When we want to take a mental vacation, we wander off to RaeAnne Thayne’s Haven Point, an idyllic town full of colorful characters who feel like they could totally be our friends. Today we’ve got an exclusive excerpt from RaeAnne’s latest contemporary Riverbend Road, available in June!
Cade Emmett and Wyn Bailey are caught up in one of our favorite tropes — the brother’s best friend. Cade is the town’s police chief, and more importantly Wyn’s boss, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting a whole lot more than his friendship. Luckily, Cade isn’t able to deny his feelings for long.
Dinner. With Cade Emmett.
What was wrong with her?
This had been a day for weird things. The whole moose debacle that she had nearly forgotten about, the fire, her suspension, their new neighbor and finally this.
She had tried so diligently to keep things casual and friendly between them. Since coming to work at the Haven Point PD, she felt as if she were walking on a knife’s edge, afraid she might reveal her growing feelings for him.
Working side by side in a small, intimate department was awkward enough. She was the only female in the department and had to constantly pretend she was just one of the guys. With the rest of the officers, it wasn’t an issue. She could laugh and joke, pull pranks and buy a round of beers at the Mad Dog on their downtime.
The problem was, deep in her heart lived the knowledge that she didn’t want to be one of the guys to Cade. She knew there was no other option. He was her boss. While she worked at the Haven Point Police Department, that was the only thing that mattered. The day had already been surreal and she feared she was too tired to keep up the pretense all evening. What if she did or said something that revealed the feelings that seemed to have always been a part of her but that had deepened and changed over the years?
This was going to be a nightmare.
A wiser woman would have simply thanked him for his kind invitation but declined. She was tired, it had been a long day, she should rest her lungs. She had a million ready excuses. What was she thinking, agreeing to spend more time with him, when it was taking everything she had to maintain this casual, business-like relationship between them?
She could still back out. If she called him and told him she wasn’t up for it tonight, he would probably even walk Young Pete back for her.
Or she could simply look at the evening as a simple meal shared by friends who shared a history going back to the days he used to come to the house to hang out with her brothers.
That was the safest route, she decided. She’d had plenty of practice keeping things casual between them. No reason a dinner between them wouldn’t be the same.
She changed quickly out of her hiking shorts and dusty T-shirt into her favorite cropped jeans and a loose blouse then put on a little foundation and mascara and pulled her hair into her favorite messy bun, a much softer style than she would ever allow herself while she was on duty.
Here was that knife’s edge again, the line she walked between looking presentable and not giving him the idea that she wanted to impress him.
Throwing the salad together took considerably less time than figuring out what to wear. She opted for a Mediterranean salad using feta cheese and Greek olives with the lettuce. Just before she headed out the door, she remembered she had several pieces of Aunt Jenny’s fabulously creamy cheesecake in her freezer from the last time they had a family party. She took the cheesecake out and transferred a few pieces to a smaller container. Then on a whim she cut up some strawberries she had on hand.
With a minute or two to spare out of the fifteen minutes she’d told him, she walked back to Cade’s house on a cool, lovely night scented with climbing roses and honeysuckle from Herm and Louise Jacobs’s place next door to her.
Cade had only been in his house a few years, had moved in some time after she moved back to Haven Point, but he had done a great deal in his off-hours to spruce it up.
Before he moved in, the logs had been faded and weather-beaten, the gardens overgrown. He had planted low-maintenance perennial gardens and spent a memorable week the previous summer sealing and re-chinking the logs—memorable to her, anyway, because he tended to work with his shirt off. Kat and Samantha had spent most of that week camped out at Wyn’s place so they could watch him through the front window.
Her sister and Samantha Fremont were always trying to set up Wynona on dates with tourists they met in town or guys from Shelter Springs. She had gone with them a few times but the experiences were usually awkward affairs. Either the guys were intimidated because she was a police officer and hardly said a word all night like they were afraid she would arrest them if they spoke out of turn or they were titillated by the idea and wanted to know weird details like how she managed to frisk a guy without touching his junk.
She found both kinds equally abhorrent. She didn’t even want to think about how long it had been since she had a serious relationship.
Okay, she knew. Five years. She had broken up with her last steady boyfriend the day before the fateful New Year’s Eve party that had changed everything.
She pushed the memory away as she reached Cade’s house.
In the moonlight now, his place looked tidy and comfortable, with that big Adirondack chair on the porch and the lavender blooming in the curving garden along the sidewalk.
