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Love’s Design

K. L. Ramsey


ISBN 978-1-912768-02-8


Published 2018

Published by Black Velvet Seductions Publishing by Smashwords


Love’s Design Copyright 2018 K.L. Ramsey

Cover design Copyright 2018 Jessica Greeley



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.


This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


All characters in this book are completely fictional. They exist only in the imagination of the author. Any similarity to any actual person or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Dedication


This book is dedicated to my two favorite cheer leaders, my step-monster and my aunt. I can’t tell you how much your encouragement means to me. Here is to many more “girl’s trips” to our favorite book store!



Prologue


Shephard Jackson couldn’t believe that April Magness was friends with his sister-in-law, Karlie. His assignment was to keep a close eye on her, but on his day off, she was someone else’s problem. Which led him to his next thought, who in the hell was watching her and his family, now? It made him crazy knowing that someone, who was possibly dangerous, was hanging around his siblings, parents and his nieces and nephews. What could he do? He couldn’t let on that he knew who April was or what she knew, that would ultimately put everyone else in danger.

It was just crazy that Karlie and April knew each other from when Karlie lived in Georgia, before she married Drew. What were the odds that his assignment would show up at his family’s cookout for Christ sake? What if they found her here? What if they tried to hurt her, here, in front of his family?

April had been Shep’s assignment for the past five months. And to be honest, she wasn’t a hardship to watch. Her sexy little body and those curves drove him crazy most nights, while he watched her from his truck. He felt like a peeping Tom, watching her through binoculars, as she made dinner and watched TV. He watched her when she took her bath every night, longing to be the one undressing her, washing her, fucking her. But that job was left unfulfilled, as far as he could tell. He never saw her with any man and that made him so crazy, he almost stormed into her little townhome many nights. But his job was to keep her safe, not fuck her; and wasn’t that a shame.

Drew and Ryan pulled up a seat on either side of Shep and he could tell that his brothers were going to give him some shit. As the youngest brother in the family, he was often the butt of jokes and the receiver of many wedgies. Still, he knew that in a pinch, they would always be on his side.

“So, little brother, how long are you staying in town?” Drew slung his big arm around Shep’s shoulder and sideways bear hugged him.

“Yeah, how long will we get to annoy you before you head back to Tennessee?” Ryan tried to pull Shep in the opposite direction, also bear hugging him. Shep just smiled and shrugged them off. Although he was the baby, he was bigger than both of his brothers.

“I leave tonight. I have someone watching Mandy but she gets antsy after a bit.” Mandy was his golden retriever and at six months old, she could really tear some shit up if she was left too long. Sometimes, Shep wanted to move back to Alabama to be closer to his family but other times, he was happy to live two hours away, in another state. Besides, his cabin in the woods was worth the trip. He loved the isolation and solitude. If his family had a “black sheep,” he’d be it.

“Ya know, that pretty little brunet that you are stalking with your stare, she lives in Tennessee too - not far from you.” Drew looked pleased with himself as if he read his brother’s diary and knew exactly what he was thinking.

“What sexy little brunet?” Shep played stupid. Letting his brothers know that he found April attractive or even knew her, was not an option.

“He didn’t say ‘sexy’, dumb ass,” Ryan slapped Shep on his back, “he said ‘pretty’.”

“So, you do find her sexy then?” Drew couldn’t seem to help his smile. “Good to know,” he too slapped Shep on the back. Yeah, it was time to go. His brothers were getting in his business and messing with trouble that they shouldn’t mess with.

Shep stood to say his goodbyes, making the rounds with his family, squeezing each of his nieces and nephews until they giggled and squirmed. When he made his way to Karlie, he rubbed his sister-in-law’s very pregnant belly, “Not too much longer, huh?” Karlie smiled and kissed him on his cheek.

“You’ll come back to see your new niece or nephew, right?” He nodded, a little sad that another Jackson was going to be coming into the family and he was still completely alone. The truth was, he longed for what his two older brothers had but in his line of work, meeting women was hard to do. As a police detective, his nights were usually spent on stakeouts and his days were filled with paperwork. That didn’t leave much time for finding the right woman and settling down.

“Shep, have you met April?” Shep turned at the mention of her name and practically ran into her. Shit, meeting April Magness was not part of the plan.

“Hello,” Shep extended his hand and met her beautiful green eyes with his. The way she looked at him, he worried for a moment that she had seen him around, possibly even watching her.

April smiled and returned his handshake, “Karlie has told me so much about you.” Her smile didn’t touch her eyes. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“I hear you decorated Ryan and Jenna’s new house?” Shep needed to get out of there, but he didn’t want to be rude or spook April. After all, getting this close to her really wasn’t the plan.

“I sure did - I’m an interior designer. I owed Karlie a favor; otherwise, I generally don’t drive two hours to design a house.” This time her smile did meet her eyes and Shep couldn’t believe how beautiful April was up close.

“I hear we live in the same town. I could use a ride home. Drew picked me up today to come here since my car’s in the shop. Would you mind giving me a ride?”

Shep panicked. What was the department’s protocol for something like this? Each second that ticked by seemed like a giant cluster fuck waiting to happen.

