Goldstone, Nevada: It’s not your typical vacation getaway.
Sheriff Tyler Braxton hightails it out of Cottonmouth to Goldstone for a little R&R, when his sister puts out a distress call. Suddenly, instead of vacationing, Brax is offering advice to the lovelorn! And to top it off, he has to start his own investigation on his sister’s behalf: Is his brother-in-law having an affair with the local erotic author?
Simone Chandler has found her haven in Goldstone; she loves the forsaken town and its lovable but somewhat beleaguered residents. With a thriving Internet business penning made-to-order erotic fantasies, some of her friends in Goldstone just happen to be her clients, too. The problem: The hunky sheriff from out of town wonders if she’s not only writing stories for his brother-in-law, but acting them out with him, too.
Then murder comes to Goldstone, and Brax is suddenly hip-deep in small-town secrets, with sexy Simone Chandler at the head his suspect list.
Is Simone the real thing, or, as with everything else in Goldstone, is she Fool’s Gold?
What Readers Are Saying:
© 2011 Jennifer Skully
“Maggie’s your sister.” Desperation crept into Carl Felman’s voice. “You tell me what I’m supposed to say to her.”
Tyler Braxton suppressed a shudder. What man truly knew how to talk to a woman? “Maybe if I understood the problem better, I could help.” He had grave doubts that would be the case. Marital issues were not Brax’s area of expertise. If Carl wanted advice on how to take down a fleeing suspect without firing a shot, he could help. But advice to the lovelorn, especially to his brother-in-law? A scary thought for any male.
Brax had arrived in Goldstone, Nevada, that morning with a mission. To answer Maggie’s call for help. The tone of her email had been dire enough to have him make arrangements for a visit. Because a short vacation fit neatly into his schedule for other reasons, he hadn’t bothered asking Maggie for any specifics.
He hadn’t figured he’d be entering a war zone.
Admittedly, it was a silent war, with both sides refusing to meet at the bargaining table, or, for that matter, even talk to their opponent. In other words, The Cold War all over again. Despite staying at ground zero, Brax didn’t have a clue how to negotiate a peace settlement.
“I’m afraid she doesn’t want me anymore.” Carl’s chin drooped close to the foam on his beer, and his usual goofy grin was nowhere to be seen. “I don’t excite her.”
“Please don’t let this degenerate into the lowdown on your sex life.” His sister’s sex life. God forbid.
“This isn’t about sex.” Carl sighed long and hard. “It’s about our marriage.”
Country music strained through the worn-out speakers, barely making it over the ka-ching of a slot machine in the back of the bar. The once-padded chair he sat in had long since lost its resilience beneath too many butts, and the tabletop was gummy with age, elbow grease and sweaty palms. Brax had thought going out for a friendly beer down at the Flood’s End might ease the tension. He’d been wrong. Being county sheriff back in Cottonmouth was a cakewalk compared to this, but he would do his duty to his sister. Even if he’d rather be breaking up bar fights.
“How long have you and Maggie been married?” His question was rhetorical; Brax knew exactly how long. The Las Vegas wedding in Dr. Love’s Chapel would forever live in his memory. Maybe the pink flamingos flanking the altar had something to do with that. Who in their right mind would want lawn ornaments at their wedding ceremony?
Carl took his time before replying, “Ten years.”
“Well, things can get a bit routine after ten years.” A wild guess, since Brax had gotten divorced after only five.
“That what happened to your marriage?” Carl asked.
Damn. He’d opened himself wide for that one.
Brax sat back and crossed his arms over his chest.
Then he gave it his best shot, because that’s what his sister needed. “It’s all about communication, Carl.” Something he’d never been able to do worth a damn. At least not where women were concerned.
“We communicate. She says do something, and I do it.” Carl shook his head as if he were totally mystified. “What more does she want?”
“Women don’t want you to just agree with everything. They want you to...” What? Brax started over. “They want you to help them find the solution that works for both of you.”
“But she always ends up with the same solution she started with, no matter what I suggest. It’s like talking in circles. So why do we have to go over and over it for an hour?”
Damn. Brax didn’t have an answer. He was out of his depth here. “It’s the talking things through that makes them feel better.” That sounded like a reasonable explanation to him.
“She just wants me to say, ‘yeah, you’re right, honey,’ after she proves how I’m wrong.”
Sometimes it did seem like that, but Brax was sure women didn’t mean it that way. “When in doubt, just listen. Women want to be heard.” Now that was his ex-wife almost verbatim. He’d never heard, and he took full responsibility for his lacking.
Carl leaned forward. “But if I’m supposed to listen and not say anything, then how is that communication? Doesn’t it take two?”
Christ, he was digging himself a bigger hole with every word of advice. Best to stop while he was...well, he couldn’t call it ahead. “You need to read that book.”