It looked very different from the ramshackle shack where he had grown up. He had remade his environment just as he had remade himself.
As she approached the house, she saw lights glimmering in the back. She took a chance and decided he was probably on his deck overlooking the river.
She heard him before she saw him. At first she thought he might have a visitor or be talking on the phone. When she rounded the corner, she saw he was alone, with no phone in sight. Indeed, he was sitting on another Adirondack chair with his feet up on a matching footrest while he chatted companionably with her dog.
By the sound of it, they were discussing baseball.
She had to smile, charmed by the scene. He had created a comfortable oasis here beside the river, with big globe lights strung overhead, comfortable outdoor furniture and even a few big planters that overflowed with what looked like more perennials. She tried to picture Cade at the garden center outside Shelter Springs and couldn’t quite manage it.
Young Pete sensed her first. He lifted his head and stretched his mouth in that expression that looked uncannily like a smile. A few seconds later, Cade turned, his gaze searching the darkness where she stood.
He was so blasted gorgeous, with that dark hair, the silver-blue eyes, the delicious hint of afternoon shadow covering his jaw and chin. If she didn’t have her hands full of salad and cheesecake, she would have pressed a hand to her stomach and the sudden nerves jumping there.
Settle down. This was Cade. Her boss. Her brother’s best friend. Her father’s trainee. Yes, he had half the women in town head over heels for him. Yes, when he smiled that rare, bright smile, she forgot her own name. So what? She could come up with a million and one reasons she couldn’t let any of that matter.
She stepped into the light and walked up the steps of the deck. For just an instant, she thought she saw something in his gaze, something hot and hungry. She felt an answering tug in her stomach but told herself she was only hungry—and completely imagining things.
“I figured you were back here.”
“Where else would we be on a beautiful summer night in Haven Point?”
“Excellent point.” She smiled and set down the containers of food on the patio table. “I brought salad and a couple pieces of my aunt Jenny’s cheesecake I had in the freezer. It should be thawed by the time we’re ready for dessert.”
“Yum.” He rose, all lanky, masculine grace, and headed for the grill. “I was hungry so I put the steaks on about ten minutes ago.”
“Great. I’m starving.”
“It won’t be long now. Have a seat. I’m afraid I don’t have much to drink in the house but beer.”
“Ice water is great for me.” Her throat had been scratchy since the fire, but she decided not to mention that for obvious reasons.
While he went inside the kitchen, she sank into the empty chair next to the one where Cade had been sitting. She reached down and petted her dog, who yawned and settled into a more comfortable position.
The night seemed soft and lovely, the kind of evening made for relaxing out under the stars.
The pine and spruce around his property lent an appealing citrusy tang to the air. She inhaled it, struck again by how very close she had come that afternoon to never seeing another glorious Haven Point sunset.
No doubt it was a reaction to the events of the day but the world seemed vibrant and new, overflowing with possibilities.
She hadn’t taken nearly enough time to just sit and be lately. When she wasn’t working, she was either helping out at her mother’s or spending time with friends.
That was one more thing she intended to change, she resolved.
“Life has a funny way of rolling on,” she said. “Before you know it, you wake up and you’re almost thirty.”
“Let’s do our best to make sure you get there—which means no more crazy stunts like you did this afternoon.”
The good food and the bite of creamy strawberry cheesecake she had tried mellowed her enough that she finally decided she should speak her mind. “I can’t understand why you’re freaking out about what happened today. I’m a police officer. It’s my job to put it all on the line for the people of Haven Point. Yes, this is a nice, quiet town but we both know that could change in a second. Look at my dad. His life changed forever in an instant because of one stupid junkie with a stolen handgun.”
It was exactly the wrong thing to say. He tensed again, as he always did when she mentioned her dad and the shooting. He set down his fork as if he’d suddenly lost his appetite.
“Yeah. You’re a police officer. My police officer,” he growled. “It’s my job to make sure you don’t take unnecessary risks with your life or with civilians. The fire department was only minutes away and they were far better trained than you to extricate the boys safely.”
The implication that she might have endangered the boys more somehow by rushing to get them out sent her temper flaring. “I made a judgment call—which is, again, exactly my job! We spend every day going with our instincts. Pull over this car for speeding, not that one. Stop to see what the suspicious-looking teens are trying to hide from me at the lakeshore. Take a chance and run into a burning building before the whole thing topples over. I have to be able to do my job.”
