Instantly Her Hero
Ready to take a peek at Sheriff Cade Malone's secret love life?
BORN IN TEXAS #9: Instantly Her Hero
Three years earlier
As he cruised down Highway 385, Cade Malone placed a hand over his heart, just so he could feel the rounded metal tips of his badge one more time. He’d taken a long and winding career path to get to where he was, enlisting in the Marines the day he’d turned eighteen, then serving as a trucker for a few years after getting out. He’d attended night school and online classes wherever he could fit them in. Now here he was — the newly elected Sheriff of the Hereford Police Department. Everything he’d previously done felt like it was leading up to this moment.
Not bad for a Scotsman so far away from his home country. His Mum and Da had been right to immigrate their small family to this land of opportunity when he’d been a wee lad. They would have been proud if they’d lived to see this day. Fortunately, he had his sister to celebrate it with. She’d flown all the way from New York City on a red-eye flight to attend his promotion ceremony. She was back at his apartment at The Landing right now, prepping steaks to grill.
He'd join her shortly. First, though, he needed a few minutes of solitude to soak up the beauty of his jurisdiction. Wide, grassy fields flashed by him on both sides of the road, punctuated by an occasional barn or watering trough. Cows grazed, calves chased each other, while others lazed in any patch of shade they could find. Some were sprawled beneath Joshua trees. A few were vying for the prime spot against the sheltering wall of a cowshed.
Movement in the tall grasses to his left caught his eye. Moments later, a baby wolf shot across the road. Not too far behind him was the outline of a woman sprinting to catch up.
Cade slammed on his brakes. He’d not been expecting to run into company out here. Most of the time when he drove in this direction, he went miles upon miles without seeing a soul. When he finally did, it was usually a farmer waving from his tractor.
As a precaution, he flipped on his flashers before stepping out of the car. “Hey there!” he called, waving both hands at her. “Need some help?”
“As a matter of fact, yes!” She jogged across the road in front of his car. He caught a blur of blonde braids and tanned legs stuffed into jean shorts and cowboy boots. “Turn off those infernal lights. They’re scaring my pup.” To his surprise, she squeezed her slender body between the fence slats on the other side of the road, not even pausing when her pink and white plaid shirt snagged on a nail. The fabric of her hem ripped a little, but she kept running. “He’s hurt!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“Hey, lady! You can’t just—” He was going to say trespass, but she was no longer listening. She was dashing after the wolf, dog, or whatever the creature was that was streaking across the field as fast as his short legs could carry him.
Shaking his head in exasperation, Cade slammed his car door shut and hauled in after her. No, he did not answer to smart-mouthed strangers. No, he wasn’t about to turn off his flashers. Since he was parked on the side of the road, folks deserved the heads up of caution lights when they rounded the curve behind him and headed his way.
After a quick glance at his watch, knowing this would make him late for dinner, he leaped across the ditch and squatted through the fence slats like the woman in front of him had.
It didn’t take long for him to catch up with her, given his longer stride. “What can I do to help?” he demanded, slowing his pace a little to run alongside her.
She glanced up, wide-eyed with surprise to find him running next to her. “We have to catch him,” she panted.
“Roger that.” He’d never seen such an unusual shade of eyes. They were tawny gold with flecks of brown and green. However, this was no time for ogling. Digging the heels of his boots into the hard-packed earth, he sprinted on ahead of the woman.
As the pup neared the first cluster of cows, they scrambled to their hooves, mooing in alarm.
Good gravy! The last thing he needed was to spark a stampede. Thinking quickly, he unbuttoned his shirt as he closed in on the tiny streak of fur in front of him. As soon as the dog reached the next patch of grass, Cade took a flying leap with his shirt outstretched like a blanket. He captured the pup beneath the fabric, careful to land on all fours instead of slamming his body into it.
The pup wailed and squealed as he wrapped it up like a cocoon. When its snout popped out of the neck of the shirt, he frowned. It was a wolf, as he originally suspected, one that didn’t appear to be the least bit injured.
