Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

Cover Reveal Husband Wanted by Charlotte Hughes

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Husband Wanted, a romance

Here is the great cover by Kim Van Meter. Husband Wanted which will be released on Feb 24th, 2016. It is available now for preorder, if you want to reserve your copy click here.

Miss Van Meter has been a great cover artists and has worked with me on several of my recent eBooks, and the print books that accompany them. She did the cover for Miss Goody Two Shoes, Just Married Again, and now Husband Wanted.  We have also asked Kim to do a redo cover for Tall, Dark, and Bad.

Husband Wanted is about Frannie Brisbane, and her efforts to connect with a daughter she gave up 13 years ago, when she was born.  Frannie had painted a very different picture of her life in the letters they’d exchanged, and with the help of her friends she had obtained a mansion and servants she could use. But could she find a husband on the spur of the moment?

The book is a contemporary romance and while it has humor and a HEA, it is not as much of a comedy as See Bride Run! or Just Married Again.  It is however a fun sweet read that I hope you will enjoy. Next up, Island Rogue in May.


Excerpt from Just Married Again, a Romantic Comedy

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Here is an excerpt from Just Married Again, a Romantic Comedy, by Charlotte Hughes, released Nov 25, 2015:

Just Married AgainChecking the cooler, Maddy found the meat and re­frigerated items icy cold to the touch, but not frozen. She pulled the turkey out and slit open the plastic cover­ing so she could wash the bird. It wasn’t huge, but it was a respectable size and would provide leftovers for a cou­ple of days. Since it was close to lunchtime, she decided she would serve Thanksgiving dinner that evening. The bags she used to bake her turkeys in usually cut the cooking time in half.

Michael gazed at his wife from over the rim of his coffee cup as she prepared the turkey. Had he known he would be spending the holiday with her, he wouldn’t have dreaded it so much. She was the picture of domes­ticity, her shoulder-length hair pulled back, a clean apron tied around her waist. She had a tempting back­side, made even more so by the tight jeans she wore, and the cropped, dusky pink sweatshirt that rose beguilingly when she moved, offering him a glimpse of honey- colored flesh that made him forget about everything else. She reached into an overhead cabinet, and the hem of her shirt inched up her spine. He would have given his entire retirement account to have her turn around slightly and flash that delectable navel. He sighed heavily.

“Are you hot yet?” Danny said.

“Huh?” Michael glanced at him quickly. Was he that obvious? He could almost imagine his eyes rolling in his head and steam spewing out each ear.

“Have you warmed up enough to go back out?”

“Oh.” Michael took a shaky breath. Warm didn’t come close to describing how he was feeling, and if he stood up, it was likely his nephew would figure out his problem in one glance. “Let me finish my coffee,” he said, although he was in no hurry to leave the warm kitchen and the woman who made it seem even cozier.

“I’m going to visit the dogs for a minute,” the boy said.

“They’re in the bedroom,” Maddy told him. “Be sure to keep the door closed.”

Michael was only vaguely aware of Danny leaving the room; his eyes were trained on his wife. He didn’t know what she was looking for, but as she searched through one cabinet after another, she left the doors standing open. How many times had he warned her against that very thing? And how many times had she knocked herself silly as a result?

“Uh, Maddy—” he began, then winced when her noggin collided with the comer of one cabinet door.

“Ouch!” Maddy cried.

Michael jumped up and hurried toward her, closing cabinet doors in his path. “I knew that was going to happen. Here, let me see how bad it is.” He tilted her face back slightly. A red welt lay in her hairline. “It didn’t break the skin, but there’ll probably be a bruise.” He held up three fingers. “How many do you see?”

“Eight. But I was never good at math. Do you think I’ll need plastic surgery?”

“I’m afraid plastic surgery won’t work in your case. You’ll just have to be scarred for life. Probably, no man will ever look at you, so you might want to reconsider divorcing me.”

“Oh, my. I think I may have amnesia.”

It took only a second to realize she was kidding. “Oh, boy,” he said, affecting a serious tone. “Do you know your name?”

