"You up for a little fun as well as hoping to flush this guy out from the rock he's holed himself under?"


While there was paint transfer from the pickup that had run Bill off the road two weeks ago, it'd been standard on thousands of General Motors pickups. So, narrowing it down had been a next to impossible task. Bill had kept a close eye on those he knew in town to see if anyone had suddenly changed from driving a pickup to something else. No one had.

"I'm going to see Ma this morning."

"Okay," Claire said not sure where the fun was in that. Not that she didn't like Bill's mom, but she wasn't going with him. Unless he was inviting her along.

"Well, I've been thinking about that night I was run off the road."


"It would seem that maybe he was watching."

"I've thought of that, too, yes," she said. She hadn't mentioned it before now because she really didn't like mentioning the accident. Sticking her head in the sand maybe, but he didn't push talking about it either so she figured it was okay.

"Well, it would seem I was run off because our relationship took a more personal turn. Unless he had a ladder he wouldn't have been able to see into my bedroom that one night."


"Well, let's flush him out."

"I'm not having sex or engaging in any sex act in public."

He laughed then.

"I'll be sure and remember that, but public indecency wasn't exactly what I was going for."


"I'm going to tell Ma that I want to bring you over for dinner, that I'm thinking of asking you to marry me."

She frowned. "Uh, okay. Why?"

"Something I haven't told you about Ma. She loves to talk and I'm her favorite subject. So, I figure between breakfast and my coming to pick you up later for dinner word will have spread like wildfire that I'm finally thinking of taking the plunge."

"I really don't want you to get run off the road again."

"Yeah, that's where I'm not sure exactly how to go about it. I just figured news that our relationship was serious might draw him out. I'll formulate a plan out between now and then, I just need to know you're all right with the idea. Ma's relentless. I'll have to tell her I chickened out or she'll be at your house tomorrow morning to plan a shower or something."

She laughed. "She sounds sweet."

"Yeah, I guess."

"Are you sure you want to deceive her like that?"

"She won't know."

"No, but if you tell her you chickened out she's going to think that one day you may unchicken out."

"There is that. Honestly, the idea of settling down isn't nearly as offensive to me as it was a year ago or even six months ago."

"I see."

"So, I'm not saying I'm going to be asking tomorrow or anything, but the thought's crossed my mind. I may be a small-town boy, but I know a good thing when I see it. Assuming you plan on sticking around Wheelsy anyway, you know, I realize you may not. I'm just saying, I could see that being the ultimate outcome. And when I thought this through it didn't bother me so much Ma thinking it."

"Well, as long as you're all right and think she'll be all right."

"She'll think there's hope for her boy yet. She wants grandbabies."

"She does, huh?"


"Wants them all to look like you, I imagine?"

"Uh, I'm not so sure about that. She's never said."

"Well, why wouldn't she? You're a good looking guy."

"You think I'm good lookin'?"

"Hmm, fishing for compliments Sheriff Pardy?"

"Only from the pretty woman I'm on the phone with at the moment."

"Oh well, in that case, yes, I think you are."

"All right then, darlin', you leave the planning to me. Just be dressed up in something nice, which doesn't seem like a problem for you."

"No," she said. "I've got a dress or two I can choose from."

"I figured as much."

"I'll see you later then," she said softly.

"I look forward to it, it's usually the highlight of my day."

"That's sweet, thank you."

"It's the truth or I wouldn't say it."

"I heard lines in college."

"Oh, I've got a few of those, too."

She laughed. "I bet you do. Too bad I don't get to hear them."

"I tell you what. This is over we'll figure out a way for you to hear 'em."

"Oh? Like?"

"There are other towns with bars in them."

"You mean like picking me up at a bar even though you're not really?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"That sounds kind of fun actually," she said with a laugh.

"Well then, consider it a date."

"Okay. I'll see you later then."

"I'll be there, hopefully with a plan formulated to get this done with because frankly I'm tired of looking in my rearview mirror every time I leave your place."

"I know," she said. She was, too.

"Oh, hey, Kylie's gone for the night so if you want to stay the night again you can."

"Mm, did I mention Peter left this morning?"

"No, ma'am, you did not."

