Rock Star's Sheriff Chapter One

Zach Murphy looked up from the paperwork on his desk and listened to someone tromp through the Parson County Sheriff squad room toward his office. He leaned to get a look. His twelve-year-old daughter flounced toward him in a temper with new black clogs on her feet. They clicked with a racket that made him want to toss them in a trash can and deliver a stern lecture to Uncle Beau for buying them for her.
Carlee stopped inside the doorway and hissed at him. “Dad, how could you?”
He leaned back in his chair and studied her belligerent pose. “How was school?”
She huffed. “Fine. How could you?”
He glanced through his glass office window and caught the eye of his brother, who was a few paces behind her. Beau shrugged.
“How could I what?” He eyed the black leggings and black glittered Hard Rock CafĂ© Denver T-shirt she wore and mourned the bright-eyed little girl who used to dress in pinks and yellows and run to meet him after school. Now her face was set in a mulish frown, her brown hair swept low over her eyes until he could hardly see their pretty green. Her hair had a streak of red down one side, but not the other. That hadn’t been there this morning.
“You arrested her!” The shrill of her accusation hung in the air, drawing his focus.
He sorted through his last twenty-four hours of duty hours and calls. “Arrested who?” He dropped his pen on the blotter, knowing there was only one woman who’d been picked up last night.
She rolled her eyes. “Leia Shae!”
He frowned, pondering his memory of the woman. “Who?”
Carlee huffed. “The Leia Shae, Dad!” When the name didn’t process fast enough, she curled her lip at him. “I have a poster of her over my bed. I have five of her CDs and play them all the time. Only for You—her latest hit song. Duh, Dad!”
“I arrested Leia Shae, the rock star?” He looked to the corner of his desk for the booking reports, but they were gone from the basket, which meant Blanche had grabbed the things to be filed.
“Blanche has her picture on the paperwork on her desk. I recognized her face.” Her mouth set in an argumentative line, waiting for the lecture.
Carlee was snooping again, obsessed with the booking paperwork of the small sheriff’s office. Blanche Gritz, his receptionist and day dispatcher, usually let Carlee peek, even though he talked to the woman repeatedly about filing the damn booking reports so his little girl wouldn’t stick her nose into things she shouldn’t know about.
Carlee didn’t wait for the lecture. “I think she’s sick or something. She looks awful in that picture.”
Or something.
He stifled a sigh, contemplating the information. He’d taken the call last night. He’d made the arrest. Something had seemed familiar about the woman, but he’d been more worried about getting her off the road; when it was obvious she was ill, he’d run her over to the hospital for the night.
Beau moved to the doorway to listen. He gave Zach a baffled look, apparently not knowing any more about Leia Shae than he did. Zach wasn’t comforted to know his brother was in the same boat with him and wouldn’t be coming to his rescue. He had no problem dealing with his cussed stubborn brothers. He had no problem dealing with ten deputies. He had no issues in general getting his will across to other people. But when it came to his daughter, he felt as inept as it was possible for a father to be. That bugged him; it rubbed against his natural leadership tendencies, his need to love and protect his daughter.
“Can I see her?” Carlee bit her lip and moved closer to his desk. “You’ve gotta let me see her.”
“No.” He stood, intending to go get the booking report and look at the picture again.
“But, Dad…” she wailed. “It might be my only chance to meet her.”
If Leia Shae was the young woman he’d brought in last night, he was pretty sure she wasn’t going to want anyone to see her the way she was or for anyone to know she was there.
“The answer is no, Carlee. You shouldn’t have even seen the booking report. What have I told you about that?” He walked around his desk to stand beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder which she shrugged off.
“No talking to your friends about it either,” he warned, giving up trying to be the understanding dad and laying down the law like a sheriff.
The mulishness spread to her posture, her stubbornness pushing one of Zach’s hot buttons.