She looked thoughtful. “No, but I think I come from royalty. I seem to recall being addressed as Queen something-or-other.”

Grinning, Michael took one of her hands in his. “You’re Queen Mary, named after a prestigious ship. And I’m your most trusted servant, here to please you in every way, if you get my drift.” He gave her a hearty wink.

The touch of his hands on hers sent Maddy’s stom­ach aflutter. She tried to hide her discomfort. “Does the king know about this?”

“The king is old and blind and deaf.”

“The poor thing. I must go to him.”

“He still manages to drink and gamble and run with tainted, women, though, which is why you have no qualms about taking lovers.”

“Oh, is that all.” She tried to pull away.

“I’ve also seen him kick your dogs from time to time.”

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “I’ll kill him.”

The bedroom door opened, and her dachshunds darted out before Danny could grab them. “Who’s that?” Maddy whispered, nodding toward the boy.

“He empties the palace chamber pots,” Michael re­plied, a split second before Rambo sank his teeth into the hem of his jeans and tugged with all his might. Mi­chael sighed and shook his head sadly.

“What’s going on?” Danny asked, his eyes widening at the sight before him.

“Your Aunt Maddy hit her head on a cabinet door.” He glanced once more at her wound. “You should be okay as long as you remember rule number one.”

“Which is?”

“Don’t leave dangerous, life-threatening cabinet doors open.” He examined one carefully as if inspecting it for further hazards. “These things should come with warning labels.” He turned to Danny. “Guess we’d bet­ter go get that wood.” He crossed the room, dragging the dog along with him. “We’ll have to hurry. Your aunt’s not safe here, and I don’t know how long this dog’s going to last with me dragging him through the snow.”

Maddy hurried over to Michael and pried the dog loose while Muffin sat up and begged for attention as well. Holding Rambo by the collar, she watched the two men bundle up and pull on the wading boots. She couldn’t help thinking how much Michael resembled the man she’d fallen in love with more than six years earlier. Of course, that was before he’d become con­sumed with his job, before he’d forgotten how to laugh and have fun.

She prayed the roads would be cleared soon.

Before she fell in love with Michael all over again.

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Excerpt from Miss Goody Two-Shoes

Friday, August 21st, 2015

KOBO CHARLOTTE HUGHESKane pulled his duffel bag from the bike and approached the store, trying to decide if it looked as Melanie Abercrombie had described it. The building had to be at least a hundred years old, the wood faded and warped in places from the weather. A vin­tage soda-pop machine shared space with two long benches on the front porch, where a faded green awn­ing offered relief from the elements. Double screen doors marked the entrance, both of which sagged and looked as though they’d come completely unhinged in the next strong wind. Beside one door a small sign listed the hours of operation. A sign on the other side of the doors listed the rules. No loitering, profanity, or alcoholic beverages allowed. Kane didn’t have to be psychic to know who’d put up the sign. Even in her letters, Miss Melanie Abercrombie had come across as a real southern lady.

He paused before the door, suddenly nervous at the thought of meeting the woman who’d written to him faithfully the past year. How would she react when she saw him for the first time? His release had come about so quickly, he hadn’t had a chance to notify her of his whim to visit.

# # #


Melanie Abercrombie was in a sour mood, brought on by hunger pangs, her younger sister’s desperate, incessant phone calls, and a feeling of being over­whelmed. She peered through clunky square-framed glass at the mess before her.

Abercrombie Grocery was as disorganized and cluttered as a child’s playroom, proof that her father preferred visiting with his customers and listening to gospel music to sweeping and restocking shelves. Mel ran a finger across the lid of a jar of pickled beets where a layer of dust and grime had long since settled and made it impossible to read the price.

She knew she was partially responsible for the mess. Her flower shop had been in an uproar for a solid month, what with Easter, Secretaries’ Day, and proms following one right after the other. It was so bad her assistant, Eunice Jenkins, claimed she was getting varicose veins from standing on her feet so long, and prickly heat rash from sweating and handling pompoms. Mel simply hadn’t had time to come by her father’s store and clean the way she usually did. It was no wonder folks were driving into town to shop at the new Thrifty Sack.

