Seducing The Sheriff
SEDUCING THE SHERIFF
A Not My 1st Rodeo Story
Saddle up for another go-round…
When Cassidy Strong signs up for NotMy1stRodeo.com, she never expects it’ll put her in the middle of a bank robbery—or that she’ll be the key to breaking the case. Her first foray into online dating after her divorce is an unqualified disaster.
That is, until Sheriff Joe Lawson walks in, ready to solve the case and do whatever it takes to protect her. Even if that means hiding her away in his mountain cabin.
Joe has a job to do, and acting on any attraction would go against everything he stands for. Then there’s Cassidy’s volatile ex to consider. But sometimes doing what’s right isn’t as important as following your heart…
See all the info on this series, featuring more stories from Jenna Bayley-Burke and Sarah M. Anderson, at www.NotMy1stRodeo.com!
Dinner at The Forge was the best that Joe Lawson could offer a date in the small town of Foundry, Colorado. He straightened his tie, rubbed the toe of his boot against the back of his jeans, let out a massive breath, and then opened the door to the restaurant.
Tracy had set him up on another blind date. He’d tried to get out of it, but his sister knew how to be a real thorn in his side. The woman’s name was Janique and she was new in Tracy’s office. He scanned the seating area, looking for a woman who matched Tracy’s description: early thirties, blonde hair, blue eyes, nice figure. Of course, it helped that he knew just about everyone. It didn’t take long for him to spot his date—or to realize that she was looking at her watch, rather impatiently.
His nerves doubled. He was sheriff in this town. He shouldn’t be afraid of a single, harmless female. But he was.
He made his way over to the table, ran a hand over his hair, and put on a smile. “Janique?”
She looked up, her blue eyes assessing before a small smile flirted with her lips, as if he’d somehow passed a first test. “Yes. You’re Joe?”
He nodded. “I am. It’s nice to meet you. Sorry if I’m a bit late.”
She glanced at her watch. “Twenty minutes late, actually.”
Heat crept up his neck. “I got hung up at the station. Occupational hazard.” He tried another smile. “May I sit?”
“Of course.” She leaned back in her chair, the relaxed pose helping to ease his nervousness only a little.
A waitress appeared at his side. “Hello, Joe. Can I get you something to drink?”
He looked up. Cassidy Strong owned The Forge, and as far as he knew, she was able to take on any job in the place, including cook. “Hello, Cassidy. I’ll just have water, please.”
“Sure thing. Another club soda for you, miss?”
Janique looked up and raised an eyebrow. “It’s tonic water. And yes, please. With a fresh slice of lime.” She emphasized the “fresh.”
Cassidy’s eyes sparked for just a moment and he wanted to smile. In his experience, Cassidy was friendly to a fault. He was glad to see she had a little fire left in her. The last time he’d seen her, it was because she’d called the department when her ex, Darren, refused to leave her apartment. When Joe and his deputy arrived, he’d been shocked to see Cassidy so…beaten. If not physically, emotionally. Her body language had made it perfectly clear she was in self-protection mode; her shoulders had been hunched and she’d made herself look smaller, submissive. It hadn’t matched his usual impression of her, which was of an attractive, strong, confident woman.
It was also clear that Darren hadn’t expected she’d call the police. Surprise had been written all over his face when Joe and Tim stepped to the threshold. Then Darren had turned aggressive and started mouthing off. The resulting names hurled in Cassidy’s direction had been enough to put Joe’s back up. Escorting Darren off the property had been more of a pleasure than it should have been, professionally speaking.
He’d had a bit of a soft spot for Cassidy ever since.
“Of course,” Cassidy said pleasantly, ignoring Janique’s snide tone. “I’ll be right back with menus.”
When she was gone, Janique sighed. “Ugh. I know this is supposed to be the nicest place in town, but the service here leaves something to be desired.”
