Only in Texas


By Christie Craig

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 28, 2012. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Nikki Hunt thought her night couldn’t get worse when her no-good, cheating ex ditched her at dinner, sticking her with the bill. Then she found his body stuffed in the trunk of her car and lost her two-hundred-dollar meal all over his three-thousand-dollar suit. Now not only is Nikki nearly broke, she’s a murder suspect.

Former cop turned PI, Dallas O’Connor knows what it’s like to be unjustly accused. But one look at the sexy-though skittish-suspect tells him she couldn’t hurt anyone. The lead detective, Dallas’s own brother, has the wrong woman and Dallas hopes a little late-night “undercover” work will help him prove it . . .

Previously published as Don’t Mess With Texas


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Blame It On Texas


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"IT'S THE RIGHT THING. It's the right thing."

At five o'clock on the dot, Nikki Hunt drove past the valet parking entrance to Venny's Restaurant and turned into the one-car alley lined with garbage Dumpsters. She eased her car over potholes big enough to lose a tire in, and parked her Honda Accord. "It's the right thing," she repeated then rested her forehead against the steering wheel. After one or two seconds, she squared her shoulders and mentally pulled up her big girl panties. Letting go of a deep breath, she stared at the Dumpster adjacent to her car and hoped this wasn't a foreshadowing of the evening.

Though no one would guess it—other than that one bill collector, her bank, and the McDonald's attendant who'd waited for her to dig out enough change to pay for her sausage biscuit this morning—Nikki couldn't afford valet parking.

Her local gallery barely made enough money to cover the rent. Who knew that a little downturn in the economy would prevent the general population from appreciating art?

Okay, fine, she knew. She was financially strapped, not stupid. And yeah, she'd also known that opening the gallery had been risky. But at the time, she'd had Jack to fall back on if things got tough. Good ol' Jack, charming, financially stable, and dependable—dependable, that is, as long as one didn't depend on him to keep his pecker in his pants.

She pulled a tube of lipstick from her purse, turned the rearview mirror her way and added a hint of pink to her lips.

Please, Nikki, meet me at Venny's. I made some mistakes, but we can fix it.

Jack's words skipped through her head.

Was Jack really going to ask her for a do-over? Was she really contemplating saying yes? And was saying yes the right thing? The questions bounced around her brain, hitting hard against her conscience.

Rubbing her lips together to smooth the pink sheen on her mouth, she looked at the back of the restaurant—probably the most expensive restaurant in Miller, Texas. The one where Jack, the man she considered the love of her life, had proposed to her four years ago. This wasn't the first time she'd heard from Jack since the divorce. The flowers he'd sent had gone to her grandmother's retirement center. Someone should enjoy them. The messages where he begged her to take him back went unanswered. She hadn't even been tempted. Until today.

Today he'd called the gallery right after Nikki had received a call from the retirement home, reminding her that her grandmother's cable bill was due. Right after she realized she was going to be short paying Ellen, her one and only part-time employee. There'd been desperation in Jack's voice and it had mimicked the desperation Nikki felt in her own life.

She focused on the rearview mirror again and gave herself a good, hard look. She fluffed her hair, hoping her thick, blond curls would appear stylish and not impoverished. Nana's cable trumped her regular clip job. Her grandmother had spent thirteen years taking care of Nikki, so the least she could do was allow the woman to watch the cooking network.

And Ellen—how could she not pay the woman who'd become her best friend? The woman who singlehandedly dragged Nikki out of the done-wrong slumps kicking and screaming.

Nikki stepped out of her car. The heat radiating from the pavement assaulted her. She could almost feel her hair frizz. Humidity thickened the air, making it hard to breathe. Or maybe that was just the anxiety of seeing Jack, of making a decision to reenter the holy union—a union that turned out not to be so holy for him.

Passing the Dumpster, she wrinkled her nose and walked faster. The ring of her cell brought her to a stop. She grabbed the phone from her purse, and checked the number.

"Hello, Nana?"

"You're my one call," Nana said.