Nevertheless, Mel had had no idea how bad busi­ness had been until she looked through her father’s financial records. Only then did she realize they would have to take desperate measures. The store must be cleaned up once and for all. They’d have to pull up all that scarred linoleum and tear down the warped shelves. They’d have to patch the roof over the meat cooler and repair the faucet on the bathroom sink, and have someone look at the old heating and air conditioning unit that never quite kept the place warm enough in winter or cool enough in the summer.

Mel sighed heavily. It was going to take so much time and money, neither of which she had very much of these days.

That brought her to the next problem: Where the heck was the carpenter she’d hired to do the work? She groaned inwardly as she wondered about him. She’d hired the man sight unseen from a Craig’s List ad stating he was unemployed and would work cheap as a handyman. She’d later learned, through the grapevine at church, that the fellow was unemployed due to a tendency to drink and forget about work altogether.

Mel was interrupted from her thoughts when one of the screen doors was thrown open and a man stepped through.

“Melanie Abercrombie?” he asked, trying to make himself heard above a modern rendition of the gospel song “Oh Happy Day” coming from a radio at the back of the store.

At first all Mel could do was stare at him.

She felt her jaw drop clear to her collar as she regarded the man before her. His head and face were covered with snarled blue-black hair. His brown eyes were so dark they appeared black. His expression was hard, flat, and emotionless. It was the sort of face one expected to find on Wanted posters, the sort of face that prompted decent folks to lock their doors at night before they went to bed.

So this was her carpenter. No wonder he couldn’t keep a job.

“Well, it’s about time you got here,” she said, her voice as crisp as fried salt pork. She wasn’t going to allow herself to be put off by that beard. She took in his clothes, the blue sweat-stained work shirt, and shamefully tight jeans. He looked tough, lean, and sinewy, and probably could do the work if he stayed sober. “I’ve been waiting for you all day.”

“You have?” Kane was clearly surprised. He couldn’t imagine how she’d learned he was get­ting out.

“Yes,” she replied, noting he didn’t look the least bit remorseful for being so late. Didn’t he want the job, for heaven’s sake? “I suppose an apology is out of the question,” she said.

He went blank. “You can apologize if you want, but I certainly don’t expect it.”

Her irritation flared. “I wasn’t talking about me apologizing to you” she said tightly.

His bafflement quickly turned to annoyance. She had obviously called the prison, although he couldn’t imagine why. She had never once tried to contact him by phone. “Why should I apologize?” he asked. “I came as quickly as I could. Hell, I don’t even have to be here.”

“Oh, is that right?” she quipped, meeting his gaze. She paused. “You think I’m desperate, don’t you?”

He was growing more confused. “Come again?”

“That’s it, isn’t it?” She fidgeted with the buttons on her blouse. “You think I need you so badly that I’ll put up with this sort of behavior.”

Kane was truly at a loss as he studied the woman before him and wondered where in the hell the con­versation was going. “I don’t think you’re desperate,” he said, at the same time wondering if she expected him to court her in return for all those letters. She was clearly not his type. Her skirt and blouse were too prim and proper; her hairstyle—slicked back into a bun—too severe. Her glasses were downright ugly and made her face appear misshapen. “I don’t want to appear rude, Miss Abercrombie, but I’m not looking to get romantically involved with anyone right now. I just want a fresh start.”

“What?” Mel’s head spun. What in blazes was he talking about? Did he think she was making a pass at him? Was he insane? She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off.

“Look, I don’t want us to get off to a bad begin­ning. I’m not sure I would have made it this past year without your letters.” It wasn’t easy for him to be so honest, but she had done much for his morale these twelve months; he owed her.

Mel was at a loss. He wasn’t making sense. “Let­ters? What letters? Who are you?”

“Kane Stoddard.”

She froze as realization swept through her with the force of a tidal wave. “Kane Stoddard? From Leavenworth Penitentiary?” He nodded, and she thought she detected a small smile, but it was hard to tell with the beard.

