sheriff to get away with this.
"You're a real firebrand aren't you? For your information, I've never hit a woman. Although I have spanked a few on occasion. And from what I can see, you could sure do with a good paddling."
He was bragging about spanking women? The Neanderthal! "If you think…" he cut her off.
"I'm not a patient man! If I were you, I'd get in that corner. Now!"
Her head was spinning as she tried to figure out her options. If she refused and ran from the room, he might be able to charge her with fleeing or evading the police. She knew the penalties for that in New York, but not in Wyoming. If she stayed put, but refused to comply with his order to stand in the corner, she could conceivably be charged with failure to obey a police officer. That was a misdemeanor in New York. What was it here? She couldn't imagine any judge in their right mind would let that charge stand. It would be thrown out of court. Things would get dicier if he tried to physically force her to do it and she pushed him away. That could be construed as assaulting an officer or resisting arrest. Shit! She was stuck between a rock and a hard place! The son of a bitch was abusing his authority! But she couldn't do a damn thing about it. He had the upper hand. For now! When this was over, she was going to sue his ass. Ali limped over to the corner. Seething, she gave him her surliest "I hate your guts" stare.
"Face the wall!" he ordered as he dumped the contents of her purse out on the bed.
She gave him the finger then snapped her head around. Arrogant prick!
"What is all this stuff? Are you opening a store or something?" He lifted up a big can of pepper spray and read the label. Nasty stuff! Then he examined a pair of binoculars that appeared to have a built-in digital camera. There were two more pepper spray devices. One hadn't even been opened yet. They were on key rings and had finger-grip holsters. According to the label on the package, they shot a mixture of pepper and tear gas along with a UV dye to mark an attacker. He couldn't believe the number of flashlights she was carrying around! Two were bat-shaped with extendable batons, like a policeman's nightstick. He turned one on. The light was blinding. A third was a black light flashlight, the kind you use to find urine and semen stains. The fourth took him aback. It was a Hunter's Blood-Tracking LED, with blue light. He had one exactly like it. It was for locating blood smears and spatters. Why would she need something like that? She certainly wasn't a hunter. There were two more flashlights. At first he didn't know what they were. Then he realized they were actually stun guns. She was toting an arsenal! She had a standard pocketknife and two of those thin, credit card-sized, foldable knives that fit in your wallet. There were two panic alarm keychains. She had a lot of duplicates. Must have hit a two-for-one sale! What kind of trouble was she expecting that she carted this stuff around with her? He shook his head. There was no way she could take down a full-grown man with fancy flashlights and plastic knives, especially if her attacker was armed with a gun. Whoever she was, she wasn't street smart, and she definitely wasn't law enforcement!
There was a laptop and three cell phones. That immediately made him suspicious. He studied the phones. They weren't cheap burners like the kind you buy in a convenience store. She had two Androids and an iPhone. He touched one of the Androids and the screen came alive. There was an app called Truck Chat running. He studied it a moment and realized it was like a CB radio enabling her to talk to truckers. Maybe that's how she arranged her "dates." All she had to do was tell them what truck stop she was at and wait for them to come to her. Very clever! Another phone had a selection of police scanner apps for Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Utah. What was that about? He checked the numbers of each of the phones and found they all had 518 area codes. He hit the browser icon and did a search. It turned out to be the area code for Eastern Upstate New York. She was a long way from home! He flicked through the contacts file on her iPhone and was shocked when he saw some of the numbers listed there. She had the numbers of most every county sheriff and police department in a 300-mile-radius of here. Plus the numbers of the Colorado and Nebraska State Patrols, and the Wyoming, Utah, and South Dakota Highway Patrols. In addition to peoples' names, a few of which were preceded by the designation Judge, she had over 100 coded listings: Albany PL Washington MD, Albany PL Washington RD, Albany PL Pine Hills, Albany PL Bach, Albany PL Arbor Hill/West Hill, Albany PL Delaware, Guilderland PL, Colonie PL, Schenectady CPL… He didn't have a clue what the initials meant. He suspected the listings were places not people. Pick up or drop off locations maybe? For johns, numbers, or drugs?
