by Angela Evans
A Roxanne St. Claire's Barefoot Bay novella
Blake “Dex” Dexter has been undercover so long, and so deep, that even he can’t separate the real Dex from his cover story anymore. A week in Barefoot Bay would sound like paradise to anyone else, but to Dex, it sounds like way too much time to spend alone with his own thoughts until he meets Amelia Barton, then he thinks it might not be enough time.
Amelia Barton had her whole life planned out like she plans a recipe for one of her decadent cakes, but somewhere along the way she got seriously off track. When a cheating fiancée is exposed she decides to take her dream honeymoon alone. Barefoot Bay feels more like home to her than she’s ever felt in Alaska. And then there’s the sexy cop who seems unsure whether he wants to pull her closer, or keep her at arm’s length. Amelia knows which one she wants him to do.
When Dex’s cover is blown and the drug cartel follows him to Barefoot Bay, Amelia is suddenly a target. Dex is determined to keep her safe, but the only way he can see to do that is by keeping her away from him. Amelia has finally found the recipe for her sweet life, but can she convince Dex that their love is worth the risk?
Genre: Romantic SuspensePurchase link(s): Amazon
Content/Theme(s): Undercover Cop, Men in Uniform, Contemporary
Release Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Kindle Worlds
Excerpt & More
“You are taking two weeks off and that’s final.” The little vein on the side of Captain Morrison’s neck was pulsing in a way Dex knew indicated they were in the danger zone, but still he pushed.
“I am this close,” he held up two fingers pinched tight together, “to busting these assholes I’ve invested a year and a half of my life in. I’m not about to take two weeks R & R so you can give my bust away to someone who plays better in the sandbox than I do!”
“Everyone plays better in the sandbox than you do,” his boss admitted with a frustrated wipe of his hand across his forehead. “I’m not giving away your bust. I’m telling you that you exhibit more signs of burnout than I’ve ever seen in one cop. Right now the cartel thinks you’re on the inside. Take advantage, and get out of town for a few days and clear your head. Remember you’re actually a cop, not a drug runner, before you slip so far undercover it’s no longer a cover!”
Dex knew his boss was right, but he wasn’t going to admit it, not for a damn second. He’d put everything he had into this case and he knew he was getting close. The last thing he wanted to do was back off while things were this hot.
“That wreck could have killed you, and it did kill the punk who was riding with you in the passenger seat.” Another thing Dex wasn’t about to admit to. “You haven’t passed your physical yet. Don’t bother lying because I checked, which means technically you can’t come back to work anyway.”
“Dammit!” Dex spun away from his boss’ desk and barely resisted the urge to put his fist through the drywall next to a commendation plaque from the mayor.
“The fact you’re fighting me this hard on taking a little time off just confirms what I’m saying. You’re in so deep you can’t separate the cover from Blake Dexter anymore.”
Dex stood with his back to his boss, but he could picture him well enough in his mind’s eye he didn’t really need to look at him. Mid-fifties, more gray in his hair than there was charcoal these days, a midlife spread happening in the waist line, shirt collar open, and the jacket and tie he’d worn to work that morning discarded in the chair next to his desk.
At the sound of papers being dropped on the top of the desk, Dex reluctantly turned around to appease his curiosity.
“You haven’t asked for your mail in months. I checked that, too.”
Since he’d been undercover, any mail addressed to Blake Dexter at his real apartment had been rerouted to a P.O. box where the police department had access. Someone monitored it for anything important, made sure bills got paid, and notified him if anything urgent came in. He was supposed to pick up what had been flagged as personal once a week or so, but he didn’t get much in the way of personal stuff so he’d given up the habit.
“What is that?” he asked, spying his mother’s handwriting on a pink envelope with a flower trailing along the bottom. Embossed stationery wasn’t something his mom typically used, so he was equal parts curious and alarmed.
“A wedding invitation.”
* * *
The kitchen in Barton Lodge was a sea of noise; everyone was talking at once, and most of them were asking her a question. Dinner service was hectic as usual. The menu board that covered the entire back wall of the room was supposed to eliminate most of the chaos. Somehow everyone still found it easier to come and ask her a million questions during meal prep than they did to consult the menu board and find the answer themselves.
Tonight’s dinner consisted of a hearty venison stew, served with jalapeno cheddar corn bread and mashed potatoes. Dessert, which was always Amelia’s moment to shine, was a chocolate soufflé with a raspberry sauce. Fresh raspberries were a rare treat in Alaska, so she had figured out how to make her own version using raspberry jam. Her office at the back of the kitchen was as neatly organized as the rest of her life. A filing system organized and catalogued every recipe she’d ever made and each had a success rating with notes for possible changes to try next time. Covering the top of her small desk was an open bridal magazine her best friend from college had sent to her with a note telling her to check out the spread the magazine had done on Casa Blanca, a resort in some place called Barefoot Bay.