"Shoot." Nikki hurried her steps to escape the garbage smell. Common sense told her Nana was playing the timed crossword game with her Ol' Timers Club. A game that allowed the participant a single one-minute call to someone who might be able to help. But the first time Nana had used her one-call line, she'd been in jail. Sure, Nana had only been arrested once, but bailing your grandmother out of the slammer was not something one tended to forget.

"Name of the club you join when you get it on at high altitudes, twelve letters," Nana said.

"What kind of crossword puzzle is this?" Nikki asked.

"Smokin' hot."

Figures. The Ol' Timers Club members, on average, had a better sex life than Nikki did. "Mile High Club. Not that I belong." She cut the corner to the restaurant, welcoming the warm scents of Venny's menu items.

"You should," Nana said.

"Gotta go," Nikki said before Nana started ranting about Nikki's less-than-exciting social life.

"You're coming to the dress rehearsal tonight?" Nana asked.

What dress rehearsal? Then Nikki remembered. Her grandmother and several of the Ol' Timers had gotten parts in a small neighborhood theater show.

"I can't, but I'll come to the show." If she could afford the ticket.

"Where are you?"

"About to walk into a restaurant."

"A date?" Nana sounded hopeful.

"No." Just possibly coming to get proposed to for the second time by the man I used to love.

Used to? Nikki stopped so fast she almost tripped. Didn't she still love Jack? Weren't there still feelings underneath the pain of his infidelity? Because if she didn't really have feeling for him then…

"Who are you meeting?" Nana asked.

It's the right thing. "No one," she lied, flinching.

In the background, Nikki could hear Nana's friend Benny call out, "Five seconds."

"Gotta go," Nikki repeated.

"Nikki Althea Hunt, do not tell me you're meeting that lowlife scum of an ex—"

"Love ya." Nikki hung up, dropped her cell back into her purse and tried to ignore the doubt concerning what she was about to do. Instead, she wondered what the hell her mother had been smoking when she named her Althea. Then again, figuring out what her mother was smoking when she'd dropped six-year-old Nikki at Nana's with the request that Nana raise her was a much better puzzle. And not one Nikki liked to think about, either.

Walking into the restaurant, pretending she belonged in the rich, famous, and lawyer circle, Nikki was embraced by the scents of beef burgundy. Her stomach gave one last groan, then died and went to heaven without looking back. The biscuit she'd scraped change together for this morning was a forgotten memory.

"Meeting someone?" the hostess asked as Nikki peeked into the dining room.

"Jack Leon." Nikki spotted him sitting at the table—the same table where he'd proposed to her—talking on his cell phone.

"This way." The hostess started walking but Nikki caught her arm and yanked her back. The woman's eyes rounded.

"Just a second, please." Nikki continued to stare at Jack and waited. Where was it? Where was the heart flutter when her gaze landed on him? A light flutter would do. That's all she was asking for.

No flutters, damn it. The only emotion bumping around her chest was residual fury at finding him in her gallery office, on the sofa, banging her hired help.

Not a good memory to be hanging in her mental closet tonight. Not if Jack was going to propose. Because if she said yes, then she might be the one banging her ex.

"Crappers," she muttered and her heart did a cartwheel, hitting the sides of her ribs. Nikki had no problem with sex. Not that she'd had any pleasure in a long time. A really long time. Like… since Jack.

The truth rained down on her. She wasn't here because she loved Jack. If she went back to him it wouldn't even be for pleasure. It would be for money. Sure, the money was to pay Nana's cable, to pay Ellen, and to keep her gallery afloat, but still… the hard fact was she'd be having sex for money.

"Oh shit!" Could she stoop that low?

My name is Nikki Hunt, not Nikki Name Your Price.

"I don't think I can do this," she muttered and tightened her hold on the hostess's arm.

"You don't think you can do what?" asked the hostess.

"Oh hell. It's not the right thing."

"What's not the right thing?"

Nikki stared at her feet. "How important are the cooking shows anyway?"

"Which one?" asked the hostess, still mistaking Nikki's muttering for conversation. "I like Rachael Ray."

Releasing the hostess's arm, Nikki turned to go, but stopped short when a waiter carting a tray of yeast-scented bread and real butter moved past. He left a wake of warm tantalizing aroma.

Crapola. She wouldn't have sex with Jack. She wouldn't remarry him, but could she sit through a dinner for some mouthwatering food? Yup, she could stoop that low.

