Stirring up the Sheriff(8)

By: Leslie North


"Are you close with your brother?" she asked.

"Yep. Close with both my brothers." Trent paused beside her at the next tank. "One runs Wildhorse Ranch outside of town, and the other plays football for the Texas Teamsters. Though I suppose you're more interested in hearing about my twin, Trevor."

"Because what would be interesting about a professional football player?" Marianne laughed, and Trent caught what he thought was an admiring glance from her out the corner of his eye. "You know, Sheriff, there's more going on with you than I first thought."

"I'm not just a pretty face," he said. "Hell, even if I was, I'm still one of a pair."

"So how can I avoid mistaking the two of you when you're in plainclothes?" she asked.

Trent figured he would never have to worry about it with Marianne, but he answered her anyway. "We're different enough. Trevor's got more of a tan, for one thing, and always smells like a barn."

Marianne smothered a laugh with her hand.

"It's our dispositions that really set us apart," he continued. "I'm an easygoing guy. Toe the line and you've got nothing to worry about from me. Trevor's the one who's too serious for his own good. Pretty sure he sat down on a riding crop at some point, and that explains the stick up his ass."

It was an old joke, and one that Trevor hated him telling with a passion, but relaying it now to fresh ears and being rewarded with Marianne's surprised laugh made it worth it.

"He can't be that bad!" she exclaimed. She finally set her clipboard aside and gestured back the way they came. "You said Sabrina's his girlfriend, right? I can't imagine her getting along with someone who matches your brother's description, much less falling for him."

"They had their share of struggles coming together," Trent said. "But they pulled through. You might say their differences make them good for each other." He crossed his arms. "But I stand by what I said. I love my brother, but he really is that bad."

Marianne shook her head. "I just don't see how it's possible.

"Hm?

"I mean, isn't only one of you supposed to be the bad twin?"

The question surprised Trent, and when he did a double-take, he realized Marianne appeared to be fighting back a smile. "Are you saying you think I'm the bad twin?" he asked incredulously.

"I'm saying that remains to be seen." She turned her back to him to adjust another bottle's position in the assembly line. Trent gazed at the elegant curve of her neck and at the exposed bit of shoulder her listing shirt collar revealed. He took a step toward her before he realized what he was doing.

You have no idea how bad I can be, he thought. Normally he wasn't the sort of man to let his imagination get the better of him, but finding himself alone with Marianne in the low-lit backrooms of the Honky Tonk was starting to seriously test his self-control. He had a feeling that beneath that all-business exterior, he’d find a feistiness just waiting for an excuse to be let out—at least, a part of him hoped there was.

He had been staring too long, and Marianne had noticed the intensity of his attention. Her cheeks flushed again, the same way they had when he made that crack about peeking under her tarp, and suddenly Trent couldn't hold himself back from picturing every inch of her laid bare beneath him. That creamy skin of hers still didn't have so much as a farmer's tan. He wanted to run his hands along every exposed inch of her body and commit it to memory before she darkened like everyone else around here.

"Do you have…any other questions for me?" she inquired. Her voice was hushed and hesitant now, but it succeeded in breaking the spell that had come over them. "I'm wide open. A wide-open book, I mean. Fielding unexpected questions is great practice for when I give future brewpub tours."

Trent found the most pressing question he wanted to ask her was completely unrelated to beer. He wanted to know the reason Marianne had changed her last name from Mantel to Stanton. As Lockhart's sheriff, he was as much an investigator as he was an enforcer, so he thought he could make a guess.

Still, Celia had never mentioned it to him. Then again, Celia had also failed to mention her niece was one of the sexiest damn women on the planet.

"What's that?" Trent pointed to a small cooler in the corner. The door was glass; in it, he could see frosty bottles of something light and cloudy. "Doesn't look like beer to me."

"Try it," Marianne encouraged. When he hung back uncertainly, she opened the cooler herself and passed him a bottle. Trent opened it on his belt buckle—a little trick he had picked up for the sole purpose of impressing a pretty woman—and raised the bottle back to his nose for a whiff. It smelled unexpectedly and cloyingly sweet, like the air around the cotton candy booth at the county fair.

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