"Well, he did."

"So, it would seem we have our pick of places then."

"Yes, at least two." They hadn't done anything since the night of his accident. Whether they both had it in their mind that her admirer might witness something else to send him off the edge she wasn't sure. For her, there was still the idea that maybe her blood didn't cure everything and she didn't want to hurt him.

"All right, I'll see if I can't work that into something."

"If you can't, don't push it. I haven't heard from him since the accident, so maybe he smartened up."

"Could be."

He grew quiet then. She almost thought he'd hung up.

"Oh, and, I do want to bring you to dinner to meet Ma. That was what made me think of the idea."

"You want me to meet your mother?"

"Yes, I do."

She smiled, ducking her head a little when she saw how silly she looked in the mirror she passed by just then. "I'd love to meet her."

"All right. We'll figure out a time for that, after I've told her the justice of the peace ain't necessary just yet."

"That'd be a good idea, yes."

"Bye then."

"Bye, Bill. Good luck."


She hung up, going over their conversation. He wanted her to meet his mother. He apparently liked her enough he didn't mind if people thought he was planning on proposing. Even if some people found out eventually it was part of a plan, some wouldn't know all the details.

Two weeks now they'd settled into something comfortable since that night at the hospital he admitted he wanted something from her. She didn't need to know him before she came to town to know that admission was pretty significant. She didn't think he'd tell his mother he was thinking of asking just anyone to marry him either, part of a police plan or not.

And while she didn't really worry about people spitting in her coffee as she'd joked about Janine doing, she was on the receiving end of looks more than once when they were at the store together picking out movies or food for dinner that night. None were real nasty, but some went beyond a friendly and curious look. Those she was used to by way of being the woman who'd bought her house via fax and overnight service. She supposed she was the new person in town who no one knew anything about and it just rubbed some wrong.

It seemed so strange to have her house to herself again. Peter was gone. He'd given her a hug and a kiss and then just like that he was gone. She knew he had to go back, had been surprised he'd stayed this long. His mother had started to become suspicious about what exactly was keeping him away for so long. Angela did not know her whereabouts and would not approve of Peter putting her at risk. She'd needed to see him, though, it made her feel better about things.

She ran her few errands in record time and was back at home to get ready for the night. Since Kylie was spending the night, presumably at her friend Tina's, that meant she and Bill were going to be alone for the first time since their first date. No matter whose house they stayed at. It was a little scary, especially with his talk of taking things with her more serious. And now the plan he was working on today. Well, it was hard to know what he'd expect.

Thinking of his expectation led her to trying to decide what to wear. Too nice and people might wonder if she was expecting something from him, like the proposal he'd mentioned to his mother hours ago now. However, she'd always gone out of her way to look nice to this point when they'd gone out.

So, she'd gone with a black linen skirt that fell past her knees but had a slit in back that was almost indecent it was so long with a white silk blouse. A coral necklace she'd gotten from Hawaii a few years ago topped off the outfit. Simple and classy as Angela had commented on a good many outfits she'd taken Claire shopping for. She rolled her eyes now thinking about it, but she had a closet full of expensive clothes thanks to those shopping trips so she really couldn't complain. Even if most of the clothes would sit in her closet unused more often than not.

With an extra button on the blouse undone, she thought the outfit took a step toward flirtatious and sexy. The sheer black stockings she wore with seams up the back of her legs helped, too. Guys seemed to like them a lot for whatever reason, at least in her perhaps limited experience they did.

Lucky ran down the stairs and started barking at the door as she slid the second stocking over her calf and thigh before stepping into her heels. Bill let himself in and Lucky settled down almost immediately. It should bother her that her dog had taken to both him and Kylie so well, but he liked Peter, too, so she recognized it wasn't a conspiracy.

"I'll be right down," she called down, giving herself one last glance in the full-length mirror on the back of her door.

"Take your time, I'm early. Remind me to lecture you about leaving your doors unlocked while the madman who drove me off the road is still on the loose."

"Sure, I'll be sure and do that right away."

