Mac Coalson drove his black GMC truck through his hometown, the tiny riverside community of Grafton, Illinois, and onto the blacktop road that headed toward Jerseyville, the local county seat. He gripped the wheel firmly as he tried to control his anger. The last thing he needed was to wreck his new truck. March had been an icy month in the Midwest.
The vandalism of the past few months to the new homes built by his construction company was about to finally come to an end. And the little punks were going to pay. All that damage, the mess, the financial strain on the company, all caused by a bunch of juvenile delinquents bent on a destructive binge. Big Time.
A little over a year ago, the tiny community of Grafton had been sandbagging against the rising waters of the Mississippi. Ben Yates, the local sheriff, had even brought prisoners from the area correctional facility to help. It hadn’t mattered. The mighty Mississippi broke through and all but decimated the tiny village. Mac’s construction company, along with several others, had undertaken the arduous task of clearing, cleaning and reconstructing whatever they could alongside the villagers who lost almost everything.
How could these brats justify destroying what everyone, their relatives included, had tried so hard to rebuild? Well, one way or another, Mac was getting some answers tonight. He cruised into the police department parking lot, slammed the brakes and hit the cement parking block.
“Where are they?” he growled, blowing through the double doors of the small county jail and jangling the front bell. He brushed his hair off his forehead with an impatient gesture as his gaze locked on the portly man in a sheriff’s uniform.
“Now, calm down, Mac.” Sheriff Ben Yates tried to placate the large man bearing down on him. “Those kids didn’t know what they were getting into. It was a dare; nothing more. They are not the main source.”
“And you believe them?” Mac was incredulous.
“Yes, I do. None of them boys have any priors and their stories match.”
“So they’ve been ruining my business and others on a childish prank, and you’re just gonna stand there and defend them? Have you forgotten the reason my construction business has been so busy here?” Mac roared. His left eye began to twitch, a sure sign that his temper was about to be unleashed.
“I remember I saved your butt when the sandbags you were trying to hold onto with your feet washed out from under you and almost landed you headfirst in the rushing water, that’s one thing I remember. So don’t take that tone with me, boy!” Ben’s wrinkled face took on a purplish hue as he wagged his stubby finger in Mac’s face.
Mac passed a weary hand over his eyes as he tried not to grind his teeth in frustration. “I’m sorry, Ben. This whole mess turns my stomach.” He sighed in defeat. “Who’s involved?”
Ben snorted as he acknowledged Mac’s apology with a curt nod. “The Riley twins, Becky Jamieson’s boy, Todd, and the new schoolteacher’s brother, Jamie Harris. And I’m warning you now, all the parents are here except for ..” he trailed off, his eyes widening as the bell pealed once again on the front door of the precinct, announcing a visitor. Mac watched Ben hastily hitch up his pants and straighten his glasses. Mac turned to see what in the world the old guy was looking at.
“Excuse me, but I believe you’re holding my brother here? My name is Dixie Harris.” The soft, throaty drawl belied the spark of fire in the blue eyes of the petite woman as she closed the distance between them and held out her hand to Ben in polite introduction. She completely ignored Mac.
Mac’s gaze slowly raked the newcomer from head to toe. The woman was short, barely above five feet tall, he estimated, but she was definitely curved in all the right places. He took in the faded jeans that hugged her curves and the unzipped brown leather jacket that did little to conceal breasts that would overflow from even his large hands.
Sighing inwardly, his gaze returned to the expressive face with a studied interest. There was no denying the new kindergarten teacher was a beautiful woman. Her silver blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail that made her look almost childlike. The freshly scrubbed face, completely devoid of makeup, was a velvety mixture of rose petals and cream. The full pink lips she was unconsciously biting were moist and luscious, begging for a man’s kiss. An unexpected burn of sexual heat coursed through his body. Damn, but he should have made that school board meeting last fall.
