Excerpt: Once Upon a McLeod

Excerpt: Once Upon a McLeod

Once Upon a McLeod

CHAPTER ONE

“You ladies need help?” Bry Phillips adjusted his sunglasses to better avoid the glare of the late afternoon August sun. He watched the two women spin around on the concrete roadside picnic table at the sound of his voice. He’d not meant to startle them, but then there wasn’t any way they’d heard him coming over the Webber music blaring from their open-door vehicle.

“Do we look like we need help?” It was the redhead who jumped to her feet. Her sandals skidded in the gravel of the tourist park that overlooked the West Texas town of Cummings. She cocked her hip as she caught and balanced herself with one hand on the table edge, like a cat who’d tumbled from her perch but wanted the world to think she’d done it on purpose.

“Well—” he hesitated and shifted his weight as the sweat began to trickle down the back of his neck from under the faded golf cap. Just as he’d cooled down in the car after walking eighteen holes, he’d stopped to offer assistance, and it looked like his getting all hot and sweaty again wasn’t going to be worth it. They might not need any help but helping was built into his job description and his personality. So he’d pulled over. The hood of their new white SUV wasn’t raised and he’d noted the tires were healthy. “I don’t guess you do.”

“Well, of course, you were just being helpful.” It was the other one, the blonde, who answered now. She smiled and swung her tanned legs around so she could face him while maintaining her perch. Their accents were unmistakably honeyed deep South. 

Bry shut his mouth on a smile. The attitude, the  accent, the out-of-state license plates, the age appropriateness of forty, give or take a few—well, that’s all he needed for confirmation. It had been a worthwhile stop after all, certainly worth a trickle of sweat down his neck. He knew who these two were, and the fun—for himself and the town—was just beginning.

“Then you don’t need a ride into town?” The devil made him do it. He couldn’t even resist the grin that came with it as his whole attitude changed.

The redhead lowered her sunglasses to the tip of her nose and narrowed her green eyes at him. “Are you really trying to pick us up?”

“Only if you need it.”

Her mouth dropped open as she blinked, searched for words. Her friend grabbed her arm and pulled her back onto the rough table. He decided against any more conversation and smiled at them. 

“Good day, ladies.” He touched the brim of his cap for good measure and strode back to the white truck he’d left running on the other side of their vehicle. He resisted the temptation to turn around and see their response. Circling out of the parking lot, he headed down the hill toward town, reaching for the CB radio as soon as he cleared the gravel.

“Sam, come in.” Clicking the mouthpiece, he tried to maintain a certain solemnity, but he couldn’t. He’d been the first to spot Joe Tom’s bitch niece and entourage and the betting pool at Sally’s Grille now belonged to him.

“Here, boss.” 

“Want to run some plates for me?” He paused for just an instant. “Georgia plates?”

The innuendo wasn’t wasted on Sam. “Aw, what luck, Bry.” The older man could see him swing an imaginary hat to the floor. “That’s no fair. You been out roaming for them.”

“No way. Just lucky. Call Sally, tell her I’ll pick up my money in about five minutes.”

“It’s really Joe Tom’s bitch niece?” 

Bry made a mental note: Cummings would have to watch itself or someone would call her that to her face. She was just here for the funeral and the reading of the will. How hard could it be for them to be polite?

He clicked the mouthpiece. “The one and only peach pit herself. And she brought a friend.”

“Criminey. You have all the fun.”

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