She heard him laugh and say something in a hushed tone to Lucky. She didn't need to hear him to know he was complaining about her still thinking she was safe in a town like Wheelsy. Considering she was safe from injury, excluding cutting her head off and she somehow doubted whoever the guy was had that in mind. Well, it was hard for her to worry, though she imagined there were things someone could do to her to make her wish she was dead.

"Hi," she said at the top of the stairs.

"Hi yourself," he said, watching as she came down the stairs. He stopped her from taking the last stair, though. "You look nice."

"I meet your requirements then?"

He slid his arms around her waist, drawing her to him once she'd gotten near the foot of the stairs.

"I'm feeling pretty confident about that, yes."

"You are, huh?"

"Uh huh," he said, closing the distance between them. It was so seldom that he could kiss her comfortably while they were standing up she'd almost forgotten what it was like. And she liked it. She mewled into the kiss, sliding her arms around his neck.

She kissed him with more urgency than she'd meant to. He hadn't told her what he'd come up with as far as a plan went, but it bothered her to think he could get hurt again. Because of her. A lot.

One of his hands slid lower, cupping her ass and pressing her into him at the same time. He didn't have to push too hard she was more than willing to be pressed up against him. He had a nice body to be up against, even if she hadn't really seen it all yet. The hand didn't stop there, though. He continued lower. She felt his fingertips warm through her skirt as he caressed the back of her thigh, tugging the skirt up the lower he went.

Her tongue stopped when she felt his fingertips over her stockings. She didn't want to stop him, which surprised her. She'd frustrated more than one guy over the years by her unwillingness to take things to that last level. It wasn't as if they were doing anything wrong. Higher still, his hand caressed and worked his way up her thigh only under the skirt this time.

"Wrinkling your skirt," he murmured.

"Uh huh," she agreed.

"Want me to stop?" he asked.

"Nuh uh," she murmured, kissing his lower lip.

"Ain't asking again," he whispered.

"Okay," she said with a soft exhale as his fingertips just barely grazed the top of her thigh above the stocking.

"You're making me all kinds of undone."

"And this is bad?"

"If you're hungry and actually want to get to dinner it is," he murmured.

She gave a soft laugh, it sounded way more seductive than anything she could remember doing before in her life. Guys had claimed she was nice looking, beautiful even, but she just never felt like much of a seductress. It was hard to take things to that level knowing she was lying to the guy or that she'd have to leave without saying goodbye as she'd done a few times before over the years.

None of those things were true for Bill. He knew the truth, at least part of it. She hadn't laid it all out for him, but he got the gist of what she'd been through and why she'd chosen Wheelsy and a small town life.

She kissed him again, sliding her hands from around his neck to the front of his shirt and resting one there. The other one continued lower, polished fingernails tracing a light path over his chest and stomach. Lower still, which she found kind of funny considering his hand was moving up. Slowly he was working the nicely pressed linen skirt to the point she should have been embarrassed.

He discovered with his other hand that the panties she was wearing left her ass bare and he murmured something into the kiss that she thought might just be cussing.

"Problems?" she asked with a light laugh, kissing his jaw.

"Just wondering what exactly you had planned for the night."

"And you know I don't wear underwear like this every day?"

"Well, I don't, just you look and smell nice, your blouse is undone a button or two lower than I can remember seeing you do before. You've got these stockings on that are designed to turn a guy's head."

She worked the button at the top of his pants, a little awkwardly worked the zipper down, and reached into them. Her palm pressed flush against him she slid her hand lower, under his underwear to touch him. She hadn't done this since the night of his accident, not for lack of wanting exactly. Time and neither of them having their houses to themselves made it difficult at times.

She was pleased to find him hard and ready for her as she wrapped her hand around his shaft.

"Maybe I'm trying to seduce you," she whispered.

Apparently, that was if not the right answer a good one anyway. She wasn't exactly sure how he managed it so effortlessly, but she was suddenly ass down on the stairs with him hovering above her. Her skirt being wrinkled was the least of her concerns, not that she had room for any at the moment, because he had a view now of everything there was to see.

Her hand, free now for the moment because of moving, worked the buttons on her blouse. They were a little shakier than a moment ago unbuttoning his pants. The skirt bunched up around her hips as it was, the blouse was already loose in some spots so untucking it was a cinch. The last few buttons undone she let the blouse fall open. She'd purposely worn a sheer red lace bra, the one that matched the thong she wore, knowing the red showed through the blouse just enough he'd know she was wearing something colorful.