“Sure.” What else could he say? Telling her ‘no’ might tip her off. “I’d be happy to drive you home, just let me say goodbye to my parents.” April nodded and Shep strode away wondering what to do next.

April and he made their way from the party to his pickup, when his phone rang. Shit, his Sargent.

“Sorry, I have to take this.” He tried to gain some distance from April, to have a private conversation but Ryan’s driveway didn’t give him much space.

“Jackson,” he barked into the phone.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing, Jackson? Your assignment is to watch Miss Magness, not fucking date her! Why the fuck am I hearing from Simmons that you are leaving your family’s fucking cookout with April Magness?”

Yeah, they were being watched and the Sarge wasn’t too happy about the whole mess.

“Sorry, but I really can’t talk now. I’m giving someone a ride home from my brother’s party. Can I call you later?” Shep knew that April was listening, although she tried hard not to.

“You better fucking call me later, Jackson. I think we need to discuss a few things.” The Sarge hung up and Shep cursed inwardly.

“Girlfriend?” April smiled up at him.

“What? Um, no. It’s just work.” Shep helped lift April up into the king cab of his Ram truck and damn it she felt good in his hands. He longed to put his hands all over her body, but he shut her door instead.

Yeah, this whole idea was a cluster fuck.

Chapter One


Shep wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do with April once he got her home. The crazy thing was he was on duty tonight to sit and watch her, outside her townhome. What was he supposed to do, drop her off at her front door, tell her it was nice to meet her and then sit in his truck and stalk her the rest of the night? He loved his job and he loved protecting innocent people. The problem with protecting April was, he didn’t know if she was innocent or not. He wasn’t sure if she was someone who needed his protection or if she was someone he needed to protect others from. Either way, she was his job right now and he was damn good at his job. He worked hard to get where he was in such a short time. It was almost three years ago that he decided to join the local police academy. He got a degree in criminal justice and his mom was hoping that he’d become a lawyer but that was never in his heart. He had known, since he was a young boy, that he wanted to become a police officer and that decision seemed to disappoint his parents more than he ever wanted to. He just followed his dreams, he wished his parents could accept that.

After he graduated from the academy he was offered a job in Tennessee and he jumped at the opportunity. It was not only a great offer, but it was a good excuse to leave Alabama. Things with his mom were a little rocky and he was ready to put some distance between his family and himself. His brothers, Drew and Ryan, had both settled down and were popping out kids like they were in a competition with each other. His little sister, Maddie, was in her last year at the University of Alabama. He was always the black sheep of his family. Being the youngest boy, he never seemed to find his niche in his family’s dynamic. So, he packed up all his shit and moved two hours away. He bought a little fixer-upper log cabin, out in the middle of nowhere; and he has never been happier.

Except now - sitting next to April in his pick-up truck, he wasn’t so fucking happy. This whole situation could have been avoided if he would have just made up some excuse, like he wanted to, and skipped his brother’s housewarming party. But, he had one of those moments where he felt that he needed to spend more time with his family. All in all, he loved seeing his brothers and their wives and kids. He longed to have what they had; to find the one woman who was meant for him, and have kids. But when his mother started riding his ass about being twenty-five and still single, he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Then, when he got roped into driving April home - he wasn’t sure what the protocol was about a detective driving home the person who was under surveillance. Really, how in the hell did this happen?

He tried not to look over in her direction but when April heaved a deep sigh and started fidgeting, he couldn’t help but glance over at her. She was gorgeous with her long brown hair and fire engine red lipstick that she painted on her pouty lips. He wanted to kiss and lick all her lipstick off while wrapping her long ponytail around his hands. Yeah, he knew that he was fucked but watching her for five months hadn’t done much to curb his libido or desire for a woman that he wasn’t sure he could even trust.

April must have taken his glance as an invitation to start up a conversation. Shep guessed that continuing with the silent treatment was too much to ask.

“Um,” April squeaked and cleared her throat, “I really appreciate you driving me all the way back to Tennessee.”

“Yeah,” Shep’s throat felt a little dry, “It’s not a problem. As you know, I live in the same town.” Shep hadn’t felt this nervous talking to a girl since he was in high school.

“Well, it’s a small world,” April seemed like she didn’t really know what to say to him, either. She started fidgeting again, looking out her window. He felt like a heel, making her so nervous. He knew that he could do better to help ease her nerves without blowing his cover. As far as she knew, he was just Drew’s little brother.

“So, tell me about your design business.” Maybe he could get some information from her to help with his investigation. Of course, everything she would tell him would have to be off the books. It wasn’t like he could formally question her and have any of it hold up in court.

April pulled her attention from the landscape and smiled at Shep, taking his breath away. “Thank you for that,” she reached across his center console and covered his hand with hers. He immediately felt sparks shoot up his arm and he wanted to pull away, but he needed her to be comfortable, so he wrapped his hand in hers and squeezed.

“I’m feeling a little out of sorts lately; a little nervous. Thanks for trying to strike up a conversation.” She squeezed his hand in return and turned her attention to the passing landscape again. “I guess you could say that I’ve just been a little on edge lately. Life just isn’t going like I planned.” Shep loved the little southern twang that played with her voice when she talked to him - sexy. He loved a country girl. God, he needed to just get laid and get it out of his system. Otherwise, April was going to turn into trouble that he didn’t need.