At that instant, she turned slightly and noticed him watching her. Mac didn’t look away, even as her eyes narrowed and her mouth turned down in a frown at his rude appraisal. She deliberately turned her back on him.
Ben brushed past Mac. “Hello, Miss Harris. We’re sorry to bother you like this, but your brother and some others were apprehended on private property. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to him.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, casting another glance from beneath her lashes at the stone faced man in front of her. “Excuse me,” she murmured as she tried to skirt around him. The keys on the sheriff’s belt loop jangled as he walked. She enjoyed the sound more than his poor attempts at small talk.
The trio emerged into a large waiting area in the back of the jail. Several empty cells were along one wall, but the boys were lounging on nearby benches on the opposite side of the room, where the parents had already gathered. Embarrassment, anger, and nervousness were just a few of the emotions reflected on their faces as the sheriff approached the group and explained the reason for their summons.
Dixie allowed herself a calming breath as she unclenched her fists in the front pockets of her jeans. She risked a fleeting look in the direction where her brother now stood talking to another officer. Dear Lord in heaven what had her brother done? Her view was suddenly blocked and all she could see was the man that had followed them into the waiting area. She darted a glance at his face, then swallowed swiftly. He regarded her in silence for several seconds, then gave her a small nod, which did nothing to alleviate her frayed nerves, and headed toward the boys.
Was he the father of one of the boys arrested? He didn’t appear old enough to have a teenager. His black hair gave only a hint of gray, the same steel color of his eyes. His build was definitely fit. His shoulders were as broad as a linebacker, tapering down a firm back to long lean legs encased in worn jeans. And his butt…Good heavens, what was the matter with her? She was appraising a stranger while her brother was being arrested! She blushed furiously at her thoughts and prayed no one had noticed. Her pale complexion and vivid eyes always gave away her every thought, much to her disgust.
“Mac, you want to come here a minute? You can sign some papers to press charges, and then you’re free to go on home. We’ll deal with the boys and their parents. There’s no need for you to be here for the questioning,” the sheriff groused.
“You’re the man pressing charges?” Dixie turned to the dark haired man. His penetrating gaze shifted to her face, and she instinctively stepped back. The anger emanating from their depths was palpable in the air.
“Yes, I am. Vandalism is a stupid act of an ignorant mind, but in this case, it’s personal. They’ve ruined the homes my company built specifically for the folks left homeless from the flood. And now, because of your brother and his friends, my company is working overtime to clean up the mess and keep our promises to these people. I believe they’ve been through enough without facing another delay. Excuse me.” He raked her with a withering glance and started toward the one desk in the area.
“Wait!” She grabbed his arm. “There must be some mistake. My brother would never do anything to harm anyone.”
He lifted one eyebrow. “Ben Yates has been sheriff here for over twenty years. We’ve got security cameras hooked up. He apprehended them himself outside one of my partially constructed homes. Are you calling him a liar?”
“No! Yes, er, please, I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding. If you would let Jamie explain…” she trailed off as his eyes narrowed to mere slits.
“Your brother will have plenty of time to explain to his lawyer. If you don’t have one, I suggest you get one. You’re gonna need it.” He removed her hand from his arm, sending her a look of contempt that made her cringe inside, but she was determined to make him see reason. There was no way her brother could have done this.
“Now wait just a gall darn minute …” she cried, hurrying on her stiletto boots to catch up with him. The rude man ignored her, so she turned to Ben. Her chest heaved with righteous indignation as he, too, ignored her. “Sheriff, I demand to know exactly what my brother is being charged with.”
“Sis, stay out of this,” Jamie whispered as he approached her. He nodded to Mac. “His family practically built this town. That’s Mac Coalson. I’m as good as convicted.”
“Well,” Ben scratched his gray whiskers and approached the boy. “That remains to be seen, young man. However, I suggest you keep quiet for the time being.” He turned to Dixie. “Ma’am, your brother was trespassing on private property with the intention, we believe, of vandalizing it. Several incidents have occurred which have made us very suspicious of anyone trespassing in the new subdivisions under construction.”