His whispered muttering as he took her in made her blush.

"Why are you doing that?"

"What?" she asked.

"Blushing. Surely you've been told you're beautiful a time or two."

"Well yeah," she agreed.

Just never by a guy looking at her the way he was just then. Oh, he wanted in her pants, but there was a difference between him and the guys she'd dated in college. That was all they'd wanted from her for the most part, especially when they found out she'd never been with a guy before. She'd decided guys were pretty much creeps after a while. Why being the one to take a girl's virginity was such a turn-on that it became a competitive thing that rivaled any Olympic event she wasn't sure.

Bill, on the other hand, seemed to want the whole thing. He'd mentioned wanting to bring her to meet his mother. Guys just didn't do that to someone they weren't thinking of being serious about. At least in her experience. And he didn't seem to mind if the whole town thought he was on the verge of asking her to marry him. In mentioning his plan, he hadn't really said he'd go out of his way to let anyone know it was just a plan to catch a bad guy.

Not that she was holding out for a marriage proposal. Considering they were on the verge at this very moment said that pretty loud and clear.

"Good, cuz I was going to have to have a word or two with the guys in your life if you hadn't."

"There aren't any in my life now. Well, besides you"

"Good to know," he whispered, tugging on her ankles and pulling them apart to spread her legs more than they were. "You match," he said, eyes moving from between her legs to her bra.

"Uh huh," she said simply because he didn't really seem to want a response. In fact, if she wasn't mistaken he was "Ohhh," she moaned as he kissed her inner thigh, inches away from her core.

And he didn't stop there. She'd had a couple of guys go down on her before, but she quickly learned that while it felt good there was a way to make it feel better than good. And better than good led to orgasms that made her glad she didn't have super strength otherwise she would have hurt him from their intensity.

She watched as he pulled away from her and stepped out of his pants. She shifted a little, her back against the wall, taking him in. She'd seen him before, but he'd had jeans on and the lights had been off so she really hadn't gotten to look. She hadn't, for instance, noticed the scar on his abdomen. It looked pretty recent and she remembered Kylie mentioning he'd been punctured by one of the creature-thing's tentacles. The foil packet in his hand made her forget about that for the moment. She realized this was her last chance to stop things from going further.

He slid in between her legs, draping one of her legs over his arm after he'd sheathed himself. Her other leg was pressed toward her as far as it could go. She imagined he had quite a view with her legs spread like that, but wasn't embarrassed. At least not at the moment, maybe later she would be when going over everything in her mind.

He slid his other around and under her, more supporting her she imagined than copping a feel. Not that she minded either way. He slid inside of her, just a little at first. She grabbed onto his forearms and gave a soft cry, biting her lip to stop it from being louder at the twinge of pain that coursed through her as he thrust the rest of the way into her.

"You're bleeding," she whispered, running the palms of her hands over the spots on his arms where she'd drawn blood.

"So I am," he said with a shrug. "Those are some battle scars I'll gladly accept."

"They've got to hurt."

"Sting a little, I suppose. Fair is fair, though, you didn't mention that this was your first time."

"I planned to."


"Eventually. I just wasn't thinking we'd"

"Succumb to raw desire and go at it on your stairs like nothing else mattered?"

"Yeah, that," she said, knowing she was blushing again.

"Stop that," he said, his lips turning up into a smile as he slid a fingertip along the swell of her breast. He'd already voiced his frustration at the fact the bra clasped in the back.

"I can't help it!"

"You okay?"

She laughed then, nodding her head. "I'm fine. Cell regeneration, remember?"

"Oh right," he frowned then. "Even there?"

"I don't think it's something I can turn on and off."

"So, it'll be like that next time?"

"And the time after that and so on and so on."

"Huh, that's definitely something I'll have to explore. A lot."

"It is? Do you like inflicting pain, Sheriff Pardy?"

"No, not the pain part, I'd hope it wouldn't hurt so much after a while, or at least you know what to expect now. But the, um," it was his turn to blush and she laughed.


