Stirring up the Sheriff(7)

By: Leslie North


She had an ulterior motive in all this, of course. She was determined to prove to Trent that the Honky Tonk's next evolution was a good idea for Lockhart Bend.

He was her first critic. Time would tell if he was her toughest.





4





Trent





Trent knew exactly what Sabrina was up to by sending him off alone with Marianne. His brother's girlfriend was as smart as she was scheming, and it wasn't just recyclable material she hoped to whip into new shape. She had made it known to Trent time and again that, now that his two brothers were close to getting hitched, she intended for him to be next. With one look at Marianne, Sabrina had obviously made her mind up about who he should set his sights on.

Not that Trent could blame her. It wasn't just her impressive command of curse words that had taken his breath away the first time they met. Marianne was, frankly put, the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen.

He followed her now, enjoying the view from behind as much as he enjoyed the prospect of time alone together. Maybe he could get used to Sabrina taking the reins on his love life after all.

"So this was all your idea, huh?" Marianne asked him over her shoulder. "The town meeting and everything?"

"What can I say?" Trent shrugged. "I wanted to get a peek under your tarp."

She half-laughed, half-scoffed in surprise as he drew up beside her. He liked the way her cheeks pinkened at his turn of phrase and the way she seemed to struggle with words in the aftermath.

"Really?" she said finally. "And here I thought that maybe you wanted to see me fall flat on my face in front of everyone."

"Never."

Clearly the thought of failure was on Marianne's mind. He hadn't thought any of his warnings were getting through to her, and it surprised him to see such a chink in the steely woman's armor now. He had thought their banter almost playful; could it be that she saw him as an enemy?

"You know I'm rooting for you, right?" Trent asked as they stopped by one of the assembly lines. The whole back of the building was filled with a fresh-bread smell, presumably the fermentation happening in the tanks.

Marianne repositioned a few bottles and checked the reading on one of the tanks. "Are you?" She didn't sound convinced.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were looking for an opponent to come up against," Trent said. "Either that, or you don't have a lot of experience letting other people support you."

He didn't know what made him say it, and he regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. He had brushed up against an old wound in his attempt to get to the heart of her. Marianne stopped fiddling with a dial. She kept her back to him. Trent suspected she wanted to hide whatever expression she wore.

He thought to apologize. For whatever reason, the words wouldn't come. He stepped up beside her instead, offering the warmth of his proximity, willing it to be a comfort and not an invasion. Marianne started a little and turned into him, but she didn't back away.

"I think the best way to get through life…is to not rely on outside support. It might fail you when you most expect it to be there." She tucked a piece of hair back into place behind her ear. "Shall we continue with the tour?"

"I wasn’t aware it had started."

He gazed down at her, but Marianne remained resolute in not meeting his eyes. What is it that made you come all the way down here? he wanted to ask her. What are you running from?

"This is the brewing room, Sheriff Wild."

"I can see that," he said quietly.

He wanted to catch her chin and raise those blue eyes back up to meet his. His hands slid out of his pockets, but maybe broadcasting his intention was enough. Marianne's gaze snapped to him, but he watched the ice in it thaw slowly. Her lips parted, before she decided to hold back whatever thought she had been about to voice. She indicated the next tank in the line, and they moved on.

"Fine," she said. "While we're noticing things, why don't I tell you something I noticed about you?"

"Sure. Notice away."

"You don't like being mistaken for you brother."

"No." Maybe Marianne was trying to deliver a sting comparable to the one he had given her, but her observation only surprised Trent. People didn't generally notice that sort of thing, and here Marianne was calling him out on it. "It used to happen a lot more in our youth," he explained. "I blame my grandma especially. She used to love dressing us in the same outfits when she took us to Sunday school."

"I bet that was cute."

"You should see us when we do it now."

Marianne laughed at this, and Trent couldn't hold back a chuckle himself at the image.

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