“You have to be able to do your job without harm— to you or to anyone else.”
Now she was hurt as well as angry. “I thought I had been doing that for the last two years. If you don’t trust me and my instincts, maybe you ought to make the weeklong suspension more permanent.”
“Maybe I should,” he retorted.
His words were like a hard slap from a low-hanging branch on the trail, shocking, painful and totally out of the blue. Okay, maybe she was beginning to think it was time she considered a different career path but she didn’t need to hear it from her chief of police—or her friend.
She took pride in her job. She was a Bailey, with all the honor and responsibility that went along with that. She had lost her father to the job and her beloved twin brother. A great-uncle somewhere on her family tree had been killed in a shoot-out with railroad outlaws.
She worked hard, she was never late, she tried to treat the people she served with respect and courtesy. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Cade Emmett. She rose from the table. “Are you saying you want to fire me? What’s stopping you?” He rose as well, eyes dark with regret. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
“Seriously, don’t let any sense of loyalty to my father because he was your mentor or obligation to Marshall because he’s your best friend stop you. If you don’t think I can do the job, fire me and find someone you can trust.”
To her deep mortification, her voice wobbled on the last words and she felt tears threaten. The events of that long, exhausting, traumatic day seemed to press in on her and she suddenly felt as hot and frightened as she’d been crouching in that burning barn.
“I don’t want to fire you, Wyn,” he answered. “You’re my best officer and we both know it. You’re coolheaded in a crisis, you’re dedicated and you genuinely care about the people of Haven Point. I respect all my officers or I wouldn’t have them working for me, but if I had to pick one of them to have my back, it would be you.”
“Then why are you making such a deal about what happened today? I saved two boys’ lives and all you’ve done is yell at me!”
“I thought you were dead. Don’t you get that?”
Her breath caught at the raw intensity in his voice and she stared at him.
“When I rolled up to the scene and didn’t see you, I thought you were inside that barn and we were going to find you burned to a crisp, along with the kids.”
The words seemed to vibrate through the night, through her. She felt light-headed suddenly, as if she’d just run down to the lake and back.
“I had the situation under control,” she whispered. She couldn’t seem to take her gaze away from his, from those blue eyes that blazed with searing emotion.
“If something had happened to you on my watch, it would have destroyed me.”
Destroyed him? His word choice rocked her. Yes, she might be the officer he wanted at his back in a crisis but losing her would have destroyed him? What did he mean?
She let out a shaky breath. “Nothing happened. I’m fine.”
“Your family has lost enough. Wyatt. Your dad. The Baileys have given more than their share, don’t you think?”
Ah. So it was about her family. “You were only worried about facing Charlene if something happened to me.”
“I didn’t think once about your mother, trust me.”
“Marshall, Katrina or Elliot, then. They can all be pretty formidable.”
“This has nothing to do with your family. I was worried about losing you.”
She didn’t know how to deal with this serious, intense Cade Emmett—and she was quickly losing her slippery grasp on the feelings she tried so hard to contain around him. In desperation, she made a lame attempt at humor.
“I get it,” she said, forcing a smile, though she was pretty sure it trembled at the edges. “It’s tough to find qualified cops willing to work for the paltry wages in Haven Point. You would have had to go through all the interviews, the pesky background checks, calling referrals, then finally training someone new. It’s a pain.”
“I wish this was only about the job,” he said gruffly.
He was almost close enough to kiss her. Just another step. She swallowed and licked her lips, willing him to take it.
She had saved two lives today. No matter what he said, she knew she had done the right thing, showed a shaky but resolute courage that would have made her father proud. She had done it for the boys’ sake, not because she wanted recognition or a commendation but surely she deserved something for her effort.
He wouldn’t kiss her first, she suddenly realized— and not because he didn’t want to. The complete certainty of that left her dizzy. Cade wanted to kiss her but he would never take that first step. His job was everything to him, his chance to become more than just another worthless, lazy Emmett.
She would simply have to take that step for both of them. Who said she couldn’t claim her own reward?
Before she could talk herself out of it, she moved that final few inches between them, stood on tiptoe and pressed her mouth to his.
He stood frozen for only a second and then he made a low, almost desperate sound in his throat and returned the kiss with a fierce hunger.
Riverbend Road will be available in digital and print on June 21. Grab your copy: Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance | IndieBound. And for more romantic reads, be sure to stop by our Everything Romance page!