Zahra Chandler parked in front of her grandfather’s bookstore and sucked in a deep breath. She still couldn’t believe he was gone or that he’d left the house and bookstore to her, as well as a large monetary inheritance. Though only seven o’clock on Saturday evening, all of the town’s stores seemed to be shut down for the night. She stepped out of the car, looked around and stretched to relieve some of the kinks from the three-and-a-half-hour drive. Located about an hour away from San Diego, nestled in an area with beautiful mountains and lakes, Blackmont, California had a population of less than a thousand and everybody knew each other. So, who could have wanted her grandfather dead? Reaching back into the car, she grabbed the key ring her grandfather’s attorney, Mr. Bostwick, had provided, shut the door and pressed the remote lock.
She walked up to the store’s front and searched for the key. “Oh, great,” she muttered. None of the keys were labeled. There had to be at least twenty keys and half of them looked to be a possible fit. She stuck the first one in, the second one, the third one…then the fourth one. She turned the key slightly and it broke off in the lock. Zahra let out an impatient sigh and cursed under her breath. She walked back to the car and searched the glove compartment for something to try to remove the broken piece. She grabbed a mini screwdriver out of one of those eyeglass repair kits she’d gotten from some promotional campaign, a regular sized screwdriver, and went back to the door. Using the flashlight on her key ring, she decided to try to dig out the small piece first. If that failed, then she’d use the larger one to pry off the lock.
“Freeze!” a deep voice commanded from behind her.
She gasped sharply, clutched her chest and spun around, instinctively bringing the screwdriver up in a protective position. Zahra slowly lowered it and visibly relaxed upon seeing the officer. “Goodness. You scared me. I thought you were a robber or something.”
“I figured you’d be back.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “I beg your pardon. Back from where?”
“Step away from the door, Miss,” he commanded, gun drawn.
“Why? What are you talking about?”
“Put your hands where I can see them.”
She took a step. “I can explain.”
“I’m not going to tell you again.”
Raising her hands, she sighed. “I’m not breaking in.”
He holstered his gun, stalked over to where she stood and latched on to her arm.
Zahra pulled away, dropping her keys and screwdrivers. “Wait. What are you doing? I’m not trying to break into the store.”
“Look, lady. Don’t make me add resisting arrest to breaking and entering.”
“You’re arresting me?” she asked incredulously. “This is my store. I haven’t done anything wrong. If you would just listen—”
“You can explain it at the station.” He gestured her toward the police sedan.
“You’re making a big mistake.”
The corner of his mouth kicked up and he let out a snort. “Right. I’m making a mistake. I’m not the one who was caught jimmying a lock with a screwdriver. We can straighten out your identity at the station. Get in.” He retrieved the keys and screwdrivers from where she had dropped them then escorted her over to the car. “What’s your name?”
Zahra folded her arms and rolled her eyes. Before she could say anything, another police car drove up and two men got out.
A young blond-haired officer called out, “Hey, Ken. Who you got there?”
“Finally caught the person trying to break into Chandler’s Bookstore.” He held up the screwdrivers.
Zahra placed a hand on her hip and pointed a finger in his face. “I wasn’t breaking into anything! Did you not see the keys in my hand?” She heard muffled laughter from the men, but didn’t care. She’d had enough of this craziness.
He opened the door and gestured her inside. “Have a seat.”
She dropped down into the backseat and crossed her arms. “Arrogant jerk,” she muttered. After what seemed like hours, he came and leaned into the window. She drilled him with an angry stare.
“Now, let’s try this again. What’s your name?”
His brow lifted. “Chandler?
“Yes. Chandler.” She smiled smugly and leaned forward. “I tried to tell you who I was before, but you wouldn’t listen,” she said through clenched teeth. “If you had just opened your ears for two seconds, I would have told you the key broke in the lock of my store and I was trying to get it out. I would have shown you my driver’s license, but it’s locked in my car, parked right over there, in front of my store.”
“Looks like you really stepped in it this time, Kendall,” the older officer said, pushing off the hood of the car. Zahra guessed him to be about fifty. He had graying hair around the temples and a few lines bracketing his mouth and eyes on his walnut colored face. Although he had some added girth around his middle, he still looked to be in good shape. The man came over, smiled warmly and extended his hand through the window. “Carl Franklin. It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Chandler. You must be Josiah’s granddaughter. I recognize you from the picture he kept in the store. He talked about you all the time. My condolences.”
She shook his hand. “Thank you. Nice meeting you, too.”
The other officer introduced himself.
She fixed her gaze on the man still standing there with a scowl on his face. “I’m thinking I’d like that apology now.”
He had the decency to look embarrassed. “My apologies, Ms. Chandler. Someone has been trying to break into the store for the last couple of nights and I thought you might be that person.” He opened the door to let her out.
“Thank you, but I’d still like to speak to a supervisor or your boss.”
Officer Franklin laughed. “That might be a little tough since he is the boss. Ms. Chandler, meet Sheriff Kendall McKnight.”
Zahra’s mouth fell open. A slow grin made its way over the sheriff’s face. Her breath caught. That smile was… She shook herself mentally. Now she had really lost her mind. Yes, he looked good…okay, better than good. Along with his towering height, he was drop-dead gorgeous. He had smooth nut-brown skin, a neatly groomed beard and goatee that hugged his jaw like a shadow, close-cropped black hair, chiseled features and piercing, dark chocolate eyes that seemed to see clear through to her soul. But this man had just tried to arrest her, so she had no business thinking about his smile or anything else about him.