The Curious Case of Detective Dreamy
Rust Creek Ramblings
By now, you've all heard about Lani Dalton, everyone's favorite Ace in the Hole bartender. Observed singing and dancing fully clothed in the park fountain on the Fourth of July, she was hauled off to jail dripping wet by dashing detective Russ Campbell. Readers, what would you do if you found yourselves in the strong arms of the law?
Since then, Lani's been reluctant to revisit the Case of the Spiked Wedding Punch. Because helping the arrestingly handsome Russ crack the case could risk breaching family confidentiality—and Lani never breaks a promise! So why does Russ keep showing up at the Ace? We at The Gazette would never kiss and tell, but reports of Lani and Russ's mutual distrust are greatly exaggerated...
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Teresa Southwick lives with her husband in Las Vegas, the city that reinvents itself every day. An avid fan of romance novels, she is delighted to be living out her dream of writing for Harlequin.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Fourth of July
I wouldn't be surprised if someone strips naked and jumps in the park fountain," Lani Dalton said out loud, to no one in particular.
And no one in particular paid any attention to her, what with all the partying going on around her at the wedding reception. Everyone was having a really good time. Braden Traub had married Jennifer MacCallum, and there was little that folks in Rust Creek Falls liked more than celebrating a happy occasion. And wow, were they celebrating!
It looked as if the colors of American independence had exploded all over Rust Creek Falls Park. Picnic tables were covered by red-and white-checkered oilcloth covers, while red and blue tarps had protected people from the afternoon sun, although it had gone down a while ago. Fireworks had been shot off but people were still hanging around, dancing, talking, laughing and drinking wedding punch.
She'd just finished two-stepping with her brother and figured there was something weird going on for that to have happened. Nothing said relationship loser like dancing with your brother. Anderson was her favorite, but still... After chug-a-lugging her fourth—or was it fifth?—cup of punch, she felt a little light-headed. Sitting down suddenly seemed like an awfully good idea.
Walking around and searching for an empty seat, she wasn't watching where she was going. As a result, she ran into what felt like a brick wall and was nearly knocked onto her backside.
Strong hands reached out and steadied her. "You okay?"
Lani was pretty sure that voice belonged to Russ Campbell, a detective from Kalispell who filled in sometimes to help out Sheriff Gage Christensen here in Rust Creek Falls. She felt a familiar quiver of attraction lick through her as she looked up to confirm her suspicion. "Detective Dreamy."
"Lani Dalton." She pointed at herself. "I work part-time at the Ace in the Hole, the local bar and grill. You're Russ Campbell."
"I know you know who you are." She giggled and that surprised her because she wasn't normally a giggler. "I meant that I know who you are and was introducing myself to you. Lani Dalton," she said again.
"Not much of a talker, are you?"
The sheriff was short a deputy and Russ filled in at least once or twice a week. That's about how often he came into the bar but he never really paid much attention to her. She, however, had definitely noticed him. He was tall and broad-shouldered with thick, wavy brown hair and hazel eyes that didn't miss a thing. Except her.
He was nice-looking, but if you happened to catch a glimpse of one of his rare grins, he was absolutely adorable. As far as she knew—and she'd asked about him—no female in Rust Creek Falls or anywhere else for that matter was on the receiving end of those smiles.
"Okay, then." He cleared his throat and continually scanned the crowd of people who were getting happier by the minute. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I have to keep moving."
After months of being ignored, Lani had finally struck up a conversation. Sort of. It was an opportunity, and she wanted it to go on.
"Are you here for the bride or groom?" she asked.
"Are you a friend of the bride or groom?"
"Neither." He indicated the gold shield hooked to the belt at the waist of his worn jeans. "I'm working. Sheriff Christensen hired me to help with crowd control."
Looking way up at him, his features seemed to blur and she swayed a little. Again, his hands reached out to steady her. She couldn't help noticing his arms, where the sleeves of his black T-shirt stretched across impressive biceps. It was swoon-worthy—that must be why she was a little woozy.
"Wow, you're really strong. And your reflexes are really good." Did she just say that? It wasn't like her to say whatever popped into her head.
He was already frowning, but her words seemed to turn the frown into a scowl. "I think you should lay off the liquor."
