Authors: Beth Cornelison
TRUST IN ME
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author‘s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2011 by Beth Cornelison
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
Also by Beth Cornelison
Operation Baby Rescue
Special Ops Bodyguard
The Prodigal Bride
P.I. Daddy's Personal Mission
The Bride's Boydyguard
Blackout at Christmas
The Christmas Stranger
Tall Dark Defender
Duty to Protect
Visit Beth online at
Table of Contents
"That's it! I quit!"
Kevin Fuller looked up from the work schedule he labored over, trying to stretch three employees' hours to cover all the shifts, and frowned at the woman who'd stormed into the manager's office.
"No," he groaned. "Don't do this to me, Lydia. I need you. We're shorthanded as it is."
"Then get rid of that...that walking hormone! That teenage terror! Either Ray goes or I do." Lydia Banks, the heavy-set woman who worked the cash register for Lowery Hardware and Farm Supply, pursed her bright coral lips and propped a hand on her ample hip. "I'm tired of puttin' up with his gutter mouth and his juvenile behavior."
Aren't we all?
Tunneling his fingers through his already well-mussed hair, Kevin expelled a frustrated sigh. "You know I can't fire Ray. His father owns the store. In theory, Ray's in training to run the place in a few years."
Lydia snorted. "All the more reason to get the hell out of Dodge before it's too late. Can you imagine working for Ray?"
The brunette eased the neck straps of her store apron over her permed and highly sprayed hairdo then dropped the uniform in Kevin's lap.
"Lydia," Kevin said in the tone that had soothed the woman's ruffled feathers numerous times in the past. "Don't go. I'll talk to Ray, and I'll talk to Mr. Lowery about Ray. Again. I know you've been working long hours lately. We all have. I've got help wanted ads up all over town and at the University. Surely someone will answer the ad soon, and you won't have to put in so much overtime. Bear with me a little longer. Please."
"Sugar, it ain't you. It ain't the hours. God knows I can use the money from the overtime. It's that redneck moron who thinks jokes about animal abuse and using the bathroom are funny!" A pink flush stained Lydia's cheeks as she ranted, testifying to her ire. "Even my six-year-old has moved beyond Ray's potty humor, and there sure as shootin' ain't nothing funny about hurting dogs."
Kevin raised his hands in surrender. "I know. I know. He's just pushing your buttons, Lyd. Just...ignore him. And I'll try to arrange the schedule so you don't work with him any more than necessary."
Lydia huffed. "Oh...all right."
Kevin glanced at the meager work schedule, wondering how he was supposed to keep his promise, wondering how the store could operate if he didn't hire some more help soon. Ray's lewd jokes and childish harassment had managed to run off three capable cashiers in the last five months. And apparently every unemployed resident of the small South Carolina town had heard what it was like to work with Ray, because no one had applied for the opening at the family-owned hardware store in several weeks. Even if he did hire more help, how did he convince them to stay?
"Go on and knock off for the night, Lyd. I'll close up."
With a dramatic sigh and a nod, Lydia snatched her oversized purse from a cluttered shelf. As she disappeared from the office, she muttered something about what she'd do to Ray if she were his father, something that sounded frighteningly painful. A moment later the tinkle of the bell over the front door signaled her departure.
Kevin stood and stretched his back, mentally bracing himself to confront Ray about his off-putting behavior. Confrontations ranked somewhere below a root canal as far as Kevin was concerned, but thanks to Ray, dealing with disgruntled employees was an increasingly common part of managing Lowery's Hardware.
He found Ray smoking a cigarette on the loading dock at the back of the store. The acrid smell of smoke clashed with the fresher summertime scents of cut grass and wild honeysuckle that perfumed the evening air. One more way Ray managed to ruin a good thing.
With his meaty shoulder propped against the side of a delivery truck and his unkempt black hair drooping negligently in his eyes, Ray mirrored the brash and irresponsible attitude that gave Kevin so much trouble. The burly teenager, who looked far older than his seventeen years because of his size, took a slow drag of his cigarette and glanced at Kevin with disinterest. The shipment from the tractor supply company still hadn't been unloaded from the truck.
Kevin sucked in a deep breath of the humid summer air, praying for patience, and stepped out on the landing of the truck dock. "I'd have thought you'd have had this truck emptied hours ago. What's going on, Ray?"
The teen blew a stream of smoke toward Kevin and gave him a smirk. "I'm on break. Too damn hot to be workin'. If I don't finish today, it'll still be here tomorrow."
"Along with the shipment of fertilizer from Georgia. I need this truck emptied tonight, Ray. Break's over."
Ray lifted a can of soda to his lips and took a long, lazy drink. "In a little while. Don't get your panties in a wad."
Kevin took the can from Ray's hand and set it aside with a thunk. "Now! I don't have time for your attitude. Get busy."