Curling to his feet with the pup secure in his arms, he turned to face the woman whose boots were still pounding in his direction.
“Oh, thank heavens!” she wheezed, coming to a stop in front of him. She leaned forward to press her hands to her knees as she struggled to catch her breath. “This little booger has given me nothing but trouble since the day he showed up in my life.” She gave a short laugh and straightened. “He gets his britches in a wad every time I try to give him a bath.”
“You’re the first person I’ve met who’s even tried,” he drawled, holding the squirming creature out to her.
Her fingertips brushed his during the transfer, dusty with chipped pink nail polish. “Bathe a dog?” she asked in surprise.
“No, a wolf.”
She tossed her braids as she cuddled him close. “He’s only half wolf. His father was a West Siberian Laika, or at least that’s what I was told.” She angled her head in the direction they’d come from. “I run a rescue shelter back there on my farm. Mostly dogs. I’m Nelle McGhee, by the way.”
His ears perked up. “That’s a fine Scottish name.”
Her expression softened. “Aye, my fayther was a Scot.”
He stared in amazement at her perfect brogue. “Wow! Takes me back to my days as a bairn to hear you say that.” He followed her to the road, assisting her through the fence so she could continue holding the dog. The way she spoke in the past tense made him assume that, like his own father, hers was also gone.
“Thanks.” Switching back to her American accent, she beamed such a brilliant smile on him that he found himself waving her toward his patrol car.
“I’m Sheriff Cade Malone.”
“No kidding?” Her smile widened as she eyed his car and flashing lights. “Didn’t you just get elected, like, today?”
“Yep.” His heart leaped at the fact she was versed on local election news. A lot of the farmers living nearby didn’t give two hoots about stuff like that. “I hope that means you voted for me.”
“I did, but not because I know the first thing about politics,” she confessed in a wry voice. “I heard you were a Scot. That’s why.”
“Works for me.” He jogged around her to open the passenger door of his police cruiser. “Here. Let me drive you home.”
“That’s really kind of you, Sheriff.”
“Cade,” he corrected. “I’m off duty.” He firmly shut the door behind her.
He hurried around the car to take a seat behind the wheel and turn off his flashers. Despite an elongated pause, however, she didn’t clasp her seatbelt.
“Well?” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Buckle up and tell me where to go.”
Her chin came up stubbornly. “If you want my seatbelt on, you’d best get those big lawman hands of yours busy, Cade Malone. As you can see, my hands are full.”
He could have offered to hold the pup for her while she did the deed, but he couldn’t resist the temptation to lean closer. Unless he was mistaken, she was flirting with him. “Are you aways this sassy with policemen?” He took his time latching her seatbelt.
“Only the ones foolish enough to suggest I let go of an ornery wolf pup for something as ridiculous as a seatbelt,” she shot back, eyes twinkling. “We’re just going across the street.”
“It’s still the law,” he reminded, giving her seatbelt a little extra yank before clasping it.
“Boy, you sure do like giving orders,” she teased.
He twisted his head to meet her gaze, very sure this time that she was flirting with him. “What’s wrong with the pup?” He eyed the squirming mass in her hands.
Her blonde eyebrows rose innocently. “Nothing. Why?”
“You said he was injured.”
“Only his pride. He really does hate baths.”
“You’re killing me, Nelle.” All he could do was shake his head at the way he’d gone charging all G.I. Joe across the pasture for a stinking dog trying to escape his bath. The only other woman who’d ever been this much trouble was his sister, who spent way too much time out of town on business these days. He’d missed this — the banter, the sass, the comradery. The flirting was a welcome addition, too.
“Aw, I bet you’re wishing you got off work a few minutes earlier, so you could’ve avoided meeting me and this bad boy.” For emphasis, she raised him like a baby above her head and gave him a gentle shake. The pup returned the gesture with a sloppy kiss against her temple.
Cade scowled at the two of them as he started the ignition. “You could’ve started a stampede back there.”
“But I didn’t, thanks to you.” Her hand shot out suddenly, pointing right across his line of vision. “Whoa! There’s my driveway. You almost missed it.”
