FINDING SATISFACTION – Get it at: http://www.bookstrand.com/finding-satisfaction
Jess Archer took Interstate 10 through Arizona and New Mexico towards El Paso, which had been her original destination. She’d waited until she was half an hour outside El Paso to call her brother Tait. Technically, he was her half-brother and they had different last names, but they were very close. He’d be able to help her. He worked for one of those shadowy, quasi-governmental organizations that it didn’t pay to ask too many questions about, and he would know how to help her. She should have called him right away, even before she left Chicago, to tell him why she was coming to visit, but even using a burner phone, she was worried about being overheard, tracked, found.
When she finally called him, she wanted to curse when his assistant answered and had been noncommittal, telling her only that he’d been called away unexpectedly on business and should be back in a week, if all went well. She knew what that meant. He was on assignment, and she wasn’t sure when he’d be back. She hoped a week was truth, but who knew. Her brother’s job hours were somewhat erratic, to say the least. If he wasn’t back by the end of the week, she’d try Aaron, his best friend, and if she could get him, he would know how to get in touch with Tait. She trusted Aaron because Tait trusted him. They were almost like brothers, they were so close. If she couldn’t get through to her brother, she wasn’t sure what she’d do. She had Tait’s e-mail address to try if she couldn’t get him on the phone, but she wasn’t sure how much she could commit to e-mail. There were people watching everywhere.
Jess swore under her breath and hung up as the polite male voice on the other end of the phone offered to take a message. She thought of identifying herself as Tait’s sister, but she didn’t want to leave any more of a trail than she had to. The owner of the voice worked for her brother’s company, so he was probably trustworthy, but even if he was, he could inadvertently make things worse by calling the wrong authorities about her problem, thinking he was being helpful. Unfortunately Lance had a lot of contacts in law enforcement and she couldn’t take the risk that word would get back to him. When she got a chance, she decided, she’d send a short, vague e-mail to Tait’s private e-mail address. He wouldn’t get it while he was on a job, but he’d check it as soon as he was done and he’d get in contact with her. She just had to wait it out.
Jess realized she should have contacted her brother as soon as she realized something was very, very wrong and she made the decision to go to him for help, but as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. At first, she had just wanted to put distance between her and Lance and whatever he was involved in, without delay. Besides, it’s not like it ultimately would have changed anything. Tait would probably still be out of the country, but she could have found someplace further away from El Paso to hole up while she waited. Now she was practically in Texas. Damn. What to do, what to do?
Hopefully, most people wouldn’t think of tracking her down here in the south. She was a known city girl and she’d left a trail that pointed northwest, but the people she was running from had resources. Granted, a few people who knew her really well might think of her brother, but most of them didn’t realize that he was actually her half-brother and didn’t share a last name, which meant even if they knew about Tait, they might not be able to find him. She’d always been careful, even with her good friends, to never mention where he lived or worked or what he did for a living due to the nature of his work. He was involved in a lot of high risk and highly confidential work for the government, not that she knew a lot of details, just enough to know not to talk about what he did and to worry every time he went on one of his assignments. Even at the depths of her infatuation with Lance, she never even told him much about her brother. Of course, Lance didn’t care about anything except Lance, so it was an easy secret to keep from him.
A week, the man on the phone had said. Jess had to find somewhere to hole up for a week until she could get to her brother and he could help her get out of the mess she was in. She wanted to do the right thing. She planned on doing the right thing. She just didn’t know who to trust. Her brother would make sure she was safe. He had contacts and would know who to talk to in order to help her out of this mess.
She decided just to drive for a while without making any abrupt change of direction. She’d just be a tourist on her first visit to Texas. No. She’d be someone who’d headed south looking for work. Maybe she’d stop in one of the myriad of small towns she’d been driving by and find a place to hole up, maybe even get a job. She could wait tables or work in a store. And she’d find a place to stay where she could pay cash. Credit cards could be traced. She’d use the cash from her new job to pay for a place to stay. Maybe she could rent a room in a house. That would be off the grid.
She’d just blend in, she decided. Her ride already blended in. The old Jeep she’d picked up a few days ago in Tulsa was sturdy. It had a soft top and no windows. The owner had shrugged when she’d asked about them.
“They are plastic and held in place with zippers. If someone wants to break in, they will. So why bother? Leave ’em off and enjoy the fresh air. And if you have anything you need to keep extra safe, there’s a hidden compartment in the back of the bed of the Jeep, flush with the tailgate. As you can see, it’s carpeted like the floor of the trunk so it’s barely noticeable, and even if someone does see it, they can’t get it open.”