"Always feeling like the first time from my end."

"I see."

"Yeah, well, you asked."

"I know." She shifted with a bit of a wince, more from her back being stiff than any pain or discomfort.

"Let's get you upstairs and cleaned up. I mean, I assume you still want to go to dinner?"

"No one will deliver to me out here and I don't have anything thawed, so yeah, unless you want to go to bed hungry."

"I'm not sure going to bed with you would leave me much room to think about anything but seeing how to go about getting you to make those sounds again."

He stood then, offering her help to stand before grabbing his pants from the floor.

"I probably would have chosen somewhere more conducive to showing off my prowess than the stairs had I known you hadn't"

"Have I complained?"

"Well, no, but," he said, stopping as he watched her shimmy the skirt back down. "I like it better the other way."

She laughed with a shake of her head. "I can't go out in public like that."

"Good point."

He followed her upstairs and into her bedroom, tossing his pants on her bed. He went to the bathroom first, returning to her room after a minute - if that.

"Sorry," he said. "Just, well, you kind of have to get rid of them promptly or it gets messy."

She noticed then the condom was gone. "Oh, I didn't, I mean, of course, that makes sense."

"Now, about getting you cleaned up."

She smiled, reaching for his hand and sat on the edge of her bed. He followed her, which she expected he would since she'd taken the time to remove her blouse altogether.

"It can wait a minute. Are you in a hurry?"

"Well, no, not particularly other than I don't want to be accused later of not feeding you."

She laughed. She ran her fingertips gently around the scar she'd noticed downstairs. He'd come close to dying. She wondered where Kylie would be if that had happened. Some faceless stranger's house who didn't know her and probably wouldn't believe what she'd gone through.

"Does that hurt?"

"Not so much anymore, no."

"I'm sorry, and I'm glad it wasn't more serious."

"Me, too," he said with a grimace.

"There's food at the bar, isn't there?" Her other hand reached between his legs as she posed the question.

"Uh, yeah, nothing special or of real quality or anything. Munchies more than anything."

"That's fine with me."

"What did you have in mind," he asked, though he didn't sound entirely clueless.

"Well, I have to change my skirt."

"Of course you do," he drawled with agreement.

"It's all wrinkled and unsightly."

"Right," he said as she reached behind her to work the button and zipper at the small of her back. "Want some help then?" he asked when she slid her hands to either hip so she could push the skirt over her hips and off.

"I thought you'd never ask."

"I might be a little slow on the uptake, but once I'm in the game you can count on me to be all in, darlin'."

"That's good to know," she said, her breath catching a bit as his hands replaced hers.

"Turn around for me?"

She did as he asked, giving a soft whimper when he moved his hands away from her hips without removing the skirt. Fingertips grazed the length of her spine from the small of her back up to her bra. Adept hands undid the clasp and he slid the straps down along each of her arms to the point it was just easier for her to move her arms and take it off the rest of the way.

He slid exploratory hands along her back, shoulders, and along her arms. His touch was gentle yet thorough in touching every inch of her he could. Finally, he slid his hands under her arms so he could cup her breasts one in each hand. She gasped a little, it'd been so long since she'd really been touched like this and she was more than a little worked up at this point so she was sensitive.

"I sometimes wonder what you could possibly see in a guy like me," he whispered. She wasn't sure he'd meant for her to hear him.


"You're beautiful and I can't find a thing wrong with you, and going by what you've said about yourself that will forever be the case. Yet here I am, a small-town guy who's not afraid to dirty or mess up his hands overhauling an engine for his pickup."

"And you think I mind those things?"

"First thing I thought when I saw Peter was, 'there is a guy she looks like she fits in with'."

"I really don't," she whispered.

"I knew it," came the rather shrill sounding voice from the doorway to her bedroom. She actually wouldn't have known who it was from the voice alone.

"Paul," she said softly.

"I knew you would be up here with her, doing that," he said, gesturing to them. It was only then Claire noticed Paul held a gun in his hand. And from what she could tell, it wasn't his official weapon either.

Bill reacted quicker than she did, drawing away from her after a brief pause to be sure she wasn't going to fall. He held up both hands at his sides.

