Dare to Trust

By: Stacey Joy Netzel

Chapter 1

Jordan Blake had always figured he’d go to hell someday, but he never expected it to be so soon. His first clue was a no-brainer, the sign posted outside the town limits proclaimed: Hades, Colorado. Population two hundred and six.

Town? How generous.

He almost hit the second clue when he swung his Lexus onto Main Street and had to swerve to avoid the horse tied to a hitching rail. Swearing under his breath, he lurched into a parking spot across the street and jerked on the rearview mirror to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.

Yeah, there was a horse tied to a hitching rail, all right.

He stepped out of his car and looked up one side of the street and down the other, squinting against the fine mist that dampened his face. The town wasn’t much to look at—a barber shop, some tiny, crafty-looking store, a gas station/mini-mart/Laundromat, an old stone church, three houses, and a flat-faced building with a faded Oleson’s Mercantile & Coffee sign above the door. The ‘& Coffee’ was two shades brighter than the first part, as if it’d been added in the past couple years.

Between that name and the horse, Jordan would swear he’d been transported into a Little House on the Prairie rerun.

But the jagged peaks of the Rockies veiled by gloomy clouds weren’t no prairie, and the girl walking out of the mercantile with saddlebags slung over her shoulder wasn’t Laura Ingalls.

Half-pint didn’t limp.

A chilled gust of fall wind blew the hood of the girl’s dark green rain duster back, revealing a pale face and long curly hair the color of a vintage Bordeaux. For the first time in months, he almost laughed. Because except for an unfashionable pair of thick-rimmed glasses, she did look like Laura Ingalls all grown up. Make that Melissa Gilbert, who’d played the character on TV. He’d had a crush on her when he was younger. How was that for ironic?

Not nearly as ironic as me ending up in Hades.

David Barnes, the so-called Good Samaritan lawyer who’d bailed him out of jail for reasons Jordan was positive were other than the ones he’d given, had said if he came to a town, he’d gone too far. If the lawyer had warned him of the town’s name, he might not have let his desperation for freedom drown out his suspicion of the man’s motives.

Jordan looked around again, hands stuffed in the pockets of his leather jacket to push the unzipped edges together and ward off the cold. But as he wondered how close he actually was to his intended destination of Rapids Trail Resort, and more importantly, the nearest bar, his attention returned to the girl. She’d reached the horse by now and struggled to lift the saddlebags behind the saddle. Next to the animal, she was short. Hell, next to anything she’d be short.

In that moment, she happened to glance in his direction. Their gazes connected and his breath hitched in his throat. He frowned, hit by the sensation that he knew her. Maybe not personally, but she damn sure looked familiar. He tried to place her face, but couldn’t get past the Laura/Melissa likeness.

Her horse sidestepped, and her saddlebags fell at her feet with a thunk. She turned her attention back to the horse. “Darn it, Chase. I’ve got eggs in here.”

As she bent to open the saddlebags—to check her eggs, presumably—Jordan took a step away from his car, thinking he’d offer some assistance. At the same time, he acknowledged a flicker of interest.

“Can I help you?” a cold voice asked from behind him.

He startled and swung around to see a cop standing by the front bumper of his Lexus. Shit. He hated cops—especially ones who stared at him like they knew who he was. Like they’d been watching the news the past couple months and convicted him like the rest of the state of Colorado. Or the city of Boulder, at least.

“No,” Jordan answered, annoyed that the man’s steady gaze made him feel like he’d done something wrong. “But thanks.”

He would’ve ignored him then, turned back toward the intriguing redhead and her horse, but the officer stepped forward, and Jordan knew he couldn’t be that lucky.

“I’m Sheriff Graves…you just passing through?”

Sheriff. As if that was a big deal here, where someone jay-walking was probably the highlight of the man’s day. The guy didn’t look to be any older than him, and judging his build, they’d be evenly matched in a fight. Not that Jordan planned to fight the good sheriff, but hey, the way his life was going these days, it never hurt to be prepared.