Deer Creek Women–hard to lockdown.

While the town of Deer Creek may be full of Alpha males, it’s the women who hold their hearts that add spicy spunk to these stories. Never let it be said that any of Tia Fanning and Demi Alex’s ladies don’t hold their own.

Phoebe may submit to Dane in Hottie, but she wants Dane as hers. They’re bound to be odds…eventually.

Beatrice, well since Bea’s been back in town, she’d been getting a slide from the sheriff. But there are somethings Sheriff Tom can no longer ignore.

Read on for a sneak peek at the ladies of Deer Creek in Chapter One of Lockdown.


Chapter One

Cementing herself between the outer doorjambs, Beatrice Maxwell spread her arms and blocked the entrance to her home. “You need to leave before I call the sheriff.”

“I told you. I want to speak with Phoebe,” the well-dressed asshole on her front porch demanded, closing in on her.

“You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” When her fiancé is here. The moment Beatrice opened the door and saw his ugly mug, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood and she knew, beyond any doubt, she’d made a mistake. “She’s already in bed.”

“Move out of my way,” he growled, raising a pretty-boy hand to her shoulder and practically pushing her through the screen mesh that covered the doorway. “Now.”

Trying and succeeding at bullying her, he invaded her personal space. He leaned forward, his nose nearly touching hers.

Bea turned her head to escape his hot breath. While the intimidation tactic worked, making her insides quiver like jelly, she’d be damned if she let him—Phoebe’s infamous ex-boyfriend—inside the house without a fight.

“Don’t tell me what to do at my own house, Eric,” she said, testing her guess on his identity. It had to be him. He fit the description perfectly: obnoxious, arrogant, handsome as hell, and an absolute jerk. “You don’t scare me.”

“Really?” He smirked and pressed up against her, his expensive cologne engulfing her. “And what makes you so tough, little girl?”

She puffed out her chest, like the bouncers in the movies, and pushed back. True, there was a good possibility Eric might hurt her in his effort to get to Phoebe, but she wasn’t about to let the shithead get his way.

Bea had no doubt as to his intentions, and she wasn’t going to allow him to place a hand on her best friend.

“I’m counting to three,” he warned, “and if you’re still blocking the door when I’m done, you’re going to be sorry.”

Oh, God! How did Phoebe ever live with this asshole?

“One,” he began.

Fear coursed through Bea’s veins and flushed her skin. Her heartbeat pounded in her chest and echoed in her ears. Instinct and self-preservation demanded she flee from the danger. Loyalty and sheer dignity rooted her in place.

Dear God, what had possessed her to open to the door to a stranger at night?


Strangers didn’t happen in Deer Creek was what. Bea had peeked out the window and had seen nothing amiss with the tailored clothes and the expensive shoes approaching her porch. He’d appeared legit exiting the luxury car.

Looks were deceiving.

She’d wrongly assumed he was a lost motorist from the highway that needed help. She hadn’t realized who he was until he’d asked to see Phoebe, fury sparking his icy gaze.


Large hands grabbed at her waist and yanked her free of the doorjamb. Screeching like a banshee, Bea flailed her arms and thrashed her feet, but Eric’s brute outmatched her resistance. He lifted her in the air and shook her like a rag doll.

The door banged against the frame and rattled on its hinges.

“Let her go!” Phoebe charged into the fight, fists landing on his chest.

The force of the collision propelled the cursing Eric—and the now two squealing women in his clutches—back toward the porch steps. Footing lost, he stumbled, and they tumbled down the stairs, landing in a pile of tangled limbs.

Trapped beneath the weight of Eric’s suffocating arm, pain and darkness dominated Bea’s world. Thankfully, Phoebe stood and pulled Bea from his grasp before the asshole had a chance to regain his senses.

“Shit, Beatrice, you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Let’s go—Ow!” Bea’s ankle twisted and her brave composure crumbled. Losing her balance, she lurched forward and squeezed her friend’s wrist.

Acting like a crutch, Phoebe guided her away from the bastard still on the ground.

“Damn it, Phoebe,” Eric groused, rising with his hands on his knees. “That fucking hurt.”

“Good,” Phoebe replied as they limped up the stairs. “I hope it hurt a lot.”

“Why are you being such a bitch?”

“Seriously, dude? You don’t know why?” She stopped, propped a hand on her hip and glared at him from the porch.