“Looks like the perfect place for a girl from Middle of Nowhere Alaska to honeymoon if you ask me!” Bianca had scrawled across the page in her instantly recognizable handwriting filled with swirls and curlicues. She even dotted her I’s with little hearts, and added smiley faces after her name. It was as if Bianca refused to admit they were now in their late twenties, and insisted on writing exactly the same way she had in school.
The resort was stunning, to put it mildly, and Amelia had wasted many a precious, unorganized minute daydreaming about walking on the warm white sand listening to the surf. Her fiancé was bugging her to set a date, her best friend was pestering her to choose a honeymoon location, and really she just wanted someone else to plan the whole thing and tell her when to show up. Which was oddly out of character for someone who planned every second of her life the way she planned a recipe.
“Chocolate soufflé? You know our guests would be just as happy with a chocolate and peanut butter brownie from a box, right?” Her oldest brother, manager of the family hunting lodge, stood in her office doorway with the copy of the menu she’d delivered to his desk over a week ago.
“You do realize I am a pastry chef, right? Baking amazing desserts is what I not only love to do, but it’s what I went to school for?” She pushed her chair back with more force than was necessary, the stress of this ongoing battle over the menus wearing thin on her nerves.
“And you realize that isn’t your job here, right? You’re the kitchen manager for a hunting lodge in Alaska?” Her brother gestured around to indicate the mammoth 80-acre lodge she and her six brothers had run together ever since their parents died when Amelia was in college.
“Temporary kitchen manager,” she reminded him.
“You’ve been managing the kitchen for four years, and we haven’t even interviewed a single candidate to replace you, Sis. I think it’s time to accept this isn’t temporary. The rest of us have.” He walked out of the office without another word.
Tears stung the back of Amelia’s eyes. She’d had her whole life planned, but somewhere she’d put aside her plan. How had she let things get so far off track? The only thing she’d wanted since she turned fifteen and her parents had moved them all from the lower forty-eight was to get the hell back out of Alaska. Here she was managing a kitchen, a job her mother had always done with delight, in a state she loathed, engaged to a man she felt absolutely no spark with.
Amelia didn’t know what it felt like to be smothered, but she was pretty sure the way she felt right then standing in her office with the dinner service demanding her attention was a pretty close match to having a pillow held down over your face.
Her cell phone dinged on her desk, distracting her for a moment. An email addressed to her from someone she didn’t know had been delivered; Amelia almost chalked it up to spam and sent it to her trash folder when she had a moment of doubt. The email contained photographs; she could see the thumbnail images of them in the lower left hand corner of the email screen.
The body of the email said, Do you really know who you’re marrying? which was ominous enough, but combined with her mood, Amelia felt compelled to open the attachment. The moment she did, she dropped her phone as if it had become scorching hot. It landed directly on top of the bridal magazine, the voyeuristic photo open on her smart phone screen in direct contrast to the natural beauty of the posh resort.
The noise of the kitchen continued to grow louder and she could hear the cooks calling her name and barking orders at the small staff. Tears burned the back of her throat and rage had her hands trembling as she reached out a finger and dismissed the email and the obscene photographs from her screen.
Taking the service staircase out of her office, she headed up to her room with her back ramrod straight and her shoulders square. She couldn’t think here; hell, she felt like she couldn’t even breathe. She needed to get out of Alaska and out of this lodge before she suffocated.
Acting on impulse wasn’t her norm, but her norm had made a mess of things so far. Maybe it was time to start being a little more unpredictable. That thought, combined with the almost desperate need to get away from her family, the lodge, and most of all Alaska had her spurred into action.
White sand beaches and warm sunshine awaited her. What she was going to do after that she didn’t know, which was so far outside of her normal character the thought of it nearly made her knees buckle in fear, but she wasn’t the wilting flower type. She would make a plan when she got to Barefoot Bay. She always felt better with a good solid plan in hand.
* * *
She’d lost track of the number of hours she’d spent wedged in a tiny airplane seat between two armrest-hogging men, pushing Amelia Barton’s normally agreeable personality to the very verge of losing her cool. Halfway through the flight, the guy in the window seat had passed out, probably because of the steady stream of gin and tonics he had ordered from the flight attendant. She’d spent the next four hours shoving his drooling chin off her shoulder. Meanwhile the guy in the aisle seat had made no attempt to conceal his efforts to sneak a glance down her blouse whenever she shifted in her seat.
