Allie Grainger. The name tasted sour on his tongue, but his thoughts of revenge
rendered it almost sweet.

  He knew how to terrorize; it was what he did best. Some people were born to heal,
some to lead. He was born to strike terror in those who crossed him. He’d studied the art
in childhood and perfected it during his years as a cop. Now he was a cop in jail. But not
for long.

  Because of her, he’d lost everything. Now Allie Grainger would lose. Everything.

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  Allie felt like a schoolgirl going to her first dance. Except that she was thirty years old,
divorced, and had no intention of dancing with this man, at least not vertically. Her
cheeks burned at the thought, but not from embarrassment. Rand Arbutten was hot. For
months, they’d tried to get together. From that first kiss in her kitchen last August, they
knew they’d end up in bed. Even Rand’s seventy-year-old grandmother Frenchie knew
they’d end up in bed, but so far, it was a no go. Something or someone always
intervened:  his schedule, her schedule, her friends, his family. Then his law firm sent
him to New York for eight weeks. Something about multiple depositions and interviews in
some big case he was working on. They’d had a number of fairly steamy conversations
during his absence, but that’s as far as it had gone. Rand lived and worked fifty miles
west in Orlando, which didn't make it any easier; but as he said, “What’s fifty miles of
good road?”  He spent two days a month as a figurehead at the newspaper where Allie
worked, but that only served to complicate things. Everyone at the paper seemed to
know what they had in mind and, intentionally or unintentionally, managed to thwart
them. Even Myrna, her friend and acting editor, wasn’t cooperating this time.

  Allie had spent the past Christmas with Rand, his father Cord Arbutten, and Frenchie,
but that was in a family setting not conducive to grabbing him by the hand and dragging
him to bed, tempted though she was. Although Frenchie would have applauded them.
Cord, too, probably.

  She stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a bath sheet. Nothing would
ruin today. Rand was in town for twenty-four hours and she planned to spend twenty-
three of them with him in bed. That would give them an hour to eat so they could keep
up their strength.

  Silky pink undies, a semi-transparent pink peasant blouse. Deep burgundy capris and
matching toenails. No shoes. She didn’t plan to be on her feet for long. She laughed
aloud. Could it really be happening?  Could today be the day?

  She had it all orchestrated:  a slow walk on the beach, a bottle of Chablis on ice for
when they returned. Music. Something slow and sexy with plenty of saxophone. Maybe a
little Sade. Fresh, scented sheets on the bed. She’d even fed and walked Spook hours
early so he wouldn’t be needy once Rand arrived. Her cowardly Lhasa Apso would
probably disappear to his favorite hiding spot behind the living room sofa when Rand
got there and not emerge until after he left, but it didn’t pay to leave these things to
chance.

  A spritz of Jo Malone 154, a splurge on her last visit home to Atlanta where her mother
dragged her to Nordstrom’s. Allie had paled when she learned the price, but her mother
told her it was time to ratchet up her self-esteem, and for once, Allie agreed. Besides,
with all the money her aunt had left her, she could afford it.

  Rand told her the scent made his knees weak. She smiled. All the better.

  Her best friend Sheryl probably wouldn’t barge in. Being a sheriff’s deputy, her hours
were erratic, and Allie hadn’t seen her in over a week. No, today and tonight belonged to
her and Rand.

  As she walked into the living room, she heard tires crunch to a stop in her oyster shell
driveway, and the breath whooshed out of her lungs. What was wrong with her?  It wasn’
t like she was a sixteen-year-old virgin, although at the moment, that’s exactly how she
felt.

  She restrained herself from racing to the door and flinging it wide, but it was a near
thing. When she saw Rand’s outline through the frosted jalousies, her heart hiccupped.
Even though it was January, sweat broke out on various parts of her body. God, she
was a mess. Frenchie was right. It was high time they got this over with so they could
begin to behave like normal human beings again.

  She counted five after he knocked before opening the door. They stood, regarding
each other, Rand big and dark and tall on her puny front stoop, Allie drinking in
everything about him, from his tight jeans to his narrow waist and broad chest to the
stunned look on his face.

  “Jesus,” he whispered. “You look sexy as hell.”