But how can that be, she asked herself. The Kane Stoddard she knew was a convicted killer, serving life without parole. How had he gotten out? The answer came to her with lightning-quick clarity. She knew of only one way a prisoner could get out that fast.

Kane watched the color drain from her face. He had expected her to be surprised, but she looked as if she’d just received the scare of her life. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She knew she ought to do something, but what? Dial 911? Race outside and flag down the first motor­ist who came along? She tried to move, but her feet felt as though they’d been set in cement.

An escaped convict in Hardeeville? Was it poss­ible?

Kane watched, transfixed, as Melanie Abercrom­bie’s eyes glazed over, and then rolled back in her head like dice in a card game. She swayed, and he reached for her. He wasn’t fast enough. She collapsed and fell against a box of drain cleaner with the grace and finesse of a hundred-pound gunny sack of Vidalia onion

Blog Tour Announced for Welcome to Temptation

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Welcome To Temptation Front Small

On  May 20th, I will be stopping by 26 sites as part of my launch for Welcome to Temptation.  The book has made a splash already and has been in several of the Hot New Release lists on Amazon in its first week out. If you haven’t bought it yet Welcome to Temptation is still only 99 cents (in a special launch sale),  shop now!



1: Writer Wonderland 2: Room With Books 3: The Snarkology 4: 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! 5: StarAngels Reviews 6: Undercover Book Reviews 7: Deal Sharing Aunt 8: Happily Ever After isn’t Just for Fairytale Diva’s 9: Tory Richards 10: The Pen and Muse Book Reviews 11: Welcome to My World of Dreams 12: It’s Raining Books 13: Straight from the Library 14: Long and Short Reviews 15: jbiggarblog 16: Unabridged Andra 17: CBY Book Club 18: Books & Other Spells 19: Romance Novel Giveaways 20: LittlePinkCrayon Book Reviews 21: Harps Romance Book Review 22: A Book Addict’s Delight 23: Buried Under Romance 24: Words of Wisdom from The Scarf Princess 25: Jen’s Reading Obsession 26: Romorror Fan Girl

Excerpt From Welcome to Temptation

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Welcome To Temptation Front SmallHere is an excerpt from the just released Welcome to Temptation available in eBook format exclusively at Amazon, and in print almost everywhere. Click here to buy it:

“We need to get out of these wet things,” Michelle said, crossing her arms in front of her in an attempt to hide herself. She shivered as Gator continued to stare. He still had the power to make her body go berserk when he looked at her that way. Those glittering black eyes didn’t miss a thing. It was as though he were capable of seeing past flesh and bone to her inner workings, all of which shook at the moment as violently as the tree limbs outside the window. She was certain he knew what that look did to her—what it did to every female, for that matter. He had it down to an art. And if it had had a powerful effect on her at sixteen, it was doubly so now at thirty-two.

“That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day,” Gator said, shrugging out of his shirt. It was cold and felt like wet seaweed against his skin. He mopped his brow and chest with it and ran it across the back of his neck.

Michelle wondered if he had any idea how sen­sual that simple act was. He was all rippling mus­cles and taut flesh. Goose pimples stood out on his shoulders and his nipples puckered from the chill in the room. His arms were lean and as brown as the rest of him. The room seemed to shrink to the size of a shoe box. Michelle had seen enough male bodies in her job to know that the one before her was one of the best she’d ever laid eyes on.

Gator would have had to be blind not to notice her perusal. The grin he shot her was brazen. “Like what you see, Mic?”

Michelle’s head snapped up with a force that almost sent her reeling. Her face flamed. “I was just . . . just . . .”

“Staring?” He looked faintly amused.

He was laughing at her, she thought angrily. She fought the urge to race out of the room. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she said tersely.

“I don’t have to, pretty lady. You just gave me the biggest compliment I’ve had in a long time, whether you know it or not.”

“You haven’t changed at all, Gator Landry. I would have thought by now somebody would’ve knocked some manners into that thick skull of yours.”