"What's going on, Paul?" Bill said calmly.

"Ruining Starla wasn't good enough. I knew when she come to work for you you'd do the same thing to her, too."

"I didn't do anything to Starla."

"Ol' Grant Grant would say different if he were alive today."

"But he ain't, and whatever he had to say was speculation on his part, nothing more."

"Trevor would be alive today if it wasn't for you."

"Trevor died in the line of duty, Paul. It's a risk every one of us take putting on the uniform, showing up for work each day." He gestured to the scar on his abdomen. "I didn't walk away unscathed from it either, Paul. Li'l Kylie lost her whole family!"

"Because you didn't act fast enough, didn't take it seriously."

"Oh, come on now, would you have? Really? It looked at first to be a poacher or something, nothing more."

"Get away from her," he said, gesturing wildly with the gun for Bill to step away from Claire.

"All right, at least let her put something on."

"No one else can have her, is that it?"

"Wait," Claire said, crossing her arms in front of her. "It was you?"

"Yeah, I thought. I don't know what I was thinking."

Claire glanced at Bill. She honestly hadn't thought Paul was interested in women so the thought it might be him leaving her flowers didn't even enter her mind.

"Let her put something on, Paul. Come on now, it's the gentlemanly thing to do."

"And fucking her from behind is?"

"Now, we ain't done no such thing."

"I saw you," he said, sounding adamant about it.

"No, what you saw was me touching her. She still has her skirt on you'll notice," Bill said. Not that she'd needed to take it off on the stairs, but she kept that to herself.

"Go, get a top then," he said, gesturing her over to her dresser with his gun. Did Bill know she had a gun in there? She couldn't remember if she'd told him. She wasn't a real good shot or anything, but if she could get the gun to Bill

She fumbled through the drawer.

"Sorry, wrong drawer," she said, holding up a bra so he'd see she had in fact gone in the wrong drawer. She put the bra back and opened the next drawer down, reaching to the back for the gun and pulling it out at the same time as a new shirt. It was loaded. Since she didn't have roommates or kids she didn't have to worry about keeping the gun and ammunition separated.

"Paul, I'm sorry, I didn't know," she said, trying to make conversation with him.

"Because you were too busy with him I wager. I thought you were a good girl."

"I am," she said, sounding more defensive than she meant to.

"You're with him!"

"He's not a bad guy."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"No, Paul, you won't," she said, holding the gun up and pointing it at his chest. She walked to where Bill stood quickly, banking on the fact Paul wouldn't shoot her to get to Bill. He didn't know that shooting Claire wouldn't kill her. She gave Bill the gun, but stayed in front of him enough that Paul wouldn't be able to get a clear shot at anything vital.

"Get away from him!"

"No, I'm not going to. Did you know it was him?" she asked Bill.

"I had my suspicions, gut feeling really. He had some bruises after the night of my accident."

"I didn't notice."

"I don't think anyone did, and if they did they probably attributed them to him pulling me out of the wreckage. I saw the way he looked at you the day we weren't speaking and you brought coffee into the office. I just didn't think he was dangerous."

"Lucky," she said, realizing she hadn't heard her dog in a while. And why hadn't he barked or anything when Paul had come in.

"Your dog and I are buddies now."

"You could have killed him!"

"No, I knew how much to give him just enough to make him sick, nothing more."

Bill cocked her gun. "It's even loaded," he said, sounding impressed.

"Wouldn't do you much good if it wasn't," she said simply.

"Drop the gun, Paul. You aren't getting out of this without getting hurt."

"I can shoot you."

"Then I'd just pick up the gun and shoot you," Claire said.

"You wouldn't! For him?"

"No, not for him, for gunning down an innocent man."

"My brother's dead"

"I get that, and I'm real sorry," Claire said. "I've heard enough about Trevor"

"It wasn't just Trevor neither. There was Wally and Margaret. All dead because he couldn't get over the fact she married someone else."

"He didn't kill them, Paul, surely you know that."

"It's his fault! And then you come along and you look like her, you know?"

Claire frowned. Kylie had shown her pictures of Starla and she didn't think they looked alike, but she supposed if you lump all blondes together maybe. Kylie hadn't commented on the resemblance either, and she would have because the girl held nothing back.

