Cates Brothers Series — Book 5
In Climax, North Carolina, climbing the professional ladder means making the right connections. And Paxton Cates is about to form a partnership he never expected . . .
High school English teacher Jolene Joyner, Ms. Climax Model Citizen of the Year for the last two years, is in trouble for the first time in her perfect life. And when she lands in jail, she needs to call her life-long nemesis for help.
Lawyer Paxton Cates has his path to a judgeship all mapped out, except his bachelor status is keeping him off too many of the guest lists where all the real networking is done. So when Ms. Goody-Two-Shoes Joyner, the bane of his youth, calls him for help, he sees a chance for them to help each other.
What’s a little quid quo pro between enemies? Paxton’s willing to help—all Jo has to do is pretend to be head-over-heels in stable couplehood with him for six months.
Other than the fact that no one is likely to believe they’re a couple, there is one other teensy, weensy problem. After a lifetime of being the good girl, Jo really, really loves being bad. She has plans to be bad more often. A good girl would warn Paxton, but a bad girl…she’ll let him figure it out for himself.
Copyright © Lee Kilriane
Paxton Cates was not in a good mood. When his phone rang at three fifty-six in the morning and he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he’d been tempted to hang up—but he knew there’d be hell to pay with his mother if he did. Which was why he was walking into the Climax Police Department at five forty-five a.m.
The new rookie cop he’d met in court the week before stood ramrod straight behind the front desk. He stopped and shook his hand. “Officer Davis. Are you the one who brought Ms. Joyner in?”
“Yes, sir. I made the collar.”
Paxton squinted one eye at him. “Right. What is she being charged with?”
Davis picked up a clipboard and handed it across the desk to him. “It’s kind of a long list. It’s probably easier if you just read the charges yourself.”
Huh. Captain America here made her sound like a hardened criminal. He took the clipboard from Davis, who seemed a bit too jazzed about the arrest. If he was looking for an adrenaline fix from fighting crime, he was in for a disappointment in Climax. Paxton nodded and moved toward the holding cell in the back. Officer Rojas was leaning against the bars of the cell, laughing with the prisoner.
“Rafe.” He nodded at him. “I’d like a few minutes with Ms. Joyner.”
“Sure thing, Paxton.” Rafe straightened away from the bars and winked in at her. “I’ll be back.”
Paxton grabbed a straight-backed wooden chair from along the wall and moved it to sit directly in front of the cell. He relaxed back and stared at his high school nemesis, Jolene Joyner. Jojo. Jo. The girl who’d found a way to annoy him almost every day in high school as if she’d put it on her to-do list. The sweet smile she’d graced Rafe with disappeared and her gaze narrowed at him through the bars. She still looked like the perky, hot cheerleader she’d been in high school. The black jeans and shirt she wore only highlighted her long, wavy blond hair. Not bleached; more like sun-streaked honey. And she had those big gray eyes she used to suck guys in and hypnotize them. He’d avoided that sad fate his whole life—he wasn’t going to fall for it now.
“Paxton.” She lifted her stubborn little chin at him. “What took so long? I called you almost two hours ago.”
“Jolene. Two hours? Really? Well, let’s see.” He stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles. “I had to shower. And eat breakfast. I was going to scramble a couple of eggs to save time, but then I decided I really wanted pancakes. I make a mean pancake. I even heated up the maple syrup to pour over them. And then I had to drive here.”
“You live ten minutes away.”
“I made coffee. French press. That takes a little longer to get it just right.” He needed to let Jo know she couldn’t run him around like she did one of her adoring boyfriends. No sir. She’d had guys wrapped around her little finger for years. She broke a nail and the boyfriend du jour came running. Paxton wanted it clear she couldn’t wrap him up like that. “I had a Redbox movie to turn in or I would’ve been charged for another day. Please. Zombie Stewardesses was good, but not that good.”
“Oh, good. Are you sure you didn’t have a library book you could have dropped off at the night drop? We wouldn’t want you to have to pay an overdue fine.”
He didn’t bother to stop his grin. “Actually, princess, I dropped that off too.”
“Don’t call me that.”
That’s right. She’d always hated it when he did that, hadn’t she? Guess he’d forgotten. He let his gaze wander over her, meandering down and up the long length of her and watched her bristle like an angry kitten. They’d met in preschool when he’d cut off one of her pigtails. She’d burst into sloppy tears and he’d had to spend recess in the time-out chair. Instant enemies. The older they got, the less they got along.
