Home again in Atlanta after years on the Left Coast, crime reporter Samantha Adams finds that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Beau, the boy who broke her heart eons earlier, is more handsome than ever and is now the Medical Examiner.
In the South, good manners (and keen protective instincts) prevent folks from saying what they mean, particularly about extramarital “slippin’ and slidin’.” And backwoods sheriffs still rule their fiefdoms with a strong hand and steady aim.
Sam finds herself deep in the kudzu once more when a lawyer, a family acquaintance, goes missing, then turns up dead. When the sheriff rules it an accident, Sam and Beau team up to deliver their own unique brand of justice.
He was grinning at her. Grinning. “Samantha, you’re just as beautiful as ever.” Then he laughed.
The circle of girls disappeared. So did the rest of the room.
“You haven’t changed,” she managed to say. She felt like she was going to explode. The last time she’d seen this bastard, she’d been nineteen years old. He’d kissed her good-bye at the airport—kissed her again and again. “It won’t be long,” he’d whispered in that high voice that broke. “You’ll come to New York.” Then he’d held her one last time and whispered into her curls, “I’ll love you always.”
Shit! He might as well have said, “Let’s have lunch.” But nineteen-year-old girls didn’t know that meant the same thing as “Let’s be friends” or “I’ll call you.” Girls were usually women by the time they figured out that’s what men said when they meant “Adios.”
“Well…” He laughed and ran a hand across the top of his thatch of hair, which had changed—from black to silver. Gorgeous silver. “I’d beg to differ with you.”
“Nawh,” she said, sounding like a Dead End Kid. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
His eyes shifted a little at that, as if he weren’t sure what she meant. He was off balance. Great.
“So. How do you like the Constitution?”
“So far, so good.” She was volunteering nothing. He wanted to know how the last twenty years had gone? Let him ask.
“They’re treating you nicely down there?”
“Yep. Sure are.”
“You’re not going to talk to me, are you?”
“Come on, Sam.” He reached for her arm.
She shrugged away from him. “Please don’t.”
The truth was, if he touched her, she didn’t know what she’d do. Cry. Scream. Detonate. She’d had a hate-on for this man for so many years, and now that she’d finally laid eyes on him again…what? What was this she felt?
Nervous. That’s it.
That’s not it. Try another four-letter word.
No, you said that.
Too many letters.
That’s warmer. That’s partially right. And why do you fear him? What are you afraid of? What do you really feel? Nervous actually was warm, too. Try twitchy.
Twitchy doesn’t have four letters. Neither does ants-in-your-pants, but that’s what you feel.
I do not.
You mean…I can’t believe it…lust? This is not lust.
You can lie to them, babe, but you can’t lie to me. For my money, it’s lust. Heat. Same thing. Lust.
She’d always been a sucker for a pretty face. A pretty body. Pretty smile. Beau Talbot—cad, four-flusher, scoundrel, cheat, heartbreaker—had all three. Years, miles, water under the bridge—and still, just looking at him made her hot. This was not logic operating here. She wanted his body. She hated his guts.
But there were other people around. This was a party. She’d been raised a Southern lady, to be polite. She didn’t throw her club soda in his face. She didn’t walk away. And she didn’t want to let him see that he was getting to her.
“They’re treating me very nicely downtown,” she said. “I have a lot of latitude.”
He was anxious to make small talk. “Well, be careful. You know what they say about plenty of rope.”
She smiled politely. “That’s what George says. He’s been warning me off a story I’m beginning—says it’s too dangerous.”
“A look-see at rural sheriffs.”
“I’d say he’s right. They play hardball, those ole boys. I wouldn’t mess with ’em, Sam. Why don’t you stick to something safe, like murder? You do that awfully well.”
She wouldn’t ask him how he knew. “Thanks.” She nodded.
“I’ve read—” he began, but then a white-jacketed waiter appeared at his side.
“Dr. Talbot, there’s a phone call for you, sir. I hate to interrupt, but the man said it was urgent.”
“Excuse me, Sam.” And he did touch her then—just tapped her arm. It tingled as if she’d been shocked. “Please don’t disappear. I’ll be back in a minute.”
She stood rooted, not thinking about what she ought to be doing: mingling, making conversation, or, if she had any sense, making tracks. Beau Talbot, after all these years. Her arm sent electric messages up, then down to her breast.
He returned quickly, wearing a very odd expression. But before either of them could say another word, Edison Kay stepped up.
“Well, well,” Kay blustered around an expensive cigar. “How nice to see you getting to know some people, Samantha. Though I must say that, even though Dr. Talbot here’s the handsomest dog in the room, he is that, a dog. You ought to be careful.”
Beau smiled politely, then blurted, “Excuse me, Samantha, Edison, I’ve got to leave.”
“Rushing out?” Edison protested. “Why, the party’s only just begun.”
Beau leaned over to his host and murmured in his ear, but loudly enough that Sam could hear him. “I just got a call from the GBI. They’ve found Forrest Ridley’s body at Apalachee Falls, up in Watkin County.”
“What the hell do you mean, Forrest Ridley’s body?” Edison exclaimed loudly. “The man’s a senior partner. He can’t be dead!”
And with that, the party froze, dead still. Champagne tulips stopped halfway to lips. Words were bitten half-through like cigars. Then the buzz began, and grew and grew until it was almost a roar, and in the midst of it, there was a sharper swell of noise as a woman screamed. George suddenly appeared at Sam’s side, and she never did see who had uttered such an anguished, unladylike sound.