  “So do you,” Allie managed before he stepped through the door and closed it with his
foot. She heard the deadbolt click as he reached for her with the other arm. Then it was
a tangle of clothed limbs and murmured words and pure sensation. She heard “God, I’ve
wanted to…” and “waited so long…” and a lot of other half-heard phrases, but she didn’t
care what he said at the moment. It was all about the doing.

  His lips came down on hers. His hand slipped under the back of her loose blouse—the
main reason she’d worn it—and caressed her skin. She ran her hands over his face, his
neck, and pulled him closer.

  After what seemed like seconds or hours, he said, “Whoa. Wait.”  His breathing was
ragged. “Give me a minute here.”

  Allie didn’t even have enough breath to gasp. She stared up at him.

  He ran his hands up and down her arms and seemed to be trying to regulate his
breathing. “Not yet. Not this way.”

  Allie looked up at him in confusion. When she could form words, she said, “Then
when?  And how?”

  That brought a laugh from him, but it seemed strained. “Soon. Today, I mean, but this
isn’t how I want our first time to be. Flying clothes and groping hands. I want it to be—
Oh hell, forget it.”  He crushed her against him again and his lips came down on hers.

  This time it was Allie who pulled back. “Wait.”  She put her hands against his chest.
“Wait,” she gasped out. “You’re right. It should be memorable.”

  He pulled her to him again, his embrace looser. “It’ll be memorable. I can promise you
that.”

  Allie felt her blood pressure soar into the stratosphere. She managed to bite back the
“No, now,” that sprang to her lips. But he was right. She, too, wanted this to be the
ultimate romantic experience.

  Allie averted her eyes. She didn’t know what to say. What to do. At least Spook would
be a topic of conversation, but as usual, he was nowhere in sight. “Where is he?”

  “Who?”  Rand seemed almost back in control.

  Allie envied him. “Spook. My dog.”

  “I saw him run behind the couch when I came in. Not much of a watchdog, is he?”

  Allie stiffened. “He was abused. He can’t help it.”

  Rand grinned. “I wasn’t criticizing your pup, Allie. Not all dogs are watchdogs. It doesn't
make them any less lovable.”

  “Do you like dogs?”  It stunned her that she was ready to jump in bed with the man but
didn’t know the answer to this question. Suddenly it seemed important to her that he did.

  He shrugged. “I never had one when I was growing up, of course. No pets allowed at a
military academy.”

  Allie winced. Rand's father, Sheriff Cord Arbutten, had put Rand in a military school
when he was twelve and threatening to turn into a juvenile delinquent. It had almost
destroyed their relationship permanently, but it turned Rand around. Witness, an honest
attorney. What could be more rare?

  “But we always had a few strays around campus,” he was saying. “We fed them and
played with them. So, yeah. I like dogs. A lot.”

  Allie felt a smile split her face. “Good.”  She hadn’t been raised around animals, either.
Her mother maintained they were filthy beasts with fleas and who knew what else
crawling all over them. Allie knew for a fact that Spook was clean, and she’d never seen
so much as a black speck on him. “Me, too. Now.”

  After that, she couldn’t think of a thing to say. Rand stood there, staring at her. She
began to regret that she’d worn the nearly transparent blouse.

  Finally, he spoke. “Would you like to go for a walk on the beach?”

  She couldn’t believe it. That was supposed to be her line.

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  Thirty minutes into the trip. Approximately, since he wasn’t allowed to wear a watch.
Sidney had counted in his head the seconds since they’d left the Seminole County jail
complex. Shit, it was only because the deputies transporting him were his buddies that
he wasn’t in full restraint.  The wrist restraints were bad enough. Most of the transports
wore leg shackles, too, but everyone knew Sidney was a pitiful cripple. God knew he'd
played it up enough over the months. One look at his mangled ankle, and they'd tossed
the leg shackles aside. Sidney had spent months convincing them that he was just a
harmless broken deputy who got busted for trying to protect his boss.

  Busted in more ways than one. His body was so twisted and wrecked from getting
rammed with Levine’s cruiser that it was agony to roll out of bed every morning. It
wouldn't be so bad if he’d be a good boy and take his pain meds like the bitch nurse in
the psych unit told him, but he consistently cheeked them, knowing he’d have a better
use for them in the future.