“I’m sorry to hear that, April.” Shep caught himself rubbing his thumb over her little, soft hand that he held in his and he froze. April seemed to sense his tension, pulling her hand back to rest on her lap.

“Business is going well.” So, she was going to keep things formal? “As you know, I just finished up most of your brother’s house. I hope that Jenna likes it, I know that she wants to become a designer. I just hope I didn’t step on her toes with what I did to her home. Ryan and Karlie came up with the idea to have me do the main living room, master bedroom, and kids’ rooms. I guess with all of their little ones,” April sighed, “Jenna doesn’t have a whole lot of time for decorating.”

This time, Shep couldn’t help himself, he was the one to reach across and take April’s hand in his, linking their fingers. She seemed to feel the same longing that he had, for what his brothers found with their women.

“So, is their someone special in your life? Do you have any kids?” He already knew the answer, but he needed to pretend to be ignorant when it came to April Magness.

“Well, no. Would you be holding my hand if you thought that I had a husband or kids?” Good point, smart girl.

“Um, no. I just assumed that since you grabbed my hand first, that you were single.” April seemed to accept his reasoning, but boy was it hard to pretend that he hadn’t watched this beautiful woman for the past five months. She had even played some major roles in his late-night fantasies.

“So, how about you, Shep.” He couldn’t help but freeze, like a deer in the headlights. He didn’t really want to talk about himself. He couldn’t go with the truth but lying to her wouldn’t be easy. “Do you have anyone special in your life?”

Well, that one was easy to answer, “No.”

“How can a good-looking guy, like yourself, not have anyone special?” She seemed surprised by his lack of relationships, his mother would approve of April. “I mean, look at you - seriously, no-one?”

Shep checked his reflection in his rear-view mirror, making sure that she was seeing the same guy he saw every morning. He wasn’t ugly but all he could see was someone who was tired and with no promise of sleep anytime soon, his reflection likely wouldn’t change.

April laughed, pulling his attention away from his reflection, “You seemed confused, Shep. You don’t see it? I mean those baby blues of yours with that light brown hair a girl would love to run her fingers through - totally hot. And your body - how many times a day do you work out? Your arms are almost the size of my thighs and I’m guessing you have a six-pack under that t-shirt?”

He could feel his face heat and knew that he was blushing. Seriously, he was like a fucking school girl. April laughed again. “Well, I’m happy that I am so amusing,” he growled with a serious scowl. “Geeze, you’re not too shy about telling people what you think, sweetheart.”

Now it was April’s turn to blush and Shep couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, I just call them like I see them Shep. And, you’re hot.”

Yeah, he really needed to change the subject because her talking about how she noticed his body only made him want her more. It was nice to be noticed for a change. His life seemed to be a revolving cycle of the gym, work, food, more work and sometimes sleep. He hadn’t had a soft, warm female under or over him, for that matter, in about six months now. His poor dick had probably forgotten what a pussy felt like. At the thought, his underused appendage seemed to stand up and take notice of April - yeah, down boy.

“So, what do you do for a living?” April’s change of subject grabbed his attention and he felt a spilt-second of panic. Now, he couldn’t tell her the truth, because she would most certainly bolt. He’d been trained to be undercover but lying to April felt wrong. She seemed too open and honest with him. But, he couldn’t forget that this woman was probably trouble.

“I own a construction company,” the lie rolled a little too easily off his tongue. It was his go-to cover, since he had worked construction in high school and college, he would at least know what he was talking about if someone asked too many questions.

“Huh - I didn’t expect you to be in construction.” April was studying him, and he feared that she could see through his lie. “I think I imagined you being something more…heroic.” April’s blush was adorable. “I mean, I was thinking more along the line of fireman or ENT, or even police officer.” She shrugged, “Do you like working in construction?”

Now it was Shep’s turn to shrug. He found it interesting that she thought of him as a policeman. It was almost like she knew him and that made him a little uncomfortable. Could she see through him or did she just have good instincts? He wanted to be done talking about himself. Telling one lie was easy but after a while, they just seemed to spiral out of control. The last thing he needed was to get caught in a lie. The two-hour ride felt more like two days. He just needed to keep his shit together for another hour or so, drop April off at her house and be on his way.

“Yeah, construction is great. Owning the company is a perk since I really don’t like working for others.” He spied their tail out his rear view and cringed inwardly at how true that statement was. Sarge was going to hand him his ass tonight after he dropped off April. Working for other’s and taking orders sometimes sucked - hell, it sucked all the time.

“To be truthful, I’d love to get out of construction and start my own security business.” Shep knew that he was letting her into his life with this admission, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He wanted to share his dream with her, and well, she was the first woman to ask him about his work in a very long time. April rubbed her thumb over his knuckles, reminding him that their hands were still joined. He’d almost forgotten their connection.

“See,” she beamed, “I knew you were a hero. I think you would fit as someone who protects others.” Yeah, definitely time to change the topic.

“So, I’m getting kind of hungry - you wanna grab a bite?” Shep regretted his question before it was even completely out of his mouth. What the fuck was wrong with him? He knew that his sergeant would have a fit, but he really didn’t want his time with April to end. Yeah, he’d have to be careful with how much he divulged to her, but she was surprisingly easy to talk to and if he could get any information to help his case, a little dinner out with a gorgeous woman wasn’t too much of a hardship.

