I Want Candy

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This is a work of fi ction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fi ctitiously.

i want candy

Copyright © 2012 by Susan Donovan.

All rights reserved.

For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

ISBN: 978-0-312-53622-0

Printed in the United States of America

St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / March 2012

St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

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NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be

aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

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Chapter 1

It was time to hit the road— again.

Candace Carmichael wrestled with the gearshift un-til it slipped into reverse and the car began to lurch into the darkness. Sure, navigating this crooked driveway would have been a hell of a lot easier with headlights, but that wasn’t an option, since she was trying to escape Gladys Harbaugh’s house without being detected.

And, okay. Fine. So this wasn’t the most mature way to deal with a roommate confl ict. But there was just no way Candy could handle another scene with eighty- year- old Gladys. The old gal had been kind to let her stay rent- free for the fi rst two weeks she’d been back in her North Carolina hometown, but when Gladys started to “borrow” Candy’s lingerie, it was defi nitely time to move on.

Almost there.

She squinted into the dark, delicately adjusting the car’s course as it scraped against a row of bushes. Not that a few extra scratches would be noticeable on this

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2 Susan Donovan

beast, a 1997 discarded police cruiser she’d bought at auction with her last three hundred bucks. Candy sighed. Sometimes, she couldn’t even believe how fast— and how spectacularly— her perfect world had imploded.

Was it really just a year ago that she’d cruised down her private drive in her shiny new Infi niti, admiring the way the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico set off the pristine white stucco of her fi ve- bedroom home? All that seemed like some other woman’s life.

Just a few more feet.

The Chevy’s rear end fi nally cleared the driveway. Candy forced the gearshift into drive and pressed down on the gas, praying she could make it to the state high-way before the damn thing backfi red . . .

Bam!

“Oh, shee- it.” Candy fl oored it. The car’s worn tires screamed against the asphalt as the engine released a series of cannon- fi re belches, each one more obnoxious than the last. A quick peek over her shoulder showed Gladys’s bedroom light was on.

There was nothing to do now but put the pedal to the metal and head to Highway 25, which would get her out of Bigler. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her hands shook. And suddenly, it occurred to her that she was having diffi culty seeing. Well, duh! She’d forgot-ten about the headlights! With a groan of frustration, she turned them on. That’s when red and blue fl ashing lights appeared in her rearview mirror.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Candy’s gaze darted from the alarming swirl of color in her mirror to the contours of the winding country road. Exactly where was

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I Want Candy 3

she supposed to pull off? It was guardrail and woods as far as the eye could see. The quick blast of the siren made her jump in her seat.

“Okay! Okay!” she yelled out. “I’m fi xin’ to pull over, you idiot! Give me a minute!”

Suddenly, in her peripheral vision, she noticed an open patch by the side of the road. It happened to be on the other side of the road, but she decided it was still her best bet, and whipped the car around to a skidding stop. Unfortunately, all the whipping and skidding hadn’t sat well with the engine, which began to spew smoke into the air along with another volley of backfi res.

“Uh- oh,” she whispered. It seemed the offi cer wasn’t happy with all the commotion, either, and the large black SUV did a U-turn, the siren now whoop- whooping, and slammed to a stop in front of her, blocking any at-tempt she might make to get back on the road. Then a spotlight fl ashed on, so blindingly bright she had to shield her eyes.

Briefl y, Candy thanked God for small favors. At least the person pulling her over wouldn’t be her life-long friend Turner Halliday. He was the actual sheriff in Cataloochee County, and the sheriff didn’t work nights. He had deputies to take those less desirable shifts. So at least Candy would be spared the additional humiliation of being pulled over in the middle of no-where, at four in the morning, by her childhood buddy. The siren went silent. Candy heard the door of the SUV slam shut and she blinked against the intense light. She could barely make out the fi gure of a man advanc-ing toward her, but she heard him cough and saw him

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4 Susan Donovan

wave his hand in front of his face, chasing away the smoke. She cut the engine, thinking . . . wondering . . .

