Authors: Kimberly Frost
I protested, but the sheriff cut me off.
“None of that from you, missy. You’re out of your head from a concussion. If you don’t behave, I’ll have Dr. Suri sedate you. From what I hear, he was madder than a hornet that you were out of bed at all.” The sheriff adjusted his gun belt. “Go on, Sutton. I’m going to have another talk with our local lawyer. See if I can’t get something useful out of him.”
So it was a conspiracy, then. Sheriff Hobbs loved Zach like a son, and the whole town had heard that Zach was losing me to Bryn. This was the sheriff’s way of giving Zach another crack at me with Bryn conveniently out of the way. Unfortunately, while I blamed my crime-scene confusion on a concussion, there was nothing I could do about it.
I had to hand it to Sheriff Hobbs. Sometimes he was as sneaky as Bryn.
Zach pushed off the pole and strolled over to me. He held out a hand to me. I frowned and shook my head. Bryn stood in Hobbs’s office doorway, watching us.
“I’m okay.” I ignored Zach’s offered hand, standing with a grimace. “I can walk by myself,” I said, limping. My leg and that shot in the butt really did smart when I moved. The pain was definitely worse now that the adrenaline had worn off.
“I’m okay,” I repeated, squaring my shoulders and lifting my chin. I could at least make it out the door before I had to stop for a rest.
A second later, Zach swung me up in his arms.
“I can walk.”
“Yeah, I saw. You think I’ve got all night to watch you hobble three feet?” Zach asked.
I folded my arms across my chest. “Put me down,” I said under my breath.
“I will,” Zach said, nodding at the deputy, who opened the door for us.
“Right now. Put me down right now,” I said.
“You worried about what your boyfriend’s going to say?”
“No, I’m worried about what he’s going to do.”
“To you?” Zach asked, his voice suddenly dangerous.
“No, to you.”
Zach’s stride turned smooth again. “No need to worry about that, darlin’. Everyone in town knows I can take care of myself, including Lyons.” Zach opened the passenger door of his truck and set me inside.
When he got in the other side, closed the door, and started the engine, he asked, “Did you shoot Beau Theroux in the balls?”
“He made me mad.”
“How’d he do that?”
“Shot me in the shoulder.
to shoot me in the face and threatened to do worse if he got the chance. I decided I’d arrange it so he couldn’t make good on his threats of a certain kind.”
Zach put the truck in gear and smiled. “That’s my girl.”
I WAS NOT Zach’s girl, and we both knew it. I’d let him carry me out of the police station because there hadn’t been a choice. I wasn’t in any condition to kick and scream and force him to set me down.
Now that I was at home, though, I didn’t a hundred percent trust us. Our final breakup was fresh, and I was determined not to let things get muddled. I sent an urgent text to Rollie, which said:
Need help. Come over quick. Wear sequins. Thanks!
If there was one way to unsettle a he-man football player cop from East Texas, it was to invite a cross-dressing vampire to the house.
As Zach and I made small talk, I worried about Bryn. What did he think about Zach carrying me off like that? Was he upset? Did he trust me to be alone with Zach? How could I expect him to, when I didn’t?
I sent Bryn a text.
Hey, it’s me, Tammy Jo. Got home safe. Nothing going on between me & Zach. I told Rollie to come over. We—Rollie and me—will come 2 your house. Call if u need anything . . . bail money, another lawyer. A kiss. I love u. Bye 4 now.
Zach didn’t come over to snoop into what I’d written, but he watched me send it. Zach’s not really much for spying. He’s more into straightforward confrontations.
Mercutio, restless and angry, padded back and forth near the back door. I opened it, but he turned away, eyeing me and Zach.
“What’s up with the wildcat?” he asked.
“I suppose he’s on to something but isn’t ready to chase it down yet. Or maybe he’s waiting for me to recover a little. Merc’s not overprotective, but he knows when I’m good to fight and when I’m not.”
“He’s your familiar?”
“Kind of. It’s not like we read each other’s minds or anything. Or leastways, I can’t read his.” I cocked my head, studying Mercutio. “I can’t speak for him.” I concentrated.
Can you read my mind, Merc?
Mercutio glanced at me but didn’t answer. Instead he hopped onto the counter and into the sink so he could rest his paws on the windowsill and look out into the yard.
