With a raise of one eyebrow, he points to the gun on his holster by his hip and the Taser on his other hip, and then pulls a can of mace out of a front compartment of the holster, holding it up for me to see before quietly sliding it back in place.

“Ha! And that’s how I know you’re not really with the sheriff’s department. The worst crime that’s ever happened here in a hundred years was when Billy Snyder got drunk on homemade moonshine and accidentally shot his foot. Nice try there, slick,” I state smugly.

“Actually, I had to use the Taser three days ago when Mr. Snell wouldn’t stop kicking his cows,” Hot Guy Creepy Stalker informs me.

Damn, that chest looks even better in uniform than it did in a tight t-shirt. And those arms…they could crack a watermelon in half. He looks more like a stripper cop than an actual man in law enforcement.

“Mr. Snell was kicking his cows? PRINCIPAL Snell?” I ask distractedly, forcing myself to look away from how his uniform sleeves tighten around the thickness of his biceps when he crosses his arms in front of him.

Jethro Snell was the principal when Emma Jo and I were in school. He was always nice and I have a hard time picturing him doing something like this out on his farm at the edge of town, even if it has been twelve years since I saw him last.

“He retired six years ago. And he said the cows wouldn’t stop looking at him funny. I’m assuming this was a result of the same homemade moonshine,” Hot Guy who is hotter than earlier, but still falling under creepy stalker territory no matter how much the low rumble of his voice makes my low parts feel rumbly. “Can you put the weapon down now?”

He looks over my shoulder and the amusement on his face drops like a lead balloon. His eyes narrow and his arms slowly uncross and drop to his sides, his hands clenching into fists.

“Jesus Christ,” he mumbles through clenched teeth. “You were on your side facing away when I stopped in earlier and I didn’t see…that son of a bitch…”

I’m confused for a minute when he speaks until I hear Emma Jo sigh softly from behind me and realize she must have walked up when we were discussing Principal Mayford kicking his cattle and Hot Guy Creepy Stalker got a look at her face.

“See? It wasn’t a dream. He really was in your hospital room this morning,” I tell Emma Jo triumphantly. “Wait, that means you are friends with a Ho-,”

I stop myself from finishing that statement, but Emma Jo kindly does it for me with no regard whatsoever to my well-being.

“Hot Guy? Yes, if I thought of him like that, I guess you could say I’m friends with a hot guy. Or actually, your Hot Guy.” She smiles, reaching around me and taking the award from my hands to set it on a small table next to the door. “I can’t believe this is who you wouldn’t shut up about all morning. And in the car on the way home. And all night tonight.”

She laughs again and shakes her head at me.

“She’s exaggerating,” I explain to him, not at all jealous that Emma Jo is friends with him and the smile he gives her is soft and sweet, when the one he gave me was cocky, bordering on irritating.

“You called him chesty and muscly,” Emma Jo reminds me with another laugh, wrapping her arm around my shoulder and giving me a squeeze when I shoot her a dirty look.

“Don’t forget cute dimples,” Hot Creepy Stalker Guy, who shall now be referred to as Rude and Annoying Hot Guy, adds with a wink at me.

“There is still a pointy weapon within my reach and I’ve had a lot of wine tonight, buddy. There’s no telling where I might shove that thing if you keep provoking me,” I threaten him, giving him the sweetest smile I can manage as I glance down between his legs so he knows exactly what part of his body I’m threatening right now.

“My eyes are up here, honey. First, you won’t stop touching my chest at the hospital, and now, you’re picturing me naked. I don’t remember you being this flirty.”

My mouth drops open with a gasp and I stomp my foot like a toddler.

“I was NOT picturing you naked! I was threatening your manhood, get it right. And how would you remember anything about me? You don’t even know me!” I fire at him, trying to sound indignant and not like I was absolutely wondering what other kind of weapon he was packing behind the zipper of his pants.

“Wait a minute, you really don’t know who this is? I thought you guys were just messing around,” Emma Jo says in confusion, looking back and forth between the scowl on my face and the stupid cocky smirk on Rude and Annoying Hot Guy.

“It’s okay, Emma Jo. I look a little different, and Payton here is, what? Forty, forty-one now? I’m sure her mind isn’t what it used to be.”

“Oh, that’s it! You’re definitely getting stabbed in the crotch with a glass triangle!” I shout, lunging for the side table as Emma Jo tightens her hold on me and keeps me from being able to reach it.

“Alright, that’s enough you two,” Emma Jo scolds. “Payton, this is Leo. Leo Hudson, from school. Remember? He was two years ahead of us. He graduated with…”

She stops before she can say Jed’s name and my anger over the age comment quickly fades when I see her eyes fill with tears.

“Anyway, you remember Leo, right? Didn’t you used to tutor her in math?” she asks quickly, blinking away the tears as when she looks away from me and at…

LEO HUDSON?! Nope. No way. Not buying it.

“You…you’re…you…” I stammer, unable to spit any other words out as I look him up and down from head-to-toe.

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