“And you haven’t changed much yourself,” he said. “You’ve still got the prettiest green eyes I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the cutest rear end. I’d say you have improved with age.” He slung his damp shirt around his neck and stepped closer. “So you’re a nurse now. I remember the first time you told me you wanted to go into nursing. Do you?”

Michelle fought the urge to back away from him. To do so would have been cowardly, and she would sooner bite off her tongue than show Gator she was afraid of him. “How can I forget,” she said. “You suggested we play doctor so I could practice on you.”

He chuckled. “But you refused.”

“That’s because I knew what ailed you and didn’t want any part of it.”

“I think you did. Is that why you didn’t return the following sum­mer like you promised?”

“Let’s just say I came to my senses.”

“You’re still crazy about me, aren’t you?” he teased.

She almost laughed, because at the moment it was just like old times, with Gator trying his darnedest to get a rise out of her and her tossing his words or innuendos right back in his face. Gator Landry had always been able to make her blush and feel things that other boys couldn’t.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gator,” she said. “I was only sixteen years old at the time. I’m twice that age now, and I hope I’ve got twice the knowledge I had back then when I acted on hormones instead of common sense. Besides, you weren’t the first man to kiss me; nor the last.”

He cocked his head to the side, as though pon­dering the thought. “Maybe not, but I’ll bet I’m the one you remember best.”

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Welcome to Temptation Released

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Welcome To Temptation Front SmallJust released, a romance eBook exclusive to Amazon.  (Print books are available everywhere). Charlotte’s latest indie published romance is Welcome to Temptation. Buy now by clicking here.


Reckless, bad boy Cajun . . .

With a hurricane closing in on Temptation, Louisiana, Michelle Thurston fails to convince her stubborn grandmother to leave her home on the bayou. Sheriff Gator Landry arrives by boat, hell-bent on forcing the elderly recluse to evacuate. He is stunned to find Michelle, who was just 16 years old when he courted her one steamy summer.
Now, at 32, Michelle comes face-to-face with the man whose kisses tempted her to lose control, only this time there is no place to run. Although Gator is not about to leave the two women defenseless, Michelle can’t help but wonder if he is more dangerous to her than anything the storm can do.

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Charlotte Hughes is planning a brief blog tour on the 20th in support of Welcome to Temptation. Many of you probably remember that Charlotte was one of the first romance authors to do a virtual book tour, and she has not done any tours in a while. Watch this blog for more details about the Welcome to Temptation tour which will be at about 25 sites and it will be held on May 20th.

Giving Away a $50 Giftcard to One of My Readers

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015
 Tall Dark and Bad Reader Contest
I will be selecting one entrant in my Tall, Dark, and Bad reader contest to receive a gift certificate for All you need to do is answer two  questions from the book, and if you email me the correct answers at, then you will be entered in the contest, which ends March 31st. If you have already read the book the questions should be easy to answer, or at least look up, and if you do not yet have it (but  intended to get it anyway), the Kindle version is on sale at Amazon for only 99 cents March 23rd through March 28th.  Click here to buy it. After that it goes back to the regular price.Here are the two contest questions:1. Early in chapter 9, what is Cooper wearing when Summer opens the door?
2. In chapter 11 we learn that Cooper named his “farm” after someone. Who is Cooper’s rural property named after?

In order to be eligible to participate in the contest, you have to be at least 18, not a relative or employee, and reside in a jurisdiction which permits such a contest. No puchase necessary, void where prohibited.

Contempoary Romance

New Romance by Charlotte Hughes

An Excerpt from Tall, Dark, and Bad

Saturday, February 14th, 2015
Contemporary Romance

New Romance by Charlotte Hughes


An excerpt from the romance

Tall, Dark, and Bad 

Available February 13th, 2015

Digital on Amazon Kindle

Trade Paperback everywhere





Summer had worked most of the night; as a result, her brain felt as if it had been stuffed with cobwebs. As she sipped another cup of coffee, she tried to find the file she had last worked on. It was nowhere to be found.  

