Nick Baxter, an undercover FBI agent, thinks his BRILLIANT DISGUISE will fool the hicks in New Providence, Iowa. They won't suspect he's there investigating widow Shannon Delgardie, under suspicion of treason. What Nick doesn't know is that everybody in town is conspiring to protect her and investigate him in return.
Shannon needs help. The men her late husband blackmailed are closing in and the FBI might be involved. When Nick approaches her, can she trust him? With the aid of computer hackers and hair stylists, she uncovers the truth, finding a love she never expected in a tiny Iowa town.
“You must have caused some excitement in town.”
“Hmm?” Shannon tilted her head onto the chair back and looked at Nick sideways.
Nick leaned his head back and regarded her with lazy gray eyes. “You know, an attractive woman moves back into town.”
“Not really. It’s hard to date in such a small town.” He looked at her blankly. “Everybody knows everybody else’s business. Hell, I’ll bet Matt Johnson over at the YAF saw me drive past and is clocking how long I stay out here at your place.”
“YAF?” Nick asked. “What’s a YAF?”
“The Yard and Farm, the big home improvement store on Highway 6, right outside of town.”
“How would anybody know you’re out here? Why wouldn’t they think you drove someplace else?”
Shannon gestured to his lane. “Your mail got delivered about a half hour ago and my car is clearly visible from the road. And I drive the only red Volvo in town. Right now I’ll bet the gossip in town is we’re having hot sex in your barn,” and Shannon nodded toward the nearby structure.
“Why not hot sex in the house?” Nick asked, smiling.
“We’re worldly, you and me,” she said. “We’ve lived in the big city. You know how deviant those big city people are. They like to have sex in all kinds of places besides a bed. Not to mention my choice of reading material from the library. I go for hot romances.” She took another swallow of beer. “Mrs. Peabody, who sorts mail and works part-time at the library, is probably calling my mom right now to find out why I’m out here.”
“Jeez,” Nick said, impressed. “What a spy network.” He eyed her then the barn.
She caught his look and grinned. “Not spying. Just curiosity.” She regarded the lawn and the tilled garden. “A bit of borrowed excitement, maybe.”
“Hmm.” They sat silently for several long, companionable minutes, each sunk deep in thought. He tipped up his bottle of beer. “Want another one?” Shannon regarded her drink and hesitated. “Ah, come on,” he wheedled. “Stay out here a while. Impress all those gossips with my so-called sexual stamina.”
“You’ll be chased by all the single girls in town if I do,” she warned with a wicked grin. “Maybe some of the married ones, too.”
“Girls,” he said dismissively. “Give me a woman any day.” He raised one eyebrow and smiled at her. Shannon laughed. “Come on. Let’s give ‘em something to talk about.”
“Oh, well, if your reputation is so important,” Shannon conceded. “Sure, I’ll have another beer. I think I know my way home.”
“Or we could really set the town on its ear and you could stay here all night,” Nick said, picking up the empty beer bottles on his way into the house.
Shannon eyed him speculatively but looked away when he glanced back at her. Was he flirting? Heavenly days, it had been a while since she’d had a good flirt. Then she gave herself a mental shake. Feebles didn’t flirt, they infiltrated. She’d best not forget it.
He put a portable radio in the window overlooking the yard and tuned it to a classic rock station. Shannon slouched in her chair and stared at the garden. Was he trustworthy? Yeah, he was a Feeble, but could she trust him? She needed somebody to trust, somebody who understood terrorists, plots, and crap like that.
He came out of the house carrying two beers. “So tell me. What kind of stuff am I going to plant in your garden?” He gestured toward the tilled ground with one beer.
“My garden?” Shannon asked, one hand over her heart. “Mine?”
“You blackmailed me into doing it. What do you want?”
“Blackmail?” Nick nodded and she laughed. “Okay. Well, beans, of course. Carrots. Squash. Don’t plant zucchini, you’ll get enough donated to you from everyone else. Tomatoes.”
“How about radishes?”
“It’s getting too warm now for that.” She looked up at the sun, dappling through the oak branches above her then waggled her feet. Nick mimicked her, tapping his feet against hers, his steel-toed boots clicking against her steel-toed boots.
“Will you help me buy the seeds?”
“Sure. You’re such a novice.” Shannon glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Are you sure you were raised on a farm?”
He froze, his beer raised in mid-sip, then he said lightly, “We moved in to town when I was kid. I don’t remember much about the farm.”
Shannon nodded. “I figured as much. There are some things you never forget if you ever did ‘em.”
“No kidding.” He slanted a look at her and Shannon was surprised at the mischief she saw in his sharp gray eyes. “Do you and your friends lunch together every day?”
“No, we lunch on Wednesday and drink on Friday. At the Ron-Day-Voo Bar,” she added. “Evie brings her husband, Chris. Judi brings her boyfriend, Richard. We swill beer and sing along with the jukebox.”
“Can anybody join you or is it a private party?”
“Just about everybody does join us. Most of the town goes out on Friday night and everybody swings by the Voo. Even my mother.”
“Yep, she and my aunt and a couple of friends go out for cocktails and they usually stop by and have a drink with us.”
“Heck of a woman,” Nick said, tilting the beer bottle back and drinking.
“She is that.” She sat up. “Nature calls. I take it you didn’t rearrange the bathroom since the last time I was here?”
He laughed. “Nope, it’s still where you left it.”
“Good.” Shannon popped to her feet and headed for the farmhouse. She hurried through the kitchen, racing up the back stairs to the second floor. As she suspected, Baxter was using Arthur’s den in the back of the house for his office. She peeked out the hall window and saw Nick, still sitting in his chair, the sunlight dappling his face. She dodged into his office and looked around quickly. A new computer sat in the middle of the battered oak desk and several tidy piles of paper occupied the rest of the space.
She hesitated in front of the computer but restrained herself. There wasn’t time to hack into the system right now. Instead, she rifled through the papers until she found what she was looking for. She scanned the pages, jotting notes on the small pad of paper she carried. Satisfied she had pertinent details, she put everything back the way she found them, raced downstairs, and into the tiny bathroom.
She read the notes as she peed. It was confirmation of what William found. Mr. Nick Baxter was FBI, he was undercover, and he was looking into John’s death. Shannon flushed the toilet and regarded herself in the faded mirror over the chipped pedestal sink. It’s too soon to tell. You don’t know him well enough. Don’t trust him yet. Look what happened with John—you trusted him and the son of a bitch almost killed you.
With that grim reminder, she stepped out of the bathroom and went back outside to continue investigating Nick Baxter.