Shadow Valley was tiny and quaint. It sat nestled amongst the hills, filling up the bowl of the valley. It appeared as if houses had tried to make their way up the hillsides, but nature had finally staked her claim and allowed no further advancement. The trees were so thick around the edge of the town that Callie wondered if a person could walk between them. Either way, they’d be surrounded by beauty. The autumn hues were just starting to appear. Soon the entire landscape would be a riot of color.
But she could see how the town got its name. When the sun went down, darkness would fall quickly. Shadows from the hills would sweep over the town like a protective blanket, and all that color would change to black.
Taking a deep breath, she let her body melt back against the plush leather seat. Now, this was the life—sunshine, a powerful car, and an open road. What more could a girl want? Oh, wait. That was right. She had a list. Add a ruggedly handsome man, a house with hardwood floors, a never-ending supply of peanut butter, and everything would be perfect.
One out of three wasn’t bad.
“I’m a homeowner!” she yelled as she lifted both hands into the air. The wind carried her words away down the two-lane road. With a laugh, she caught the steering wheel again. This was exactly what she’d been looking for. This was a place where she could relax and settle in.
This was a place she could call home.
A news report came over the radio, and she changed channels. A rock station suited her mood. The road snaked down into the valley with twists and turns. The rock-and-roll beat a heavy rhythm, and she stepped harder on the gas.
“Ooh, ooh, baby,” she sang along. “Whoa, oh. Shake it, shake it. Huh?”
Her gaze flashed to the radio. That was a terrible guitar solo. Wait… The wailing got louder, and she glanced at the rearview mirror.
“Ah, crud.” Flashing red and blue lights.
She pulled over to the side of the road. The police car swung in behind her, and she grimaced. This was not the new beginning she’d planned. The police car came to a textbook stop, a few feet back and slightly off-center. She watched as the policeman opened his door. One foot settled on the pavement, and her eyes widened as he emerged from his cruiser.
“Whoa,” she said on a swift exhale.
Now that was a big guy. Big, solid, and intimidating. His height continued to grow until he filled up her rearview mirror. With the way he stalked toward her, he looked like a jungle cat approaching his prey. Callie licked her dry lips. Why did she suddenly feel like lunch?
He approached her car carefully, and she rubbed her damp palms against the steering wheel. She couldn’t see his eyes behind the mirrored sunglasses he wore, but she could feel him watching her as closely as she watched him. Suddenly self-conscious, she ran her hand through her tangled hair and tried to make herself presentable.
“Ma’am,” he said in a low voice as he stepped up to her door. The rumbling tone made a shiver go down her spine.
“Officer.” She tilted her head back to look him in the face, but with the way he towered over her, it nearly put a kink in her neck. When their gazes finally connected, she didn’t care.
Lordy, he was something—all dark, muscle-bound, and rugged.
Awareness sizzled deep down in her belly. So help her, if the man had a jar of peanut butter stuffed in his pocket, she would not be held accountable for her actions.
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