The trash! She vaguely remembered tossing a stack of newspapers into a Hefty bag before before carrying it out to the Dumpster. Could the file have been under the papers? She groaned and grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen.

Arriving at the Dumpster, she found at least two dozen bags just like the one she’d tossed in. She sighed and muttered a four-letter word as she tucked the flashlight beneath her jaw and climbed the metal ladder leading to the opening. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of old food. Had the file not been so important, she would have given up. Instead, she jumped and landed in a mountain of plastic bags. After searching diligently, she found the bag containing her file. She tossed the bag through the opening of the Dumpster and shined her flashlight about, trying to find a ladder that would lead her out.

Nothing. Not even a foothold. There was no way out, and nobody would think to look for her in a Dumpster, not even the security guard she’d passed on her way.

Time crawled by. She called for help. What if nobody showed up to empty their trash? What if she were forced to spend the rest of the day and even the night inside the metal container? What if– No, she wouldn’t allow herself to think about the possibility of rats or cockroaches. She waited.

She thought she heard a lawn mower. No, wait a minute. That was no lawnmower it was a motorcycle! The engine died, and all was silent. “Help!” she cried. “Is anybody out there?” A second later, Cooper peered into the opening.

“Well, would you look at that,” he said. “Somebody has gone and thrown away a perfectly good woman.”

Valentine’s Day Romance Tall, Dark, and Bad

Friday, February 13th, 2015


Contempoary Romance

New Romance by NY Times bestseller Charlotte Hughes

Just in time for Valentine’s Day! The novel, Tall, Dark, and Bad

a contemporary romance, is available from Amazon in

 Kindle format and most everywhere in print:

Click here.







Summer Pettigrew is in desperate need of a fiancé, a temporary job, mind you . . .

Bad Boy Cooper Garrett answers the call. He swaggers into Summer’s High Society Life oozing testosterone. He’s hardly what Summer expected, the man straddles a mean looking motorcycle, for Pete’s sake! But Summer is stuck with him for the time being, even though her pulse skyrockets each time he steals a kiss.

One Thing on His Mind
Cooper willingly plays the doting fiancé, but he has one thing on his mind: Bedding the proper Miss Pettigrew! And although Summer is tempted to take a ride on the wild side, she fears it will lead her down a road to heartbreak.



Charlotte says: “I have to admit this is one of my sexier books, the hero exudes sensuality on every page.”

To find out more click here for the digital  book on Amazon. The plan for other platforms (Nook, Apple, Google, etc.) is to publish more widely in about 6 months, meanwhile the trade paperback version is available at Barnes and Noble and other retailers.

A Fun Excerpt From See Bride Run

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

See Bride Run! Discounted from $5.99 to 2.99 for a limited time on Kindle starting Feb 2,2015. Buy it?SeeBrideRunfontrightfront



Pleading exhaustion to her current dance partner, Annie returned to the bar, only to find Darla and Hank missing. The bartender in overalls returned wearing a grin. “Some of your dance partners have taken a shine to you,” he said.

“They want to buy you a drink. Several, in fact. What’ll you have?”

“I don’t want anything right now,” Annie replied as politely as she could, considering her head felt as though it was ready to split open. “Would you happen to know where my friend went?”

“She left with that other feller. Said to tell you’d she’d be back in a jiffy.”

“When you see her, would you please tell her I’m waiting for her in the car?”

“What do I look like, Western Union?”

“I’m sorry to impose—”

“I’m just havin’ fun with you,” he said, his chubby face breaking into a grin. “I’ll tell her.”

Annie made her way out the door, leaving a good por­tion of the noise inside. She passed a couple of men sitting on the

tailgate of a truck but pretended not to see them.

“Hey, baby, you lookin’ for some comp’ny?”

“No thanks,” she said, and kept on walking.

“Hey, that ain’t no way to be,” one of them said as he caught up with her. “What’d I ever do to you?”

“Please—” She stopped and turned. He was a beefy fellow but she wasn’t sure if she should be scared or amused. He

spit a wad of chew­ing tobacco on the ground, and she shuddered. “I have a splitting headache, and I just want to be

alone,” she said. She resumed walking. Where the hell had Darla parked?