Beau gave Zach a commiserating look over the top of Carlee’s head. “Why don’t I take Carlee to the Burger Barn for a snack and run her out to Aunt Fiona’s until you get off?”
“I don’t want to go to Aunt Fiona’s.” Carlee’s mad was a sight to behold. Ever since she was a little baby her face had always turned the deepest shade of red whenever she got the least bit upset, embarrassed or angry. It was a trait she hadn’t outgrown. “I can wait with Blanche like I always do.”
Since he planned on having words with Blanche again, that wasn’t going to work. “Go with Uncle Beau and have a burger. I’ll pick you up from Aunt Fiona’s when I’m finished.” He went out of his office and was half way through the squad room when he realized Carlee wasn’t walking behind him. She stopped in his office doorway, preparing for a tantrum of epic proportions.
The squad room was empty except for Kane Martin, his detective and second-in-command. It wouldn’t be the first time his deputies had seen Carlee have a temper tantrum, but he’d hoped to stop putting them through that on a regular basis. He glared at her, willing her to cooperate.
“I can wait at home by myself.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder, trying to stare him down. It didn’t work.
“Carlee, no. Do as I say,” he bit out.
“Come on, young ‘en. Let’s go eat.” Beau helped coax her toward the exit.
“You never let me do anything I want to do!” She flounced out the secure door and down the outer hall to the entrance.
“Sorry, bro. I didn’t know Blanche was off limits.” Beau followed Zach into the hall where they could both watch her stalk to the glass entry and turn back to glare.
He swore under his breath. “She’s not off limits. She’s supposed to file those damn things instead of letting Carlee thumb through them.”
Beau shook his head. “Don’t worry, Zach. I’ll get her some food. Aunt Fiona will settle her down.”
He doubted that, but he had to find out who exactly was over in the hospital and do some damage control. Because he suspected Carlee was right.
He had arrested America’s favorite rock star—Leia Shae.

********

       Zach parked at the side of the Parson County Hospital and strode up the walk to the main entrance. He passed the reception area for the twenty-six bed hospital and the emergency room, only waving at the hospital administrator instead of chatting. He had an internet picture of Leia Shae in his inside pocket. He’d be positive once he took another look at her, but that was really just a redundancy. It was her. He was about to get first-hand knowledge of a media storm that he’d previously only seen in papers and depicted in movies.
He stopped at the nurse’s station and swallowed against a tide of acid and rage. This was a small tourist town. It was off the map for most people unless they skied, fished, or hiked and Zach liked it that way. So did most of the town folks. He had enough headaches with people who were careless and adventurous. He didn’t need the thousands of questions that were going to come his way, some he couldn’t even imagine. Damn the woman for stopping in his jurisdiction. Forty miles on down that road she’d have been in the next county and someone else’s problem.
Dr. Erin Jude sat behind the counter studying a file in front of her. Doc was an Amazon of a woman, six feet tall with black hair braided down her back, who was always either in jeans and a flannel shirt or hospital scrubs. Today it was green scrubs. She jokingly claimed to be part Aztec. She could be part Martian for all he cared. She was a damn fine doctor, which he knew from personal experience, and the town was lucky to have her.
She closed the file and looked up at him. “Hey Sheriff, want the results on our guest?”
He braced himself for the worst. “Give me the bad news.”
“Not really so bad. She was only at a .04 blood alcohol content, so not legally intoxicated.”
“Then what the hell was going on?”
“She had two glasses of champagne and no food, according to her, then took some over the counter cold medication which she seems to be allergic to. She says she pulled over because she couldn’t breathe.”
Zach stifled a sigh. “Seemed to be allergic?”
“This particular cold medication has nine ingredients, any one of which she could be allergic to although I’m guessing it was the dyes. I don’t have any way of confirming which one it is unless I test each ingredient and see which one causes a problem. It’s not cost effective doing that and it could have been a combination of ingredients or combined with alcohol—not a smart idea by the way, and not a single item. She needs an allergist not a country doctor. Easier to tell her not to take the stuff again, which I’ve done.”