“I want you back, Phoebe,” Eric declared, undaunted by the women’s objection to his presence.

Nursing her injured ego more than her foot, Bea dropped, ass-first, onto the porch steps.

Phoebe crouched down before her. “Let me see how bad it is.”

“Leave it,” Bea whispered. She eyed Eric warily. “I’m fine.”

Eric reached them and loomed, crowding them with more intimidation. “Look, I still love you. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved. I’m here to take you home. Home. Where you belong. With me.”

“Home? With you?” Phoebe stood, spine stiff, hackles raised. “You really are a piece of work, you know that? You come here and attack my friend—”

“I wasn’t attacking her! I was simply moving her out of my way.”

“Oh, please. Save your bullshit for someone who believes it. Four months ago, you kicked me out of your life without giving it a second thought. You really have some balls showing up here and asking me back. I wouldn’t go back if you were the last man on earth.”

Sweat beaded Eric’s forehead and two vertical lines formed over the bridge of his nose. His gaze narrowed and he cleared his throat. “I know you’re angry and saying things you don’t really mean—”

“Oh, I beg to differ.” Phoebe folded her arms over her chest. “It’s simple, really. I don’t love you. And I mean that. Hell, I don’t even like you. I think you’re a doucheba—”

Eric snatched Phoebe by the hair and pulled her down the steps. “Listen here, bitch—”

“No!” Bea launched herself at him, but Eric’s free hand slammed into the side of Bea’s face. Starbursts dotted her vision. She warbled back, thankfully grasping the post and remaining upright.

“Beatrice!” Phoebe clawed at Eric’s arms, which earned her a backhanded smack that had her gasping for breath. She bent at the waist. He held onto her auburn mane and yanked.

All pretense of a loving ex gone, Eric dragged the stunned Phoebe toward his car. “Wait till we get home,” he snarled. “I’ll fix that mouth of yours.”

Shaking off her stupor with spiked adrenaline, Bea’s trembling hands grabbed the first weapon she spotted on the porch. She rushed after him.

“Let her go! Let her go!”

He stopped, swung around, and butted his head on hers. She doubled over and clasped the planter to her gut in order to collect her strength.

Phoebe kicked and connected with his shin.

Eric howled. His grip slackened.

Sacrificing a clump of hair, Phoebe pulled herself free and delivered a throat jab, followed by a right cross that would have made any boxing coach proud.

Eric stumbled back, pained disbelief on his strained face.

If the world would have stopped spinning long enough, Bea would have jumped and clapped. Instead she concentrated on keeping her balance and her eyes opened and focused on the fight.

As Eric rushed at Phoebe again, Bea rushed at him.

“No!” she choked.

He blocked Phoebe’s next jab, but before he could counter, Bea found the strength to lift her arms. She brought the ceramic planter down on his head. Terracotta shattered around them and the asshole crumbled like a sack of dirty potatoes.

Writhing on the ground, Eric mumbled an expletive, threatened to kill them both, then passed out.

Rules are for a reason.

Bea and Phoebe stood in stunned silence, staring at the asshole as if expecting him to jump up at any second. When that didn’t happened, a relieved exhale escaped each woman’s lips.

“Come on. Let’s get inside.” Phoebe put a comforting arm around Bea and urged her back to the porch.

“Shouldn’t we call an ambulance for him?” Bea asked. “I hit him pretty hard.”

“First, we get inside.”

“He’s out cold.” Bea looked over her shoulder at the man sprawled on her lawn. She moved toward the house, dragging her heels and refusing to take her eyes off their attacker.

“Fine,” her friend agreed. She indicated for Bea to sit and wait on the top step, then fished the cell from her pocket. After offering some half-ass explanation and Eric’s location to the 9-1-1 operator, she hung up and turned her attention to the blood trickling down Bea’s wrist. “An ambulance is on the way. Now let me see that hand.”

Bea hissed with discomfort as her friend sat and explored the wound in depth. Shards of agony shot through her fingers.

“We might have to take you to the hospital and get that cleaned—maybe stitched.”

“No. I’m fine. The cuts aren’t deep. I doubt they’ll even leave a scar.”

With the adrenaline wearing off, the numb shock she’d carried gave way to pulsating pain. The clay pot had cut her, but that was nothing compared to her aching head and sore cheek. Damn him. Not only did her head hurt and her cheekbone throb, but even her tongue ached. She figured she bit it at some point during the altercation.

