Excerpt From A Season to Dance

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

“Step out of the shower, with your hands up.”

Olivia James shrieked, even as her heart tried to escape through her throat. 
 

Peering through the foggy blur of the shower doors, she saw two police officers, one who appeared to have a gun drawn and pointed directly at her.

What the . . . ? 
 

She reached for the towel she’d slung over the shower door. 
 

“Hands up!”
 

Her hands shot up. “I’m naked here! Mind if I turn off the water and cover myself? It’s not likely I have a loaded gun in the shower with me.” 


Taking the silence as acquiescence, she shut off the water and slowly drew the towel from over the door where it hung before wrapping it around her body. She stepped out of the shower, her long dark hair dripping, and sucked in a breath when she looked into a pair of navy blue eyes lit with amusement—and something else. Shock, maybe. 
 

Zach Ryder. 
 

His amused gaze traveled the length of her, making her shiver and leaving her feeling as if the towel were invisible.
 

Not that he hadn’t seen it all before. Up close and personal.
 

Zach stood tall and confident in a dark navy police uniform, clearly enjoying the situation far more than warranted. Her mother had told her that Zach had come home to join the Northridge Police Department, eventaully becoming police chief. 
 

Unlike Zach, who stood with arms folded across his chest, his stance relaxed, the other officer held a gun, his body language anything but relaxed. Olivia swallowed, licked her lips, and reached for the robe hanging on the hook outside the shower, her movements slow and tentative.
 

“Don’t move,” Deputy Fife commanded, fierce concentration written all over his face. “What is your name?” he asked, gun still pointed at her. 
 

Even Zach had apparently reached his limit. “Judas Priest, Cole, it’s Olivia. Olivia James. Carly’s daughter.”
 

Apparently unwilling to take his chief’s word for it, Cole continued, “Ma’am, I’m going to need to see some identification.”
 

At the use of his name, Olivia finally recognized Deputy Fife as Cole Lewis. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cole, you were three grades behind me in school.” She waited for him to recognize her and relent. When he didn’t, she heaved a disgusted sigh and tip-toed carefully across the bathroom floor, trying not to bust her ass on the wet tile. All she needed was another injury. “Could you just turn your back?”
 

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we have a possible B&E in progress, so, no, I can’t.”
 

She could have sworn she heard a chuckle from Zach, covered by a cough. Then she groaned her frustration and cast a doleful glare at Zach. “Okay, fine, but I have to go to the closet to get my wallet.” 
 

She headed for the closet and heard a hiss of indrawn breath, then another cough. She glared over her shoulder to give them a dirty look, and upon seeing the reflection of her bare ass in the mirror, realized she’d provided a peek at her derrière. Yelping in embarrassment, she yanked the towel closed.
 

Olivia returned with her driver’s license and handed it over to Cole. He examined her license then back at her, studiously avoiding anything below the neck. Finally convinced she was who she said she was, he handed her license back to her and holstered his gun. “Ma’am, did you know your security alarm went off?”
 

Alarm? Since when did her mother have an alarm system? “No. I didn’t even know there was an alarm.” 
 

Cutting a glance at Zach, she couldn’t help thinking he still looked good. No. He looked better than good. The lean, athletic teenager had filled out in all the right places, making what should have been an unremarkable police uniform look downright sexy. He wore his light brown hair shorter than he did in high school, and it appeared more finger-combed than styled. But it was his eyes that drew her. A deep navy blue, the color of dark-wash

denim. 
 

“Why didn’t you answer the phone when the security company called?” Cole continued his interrogation. 
 

Rolling her eyes, she indicated the wet hair and towel with a wave of her hand. “Because, as you can see, I was in the shower and didn’t get out to answer the phone.”
 

Cole went hands on hips. “Well, that’s why law enforcement was dispatched.”
 

Taking pity on her, Zach reached for her robe and handed it to her with a shit-eating grin. 
 

“Thanks.” Their hands brushed, and the tingle she’d felt as a teenager had not faded in the seventeen years since she’d last touched him. Kissed him. 
 

His gaze caught and held hers for a breath, and she thought she’d glimpsed . . . something in their deep blue depths. A flicker of lust, followed by regret? 
 

Anger returning, she spun away from them and slipped on the robe, wrapping it tight before facing them again. “Well, as you can see, I’m not here to rob the place, so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my shower. I have a funeral to attend.”
 

*****
 

Zach sobered. Of course. Olivia’s mother, Carly, would be buried today. A couple of his officers would be working the funeral procession.
 

It’s the only reason Olivia would have returned to Northridge. 
 

When he’d first caught a glimpse of her in nothing but a towel, all other thoughts had vanished, including the death of her mother. She’d been pretty as a child and then as a teenager, but she’d grown into a beautiful—no, stunning—woman. The magazine and tabloid photos hadn’t done her justice over the years.
 

And, he had to admit, he’d enjoyed the hell out of her predicament. But his enjoyment had fled momentarily when he’d caught sight of the pink scar running up the back of her right ankle as she’d padded into the closet for her identification, no doubt from the surgery to repair the Achilles tendon rupture she’d suffered six months ago. 
 

Yeah, he’d kept up with her, even after all these years. Couldn’t help himself. 
 

“Officer Lewis, why don’t you go back to the car and start the paperwork.”
 

Cole nodded. “Yes, sir.” He nodded in Olivia’s direction, “Ma’am,” prompting another eyeroll from Olivia. 
 

Waiting for Cole to leave, Zach scratched his nose and gazed into the warm brown eyes he’d never forgotten. “You’ll have to excuse Officer Lewis’, uh, enthusiasm. He’s in training, so he’s trying to do everything by the book.”
 

“He had a gun pointed at me.” Her voice quavered. 
 