Call it payment for defiling the much-loved antique sofa in her office. No way could she have kept it after seeing him and her employee going at it doggy-style on the piece of furniture.

Mind made up, Nikki swung around and, without waiting for the hostess, shot across the dining room and plopped down at Jack's table.

Still on the phone, Jack looked up. His eyes widened with what appeared to be relief, and he nodded. Dropping her purse at her feet and, not waiting for a bread plate, she snagged a hot roll and smeared a generous amount of sweet butter on it. Her mouth watered as the butter oozed over the bread.

"No," Jack snapped into the phone and held up an apologetic finger to her.

She nodded, smiled, and took a bite of the roll. Her stomach growled as if it were saying bread alone wouldn't silence or satisfy it. She noticed a bowl of gumbo sitting in front of Jack. She'd kill for gumbo. Too bad Jack had a thing about sharing food.

"Fuck, no!" Jack seethed. "I can't do this."

The F word brought Nikki's gaze up from his gumbo. Jack, a refined lawyer trying to make partner and always concerned about public decorum, seldom cursed. Amazingly, from his viewpoint, screwing your wife's part-time help wasn't considered bad manners.

"Listen to me," Jack muttered.

Nikki recalled Jack taking offense at her occasional slip of "shit," "damn," and "hell"—a habit she'd obtained from hanging out with Nana and the Ol' Timers. Jack had almost broken her of it, too. Then, staring at his Armani suit and his hundred-dollar haircut, Nikki had an epiphany.

Jack had spent the entire two years of their marriage, not to mention the year they'd dated, trying to turn her into someone else—someone who would look good on the arm of a partner of the Brian and Sterns Law Firm. Don't say this. Say that. Wear this. Do you have to spend so much time with your grandmother?

Glancing down at her black pants and knit top, she knew he wouldn't approve of her wardrobe. How odd that she hadn't even considered dressing up for the event. Or maybe not odd. It should have been a clue that their reconciling was a joke. Seriously, she hadn't even put on sexy underwear. Her gaze shot back to his gumbo.

Screw Jack's apparel approval and his no-share policy. She reached for the bowl and, suddenly feeling lowbrow and proud of it, dunked her roll in the roux and brought the soupy mess to her lips.


Spotting a floating shrimp in the cup, and not lowbrow enough to use her fingers, she went for Jack's spoon.

He slapped his hand on top of hers and frowned—a disapproving, judgmental frown that pulled at his brown eyes.

Big mistake on his part.

Slipping her hand from under his, she fished out the shrimp with two fingers and ate it. Even made a show of licking her fingers. Jack's mouth fell open at her lack of manners. Not that she cared. Considering the way things were going, the gumbo and rolls were all she'd be having for dinner. She might as well enjoy them.

A tuxedo-wearing waiter ran up and placed a spoon in front of her. Nikki smiled at his pinched, disapproving look, which matched her husband's frown.

"Thank you," she said, proving she wasn't totally lacking in the manners department.

"Something to drink?" the waiter asked, his expression still critical of her lack of etiquette.

"A Budweiser, please." She didn't like beer, but it fit her mood. And just like that, she knew why. All this time—even after she'd caught Jack bare-ass naked with her employee, even after she realized how badly he'd screwed her with that prenuptial agreement—she'd never given Jack a bit of comeuppance. And why? Because she'd been more hurt than angry. Now, realizing she'd stopped loving him, the hurt had evaporated and she was just angry. And it wasn't altogether a bad feeling, either.

Jack stood up. Frowning, he pressed his phone to his shoulder. "Order for us," he said. "I'll be right back." He snatched up his gumbo and handed it to the waiter. "And she'll take a glass of Cabernet." He took off.

Nikki tightened her hands on the edge of the table and considered walking out, but another waiter walked by with a plate of chicken marsala. She inhaled and eyed the waiter clutching Jack's gumbo as if afraid she might fight him for it. And she might have but suddenly, she got an odd aftertaste from the gumbo. "Bring us one beef burgundy and one chicken marsala. And my beer."

After one disapproving eye roll, the waiter walked away.