  This wasn’t his first transport to a hearing. Hell, the prisoner transport van felt like a
second home. He’d had a half-dozen hearings while the county tried to decide what the
fuck to do with him. They were pushing for two counts of attempted murder and a score
of lesser offenses, but his lawyer pushed back just as hard to get him off on diminished
mental capacity.

  Sidney chuckled. Sure. Diminished mental capacity. So if he was nuts, how had he
fooled the shrink assigned to him?  Not only that, but he’d convinced the guards that he
was not only lame but their friend. He’d played up the injuries, moaning when he put his
weight on his right foot, wincing when he stood. It wasn’t all an act. It hurt like hell, but he
could take pain. What he couldn’t take was humiliation brought on him by Allie Grainger.
Two thousand. About thirty minutes into the trip. He couldn’t leave it too late. He had a
lot to do once he got on home territory. The first thing was clothes. He’d requested that
he be allowed to wear civilian clothes to the hearing, but that was denied, just like he’d
figured it would be. Only prisoners going to trial got to wear civvies so they wouldn’t look
like guilty scum when they came before the judge, and they had to change into those at
the courthouse. But, hell, it'd been worth a try.

  At least he wore the navy jumper. General population. Not high risk red or, god forbid,
work gang orange. A dark jacket to conceal the lettering on back, a patch here and a
clipboard there and he’d look just like any other anonymous drone going about his job.
Then a vehicle. Nothing fancy. It wouldn’t do to stand out. He grinned. Wheels wouldn't
be a problem. He could hotwire anything with wheels in no time flat. Another of the many
talents he'd perfected over the years. Shit, when he was a kid, he used to hotwire his
mom's car three times a week. No one caught him then, and no one would now.

  “You okay back there?” came Raymond’s voice over the speaker.

  “Breakfast is playing hell with my guts, but other than that, I’m just ducky.”

  He heard Raymond chuckle. Raymond wasn’t a bad guy. Young and inexperienced.
Sidney hated what he had to do to him, but hell, that was the breaks. You did what you
had to do. Besides, after his escape, Raymond would no longer be his bud. Neither
would any of the guys he’d worked with. He was finished in Brevard County.

  Six months ago, he’d tried to protect the sheriff from a reporter’s prying eyes. How the
hell was he supposed to know the sheriff didn’t kill his wife?  Everything pointed to it, and
he’d been so sure. Hell, the sheriff's own kid had been sure. Sidney had shadowed that
bitch Allie as she and the little bastard went around collecting evidence―to hang the
sheriff, he'd thought. When he finally closed in on them, Levine followed and rammed
him with a goddamn police cruiser. She was a dead woman walking, too, but not his first
priority.

  Twenty-two thousand, twenty. The trip took a little over an hour. He planned to make
his move about forty-five minutes in. That should put them close to I-95 and the rest
stop he’d talked the guys into letting him use before. It was generally deserted, and his
plan hinged on that. If not, he'd wing it.

  The guys knew he was always having stomach issues, some real, some not. Another
thing he’d built up, planning, always planning for this day. He knew they weren’t going
into the john with him to wipe his ass. They weren’t that kind of buds. He smiled. Thank
God Seminole County kept him in isolation for his own protection. They did that with
cops. Otherwise, he might have a few of those kinds of buds, too. He was pretty good in
hand-to-hand, but his injuries had weakened him, and a lot of those guys were brutes.
He knew because he’d locked their kind up for years.

  He felt bitterness sour in the back of his throat. Allie Grainger. She’d taken it all away
from him, the sheriff’s respect—hell, his friendship. Sidney knew Cord Arbutten had
looked on him as a son. Easy to do since the sheriff’s own son was a nasty little prick
who never gave his dad the time of day. He thought of his own father, glued to his
recliner with no interest in Sidney once he realized Sidney didn't want to be a firefighter
like him. No. Cord was his dad. Had been his dad. S**t.

  Almost time. Once he was free, he’d head back to Brevard County. He knew they
wouldn’t catch him. He was too good. He’d almost never got caught as a kid.

  He remembered when he used to hang with the Cape Canaveral bunch. He was
always doing something to them—gum in their hair, snakes in their shoes—and the only
one who ever caught on to him was that bitch Levine.

  The seconds ticked in his head.

  When the time was right, he bent over at the waist, clutching his belly, and screamed.

                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~