Uhh... “One of those ‘how to’ books.” How not to flush your marriage down the toilet. “It’s got something about the planets in the title.”
“Did you read it?”
Brax hadn’t known of the book until after the divorce. “I’ve heard it’s great.” Though he didn’t know any men who’d read it. “If I’m ever considering marriage again, I’ll sure pick up that book.” Not that he planned on taking that particular risk any time soon. “Read it, Carl. It’ll help.”
He wasn’t ducking his responsibilities here. He was simply handing Carl over to a greater authority.
“I guess I’ll give it a try.”
“Atta boy.” Thank God. His duty was done. On to less dangerous ground. “Not very crowded here tonight, is it?”
Carl’s glance strayed over Brax’s shoulder, and not for the first time that evening. No small wonder when one considered the woman seated at the far end of the bar. Brax shifted in his chair for a better look.
Surrounded by three books opened flat on the bar top, she tapped a pencil against full lips, then hunched over to write furiously in a spiral notebook. Her blond hair fell forward, caressing her shoulders. Flipping a page, she underlined something, scratched out a line in her notebook and began scribbling again.
“It’s Sunday” was all the answer Carl supplied.
And Sunday in Goldstone meant what? The town’s dusty streets had never been paved, the rusted hulks of dead cars outnumbered working vehicles two to one, and the only church Brax had seen was made of corrugated steel like the Quonset huts that cropped up in the fifties. He’d thought it abandoned due to the weeds choking its garden, but maybe that was a false assumption.
“You boys need a refresher?” the white-haired bartender called. A good salesman always asks, even when he sees half-full beers. Obviously, he considered theirs half-empty.
“We’re fine, Doodle,” Carl said, once more sucking at the foam that hadn’t yet dissipated.
“What about you, Whitey?” Doodle tipped his head toward the lone man seated at the bar.
Whitey’s garbled, scratchy answer was incomprehensible, but the bartender grabbed his mug and held it beneath the tap. Half foam, half beer, he slammed it down on the scarred wooden bar without spilling a drop. Whitey tucked his long white beard to his chest, sipped, licked his mustache, and sighed as he closed his eyes to savor the brew. When he spoke once more, his words were still indistinguishable, as though rocks filled his mouth.
“Whitey, I swear, you have the most amazing way with words,” the blonde said, her answer giving no clue as to what the man had uttered. “I really think you should be a writer.”
Whitey sat straighter, smoothed his beard, and Brax could see his face in the mirror behind the bar fairly glowing with her compliment. He mumbled something, maybe a thank-you, and the woman beamed back at him with a heart-flipping smile. Brax had the feeling she often paid the old man sweet, unsolicited compliments he soaked up like a sponge.
Slapping her books closed, she piled them up and hugged the stack to her chest. Climbing down from her stool to land on spike-heeled shoes, she pivoted and headed straight for their table.
Brax lost his voice. Hell, he might have lost his mind. She moved with the graceful glide of a runway model. A short jean skirt showcased her bare legs, and a white T-shirt highlighted her tanned skin. Gorgeous hair spread over her shoulders, bouncing with a riot of curls.
She stopped close enough for him to draw in her light perfume. Subtle, yet intoxicating.
Sliding into the chair beside Carl, she plopped the pile of reading material onto the table. “Did you get my email?”
Red seeped into Carl’s face, spread across his cheeks, and rose to his receding hairline.
Glancing first at Brax, she touched Carl’s rigid arm. “Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of your friend.”
Carl could do nothing more than nod his forgiveness. Any man would forgive her everything when she smiled like that.
She gave Carl’s forearm another soothing pat. “Are you all right? You look a little flushed. Mr. Doodle,” she called. “I think Carl needs a glass of water.”
A mason jar filled with ice and water miraculously appeared at her elbow. She pushed it to Carl and curled his fingers around the glass.
Though his delivery was made, the bartender didn’t leave the side of the table. “Did ya figure out a witty euphemism for tallywhacker, Simone?”
Simone, a very classy name. But a euphemism for tallywhacker? Brax wouldn’t touch that one with a ten-foot pole.
A slight blush colored her flawless cheekbones. “Why no, Mr. Doodle, I didn’t,” she said, then politely added, “But thank you for being concerned.”
“I call it the Doodle,” the bartender continued. “I ask Mrs. Doodle if she wants to be diddled by the Doodle.” He cackled. “Works every time.”
Simone smiled. “Well, that’s wonderful, Mr. Doodle, but I think our conversation is further embarrassing Carl and his friend. My mother would be horrified. She always says a lady never talks about”—she nipped her lower lip—“um...about tallywhackers in mixed company.” She glanced at Brax. “Especially when we haven’t been formally introduced.”
Lush eyelashes framed her hazel eyes, and her nose tilted endearingly, but it was her smile that damn near knocked a man’s socks off. Sweet and genuine, it was the same one she’d given Whitey as she praised him.
