So when you read this book, instead of subtle, understated subtext sexual tension, you have sexual tension with all the subtlety of a four-year-old running in church and screaming his head off.
But I love Jason and I love Kathleen and I love how they want each other, even though Kathleen thinks she shouldn't want him. I love how desperately Jason wants her to see him for who he truly is. I love how intensely they come to love one another.
When deceit and desire collide, the results can be deadly . . .
Truth and Consequences by Linda Winfree
Book One of the Hearts of the South series.
For undercover FBI agent Jason Harding, coming face to face with the grown-up version of his adolescent dreams is a nightmare. Kathleen Palmer sees him as a despicably corrupt small-town law officer and a murder suspect. Trapped in a web of his own making, he must see his mission through to the end and bring down the crooked cops who’ve run Haynes County for decades. To do so, he must betray the only family he’s ever known and fight his growing love for Kathleen, a relationship that could get one, or both of them, killed.
Determined to uncover the truth, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Kathleen struggles with her attraction to the one person who’s awakened her since she buried her heart and emotions in her son’s tiny grave. Listening to her heart could destroy all she has left in life – her career and reputation. When the truth about Jason’s identity surfaces, they both face unimaginable consequences: Jason may lose his life and Kathleen the man she loves.
Trees overshadowed the back roads. Her headlights pierced the dark, bouncing eerily off mist rising from the ill-maintained pavement. Her practicality screamed she was making a mistake.
Wait and take Altee with you.
Her instinct told her something else entirely, whispering that Jason Harding could be the key to this case.
Her conscience told her she was making excuses, simply to get what she really wanted—and not as a cop, either.
Cotton Boll Road was a generous name for the narrow trail that led into the woods behind the dairy farm. Her SUV handled the rutted dirt road well. When the clay track opened up into a clearing, Kathleen hit the brakes and eyed Jason Harding’s home. The place was a tactical dream—for the occupant. The trail circled around the single-wide trailer, one way in and one way out. The isolation pressed in on all sides.
Okay, this had been a bad idea. A really bad idea. Right up there with letting her mother talk her into accepting an engagement ring from Tom. The divorce had taught her it was never too late to get out of a bad situation.
She threw the Wagoneer into reverse. Behind her, headlights swept the tree line. Damn. Too late this time. Resigned to brazening things out, she shifted to drive and pulled up to park in front of the trailer.
The white and green siding glowed under the security light. A crooked stoop had been tacked on to the front. Heavy painter’s plastic covered two windows, rippling in the breeze.
This was all he could afford? Obviously, police corruption didn’t pay as well at the entry level.
Jason stared at the early model Grand Wagoneer in his driveway. He pulled to one side, steering with one hand while the other unsnapped his holster. No one had any business being on this isolated piece of dirt and this presence had alarm burning in his chest.
They knew who he was. It was all over.
Heck, if they knew who he was, he was all over.
Images burned in his brain—the two dead boys, the cold, lifeless expression in Jim Ed’s eyes, blood splattered on a cracked windshield.
Stiffening his spine, Jason pushed the truck door open. He’d never been a coward and he wouldn’t start now. Hand on his gun, he kept the cab of the truck between him and the Wagoneer, watching. The driver’s door opened, he tensed, and the interior light flashed over fiery hair. Fiery, just-tumbled-out-of-bed hair.
For a moment, he relaxed, the awful fear of discovery and retaliation subsiding under a wave of relief. A different fear flooded into the wake. He shot a glance at the trailer where he’d grown up, the only piece of dirt he could say he owned, and compared it to what Kathleen Palmer was accustomed to—her father’s acres of hunting land, the big white house she’d grown up in, with its Grecian columns, huge crystal pendant light on the porch and widow’s walk. The old inadequacies rushed in on him, waves on a shore.
He grabbed on to his old life preservers, the anger and resentment, and walked around the front of the truck to confront her. Her hair framed her face in a halo of wispy fire. The dim light made it difficult to tell if her eyes were brown or black, but he knew they were a warm brown dappled with gold. God, even her eyes were rich.
His gaze followed hers to the trailer and back to his truck. In those incredible eyes, he was nothing. The ache made him grit his teeth. Thumbs tucked in his gun belt, he slumped in a negligent posture he knew his high school teachers would remember. The poor kid who didn’t give a damn.
“Missed me, did you, Palmer?”
She fixed him with a disdainful look. “I have a few more questions. I’d like some straight answers this time.”
And he’d like her gone. “I’m busy.”
Her mouth tightened. “We can do this here, or I can drag you into Moultrie and make it last all night.”
Oh, my God. The words punched into his gut, mental pictures exploding in his head. Here. Elsewhere. All night long. He watched her, remembering her high school reputation as somewhat of a prude, an innocent who blushed at off-color jokes and never allowed a hand to venture to the hallowed ground beneath her cheerleading skirt. He was willing to use any weapon he had, just to get her out of here. For her safety as well as his.
He eyed her, letting his gaze take a lazy exploration of her body. “Baby, I bet you could, too.”
Awareness dawned in her eyes and her mouth thinned to a nonexistent line. “Harding—”
“Call me Jason.” He poured all the bedroom innuendo he could into the words. Need speared through him. What would his name sound like on her lips?
Furious color played over her cheeks, visible even in the bluish vapor light. Her long indrawn breath was audible and she flipped open that damn notebook again. “You said that you arrived on scene the same time as Investigator Calvert from Chandler County.”
He ignored the question and stepped closer. He was going to make her hate him, and regret stabbed at him. What if he’d met her in another life? One where he wasn’t a dirt-poor, desperate cop, so desperate he’d cover for a murderer? A life where they were equals, where she could look at him with respect, maybe admiration.
Close enough that her scent of Ivory soap filled his nostrils, he reached out to finger one of those wild wisps. “If you make it last all night, do I get to call you Kathleen? Or is it always Agent Palmer?”
She closed the notebook and took a step back, colliding with the Wagoneer. “You don’t get to call me anything.”
“Don’t you know this county’s dangerous?” He leaned closer, his breath mingling with hers. Her eyes dilated and he felt her pull her stomach muscles inward. Avoiding contact with him. Afraid of contamination. Bitterness gnawed at him.
“I’m not afraid of you.” Her voice was soft, steady.
Jason rested both hands on the hood, trapping her between his body and her SUV. Her body heat seared him, but the sensation brought no pleasure—just a nauseating knowledge that she’d never let him touch her, not willingly. He forced a smile, using Jim Ed’s for a pattern. For a moment, he was afraid he really would throw up.
“Well, sugar, maybe you should be.” He held her prisoner a moment longer. Stepping away, he indicated her truck with a flourish worthy of an Arthurian knight. “Go home, Kathleen. Forget about those boys. Just let it go.”