He’d been right on all accounts. It was wonderful driving down the highway like this. She turned and looked over to her sole companion, one who had been with her for five years now and whom she loved above all others, Murphy. She reached out and gave him a rub on the shoulder. He looked back at her and thumped his tail once before sticking his head back out the window. Murphy approved highly of cars without windows.
In the end, she decided to just keep driving, continuing on Interstate 10. She’d decide eventually whether to switch to Interstate 20 and head to Dallas or remain on 10 and continue southeast to Austin, but for now, she was just enjoying the view.
The terrain was fascinating, or would have been if she hadn’t been so paranoid about being followed. Jess sighed. In the four days since she’d left Chicago, she hadn’t spotted a tail. She’d been careful, doubling back a couple of times and changing vehicles. Her trust Prius was still parked in her spot below her condo in Chicago. Her clothes were in her closets. Her purse was on the counter with her ID and all of her bank cards.
She’d acquired a new cell phone in Oregon from a fellow she’d met during an article a few years earlier. York was a technical genius who didn’t always stay within the law, but he was basically a good guy and her brother Tait had put them in touch for her story on surveillance. It was no ordinary phone and she wasn’t even sure it was legal for her to have, but it was almost untraceable, even with the battery in.
“Nothing’s perfect,” he warned. “Sooner or later, someone who is very determined or who has contacts in very high or very low places will be able to track it. To be on the safe side, leave the battery out when you aren’t actively using it.”
She gave him a hug and promised to be careful as she and Murphy headed further south.
She’d stopped at a Walmart in Arizona and bought a gym bag, jeans, T’s, bras, and underwear and then taken them to a laundry and run them through the washer and dryer a few times so they looked well lived in. She also stopped at a thrift while she was waiting on the dryer and purchased a pair of cowboy boots that were clearly not new, but looked clean and well cared for.
Then she changed and disposed of every stitch she’d left Chicago wearing, including her brand-new four-hundred-dollar Jimmy Choos. That had been the hardest thing she’d done. She loved those shoes, but sacrifices were necessary when you were on the run with one hundred thousand dollars of stolen drug money in the trunk of your car.
* * * *
She was just coming up on the split and would have to choose Austin or Dallas, when she spotted the red Corvette flying along in the opposite direction. Her heart started pounding. Maybe it wasn’t him. There were a lot of red Corvettes on the road, surely. Maybe it was just a rich Texan with gaudy taste in cars? And even if it was Lance, he wouldn’t be looking for her driving a Jeep, would he? How would he even know what she was driving? If it was him, which it probably wasn’t, he was probably headed to El Paso to see if she was at her brother’s place.
She was almost certain that, if it was him, she hadn’t been spotted, when she saw the red car in her rearview mirror abruptly swerve from the left lane to the right, clearly looking for an exit.
Damn. Was it him? Maybe she was just being paranoid and the driver of the red Corvette had just been careless and almost missed their exit. It probably wasn’t him. That would have been too much of a coincidence, but could she take a chance?
“What do you think, Murphy? Could it be Lance?”
Murphy gave a little growl at the sound of his name.
“Right you are, Murph. Better not take a chance.”
She hit the gas. Austin or Dallas? Austin or Dallas?
And then she saw it. Just before the interstate split was a small turnoff. She took it without even noting the name. She was going to get herself good and lost in west Texas until her brother returned and could help her get out of this jam she was in.
She drove for about half a mile, passing the usual service stations and fast food establishments that you’d expect to see clustered beside a highway, before she saw the sign. She was now entering Kinsdale County, and she had two choices. Five miles to the left was the town of Kinsdale, population twenty-five thousand. To the right, ten miles on, was Satisfaction, Texas, population twenty-five hundred.
“What do you think, Murphy?” Murphy looked at her and yawned before thumping his tail twice.
“You’re right. Satisfaction it is. Let’s just hope the Rolling Stones were wrong and we’ll find a little satisfaction of our own.”
Turning, she stepped on the gas. She was in the middle of ranch and oil country now. She passed miles of farmland. She didn’t see any other vehicles, just cows and more cows. Occasionally, she spotted a small oil derrick in the distance, but mostly it was just cows.
She could see Murphy was interested. He was a German shepherd dog. His ancestors had been bred to herd, even if today they were mostly service dogs, working with the police and the blind. Murphy had originally been a police dog, specializing in sniffing out illegal drugs. When he was two, he’d been stabbed in the line of duty trying to protect his human partner. He had been given early retirement with full honors. At the time, Jess had been doing a story on police dogs and had fallen in love with Murphy. Normally he’d have gone to live out his life with Officer Chad Hamilton, the partner he’d saved, but one of Chad’s daughters had developed severe allergies to dogs, so she’d convinced him to let her adopt Murphy. That had been three years ago, and it had worked out great for everyone. Chad visited Murphy regularly, and he and his wife Letty had become good friends of Jess’s. He’d even introduced her to his buddy Detective Lance Dent, who worked in the Narcotics Division. That, however, hadn’t worked out so great for Jess.