He slowly panned the room. She had a wireless printer set up on the dresser and beside it was a half-open map. His nuts still ached, but the pain was bearable so he got up to take a look.
Ali jumped at the sound of the bedsprings squeaking. She spun around when she heard his footsteps coming closer.
"Nose in the corner!" he told her, waving his hand and pointing his finger at her.
She sputtered in irritation, but turned back around. How much longer was this idiot going to continue his snooping? She hadn't done anything but try to protect herself. She shouldn't have to put up with this kind of humiliation. She was sure it must be a violation of her civil rights or something.
Zac unfolded the map. It covered all of Wyoming, Western South Dakota and Western Nebraska, Northern Colorado, Northeastern Utah, and Eastern Idaho. She'd highlighted the interstates: 90, 25, and 80 in red and every truck stop along them in yellow and lime green. She was obviously planning to peddle her pussy along the routes. Bad idea! Very bad idea!
He stared at the cans of bug spray and disinfectant on the desk. He turned back to the bed and for the first time noticed the sleeping bag. A hooker who was a germaphobe and a clean freak. That was a first!
"You really need to hide the bug spray and the cleaning stuff, and put the sleeping bag away when you're not using it. You're going to hurt Maudie and Consuela's feelings. Maudie prides herself on running a clean establishment. And Consuela does her level best to keep everything spick and span."
Her head turned, frowning at him over her shoulder.
"Corner!" he ordered. She might be feisty and defiant, but she'd soon learn who was in charge here. And it wasn't her!
"I got the kit," Jeb announced as he hurried through the door. "There weren't any disposable cold packs in your kit, so I took two from the cruiser. Hey, should you be standing?" he asked in concern.
"I'll be alright. The pain is easing. The kit's for her not me. Her knees are skinned up pretty bad."
"Do you need me to help?"
"No. I've got everything under control. Just shut the door on your way out please."
Ali was going to protest. The door automatically locked when it shut. She didn't want to be locked in with this goon! But before she could say anything, the door slammed shut.
"Come here. Let me see those knees."
"I can take care of them myself. All I need is some antiseptic," she said dismissively.
"Do you have first aid training?" his tone was sharp.
"No!' she responded defensively.
"Well I do, so get over here!"
Ali gave him a nasty look, but began limping in his direction. She was tired of sparring with this musclebound jackass. She wanted him out of here, so she'd cooperate and keep her mouth shut—at least for now. But she wasn't promising anything. This guy really rubbed her the wrong way. He was arrogant and condescending, really full of himself. Maybe now that he'd done his snooping and rummaged through her shit, he'd bandage her up and go.
Zac's hand swept aside the map. Before she could protest, he planted his big hands on her waist and lifted her, sitting her on top of the dresser. He was surprised at how little she weighed, he hefted feedbags on the ranch that were heavier than her.
"What the hell?" Ali was shocked by his strength. He'd lifted her effortlessly, like she was a sack of potatoes that he could pick up and put down at will. She couldn't help noticing that his biceps and forearms were heavily muscled like he worked out a lot. His tee shirt fit snugly across his broad shoulders. Ali could see armor-plated pecs and the ripples of his six-pack abs straining against the material. He was hairy. Curly, brown fuzz covered his arms and peeked out the neckline of the shirt. Dark stubble sprouted from his neck and heavily tanned face. The hair on his head was thick and unruly, shorter on the sides with a longer shock on top. It fell in curls and waves. The sheriff had a strong, squarish jaw with a deep cleft in the middle of his chin. Above it were plump, fleshy lips. He had a wide forehead and prominent, thick, brown eyebrows that made his chocolate-colored eyes stand out. The only thing out of kilter was his nose. It was slightly crooked and had a bump on the bridge. She suspected that it might have been broken in the past. He was good-looking, she'd give him that. But she suspected he was all brawn and no brains! She didn't want to be judgmental, but he'd probably never read a book in his entire life. Ali was trying to figure out a way to get down. Her feet were dangling a good two feet off the floor. She'd have to jump. "Get me down from here!" she protested. She'd never had a man pick her up before.