Just as she finally thought she was getting released from the hellish portion of her runaway vacation, the airline had lost her luggage, leaving her standing in the Florida heat slowly melting in her lightweight flannel shirt, jeans, and boots. This was exactly why she was not a spontaneous person. Spontaneity did not work out for her. It never had and it likely never would.
The woman behind the service counter for the airline smiled her perfectly polished smile at Amelia yet again while she wondered what one had to do to get as tan as this woman was. Not that she would ever know, with her strawberry blonde hair and pale complexion. The closest she would ever get to having a tan was being covered by one giant freckle.
“I’m so sorry, but it looks like your luggage was accidentally routed to Texas by mistake.” Again with the perfect smile. The woman could moonlight as a toothpaste spokesperson, Amelia thought with more than a little sarcasm.
“Do you know when it will arrive? I’m afraid I have overdressed for the Florida heat and I didn’t put any clothes in my carry-on bag.” Although the pajamas and underwear she had packed in her carry-on bag would be cooler than what she was wearing. Why on earth had she not thought about changing into something better suited to Florida when she left the lodge?
Spontaneity was her nemesis, that’s why. All she had been thinking about was draining her bank account, buying the airline ticket, and getting out of the lodge before any of her brothers could corner her about why she was calling off her engagement.
Being a coward wasn’t normally her style, but she decided it wasn’t so much about being a coward as it was about keeping her brothers from killing Jeffery when they found out why she cancelled their wedding.
She’d have to face her family eventually and admit she’d made a colossal mistake, but for now she was focused on getting her luggage, then finding the shuttle to the resort she’d booked so she could take a shower and a nap.
After gaining promises from the overly smiley customer service agent that her luggage would be delivered no later than tomorrow morning, she headed toward the shuttle area of the airport. In her mind’s eye, she could still see the pictures in the wedding magazine she’d been flipping through when her email had dinged and her world had imploded. If Casa Blanca was half as gorgeous in person as it had been in the magazine, then the hellish flight and the lost luggage, maybe even the betrayal of her fiancé, would all be worth it.
Okay, the last part was pushing it, she decided with a forced half-smile. Even Casa Blanca couldn’t make a cheating fiancé better than it was.
The fact she’d scored a private bungalow when she’d called to make a reservation had helped convince her that this getaway was meant to be. The woman she’d spoken to on the phone had told her their bungalows were booked months, sometimes even years, in advance, but she’d scored a small private one with the last of the money in her savings account. Someone else’s cancelled vacation was her good fortune.
Hitching her purse higher on her shoulder for what felt like the hundredth time since the plane had landed, she exited the airport to realize the toothpaste spokeswoman had sent her to the limousine station, not the shuttle station. A groan of frustration escaped her lips just as a bead of perspiration slid down between her shoulder blades and pooled with several of its friends at the small of her back.
“Miss Barton?” A man wearing casual khaki pants and a white button front shirt spoke her name while he held open the door of a white limousine. This couldn’t possibly be her ride to the resort, she told herself, even as she knew that it must be.
“Yes?” she answered hesitantly.
“We’ve been waiting for you to arrive. I hope everything was okay with your luggage.” The man appeared to be in his late fifties and of Hispanic descent. His jet black hair was sprinkled with strands of silver at the temples, and when he smiled, the creases in his face deepened in a way that made him even more charming.
“I am sure my luggage is fine. It’s just in Texas apparently.” She smiled in return.
“I will return and pick it up for you as soon as it arrives. Did they tell you when that would be?”
“Tomorrow morning, I believe.” Even she could hear the disappointment in her voice as she answered.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I’m sure Casa Blanca will be able to provide anything you need until then.” He gestured with the door to the limousine indicating she should get in.
“I’m sorry, did you say ‘we have been waiting’?” She suddenly realized what he had said earlier.
“Yes, ma’am. The other guest arriving at Casa Blanca today is already inside.”
Amelia resisted the urge to do a sniff test on her own armpits. Surely as much as she was sweating she must smell like the inside of a gym bag. She felt bad for whomever was about to share a car ride with her. Crossing the walkway, she smiled her thanks at the driver and ducked her head to climb inside the dark interior of the limousine, thankful to feel the cool blast of air conditioning.
* * *
Blake Dexter had been cooling his heels—literally since the air conditioner in this limousine was set to arctic blast—for almost an hour when he finally heard the driver talking to someone about lost luggage. Poor sap was arriving in Barefoot Bay without a change of clothes, from what he could hear. At least they had finally arrived so they could make their way to the resort. If he sat in this car much longer his leg was going to stiffen up. Walking with a limp would definitely be something his mother would notice and that’s the last thing he felt like dealing with right now.
