ONCE AND ALWAYS by Elizabeth Hoyt

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IS THERE A PROBLEM, OFFICER?

Small town cop Sam West certainly doesn’t mind a routine traffic stop: speeding ticket, stern warning, and sayonara. With a whopper of a blizzard closing in, that’s all he has time for. But the lawbreaker he pulls over is anything but typical. From her mile-long legs to her razor-sharp wit, Maisa Bradley is like nothing Coot Lake, Minnesota, has ever seen . . . and she’s about to take Sam on the ride of his life.

BEING BAD HAS ITS BENEFITS

Whoever said blood is thicker than water probably wasn’t related to a former Russian mobster. But an innocent mix-up and rumors of stolen diamonds soon have the Russian mob taking an unusual interest in the sleepy little town—and Maisa facing heated scrutiny from a certain tall, dark, and handsome deputy. Sam’s dazzling blue eyes beg her to reveal all her secrets, but how much should she tell? Getting snowed in with the sexiest lawman in the frozen north may not be the worst way to decide.

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Read An Excerpt:

Chapter One

Day One

Shit. Maisa Burnsey’s heartbeat did a little stumble as the familiar police car halted behind her. She pushed up her chunky black glasses. Every damned time she passed through Coot Lake, Minnesota she got stopped.

In her rearview mirror she watched the tall trooper climb from the squad car. He sauntered toward her Beetle, loose-hipped and long-legged, as if he had all the time in the world. And like the good guy in a black-and-white western, he wore a stupid cowboy hat.

Maisa snorted softly.

He stopped by her car door, his pelvis framed by her window exactly at eye level, as if he was showing off the bulge of his package.

Not that she was looking.

There was an American flag on the left breast of his padded navy uniform jacket, a metal badge on his right, and below that a name tag that read WEST. One gloved hand rested on a lean hip, behind a holstered gun. His upper face, obscured by mirrored sunglasses and the cowboy hat, was stern and intimidating. His lips, though, were wide and almost soft, the top just a little fuller than the bottom. The man had a mouth that was beautiful enough to make a woman ache just by looking.

Maisa straightened her spine and glared at him. Okay, she could do this.

He twirled his gloved finger to tell her to roll down the window.

She opened it, letting in the freezing January wind. “What?”

He nodded. “Hey, May.”

His voice was deep and gravelly, like he smoked, though she knew for a fact that he didn’t.

Maisa,” she snapped automatically. She wasn’t going to think about the last time he’d called her May. “This is the fourth time you’ve stopped me here.”

“Maybe you should quit speeding.” That beautiful mouth quirked. “Or quit running away.”

“I’m not running away,” she lied, poker-faced.

“Darlin’, you’ve been running away from me since last August.”

Maisa felt her teeth click together. “I’m talking about pulling me over for speeding.”

His wide mouth curved. “I’m not.”

She breathed deeply. Evenly. God damn it, meditation was supposed to make her less angry. “This is entrapment.”

“Now,” he drawled, his small town accent broadening, “I don’t have any fancy un-ee-versity learnin’, but I’m pretty sure entrapment is if I falsely lure you into breaking the law—”

“What do you call a speed trap, then?”

“—which, since I didn’t make you drive well above the speed limit—”

“And that’s ridiculous as well.” She scowled. “The limit’s seventy everywhere else but this stretch of highway.”

He shrugged. “Still fifty-five here.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be. There should be better things for you to do than lie in wait for some poor driver who hasn’t noticed that the speed has gone down so you can pounce.” She stopped to inhale.

He looked at her. “Like what?”

“What?”

“What should I be doing instead?”

She licked her lips. God damn it. Did he have to stand so close? “Doing your job.”

“This is my job.”

“Following me isn’t your job.” She could feel the heat mounting her neck with her anger. Oh, to hell with it. “Speeding isn’t why you stopped me and you know it. You’re harassing me.”

There was a pause as if she’d broken some obscure rule in their game. The wind whipped icy snow against her car, making the vehicle sway.

He didn’t even flinch, steady as a granite monument to male stubbornness.

“That right. You know, you don’t have to take this route every month when you drive up from Minneapolis.” His voice was terribly gentle, and she had a flash of him straight-armed over her, his mouth wet, his voice a gravel whisper as he’d murmured, Like that? And shoved inside of her, quick and hard and confident.

One night. One night last August she’d let him in. It’d been hot and muggy, and her uncle’s cabin hadn’t had any air-conditioning. She’d booked a room at the Coot Lake Inn and then gone to the only bar in town to have a cold beer. Sam had been there, looking way too sexy in faded jeans and a T-shirt so thin she could see the outline of his nipples when the condensation on his beer bottle had dripped on his chest. He’d bought her another beer and flirted and she’d thought, Why not? Why not just one night? So she’d brought him back to her tacky motel room and let him undress her and kiss her and make love to her, and in the morning she’d woken with her heart already beating too fast in panic. She’d dressed without showering, grabbed her bags, and left him there, still asleep on his belly, his wide shoulders bare and erotic in the stark morning light.

It’d been a mistake. One terrible, unforgettable mistake.