"No," he told her, brooking no argument. "Let me see that ankle." He grabbed her foot, removing the flip-flop and feeling her ankle.
"Ow!" she yelped. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm checking your ankle. Now sit still," he warned when she started squirming. "I think you just twisted it. I don't think it's sprained. If you ice pack the swelling and don't run any marathons for a day or two you should be fine. Now let's have a look at those knees." His palm cupped her calf and lifted her left leg so he could get a better view of the cuts and scrapes. She'd really done a number on herself. It wasn't just her knees. She scraped up her shins as well. She was beginning to bruise. The discoloration and swelling extending from her knee to her inner thigh.
Ali eyed him warily. For a big man, he was surprisingly gentle, but she still thought his behavior totally inappropriate. She didn't like the fact that he had her at a disadvantage. That he went out of his way to make her feel weak and vulnerable. Yeah, he might want to tell that to his balls! She jumped when his other hand reached for her right calf and he attempted to pry her legs apart. "Get your hands off me!" she yelped, trying to kick him away. But he was stronger than she was and her legs opened whether she wanted them to or not. Her injured hands immediately dropped to the apex of her thighs. Her shorts were modest enough, but the leg holes were large and not designed for her to sit spread-eagled unless she wanted her underwear and maybe her naughty bits to show.
He snorted at her attempt at modesty. "Keep those legs still!" he ordered. "And don't flatter yourself! You've got nothing I'd be interested in. All I want to do is patch you up and send you on your way."
Zac opened the kit, pulled out some gloves, and got to work. She screeched and squirmed when he washed the wounds with Betadine and used tweezers to extract the gravel imbedded in her skin. Ali kept trying to push his hands away, but he wasn't having it.
"Good! Maybe the next time you'll be more careful," he admonished her.
Her bottom lip trembled as she fought to hold back the tears. He wasn't helping her, he was making it hurt worse!
"What's your name?" His tone was gruff as he started his interrogation.
"Well that's a mouthful!" He looked at her skeptically. "Is that your real name or an alias? Something to make you sound more exotic."
"Exotic?" Was he making fun of her name? "No it's my real name. Alessandra Ciana Bellabonafortuna! Ali for short. Do you have a problem with that?"
"No. I have a problem with you! Lose the attitude!" he told her, frowning.
"My attitude? You have a problem with my attitude? Really? I'm not the one who came busting in here, scaring the crap out of me. I'm not the one with the surly, veiled threats. If anybody has an attitude here, it's you. Is this some kind of shake down? You come in here, try to push me around, then threaten to jail me on some stupid, trumped-up assault charge if I don't pay you off? If I don't give to the local police widows and orphans fund or something. Is that how you keep the coffers full here? By extorting the tourists?"
She was trying to push his buttons, but he wasn't going to rise to the bait. Without uttering a word, he applied an antiseptic spray to the wounds and began bandaging them. She winced, especially when he tried to wrap her hand. She'd busted two fingernails when she fell, one all the way down to the quick. He could see something dark under the nail: a tiny piece of gravel or blacktop. He shook his head. It was too deep to get with the tweezers; he'd have to use a needle to get it out.
"What's that for?" she asked anxiously when she saw him pull the needle out of the kit and sterilize it with an alcohol swab.
"You've got a stone or something under that nail. It'll get infected if I don't get it out."
"No. It'll be fine," she said, trying frantically to pull her hand back.
"Some tough girl you are," he said reproachfully. "Put your big girl panties on. It'll be over in a minute."
"No! No!" Ali screeched as Zac held her hand still and probed under the nail. "Ow! Ow!" she yelped when he dug it out. Her finger throbbed painfully as he doused it with strong antiseptic then wrapped the entire hand with gauze.
Satisfied with his work, Zac peeled off the gloves and turned his attention to repacking the first aid kit. "You're welcome!" he said sarcastically. "I guess your mama neglected to teach you any manners."
"My bad!" she sneered. "Thank you for everything! For busting into my room! For messing with my things! For being a rude, obnoxious jerk!"