Zach rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll tell the judge. He’ll probably drop the charges then. Is she awake?”
She nodded. “She’s been awake, but I think she’s asleep again. She has bronchitis and unless I miss my guess this is the first time she’s slept in days. She looks familiar.”
He left her statement unanswered. “Is she well enough to release?”
“Yes, whenever she wakes again.”
“Fine. Thanks, Doc.”
“You’re not going to tell me who she is, are you?” She stood and put the chart away. “Jane Smith is so overused.”
Zach stifled a laugh. “You’ll probably be able to read about it in the papers tomorrow. In the meantime, trust me. It’s better if that record stays filed under Jane Smith.”
He left her and walked toward the officer sitting in a chair half way down the hall. Drake Winston stood and waited for Zach to get to his side.
“How’s our guest?” Zach searched his pockets for an antacid and came up empty, contemplated going back and asking Doc for one, and decided he didn’t need the questions.
“Sleeping again after Doc finished poking her,” Drake said. “She’s a looker. Reminds me of somebody, but can’t put my finger on who.”
Zach stayed silent for a minute. Drake was as solid as they came. Early thirties with three kids and a fourth on the way, he would take the presence of the woman in stride. Maybe. Zach couldn’t risk it, though. “I’m going to check on her.”
He left Drake outside the door and walked into the room. The first bed was empty, leaving Leia Shae in the room to herself. He was a man who dealt in realities, but he’d give anything if fairies would materialize and make the famous diva poof away.
He gazed across the narrow space. Her head was turned toward the window, an oxygen tube stretched across the bed. She was covered with a white hospital blanket, but toes with killer red nail polish stuck out from underneath the covers. A tattoo on her ankle winked at him—a small yet colorful fairy. Zach snorted. Figured.
“Geezus, don’t let Carlee see that or she’ll nag me for one, too,” he muttered under his breath.
He moved quietly to the other side of the bed. He stifled an automatic need to whistle. She was one damn fine piece of work, all brown hair streaked with sunshine and curves across all the mounds in the blanket. He touched her shoulder and shook her gently. “Leia?”
The woman groaned, her eyes flickered.
“Yeah. Time to wake up and tell me how big a mess I have on my hands. Come on. Open those eyes.” He kept his voice soft, yet strict, like he was dealing with Carlee.
She shoved the blanket away from her face and Zach’s suspicions were confirmed. Her eyes shot open—glazed, but open.
“Who are you?” Her voice was gravelly, hoarse from misuse, so that he barely understood her. “What are you doing in my bedroom?”
“We aren’t in your bedroom, Ms. Shae. You’re in the hospital, in my county.”
“Hospital? Where?” This time she swallowed hard, waited a moment, as if trying to generate enough spit to get her mouth to work properly.
Zach walked around the bed to the pitcher on the bedside table and poured her some water. “Parson County, Colorado. About an hour drive from Denver. I’m Sheriff Zach Murphy. I arrested you.”
She sat up and gaped at him, the blanket clutched to her stomach, the hospital gown sliding off her shoulder. Lesser men would have lapped up the creamy skin, the delicate collarbone, the curve of a full breast. He handed her the water glass and moved to safety at the end of the bed.
“I wasn’t drunk.” She looked at him, her pasty white face stark against the flowered hospital gown. She coughed deeply, swallowed a bit of water, and fussed with the oxygen tube, forcing it off her nose.
“Doc’s test results confirm that. You really should carry ID.” Then he asked the question he already knew the answer to. “You are Leia Shae, right?”
She took a tentative sip before answering. “Leia Shae Daniels.” She reached out a slender, manicured hand for a shake. “Legal name.”
He ignored the outstretched fingers, trusting an innate sense that screamed not to touch her. She let her hand fall to her side, giving him a wary stare.
