Sex in the Sticks by Sawyer Bennett
Published by Loveswept (Penguin Random House) on May 2, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Buy on Amazon
Valentine French may be the sassiest dating columnist in New York City, but the abundance of metrosexuals in her adopted metropolis is seriously cramping her style. Where are the beefy all-American boys? Hoping to find some inspiration, Val heads to Alaska, where the men outnumber the women fifteen to one and wrestle grizzly bears for sport. Or so she can only imagine. Suddenly the most eligible bachelorette in a town full of horny lumberjacks, Val is writing her best columns ever. But if she doesn’t get her nose out of her laptop, she just might miss out on Mr. Right.
Logan Burke is the sheriff of the little podunk town that Val finds so charmingly backward. He’s not that different from the guys she’s using for her little experiment; it’s just that one date would never be enough for Logan. As he listens to Val complain about love over beers in the local tavern, he realizes that she can’t see the forest for the trees. Because if she would ever give up her Prada bags and fourteen-dollar martinis, Logan would give her the only luxury that matters: his heart.
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By the way the woman’s gesticulating, I can tell she’s angry even though I can’t see her eyes behind those sunglasses. Buddy’s hands are held out, palms up in supplication as the woman waves to a mountain of luggage piled beside her and then makes a sweeping motion in the general direction of the island’s interior. The dog still yaps, but then the woman puts a hand on its little head and scratches its ears, thankfully making it go silent.
I head toward them and their conversation becomes clearer.
“Look lady… I don’t know what you expect me to do. I have to get on that ferry and head back to Gravina Island. I can’t help you get your luggage to where you need to go.”
“Then call a car service for me,” she says dramatically. “I can’t believe this town doesn’t have a damn cab in it. This truly is the wilderness.”
I lower my face to hide the smirk that overtakes my mouth, and when I have it under control, I look back up just as I reach Buddy’s side. He sees movement, whips to face me, and his expression dissolves into pure gratefulness.
The little white dog starts yapping at me.
“What’s going on?” I ask pleasantly, my eyes sliding to the woman but ignoring the dog. Still can’t see her eyes, but the rest of her is completely stunning. She’s tall and I’m guessing five-nine or so without those heels on, which still puts her several inches below my six-foot-six frame. Her long hair is a deep fiery red and hangs all around her shoulders and pours down her back in big waves that flutter every now and again in the breeze. High cheekbones, porcelain skin, and lips that are full and colored dark red.
“Hush, Sassy,” the woman croons to the little dog, and it stops barking but continues to emit a tiny growl from its throat.
“This nice lady,” Buddy says to me, but I can hear by his voice he doesn’t think she’s nice at all, “seems to be under the impression there would be transportation awaiting her here at the dock to take her to her hotel. I’ve told her there’s not, and she’s also under the impression that I can do something about it.”
Chuckling, I look back to the woman and stick my hand out to her, praying that tiny ball of fluff doesn’t latch on to it.
“I’m Logan Burke.”
The woman’s jaw relaxes and the dog remains watchful as the growl dies down. She takes my hand, gives me a brief but firm shake, and smiles. “Valentine French. And I’m clearly in a bind.”
“Seems so,” I say with good nature.
With a pout of those pretty lips, she grumbles, “I’ve never traveled anywhere there wasn’t cab service before. I just assumed I’d be able to hail one here.”
My gaze slides down to her luggage. Five suitcases in all made of expensive-looking brown leather with a tan pattern of some sort. When I look back to her, I say, “Going to be staying awhile?”
Her smile gets bigger. “I hope so.”
“Well, if you give me a moment to load up the cargo Buddy brought me, I’ll be glad to give you a lift to where you need to go,” I tell her affably. “Or even to a car-rental place, although chances are they won’t have anything. It’s high tourist season and they’re probably out of their small stock.”
“I’d really appreciate that,” she says gratefully, and then turns to Buddy. “And I’m really sorry I wigged out on you. It’s just… I’ve not run into this before and my cousin made all the trip plans for me and I’m going to positively kill him when I see him.”
Buddy holds his hands up to stop her and then tips his hat. “No problem. Chief Burke will take good care of you.”
“Chief?” she asks curiously, her head turning back to me.
“I’m the East Merritt chief of police,” I tell her with a wink as I tap my badge clipped to my belt. “It’s in my job description that I can’t turn my back on a person in need.”