“Why didn’t you mention the fight?” Bea asked, brushing away the dirt from her good hand before inspecting the cuts on her bad hand for bits of clay. “You made it sound like it was some sort of random accident involving a stranger and a potted plant.”

Apparently satisfied that Bea wasn’t going to bleed to death, Phoebe let go of her hand. “I don’t want to spend the whole night at the station. I simply want the paramedics to take the fucker away and be done with him.”

“You can’t be serious?”

“I’m pissed, and I’m tired. And now that I can see your cut isn’t bad, I just want to patch up your hand, shower, and go to bed,” Phoebe said.

“What if your ex gets out of the hospital and comes back for you?”

“He won’t,” Phoebe assured. “It’s too much trouble. He knows I’m no longer a doormat he can walk all over, and he knows that I’ll kick his ass if he fucks with me again. More importantly, he knows I have friends that will stand with me… Hold still.”

Wrinkling her nose, Phoebe leaned in and examined Bea’s cheek with tender fingers and light pressure. Bea cringed.

“Hurt bad?”

“Yes.” Bea winced again and gently pushed at the other woman’s arm to stop the probing. Even gentle fingers hurt. “Hey, that move you did to take him down was kind of cool, like something out of a movie.”

Phoebe smiled. “Yeah, Dane showed me that one. He’s making me learn all this commando stuff so I can protect myself. Sometimes, he’s more than protective—he’s almost paranoid. He’s even teaching me how to use a gun. And I don’t mean how to clean it, either. He wants me to shoot it with perfect precision.”

“Speaking of Dane, you’d better call and tell him what happened.”

“I’m going to wait a little bit. I love my hottie mechanic, I really do, but he has a tendency to overreact.” She looked at Bea, her gaze trailing from one ache to the next. “I don’t think anything is broken, but maybe we should get you to the hospital anyway. Just to be on the safe side. There’s a lump growing on your forehead. I’m getting worried. You’re hurt.”

“I’m fine. Seriously. Stop avoiding the real issue.” With a roll of her eyes, Bea leaned forward, wrapped her fingers around Phoebe’s upper arms and shook her lightly. “Your ex just tried to kidnap you. Dane needs to know. You need to call him.”

Phoebe sighed and propped her elbows on her knees. She dropped her head into her hands and her shoulders heaved.

“You don’t understand. Dane will kill Eric if he finds out that my nasty fucker of an ex is in town,” Phoebe said. “I don’t want my fiancé to go to jail. We can’t tell him yet—we can’t tell anyone. I don’t want to make this mess any worse.”

Unfortunately, the noise level in the typically quiet neighborhood climbed off the charts. A phone’s incessant ringing sounded from inside the house. Voices buzzed on the street. The neighborhood was awake and searching the darkness for the source for the commotion. It was only a matter of time before they came upon the Maxwell house.

“Phoebe, honey, there’s no hiding this. Deer Creek is a small town. The asshole’s car is here. I have the beginnings of a black eye, a swollen cheek and a knot on my forehead. You have split knuckles, a busted lip, and you’re missing a fat chunk of hair. Even if you don’t think so, we’re pretty banged up. But worse of all, Dane is going to kill you if he finds out you didn’t call him the first second you could.”

Her friend nodded and raised resigned palms up to the sky. “The downside of a small-town living. Everyone knows your business—even the embarrassing stuff.” She lightly touched her split bottom lip and moaned through the pain. “I can’t believe the fucker hit us. Dane is going to be livid that I let Eric get so close. He told me to run far and fast and get help if I ever saw the asshole again.”

“This is my fault,” Bea said. “You’re hurt because of me—I turned off the alarm and opened the door. You shouldn’t have come outside.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“You should have barred the door and stayed inside where it was safe, or escaped out the back and ran away like Dane told you.”

“Really?” Her friend skewed her with an incredulous glare. “You were screaming bloody murder. He had his hands on you. And I was going to stay inside and do what exactly—knit a sweater while my ex beat your ass on the front porch?”

Bea’s eyes welled with tears. “Can you ever forgive me?”

“Forgive what?” Phoebe draped her arm over Bea’s shoulders and drew her close. “It’s not your fault my ex is a total dickwad. How could you know that you were opening the door to Eric? It’s not like I showed you his picture in advance.”

“No, but it’s late. I opened the door to a stranger.” Guilt and dread washed over her.