"All I had was punch from the reception, and they said it was some concoction with sparkling wine. No hard alcohol allowed in the public park. You should know that. So I haven't had any liquor to speak of. I swear," she said, raising her hand, palm out. "That's the thing. I work at the bar but I hardly ever drink alcohol. Am I talking too much?"
"Uh-huh." His tone was unnecessarily sarcastic. "Let's find you a place to sober up."
"I'm not drunk. And I was looking for a place to sit when you ran into me."
"For the record, you ran into me" he said.
She shook her head—that was a big mistake. "I don't think so."
"Take my word for it." His mouth tightened as he scanned the tables and didn't spot an empty place. "Let's go over here."
She felt his fingers on her arm as he led her through a maze of people who moved for him as if he was Moses parting the Red Sea. "Where are you taking me?"
"To the park fountain. The edge is wide enough to sit on, and it's cooler there."
They were passing the last of the tables when she saw her older brother Travis chatting up a pretty blonde who Lani happened to know was dating a hot-tempered, jealous cowboy. She would have warned him off, but Detective Dreamy had her in a pretty tight grip. And she spotted her other brother Anderson moving in. He would make sure Travis didn't do anything stupid.
"Here you go," Russ said after they crossed the open grassy area then reached the fountain that was spewing water in the center. "Have a seat."
Lani did and set her flag-stamped cup beside her. "Thank you, Detective."
Ma'am? She was a generic female who could be anywhere from nineteen to ninety-five? Seriously? She knew he was on duty, but it wouldn't hurt him to work on his people skills. Honestly, sometimes she wondered why she was attracted to him at all. Except he was pretty cute, and she'd seen him at the bar, chatting up other people and making them laugh. Apparently, he just wasn't that into her. Well, she wasn't into being called ma'am.
"You can call me Lani. I'm not crazy about sweetie, honey or babe. But please don't ever call me ma'am. It's like nails on a chalkboard."
Loud voices suddenly cut through the general celebratory hum of activity. They were coming from the direction where Anderson had just walked. Skip Webster, the jealous cowboy, was arguing with Travis, who was trying to back away. Then the cowboy took a swing when Travis wasn't looking. Instead of turning the other cheek, his fists came up to retaliate. Anderson stepped between them to defuse the situation. The other man punched him, and Anderson lashed out with a fist, a knee-jerk reaction.
Skip went down then started shouting for help. He spotted Russ and hollered for an immediate arrest.
"I have to go," Russ said.
Lani had a bad feeling. "What are you going to do?"
"Arrest that guy for assault and battery."
That guy would be her brother Anderson, and that wasn't good anytime, but he had a personal legal issue pending. An arrest wouldn't work in his favor considering he was going to try to get custody of a child he'd just learned he had. Detective Russ Campbell was headed toward that ruckus unless she did something to stop him. Whatever it was had to be loud and immediate.
She heard the water gushing from the middle of the fountain behind her and did the first thing that popped into her mind, which was clearly becoming a habit tonight. She jumped into the water then gasped at the cold liquid soaking the bottom of her skirt. Russ looked at her as if she was nuts then started toward the arguing men. She couldn't think how else to stop him, so she started belting out "Firework," her favorite Katy Perry song, which certainly made her more of a spectacle!
Well, good. Anything to help Anderson...
At the same time she smacked the water, sending a wave over the edge that hit Russ's back. When he turned, she added some dance moves to go with the song.
He walked over and stopped in front of her. "Please come out of there, ma'am."
Now she was just mad and used both hands to shower him with water. Satisfaction circled through her when he swiped a hand over his wet face, and she sang even louder. Surprisingly, she was enjoying herself.
"Okay, you've had your fun." Russ was using his I'm-the-law voice. "The show here is over."
But it seemed no one was listening to him. A few people were stopping to see what the disturbance was all about. Lani appreciated her fan club, especially because Russ kept glancing over at her brothers and Skip Webster, who was still demanding justice at the top of his lungs. Officer Campbell was clearly dying to give it to him—at the expense of her brother. She couldn't let that happen and had to up her game.
"Come on in, the water's fine." She waved to the few onlookers who seemed to like the idea of a dip in the fountain.
"Whoa," Russ said, putting his hands up to warn them off. He sent a glare in her direction. "That's inciting public disorderliness. If you don't come out of there voluntarily, I'm going to have to arrest you." He glanced over his shoulder again.