She seemed nervous and a little fidgety again, pulling her hand from his and he immediately felt the loss of contact.

“April,” he ran his newly free hand through his hair and swore. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so forward. If you’re not comfortable with going to dinner with me, well - just forget that I even asked.” Shep regretted playing his hand too soon. The last thing he meant to do was scare April off or worse, spook her. His sergeant would have a complete meltdown if he blew cover and scared her into running. That would mean five months of hard work down the toilet and one pissed off boss. To top it all off, if April ran, she could be running right into danger. The guy that she was supposedly hiding from was no joke. He’d kill her as soon as he got his hands on her. Well, unless Sarge was correct and she was in on the whole thing. Shep just couldn’t see that being the case. Since he started watching her, he got the feeling that she was in danger. She was constantly looking over her shoulder whenever she was out in public. She seemed genuinely scared and he couldn’t stand to see the fear in her eyes. He wanted to bet on her; wanted to believe that April was innocent in the whole mess, but he just wasn’t sure.

“Shephard, I just - I’m not sure that you should take me out. I don’t want you to get hurt and I’m afraid that is all I will do to you, hurt you. If things were different, I would love to have dinner with you.” Her smile didn’t touch her eyes and Shep couldn’t help but take her hand back into his.

“Honey, I’m not sure what you are thinking, but I’m just looking to have dinner. I don’t think that either of us could be hurt over dinner.”

“I was involved with a dangerous man and he’s not the type to just let something or someone go. I just don’t want to get you involved in my crazy, Shep.”

Now he was getting somewhere. He didn’t want to seem too pushy, but he needed to take a chance while he still had one. “I know of a little pizza place, about thirty minutes from home. Why don’t we grab a pie and take it back to my place? I have a new puppy and I’m pretty sure she’s probably torn through my sofa by now.” He tried flashing her his smile but all that did was seem to make her even more nervous.

“I think that will be okay. I do love puppies, well I should say that I love all animals. I’ve never really had a pet.”

“Not even as a kid? We always had dogs when I was a boy.”

“No, they really don’t let you have pets in foster care.” April barked out a laugh. “Don’t get me wrong, I stayed with one nice family, at the end of my time in the system, but they didn’t allow pets.”

“I’m sorry,” Shep ran his thumb over her knuckles, hoping to soothe her. “How long were you in foster care?”

“My parents both died when I was eleven, car crash.” She almost whispered the last part. “I didn’t have any other family, so I went into the system.”

“Do you have any brother or sisters?” Shep wanted to pull her into his lap and hold her. Thank God he was driving and couldn’t act on his stupid instincts.

“Nope, just me,” she was watching the landscape again, and Shep could feel her sadness. He hurt for her. “You’d think after all this time that I’d have it more together and maybe at least be adult enough to own a goldfish. Honestly, I didn’t see my life turning out this way but I’m making a few changes and who knows - maybe next year will be my year.”

Shep pulled her hand to his lips and gently brushed her knuckles with a kiss. April gasped and tried to pull her hand away but he only tightened his hold. “I’m sorry that you had to go through that, April.”

The rest of the ride to the pizza shop was quiet. Shep couldn’t figure out how her past stay, in the foster care system, never showed up in his paperwork on April, when he got the case. Someone somewhere fucked up and he needed to find out why that little piece of information wasn’t with her file. A part of him felt like a complete dick for wondering if her story was real. He lied to her about what he did for a living. Hell, he pretended to have no knowledge of her before meeting her at his brother’s party. As if he never watched her undress and then fantasize about her in the shower, after his shift finally ended. So yeah, it was possible that she just lied to him but the tear that ran down her cheek told him otherwise. If April was lying, then she was a damn good actress to boot.

He thought he knew just about all he needed to know about April Magness but here she was surprising the shit out of him.

Chapter Two


April wasn’t sure if any of this was a good idea. Really, she only went to Ryan and Jenna’s housewarming party because Karlie had insisted. She was proud of the way the house turned out but honestly, she was under so much stress and worry lately, all she wanted to do was stay home and slip into a hot bath. Karlie also insisted that her husband, Drew, would gladly drive up to Tennessee to pick April up after she made the excuse of her car being in the shop. Of course, she didn’t want to get caught in a lie, so she had to accept Karlie’s offer. And then, her dear friend insisted that April catch a ride home with the only single Jackson brother. Both Drew and Ryan mysteriously came up with plans that made it impossible for them to drive April home. April could almost see Karlie’s wheels turning as she hatched her diabolical plan to throw Shep and April together. How could she say no? And, really - why would she want to? Shephard Jackson was pretty easy on the eyes and when he smiled at her, she just wanted to melt into a puddle. He was probably about 6’4”, judging how he made her feel short at 5’11”. Usually, when she wore heels, she stood over 6’ tall. Men were often intimidated by her height. But standing next to Shep, even in her designer heels, she felt petite. The man’s body was drool-worthy. She wasn’t really kidding when she teased him about working out a few times a day. He looked like he spent a good portion of his day in the gym. She knew she came on strong with Shep, but she couldn’t help it. He just seemed to naturally bring out her inner bad girl.