His insides were going haywire. One side wanted to be tender and supportive. Another side was screaming danger, take her to the county line and dump her. Another side wanted to strip off the gown and take her like only a lover could. “Ever been arrested before?” he asked, attempting to settle himself.
“Never.” She took another sip of water, leaned over again to cough. He could see the moment the situation crystallized for her. She jerked upright. “On my God, this is going to be…”
He rolled his eyes. “A mess?” Yep, she didn’t miss his sarcasm, which nicely covered the nerves that were agitating his stomach.
Her eyes cleared and gazed at him with laser focus. “Call my manager, Cale Bishop. He’ll take care of everything. Are you dropping the charges? What did you charge me with?”
“Public Intoxication, but after what the Doc found I imagine the judge will drop the charges and send you on your way.”
“I remember pulling over and stopping. I didn’t feel too good, couldn’t get in a full breath, had hives on my hands.” she muttered, looking down at blotches across her arms.
“You pulled over in the parking lot of the Lazy Ace, Parson Corners’ only bar. Your car was running, you smelled of alcohol, and you were passed out and had no purse or ID. After I got you to the jail, you focused enough to be booked, but couldn’t give me your name. I got concerned when your breathing got a tad choppy and I brought you to the hospital.”
“Someone spilled a drink on me at the after party.” She rubbed her hands together as if cold.
“The after what?”
“The after-concert party in Denver. I had an argument with Derek—my ex-boyfriend, didn’t feel like socializing, and took off. I didn’t realize I’d driven so far.” She swept a hand through her hair and looked up at him. If anything, she’d paled further, her eyes taking on a sheen that suggested tears weren’t far away. “Call my manager. He’ll handle everything.”
The tears didn’t appear, but the sad, hopeless look in her eyes wrenched his gut. “Phone number?”
“On my cell phone, under Cale. You do have my phone don’t you?”
“Yes. In your possessions.” Which all would be under his supervision as soon as he went back to the office and claimed them from the lockup.
“He’ll keep things quiet, I promise,” she whispered.
“I hope so—for your sake and mine. Doc said she’d release you this afternoon. I’ll be back to pick you up. Your car is still in the parking lot at the Lazy Ace.” Zach walked out of the room, released Drake from duty and pretended not to hear her “Oh God, what have I done?”
Zach mulled over his next step on the way to the office. They were too numerous and varied and gave him a headache. Prosecuting Attorney. Judge. Mayor. County Commissioners. Phone calls and more phone calls. He parked between the courthouse and the sheriff’s office and went to the judge’s chambers to see if he was still in. He had to hope that Leia’s manager was as good as her faith in him or Parson Corners was about to get put on the map in a way that made him furious. He liked his little corner of the world quiet and controlled and he felt as if he were teetering on the edge of an explosion that would level his stable existence.
Damn her famous hide anyway.

********
     
      An hour later, Zach opened the back door to the Sheriff’s office and hurried down the hall. He’d spent more time than he wanted talking with the judge and the prosecutor, but finally the paperwork was in motion to drop Leia’s charges, all right and proper.
He didn’t need a television to understand that some people would think they’d swept the charges under the stage because of Leia’s star status. Zach went directly to the secured file cabinet and pulled the master sheet from the top. “Blanche, I need the key to the cabinet.”
“Only thing in there is that girl’s stuff.”
“I know. I want her things. Open the drawer.”
She opened her mouth to question him further, but she was smart enough to be intimidated by the scowl on his face and the memory of the blistering lecture he’d given her earlier about showing Carlee the booking sheet. She retrieved her keys and walked to the cabinet. She eyed him again, as if he might take a bite out of her, then she unlocked the drawer and initialed the sheet to show he’d taken the confiscated items into his possession. She sauntered back to her station, watching him from the corner of her eye.
Not in any mood to give her the satisfaction of knowing why he was taking the possessions, he went down the hall to his office and dumped the two items on his desk—cell phone and keys. No purse or wallet in the car.