Joe raised an eyebrow. The place was nearly full to capacity; it was a Friday night, after all, and payday. Other than Cassidy, only two waitresses hustled about and one teenage boy bussed tables. “They seem fairly busy. The food will make up for it. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
She launched into a monologue about her work, her failed marriage, the fact that she had a six year-old son, and a litany of life complaints that had Joe tuning out after about a minute and a half. Cassidy delivered their drinks and menus; he thanked her, but Janique barely even paused for a breath. She certainly didn’t bother to say thank you. How on earth had his sister ever thought that they’d be a good match? They had absolutely nothing in common. And while he’d politely inquired about her, she hadn’t asked a single question about him.
Janique finally stopped talking and scanned the menu. “Wow. Three whole vegetarian options. A Portobello burger, pasta and marinara, and salad. Predictable.” She closed the menu and made a sound of disgust.
Date from hell number…a zillion. At least that’s what tonight felt like. His sister, Tracy, was definitely a girl when it came to some things—she liked her manis and pedis and a good wine and so on, but she wasn’t demanding. Janique screamed high maintenance. She pulled out her phone and started tapping the screen with long, red fingernails.
He decided he’d order a steak.
Cassidy came back, ready with a smile to take their order. “Are you ready to order?”
Janique sighed. “I suppose I’ll have the pasta with marinara. Do you have gluten-free pasta?”
“I’d like a salad to start, as well. House dressing is fine, but on the side, please.”
“Very good. And for you, Joe?”
“The T-bone, medium. Load the baked potato, and whatever the vegetable of the day is, I’ll have that.”
She smiled a little. “Got it. Can I get you anything else? More to drink?”
Janique shook her head.
“No, thanks, Cass. I think we’re fine.”
She left again. Silence overcame the table.
They managed to make stilted small talk until their meals arrived. First came the salad, which looked delicious and fresh to Joe’s eyes, but apparently lacked flavor in the dressing. He ordered a beer.
When their mains were placed before them, she seemed at least a little satisfied, but glanced over at his steak with derision. He cut into it with more pleasure than he should have felt. If he had to sit through this dinner, and foot the bill besides, he was damned well going to get a meal he enjoyed.
Then her phone rang.
“Excuse me. It’s my babysitter.”
She answered the phone and he couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. “Oh yes, put him on. Yes, honey. Mommy can come home if you don’t feel well. Are you sure? I’ll leave right now.”
Joe put down his fork and steak knife as she hung up.
“I’m sorry, Joe. My little guy isn’t feeling well. I’m going to have to cut this short.”
Her excuse sounded a little too convenient, but he really wasn’t that disappointed. “That’s okay. Kids come first.”
“He’s just been sniffly, but his cough is getting worse. Kids just like to be cuddled when they’re sick.” She smiled again, then reached for the back of her chair for her coat. As she did so, she put the phone down on the table.
The screen lit up while she was turned around, tugging on the wool jacket. Joe caught a quick glimpse of an incoming text.
You’re welcome for the exit strategy. G xx
He leaned back in his chair, disgusted. That was it. No more being set up on dates by his sister. This was the last one.
She pulled on her coat and picked up her phone, dropping it into her pocket as she stood. “It was nice to meet you, Joe. Sorry about this.”
“Don’t worry about it. I understand completely.”
She left so quickly, she almost created a wind tunnel in her wake.
Well. Joe rolled his shoulders and let out a sigh of relief. That torture was over. But it was also kind of awkward, sitting in a restaurant with an empty chair and barely-touched meal across from him.
He dug into his steak. What the hell.
Cassidy came back to the table. “Wow. What happened? Did your date leave?”
He chuckled down low. “Yeah, I got ditched. Of all the blind dates I’ve had, that might have been the fastest exit.”
“She was a blind date.”
“Thanks to Tracy.”
Cassidy laughed. “Oh. Well. She did seem a little…hard to please.”
“Come on now. She just wanted a fresh slice of lime and dressing on the side and you don’t have enough vegetarian options, by the way.”
Cassidy frowned. “Hmm. That might be something to remember.”
He shrugged. “The steak’s top notch, though. No complaints from me.” He looked up at Cassidy. She wore black pants and a black, button-down shirt, with a little black apron at her waist. Her dark hair was pulled up in some sort of weird twisty knot, and her brown eyes sparkled at him. She was a pretty little thing. He’d never really noticed that before, but since her divorce it seemed she smiled more. She…glowed.