Not only had she made a mistake, but she had no doubt that she’d disappointed someone very important to her. Most important.

“Guys in this town really frown on us trusting strangers. They really, really, really don’t appreciate it.” Her butt stung as she recalled the first and last time she’d been on the receiving end of the stranger-danger lecture. “I’m in so much trouble. I think I’m going to be sick.”

“No, sweetie.” Phoebe hugged her tighter. “You’re not in trouble. Your heroic smack-down probably saved my life.”

“You don’t know the sheriff. He is going to be real pissed. We already have a history involving strangers. I can only imagine what he’ll do to me this time.”

“He should give you a medal for your bravery,” her friend bristled.

Bea sighed. Sweet Phoebe, still so new to the town, she had no idea how exceeded limits and broken rules came with a heavy penalty. But Bea had grown up in Deer Creek. She knew this night would not go away without smarting consequences for her poor decisions. And to make things even worse, she couldn’t honestly say that she’d mind the consequence. The idea of Tom Clayton’s large palm on her ass had her insides in excited turmoil.

“Deer Creek men take care of their women and they don’t take chances with our security,” Bea explained. “They may appear demanding, but there is reason and purpose to their actions. They’re good at keeping their women safe. Just like Dane installed the house alarm here to keep you safe.” She rubbed her throbbing head. “I freaking disarmed it and opened the door without knowing who the guy on the stoop was. I put us in danger. My ass is toast. Burnt toast.”

“Dane will understand.” Phoebe smiled and patted Bea’s hand. “Things happen.”

“No, they don’t happen. Not in this town. And Master Dane will not allow you to live with me anymore.” She glanced down the street, shifting her stance for a better view. “The sheriff will not understand either. I know he won’t let this slide.”

Voices grew loud and Mrs. Brady and Mrs. Jenkins rounded the corner. A glance at Eric lying on the ground had the older ladies shrieking and scuttling fast toward the porch. The town matrons descended upon the young women in a panic, freaking over the battered state of both girls.

“What on earth! Why—oh, my—why are you—” Mrs. Jenkins stuttered.

“—just sitting here!” Mrs. Brady finished. “Why didn’t you call for help?”

“We did,” they chimed in unison.

Within moments, the remainder of the neighborhood was on their front lawn, carrying a range of weapons from iron frying pans and kitchen brooms to hunting rifles and shotguns. They crowded the porch steps and formed a protective barrier between the girls and the intruder.

Although comforting, the attention showcased the trouble Bea had been speaking about, and her thoughts went from a night of discipline in Tom’s hands to assuring the town elders that she was okay. The townspeople had their cells out, each trying to reach the sheriff, albeit unsuccessfully.

And while Sheriff Clayton may not be picking up the phone yet, sooner or later he would, and when he learned what had happened, he would come to her house and demand an explanation. Then she would have to tell him everything and—holy hell, her ass was his. She’d pay dearly for her mistake.

A secret smile crossed Bea’s lips as a distant memory and a fleeting moment of possibility played in her mind. Assuming Tom intended to keep to his promise to “blister her ass again if she ever made the same mistake,” she wondered if her trip to the woodshed this time around would end differently than the first time. For one, she was older now. Second…

Doc Jenkins pushed his way through the crowd and joined his wife. “Let me take a look at the two of you.” The town vet crouched before them and took quick inventory of their injuries. “From the look of you ladies, he had it coming. You’ll live, I think, but frankly, any man who raises a hand to a woman in anger deserves what he got.”

“He’s dead?” Mrs. Jenkins asked.

“Well, he’s not breathing,” her husband replied.

At Doc Jenkins’s words, Bea leaned to the side to peer around her neighbors’ legs. Dr. Evers, the town physician Bea had been going to since she was born, stopped performing CPR and felt for a pulse on the side of Eric’s neck.

The doctor shook his head and continued with CPR.

“What?” Phoebe was going to choke on the horror brewing inside her. “He can’t be dead. It was just a pot. He’s just knocked out. The ambulance is on the way.”

For Bea, all words after “dead” were meaningless. Her bravado and the slight return of her teenage mischievousness vanished. All she knew was that she’d killed someone. Murdered someone. With a potted plant.

As if on cue, flashing lights littered the dark night. The ambulance pulled up, along with one of the two local squad cars. The paramedic crew jumped out and carried their equipment to where Dr. Evers worked.

