Becca Gable’s heels click-clacked on the marble floor of the old courthouse. Redemption County, Illinois, boasted two stately brick buildings at its county seat where all legal and administrative duties and matters were handled. Normally, she would stop and take in the beauty of the gleaming floors and lustrous dark wood. But today, she was here to clean up a mistake.
Mistake? She gave a tiny shake of her head at the neutral word that could’ve been restated as deliberate criminal act. Hopefully, the paperwork she had just completed and the fine she had just paid would be the end of the downward spiral that her life had become.
Click, clack. White marble veined with dove gray met her barely-worn Jimmy Choos. She hadn’t needed to dress up, but wanted to look like she could be anyone working here. Possibly a lawyer representing a client. It didn’t matter exactly—just not her.
This floor of the building wasn’t familiar, and she walked slowly, peering at each office as she wandered her way to the elevators. Not that she could see much. Everyone was behind doors or counters. Her focus stopped on one door with a huge sign above it—Office of the County Clerk.
In a perfect world, she’d be visiting that office soon to get her marriage license.
That wouldn’t be happening anymore.
Letting out a slow breath, she continued past the steady stream of people heading in and out of that very office. She was almost at the building’s large, central atrium—
Her stomach lurched at the boisterous laugh of her ex-fiancé. His guffaw echoed off the wood-paneled walls and the gorgeous floors that provided zero acoustic dampening. Oh no. He’d know exactly why she was here.
The sound came from the elevator area up ahead. Instinctively, she backed up, sliding close to the wall as she did so. Was he coming this way? He didn’t work on this floor, but he knew everyone.
Another laugh and loud male voices came from up ahead. Shit. Becca turned and scanned the hall for options to disappear. So many offices, and she had no reason to enter any of them…wait. She spotted a hallway that branched off the main one. With short, hurried steps, she beelined for the safety of the corridor.
Crap. There was nothing here that a visitor or county resident would need. The hallway was only fifteen feet long, with two doors. Neither had a sign or window. Great. Probably utility or janitorial closets. All she needed was for Kirk to walk past and see her hiding like she didn’t belong. She should have just stayed where she was.
Desperate to seem like she wasn’t a weirdo, she took her phone from her purse and studied her lock screen photo as if it were vital intelligence information. No one would know it was just a photo of a pretty, yet generic, forest scene. It had once been a selfie of her and Kirk, but that was before.
Gazing with unfocused eyes at her screen, she strained her ears for his voice. She still heard it, though more faintly. Or maybe that was because she was hiding in a random hallway she wasn’t supposed to be in.
Okay. You can do this. She could just hang out and check her email, the weather, anything. If anyone came by and asked her what she was doing, she could always claim she was lost or had to take a phone call and ducked in here for a bit of quiet.
She rolled her shoulders, and the silk of her designer blouse slid coolly over her skin then settled in place. She hadn’t gone the whole suit route, figuring the expensive top and the equally expensive but perfectly fitted black pants would be good enough. She let out a calming exhale. No voices carried to her now.
So what if you see him? And if he sees you? You can tell him it’s none of his business. The rational side of her brain made it seem so simple. But he knew what she’d done. His expression would mock her, communicating his disdain without words. Or maybe he’d add some of those as well, making her feel like crap. He was good at that.
There was a saying that no one could make you feel bad unless you let them. She let out a silent snort. Try saying that to someone who had screwed up and knew it.
A woman hurried past the hallway entrance, relaying something urgently on her phone. “Motion to dismiss… sixty days… Judge O’Donnell’s courtroom…”
Then, there was just the quiet hum of faraway conversations. Okay. Should be safe to come out. Good grief, she sounded like a kid who was about to get grounded.
She tucked her phone into her purse and adjusted the folder of papers she carried. She needed to get to the elevators in the center of the building, go down from the fourth floor to the ground floor, and walk to the parking garage. That was it. Shouldn’t be difficult, though she hadn’t managed to get out of the damn corridor yet.
She squared her shoulders and walked back to the main hallway. A group of teenagers was gathered around a woman speaking about the roles of various elected county officials. The kids at the back of the group snickered and chugged their water bottles. Most of the others had drinks in white Styrofoam cups, standard county-cafeteria issue.
Becca turned away from them and set her attention on the wide arch at the end of the hall. Beyond it was an old, gorgeous central staircase and, along the wall near it, the elevators. One step at a time…
Except her spiked heel slid. Her ankle wobbled. A slickness on the marble—
Her legs went out from under her. Slam! Her butt hit the hard surface. Her purse and papers went flying in all directions.
Ow, shit. Pain shot up from her sitz bones as she tried to get up. Belatedly, she realized the damn floor was wet, and now, so were her pants. As if falling on her ass in Kirk’s workplace wasn’t bad enough. She scrambled to her knees, cheeks on fire, and started gathering her stuff.