Things had started off great with Lance. He’d been charming and attentive and had loved Murphy too. In fact, with her job’s erratic hours, he’d spent time with Murphy and even looked after him for several days at a time when she was following a story.
Eventually, though, she had seen that Lance was a narcissistic asshole and had broken up with him, but he had insisted on still being able to spend time with their dog, so she still had to see him once a month when he took Murphy. The dog, though, had become less and less happy about the outings and she’d been working toward telling Lance that he couldn’t see Murphy any more. The first time she’d brought it up, she’d mildly suggested that he didn’t have to waste his weekends on Murphy and he’d gone ballistic and had actually scared her, suggesting that he keep Murphy permanently, if she didn’t like the current arrangement, and she could see him monthly.
Reluctantly, she’d let him take the dog, but she’d been afraid and had waited anxiously for their return. She wasn’t even sure what she was worried about, but he never even showed Murphy much affection. Was he taking him monthly because he could and he knew it pissed her off? Or maybe, just to have an excuse to see her again? Regardless, something had to change, but she hadn’t been sure what to do.
She had to force herself to slow down and drive the speed limit. If that red car was Lance’s, and she wasn’t one hundred percent certain it was, the last thing she needed was to be pulled over. She wanted to put as much distance between her and Lance as she could, but she couldn’t afford to get stopped by the local cops for speeding. All she needed was for them to run her licence and one of Lance’s cop buddies to tip him off to her location and it would be all over. He’d tell them she was a wanted fugitive and the local cops would probably throw her in jail until Lance could come and take custody of her. She slowed down more.
“We’re going to be model citizens of Satisfaction for the next week, so no chasing the cows or romancing the local dogs, you hear?”
* * * *
Murphy Smith took a long swallow of the cold beer in front of him. When he had drained half the mug, he placed it down and sighed. It had been a long week. Hell, it had been a long year. The weather had been hot and dry, and getting the new irrigation system in place had been hard work, but it was in place now. The crops would grow and the cattle would be watered, and he had five minutes to relax until the next emergency cropped up. Owning and running a ranch was hard work. Even when you had first-class help, which he did.
He drained the rest of the mug and saw that Cole had finished his, so he called Jules over for a refill for them both. Jules and her brother Micah owned Whips and Spurs, his favorite watering hole, as well as the private club in the back. He watched Jules as she pulled two more mugs of beer before setting them in front of him and Cole. She was a beautiful woman, with her long blonde hair and big blue eyes.
She smiled and flirted with him and he flirted back automatically, but the attraction just wasn’t there. Hell, he was pushing forty and it was time he settled down and started on a family. There was just one problem. He looked over at Cole. Cole had been his best friend since their first day of preschool. They’d grown up together in Kinsdale and gone to school together and then college, and when he’d moved to Satisfaction to run the small ranch his grandfathers had left him, Cole, who’d trained as a blacksmith, had moved to Satisfaction as well.
He knew that there were some back in El Paso who believed that he and Cole were lovers, but here in Satisfaction, they weren’t the only men who shared women. He wouldn’t say it was common, but it wasn’t uncommon, either, and generally folks minded their own business. And like most of the men who shared women, they were focused on the woman in their bed. They didn’t freak out if they accidentally touched while naked, but they weren’t into men. Some were, and that wasn’t an issue—it just wasn’t their style.
They’d been sharing for almost twenty years now, and both were ready for something permanent, but it wasn’t easy to find a woman who wanted more than just a sexual adventure with two hot cowboys. Add in the fact that they were Doms in the bedroom and it got even harder. Some subs wanted someone who would dominate them both in and out of bed, but that wasn’t their style. Others wanted more pain than either of them were willing to dish out. They liked giving spankings and even enjoyed using a crop or a flogger upon occasion, but they were both more about taking control and being Dominant in the bedroom.
They’d decided when they were thirty-five that they’d give the search five years. If they hit forty without a prospect of a woman to share permanently, then they’d think about the alternative. They had six months to go, but they hadn’t even gotten close to finding the right woman.
Murphy knew that Cole was ready to throw in the towel, but he’d convinced his friend not to give up even though he himself was also starting to lose hope.