How did she pay for the rental car? Or for gas? He powered up the expensive cell phone. No calls. No text messages. No messages period. What exactly did that mean? Nobody was looking for her? No one worried about her? Why?
He flipped through the directory and went far enough to find Cale’s number and write it down, then powered off the phone. He’d just picked up his desk phone to make the call when Blanche came to the door.
“You have a visitor. Man’s name is Cale Bishop.”
Zach dropped the phone back into the cradle. Now wasn’t that just damn convenient.
“Want me to tell him to come back? It is quitting time for you, after all.” Her tone suggested she’d be happy to get him out of her hair.
“No. Show him back.”
“Suit yourself,” she huffed and made her way back to the front of the office.
Zach dumped the cell phone and keys back in the envelope and closed it up. He spent a few long minutes sorting paperwork on his desk, while waiting for Blanche to lead the man to his office. He watched with a cop’s eye as Blanche opened the hall door and led a tall, medium build man in a gray pin-striped suit, white shirt, and burgundy tie to his office.
He reeked like a rich lawyer. His suit was tailored perfectly to his form. His salt and pepper gray hair was sheered close to his head. His tan was deep and golden and there was a diamond winking on his finger. All rolled together, the perception was “I have power, don’t mess with me.” Irritation spiked, stirring his cop ire.
“Sheriff Murphy, Cale Bishop.” Perfunctory introduction finished, she walked slowly back to her office, the need for gossip obvious in the turtle-like movement.
Mr. Bishop stepped forward. “Sheriff. “ He reached to shake Zach’s hand.
Zach registered a firm handshake from soft hands. “What can I do for you?”
“There is a rental car parked in the lot of the Lazy Ace on the edge of town.” Mr. Bishop eased into a chair in front of Zach’s desk, adjusting the crease of his slacks. “A friend of mine rented it and I’ve been trying to contact her. I’m concerned something bad has happened to her.”
He’d been trying to contact her? No messages on her cell phone for missed calls.
The man maintained a long stare, not offering any more information.
“This friend’s name would be?” Zach sat and stretched back in his chair, as casual as a gunslinger.
The man gave him a fake smile. “Well, now I would hope that the name would stay between you and me.”
This time Zach gave him the long stare.
The man didn’t so much as blink. “Do you know who I am?”
Zach knew damn well who the man was and didn’t give a rat’s backside. Let him stew for a minute, thinking he was lording one over on a slow, country sheriff.
The man’s smug expression grated against frustrated nerves, though. Zach tamped down the churning against his breastbone, and wondered when boys learned to play chicken. While this was a tame confrontation, it still had all the earmarks of that juvenile game.
Bishop opened his mouth, no doubt to rub Zach’s nose in how important Cale Bishop was in the universe. Zach beat him to the punch.
“Leia Shae is in the hospital. She asked me to contact you. Consider yourself contacted.” He rose to his feet. “If you give me a few minutes, I’ll bring her here to meet you.”
“What’s she doing in the hospital?” The alarmed tone was just a tad put on.
He gave the man an honest answer. “She was arrested for public intoxication last night. Turns out she was having a severe allergic reaction to some medication she took and she ended up in our hospital.”
“You arrested her?” Bishop rose from his chair, put his knuckles on Zach’s desk and leaned toward him.
Zach didn’t move, irritated by the man’s power play. “Yes. Once we got the results of her tests, we obviously put in motion the paperwork to drop the charges. I’d appreciate it if this could be kept quiet until you’re out of my town.”
Bishop smirked and straightened, fussing with his sleeves. “I can assure you I have no intention of letting anyone know she’s here. Let me make a phone call. I’m sure we can get her out of here with no one the wiser.”
Zach had a hundred questions pounding through his head. He shifted forward in his chair and focused on one. “How did you know she was here? How did you know to look here?”
