Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 1

Chapter One

Having a boyfriend was supposed to make my life easier.

Instead, I buttoned Joe’s white shirt on Monday morning, forlorn. This was the fifth time he’d left for Little Rock after a weekend with me, and each time was even harder than the time before. I rested my cheek against his chest and sighed. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

He lifted my chin and leaned down to kiss me, making me want him to stay even more. “You should quit your job at the DMV, which you hate anyway, and come stay with me in Little Rock.”

I sighed again. We’d had this conversation before. “Joe…”

He kissed me again, knowing full well his lips were my Kryptonite.

Muffy, my eight-pound guard dog, whined at my feet. She always did have good timing. “I’ll take you out in a minute, Muff.” I pulled away and looked at the clock. “It’s seven, and it’ll take you two hours to get to Little Rock. You need to get goin’.”

“You still didn’t answer my question.”

I rested my hands on his chest and looked up into his face with a playful grin. “An intelligent police detective such as yourself should know full well that wasn’t a question. And besides, you know my answer. We’ve only been dating a month. It’s too soon. And then there’s Violet…”

“Your sister is a grown woman with a family of her own. You spent twenty-four years living your life to please your mother, Rose. It’s time to think about you.”

“I can’t leave Violet to deal with all the estate stuff from Momma’s death. That wouldn’t be fair to her.”

“You sell the house and divide the assets. It’s not that hard, Rose.”

I took a step back. I didn’t want to sell the house. “That still doesn’t address the length of time we’ve known each other. It’s only been—”

“A little over a month.” Joe ended with a sigh. “I know. How long do you need? Two months? A year?”

“I don’t know, Joe.” I said, frustrated I didn’t know that answer.

He pulled me against his chest and nuzzled my neck. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you. I just miss you so much durin’ the week and the weekends don’t last long enough.”

“I know.” My stomach flip-flopped in my confusion. I missed him, too. Terribly. Why didn’t I want to move to Little Rock with him? I settled into his chest, the soft rhythm of his heart filling my ear with comfort and reassurance. I needed to soak it in to last me through the rest of the week. Four nights without him—the thought filled me with loneliness, but the thought of moving to Little Rock filled me with terror.

He kissed me again, reminding me of what I’d be missing for the next five days. I knew full well that was his intent when he pulled back and gave me his ornery grin.

“You play dirty,” I said with a grin of my own.

“You better believe it.” Joe dropped his arms and turned away. “Okay, I need to go before I throw you into the car and take you with me anyway.” He rummaged around on the kitchen counter.

“That’s called kidnapping, Detective Simmons. You of all people should know that. What are you lookin’ for?”

“My keys.” He opened the junk drawer and shuffled through the contents. “Here they are.” He clutched them in his fist and pulled out an envelope. “Fenton County Courthouse. This looks important.”

I grabbed the envelope. “Oh crappy doodles! I completely forgot. I have jury duty on the eleventh. What’s today?”

He raised an eyebrow. “The eleventh.”

My stomach twisted. “Oh no! I didn’t tell Suzanne, and I don’t have vacation time left. She’ll never let me off.”

“Suzanne has to you let you off. It’s the law—and it won’t be vacation time either, so don’t worry about that. She’ll understand.”

I wasn’t sure she would understand at all. Suzanne, my coworker and nemesis, had been promoted after our old boss’s extortion arrest. I’d been involved in uncovering the crime, and had suffered some injuries. When I’d returned to work after a week off, sporting a bruised and battered face, Suzanne tried to bond with me, thinking we were sisters in boyfriend abuse. But when she found out I’d gotten beat up in the bust of a sting operation instead, and that Joe was an undercover cop, she hated me again. It didn’t matter that I’d been accidentally dragged into it; all that mattered to Suzanne was that I’d become big news in town and had stolen attention from her. Of course, it didn’t take much to be big news in Henryetta, Arkansas, population 11,000. Before the Daniel Crocker mess, the biggest news had been Samantha Jo Wheaton lighting her cheating husband’s boat on fire in their front yard.

“Just call in and tell her you forgot. Besides, you’ll probably only be at the courthouse half a day and be at the DMV in the afternoon. They’ll hardly miss you.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right…” Other than the crime ring bust, which involved a couple of deaths—my momma’s and a bartender at Jasper’s Steakhouse—and a few break-ins at my house, there wasn’t much crime in Henryetta or Fenton County. Did they have jury trials for jaywalking?

Muffy whined again and Joe reached down to rub her head. “I hear you, girl.” Joe grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. “I gotta go. Walk me out?”