Hotter than Texas (Pecan Creek) - By Tina Leonard
Sugar Cassavechia stared at the rental house that had been advertised in Pecan Creek, Texas, as a four-bedroom, four-bath, creek-side tranquil setting with three acres of prolific pecan trees.
The house was, in a word, desolate. Ramshackle might be a better description. Thanks to the hot August sun, the creek near the enclosed backyard seemed lazy, spilling from point to point without energy.
Sugar whipped out the picture that had been on the Internet. “Doesn’t look anything like it, does it?” her sister, Lucy, observed as she looked over Sugar’s shoulder, but since her sister had also said, “Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life here,” when they’d pulled into Pecan Creek, Sugar was feeling fairly annoyed.
“Paris is thirsty, and the faucet’s running brown water,” their mother, Maggie, called from the side of the house.
They’d picked Paris up in Opelousas, Louisiana, as they’d driven through on their way to Texas from Florida. Paris had been nosing around a roadside picnic table, clearly down on her luck. Sugar had instantly fallen in love with the golden retriever, though it was hungry and probably laden with critters. But she couldn’t bear to leave it behind, and what good family home didn’t want a great dog?
“Go deal with that,” Sugar told Lucy to keep her occupied. Lucy complied, and Sugar went back to considering what was turning out not to be her dream house.
It might have once been a picturesque two-story antebellum amongst the stubby-branched native live oak trees. Now the red tile patio showed its age with cracks and bare spots where the tiles had worn loose and never been replaced. An elaborate screen protected the front door, but the screen itself wore a foot-long gash that no longer kept out insects. Once-white shutters bore the patina of neglect, and the ebony composition roof reminded Sugar of an old woman’s gap-toothed smile, its missing shingles scattered randomly over the roofline.
I dragged my recently-in-remission mother, my wounded-soul sister and a stray here for this?
The sound of a truck rumbling up the gravel drive refocused her irritation. The roughly handsome man who parked the truck and ambled over to meet her had attitude written all over him with a capital A—and life in the military had taught her to meet attitude with more attitude. “You’re the owner, I presume? The J.T. Bentley who leased me this property?”
He stuck out his hand. Sugar ignored it, and he took the hint. He might be tall, rugged and have bedroom eyes, but he was also a swindler.
“Call me Jake,” he said. “I hope I didn’t fail to mention that this house has a reputation for being haunted. It’s not, of course, but I wanted you to be apprised of its reputation in the name of fairness.”
“You failed to mention that, and also the fact that it’s uninhabitable.” Sugar’s glare had no discernible effect on him. “I’m not afraid of ghosts, but rain pouring in on us in the middle of the night is a problem. I’m not signing off on these lease papers.”
He gave her a “c’mon, let’s be friends” smile. “I’m willing to hear your concerns. Hopefully we can work something out.”
His demeanor was confident, touched with you-know-you-want-it, all-the-ladies-do, and Sugar instinctively knew Jake Bentley was a man with whom women usually “worked something out” because of the charm and the bedroom eyes. She stiffened her resistance to the overture and shook her head. “First of all, you can call me Ms. Cassavechia.”
He was checking out her legs, and she was pretty certain he hadn’t heard a word she’d said. She knew his type, met too many of them not to know exactly what he was thinking.
It was all about sex.
Unfortunately, she had to admit that under different circumstances—like if she weren’t boiling mad at him for being a grifter—she’d probably give him a chance to soothe her newly divorced ire toward men. But Ramon had been dark and hot-eyed like this hunk—and she knew exactly what good-in-bed temptation had gotten her.
Nothing but pain.
“Maybe the house is better inside,” Lucy said.
“It definitely is,” Jake said. “Want a tour?”
“The water from that faucet is brown,” Sugar snapped. “There are shingles missing all over the roof. And when’s the last time you mowed the lawn?” She handed him the papers. “We’ll find a house in town and just pay you for the pecans we need for our business.” She’d seen a few smaller houses near the tiny square, which served as the hub of Pecan Creek. Surely someone would