He reached up, intending to lower her hand, but she laced her fingers through his on the way down. He dropped their joined hands on his knee, instead.
When he shot her a questioning glance, she shrugged. “You said you were off duty.”
He turned into her driveway. “What if I’m married already?”
“You don’t act married.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I bet you don’t have much time to date, being a super important lawman and all.”
“Now you’re making fun of my loneliness.”
“Not at all. The only thing I’m guilty of is flirting shamelessly with the first handsome Scot who crossed my path since I returned to the States.”
You think I’m handsome, huh? His heart pounded a little faster as he bumped his way over a rut in the pavement where the rain had washed through. “How long ago was that?”
“One year, two months, and seven days,” she sighed. “But who’s counting?”
You, apparently. Her answer amused him. “There are other guys in town, you know.”
“Not for me.” Her smile slipped. “It was a condition in my grandfather’s will when I inherited the place that I could only—” She broke off the rest of what she was about to say. “Oh, hey! We’re here.”
He would’ve preferred for her to finish her sentence first, but she yanked open the car door and hopped out while the car was still rolling.
He hastily kicked on his emergency brake and joined her as she hurried toward the nearest barn. It was a two-story red building with freshly painted white trim and a chorus of dogs barking on the other side of the wall.
“The doggy bathing station is inside the barn.”
“Figured that.” He slid open the door for her. On the other side were two long rows of dog kennels. There were at least two dozen dogs inside in a variety of sizes, shapes, and breeds.
Her expression was unreadable as she stepped past him. “If you’ve gotta be somewhere, I can take it from here.”
He snorted. “First, you flirt with me. Now, you’re trying to get rid of me. Make up your mind, Nelle.”
She flicked a glance over her shoulder at him. “Have a heart. I’m busy trying to recover from my mortification of nearly confessing that I swore on my grandfather’s deathbed to never date anyone but a Scot.”
So, that was the rest of your sentence. He chuckled. “I don’t see what’s so bad about that.”
She unwound his uniform shirt from the dog and plopped him in a basin. It was built into a rustic, waist-high cabinet lined with grooming tools. She spared him a sideways glance. “You’re still here, huh? I thought my last statement would send you running.” She hooked the dog’s collar to a tethering bar to hold him in place. Then she turned on the spray nozzle.
“I don’t scare easily, Nelle. Guess that comes with the badge.” He nodded at the shirt she’d discarded beside the basin.
As she squirted the dog down, he put up a fuss, shaking his body and making water droplets fly everywhere.
Cade moved closer to lend a hand. They washed the dog together, which turned out to be a wet, sudsy experience. When they finished, both her plaid shirt and his white tank undershirt were splattered with dampness.
She toweled the dog off and produced a blow dryer to speed up the process. “You’re still here.” She sounded wondering.
“You still have my badge,” he pointed out.
She finished drying the dog, untethered him from the bathing station, and returned him to his kennel. Gliding Cade’s way, she pointed at his discarded shirt. “You could’ve taken it and run already.”
“What’s the fun in that?”
A short staring contest ensued. Without warning, she snatched it off the counter and dashed with it toward the door.
He caught up to her before she could escape the barn with it. Hands coming down on her shoulders, he spun her around. “What am I going to do with you, Nelle McGhee? From trespassing to disrespecting a duly elected sheriff, I’m fast losing track of all the regulations you’re in violation of this afternoon.”
She cocked her head at him. “I thought you said you were off duty.”
“That I did.” He tugged her closer.
“Oh, is this the part where I pay up?” She swayed closer to him — all flushed, damp, laughing, and utterly enchanting.
“I think that would be a wise move.” His voice was husky as he dipped his head over hers.
“Wise? Not even a little. I think we both know that.” She spoke the words against his mouth right before brushing her lips against his.
He sank into her sweetness and sass as the Earth tilted a little more on its axis and the stars dipped a little closer to where they were standing. She smelled like soap suds and the grassy outdoors. She tasted like sunlight and new beginnings.
Their new beginning, because if their first kiss was any indication, he was going to want to see her again.