Good lord. Her things were all over. Most of her papers were soaked. Her purse, which she never remembered to zip shut, was ten feet away. Spotting her wallet, she made a grab for it, leaning forward—
Teeth. Sharp and huge. Lots of them. Right at her eye level.
She gave a tiny squeak and froze. Large, pointed canines, three feet away. Behind them, a mouth and snout. Oh god.
“Denver,” a male voice spoke—not Kirk’s. It said something else in a foreign language. The teeth moved away.
Only then did she take a full breath. She laid a hand on her chest and sank back on her heels, head spinning. A dog. That was right. This courthouse had one for security. Sure. That was all. And it had backed off. She wasn’t going to get attacked.
“Sorry about that.” The owner of the voice crouched in front of her. “The sudden motion had him on alert. Are you okay?”
“I…” She glanced up and froze again.
The man before her had the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. They were like the sky on a cloudless summer day. A perfect square jaw and high cheekbones. Short brown hair and a full lower lip. Broad shoulders covered in a navy-blue cop uniform. Each element by itself could be ordinary, but on this man… whoa.
“I’m really sorry. We didn’t mean to scare you.” Genuine chagrin crossed a face that should’ve been in some kind of ad. “We’re doing rounds and happened to be on this floor”—he frowned at the group of kids—“which shouldn’t be wet because food and drinks are supposed to stay in the cafeteria.”
“I’m okay. I’m fine.” Maybe. Breath still catching in her throat, Becca resumed grabbing anything within reach.
“I can help.” The officer picked up a soggy package of gum that had once been in her purse.
“No, I got it.” The last thing she needed was for him to see any of her paperwork. That would make her humiliation complete.
Muscles flexed in his forearms as he handed her three pens.
“Um, thanks,” she muttered.
He paused. “Sure you’re okay? You fell pretty hard.”
“Yep. Fine.” Her right butt cheek and hip throbbed. She’d probably have a heck of a bruise. This was beyond embarrassing, and if Kirk walked by now, she’d never live it down.
The cop stood and walked to the other side of the corridor. Becca took that moment to gather her mix of wet and dry paperwork and shove it into her folder, hoping it would never see the light of day again. She still had a mess of random stuff in front of her. Where was her…
The officer crossed the hall with her purse and handed it to her. “Thank you.” She stuffed anything that wasn’t paper into it as fast as she could. All she really needed was her wallet, keys, and phone—check, check, and check. She clambered to her feet.
He was studying her, hand outstretched as if he thought she was going to topple over. She swallowed as she looked up… and up. The throbbing spread through her entire body.
She was in four-inch heels, and she still couldn’t look him in the eye. Jesus, how tall is he? His short shirt sleeves stretched tightly across biceps he had no chance of truly covering up. Trim waist, not one ounce of fat on this cop, and god, he was handsome. Too bad she shouldn’t be thinking anything along the lines of anyone being handsome.
A gold rectangular name badge shone above his heart, etched with black lettering. Marlow.
Never heard of him. Then again, it wasn’t like she knew many cops. Only the one that had been present for her situation.
“You got everything?” he asked.
“Yeah, thanks. I’m good.” She needed to get to the elevators, but he was in her way. “I’m on my way out, so…”
“All right.” He stepped aside and gave a gruff command. The huge dog padded to his side. “Be careful and, uh, sorry about that.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” She took a cautious step. There wasn’t much of a puddle left after her clothing and papers had absorbed it. The soles of her shoes might have been slippery… but no. They seemed okay. Now, all she had to do was walk out of this hallway and away from a very hot cop. While wearing wet pants. Great.
“Take care now,” he called.
“Thanks. You too.” Becca gave him a small smile and continued to the center of the building. She breathed a sigh of relief when she turned the corner and made it to the bank of elevators. At least her pants were black. She didn’t plan to be back here any time soon, so all she had to do was get to the safety of her car, then drive home.
Ding. The elevator doors opened, and she boarded it alone. Her shoulders sagged as she pressed the ground floor button.
Of all the crazy things. Just being in Kirk’s workplace was awkward. Then, hearing his voice, hiding, falling, and then that cop. Lord.
She got to the first level and strode through the lobby, thankful the cop didn’t know her name. If so, would he have put two and two together? Did he know Kirk? Becca had been to the courthouse several times to visit him. Dodged that bullet.
Becca reached the parking garage and slid gratefully into her little silver Prius. Next stop—home.
The afternoon sun blazed in the September sky. It wasn’t close to dinnertime, but the way her stomach rumbled said otherwise. She had been too wound up to eat lunch, and the way this day had gone, she was ready to toast frozen waffles, drown them in syrup, and then have ice cream for dessert.