Since this wasn’t going to be Turner strolling up to her window, she might be able to buy herself some mercy. She decided to get out the big guns. Shameless? Oh, absolutely. But what choice did she have? Candy began undoing two additional buttons of her blouse and arranged her weapons to their best advantage. Then she fl uffed her hair and licked her lips. She hated to do this, but she didn’t have the money to pay for a simple parking ticket, let alone a moving violation. She took a deep breath and prepared herself for the dumb- blonde- recently- from- out- of- town defense.

That’s when the offi cer reached the driver’s side win-dow, leaned in, and grinned at her.

“License and registration, ma’am,” Turner said, his bright eyes and white smile gleaming in the spotlight. “And you can put your ta- tas away. They’re not gonna do you much good in this par tic u lar situation, and besides— I’m more of an ass man, myself.”

Candy groaned and fell back against the driver’s seat. “Ah, come on, Turner. Have mercy on me.”

He shook his head and chuckled. “Candy Carmi-chael, this car you’re driving is a public safety hazard of the fi rst degree— and that’s with the lights on! Lord have mercy, girl! What are you doing driving around in the dark in this piece of shit with no headlights? You could’ve killed someone, or gotten yourself killed!”

She sighed as she reached up to button her shirt. “Yeah. I know. Sorry. I was trying to escape Gladys and forgot to turn on my lights once I hit the main road.”

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Turner laughed again and leaned an elbow on the open window. “She fi nally scared you off, huh?”

Candy rolled her eyes. “I had to get out of there. She’s a nice old lady, but she has absolutely no respect for my personal space. Thirteen days was all I could take.”

Turner made a soft humming sound in his throat and looked away. He began to nod. “Coming out to the lake house to night?”

“Of course,” Candy said, smiling, hoping that this detour into small talk meant Turner had decided to take pity on her. How could he not? The idea of the four of them hanging out at the lake house was downright sen-timental. It was what they’d done from grade school to graduation, just Candy and her best friend, Cheri New-berry, along with J.J. Decourcy, and Turner. Clearly, if Turner had a tender bone in his body, he’d have to let Candy slide for this little infraction. She was practi-cally family! “I hear Cheri’s making some kind of new chicken thing,” Candy added.

“You bringing a cake?”

“Uh . . .” Candy bristled at the question. She hadn’t picked up a mea sur ing cup in a dozen years, but if it would get her out of a ticket, she was willing. “You want me to?”

“Hell, yeah.”

Candy exhaled with relief. “So . . . what kind of cake would you like?”

Wait.

What was Turner doing?

She peered over the open window and her mouth fell open with disbelief. The whole time they’d been

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6 Susan Donovan

chatting about baked goods, Turner had been scribbling on an offi cial- looking pad of paper.

“You know I’ve always been partial to your choco-late cake,” he said, signing his name on the bottom of the form. “That shit is so good it makes my head spin.” He carefully pulled the top layer of paper from the pad, smiled, and handed it to her.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Really. You ask me for a cake and then give me a ticket?”

His smile softened. “I was teasing about the choco-late cake and it’s just a warning, Candy, but it’s not for the headlights. You’ve got a serious exhaust problem, and I’m ordering you to have your North Carolina emis-sions inspection completed within seven days. Plus, you’re not wearing a seat belt.” He shook his head, slowly scanning her. “You’re a hot mess, girl.”

“Yeah,” she said meekly, accepting the piece of paper. Truer words had never been spoken, she thought as she looked away.

Candy refused to cry. There was no way she’d let her old friend see her fall apart. That had never been her style. She was a survivor. A fi ghter. Hell, she was a woman who’d started eight profi table businesses in the last de cade! She would simply laugh this whole thing off. That’s right. That’s what she’d do.