Ray curled up a corner of his lip and scoffed. "And if I don't? Whatcha gonna do, Fuller? Fire me?" His smug grin spread. "Can hardly fire the owner, now can you?"
Kevin balled his fingers into fists and clenched his teeth. "There won't be a store to own if shipments get backed up so that the vendors take their business elsewhere. Or if you run off all the employees with your offensiveness."
Ray dropped the cigarette on the floor and ground the butt out with the toe of his boot. "Did Lydia come whinin' to you about that little gag I pulled on her? The woman has no sense of humor."
"She wasn't specific, but something you did upset her. After ten years of loyal service to your father's store, she was ready to quit."
Ray swiped at a mosquito buzzing by his head. "I told her I was kidding. The old cow."
Kevin tensed, his instinct to protect and defend going on full alert, but with a slow breath, he forcibly eased the knots in his muscles. He managed to keep his tone even despite the jumping nerves below the surface. "Watch your mouth when you're speaking about a woman in my presence."
"Hello?" a feminine voice called from within the store, and Kevin glanced toward the door.
Before he left, he aimed a finger at the shipment of tractor parts. "The truck, Ray. Get busy."
"Yeah, yeah." Ray ambled to the end of the delivery truck and hoisted himself inside.
Kevin headed back into the store. He firmly closed the back door Ray had propped open with a trashcan. Again. No wonder the electric bill ran sky high every month.
Kevin wiped the sheen of perspiration from his brow as he stepped onto the sales floor and glanced about for the customer. When he spotted her, he froze, his arm suspended at his forehead.
He stared a moment. Blinked. His pulse, just settling into a normal cadence after his confrontation with Ray, stumbled to a jogging pace.
Faith Hill was standing at the front counter, scanning the display of chewing gum and antacids by the register. Kevin rubbed his tired eyes. Okay, not Faith Hill. Honestly, what business would a gorgeous country music star have in this podunk town hardware store?
Just the same, the woman who was standing at the register looked an awful lot like the model-beautiful singer. Tall, blonde, and elegant.
The classy blonde turned. Smiled. "Pardon?"
Kevin snapped himself from his daze. Had he said that aloud?
"Uh, nothing," he croaked. Great. Perfect. He stood in the presence of a princess, and he'd never felt more like a frog in his life. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so. I need to see the manager, please."
He walked to the checkout counter, his legs suddenly feeling leaden and cumbersome, his throat dry. Appraising the young woman with a curious glance, he took in the flawless appearance of her hair and makeup, the strand of pearls around her neck, and the tailored ivory suit she wore. He'd bet his paycheck her outfit cost more than he earned in a week. Her perfect posture and polite smile spoke of gentility and good breeding. A sweet floral scent wafted from her direction, a classic, feminine fragrance that matched his impression of her.
Another rich girl. Like Robin.
I need more than you can give me, Kevin. If I stay with you, I'm afraid I'll never find my dreams
A years' old ache sliced through his heart.
Get a grip, Fuller.
Like Robin, this beauty reeked of money—old money and lots of it—and she stuck out in the hardware store like a flower blossoming in a pigsty.
He, on the other hand, probably
like a pig after loading Mrs. Smithy's car with bags of gardening manure and sweating buckets while he cleared the stock room for the arriving truckload of farm equipment. He didn't even want to think how disheveled and wrung out he must look after the day he'd put in. An awkward, self-conscious prickle chased up his spine.
Clearing his throat, he shoved aside the memories and the lingering sting of rejection. He'd learned his lesson, falling for a woman out of his league, but never again. "I'm the manager." Kevin wiped his damp palm on the seat of his worn jeans before extending his hand to her. "How can I help you?"
The Faith Hill double lifted her chin, flashed a nervous grin and took his hand with a grip that was surprisingly firm. Businesslike. But what business could she have with him?
She dug in the tiny handbag hanging daintily from her shoulder and pulled out a scrap of paper. "I saw this on the bulletin board at the University."
He took the paper she passed him, recognizing it as one of his help wanted ads.
She met his gaze with hypnotic caramel eyes. "If the position is still open, I'd like to apply."
A low-pitched chuckle rumbled from his throat.
. He grinned at her, waiting for the punch line. But she only gazed back at him with those long-lashed eyes, waiting for his answer. "Sir?"
His grin slipped.
, she was serious!
"Uh..." Kevin stared at her, stunned, speechless. Confused. He must have inhaled too much turpentine this morning when he cleaned up the spill on the chemical aisle.
The clock, featuring a John Deere advertisement on its face, marked the seconds from the wall behind him.
Tick, tick, tick.
After a moment of awkward silence, she licked her lips, drawing Kevin's attention away from her anxious amber eyes to the graceful bow of her mouth. The sweet, full lips moved.
"Is something wrong?"
Kevin cleared his throat and his mind, focusing on the business at hand. "There must be some mistake."