Damn. Glowed? He must be getting soft.
“Hey, Cassidy? When women go on dates, do they have an exit strategy? A way to get out of it or something?”
A blush crept up her cheeks. “Um…well… Yeah, I guess. Sometimes people will have a friend go to the same place and they’ll have a sign, you know? Like on a dating site, when you’re meeting someone new. A wingman.”
“If Tracy set you up…what happened? How come she bolted?”
“She got a phone call. From her kid, apparently. But when she was getting ready to go, she got a text that said ‘you’re welcome for the exit strategy’.” He frowned. This was all so complicated. Whatever happened to the days when you met someone, planned to go out, and just got on with it?
Cassidy laughed. “Did she have her phone out earlier?”
“Come to think of it, yeah. Just before we ordered.”
She looked around, then slid into the vacant chair. “She probably texted someone, told them to call her to give her an out. Sorry, Joe. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t ditch you on a date.”
Her eyes sparkled at him again. The teasing was just what he needed. “I’m not sure I’m dating material,” he answered. “But maybe now Tracy will let up.” He spread his hands wide. “I’m a hopeless case.”
Cassidy shrugged. “Eh. You’re better off. She seemed a little too uptight for you anyway. A little too city.”
“Now I’ll let you finish your steak before it gets cold.” She got up and then nodded at the barely-touched pasta. “You want me to take that away for you?”
“Yeah. I’m not going to eat it.” He immediately regretted how it sounded, so he amended, “I mean, not that it’s not good. It’s just…”
“Relax. It’s all good, Joe.”
“You could stay, if you like. Keep me company.” Did he really just say that? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? Start dinner with one woman and finish it with another.
And damned if she didn’t look tempted. “Sorry. I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger tonight, and we’re short-staffed. But thanks.” A crooked smile touched her lips.
She slipped away, taking the bowl of pasta and the half-eaten salad with her.
It didn’t take long for him to finish his meal; with no one to talk to, and a very real awareness that he was sitting alone in the middle of the restaurant, he didn’t really feel like lingering. Cassidy came back carrying a plastic container.
“I’ve brought the bill…and some dessert for you to take with you.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
She put it down on the table, and slipped the bill beside it. “Hey. Consider it my way of saying sorry you had such a crappy date. I mean, if that had happened to me, I’d have probably been face first into tub of ice cream by now.”
He laughed. “Thanks.” He handed over his credit card, and she took the machine from her apron and processed his payment right at the table. He studied her while her head was bent and her gaze was fixed on the keypad. Why was she still single? She and Darren had been divorced for a while. She was pretty, hardworking, friendly. Beautiful. He couldn’t deny that, either. Maybe she was still gun shy about the whole thing. Her ex had been a real jerk.
He might consider asking her out himself, except she scared him a little bit. He’d seen her that afternoon when they’d answered the call at her place. Who knew what had really gone on during their marriage, if it was that acrimonious after it ended? The accepted story was that her ex had cheated and left her when she found out, but he knew very well that what was common knowledge was usually just the tip of the iceberg. His gut clenched at the thought of her being hurt in any way. That kind of relationship had to leave a woman with some significant baggage to overcome. She deserved someone who would treat her with kindness. Be gentle and patient.
“Have a good night, Joe.” She put her hand on his shoulder briefly.
“You too, Cassidy.”
He got up and put his wallet back in his pocket, then picked up the take-out dish and left.
It wasn’t until he got home, half an hour later, that he opened the dish and saw the note, speared with a toothpick and stuck into a giant piece of cheesecake.
Sorry for the bad date. Dessert is on the house. If you ever want to try my marinara, hit me up.
He got a fork and dug in while thinking about her note. Hit me up? What did that mean? Was it meant to be casual and funny, or was it a subtle invitation?
The chocolate melted on his tongue, rich and sweet. Still, it wasn’t the dessert that was the sweetest part of the evening. He couldn’t stop thinking about Cassidy’s little lopsided smile and the momentary longing in her eyes as she’d turned down his offer to join him. Maybe he’d overlooked something…someone…who’d been right in front of him the whole time.