Almost as if on cue the muscle in his upper thigh spasmed and threatened to cramp. Mindlessly he rubbed it with the heel of his hand just as he had done every day for the last month while he lied to his boss and insisted he was ready to come back to work. He was fine and he knew he was ready, but damn this ache in his thigh was starting to get old. He needed to get back to work to take his mind off of it. And yes, he did realize how totally fucking back-asswards that was.
Distraction was exactly what he got when a woman suddenly filled the open doorway, momentarily blocking the humid Florida air as she climbed in, and the driver closed the door behind her. Hair the color of a sunset cascaded down over her shoulder partially concealing her face; he could see her mouth with her bottom lip pulled between her teeth and nothing else until she found a seat opposite him and looked up. Oh yes, she was definitely a distraction, but not the good kind. The kind that would have him panting down the beach behind her begging her to distract him all the way to her bed. Not something he considered a good idea while his mother was within earshot. He was here to walk his mother down the aisle, and get the hell out of Barefoot Bay for good.
His idea of paradise had nothing to do with sandy beaches or posh resorts. Actually he had no idea what his idea of paradise was, but it didn’t matter because this next week was about his mom’s long overdue happiness, and for her he was willing to suck it up and put on a happy face.
“Oh!” Her pretty mouth formed a perfect O as she gasped when her eyes adjusted to the interior of the car enough to see him clearly. Yeah, he might look a little rough. Probably should have taken time to shave before he headed for the airport, but since he hadn’t actually wanted to come, it was one more subtle way to let his family know he was here under protest. Childish? Yes. Too bad, he thought with a mental shrug.
He watched as she nervously fanned herself with her flannel shirt; the shirt was obviously too warm for the Florida heat as were her blue jeans and boots. Lifting her hair, she let the cool air blow on her neck with obvious relief.
“Blake Dexter. My friends call me Dex,” he introduced himself.
“Amelia Barton,” she responded, not releaing her hair as she spoke. He noted the pink blush on her cheeks from the temperature.
“Why don’t you lose the shirt?” he asked, earning him an arched eyebrow. “It’s obvious you’re wearing a tank top under that shirt you’re melting in. Lose the flannel. This is Florida. A tank top is as accepted as a bikini top most places.”
“Did you seriously just ask me to take my top off two seconds after laying eyes on me? That’s impressive, I gotta say.” She didn’t look impressed; she looked pissed. And hot.
“I guess I did.” He grinned. “But you have to admit, it’s a solid idea. You obviously dressed for somewhere other than Florida when you left the house this morning. It’s either ditch the flannel top, or stew in your own sweat for the next hour while we drive to the resort.”
“Oh God, do I really smell?” Now she looked embarrassed.
“I did not say that.” Even he wasn’t that big of an ass.
He watched as she struggled with the idea and common sense eventually won out. “Turn your head.”
“You’re wearing a tank top,” he pointed out again.
“I don’t care. I’m not taking my top off in front of someone I met ten seconds ago. Turn your head,” she demanded again, with an arched eyebrow and blue eyes daring him to challenge her.
With a chuckle, he turned his head and stared out the window at the passing scenery while he listened to her tug the ridiculous flannel top free of her jeans; and damned if the sound of a woman undressing wasn’t a hundred times sexier than he’d have bet it would be. Absently he rubbed the throbbing thigh muscle that was now protesting he’d been sitting for far too long.
“What’s wrong with your leg?” she asked and he returned his gaze to her to see her sitting in a fitted gray tank top with the flannel folded neatly beside her on the seat.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“You’ve been rubbing your leg since I got in the car. It obviously aches.”
“It’s fine,” he lied.
From somewhere near her feet the sound of a buzzing cell phone filled the interior of the car. Amelia fished inside her bag and retrieved her phone. Glancing at the screen she rolled her eyes and sent the call to voice mail before dropping it unceremoniously back into her bag.
“Boyfriend or husband?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Excuse me?” she replied with another arched eyebrow aimed directly at him.
“Ignored call, you’re not dressed for a vacation, no luggage…that tells me you’re on the run from someone. Boyfriend or husband?” He repeated the question with what he considered flawless logic.
“Are you a cop or are you just nosy?” she countered.
“Guilty as charged, I’m nosy.” He couldn’t help but laugh; eighteen months of deep undercover assignment had him reluctant to reveal himself as a cop to a stranger. Even a stranger who looked like a wet dream and was more fun to talk to than anyone he’d met in months.
They rode in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes before she spoke again. “I’m not on the run, I’m just…giving myself some space to figure things out.”
“Okay,” he replied, secretly hoping he was wrong and there wasn’t a man in her life.
Shit, he thought.
“Or rather, I guess…ex-fiancé would be a better description.”
Dex couldn’t fight the grin. Maybe this trip to paradise might be a little fun after all.
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