She exhaled through her nose, glancing away from him, feeling suddenly sad and vulnerable.

She hated that feeling. “This route is the easiest way to my uncle’s house.”

“Uh-huh.” He didn’t even bother to sound like he believed her, which was just insulting. “And me being the cop on duty most of the time along this stretch of highway has nothing to do with it.”

Yes.” She was going to chip a tooth if she ground down any harder.

“May—”

Maisa. Look, just give me the goddamned ticket and I’ll be on my way.”

She could see him shift his weight from one leg to the other out of the corner of her eye. “Your brake light’s out.”

She swung back. “What?”

He nodded his head at the back of her car. “Right rear.”

Maisa started to crane her neck to look before she realized how silly that was. “Oh. I’ll get it fixed.”

“’Preciate that,” he drawled. Did anyone else drawl in freaking Minnesota? “But I’ll have to cite you in the meantime.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Sam!”

That got a gloved finger sliding his mirrored glasses down just enough to see the flash of his electric blue eyes. “Well now. Glad to hear you remember my name.”

She didn’t give herself time to think, just slipped the knife between his ribs, quick and nasty. “Of course I remember, Sam. It’s not a big deal, you know. You were a good lay, but that’s all you were.”

For a moment everything seemed to still along the stretch of lonely highway. The land was nearly flat here, rolling farmland broken by small clumps of trees. The wind was relentless, blowing across the prairie in winter. In order to survive it those trees had to be tough, hardy, and tenacious.

Maybe tenacious most of all.

Sam sighed and took off his glasses and she thought obscurely that he’d never hide those eyes if he had any idea what the sight of them did to women. He was thirty-three, but he had lines around his eyes as if he’d been squinting into the sun—like Clint Eastwood looking for the bad guys on the open plains. Except Sam had already found the bad guy and was too stupid—or too bullheaded—to know it.

“You practiced that in front of your bathroom mirror, didn’t you,” he said, flat.

Of course she had. No way was she letting him in again. Sam West was just too dangerous to her peace of mind—and heart. “Just give me the ticket.”

He leaned one arm on the car roof just over her head, bending to look at her through the window. The position put his face close enough to hers that she could smell mint on his breath.

She tried not to breathe, refusing to look at him again. If she could just get away, if he’d just let her go, everything would be okay.

She could freehand a dozen dress designs in one night, she could set a dart so perfectly it’d make any woman’s ass look like gold, but she couldn’t deal with the emotions Sam West made her feel.

She. Just. Couldn’t.

“Listen, May,” he said, too near, too damned intimate, “I won’t give you a ticket this time. Just be—”

The sound of a revving engine came from behind them on the highway.

Sam looked up.

“Fuck,” he murmured, and in one graceful movement vaulted onto the hood of her car. He slid spectacularly across the surface on one hip, just as a little red car tore past, so close it rocked the Beetle in its wake. The red car’s taillights flashed as it braked for the curve, tires squealing. But the car just kept going straight. It slapped into the packed snow at the outer curve, climbing the embankment, nose skyward, engine squealing before suddenly cutting.

In the silent aftermath Maisa stared, open-mouthed with shock.

Then she remembered Sam. He was no longer on the hood of her car. She couldn’t see him anywhere. Panic crowded her chest as she began battling the car door handle.

Oh, God, oh, God, please don’t let him be hurt.

HoytElizabeth

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of historical romance, including reader favorite, The Raven Prince.

Elizabeth was born in New Orleans but grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was fortunate to be able to travel extensively as a child, visiting St. Andrews, Scotland; Germany; France; and Belgium. She spent a year in Oxford, England and was a summer exchange student to Kawasaki, Japan.

Elizabeth has a BA in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and, as a result of having no clue what to do with her life thereafter, a career history as a barista, a (terrible) sales clerk, a Wisconsin Revenue Service data entry slave, and an archeological field work grunt. Fortunately, Elizabeth married relatively young and produced two children who kept her busy until her mid-thirties. At about this time, when her youngest was entering Kindergarten, Elizabeth’s mother hinted that perhaps Elizabeth should get a Real Job.

Sadly, Elizabeth was so delusional she thought writing a romance novel might qualify as a Real Job.

But! Five years later, to everyone’s surprise, she actually sold that romance novel (The Raven Prince) and began a rather successful career as a Romance Novelist. This was most fortunate since Elizabeth is singularly unqualified to do anything else but Make Up Stories.

Since then Elizabeth has written eighteen books to critical acclaim: The Prince Trilogy (The Raven Prince, The Leopard Prince, and The Serpent Prince); the Legend of the Four Soldiers series (To Taste Temptation, To Seduce a Sinner, To Beguile a Beast, and To Desire a Devil); and the Maiden Lane series (Wicked Intentions, Notorious Pleasures, Scandalous Desires, Thief of Shadows, Lord of Darkness, Duke of Midnight, Darling Beast, and the upcoming Dearest Rogue.) She also writes contemporary romance under the pen name Julia Harper (Hot, For the Love of Pete, and the upcoming Once and Always.)

Learn more about her books on her website – http://www.elizabethhoyt.com/

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