Someone Like You
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Jill straightened and wiped her face with the back of her hand. “Maybe later.”
“I made cookies. Let’s go have some.”
“I’d like that.”
Bev took her hand and led her toward the house. “I’ve been doing some research. I think I might be able to put a curse on Lyle. Would that help?”
With each step, Jill felt her pain easing just a little. Maybe Los Lobos wasn’t her idea of a good time, but her aunt’s house had always been a haven.
“A curse would be good. Could we give him boils with pus?”
“We could sure try.”
TWO HOURS LATER Jill and her aunt had split nearly a dozen double-chocolate-chip cookies and had knocked back several brandies.
“I don’t want to do anything malicious,” Jill said, pretty darned proud she could say malicious, what with the way the liquor had heated her blood and turned her brain to foggy mush. “So instead of outright scratching the Beamer, maybe I’ll just park it by the high-school baseball diamond. All those foul balls could make a real impact on it.” She giggled. “Get it? Impact? The two meanings of the word?”
Her aunt sighed. “You’re drunk.”
“You betcha. And I feel pretty good, if I do say so myself. I didn’t think I would. I thought I’d be depressed for days. I mean practicing law here.” She grimaced and felt her good mood slipping away. “Okay—that goes on the do-not-think-about list. Not my new practice here, although I use the term loosely. At least that’s just until I get a real job. Not Lyle. The divorce is good, though. I really want that. I want our marriage to never have been.” She reached for another cookie. “Could we vaporize him? Would that technically be murder?” She sighed. “Never mind. I know it would be. I don’t want to be disbarred. That would be too depressing for words.”
Cookie crumbs fell on her shirt right next to the damp spot where she’d sloshed her brandy. She brushed at the crumbs only to smear chocolate on the shirt.
“I need to go clean up,” she said, and put down the half-eaten cookie. “I didn’t shower before I left San Francisco this morning.”
As she spoke, she reached behind her head to grab her mass of curly, frizzy hair. While she’d showered the previous morning, she hadn’t bothered with her usual blow-dry, flatiron, forty-seven-hair-care-product regimen required to tame her impossible hair. As a result, she was left with a mass resembling Frankenstein’s bride after the woman stuck her finger in an electrical socket. On the attractive scale, she knew she approached absolute zero.
Jill pushed herself to her feet. Between not sleeping much in the past two days and the brandy, the roses on the wallpaper in the kitchen began to swirl.
“That can’t be good,” she murmured.
“You’ll feel better after a shower,” her aunt said. “You remember where everything is, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh. Top of the stairs.” Although right now the thought of climbing stairs made her dizzy.
A timer dinged at the same instant that someone knocked on the front door. Her aunt rose from the round table by the window and motioned for Jill to head for the front of the house.
“See who it is. I don’t trust you to remove hot cookie sheets in your present condition.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Jill walked down the hall, only plowing into the wall once. She got a vision of herself as a bumper car, which made her giggle. She was still caught up in the humor when she pulled open the front door.
There were only a handful of things that could have made her present situation worse: The death or injury of someone she loved, the belief that she would never escape from Los Lobos to work in a big-city law practice again, and seeing Mackenzie Kendrick while she looked like cat gack.
So it was a one-out-of-three chance, she thought, as she stared at the man standing on her aunt’s doorstep. Couldn’t she have just been struck by lightning?
Apparently not, she thought as she looked into dark blue eyes and studied the familiar, painfully handsome and strong features that made up his face. He looked older, but who didn’t? He could still make her toes curl and her heart convulse like the bouncing ball on a karaoke monitor. Or maybe that was the brandy acting out.
Last she’d heard, Mac Kendrick had moved to Los Angeles where he’d been zipping up the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department. Last she’d seen of Mac, she’d been eighteen and he’d been home on leave from the army. She’d shown up in his bedroom, dropped her dress to the floor, offering her very naked self to him, and he’d promptly thrown up.
Memories like that put the end of her marriage in perspective.
“Mac,” she said, going for pleasant and cheerful and hoping she didn’t end up sounding manic.
He frowned. The movement made his brows surge together and his eyes get all crinkly. Jill had to work hard not to sigh at how delicious he looked. She remembered the stains on the huge shirt she wore just as his expression cleared.
She offered a little waggle of her fingers. “Uh-huh. Hi. I’m uh…” Visiting wasn’t the truth and she knew she was too drunk to lie. Maybe better to avoid the issue of why she was in town. “So what are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
She blinked. “In town? Here? In Los Lobos?”
“I’m the new sheriff.”
He smiled. The curve of his mouth made her stomach somersault.
“I like it here,” he said.
“I guess everyone gets an opinion.”
He stared at her for a long time, then touched the edge of his upper lip. “You have some crumbs….”
“What? Oh. The cookies.” She swiped with her hand, then reached for the edge of the shirt and wiped it across her mouth. A quick glance told her there had been chocolate in those crumbs. Great.
