Sweet Hill Homecoming

By: Joya Ryan



Chapter One


Mia Blake didn’t need to check her pockets again to know she wouldn’t find keys. Mostly because when she peered into her locked car, she saw them dangling from the ignition.

It was nine o’clock at night, the winter wind was gusting, and now she had to figure out how to kick herself for not getting a spare made. Add that to the never ending to do list. A list that was growing by the day and she’d only been back in her small home town of Sweet Hill two weeks.

She rested her forehead against the cold windowpane and cursed. It had been a shitty day. She was down to her last spare four dollars until pay day, her brother needed new cleats for football and she found an application to the local grocery store in his room today. The same grocery store she’d applied to and got turned down for this morning.

Standing in her flour stained clothes after a long day waiting tables at Annie’s Café, she stared down her car and seriously contemplated busting the window. But that would be another expense to pay that she couldn’t quite afford. She was lucky enough to get the waitressing gig thanks to her old friend owing the café, but the hours were part time and the tips were minimal, which meant it covered rent and little else. The main reason she was trying to get a second job.

Once upon a time she was considered an asset to her former employer back in Seattle. Sure she was a VIP hostess at a high end exclusive night club, but she got tipped really well to be a glorified gopher. The perk for her was that she also got to plan the club’s events and themed nights. It also came with a false sense of self-esteem.

When she was there, planning and hosting parties for Seattle’s elite, she could pretend people valued her for her ideas instead of her tits.

But things were different now. She had a chance to be seen the way she wanted. As a person. If she could make it in her home town, a place her former reputation and unflattering last name were known, she could certainly prove to everyone and herself that she was more.

First she just had to get into her car.

She banged her head against the window and let out a long, frustrated breath. She just wanted to see the last quarter of Kyle’s football game tonight. If there was one thing she’d do right today, it would be to make it to his game. Which was where everyone else in town seemed to be since Main Street was dead and dark.

No help.

And she was back to busting the window idea because, damn it, Kyle was counting on her. Like he had been since their mom died last year and Mia became Kyle’s guardian. Moving him to the city with her had proven too difficult on him. After spending most of his junior year at a new school, and him getting terrible grades and bouts of depression, she quit her job and moved him back here where he could finish out his senior year with his friends.

She missed her job. She missed the money. But Kyle seemed to be happier here. And that was worth it. In Seattle, it was just the two of them. In Sweet Hill, he had a support system.

Walking around the car for the third time, she finally saw an option.

“Sun roof!”

It was open and if she could just get inside enough to reach in and pop the lock, she’d be in business. Climbing onto the hood, she dropped her purse on the front seat and eyeballed the opening. She could fit…maybe.

“Quick hop and shimmy,” she told herself and tried just that. Only the hop came up short and instead of a shimmy, she closed lined herself on her Honda.

But she was in! Sort of.

Balancing on the ledge and the rim of the window digging into her lower stomach, she leaned in as far as she could go, reaching for the driver side lock.

The sunroof was smaller than it looked. Pulling herself through a bit more, she wiggled and—

“Umph!” Came to a dead halt. The window was like a vice around her hips. She tried to pull herself through again and when that didn’t work, she attempted to backtrack.

Stuck.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she cursed looking over her shoulder at her butt and hating the genes her mother “blessed” her with. Like an above average backside.

She tried to reach for the keys in the ignition and still came up short. Not that it would help much at the moment since she was ass-in-the-air-stuck-as-shit.

She didn’t know how long she hung there, scraping her boots along the outside of the car, likely adding to the hundreds of scuffs that were already there. As if her night couldn’t get any worse, a flash of blue and red came from behind her, followed by a different kind of scraping sound. Like boots walking up on the pavement.

“Good evening ma’am,” a deep voice came from behind—literally behind—her.

“Oh god,” she whispered. Between the darkness, dangling nearly upside down, and the hair in her face, she couldn’t see much of anything. But she could take a guess…

“I’m the Deputy responding to a call about a prowler and possible break in.”

Yep. Deputy. Great.

“I’m not a prowler and I’m not breaking in,” Mia said, going for her best composed voice, which was kind of a joke at the moment. “This is my car.” And who the hell would have called? Every shop on the street was dark and closed.

“Happen to have some ID to prove that?”

“Do I look like I have ID on me at the moment?”

“You look like you confused a car for a hula-hoop,” he responded, not much amusement in his voice but obviously giving her shit.

Even though Mia was beyond annoyed, the charismatic tone he held made a zing of awareness race up her spine.

Weird, since the last time she lived here, she was going on eighteen, and Sheriff Branch with his potbelly, bald head, and genuine smile, ran the Sheriff’s Department.

But that voice didn’t sound potbellied or bald headed. Nope. It sounded hot. And whoever the deputy was, Mia didn’t recognize him, but if he looked anything like he sounded, Mia just might remember how long it had been since she’d had a man.

She looked at her purse, which she was now regretting tossing through the window because it lay out of reach.

“I can’t really get to my ID at the moment,” she said and tried to yank herself backward to at least get out of the sunroof, which scrapped her side thanks to her shirt riding up and she let out a small shriek of pain.

“Whoa, hold on there, ma’am,” the Deputy said. “I’m going to take your word for it that this is your car but I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

He came closer and she felt the car sink a bit with more weight. He’d climbed up on the trunk. Though her upper half was technically in the car and the winter air was chilling her lower half, she could smell his cologne and feel the heat radiate from his body, which was now hovering over hers.

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