“That’s not true, Sis. We didn’t touch a thing. If someone would just listen, we would explain,” Jamie announced loudly.
Dixie turned back to Ben. “Did you find evidence that it was definitely the boys?”
“As to that, we arrived before any damage was done,” he mumbled.
“Well, it would seem to me that if you don’t have any positive proof that my brother and his friends were involved in the vandalism going on around here, y’all are gonna have to let these boys go.” Her temper was boiling and as a result, her southern drawl was more pronounced. She smiled in triumph as she nodded vigorously to the other parents, looking for support. Her grin faltered as Ben slowly shook his head in the negative.
“Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to imply that they were being charged for the vandalism. We simply wanted to question them about it. But there’s still the problem of trespassing.”
Dixie looked at Mac Coalson. She now knew where she had seen him. His picture was all over the local paper. The Great Savior of Grafton. Everything she had read about this paragon who was determined to rebuild his hometown after the devastating flood was in direct contrast to the formidable figure attired in black jeans and a black sweater. His tall frame gave off an arrogance that was compellingly dangerous. The chilling glint from his silver eyes told her he was a force to be reckoned with. Still, she had to try. Her brother’s reputation depended on it.
Summoning her most cheerful smile, usually reserved only for weeping children on the first day of school, she walked over to Mac. “I’m sure Mr. Coalson would be willing to drop the charges since no damage was done. After all, it’s more important to catch the real culprits than to smear the good names of some decent boys.”
“Like hell I will!” he growled as he covered the space between them in two strides. “Listen lady, I’m not gonna let these hoodlums get away with damaging another piece of property. If they walk, who’s to say they won’t be back tomorrow night to finish the job?”
“I say, that’s who!” Dixie shot back, stepping up to glare at the large man and stiffening her five foot frame. So much for trying to reason with the devil. Apparently, Mac Coalson was a bully. He was bullying the sheriff, the parents, and maybe this whole town. She hated bullies. Being so small, she had always had her fair share of them.
Mac looked her up and down. “Honey, you may be good for a lot of things, but keeping a rowdy bunch of boys under control ain’t one of ‘em, so I’ll thank you to stay out of this.” He watched her eyes flash blue fire.
Dixie gasped at the intended sarcasm. “Those boys haven’t done anything wrong except setting foot on your precious property. If you ask me, you’re a more likely suspect for sabotage than these boys. You’ve got insurance and you’re certainly ornery enough.”
Dixie took an instinctive step back as Mac drew in a sharp breath at the implication that he could even be remotely responsible for the damages. Everyone in the room seemed to wait in suspense at what he would do. This man was known to have quite a fiery temper. And Dixie’s anger had just poured gasoline on the fire.
Mac leaned down to snarl in her face. “Look, Blondie, face the fact that your juvenile delinquent of a brother got caught this time. Maybe a night in jail will set him along the straight and narrow.” He appraised her once again with a derisive twist to his lips. “Of course, he might enjoy the peace and quiet compared to an evening of you, no doubt, harping at him.”
Dixie suppressed the incredible urge to slap the arrogance right off his smirking face. Her fingers curled into fist. If she wasn’t standing in the middle of a police station….He snorted as if to challenge her to do it.
“Now hold on, both of you,” Ben interceded, his arms extended in a conciliatory gesture. “No one is spending a night in jail. Trespassing doesn’t warrant that.” He looked over his glasses at Jamie. “What it does warrant is an apology. The posted fine for trespassing on private property is $500.00. Since there’s five of you, that’s $2500. That should put a dent in the damages incurred.” He slid an uneasy glance at Mac who had stiffened in disbelief.
“What?” he exploded then uttered an expletive and paced the room. “Ben has your mind turned to mush? A smile from a blue-eyed blonde and you’re babbling nonsense. I want that boy,” he pointed to Jamie, then waved a hand in the general direction of the others, “and his friends behind bars.”