The way he kept holding her hand, offering her comfort, rubbing her knuckles with his thumb, made her girl parts go liquid. And when he kissed her fingers, she felt she would probably burst into flames. The man made her hot and she had a feeling that he was a bad idea.

She must have temporarily lost her mind when she agreed to have pizza at his place. Really, she knew that going back to his home was a lack of better judgment, on her part. But, her curiosity and libido won out and it was too late to back out now. Shep turned off the road going into town, onto a little gravel path. She grabbed his arm he had rested on the center console and he laughed at her.

“Sorry darlin’, I live a little off the beaten path. My cabin is about a half mile back.” April nodded and Shep laughed again.

“So, you’re taking me to your cabin, deep in the woods?”

“Don’t make it sound like I’m taking you out to bury your body in the woods, we’re just having some pizza. Besides, it’s peaceful and safe back here. Almost like the rest of the world doesn’t exist.” Shep flashed his smile at her and she felt a little more relaxed. Actually, his cabin sounded like heaven. She often wished that she could just escape the outside world, especially with Malcolm threatening to come after her. Her ex wouldn’t rest until she either went back to him or was dead. After spending the past two years with him, that realization still hurt her. How could a man tell her that she was his everything and then try to kill her when she decided to leave. She just couldn’t stay with a man like Mal, after everything he did to her. She knew that if she stayed with him, she’d end up dead. Hell, she left him, and he still wanted her dead.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Shep’s voice pulled her from thinking about what Mal promised to do to her and she shivered.

“I was just thinking about my ex, sorry.” Really, she needed to find her filter. First, she told Shep about her time in foster care and now this?

“I’m not sure how to take that, sweetheart. I don’t expect this to count as a date, but I hope I’d be enough to keep you from thinking about another man.” Was he serious? No other man could even compete with Shep, certainly not her ex.

“No, it’s not like that - sorry.” Why did this man make her so nervous? “I just was thinking about something that he, um - well, that he promised, and it just wasn’t a good thought.” Shep’s face tightened into a scowl and she wondered if Karlie had told him anything about her past problems with Malcolm. Karlie was her only friend when she lived in Georgia. April left foster care as soon as she turned eighteen, even when her foster family asked her to stay with them, she couldn’t bring herself to hope for something more. So, she left and didn’t look back. She ended up living in a little rat hole of an apartment and working at a shitty diner. Karlie was her neighbor and they just hit it off. Karlie was a little older than April and she really took her under her wing. She was the big sister April never had but always wanted. Even Karlie couldn’t save her from herself and April really had a knack for finding trouble. After Karlie moved back to Alabama, April felt more alone than ever. She met Malcolm when he came into the diner. He took her home that first night and she didn’t leave for two years. She thought she found her prince charming. Well, until her prince got mad at her a week into their relationship and knocked her halfway across the bedroom. She wanted to get up from the floor and walk away from him then. But Mal wouldn’t let her leave him. Two months into their relationship, he beat her so badly, she ended up in the emergency room. She could see in the nurse’s face that she knew what happened, but April couldn’t tell her what really happened. She made up a lie about falling down a flight of steps. They stitched up her lip and sent her on her way, back to Mal. The crappy thing was that she started to believe that he really loved her; that she was the one that was wrong. Mal would tell her that if she could just keep her fucking mouth shut, he wouldn’t need to teach her a lesson. After two years, two fucking years of bruises, lacerations and even a broken arm, she finally got away. She packed her bag while he was out collecting money from one of his jobs and she ran. April used almost everything she had saved to buy a bus ticket to Tennessee and she left. She called the only person who ever meant something to her - Karlie. Drew told April to lose her cell phone and to cut up any credit cards, as if she had any. He drove to Tennessee with Karlie and their adorable little girl, Jemma, and brought her a new cell phone and gave her an envelope with enough cash to set her up. She didn’t know how she could ever repay them. Karlie even called one of her local friends, Pam, who owned an interior design business, and got April a job. She was finally finding happiness with her new life and she’d be damned if she would let Mal take that away from her. She was happy. Well, if Mal would stop threatening her, she’d be happier.

Mal called Karlie, trying to find April after she ran away from him. He really put on a good act, telling Karlie how concerned he was for April. He even tried to convince her friend that she was crazy and made up all the abuse. Karlie knew the truth and she kept April’s location a secret. April worried for her friend but Drew insisted that he could keep Karlie and Jem safe. Still, April knew what Mal was capable of and she worried that he would go after Karlie to get to her. About once a month, Malcolm sent a menacing text to Karlie, threatening her to get to April. Drew decided to change Karlie’s number and things were quiet. It had been about two months since anyone heard from Malcolm and the silence was making her nervous. Mal had the means and the ability to track her down and that scared the shit out of her. She saw firsthand what Malcolm did to people who owed him money and couldn’t pay, so she knew what he could do to her. Or worse, what he could do to people that she loved.

Shep pulled in front of a little rustic cabin and she gasped. It was something out of Country Living Magazine and she was in love. She unbuckled her seat belt and jumped out of Shep’s truck before he could make it around to her. She just couldn’t help herself, she squealed with delight as she ran up to the front porch.