She'd already sipped from the frosty mug and devoured another roll when Jack returned. He sat across from her and frowned. She snatched another bite of bread, pretty certain her free meal had just come to an end.

His frown faded. "You have no idea how glad I am that you came."

Nikki nearly choked on her bread. What? No condescending remark about her lack of manners? Jack was playing nice. Jack never played nice unless he really wanted something.

Did he want her back that badly? It wouldn't change anything, but whose ego couldn't use stroking?

He picked up his linen napkin and dabbed at his forehead where she'd just noticed he was sweating. Sweating was right up there with playing nice. Jack didn't sweat.

Her pinching gut said something was up and it had to do with more than just her. She leaned in. "What's going on, Jack?"

Dallas O'Connor walked into the building that housed both his business and apartment. Stopping just inside the doorway, he waited. Five seconds. Ten. When Bud didn't greet him, Dallas looked over at the coffin against the nearby wall. Someone had opened the dang thing again.

He growled low in his throat, "Get out of there."

One soulful second later, Bud—short for "Budweiser"—raised his head from inside the coffin and rested his hanging jowls on the edge of the polished wooden box. The pain of being chastised flashed in his huge bug eyes. Bud, an English bulldog, hated being chastised.

"Out," Dallas said, lowering his voice. "It's not a doggy bed."

The prior owners of the building, which had been a funeral home, had left the damn casket when they moved out six months ago. Dallas had called and left numerous messages asking them to remove the dang thing, but no response. The last time he'd told them they had one more week, and he was going to sell it on eBay. He was tired of having to explain the casket to his clients.

The dog leaped out of the coffin and barreled over to Dallas. After one swipe over the dog's side, Dallas glanced at his watch and shot back to the office. He found Tyler, one of his Only in Texas Private Investigations partners, listening to the police scanner as he watched the television. Tyler's expression had worry stamped all over it, too.

"He hasn't called yet?" Dallas removed his gun from his holster and placed it in his desk—a habit he hadn't broken from the seven years he'd worked for the Glencoe Police Department. Seven years he wished he could get back. The only good thing that had come from those years was the friendship of his PI partners, Tyler and Austin.

Tyler glanced away from the television. "Not a word. Any luck at the park?"

"There were two female joggers, but neither of them fit the description Nance gave."

Frowning, Tyler leaned back in his chair. "I'm afraid we're not going to get anything to save this kid. He's going to go down for robbery."

"It's not over." No way would Dallas let that innocent boy do time. But right now, both he and Tyler should be worried about one of their own. Dallas motioned to the police scanner. "Have the cops been called out yet?"

Tyler nodded and concern pinched his brows, making the two-inch scar over his right eye stretch tighter. "Thirty minutes ago."

"Shit," Dallas said. "Why the hell hasn't he called?"

"You know Austin," Tyler said. "He's a lone wolf."

"That's not how we operate," Dallas said, but in his gut he knew they were all lone wolves. Life had taught them that was the only way to live. Getting set up by a lowlife drug dealer named DeLuna and then having almost everyone you believed in turn their backs on you—not to mention spending sixteen months in the slammer—well, it did that to you. It made you feel as if the only one you could trust was yourself.

Dallas glanced at the silent television. "Any media coverage?"

"Not yet," Tyler said. "But the cops called for another unit to help hold them back, so they're there."

"Have you tried to reach him?" Dallas dialed Austin's number.

"He's not answering." Tyler grabbed the remote and ramped up the volume. "We got something."

Dallas glanced at the redheaded reporter on the screen, but listened to his cell until the call went to Austin's voice mail and he hung up. The camera closed in on the reporter as she announced a breaking news segment.

"God, she's hot," Tyler said.

Dallas studied the redhead as she held a microphone close to her lips. "You need to get laid."

"Okay," Tyler said. "You want to give my number to that hot brunette I saw leaving here last week? Or tell your ex to pay me a visit. She could leave her underwear at my place, too."