“I got a headache powder in the truck.”

Sure he did, Annie thought. And she had a hundred dollar bill in her pocket.

It finally hit her that Darla’s car was missing, and the thought of being stranded at a place like Ernie’s almost made her

weep. Why would Darla have left her? Espe­cially knowing she didn’t have a dime to her name? She didn’t even have

enough money to call anyone. Besides, who would she call?

“You can drink it down with a cold beer, and that headache’ll be history.”

Annie saw a car turn off the highway into the parking lot, and she prayed it was Darla’s. She almost went weak with

relief when it turned out to be a Jeep driven by Sam Ballard. He pulled up beside her.

“Out slumming tonight, Annie?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If you’re looking for trouble, this is the place to find it.” Sam slammed the Jeep into park and climbed out. Annie

noticed the stranger’s friend had come up and both of them towered over Sam.

“I asked you what the hell you’re doing and who these men are?” he almost shouted.

Annie’s jaw dropped. “I don’t have to take this—”

The man next to Annie nudged her. “Do you know this guy?”

“Yes, I—”

“I happen to be her husband,” Sam said, his words clipped and precise. “She has a new baby at home wait­ing to be

nursed. She told me she was running to the store for disposable diapers.”

“Oh, well—” The man looked from Sam to Annie and back to Sam. “Hey, man, we don’t want to cause no trouble

between married folks. Me and my brother was just passing through town.” He regarded Annie. “You should be home

with your kid, lady.” He looked at the other man. “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”

Annie was glad it was dark and nobody could see the crimson color on her face. “That was despicable,” she told Sam.

“Would you rather see me get beat up by the rhino brothers?” He didn’t give her time to answer. “Where’s Darla, and

what the hell are you doing in a dark parking lot with some men you don’t know?”

“I don’t know where Darla is, and I don’t have to answer your questions.”

“Great. Then I’ll just leave you here to fend for your­self.” He turned and climbed back inside the Jeep.

“Wait!” Annie hurried over. “Darla’s car is gone. She took off with some guy named Hank.”

“So you decided to wait for her in a parking lot filled with drunk rednecks and bikers. Great idea, Annie,” he said,

sarcasm ringing loud in his voice. “Now I see why your father had to make your decisions.” He regretted his choice of

words the min­ute they left his mouth, the very second he saw Annie’s face fall. But, dammit, she could have gotten in

bad trouble there.

Sudden tears stung her eyes. “You can just go straight to hell for all I care.” She started walking.

He pulled up beside her. “I’m sorry, Annie. That was a lousy thing for me to say. Get in the car, and I’ll take you back

to Darla’s.”

“I’d rather walk.”

“You can’t walk. It’s dangerous this time of night.”

“I can take care of myself. Contrary to what you might think,” she added angrily.

They had reached the highway. “I’ll bet you don’t even know how to get to Darla’s trailer.”

Annie wasn’t listening. It had been such a miserable day, not to mention humiliating as hell, and her head felt as

though it would explode. She had spent the better part of the evening wondering what she was going to do with her life

and cursing the fact that she hadn’t taken charge long ago. The last thing she needed was for Sam Ballard to show up

and rub her nose in it.

“Annie, I’m warning you, either get in the Jeep, or I’ll person­ally put you in.”

She kept walking.

Sam gunned his engine and parked a good distance ahead of her. He climbed out, then slammed the door so hard, his

Jeep rocked on its wheels. Teeth gritted, he closed the distance between him and Annie, then, with­out warning, hefted

her up and threw her over his shoul­der. She kicked and squealed like a stuck pig.

“Shut up, dammit!” he ordered. “Folks’ll think I’m kidnapping you.” She screamed louder, and he gave her a sound

whack on the behind.

Annie saw red. She kicked her legs and flailed her arms and finally grabbed a handful of his hair. Sam let a few

obscenities fly before he realized someone had pulled up behind them. He turned but was blinded by headlights. He

blinked several times before he realized it was the highway patrol.