Candy looked up again— and stared in astonishment. While she’d been busy with the self- coaching routine, Turner’s entire demeanor had changed. The corner of his full mouth had curled up mischievously. His hazel eyes smoldered under the brim of his dark blue sheriff’s department baseball cap. His latte- brown masculine face had softened and he’d tilted his head slightly.

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Okay. She’d known this guy since elementary school. Sure, she’d noticed that Turner Halliday had taken the route from cute boy to handsome teenager to helluva hunky man, but something about the sight of him right at that moment was a shock to her system. Exactly what was going on here? Was it the light? Was it the fact that Turner was an authority fi gure actually being de-cent to her, offering her the fi rst break she’d had in what seemed like forever? Was it the way he was trying his best not to smile? Trying not to look down her shirt?

Maybe it was just the alluring shape of his mouth, that little dip in his top lip, the strong, full line of his bottom lip, those little dimples that bracketed both.

Who knew? But the fact remained that Turner Hal-liday was leaning into her car window all big and brown and sexy and powerful— and wearing that cute little badge— and Candy actually heard herself suck in air at the impact of it all.

Just then, he moved in a little closer. His gaze dropped to her mouth.

And before she could give any decent amount of thought to what she was about to do, she tossed the traffi c warning to the car seat, pushed herself up, grabbed him by his fi ne- looking face, and planted a big, juicy kiss on her lifelong friend’s lips.

Hello.

This was interesting.

The kiss kept going. That hadn’t been her intention. This was supposed to be a simple, friendly, spontaneous expression of gratitude, a genuine burst of affection for a fellow human being who had been kind enough to cut her some slack.

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8 Susan Donovan Right?

Which was perfectly understandable given the con-text. Candy was practically penniless. She’d lost mil-lions in the Florida real estate crash and was about to declare bankruptcy. She’d foreclosed on that luxury home in Tampa. The Infi niti had been repossessed. She’d stupidly borrowed money from a less- than- savory character who wanted it back, like, yesterday. She had no job. She’d mishandled her mother’s retirement nest egg, a pesky detail Jacinta remained blissfully unaware of. And Candy had recently crawled back to her home-town in the western hills of North Carolina, where she’d been taken in by her best friend’s receptionist, an octogenarian fl oozy who couldn’t seem to stay out of her guest’s underwear drawer.

Was it any wonder she felt compelled to kiss an old buddy who’d just shown her a modicum of kindness?

Fine.

Then why were her arms now around Turner’s neck and her eyes closed in bliss? Why was she hanging out of the car window with her boobs arched out and pressed up against his hard, muscled chest? Why was one of Turner’s hands buried up under her hair while the other was on its way down her spine, headed directly to her—

“Holy hell, girl.” “Hmm?”

Candy felt herself being pushed away from the heat, pressure, and exquisite juiciness of Turner’s mouth. She opened her eyes and the spotlight nearly blinded her, making her wonder where, exactly, she was, and why, exactly, she was there.

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removed one hand from her hair and the other from the small of her back and slowly backed away from the car.

Candy slid down into the driver’s seat. “Oh, God. Sorry,” she mumbled.

“No,” he said sharply. “I’m sorry. My bad.”

She glanced up in time to see Turner yank off his ball cap, sweep his hand across his close- cropped hair, then smash the cap back on his head. Next he rubbed his chin and mouth, shook his head, and tapped his feet in the dirt. This strange routine was topped off by an adjustment of his gun holster.

“Drive safely,” he said as he turned away.

Candy peered out the driver’s side window and watched him practically jog to his SUV, her eyes shame-lessly riveted to the grade- A specimen of man- booty tucked in those uniform trousers. “Uh, thank you!” she called out, feeling ridiculous. What exactly was she thanking him for, anyway? Not arresting her?

Or was she thanking Turner Halliday for giving her the fi nest, hottest, most bad- ass openmouthed kiss she’d ever had in her freakin’ life?

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