“Shep, this is perfect,” she flounced down into one of the rocking chairs he had on the porch. Shep’s phone chimed and he pulled it from the front pocket of his worn jeans.

“Jackson,” he barked. April tried to pretend not to listen, but she just couldn’t help herself. When they left the party, he got a call from someone and their conversation sounded suspiciously like he was talking to a girlfriend. The person on the other line seemed to be asking a lot of questions again. And Shep’s answers were mysteriously short and sweet. Although he had a pretty sour expression on his gorgeous face. She couldn’t help but smile at how his mood seemed to go from easy going to completely defensive and sour in just seconds.

“Yeah, I got it. But I am gonna be a little late coming in tonight.” Shep looked in her direction and she pretended to be interested by something in the woods. He turned his back and tried to whisper into the phone, but the man seemed to have only one volume.

“Yeah, I said I’ve got it. I will be in tonight and we can talk about it then. And, you can call off your boys, I’ve got it all under control.” Shep turned back around and his smile was back in place, as he ended his call.

“Let’s go in, I can hear Mandy barking from here. You should hold the pizza cause she’s gonna attack me, as soon as I walk through the door.” Shep handed April the pizza box, his fingers brushed hers and she could feel those damn sparks again. Every time the man touched her, her body seemed to hum with awareness. He smiled down at her and all she wanted to do was go up on her tiptoes and kiss his mouth.

“Later, honey.” Shep winked down at her and walked into his cabin. Had he just read her mind? She shook off her brain fog and followed him into his house while admiring the way his jeans cupped his tight ass. She tried to keep the pizza out of reach as she tripped over a very jumpy, happy puppy.

***

Shep knew that he was already in deep with this woman. When she looked into his eyes and leaned in slightly, he wanted to take her in his front yard. But he knew from his conversation with Sarge that they were being watched. Apparently, Simmons followed them all the way back from Alabama. At least he was smart enough not to pull onto Shep’s gravel driveway, April would have surely picked up on their tail. She wasn’t just beautiful, but she seemed pretty damn smart. That combo was dangerous, but his dick wasn’t listening to his brain right now. All he could think about was getting Mandy settled and showing April to his bedroom. He wanted to lay her across his bed and strip her bare. He needed to keep it together because after this little date was over, he had a meeting with Sarge and boy was that man pissed. Shep really couldn’t explain, with April sitting on his porch, why the hell he’d brought her back to his place. He couldn’t tell Sarge that he let his dick make that decision while his brain was malfunctioning.

“I love your place,” April gushed twirling in a complete circle to take in his small cabin.

“Thanks. It’s small but I’ve just about got it the way that I want it. It was a real fixer-upper when I found it a few years back. The roof was caving in, but I was able to get her back on her feet.” Shep felt a little on edge having a woman in his cabin. April was the first woman that he’d ever brought back with him. That she was his current assignment made the entire situation one complete fuck up.

“Yeah, well I guess owning your own construction company has its perks.” April couldn’t seem to get enough of his place. He hated lying to her about his job, but he couldn’t just tell her that he was a detective. That would open up a whole can of worms that he preferred to keep a lid on. He liked the idea of getting close to her, he just hated lying to do it. April was the first woman that he had any interest in, in a very long time. Sure, it didn’t hurt that he felt like he already knew her from watching her for the past five months. He could say with certainty that the more he got to know her, the more he wanted to know about her.

Officially, April was a person of interest in the case his department was building against her ex-boyfriend, Malcolm Diggs. Yeah, he was a real piece of work. It seemed like the man brought trouble with him wherever he went. Now he was bringing that trouble to Tennessee and Shep wanted to nail the asshole. Malcolm Diggs was a loan shark with a temper. He didn’t just collect the money owed to him, he terrorized the people that owed him money until they paid or ended up dead. An undercover officer on the force with Shep, Danny White, got too close to Diggs’ new operation in Tennessee and Diggs killed him. Shep wanted to take Diggs down so badly, he could taste it, and no-one was going to get in his way.

At first, April was just being watched because Sarge thought she would lead them to Diggs. She left Georgia a few months before Diggs’ activities started in Tennessee, so Sarge felt that maybe she was linked to Diggs’ criminal activity. Shep never really bought the whole, ‘she’s in on it’ theory, but he couldn’t completely rule it out. He knew that Diggs probably hurt April, repeatedly. She was in and out of the hospital more times than a ninety year-old-woman. She never pressed charges against the asshole, not even when he broke her arm. And, fuck that bothered him. The woman sitting in front of him didn’t seem like a victim. She seemed strong and capable. But knowing how Diggs beat her, broke her and all but destroyed her, made him want to kill the fucker. He knew that he was probably getting too close to April but that wasn’t something that he wanted to change, so he would just need to roll with it. Convincing Sarge to go with his new plan was going to be a challenge. His boss wanted Shep to drop April off at the nearest corner and walk away like they had never met, but he knew that was going to be impossible now. He not only met her, but he wanted her. He’d just have to convince his boss that getting close to her was a good plan; the best they had in the past five months.