"Why didn't you just ask me out?"

"Cuz I saw the guys you danced with down at Henenlotter's, I ain't like none of them."

"But sending me things, breaking into my house."

"I know, all right," he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. His hand was shaking now, so he clearly didn't want to shoot anyone. Claire was afraid his nerves might make him do something accidentally.

"Paul, please put the gun away. I'm sorry if my being with Bill hurts you, but I didn't know it was you. And hurting him isn't going to make me think differently about him."

"It would if he was dead."

"You're a police officer, you can't possibly want to kill someone over this."

"You're worth it," he said.

"Except you won't have me, Paul. You'll be in prison for murder."

He leaned back against the door, shifting his weight enough that it made him unbalanced and he practically slumped to the floor. He dropped his hand, the gun falling beside him. Tears were trailing down his cheeks. He looked, for lack of a better word, miserable.

Bill handed Claire her gun before walking toward Paul. He kicked the gun away from him.

"Hand me my cuffs," he said.

"What?" she asked.

"In my front pocket is a set of Plasticuffs," he said.

"Oh," she said, walking to the bed and digging through his pocket for the cuffs. It was rather awkward to do while holding a gun, but she managed. She walked toward them, handing it to Bill. She wasn't sure what to say to Paul. She wasn't sure what she was more upset about either. The fact he'd gone through her things, taken some of her things, sure that bothered her. The fact that he had such a casual disregard for what he'd done to Lucky really got to her. Then there was running Bill off the road. To make matters worse, he'd played hero, being the one to pull Bill from the truck.

"Where'd you get the truck," she asked.

"What?" he asked.

"The truck you used to follow me with and run Bill off the road with. Where'd you get it?"

"A friend bought it for me and I drove it into a lake the night after the accident."

"He followed you? You didn't tell me that," Bill said.

"I wasn't sure it was him, I tried to catch him but every time I thought there was a consistent pattern it would change. And then after your accident it stopped altogether."

"I'll just bet it did," Bill said.

"I still don't know how you survived," Paul said, sounding both bitter and defeated.

"I guess I just have a high constitution. Or Lady Luck got to my bedside in the nick of time," Bill said, fastening the cuffs around Paul's wrists. Bill had regular handcuffs, but he carried these around with him when he was off-duty. They were more difficult to get free of and cheaper, but they weren't reusable. The mayor had them on a tight enough budget that they couldn't justify using them in lieu of handcuffs.

"Mind a little detour on our way to dinner?"

"No," she said simply. "I just need to"

"Get dressed? Yeah, I get that. You don't need to get all dressed up again."

"You sure," she said.

"Positive, though the skirt did have appeal," he admitted. She realized she must look a sight with the skirt wrinkled to the point she wasn't sure a professional dry cleaner would get it looking right again. And with the skirt her grandmother had bought her she wore a white cotton T-shirt with an advertisement for Corona on it.

"I'll see what I can come up with," she said.

"Don't take long, we'll be in my car," he said with a frown. He had to drive his county vehicle around until he got the insurance money from the accident to buy a new truck. "Come on, Paul," Bill said, gathering Paul up. Now that he'd confronted them he looked lost, and kind of sad. She felt a little sorry for him, but Bill didn't give her much time to think on that. He escorted Paul into the hallway and down the stairs without hesitation.

She kept the shoes and the stockings. The blouse was pretty well a lost cause like the skirt. So, she chose a black leather skirt that was about the same length as the linen one and a white peasant-like top that fell to her midriff.

They drove into town, Claire waited in the car while Paul was processed. She'd be called on to testify if it got that far. She'd seen the defeated look in the man's eyes and wasn't sure he wouldn't plea to something just to save himself the humiliation.

"Now," Bill said once he'd joined her back in the car. "Where to?"

"We don't have to"

"No, no, we had a date scheduled for the evening. I ain't letting him and his craziness stop me from taking you out."

"You were taking me out to flush him out, though."

He turned to face her, draping an arm around her headrest.

"Is that what you think?"

"Well, that's what you said."

"I was using a date with you as an excuse, yes, but the desire for a date came first and set off the idea."