“But this is Ketchikan,” she points out with a sweet, teasing tone in her voice, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think she was flirting. “This isn’t your jurisdiction, so that says you’re going out of your way to help me.”
“I’m sworn to protect and serve all those that come to the great state of Alaska,” I assure her, although that’s not exactly true. My duties only extend to the nine hundred residents of East Merritt, and I honestly wouldn’t have offered if she wasn’t as pretty as she is.
“Well, it’s my lucky day then,” she says, and I swear that’s a purr coming from the base of her throat. “I’m actually headed to East Merritt.”
I blink in surprise, because not many that get off that boat stay in East Merritt. For one, there aren’t a lot of accommodations, and two, there’s not much going on in our little town. It’s out of the way and quite peaceful, but mostly attracts serious hikers or fishermen who want to navigate the surrounding waters for salmon. Most of the residents work either in logging or in the commercial fishery business, which are both male-dominated professions. As such, not much culture is required in a town like East Merritt, as the fishermen and loggers pretty much just like to drink beer and shoot the shit with each other when they’re not working.
On the other hand, Ketchikan is a town filled with much more to do for a woman like her. It has art galleries, shopping, nice restaurants, and even a small theater that puts on pretty good productions, or so I hear.
“You’re going to be staying in East Merritt?” I ask to make sure I heard her right.
“Yes,” she says brightly. “Staying at Billiott’s Bed and Breakfast. My cousin Jeremy recommended it, as he stayed there a few years ago.”
Billiott’s Bed and Breakfast? Is that what Sarah’s calling her boardinghouse now?
In fairness, it is the nicest place that East Merritt affords, but it’s not exactly posh. Still, I don’t say anything because it’s not my place, so I turn to Buddy. “If you can get my stuff, I’ll get her suitcases loaded while you do that.”
“Sure thing,” Buddy says, and practically races up the ferry ramp.
I watch him just a moment before turning back to Valentine. “You wait here and I’ll pull the truck up.”
“Okay,” she says sweetly, and even her little dog looks like it’s smiling at me. “And… thank you, Chief.”
“It’s just Logan,” I tell her, not because she’s special and I’m making an exception, but because everyone around here calls me by my first name. We’re not a pretentious lot.
It takes about twenty minutes to get my cargo from Buddy—which consisted of a new radio and emergency lights for my truck—and to get Valentine’s luggage loaded into the back. For the past seven years I’ve been chief, and I’ve been driving an old Ford Bronco I’d inherited from the former chief and that had finally bit the dust a few weeks ago. It was just shy of twenty-eight years old and it led a damn good life. I had patched it up a few times over the years, but I just needed to let it rest in peace. And because there wasn’t any money in the budget for a new police vehicle, I figured my Dodge Ram would do just fine with a set of blue emergency lights on top as long as I had a good two-way radio installed. Buddy brought it over from a private drop ship at the airport for me.
It didn’t go unnoticed that Valentine actually winced when I loaded her luggage in the back of my truck, and then looked worriedly at the eastern sky starting to darken with rain, but she didn’t utter a word of complaint. I didn’t offer condolences, because I could tell that storm wasn’t going to reach us since we were headed northwest of Ketchikan.
When she settled in the front cab of my truck with that ridiculous little dog perched on her lap, we headed out for the forty-minute drive.
“So why did you come to East Merritt?” I ask conversationally, but it’s more than that. I’ve got my police senses firing on all cylinders because she is not your typical tourist. I don’t think she’s here for nefarious reason, but she’s not here for the usual ones either.
“Like I said… recommendation from a family member,” she says, and while her tone is open and outgoing, it’s sort of a vague answer too.
“Beg my pardon for saying so,” I say carefully. “But you don’t seem the type that came here to go hiking and fishing.”
Valentine gives a soft laugh filled with rich hints of feminine wiles, her hand stroking down the dog’s back as she says,
“Um… no. I most definitely didn’t come for that. I just needed to get away and I have the means to do so. Thought I’d enjoy the quiet for a while, although I’m going to have to give Jeremy hell for not telling me there was no cab service.”
Sounds plausible, but not probable to my way of thinking, but I let it go. If she’s going to be here for any length of time, I’ll eventually figure her out. My town is way too small for her to go unnoticed, particularly by the scores of young bucks that will be sniffing around her. East Merritt is a working town, and it draws single men from all over the world for solid work. There aren’t a lot of women in these parts for them to choose from, so Miss French will be a hot commodity.