“Our security force keeps pretty close tabs on her. You understand.” The man gave him a bland smile that raised his hackles.
“I’m not sure I do. Someone followed her?” Sounded more like chased her.
“Someone followed her when she left the party and lost her on the state highway on the west side of Denver. Only so many towns she could have gone to on this road. We’ve been checking them all.”
Zach shook his head. What a way to live, like a supernova in the eye of a telescope. No thanks.
Bishop sat again, precisely pulling his slacks as he sat. “Is there a private place I can make a call to cancel the search and get my media coordinator here for assistance?”
“I was hoping we could avoid the media.” It galled Zach to have to ask for that, but this was his town and his duty to protect it.
“That would be ideal.” Bishop’s smile struck Zach as a tad oily and manipulative, leaving his cop’s intuition clawing at him like rescuing a reluctant cat from a tree.
Zach stood and grabbed his keys. “I’ll get Leia. Use my office. Make your calls.”
Zach needed air. Irritated on behalf of Leia and not really understanding why, he walked out. He asked a deputy to keep an eye on Mr. Slick and went to his truck, calling the hospital to notify them he was coming for Leia before he got out of the parking lot.
The air was crisp for early May, threatening the buds on the trees. The day was dying to dusk and he wasn’t going to be able to have dinner with Carlee.
Dammit.
He hated when his sheriff activities self-destructed their normal routine. He flipped open his cell phone and called Aunt Fiona. Aunt Fiona, his father’s sister, had taken in the four brothers after the death of their parents in a small plane crash. Wyatt had been twelve, Zach ten, Ryder nine, and Beau barely seven. They’d had a rocky road at first, Fiona having lost her husband in the same crash. Zach had more than enough police experience to recognize how lucky they were she’d been willing to take them and the young boys hadn’t ended up in foster care.
“You have reached the charming, witty, infamous Fiona. Your wish is my command. Speak.” Her lilting voice made him smile.
“Hi, Aunt Fiona.”
“Ah, my favorite nephew sheriff.” Her throaty drawl was somewhere between Scarlet O’Hara and Marilyn Monroe. “Your progeny is in a snit.”
Zach sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “She’s going to be in even more of one. I’m tied up. She was right. I arrested Leia Shae. I can’t leave until she does.”
Fiona dropped all pretense of playfulness. “This is bad.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You know how big she is?”
“Yes, after I made the connection to who she was. I don’t live under a rock.”
“Is she as pretty as her pictures?”
“Fiona.” Zach drew out her name, trying to not snap. If anyone had experience with the press, it was bestselling cookbook author, Fiona Devlin.
“Just asking,” Fiona sighed.
Zach rubbed the bridge of his nose again, feeling the headache pound right between his eyes in sledge hammer vibrations. His stomach churned in counterpoint. “No. Actually at the moment she looks like hell.”
“Darling, you should call Ryder.”
Zach bristled. “I don’t need Ryder’s help.”
“I beg to differ. He handles my public relations stuff all the time. You need someone who can run interference. The press is going to eat this up like caviar on a cracker at a cocktail party.”
Zach had a simple palate and that turned his stomach just as much from the food analogy as what was about to occur. “As it happens, I’ve already met the judge and he’s agreed to drop the charges. She had an allergic reaction.”
Fiona huffed. “That’s not going to do it. Even after the fact, they’ll be camped at your doorstep wanting answers. What did you arrest her for?”
“Booked her for public intoxication because I didn’t have enough for a DUI. Her blood alcohol wasn’t high enough for any charges.” He shouldn’t be explaining all this to an outsider, but dammit he was frustrated.
“Oh, my. Not good.”
“I know, Fiona. Doesn’t matter what we do, we’re going to get fried.”
“Call Ryder, dear. I’ll tell Carlee she’s spending the night.”
Zach clenched his jaw, aware of bulldozer Fiona mowing him down, but recognized the voice of experience. “I’ll call Ryder, and I’ll call Carlee before she goes to bed. Make sure you check her homework and no time on the Internet.”