He just didn’t know how to move forward without spooking April. If he came on too strong, she’d bolt, and they would possibly lose their only lead to Diggs. On the other hand, if he got close to her and she later found out that he was a detective, she’d hate his fucking guts. Maybe this plan wasn’t the best. Either way, he’d be screwed.

“Um, can we eat?” April was watching him with those green eyes of hers and he wanted to do more than serve her pizza.

“Sure, why don’t we sit at the table?” Shep moved into his kitchen and started to get out some plates and glasses for drinks.

“Everything is so neat and tidy. I almost feel like I shouldn’t touch anything.” April pulled a chair out and sat at his little kitchen table.

“Well, honey, you can touch just about anything in here. I’m not too particular about stuff like that.” Shep set the table and served her pizza. “I hope sweet tea is alright, it’s all I have right now, besides beer.” April was watching him, nodding.

“When you say that I can touch anything, does that include you?” Shep lost his grip on his plate and it hit the table with a clang. She laughed, “Sorry, I couldn’t help it. For some reason, I just like to rattle your chains.” April was standing next to him, helping him clean up the mess from his pizza falling onto the table.

“I got this,” Shep all but barked. He didn’t like feeling this off-kilter, but boy the woman seemed to knock him sideways. He kind of liked that April wasn’t afraid to ask for what she wanted, but did she really want him? She had sent him some mixed signals on the ride home. He wasn’t sure if this woman meant what she said or if she was just a tease.

“Time to find out,” Shep turned to April, pulling her into his arms.

“Um,” she squeaked, all confidence gone, “time to find out what?” She stared his eyes and he could see that she was a little frightened. Yeah, Diggs did a number on her. He’d just have to show April that he wasn’t Diggs. He hauled her into his body and sealed his mouth over hers. At first, she seemed nervous, even fidgety. But, when she relaxed against him and sighed into his mouth, he took that as a sign that she was okay with his taking control. He wrapped her long ponytail around his hand and tugged gently, giving himself a better angle. He licked and kissed his way into her mouth and damn, she felt right. He growled in frustration, pulling away from her lips. Taking April on his kitchen table wasn’t part of the plan. He just didn’t expect her to be so sweet and willing.

She smiled up at him, breathless from their kiss and damn if he didn’t take her lips again, this time a little more forcefully then the first. He longed to be able to lay her out on his table and run his tongue all over her hot, naked body. He wanted to wrap her long legs around his waist and carry her down the hallway to his room. April moaned, and he seemed to find his senses again.

This time, when he broke the kiss, he moved away from her. He didn’t trust himself not to do exactly what he fantasized doing to her all those months he watched her. “I needed to find out if you were just a tease or not.” Shep sat and waited her out.

“And,” she seemed a little pissed and damn it was cute the way she thrust her hip out and rested her hand on it. Yeah, she was a little pissed. It took everything ounce of his willpower not to pull her down on his lap. But that would only allow her to feel his erection and that just might scare her off. This woman did it for him.

“Don’t be mad, honey. You’ve sent me some mixed signals. I just needed to get them straight. If it makes you feel any better, I think we’re on the same page.” He got up and went around to her side of the table, pulling out her chair.

April plunked down into her seat, “Yeah, and what page is that, Shep.”

“The page where we both want each other.” Shep took his seat and got himself a fresh piece of pizza. “You should eat, honey. I’m going to have to cut our evening short. There’s some trouble on one of my jobs and I need to go in for a bit.” Not a total lie. Shep was surprised to see April deflate in front of him. Was she disappointed that he had to call it an early night? God, if she only knew that after he left her he’d actually be watching her all night. Yeah, he’d be keeping that little piece of information to himself. He didn’t think that would come off as not being creepy.

“I can just call a cab,” April almost looked defeated, “I don’t want to put you out.” Shy, unsure of herself April was back and that pissed the hell out of Shep. He didn’t know what brought it on, but he knew how to stop it.

“No fucking way, honey. I’ll drive you home. How else will I get another kiss?” She smiled back at him, her mood seeming brighter.

“So, it’s the goodnight kiss that you’re after, Mr. Jackson? I see how it is.” April laughed and Shep relaxed. Whatever Diggs did to April, he’d do just about anything to reverse the damage.

“Well, I did like kissing you, Miss Magness. I was hoping to steal another when I drop you off tonight if that’s okay with you.” April nodded and looked down at her pizza.

“Yeah, I’d like that, Shep.”

He just hoped Sarge was as compliant as April was. Convincing his boss that he needed to get closer to April wasn’t going to be easy. But, either way, he planned on getting a hell of a lot closer to April Magness, even if that meant giving up the case.

Chapter Three


“Three fucking hours, Jackson? You spent three fucking hours with the suspect in the case you’re investigating? Tell me you didn’t screw her.”

Shep white-knuckled the arms of his chair. He wanted to get up and leave. What he really wanted to do was go back to April’s townhouse, stand on her porch and kiss her senseless, like he did earlier. God, when she asked him to come in for a drink, he wanted to say yes. But he knew he was being watched and he knew that scorching kiss would be reported back to his sergeant. He didn’t care, Shep had already made up his mind that April would have his protection, up close and personal, whether his boss liked it or not.

