Home > Open Season(10)

Open Season(10)
Author: Linda Howard

“I apologize.” He still didn’t look away from her, though; he probably didn’t respond well to orders. His eyes were kind of an odd gray-green, more green than gray, and a tad out of place with his olive skin. Of course, she didn’t have any room to comment on anyone else’s strange eyes, since her own were two different colors. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, Miss. . . Daisy, isn’t it?” His full lips quirked. “May I drive you somewhere?”

Her face went way past blush, straight into tomato red. Since the movie Driving Miss Daisy had come out, countless people had thought it funny to make the same offer. She hadn’t laughed yet. She gave him two more checks in the debit column, because making fun of someone’s name was rude and deserved extra deductions.

“No, thank you,” she said in such frigid tones he couldn’t miss the fact that she didn’t think he was amusing. She got to her feet and handed him his plastic card with his password written on it, then without another word marched back to the checkout desk and pulled down the countertop that closed her off from him. Thus barricaded, she faced him across the wooden expanse.

“Sorry,” he said, which was the second time he had apologized in as many minutes. The problem was, she didn’t think he’d meant it either time. He leaned on the checkout desk and flicked the plastic password card in his long fingers. “I guess you get that a lot, huh?”

“A lot,” she echoed, keeping her tone deep in the arctic.

He flexed his shoulders, as if settling his shirt more comfortably, but she had read magazine articles about body language and thought he might be trying to impress her with his physique. If so, he had failed.

After a long moment in which she remained stubbornly silent, refusing to acknowledge or accept his apology, he gave another shrug and straightened. He tapped the plastic card on the desk—goodness, what kind of signal was that? She tried to remember if tapping meant anything in body language—and said, “Thanks for your help.”

Darn it, now she had to reply. “You’re welcome,” she muttered as she watched him leave. She was fairly certain she heard him snickering.

Damn Yankee! What was he doing down here, anyway? If he was such a hotshot big-city cop, why wasn’t he in a big city? What was he doing here in Hillsboro, population nine thousand and something, tucked away in the north Alabama mountains? Maybe he was a dirty cop and had gotten caught. Maybe he’d made a terrible error in judgment and shot an unarmed innocent. She imagined he was capable of all sorts of things that would have gotten him sacked.

Well, she wouldn’t waste any more time fretting about him. In the grand scheme of things, rude patrons weren’t important. Mentally she settled her ruffled feathers. She was a woman with a mission, and she wasn’t going home today until she had found a place of her own to live in.

She sighed as she remembered her short list of choices. If she kept that vow, she might be sleeping in her car tonight.


Mayor Temple Nolan loved his little town. Hillsboro was unusually compact for the south, where land was cheap and plentiful, and spreading out was easy. Hillsboro had never spread out much, but remained mostly nestled in a small valley, surrounded by the foothills of the Appalachians. He even loved the approach into town: the main road, lined with cedar trees, wound its way up a hill, then you rounded a curve and there was the town spread out before you, looking more like it belonged in New England than in the sunny south.

There were white church spires piercing the sky, big oaks and hickory trees spreading their enormous green canopies, lawns bright with flowers; hell, there was even a town square. There wasn’t a courthouse, because Hillsboro wasn’t the county seat, but they had a square. It was only one acre, and they’d made it into a pretty little park with well-tended flower beds and benches for sitting, as well as the requisite cannon from the War Between the States, with a pile of rusted cannonballs stacked at its base. Enough of the citizens actually used the little park that he felt the cost was justified.

City hall, a two-story yellow brick building, sat on one side of the square, flanked by the police department and the white-columned city library—the first ruled by Chief Jack Russo, a brusque, hard-nosed Yankee who kept the mayor’s town squeaky clean, and the latter by Miss Daisy Minor, as starchy an old maid as ever lived. Not that she was all that old, but she was definitely starchy. She was one of the mayor’s favorite characters in a small town filled with characters, because she was so very stereotypical.

Various stores faced on the rest of the square, like the dry cleaners, the hardware store, a clothing store, several antique shops, the feed store, the dime store, a hobby shop. Hillsboro didn’t have fancy shopping, but the citizens could get everything they needed to survive and enjoy life right here. There were the usual assortment of fast food places in town, but none of them were on the square; they were all down the road toward Fort Payne. The only restaurant on the square was the Coffee Cup, which did a booming business for breakfast and lunch, but closed at six because the dinner business wasn’t that great.

It was a peaceful town, as much as any gathering of more than nine thousand people could be peaceful. There weren’t any bars or nightclubs in Hillsboro; the county was dry. If you wanted something alcoholic to drink—legally—then you had to go to either Scottsboro, which had separated itself from the rest of the county and voted wet, or over into Madison County. Oh, people were always trying to bring booze back home, and the police department tended to look the other way as long as they did indeed go home, but the department cracked down on people who wanted to do their drinking and driving at the same time, as well as kept a sharp eye out for teenagers who were trying to sneak cases of beer back for parties. And there were always people who wanted to smoke marijuana or pop some pills, but Temple Nolan worked hard to keep drugs out of Hillsboro.

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