Emboldened by Dixie, the parents began to protest.
“Now hold on a minute, Mac…”
“Listen to reason, would ya ..”
“You can’t be serious, …
Ben once again held up his hands for silence, but he was ignored as the parents rounded on Mac with angry protestations, Dixie Harris leading the uproar. Ben shouted for silence and when that too, was ignored, he blew his riot whistle shrilly. “Quiet! You’re all gonna get a chance. Harris, you go first,” he pointed to Dixie’s brother, who appeared to be the leader of the boys.
“Look, mister, I didn’t vandalize your houses. I’m telling you the truth,” Jamie exclaimed heatedly. “The others with me can tell you the same thing we told the cops.” Jamie glanced at the boys, who nodded. “It was supposed to be a joke. You see, there was this man …”
Mac’s eyes burned like those of a great beast deprived of its prey as he stepped up to Jamie and listened to his tale. Dixie knew he didn’t believe a word of it, and Jamie’s insistence that there was another man involved made little sense, even to her. Her brother wasn’t responsible for the vandalism, however, just in using bad judgment. She was sure of that, and it was up to her to make Mac Coalson understand it as well.
She stepped between him and Jamie, intending to do just that. Looking up at Mac’s face as he listened to her brother, she noticed the deeply etched lines of fatigue and felt a twinge of sympathy. She reined in her temper. After all, he had a right to be angry at the persons responsible, but it wasn’t her brother. “I’m sorry for the trouble you’ve been through, but Jamie was not a part of it. I’ll get to the bottom of tonight’s escapades, let me assure you. And I do apologize for the inconvenience you have suffered tonight. I truly wish you luck in finding the real criminal.”
She touched his arm in a small gesture of comfort and felt his muscles contract. His flesh seemed to burn her hand through the fabric. Hastily, she withdrew from the contact as she met the fire in his eyes. Well, drat. Apologies were obviously not accepted.
She shivered as she remembered an artist’s rendering of the Gates of Hell she had seen at a museum. Mac Coalson and Satan now shared the same look of bored indifference. No reason to continue with apologies, so she gave up. Turning to Ben, she offered a small smile. “Sheriff, where do I pay the fine?”
Dixie turned back to Mac as his deep voice rumbled like thunder over her head. “I appreciate your concern for my company, but you would do well to concern yourself with your future employment. After this year, I’ll make sure you’re not needed as a teacher in this area. I do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, and I wish you luck in finding a new position.” Turning her words as well as his back on her, he signed the papers Ben offered him, curtly dismissing her.
Dixie’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Influential you may be, but you can hardly expect to get away with that threat. I have witnesses!” She looked around, and then laughed incredulously, as everyone, including the sheriff, hung their heads and refused to meet her gaze. Well, it was obvious she wasn’t getting any help from these people, despite the fact that they were on her side just a few minutes ago. Her brother had trespassed on the Coalson’s private kingdom and now there would be a heavy price to pay.
Her temper flared again at the injustice of it all. “It appears we are at a stalemate,” she began, “but please allow me to say that I think you are the most obnoxious, arrogant, chauvinistic man that I have ever encountered. I will dance with joy when I clear my brother’s name and make you the laughingstock of the county. I promise you that.” She punctuated the last sentence with little jabs to his chest with her finger.
Mac smiled evilly as he grasped her hand and brought it to his lips. “I look forward to the experience, little lady. And while you practice your dancing, you might want to brush up on your singing, because when I prove that your brother is guilty, you may wind up singing for your supper.” He kissed her hand lightly, then turned to one of the parents, completely dismissing her. Dixie’s tempered reached its boiling point.
Ben proceeded to hand the release papers to a sputtering Dixie. “I’ve talked to Judge Larkin and he agreed with me. Since your brother and these boys have no priors, we feel it’s safe to let him go into your care.” He slid a glance at Mac over the rim of his glasses. “And unless Mr. Coalson changes his mind, the court date is set for two weeks from today at 2 p.m., unless we turn up some other evidence. If we do, we’ll be in touch.”