“Thanks for the ride home,” I said.
Zach crossed the kitchen and looked into the yard. Apparently not seeing anything of interest, he turned and came back to me.
“Whether we’re ever together again as lovers or not, I meant what I said when I married you.”
Together again as lovers?
What the heck kind of dangerous talk was that? He’d said it had to be over between us, and he was right. No backpedaling or second thoughts.
My mouth opened but didn’t have any words. I closed it for a moment and then asked, “You mean you’ll always be there when I need you?”
“That street runs both ways,” I said, and cleared my throat. This was okay. I wanted us to be friends. Close friends. But not more.
He leaned a little closer. I took a step back and my butt muscle full of antibiotics seized up. I pitched backward. He grabbed my arms and lowered me to the couch.
“Dang, that hurts,” I said, lying half on my side and massaging my tush.
Zach’s big palm came down over my hand. The heat of it seeped through the fabric of my patient gown. He gave a squeeze, and I would’ve jumped except for half my butt being in the middle of a seizure and his hand having a grip on it.
“That’s a tough spot for a muscle spasm. Roll onto your belly.”
“No way,” I said.
He ignored my protests and pulled my hand free with his, then pressed his thumb down on a trigger spot.
I yowled, but the clenched muscle released and relaxed.
“Thanks,” I said grudgingly, and pushed his hand away. He cocked a brow at my suspicious expression.
“How many times did you or a trainer help me work out a cramp after a game or a practice?” he asked. It was true. Zach had occasionally needed a rubdown from cramping muscles. “It ain’t no big thing.”
When I didn’t immediately agree that his hand on my butt was no big deal, he added, “Girl, you really think I need cheap tricks to get my hands on your backside? What am I? Fourteen again?”
“No,” I acknowledged, but I was anxious to change the subject. “So are you back to work at the station? Because I’d like to make a report.”
“Oh, you would? You remembered some facts about tonight? I’m not sure it’s a good idea to let that cat out of the bag.”
“No, not about the shootout. About my friend Vangie. She’s missing. She’s been abducted, almost for sure she has.”
Zach’s amused expression disappeared, and he was all business. “Who’s Vangie?”
I explained that Vangie was supposed to get married, but that no one had seen her since she’d gotten some evidence against her stepmother. I also told him about Edie disappearing and what she’d said. I figured if he and Edie were friends, he would want to know. And I didn’t know whether Vangie’s disappearance and the spell against the town ghosts were related.
Zach raised his brows. “Edie said she saw ‘them’ the night she died?”
“Can’t be. The friends who were with her the night she died were all investigated and had alibis for the time of her death. Not to mention that they’d all be around a hundred and ten years old. It stands to reason that anyone she saw that night is dead by now.”
“How do you know that the people Edie visited with on the night she died were investigated and had alibis?”
“I got the case file.”
My jaw dropped. “You—you got an almost-ninety-year-old case file from New York City?”
“You of all people should know I can turn on the Southern charm when I need to,” he said with a flash of a smile.
Yes, I did know that. All too well.
“Well, I’d like to read that file. She’s my aunt,” I said, annoyed that Zach seemed to know more about a piece of my family history than I did.
“I’ll show it to you sometime.”
“I want a copy.” I pulled the gown down to cover my legs to the knee. “I’d like it right away.”
“I can’t see how her murder could have anything to do with what’s happening to the ghosts in town. That voodoo priestess witch Oatha probably has some provenance over the dead. I’d expect she’s the problem for the local ghosts.”
“According to her family, Vangie’s stepmother went back to Dallas, suffering from chest pains and running scared, no doubt. Bryn made the Tammy Jo voodoo doll untouchable and attacked them with strong magic.”
“Maybe she took the ghosts with her. Your aunt tells me there are ways for witches to trap ghosts. If Beads hasn’t shown up by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll drive to Dallas and have a word with the witch.”
“You’d do that?” I asked. “For Edie?”
Zach nodded. “I denied she existed for a long time and was a bad husband to you because of it. I’m not going to say Beads and I always get along. She’s a real pain in the ass sometimes, but she’s your kin—even if she is only a ghost—and I’ve got plenty to make up for where you’re both concerned. Going to Dallas ain’t no big thing and would be a good start on me making amends.”