Phoebe rushed off the steps, frantically explaining that Eric had been breathing just minutes earlier—that he’d been alive enough to curse them out, threaten them, and had then passed out at their feet, and thus, couldn’t be dead.

Bea watched numbly as the sheriff’s deputy spoke to the emergency techs that had stabilized the body and were loading it in the back of the ambulance.

Phoebe tried to join them for the ride to the hospital, but Doc Jenkins stopped her. When she brashly insisted on going, actually pushed past the elderly man in a rush, her boss whipped an arm around her waist and drew her back, effectively thwarting her escape with agility an elderly man shouldn’t have possessed.

Calm and collected, and amazingly strong, Doc held steadfast and murmured in her ear as Phoebe frantically struggled to pull away. Who would have thought old Doc could hold on to her like that?

The deputy shut the door to the ambulance’s holding area and waved the paramedics on. Dane’s motorcycle roared into the spot the ambulance vacated. He looked past the yard and up the porch before swinging his leg over the back of the bike and dismounting, removing the helmet from his head and casting it aside.

Master Dane strode to Phoebe and pulled his woman away from Doc. He engulfed her in his own arms and kissed the side of her head, crushing her in his large embrace. In true Phoebe fashion, she ruined the romantic scene by squirming. Clearly obliviously to his fiancé’s opposition, Dane gripped her shoulders and searched over her while she continued to furiously rant, gesturing angrily between Doc and the departing emergency vehicle.

Cupping her face in his hands, Dane dipped his head and looked into her eyes. “Enough.”

Phoebe began to cry.

Dane wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest, whispering against her ear.

Beatrice watched the scene unfold, as if she weren’t in it, until the sheriff’s deputy approached the porch. Bea had never seen him before. And that was saying something. She knew every person that lived and worked in town. She’d grown up in the area. Matter of fact, she had spent all but four years of her life in Deer Creek. This deputy was new.

Tense, yet professional, Bea listened unresponsively as Deputy Sheriff Shawn Dillard explained he’d just transferred into the department.

“What happened here?” Deputy Dillard asked.

“I wanted to kill him,” Bea managed. “In cold blood.”

A collective inhale from the town folk did little to rattle the new deputy.

“You attempted to murder him in cold blood, you say?” He eyed her hard, his gaze flirting over her trembling hands. “Is that supposed to be a confession, miss?”

“Yes. I suppose it is.” Bea pushed herself up, careful not to get anyone else dirty with the blood staining her arm as she stood. “I confess. You better arrest me.”

The town elders stepped between them.

“She’s in shock,” Dr. Evers insisted. “She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

“Our Beatrice wouldn’t harm a fly,” Mrs. Brady offered.

“The ladies were obviously just defending themselves,” Doc Jenkins exclaimed.

Bea hobbled through the line of solidarity and held out her wrists. “Take me in. I want to go. Please, get it over with and arrest me now.”

While those around her protested, the deputy clearly weighed her words.

“I wanted him gone.” She shrugged. “I figured the planter would do the job. I should be punished for that, right?”

With a resigned shake of his head, Deputy Dillard pulled his handcuffs off his utility belt. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…”

The rest of the Miranda rights were drowned out by the crowd’s boisterous objections and demands to see the sheriff. Bea absently tested the strength of the cuffs, finding them as hard and cold as she remembered. Funny how long ago it seemed now.

“Sheriff’s on vacation,” the deputy said. “He’s out of reach for another week. Please move out of our way.”

“But she didn’t do anything wrong!” Phoebe cried, grabbing ahold of Bea’s shirtsleeve and digging her heels in. “Dane, do something.”

“Let her go, sweetheart.” Dane gently tugged on Phoebe’s grip. “Let the officer pass.”


“Trust me,” Dane said. “She’ll be okay. She’s safer with the deputy than at home.”

Phoebe released her hold on her friend and the crowd reluctantly parted, as if realizing the futility of their protest.

“We’re calling Tom right now,” Mrs. Brady threatened, following behind as Deputy Dillard led Bea away. “He’ll come here and fix this.”

“Please do.” The deputy seemed unconcerned. “I hope Sheriff Clayton gets back tonight.” He carefully lowered Bea into the back of the patrol car. “But until then, I have to do my job. She said she intended to kill him.”

“Where’s Tom?” Dane asked.

The deputy closed her door and opened his own before responding. “Fishing. At his secret spot for a few days of peace and quiet.”

Dane nodded. “I know where that is.”


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