Dixie smiled at the older man. It couldn’t be easy dealing with a tyrant like Mac Coalson. And the fact that her hand still tingled from his kiss was something she didn’t even want to think about. “Thank you, Sheriff. I assure you, when I find out who is behind this mess, you will be the first to know.” She flung her handbag over her shoulder, hitting Mac in the chest with grim satisfaction, then proceeded down the hall toward the entrance without a word of apology. “C’mon, Jamie. We’re gonna find us a vandal.”
Mac passed her in two strides and held open the door with a smirk that belied the gentlemanly gesture. After a moment’s hesitation, Dixie passed through, her head held high and her nose in the air. As she walked to her car, she felt the eyes of that odious man on her, mentally stripping her bare and taking in her, uhm er, attributes. She glanced back in time to see the slow grin that lit his face. He winked. He had done it deliberately, and he wanted her to know it.
Dixie slammed the door to the white Jeep and started the engine. She would not glance at the doorway of the station again to see if he was still watching her, she wouldn’t. How could she have been attracted, even for a moment, to that, that, ooohh, horrible man? The situation must have addled her brain, that’s the only explanation. As she drove away, she sent her brother a fulminating stare. “Now, suppose you tell me what really happened tonight?”
Mac watched Dixie and her brother whip out of the parking lot. She was the most exasperating female he had ever encountered. Such a tiny slip of a woman standing up to him and giving him what for. It had been somewhat amusing until she had accused him of the vandalism. Then he had gotten pissed.
Mac had been silently amused as the little scenario played out before him. Ben, trying his best to act like a big city law enforcer, citing this case and that to the parents of the kids; the Harris kid playing the belligerent teen, all righteous indignation and stiff pride; and Miss Harris was obviously the tragic heroine of this little play. But her remarks about insurance fraud definitely cast him as the villain; and for some obscure reason, he hadn’t cared for that one bit. Not to mention the fact that the damn kids were trespassing.
He followed the red taillights as they receded into the night, grimly aware that the sexual awareness of her had not abated and he was getting hard. He could still feel the touch of her fingers on his arm. Hell, this was totally crazy. The absolute last thing he needed was to get sidetracked by some sexy blonde. People were counting on him. He couldn’t allow himself to get distracted, even if he hadn’t been this attracted to a woman in quite awhile.
“She kinda makes your blood boil, don’t she?” Ben asked as he came up behind Mac and handed him a cup of coffee.
Mac acknowledged the question with a shrug. He was usually so calm and controlled. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances here, but he had never been known to lose his temper with a woman. Usually, he retreated into his icy politeness routine. But, he had admired the way she stood up to him, blasting him with her fury. At least, until she had pissed him off royally by accusing him of the vandalism.
Ben smiled slightly. “Yes sir, she’s enough to make a man’s blood boil.” He peered at Mac who was still staring out into the night, sipping absently at the horrible coffee. “Question is, precisely why does she make your blood boil, my boy?”
He cackled when Mac rolled his eyes at him.
by Maggie Adams
A man on a mission….
Mackenzie Coalson was determined to rebuild his hometown after a devastating flood left it in ruins. He has no time for a relationship and all the romantic junk that goes with it. He has a vandal to catch and no sweet smelling bundle of femininity is going to sway him.
A woman protecting her family…..
Dixie Harris charged into the county sheriff’s office with a sassy sway and a smart mouth, eager to give the sheriff, and anyone else, a piece of her mind. When she locks horns with the devil himself, in the form of Mac Coalson, she quickly learns he has a temper to rival hers, even if he’s the living epitome of her sexual fantasies.
When the two unite to catch a potential murderer, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep it, “business only”. But that’s hard to do when their combined attraction is volatile enough to burn down the town.