“Just between you, me, and the shower door, the gun isn’t loaded.” He reached out a hand to touch her, then thought better of it. 
 

She sniffed. “Still. I think you enjoyed it.” She belted the robe tighter, but he could see the outline of her breasts and could still remember the feel and taste of them. 
 

As if reading his thoughts, she crossed her arms over her chest. 
 

“Maybe a little.” He held up his thumb and forefinger about a half-inch apart and grinned. But then his grin fell away. “I’m sorry about your mom. I’m on duty, or I would come to the service.”
 

“Thanks.” She looked away, eyes blinking away unwelcome tears. “It was quite a shock.” 
 

While the town had suspected Carly was ill, no one had known the extent of her illness. 
 

“Let me know if you need anything while you’re here.”
 

She nodded, her expression shuttered. “I won’t be here long. A few days—a week at the most. Just long enough to get the estate in order.”
 

“Of course. Gotta get back to the bright lights and applause.” He winced internally. He’d tried for seventeen years not to resent her choice to leave. But, truth was, he still did. 
 

She greeted his comment with a brittle smile. “Yeah. My fans await. Bye, Zach.”
 

He nodded then turned to leave. “Bye, Olivia.”
 

The last time he’d seen Olivia James—in person anyway—was seventeen years ago when she’d left Northridge to pursue her dreams. She’d only just returned and was already talking about leaving again. 
 

Maybe it was for the best. The sooner she left, the better his chances of avoiding her. 
 

And the better his chances of protecting his heart.
 

*****
 

Flipping the water back on, Olivia stepped beneath the spray once more, sighing as the hot water soothed her aching joints. It was amazing how grief, injury, surgery, and rehab could affect your entire body. 
 

That, and she’d had little sleep. Between the questions whirling in her head like a satellite spinning out of control and the almost hourly trains that barreled through the small town disrupting what little sleep she could manage, she’d guessed that she’d been running on less than three hours’ sleep. 
 

Funny how you forget things like the train whistle, she thought. Likely, because growing up in Northridge, she’d learned to tune out its blare, even in the wee hours of the morning. 
 

Working up a good lather in her hair, she wondered why her mother would install an alarm system in a town where the residents rarely locked their doors. Maybe things had changed in the seventeen years she’d been away. Then she wondered what had set off the alarm. Her late mother’s wife, Jennie, must have gone out and forgotten to disarm it. 
 

Ducking her head under the spray of the shower, she rinsed her hair and cursed Jennie, Zach, and Deputy Fife. 
Jennie and Olivia’s mom had met almost fifteen years ago, and in one of those I’m-not-a-lesbian-but-I-am-for-you moments, Olivia’s mom, Carly James, fell in love with Jennie Low. 

 

Olivia had nothing against their relationship. In a profession where most of the men were gay or bi, she had no issues with same-sex relationships. Whatever makes you happy. And since Carly and Jennie had met, it was the happiest Olivia had ever seen her mother. But Olivia and Jennie were like oil and water and had been from the moment they’d met a year into the relationship.
 

Matters had taken a turn for the worse when, to Olivia’s utter astonishment, her mom died four days ago from pancreatic cancer and she’d learned that both Jennie and her mother had kept the illness from her.
 

Then there was Zach. If she could have gone the rest of her brief visit here without seeing him, she would have been a happy camper. Encountering him in a vulnerable, nearly-naked state did little for her composure.
 

But as she shut off the water and reached for the now-damp towel, she recalled his broad shoulders, flat stomach, narrow hips, and muscular thighs all displayed to perfection in his uniform. 
 

That Zach had become police chief came as no surprise. He’d always been the hero, whether it was standing up against bullies, protecting the hapless, saving stray kittens, or defending the less fortunate. If a kid was being picked on, Zach would swoop in to save the day. 
 

He’d sported more than one black eye from his run-ins with school bullies. Yet, he never hesitated to stand up for what he believed was right. A regular knight in shining armor. 
 

It was one of the things she’d loved about him.
 

Shutting off the water, she sighed. And always would.
 

*****
 

“Sign this, Chief.” 
 

Zach glanced up to see Officer Lewis standing in front of his desk, hand outstretched and holding a police report. Sighing, Zach took it. On his to-do list—a software program that eliminated the need for old-fashioned paperwork, a system with computer-assisted dispatching, a records management system, and all the bells and whistles to make his job and his officer’s jobs easier. 
 

It had been a goal of his to digitize the town’s police department, but so far, it hadn’t been in the budget. Between the software, desktop and mobile computers, he was looking at a cool five hundred grand to get the system up and running. 
 

He’d submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security but hadn’t heard back yet. 
 

Well, a guy could dream, couldn’t he?
 

It was the report on the dispatch to Carly’s house. He read it over, scrawled his name across the bottom, and handed it back to Cole.
 

“Thank you, sir.”
 

And speaking of dreams . . . 
 

Zach tapped his pen on a pile of paperwork awaiting his attention, but all he could see was the blurred outline of Olivia’s naked body through the steamy shower doors. His imagination had taken care of the rest. Water sluicing down her long, muscled legs, suds gliding along her breasts, pooling in her navel before drifting lower. 
 

A familiar tightness in his abdomen reminded him it had been a while since the last time he’d had sex. A long while. 
 

It had taken him a couple of years to move on from Olivia, to even consider dating anyone else. Since he’d returned from Atlanta, he’d dated a few women in town from time to time, but in a town of only five thousand people, things became complicated when it didn’t work out. And they never seemed to work out. 
 

The sad truth was no one even compared to Olivia. He’d never been closer to another human being—not his father, not even his best friend Tyler Kincaide. She knew every dark corner of his soul.
 

And resided there still. 

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