"Did you ever come up with a plan?"

"Why, yes, I did. Brenda and her brother were going to be at my house. We were going to drive there and stay a while, then they were going to leave in my car."

"So, Paul would follow them thinking you were taking me home."

"And we could follow him in turn. You sure you don't want to become a cop. It seems I'm short another one. Any more depletions and I'm going to be a one man office because no one will want to work for me."

"I'll think about it."

"All right. So, where to?"

"I don't care, dinner's fine. So's just grabbing something at the bar."

"That wouldn't be right."

"What wouldn't?"

"Treating you to a dinner like that after what happened at your house."

"You think because we had sex you need to buy me dinner?"

"Well, no, I didn't say that and maybe it sounded like I was suggesting that. I just want to take you to dinner."

"All right, then let's go. Um, pizza."

"Pizza it is," he said, putting the car into reverse. "I meant what I said back there, by the way. In case you were wondering."


"About Lady Luck visiting me in the nick of time. I wasn't referring to the night of the accident, though. I needed to be knocked on my ass a bit, to see the world for what it really is and not what I'd like it to be. Starla leaving my life started that process. You coming into my life finished it."

"Are you going to tell your mother?"


"That you aren't, we aren't It was all part of a plan to catch Paul?"

"No, I'm not stupid. And I already told you, it's not as if I ain't thought about it. We haven't known one another real long, and you've got some things going on with your life I realize you may not be in the position to settle down anyway. And if I do ask I want you to be surprised and not thinking I'm doing it as part of a case."

"But everyone's going to think"

"All part of my devious plan, darlin'. They think I'm about to pop the question to ya', there won't be any more Paul's."

"Or Starla's."

"Them neither. That all right with you?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Before I forget, since I got kind of sidetracked all evening. Dinner tomorrow night, you, me and Kylie at Ma's."

"Oh God, tomorrow?"

"Yeah, you got something going on?"

"No, just nervous about meeting the mother."

"She'll love you same as Kylie and I do."

"Thanks," she said, trying not to get excited by what he'd just said. It could have just been a slip of the tongue. "And, by the way."


"You don't need to worry about condoms."


She bit her lower lip lightly. "Well, I sort of thought this might happen between us, had this feeling you know?"

"I think I do."

"So, I went on the pill," she said.

"You didn't mention that earlier."

"It happened so fast and I'm not sure how much of the healing thing you understand. I can't get diseases or anything, so I'm a pretty safe partner."

"As much as I hate them things I've never been with a woman without one."

"No little Bill Pardy's walking around then?"

"God no," he said.

"You don't want them?"

"Not without, you know, a wife first."

"Ah," she said.

"That okay with you?"

She smiled then. "Yes, that's just fine with me."

"Good," he said, offering her his hand, which she took.

"Ever done it in your car?"

He chuckled. "No, I haven't always been chief and would have been too afraid of getting caught."

"Care to change that?"


"Mm, we can stop for pizza first, forget the drinks part of the evening. You can drive me home and, well."

"I get the picture, yeah."

She smiled. "I thought you might."

"Could always stop at the store and pick up a frozen pizza," he offered.

She laughed and leaned in to kiss him. "That sounds like a real good plan, Sheriff."

"At least one plan is working out the way it's supposed to tonight."

"I'm sure we could come up with one or two others if you really want to increase your success ratio."

He chuckled, draping an arm around her as he pointed the car in the direction of the county market.

"I have a feeling I'd like just about any plan you could come up with, Miss Baxter."

She winced. "Bennet," she whispered.

"Huh," he said.

"My name."

"Oh, right." He stepped on the brake for a minute and leaned over to kiss her. "I won't tell a soul."


"Thank you. Maybe Lady Luck visited both of us."

She certainly never imagined coming to Wheelsy and falling in love. She'd come here a couple of months ago certain she was going to be miserable and high tail it back to the civilization that was New York. Kylie had won her over first really, but it was seeing Kylie and all that Bill was doing for her that made her realize there was more to the sheriff than the gossip around town said. She was glad to find out that was true and looked forward to finding out even more.

"Maybe so," she agreed, snuggling into the crook of his arm as he started driving again.

The End