"Funny," Dallas said, and regretted telling the guys about his screwup with his ex. Then again, he hadn't told them. His dog had. Bud had come traipsing into the office the next morning with a pair of red panties hanging from his jowls. Thankfully, Suzan—aka, the hot brunette—was careful to take her underwear with her when she left his bed. And she didn't expect—or want—more than he was willing to give. The perfect relationship—pure sex. Twice a month, when her ex got her kids for the weekend, she showed up at his place. Most nights, she didn't even stay over. Sex and the bed to himself—what more could a guy ask?

The news reporter started talking. "We're here at the home of Blake Mallard, CEO of Acorn Oil Company. An anonymous caller said Mallard's dirty shenanigans, both with the company and his personal life, were about to be made public." The reporter paused.

"He had to have gotten out." Tyler traced his finger over the scar at his temple. He'd earned it during their stint in prison. While Tyler never talked about the fight, Dallas knew the guy who'd given Tyler the mark hadn't walked away unscathed. Rumor in the pen had it the guy hadn't walked away at all, but had to be carried out on a stretcher. Jail time was never a walk in the park, but Dallas suspected Tyler had had a harder time behind bars than both he and Austin.

The reporter started talking again, and a smile threatened to spill from her lips. "According to sources, Mallard was found handcuffed to his bed with a call girl. The missing files Mallard swore were stolen from his office were found in the room. We're told the cops were called to the residence by Mallard's wife, who was worried someone had broken in."

After a few beats of silence, the reporter continued. "We're told the girl found with Mallard is claiming a guy dressed in a clown costume handcuffed them to the bed and pulled the files from Mallard's private safe."

"Did y'all try to call me?" Austin's voice came from the doorway.

Dallas glanced up. "You…" Words failed him.

"I love it," Tyler said and laughed.

"You mean this?" Austin motioned at his bright red-and-blue polka-dotted clown suit and multicolored wig. Whipping off the wig, he tossed it up and caught it.

Dallas shook his head. "You love theatrics, don't you?"

"Theatrics? Are you kidding? This was brilliance. It's a gated community. I had to get past security. A birthday party was happening next door to the Mallards. They wouldn't let in a guy wearing a ski mask, but a clown? Not a problem." Austin looked at the TV. "Did I make the news?"

"Oh, yeah," Tyler said.

Austin tossed his wig on his desk. "It's not every day we get to solve a cheating-spouse case and a real crime at the same time. It felt good. And now we can put this case to bed and I can focus on proving Nance is innocent."

Dallas raked his hand through his hair. "I'll bet a hundred bucks my brother will be calling me within five minutes, wanting to know if we're behind this."

Austin dropped his clown-suited ass into a chair. "Tell him Miller PD owes me a beer for solving their case."

The reporter appeared on the screen again. Austin looked at the television. "She's hot."

"That's what I said." Tyler grinned.

Austin looked back at Dallas. "Did you get anything at the park?"

"Nothing," Dallas said.

"I'm going to try a few different parks around here," Austin said. "Maybe the chick swaps off and jogs at different places."

"Maybe," Dallas said.

"Did you hear from Roberto?" Austin asked Tyler.

"Yeah," Tyler answered. "None of his leads point to DeLuna."

"Then tell him to get some new leads," Austin said, his frustration clearly showing at having so much time pass since they'd had anything on DeLuna.

Dallas's cell phone rang. He checked the number. "See," he told Austin. "It's my brother."

"I thought pissing off the guys in blue was our goal." Austin crossed his arms.

"You're wrong." Dallas stared at the phone. "Pissing off the lowlife drug runner DeLuna is our goal. Pissing off the guys in blue…" He looked up with a grin. "Well, that's just an added benefit. My brother being the exception, of course."

As his partners chuckled, Dallas answered the call. "What's up, Tony?"

"Damn, Dallas, tell me that wasn't you," Tony demanded.

"What wasn't me?" Dallas shot Austin an I-told-you-so frown.

"Why do I think you're lying?" Tony came back.

"Because you're a suspicious son of a bitch."

Tony sighed. "Can you meet me for a burger at Buck's Place in half an hour?"


"To eat," Tony said.

Dallas wasn't buying it. Not that he and his brother didn't do dinner. They had weekly dinners with their dad. But something told Dallas that Tony wanted more than a burger and fries. To confirm it, Dallas asked, "You paying?"

"Sure," Tony said.

Yup, Tony wanted something. His brother never agreed to pay.