“Mac? Is that you?” Bev joined them. “I’m sure you want to confirm everything. Come on in. Jill, step back and let Mac inside.”
Jill did as ordered. Somewhere between the first and third brandy, she’d kicked off her shoes, which meant she was barefoot on the gleaming hardwood floor. The sensation reminded her too much of the last time she’d seen Mac and she hurried to lead the way into the living room where at least there was carpeting against her toes.
She heard the thud of his footsteps as he followed, along with her aunt’s pleasant conversation as she chatted about the warm afternoon and how pretty the sunrise had been. Bev was big on watching the sunrise. Something about the first light of morning cleansing her psychic energy.
Jill crossed to the rocking chair and sank down. The chair swayed forward and back, causing the corners of the room to fold in just enough to make her want to giggle. Maybe this was good, she thought, as she curled up on the thick cushion. She’d always wondered what would happen if she ever saw Mac again. After that disastrous last meeting, she’d been afraid of what she would say or he would say. Or how he would look at her. But being drunk seemed to take the edge off. If he pitied her, well, wasn’t that just how her life was going?
“So, you’re the sheriff,” she said when he’d settled on the long sofa opposite the window and Bev had disappeared for refreshments. Jill had a feeling Mac wasn’t going to be offered brandy.
“Just. I started work two weeks ago.”
“That’s the date we agreed on.”
She reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and froze when her fingers encountered the Brillo mop. Oh…my…God. She’d completely forgotten about her appearance. Now what?
She winced silently and realized there was nothing she could do but tough it out and hope he hadn’t noticed.
“I meant, why did you take the job of sheriff?”
His dark blue eyes settled on her face. Even as she felt her insides begin to melt, she reminded herself that he was probably trying to figure out why she had chocolate stains on her cheeks. She rubbed her skin and let the alcohol make her not really care.
“I wanted a change,” he said. “Plus it’s a great place for Emily to spend the summer.”
Emily? What were the odds of that name belonging to his aging but adored Saint Bernard? Zero, she decided, as her string of bad luck continued.
“Your wife?” she said with a smile and what she hoped was an expression of polite interest.
Bev spoke as she walked into the living room. She set down the tray of cookies along with three glasses of milk.
“Mac’s little girl is eight.”
Jill tried to get her mind around the concept. Over the years she’d imagined him with an assortment of women who were nothing like her, but she’d never thought of him as a father.
“I have her for the summer,” he said, and took a cookie from the plate. “Bev has agreed to help out with day care.”
Jill turned her attention to her aunt, at the same time swinging her head. Instantly the entire room tilted on end before settling back to a normal axis. Two thoughts filled her brain—the first, that Mac wasn’t married. At least, not to his daughter’s mother. The second thought was more troubling.
“You don’t like children,” she reminded her aunt. “That’s why you gave up teaching.”
Bev handed her a glass of milk. “I don’t like them in groups,” she corrected. “Maybe I read Lord of the Flies too many times—I’ve always felt children could turn rabid at any moment. But individually they’re fine.” She smiled at Mac. “I’m sure Emily’s an angel.”
Mac looked startled by Bev’s theory on children and their potential. “What?” He shook his head. “No, she’s just a regular kid.”
There was something in his voice, Jill thought, as she grabbed a cookie and took a bite. Something…wistful. Or was that her liquor-laced brain doing the talking?
She sipped her milk, swallowed and nearly gagged. “I can’t,” she said, thrusting the glass at her aunt. “After the brandy, my stomach won’t like this at all.”
“Of course it will. Just pretend you’re having a Brandy Alexander. In two courses.”
Mac looked at her. “You’ve been drinking?”
Faint disapproval sharpened his gaze and tightened his mouth. A quick glance at the clock told her it was a little past three in the afternoon.
“It’s after five in New York and I’ve had a bad day.”
Make that a bad week, possibly a bad life.
“Don’t worry. Jill’s not a wild woman,” Bev said with a comforting smile. “She’s just a little out of sorts. When does Emily arrive?”
“Around five. I’ll bring her by in the morning. I didn’t want to work on her first day, but I have to appear in court.”
“Don’t think a thing about it,” Bev told him. “I’m ex cited at the thought of the two of us spending the summer together. We’ll have fun.”
Jill thought about warning Mac about her aunt’s “gift” and how she sometimes passed from normal to just plain odd. But what was the point in worrying him? Besides, Bev had a way of making a person feel special and loved and maybe that was something every eight-year-old little girl needed.
Mac rose and murmured something about heading home. Jill wanted to rouse herself enough to ask where exactly that was. His house. Not that she planned any more midnight intrusions. One humiliating moment like that was enough for anyone’s life. Nope, she would avoid Mac as much as she could while trapped in the hell that was Los Lobos. She would practice whatever form of law they expected here, handling their petty problems while sending out her buffed-up résumé to large law firms all over the state.