“Dammit to hell, Annie, look, what you’ve done now.” He heard the door open and close, was barely able to make out

the silhouette of a patrolman.

“What’s going on here?” the uniformed man said.

Annie continued to pummel Sam in the back but glanced around at the sound of another’s voice. “Oh, Officer, thank

God you’re here. I’m being abducted.”

“Abducted, huh?” The patrolman spit what looked like a wad of chewing tobacco on the ground, and Annie wondered if

everybody in Pinckney chewed it. “Well, we don’t put up with the likes of that in Pinckney, Georgia ma’am.” He reached

for his gun. “I reckon I don’t have any choice but to shoot him.”

 In disbelief, Annie watched the patrolman pull his gun out of the holster and aim it at Sam. She screamed. “No, wait!”

“Put her down, pal,” the armed man said. “I’m warn­ing you, I got this sucker aimed right for your goozle.”

Sam sighed heavily and dropped Annie to the ground. She landed in a heap.

“Now move away, lady, so I can finish him off.”

“Officer, please let me explain,” Annie cried, crawling along the gravel as fast as she could. She pulled herself up by the

man’s pants leg. “He, uh, Mr. Ballard here, was only offering me a ride. I was lying about being abducted.”

“He probably told you to say that, didn’t he?” The patrolman pushed her aside. “You need to turn your head, miss. I’ve

done this sort of thing before, and it ain’t a pretty sight.”

“Oh, my God, no!” Annie threw herself in front of Sam, acting as a shield.

Sam stood there with his arms crossed over his chest, the lines in his face tense, as if holding himself in check while

Annie sobbed and carried on like a character in a bad soap opera. “Okay, Buster, you’ve had your fun. I’d like to go

home now.”

The other man chuckled and stuck his revolver back in its holster. “Listen, Sambo, you’re going to have to learn to start

charming the ladies a little better. You can’t just throw a woman over your shoulder like a sack of taters and haul her

off. You have to buy them flowers and candy and—” He paused and looked around as though wanting to make sure they

weren’t overheard. “You might have to write a few lines of poetry. It don’t matter if it don’t rhyme.”

Annie’s head swiveled from side to side. “Excuse me, but do you two know each other?”

Sam looked at her. “This is Johnny Ballard, my cousin. Folks call him Buster. He’s a real prankster.”

“So all this was just a big joke at my expense,” she said. She glared at Sam. “You let me grovel and beg for your life like

some idiot nutcase. How dare you!”

A car screeched to a halt, and Darla jumped out and came running. She looked panicked. “What’s wrong? Is somebody


“Well, now, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Buster said. “Why don’t you and me go for a spin in my patrol car. I’ll even

let you play with my siren.”

“Annie, what’s going on?” Darla asked.

Annie tried to explain everything that had happened since she’d last seen her friend. It was all she could do to get the

words out, what with her stammering and sput­tering. Her heart was still racing.

“Didn’t the bartender give you my message?” Darla asked. “Hank needed cigarettes. I told the bartender to tell you I

was going to the convenience store not far from here, and that I’d be right back. Only, I didn’t know Hank was going to

hang around and look at dirty magazines.”

“Would you please take me home?” Annie asked, re­alizing that she was trembling. “You’re welcome to go back to

Ernie’s and stay as long as you like, but I’m exhausted.”

“Sure, honey. We can go.”

“I’ll walk back,” Hank said, having come up in the meantime. He kissed Darla on the cheek. “I’ll call you, babe.”

Buster put his hand on Annie’s shoulder. “I hope I didn’t scare you, young lady. Sam and I are always cut­ting up.”

“Actually, I think the whole scene was disgraceful,” she said. “I hope you have your little notebook handy because you

need to file assault and battery charges.”

Buster looked startled as he reached into his pocket. “Is this for real?”

“I’ll let you decide,” Annie told him. She balled her hand into a tight fist, swung around with all her might, and

slammed it into Sam Ballard’s face. Sam, caught off guard, reeled back, lost his footing and sank to the ground.

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