“Aye, Aye, Dad. Love you.” Fiona disconnected.
He needed a hefty dose of caffeine, or dinner, or both. He drove to the hospital with a slow deliberate pace, not to annoy Mr. Fancy Suit…well, not much anyway. He called Ryder as Fiona had asked and got his voice mail.
He entered through the emergency room this time as it was closer to the back door where he intended to leave with Leia. He stopped at the vending machine and bought himself a Coke.
Further down the hall, Doc Jude ran into him as she exited an exam room. He caught her by the elbow. “I came to get your patient.”
“I know who she is. She told me.”
Zach snorted in exasperation. “Great. Keep it to yourself.”
She walked with him part way down the hall. “Understood. I’ve signed her paperwork. She can leave.”
Zach rubbed his stomach. “Great. Thanks Doc. Let the circus begin.”
She reached in her pocket and handed him a small pack of antacids. “Come and see me. We need to talk about your stomach and your eating habits.” She gave his Coke a raised brow.
“Don’t hassle me, Doc.”
“Green tea, Sheriff. Easier on the gut than gallons of coffee and soda.”
“Foo-foo drink.” He walked away from her, feeling like a thundercloud about to rain on a parade.
In Leia’s room, she sat in the bland beige chair by the window, her eyes closed looking like a wilted hot house flower. She wore a set of fuchsia hospital scrubs and clutched a bag to her chest. The bed had been stripped and cleared.
He walked to her side and waited for her to open her eyes. “You ready to go?”
She stared at him with veiled blue eyes. “I suppose.”
Her enthusiasm was overwhelming. She rose slowly, like an old grannie with arthritis in every joint. He reached to help her, the warmth of the bare skin at her elbow seeping into his sense.
“Where’s your coat?” Awareness hovered in the space between them.
“I didn’t have one.” She trembled at his side, with exhaustion or nerves, he wasn’t sure.
“We’ll take care of that then. “ One of his female deputies was sure to have something she could have. “I’m parked next to the Emergency Room entrance. I’ll pull my car up. We’re going out quickly and back in the employee entrance of the sheriff’s office. Fast and easy.”
“Understood.” She seemed to pull herself together then and moved with easy grace by his side. She didn’t ask him to let go of her arm, which was good because he probably wouldn’t have anyway.
“My manager?” she croaked.
“In my office.” She seemed to slump a bit, but rallied and continued on, breathing loudly through her mouth. He slowed to a crawl and tried to match her pace, but at this rate he’d be ninety by the time they got to the door. He snagged a wheelchair from the alcove at the intersection of the hallways.
“I don’t need that.” Her glare worked, even if the rest of her body didn’t.
“Yes, you do.” And just because he was feeling the prick of sexual attraction and whole lot of irritation from same, he tacked on, “I don’t have all day.”
He was sorry the moment he glimpsed the hurt that crossed her eyes. But this girl was tough. She buried it fast and looked away, pulling herself into a regal posture that would have put him in his place if he hadn’t seen her fingers trembling and her limbs sagging in relief into the wheelchair.
He rushed them through the hospital then, not stopping to talk to anyone and in a few short minutes had her in the front seat of his truck and was driving away.
She didn’t speak again, but coughed long and deep all the way to the department.
He put her in the back conference room and went for her manager.
Cale Bishop was seated on the corner of Zach’s desk, his arms crossed, a furious grimace on his face. Zach walked to his office and brushed around Cale Bishop. “She’s ready to leave.”
“Fine. I can’t imagine why that took so long.” The man stood and glanced at his watch.
“Mr. Bishop, this is a small town and a small county. You’re lucky I was able to arrange with the judge to drop the charges tonight. Besides that, she belongs in bed. She’s still very sick.”
“I believe I know how to take care of Leia. I’ve been doing it for years.”