“No, I didn’t fuck her - I’m not stupid.” The sound Sarge made told Shep that he thought otherwise. “I was introduced to April at my brother’s housewarming party. I had no idea that she would be there or that she was even friends with my sister-in-law. You know I don’t watch her 24 hours a day. A heads up from Simmons would have been damn nice. I walked into my sister-in-law’s matchmaking web, and if you knew her, you’d know that getting untangled would be damn impossible. She backed me into a corner and insisted that I give April a ride home. What was I supposed to do Sarge?”

The sergeant turned a weird shade of red and the vein in his forehead looked like it just might pop out. “You fucking say no.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t. And now we have the perfect opportunity to have a man on the inside,” Shep needed to proceed cautiously, he knew he was on thin ice.

“I’m worried about what you plan to be inside of, Jackson!”

Shep barked out a laugh. If his sergeant only knew how badly he wanted to be inside of April, he would have had him removed from the case months ago.

“Listen, Sarge, I think you’re not seeing the big picture. I can get close to her and get intel on Diggs. If he calls her or contacts her in any way, I’ll know. And if that asshole tries to come after her, to hurt her, I’ll be there to take him down.” Shep needed to tamp down his anger because his boss actually looked like he was thinking about it. Shep sat back in his seat, waiting Sarge out. He knew his sergeant was a good man and a damn good cop. He’d come to the same conclusions that Shep had, although he was hoping that his boss wouldn’t pick up on how much he wanted to fuck April Magness. He wanted her as much as he wanted his next breath. Not something his sergeant needed to know, especially if he planned to stay on April’s case.

“I’ve also built my cover with April. She believes that I own a construction company. I have everything in place to cover my ass if she does a little digging. I talked to my brother and sister-in-law on the way here and they never told her what I do. As far as April Magness is concerned, I own a construction company. My brother, Drew, also told me some interesting news. Diggs has been looking for her. He contacted my sister-in-law, Karlie, to find April after she left him. They don’t think April is involved with Diggs, they believe she’s is in danger. Diggs threated to find her and kill her. He also threated Karlie, although my brother says he has the situation under control, I think we might need to work with the Alabama guys to have them keep an eye on things.”

“Okay, Jackson. I think you may have blinders on when it comes to Miss Magness. I still think she’s involved with Diggs but like you said, you’re already on the inside of this mess. So, get close to her, but not too fucking close. I don’t want any more reports that you are kissing that woman on her front porch. And for the love of fuck, stop taking her back to your cabin. Why would you take a suspect back to your place? It’s like you weren’t even thinking.”

Shep was thinking all right, just with the wrong body part. “I’ll call my friend that runs the precinct where your family lives. He’ll keep an eye on your brother’s house, he owes me a favor. You’re off her stakeouts. I want you to concentrate on being Miss Magness’ boyfriend, for lack of a better term. She seems to have taken to you, so make sure you spend lots of time with her.” Shep smiled at his boss, “But keep your cock in your pants, Romeo. I don’t want you fucking her. It will compromise our case.”

Shep felt his smile disappear. How was he going to keep from having sex with the hottest girl he’s met in a long time? Yeah, this whole idea suddenly became less appealing.

“Yeah see, now you’re catching on, son. Being on the inside suddenly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?” His sergeant was taking a little too much joy from the realization that Shep was going to be jerking off in the shower while spending some quality time with Miss Magness.

“Fuck,” Shep cursed.

“Not her, Jackson. Not her.” His sergeant laughed on his way out of the office and Shep sat, dumbstruck that his idea went from good to shit in just under an hour.

***

He watched as that little cunt all but fucked some guy on her porch. He was there to take her back, to give her another chance. It had been a few months since he last saw her, and she still looked so fucking hot. One of his local guys helped track her down, but he failed to mention that the little bitch had herself a new man. He was willing to give her another chance. But now, seeing her with another man’s mouth all over her, the way the ape was pawing at her; he didn’t take sloppy seconds. Malcolm Diggs wasn’t the type of man who settled for anything or anyone and he wasn’t about to start now.

He wasn’t about to let some asshole have her either, she’d pay for leaving him. She knew too much anyway. He always suspected that she saw him off that clown that couldn’t pay up. He gave that shit bag two extra weeks and nothing. He couldn’t let him off, so he shot him. Sending a message to everyone else that owed him money, that he wasn’t someone to screw with. Sometimes, you had to lose a little money to make some. Anyway, fucking that asshole’s wife made him feel a little better. He knew that April didn’t stay in the car like he ordered her to. The little whore couldn’t seem to follow directions very well. He thought he heard something in the alley, behind where he shot the fucker, but when he went to check it out, no-one was there. Finding the guy’s wife in the next room was just a bonus. After he got done with her, he went back to his car and fucked April. He felt like a man that night - two women in less than 15 minutes. April needed a little coaxing and he loved to show her who was in charge, but he sensed a little more fear in her than usual. Her fear really used to turn him on, too. It was a shame that he’d have to kill the little bitch, but she went and found herself a cop, and that wasn’t good for him. How could she get involved with a pig? He’d fix her, he’d take care of both her and her new boyfriend. After all, killing cops wasn’t something that he backed down from. If her new detective got in his way, like that last fucker, he had no problem taking him out. They’d both pay, but first, he’d have a little fun.


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