I smiled at him. “I feel like I’ve grown up a lot over the past few months. Seems like you have, too,” I said. “I’m a little bit proud of us.”
He grinned. “Darlin’, you shot a man in the testicle tonight and I was happy about it. I think we’ve got further to go before anyone nominates us for the maturity hall of fame.”
I sniffed. He had a point. “I shouldn’t have shot him when he was unarmed, but he made threats and reached for a firearm. Probably I shouldn’t be carrying a gun, but lord knows sometimes I need one. A sassy personality and a snappy comeback don’t go far against shotguns and voodoo magic. Still, I do have a bad temper sometimes. If I weren’t me and it were up to me, I don’t know that I’d give myself a gun permit.”
This made his smile widen.
I drew my brows together. “I’m gonna have to think on that.”
“Well, don’t give yourself a headache. Some assholes need shooting. Beau Theroux obviously did.”
“You’re only saying that because I’m a girl. If a man had shot an unarmed man in the nuts, you would’ve locked him up.”
“That would be true most of the time,” Zach agreed. “But not necessarily always. If someone small like your friend Johnny was getting the hell beaten out of him and he shot someone to get away,” Zach said with a shrug, “I wouldn’t expect the prosecutor to throw the book at him under those circumstances.”
“That’s a good point,” I said. The doorbell rang. “Speaking of Johnny.”
“You expecting Johnny Nguyen?” Zach asked, walking to the front before I could shove myself off the couch.
“Maybe Johnny will be with him. I’m expecting his boyfriend, Rollie.”
Zach opened the door as I hobbled across the room. I tilted my head and sure enough Rollie stood in the doorway, all lean and lanky six and a half feet of him. He wore tight black pants with a fuchsia sequined shirt. He’d used dark eyeliner, thick mascara, and bright pink lip gloss. He wasn’t pretty—his face was way too angular and masculine for that—but he was sure striking.
“Well, if it isn’t Bo Duke. How’s the butch life treating you?” Rollie asked.
“Well enough. And you, Stretch? What are you working on? A
Rocky Horror Picture Show
“Only if you’ll play Brad Majors in my big seduction scene,” Rollie said, reaching out to give Zach’s face a stroke. Zach caught Rollie’s wrist before the fingers reached him, but he didn’t look like his grip was meant to crush Rollie’s bones. That, I thought, was progress.
“Easy there, Romeo,” Zach said, returning Rollie’s arm to his side. “I’ll never be that good an actor.”
“I’m sure if you—” Rollie began, but Zach had turned toward me.
Zach leaned over and gave me a kiss right on the lips. My brows shot up.
“See you later, baby girl.”
My tongue darted out reflexively to catch the taste of him, and then I shook my head at him and myself. “Zach! No kissing on the lips anymore,” I exclaimed.
“You’re right,” Zach said with mock regret. “But you know I’ve got that habit of collecting a little sugar from you when I’m going off to work. It’ll probably take me a while to break myself of it. I’m sure Lyons will understand, him being so understanding about the other night.”
I gave Zach’s shoulder a shove. He didn’t budge. He just smiled. “Still, no sense pushing our luck. You probably shouldn’t mention to him about me massaging your butt earlier.”
Now I knew he was talking to bait a trap for Bryn, figuring that Rollie would let it slip if I didn’t.
“Is that flavored lip gloss you’re wearing, Rollie? It sure smells delicious. Is it raspberry? If Zach needs a little more sugar before he goes, maybe you should give him some, too.”
Zach immediately put his hands out in surrender, but he didn’t look worried. “I’m going.” He nodded at both of us and walked out.
“Oh my,” Rollie said. “What’s gotten into the butch boy beautiful? Look at him connive like the cast of
! We have to keep him away from that ghost of yours,” Rollie said.
“Because we used to be able to see him coming like a freight train, straight ahead and packing a punch. Poking Bryn with a crooked stick is hardly his style. That’s got Edie written all over it.”
“They have been spending time together,” I said worriedly. “And being friendly with Edie certainly got me in plenty of trouble over the years.” I hobbled to the kitchen.
“Why are you limping? And why do you smell like sewer water and dried blood?”
“Come inside, I’ll fill you in,” I said. “I’ve got to do a spell to try to find my friend.”