"I think a little gratitude would be in order here!" he insisted. "I could have let you bleed you know!"
"Fine, you're right. Thank you. Are you satisfied now?"
"Lady, you really are a piece of work!" His words dripped with disdain. "Maybe this'll teach you not to go tottering around on high heels unless you know how to walk in them," he lectured as he put the gauze, antiseptic, and adhesive tape away. "Take it from me; they didn't make you look sexy. Far from it. Try ridiculous! Save yourself some wear and tear on the knees. Pitch the heels!"
Her eyebrow shot up. "How did you know I was wearing high heels when I fell? Were you spying on me?"
"I'm the sheriff in these parts. I make it my business to know when strangers show up in my town. Especially your kind!"
"My kind? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't play coy with me. You were walking around in a skirt that barely covered your ass cheeks last night!" He closed the cover of the kit and moved to the bed and started throwing her stuff back into her bag.
"So you were spying on me! Why you frigging pervert!" She spat the words at him.
"Watch your mouth! You may talk like that to the police officers where you're from; but you're in my jurisdiction now and you'll speak to me with respect! Now where is your suitcase?"
"What do you want with my suitcase?" she hollered at him in exasperation.
"I want to know where it is!" he shot back, his patience gone.
"It's in the closet." Before she could question him further, he opened the closet door, pulled it out, and threw it on the bed. Then he started dumping things in it. The sundress, windbreaker, jeans, and sweater hanging in the closet. The sleeping bag and contents of her bedside table.
"What do you think you're doing," she challenged, trying to figure out how to get down from the dresser without hurting herself.
"I'm packing you up. You're leaving!"
"The hell I am! You have no right to make me go anywhere you fascist bully! I know my rights. You're abusing your authority! Now maybe the folks out here will let you get away with this kind of crap, but I sure as hell won't!"
"You know, if I were you I'd keep my mouth shut! You're just digging yourself in deeper. Now show me some ID," he said, stomping over to her.
"I don't have to show you shit! Get out of my room!" Ali's anger exploded.
"ID," Zac demanded, his eyes blazing as he loomed over her.
Before Ali knew what was happening, he'd leaned into her, throwing her over his shoulder. She started pounding his back with her fists. "You put me down you son of a bitch! This is police brutality!" she screamed as loud as she could in his ear.
She was wriggling so hard he was afraid he'd drop her. "Settle down!" He whacked her ass with his free hand.
"Police brutality! Police brutality!" she screamed, continuing to pummel him with all her might.
He couldn't believe the little wildcat. Fighting him the way she was. "Stop that!" he warned, giving her three stinging swats to her rear. "You hit me one more time and…" before he could finish his sentence he felt a punch land on the back of his head. He wound up and walloped her backside as hard as he could four times in quick succession. "That does it! You're going to jail!"
Mia Frances is the pen name of author Mary Vigliante Szydlowski. She writes across several genres using different pseudonyms. As Mia Frances, she's the author of the steamy romantic suspense novel, Little Girl Lost and the IN HIS KEEPING erotic romance, murder mystery thriller series: IN HIS KEEPING: TAKEN, IN HIS KEEPING: BANISHED, and IN HIS KEEPING: CLAIMED.
Her Science Fiction/Fantasy works include novels: The Ark (Jarl Szydlow), The Colony (Mary Vigliante), The Land (Mary Vigliante), Source of Evil (Mary Vigliante), and a novella, The Hand of My Enemy (Mary Vigliante Szydlowski)
As Mary Vigliante Szydlowski, she's also the author of dark fantasies: Dark Realm and Worship the Night, mainstream novel Silent Song, and seven children's books: Ghoul School, Millie Muldoon & the Christmas Mystery, Millie Muldoon & the Case of the Thanksgiving Turkey-napper, A Puddle for Poo, Kia's Manatee, The Duck in the Hole, and I Can't Talk, I've Got Farbles In My Mouth.
Her short stories, articles, children's stories, essays, and poems have appeared in anthologies, books, magazines, newspapers, and on the web.
She is a member of the Authors Guild, RWA (Romance Writers of America), SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), and SFWA (Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America).
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