Lani didn't much like the idea of going to jail, but better her than Anderson. She didn't have any legal problems, although that could be about to change.
"I dare you to come in and get me, Detective Dreamy."
Russ reached out to grab her, and the frown on his face deepened when she backed up and eluded him. "Come on, Lani. Out of the water."
"You're not the boss of me."
"As it happens, I am. I told you already, Gage brought me in for crowd control, what with the wedding and Fourth of July celebrations going on at the same time." He looked around at the happier-than-normal people scattered throughout the park. "And it was obviously the right call."
"You look hot under the collar." Although he wasn't actually wearing a collared shirt, or technically a uniform. But there was something about his ensemble of choice. The black T-shirt, jeans and boots made him about as hot as a man could get.
"Doesn't he look hot?" she said to the crowd around the fountain.
"Cool him off," someone called out.
"Okay." She sent walls of water at him as hard and fast as she could. Not much connected, though, on account of her keeping her distance so he couldn't grab her. The physical effort had her staggering, and she almost slipped.
"That does it," he said impatiently. "I'm arresting you for drunk and disorderly conduct."
"That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Detective." Until a few minutes ago it was practically the only thing he'd ever said with the possible exception of could you get me a beer.
His expression went from grim to really grim as he stepped over the edge into the fountain. Lani winced at what the water would do to those leather boots. Well, it couldn't be helped. This was for Anderson. She backed away from the advancing lawman while one person started chanting, "Lani! Lani!"
With the water choppy from their movements, it was hard to dodge him. He was bigger, stronger and faster, so she couldn't get away indefinitely. But the longer she could keep his attention focused on her, the better.
She backed up a step, and her sandal hit a slick spot on the bottom of the fountain. Down she went, not completely underwater, but enough to soak the top of her dress and ruin her hair. A second later Russ was right there in front of her, holding out a big hand to help her up. She wasn't sure where the idea came from but at this moment she didn't really care. After putting her hand in his palm, she yanked forward with all her strength. He was already off balance and fell on top of her.
"Damn it," he sputtered. "You're under arrest—"
"So you said." She brushed the hair out of her face.
He gripped her arm and tugged her up with him when he stood. "You have the right to remain silent but there's probably a snowball's chance in hell of that happening."
He finished with her rights then started walking her out of the fountain. When she slipped again, he swore under his breath before swinging her into his arms. Lani sincerely regretted that fate hadn't warned her about Russ Campbell picking her up, because she would have lost a few pounds in preparation. Points to him that he made her feel as if she weighed nothing.
After stepping out of the water, he set her down. When she wobbled a bit he asked, "Can you walk?"
"'Course. I've been doing it for years."
"Good." He curved his fingers around her upper arm and, without another word, started moving.
"Aren't you going to put the cuffs on me?" she asked sweetly.
His eyes narrowed as he looked down at her. "Are you going to resist arrest?"
"Okay, then." He kept walking and tugged her along with him.
Wow. She was going to the slammer.
For the first time since running into Russ she didn't say what popped into her head. She didn't think it would improve his mood if she started singing "Jailhouse Rock."
Russ Campbell walked Lani Dalton into the sheriff's office, his temper rising with every step. This was the last place he needed to be—and she was the last person he should be with.
Her eyes were wide, but she looked more curious than scared. "Wow, I've never been in the slammer before. This is kind of exciting."
Glancing around the room he tried to see the hub of Rust Creek Falls law enforcement through her eyes. It was a big room with a couple of desks, one where the dispatcher sat. The other was for the deputy, although Gage was short one right now. While the sheriff looked for a replacement, Russ filled in when he had time off from his detective job with the Kalispell Police Department. A room off to the right had a closing door, and that's where the sheriff worked. The place wasn't especially intimidating, but then again, he'd worked in Denver, where the department was bigger—and so were the problems.
"If you think this is cool, wait until you see the cell."
"Isn't there some law against false imprisonment?"
He took her arm and led her through a doorway, where there were two six-by-eight-foot cells. Either she was naturally sassy, putting on a front to hide her nerves, or she was still not sober enough for her situation to sink in. Sink wasn't the best choice of words after that surprise swim in the fountain. He couldn't believe he'd let his guard down and should have known better than to let her distract him. But Lani had been a distraction from the first time he saw her.
"This arrest is ridiculous. My father is a lawyer, and I'll be out of here before my dress dries."
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