“I’ll introduce ya,” Doodle announced. “This is the brother-in-law we’ve all heard about.” He tapped Brax’s shoulder. “Sorry, son, I forgot your name.”
“Tyler Braxton.” He stuck out his hand. “But everyone calls me Brax.”
She shook it with a firm grip of soft, warm flesh.
Leaning closer, she said softly, “Mr. Doodle didn’t mean to embarrass you. He’s really a sweet old pussycat.”
“Oooh, she called me sweet,” Doodle cooed. “I think I’m gonna faint.” Then he waggled his bushy white eyebrows. “Now that you’ve been introduced, can we ask him what he calls his tallywhacker?”
Brax didn’t know whether to laugh or get the hell out. He was the closest he’d been to blushing since elementary school when he’d gotten caught sending Mary Alice Turner a love note.
Simone sat back and folded her arms beneath her full breasts. Ogling women wasn’t one of his pastimes, but Brax couldn’t help himself. He looked. Briefly, very briefly. But one look was enough to make him lose his voice again.
“Mr. Doodle,” she chided. “You really have to stop that.” She nodded at Carl and patted his hand still curled around the water glass. “Carl is apoplectic over what I said, and Brax”—said with a gentle pucker of her lips—“is going to leave town thinking we have no manners here in Goldstone.”
Brax wasn’t sure he could think at all. The woman simply bowled him over. Beautiful and sexy, yes, but her smile, her sincere flattery of two old geezers, the way she said his name with that kiss-me pucker, those things held far more punch than the stunning package God had wrapped her in.
“Thank you for that delicious glass of wine, Mr. Doodle, but my mother always says a lady shouldn’t overstay her welcome. So I’m off.”
She stood and gathered her books in her arms before Brax could make a move to stop her. With a smile for the room at large, she sashayed out the door, leaving the bar in a dull vacuum.
Silence reigned in the small saloon at least a full minute before Brax found his voice. “Just who exactly was that woman?”
Carl busied himself with a slug of beer.
“Simone Chandler’s our local porn queen,” Doodle elucidated as he sidled back behind the bar.
Brax put his palm on the edge of the table and pushed back to look at the man over his shoulder. “Porn queen?” She was the furthest thing from sleaze he’d ever seen. And being a cop, he’d seen a lot.
The bartender nodded and beamed a toothy smile.
“She doesn’t write porn,” Carl muttered.
“So she’s a writer, not an actress.” Though most didn’t refer to porn stars as actresses.
“Yeah. It’s called erotica.” Carl’s face flushed an even deeper red.
“Isn’t that another name for housewife porn?” Brax had read the description somewhere. He couldn’t imagine the beautiful Simone penning classless drivel.
“No. Her stuff is very”—Carl hesitated as if searching for the best descriptor—“tasteful.”
Doodle snickered. “Oh, it’s tasty, all right. The wife loves reading Simone’s little stories. They get her pump primed, if you know what I mean.”
Brax was sure he didn’t want to know. The man was seventy if he was a day, and the idea of any pump priming involving the Doodles was as disturbing as advising Carl on how to communicate with Maggie.
It was Carl’s reaction to Simone and the telltale stain on his face that unsettled the beer in Brax’s stomach. Being a sheriff, Brax listened to what people didn’t say in addition to what they did. He watched for more subtle nuances as he asked, “So, how do I get to read one of these ‘little stories?’”
Carl slumped in his chair. Doodle answered the question. “She’s got this really special website. You tell her your fantasy in simple terms, all the details you want her to be sure to include, then she writes a hot, hot story. The wife’s always emailing her little snippets to work up.”
Brax had never heard of anything like it. “She writes custom pornography?”
“It’s not pornography,” Carl snapped, still concentrating on his beer.
Why did it bother his brother-in-law so much when Brax described her writing that way? A man didn’t blush like that around a pretty woman unless his thoughts about her weren’t pure.
Damn. He did not want to believe Carl was having impure imaginings about Simone Chandler. Or worse, that he’d acted on them. Was Carl one of her customers?
Brax had used his sister’s email as a reason to head out of his hometown of Cottonmouth for a couple of weeks. To gain a little perspective. A good man, a friend, had been murdered; Brax blamed himself for not reading the warning signs. He should have been able to stop it. That was his job, his obligation, and his responsibility. One in which he’d failed. Miserably.
Now he’d landed himself in the middle of another mess. His sister’s marriage was on the rocks, and he’d met the woman who might be responsible for Carl and Maggie’s trouble.
Simone Chandler couldn’t be more than thirty years old, and Carl was pushing fifty-five. Imagining her in bed with his brother-in-law was downright pornographic.
He had to prove it wasn’t so. For his sister’s sake. He owed Maggie an investigation.
He turned to Doodle. “What’d you say that website was?”