This was the last place she expected to spend Christmas. Callie Rayburn glanced around the puke-green, cinder block cell in the basement of the Hawthorne Springs, Missouri police station. In jail for Christmas. It figured, given the downward spiral her life had taken during the past twenty-four hours.
A tear slid down the side of her nose. She dashed it away with the back of her hand and snuffled. She didn’t even have a tissue because that jerk Billy Freeman had taken her purse. What kind of town let a pubescent little snot like Billy wear a badge and carry a gun? It seemed like just last week she’d babysat him and his obnoxious younger brother to earn enough money to buy her dream dress for the senior prom.
Another tear followed the track of the first. If Billy Freeman was old enough to be a police officer, what did that make her? Ancient. Over the hill. Thirty years old, and with nothing to show for it. Two days ago she’d been living the high life in St. Louis with a job, a cute apartment she couldn’t afford, and a future. Today—zip, nada, bupkis. And now, to tie the whole thing up with a big, fluffy bow, she’d been arrested by Billy Freeman for breaking and entering. Un-freaking-believable.
Disgusted, she pulled out of her slouch and straightened her spine. If Officer Billy thought she was going to take this lying down, he had a lot to learn. She might have temporarily sunk to the level of pathetic loser, but heaven help her, she would sleep in her car before she spent Christmas Eve in a jail cell.
Callie shot another glance at her barren surroundings. Where was a tin cup when you needed one? Wasn’t that what prisoners used in the old movies? She’d have to settle for her shoe. She was lucky this pair didn’t have laces—Billy probably would have taken them to keep her from hanging herself.
She slipped off one sleek black ankle boot and thumped it against the metal bars, wincing at the resulting scuff that marred the smooth surface. Damn. She loved those boots. She hadn’t even paid the credit card charge for them yet.
“Billy Freeman, you little weasel, let me out of here!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.
“Billy, if you don’t unlock this door right now I’m going to tell your mother!”
Still no answer.
Her righteous indignation slipped a notch. Surely he hadn’t locked her up and abandoned her to spend the whole miserable holiday alone. She was starving. Even the condemned got a last meal, didn’t they?
The big metal door from the stairwell clanged open, and a man stepped through. But it wasn’t Billy Freeman. This man was taller, broader, and darker. His brows drew together in a fierce “V”.
“Stop that caterwauling. I sent Officer Freeman home to spend Christmas Eve with his family.”
Double damn. It was the man himself, Chief Thomas H. Blackstone, AKA Tommy Blackstone, the hottest, baddest boy in the Hawthorne Springs High School class of ’98. A devil in worn denim. The kind of boy girls yearned to regret. Callie and her older sister had been no exception.
During the fall of her freshman year, she had watched Susan sneak out their bedroom window every Saturday night for six weeks to ride off into the night on the back of Tommy Blackstone’s magic motorcycle. Her jealous fourteen-year-old imagination had concocted a whole array of shocking and titillating scenarios which Susan refused to confirm or deny. Each time, her sister had slipped back through the window an hour before dawn with a dreamy smile on her face and a finger pressed to her lips.
The infatuation had burned itself out quickly, and since Susan hadn’t nursed a grudge or broken heart, Callie had never squealed to their parents. Over the past fifteen years, Tommy Blackstone had drifted off her radar screen. At some point Susan had mentioned he’d joined the Marines right after graduation then returned to Hawthorne Springs and become a police officer. But by that time Callie was in St. Louis, clawing her way up the ladder in the marketing department at Van Pelt and Van Pelt Advertising. She’d never crossed paths with Tommy on her brief visits home. Then again, she’d never managed to get arrested before either.
She gritted her teeth in a facsimile of a smile. “Since Officer Freeman is gone, you can let me out. I’m sure you’ve got the key there on your super-duper police utility belt.”
He nodded. “I do, but you’re not going anywhere.”
“Tommy Blackstone, you let me out of here!”
He turned his attention to the clipboard in his hands. “My friends call me Tom. You can call me Chief Blackstone, but I still can’t let you out. You were caught breaking into an unoccupied residence—”
She threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes. “My parents’ house! I forgot my key. ”
His stern expression didn’t falter. “Tell it to the judge. You also resisted arrest. You bit Officer Freeman—I saw the teeth marks. I ought to charge you with assaulting an officer.”
“He put his hand across my mouth!”
“To shut you up. You were creating a disturbance.”
Callie gave an unladylike snort. “I remember when you used to create plenty of disturbances. When did you become such a hard-ass?”
“You don’t want to know.”
His tone stopped her cold, and a flippant response died on her lips. She regarded him critically for the first time. He still bore a passing resemblance to the rebellious hell-raiser she’d secretly pined for in high school, but he’d changed. He stood taller and straighter now. His lean jawline could have been carved from granite, and his dark blue eyes held a new gravity. Devil-may-care Tommy Blackstone might have left Hawthorne Springs, but tough, serious Tom had returned in his place.
He flipped the papers on his clipboard back into place. “Besides, based on your behavior, I’m not convinced you’re not a danger to yourself or others.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve never been a danger to anyone.”
His fine, firm lips tilted up in a slow smile. “I don’t know about that.”