Between college, law school, and a stint with an established law firm in D.C., he’d been away for over ten years. When he’d come back two years ago, they’d both discovered absence hadn’t made the heart grow fonder for either of them. Mostly they just gave each other a wide berth. “So, Jolene. It’s good to hear from you. How are things? How’s old…dang, what’s his name? Jason? John? Jeremy! How’s Jeremy doing?”
“Jeremy? I wouldn’t know. We broke up two years ago and he moved to Florida. Don’t you ever talk to your mother?”
“Sure I do. We just don’t talk about you.” Well, enough fun. He sat up and reached to the table behind him for the clipboard with her arrest paperwork. The first thing he saw made him smile. “No way. Your name is Jolene Jolene Joyner? I wish I’d known that back in middle school.”
He heard her huff of breath and grinned up at her.
“Mama was a big Dolly Parton fan. Laugh all you want, Paxton. You can’t tell anyone about my name on account of the attorney-client privilege.”
“Damn, Jolene Jolene, I could have had a lot of fun with that.”
She made some noise that sounded like a junkyard dog about to attack. “Would you mind getting back to my charges, please?”
“Okay, okay. Let me guess…Officer Davis pulled you over for speeding, saw all the previous speeding tickets on your record, probably an unpaid one too, couldn’t be charmed by your big eyes or moved by your tears, and arrested your cute little behind. How’d I do?”
“Uuhhh. Not quite.” A delicate pink flushed her cheeks and she bit down on her lower lip. She’d probably practiced that in front of the mirror a million times to get it to look that sexy.
Paxton jerked his gaze away from her mouth and down to the clipboard and skimmed further down the form. “What the hell, Jolene?”
“He totally made some of those charges up.”
“Which ones?” He pinned her with his gaze before reading them off. “Trespassing, breaking and entering, burglary? Why would you break into the animal shelter, Jo?”
She turned her head to stare at the cinder-block wall in front of her. “It’s a long story.”
“Do tell.” He waited a beat, but when she remained silent—for the first time ever, to his knowledge—he went back to reading the charges. “Aggravating a police officer, resisting arrest, and bribery. Bribery, Jo? Seriously?”
“No! I told you he made some charges up. All I said was I was sure we could clear everything up with a friendly talk over doughnuts. When he accused me of trying to bribe him, I only brought up money and sex as examples of what a real bribe would be. Just check his tape—it’ll prove I’m telling the truth. He just doesn’t like me, is all.” Jo’s lower lip pushed out before she pressed her lips together.
“Money and sex? Why were you even talking to him?” What was he saying? Jo would talk the ears off an elephant. He ran his hand over his face, taking a deep breath before glancing back at her. “He didn’t like you? Gee, what could you possibly have done? I mean, other than break the law.”
“I might have referred to him as Barney Fife. I mean, possibly.” Jo’s gaze flicked up at him and quickly away before she stood up from the cot attached to the wall and paced in the small cell. “And there was that whole awkward part where I sort of head-butted his nose, which hurt me more than him, I’m pretty sure. The doughnut offer—a totally polite gesture on my part. Other than those little things…I don’t know why he didn’t like me. Normally I’m a very likable person. Please, Paxton, you’ve got to help me fix this. I’ve never not been…”
“Perfect? Look, this really isn’t my specialty anymore, but I’ve got a friend who—” He stopped talking as a thought hit him, and he felt a little bit like the Grinch when he decided to steal Christmas from Whoville. Because Jo was right. Outside of him, everyone did like her. Jolene Joyner had a perfect reputation. Until last night, but he could spin that no problem. “On second thought, I’ve got a proposition for you.”
She stopped pacing and tilted her head at him. “What?”
“You know I’m vice president of the Climax Judicial District Bar Association—”
“I had no idea.”
“I’m planning on running for president, but it’s been strongly suggested to me that I’d be a shoo-in if I was in a stable, committed relationship.” Coming back to Climax had been the next step toward his ultimate goal of becoming a judge. He’d been working on his political and community connections, but being a bachelor, he was left off the invite list on many of the local social gatherings that seemed to cater to couples. Jolene could be his way in.
“And to think you acted like I was the crazy one. I am not flying to Vegas with you for some quickie marriage at the drive-through Chapel of Elvis.”
“Good lord, no. I’ll help you deal with your arrest and charges and you just have to pretend to be in a relationship with me for six months. Tops.”
“You and me? A couple? No one is going to buy that. I mean, we go together as well as Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.”
“You know they kiss in the end, right?”
“Cats and dogs. Cheerleaders and baseball. Eggnog and tuna fish.”
“No one knows that but you and me. I bet you’ve never even told your mother, have you?”
“No. You know our moms are good friends. I didn’t want to start something awkward between them.”
“We can make it work for six months. Deal?”