Blue as Sapphires – Excerpt

Riley pulled into the driveway. It had ruts in it, and he bounced around like a kid in the back of a school bus on a bumpy road. An older model Volkswagen with a Nevada license plate was parked in front of the garage. He looked at the wooden gray and white garage with warped two-by-fours that was tilting to one side. If he gave it the slightest push, the building would crash to the ground.

Stepping out of the cruiser, he surveyed the area. The yard used to be immaculate, but the previous owners had died and no one took care of it. Now it was nothing but overgrowth, weeds, sticky burrs, and tumbleweeds.

He walked to the Volkswagen and peered into it. There were granola bars in the front passenger seat, and the back seat contained a pillow, sleeping bag, and clothing. Looking up, he saw the path the intruder had made to the house. Weeds covered the original path, and he could almost make it out. Some of the wood on the house was rotted. Slats came off the side of the house and left openings where bats flew in and out at night. He would have to chase the person inside the house out. This couldn't be a safe place to live.

He walked the path the intruder made, and some burrs attached themselves to him. They pricked like hell when he plucked them off. A field mouse scrambled across the path in front of him as he approached the house. When he reached the porch, he lifted one foot onto the step. The wood snapped, cracked, and bent under his weight. He put his other foot on the porch, and he could hear the boards creaking. He rapped on the door.

"Be right there," a female voice called.

A few seconds later the doorknob turned, and the intruder opened the door and stared out at him.

"Yes?" Her eyes were blue, and her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

"Ma'am, I'm Sheriff McCade, and I'm here to see what business you have with this house." He pulled his identification card out of his pocket to show her. He slid his sunglasses down a notch, eyeing the woman holding on to the door tightly, as if she was guarding something. Okay, approximate height, five foot three inches, one hundred pounds, blonde hair, and blue eyes. He liked what he saw.

The woman crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the doorframe but still didn't open the door any wider. "I'm the owner of this house." Her voice was soft.

"What do you mean, you own this house?" When was the house listed for sale? He didn't recall seeing a for sale sign. "It's been vacant for several years now. No one has occupied it since the previous owners died." Damn if she didn't have pretty eyes. They were as clear as day.

"I know that," she muttered hastily, but did not elaborate.

"You know that? Tell me who you are and why you're here." His voice was courteous but patronizing. He pushed his Stetson up to look at her closely. Where have I seen her before?

"I'm Marissa Simpson, and I own the house. My parents left it to me." She rubbed her upper arms with her hands as if she was cold.

Marissa Simpson…where had he heard that name? Then it came to him. "Oh, you used to be Marissa Saxton."

"That's me." She had a wonderful voice, soft and clear. She had on a pair of worn-out jeans, a yellow shirt, and she was wearing tennis shoes.

"I see. If you don't mind me asking, what do you intend to do with the house?"

"I'm going to live in it," she said flatly.

"Live in— What? You're kidding, right? This house should be torn down. I doubt a single thing is up to code."

"There's nothing wrong with the house. It'll be fine," she said softly, her eyes narrowing.

"Marissa, I don't think you understand me. Look, the steps to your porch bent under my weight and are ready to collapse. Some of the boards have come off the side of the house, and there are bats living between your walls from all the openings in the wood. If I'm not mistaken, I think the last year your parents lived here, they didn't have heat."

"I'm aware of the problems, and everything will be fixed by the end of summer." Her words were as cool and clear as ice water.

"I suggest you reconsider staying here and find a place in town. I have concerns for your safety in this house."

Couldn't she see the danger she would be in if she stayed there? A couple of houses had recently caught fire because of old electrical wiring. He wouldn't be surprised if this house were no longer up to code and a fire hazard.

Riley's cellphone rang. He pulled it out of his back pocket and flipped it open. "McCade." He listened to the person on the other end of the phone. "Okay, I'm on it." He snapped the phone shut and turned to walk down the steps. "I have to go. You think about what I said. Okay?"

Without giving her time to respond, he rushed to the cruiser. He backed out of the driveway, turned the siren on, and headed to town.

* * * *

Marissa had no intention of living in town. She'd be damned if she'd allow the great and mighty sheriff to tell her what she should and shouldn't do. No man would ever have that authority over her again.

So what if he was a welcome sight and made her heart skip a beat? Damn if he wasn't still handsome with his short, brown hair tucked inside his Stetson. He had clear, observant, gray eyes. His body was more mature than it had been when he was the high school quarterback. There were powerful arms under the uniform shirt that had his badge on it. She noticed how he walked with an easy gait down the uneven path she'd created earlier.

She shook her head. Just stop and put away such childish thoughts.

Closing the front door, she looked around the house. It was a mess. It would take an all-day cleaning marathon for her to get rid of the dust and dirt. She didn't have heat or hot water. Everything had to be hand-washed in the sink with water heated on the stove and hung out to dry or taken to the laundromat. With no money in her pocket, the laundromat would be out of the question for now.

Lucky for her, the house was one thing that Mark hadn't gotten his hands on. She doubted that he even remembered she had it when they got divorced and he left her with nothing. This was her haven. This was a place where she didn't have to fear anything and could work to rebuild her life.

Before she got to her house, she spent two days sleeping in her car at a state park outside of town and using their facilities until she could get the utilities turned on. It hadn't been comfortable, and she was eager to get to the house and get it in order. But it started with cleaning, so if she wanted to get it done today, she had to get to work.