He smiled at Jules. She would be just perfect for them if he didn’t think of her almost as a sister. She was smart and sexy, and did nothing for either of them. Mostly, when they got a night off, they went into El Paso to visit one of the clubs. It wasn’t hard to find a woman who wanted fun for the night with two men, but that was getting old. Even if they did find a woman that one of them wanted to get to know better, they’d never found one they could agree on, hence the deadline.
Murphy sipped this beer slower. Two was his limit. He hadn’t had dinner yet and his stomach was rumbling. He could smell the burger Dace Lowe was eating. Dace’s sister Candy owned the local diner, so he’d probably bought it there and brought it over to Whips and Spurs so he could watch the football game while he ate. He’d been a quarterback in college and had been heavily recruited until he blew out his knee in his senior year. Now he was the sheriff of Kinsdale County.
He wished Whips and Spurs served more than just finger food. Once upon a time, they’d done a full menu. It had all been bar-type food, burgers, pizza, and such, but it had been good. They’d lost their cook when Lucy had gotten married and moved to Dallas with her new husband. Jules had many talents, but cooking was not one of them, and Micah was even worse, so now they just served things like nachos and salsa and nuts and other food out of jars that neither Jules nor Micah could ruin.
Murphy turned to Cole. “It’s almost seven. What do you say we head over to Candy’s for the meatloaf special? I know we had talked about going to the club tonight, but I’m tired and I’ll probably head home early tonight.”
“Works for me. Let me make a quick pit stop and then I’ll be ready to go.”
Murphy felt the same way. He took a swallow as he watched his best friend walk towards the restroom, and then he watched all the female eyes follow him. Cole was a blacksmith, which meant he had muscles on his muscles, and he showed them off in a tight white T-shirt. Murphy was a shade taller than his friend, and well-muscled from working on the ranch, but he wasn’t in Cole’s league.
He was reaching for his wallet when the saloon door opened and someone he didn’t recognize walked in. At first, she was silhouetted by the setting sun behind her and he could only see her outline, which was both petite and curvy. When she stepped further in and let the traditional swinging saloon doors close behind her, he could finally see her face.
She had long sandy-brown, almost but not quite blonde, hair pulled back into a careless ponytail, with strands coming free and framing her face. She had huge eyes that, even from where he sat, he could tell were a vivid blue.
He had told Cole that when they met the right woman, they’d know it. He had grown up on the story of how his grandfathers had fallen in love with grandma Rose at first sight. Cole thought he was crazy, but he knew that it would happen someday. Murphy had always prayed that when it did, Cole would fall hard, too.
He got down off the barstool and stood looking at the vision in jeans facing him. She was beautiful, to him. Maybe some might call her cute or call her plump, but he just wanted to call her his.
He started to move towards her when he saw the big dog slink in under the saloon door. It wasn’t one he recognized, but it walked right over to Dace and sat politely beside him for a moment before placing a paw on his knee.
Murphy laughed out loud as Dace jumped and dropped his burger and the dog calmly wolfed it down.
“What the—” Dace thundered, but then another voice interrupted.
“What do you think you are doing?” She hurried over to Dace. “I am so sorry, officer. I’d be happy to pay for your dinner and buy you a replacement. He didn’t mean any harm. I came in here to ask for directions and…I’m sorry.”
Murphy could hear the misery and pleading in her voice, which confused him. Sure, her dog had stolen a burger, but the level of her agitation seemed to exceed the offence. He felt a presence and turned to see Cole also staring at the scene. He hadn’t noticed that his friend had returned from the restroom. Hell, he hadn’t noticed much of anything since she walked in, except for the burger theft.
He decided it was time to head over to the table, but Micah got there first. He saw the three of them talking and he watched as she opened her purse. Dace laughed and then Micah said something and they all laughed. Then she was shaking hands with the two men, presumably having introduced herself. Dammit, they were touching her. It was just her hand, but they were touching her!
He hurried over, determined to make sure Dace and Micah didn’t steal her away. Like him and Cole, Dace and Micah shared women and were looking for the one, but he was going to warn them away from… He realized that he didn’t even know her name. He strode forward, determined to rectify that. He could see that Cole was walking with him and paused.
“It’s her. Isn’t it? She’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”
“Yes she is, buddy. Yes she is.”
Just as he got close, he noticed that the dog had taken opportunity of everyone’s distraction to climb up onto the seat of the bench and was finishing Dace’s fries. He had to laugh. The dog was wily, and clearly loved by the woman.
“Again, I’m so sorry, Sheriff. Murphy’s usually such a good dog, but he’s developed a taste for burgers and… Murphy!”
FINDING SATISFACTION – Get it at: http://www.bookstrand.com/finding-satisfaction