The snobby tone pushed him to the edge, but he snapped his mouth shut. Zach lifted the manila envelope with Leia’s possessions. “Follow me.”
Leia stood near the room’s only window, looking out at the darkening night. She’d brushed her hair into a ragged ponytail, but her skin was grayish, her mouth a confused frown, and the devastated sadness in her eyes was killing him.
“Cale!” Leia rounded the table and flung herself into her manager’s arms.
“Now, now darlin’. It’s going to be okay.” He patted her back.
Zach gritted his teeth, not sure exactly whether it was the man’s tone or his hands on Leia that ratcheted up his tension. He slid the envelope with her possessions across the table toward her along with a slip to sign. She stepped away from Cale looking fragile and uncertain, but signed his sheet and handed it back. She gave him a look he couldn’t interpret. He stifled a sigh, needing to get away from this woman.
“I’ll find you a coat and then you can leave.” Zach backed out of the room and called his brother again. Voice Mail. Dammit. He was on his own.
Up front, Zach looked to see if there was a jacket or a sweater in the lost-and-found from the courthouse. There was. He snagged a black jacket, a couple sizes too big, but he couldn’t be choosy.
“Uh, Sheriff?”
“Yeah, Danny?” Danny Bodrie was Blanche’s relief and her exact opposite in personality. Nothing fazed the man, which would be a tremendous asset in this situation.
“There’s a news van out front, parked next to a limo.”
One swear word. That’s all he allowed himself.
Danny swiveled in his chair to face his boss. “What’s going on?”
Zach took a deep breath. “I arrested Leia Shae last night.”
Danny’s eyes bugged out. “Leia Shae, the rock star?”
How many Leia Shaes were there? “Yes.”
“She’s upstairs in the jail?” Danny was a big-framed man, so it was a bit disconcerting the puppy-dog look of love on his face. “Oh man, she’s the best. I’m a big fan.”
Great. Zach walked to the window and checked for himself. While he watched, a second news van showed up. His chest tightened and he rubbed his stomach.
“No, she’s not in the jail. She’s in the conference room in back. Tell everyone out on patrol that unless they need to bring in a suspect, to stay away from the building until further notice. Have Drake move a patrol car to block access to the limo once it’s parked by the back door. She’s being released. Turns out she was having an allergic reaction and we have nothing to hold her on.”
Danny’s eyebrows reached his shaggy hair. “It’s going to get bad, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. Who else is here?”
“Drake is in the locker room and Kane’s still here. He’s in the squad room.”
It would have to do. Kane could hold down the fort while he had Mr. Bishop move his car to the back of the building and hustled Miss Celebrity out the back door.
By the time the vehicles were moved, there were six news vans in front and the steps of the sheriff’s office were packed with reporters. How they got into town from Denver so fast was beyond him.
Just as he was ready to walk them to the limo, another car showed up with Leia’s press manager. The woman had long black hair and a killer red suit to match her nails. They didn’t need her. There wasn’t going to be any talking, not on the steps, not anywhere in his town. If they wanted to have a press conference, they could damn well do it in Denver.
He walked them to the end of the hall. Leia hadn’t uttered a word since he’d dropped her possession in front of her.
The moment he opened the back door, the camera flashes nearly blinded him. The press was blocked from the limousine by a patrol car just as he’d planned, but it still didn’t keep the vultures far enough away for his peace of mind.
He strode to the limo door, showing more confidence than he felt. Those steps felt like a mile, but were a mere four feet from the door. He turned back to the three people standing in the doorway. Cale and red lady looked like they did this everyday and they probably did. Leia’s color had washed further away, though.
Cale helped the lawyer into the back of the limo, leaving Zach to help Leia. She reached the door and turned to look at him. Her emotion-filled eyes twisted his gut. They telegraphed too much and Zach wanted to shut his eyes so he didn’t have to see and be forced to act the white knight.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Then they were gone, leaving Zach in the middle of the fray.

********

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