Nikki watched Jack rearrange his silverware in an attempt to avoid her question. "What's going on, Jack?" she asked again.

He shook his head. "Just trouble at work."

"What kind of trouble?"

He shifted his arm, knocking the linen napkin off the table. Scooting back in his chair, he reached to collect the cloth. Falling into old habits, she signaled for the waiter to bring a clean napkin.

"It's okay," Jack said, sitting up.

That's when she knew something had to be seriously wrong. Jack, a germ freak, would never use a dropped napkin.

"Look, the reason I asked you here is… I need a wife on my arm."

"A wife?" Had she heard him right? He didn't need her. He needed a wife. Anyone would do. As long as they were trainable and, damn it, she'd proven she was. Only not anymore.

"I realize I slipped up."

"Really, you think screwing my part-time help was a slipup?"

He frowned but before he could answer, his phone buzzed again. He looked at the caller ID. "I have to take this." He put a hand on his stomach and swayed when he stood up. Even though she was furious, she almost suggested he sit down, but then he grabbed her beer and set it down on a table that a busboy was cleaning.

Damn him! She popped up, tossed her napkin on the table and went to rescue her beer. Eying the busboy, she grinned. "I think I lost this." Then she plopped back down in her seat. She wasn't Jack's to train anymore and when he returned she would, for the first time, tell him exactly what she thought of him. After, she enjoyed her dinner of course.

Five minutes later, dinner arrived but Jack still hadn't. Considering manners were optional tonight, she started without him. She even enjoyed some of Jack's beef burgundy. She'd been so involved in savoring the food, she hadn't realized so much time had passed.

"Is he coming back?" the waiter asked.

"Of course he is." Panic clenched her stomach and she nearly choked on the steak. "He has to."

She waited another twenty minutes, even had the busboy check the bathroom, before she accepted the inevitable. Jack wasn't coming back. The waiter returned with the check and eyed her suspiciously as if to say any woman who would stick her finger in her date's soup was thoroughly capable of the eat-and-run offense.

Glancing at the check, she muttered, "I'm going to kill him!"

"Kill who?" the waiter asked.

"Who do you think?" She peeked at the bill and moaned. A hundred and eighty without tip, then there was the fee the bank would charge her for overdrawing her checking account.

Her stomach roiled again, this time in a bad way. Snatching up her purse, she found her debit card. Thankfully, she had overdraft insurance. With anger making her shake, she handed the card to the waiter. Her stomach cramped. She considered complaining that something she'd eaten had upset her stomach, but she knew how that would look.

"Yup, he's as good as dead!"

"I'm killing him," Nikki muttered fifteen minutes later as she pulled out her already overdrawn debit card again.

The grocery store cashier scanned the Pepto-Bismol, Tums, Rolaids, and antidiarrheal meds before looking at Nikki. "Kill who?"

Why did people think just because she was talking, she was speaking to them? Was she the only one who talked to herself? Nevertheless, with the cashier's curious stare, Nikki felt obligated to answer. "My ex." She placed a palm on her stomach as it roiled.

Holding her purchases in a plastic bag, Nikki couldn't escape quickly enough. She darted out the door. The ball of orange sun hung low in the predusk sky. Her eyes stung. She almost got to the car when the smell of grilled burgers from the hamburger joint next door washed over her and the full wave of nausea hit. A woman with two kids dancing around her came right at Nikki. Not wanting to upchuck on an innocent child, she swung around in the opposite direction, opened her bag and heaved as quietly as she could inside it.

Realizing she'd just puked on her medicine, she lost her backbone, and tears filled her eyes. Only the weak cry. The words filled her head, but damn it, right now she was weak.

She rushed to her car, wanting only to get home. Tying a knot in the bag, she grabbed her keys, hit the clicker to unlock the doors and then popped open the trunk.


On Sale
Aug 28, 2012
Page Count
464 pages

Christie Craig

About the Author

Christie Craig is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-nine books. She is an Alabama native, a motivational speaker, and a writing teacher, who currently hangs her hat in Texas. When she’s not writing romance, she’s traveling, sipping wine, or penning bestselling young adult novels as C.C. Hunter.

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