His first day on the job John Gage, small town Chief of Police, learns public enemy number one is a lady who refuses to pay her parking tickets. Confronting the problem might be the right thing to do, but paying a call on Calliope Smith, the woman who's been parking her elephant in front of Thompson's market, might turn into more of an adventure than he bargained for.
“I don’t see anyone else around. Are you alone out here, Miss Smith?”
“I have a helper, but he’s off this afternoon. That’s why I let Tasha out to play. I can’t give her any freedom when Barry is around. Tasha isn’t too fond of men. I think she was mistreated by a male handler at some point in her past.”
“Tasha? The tiger?”
“That’s right. Even Father had to be careful around her.” She still remembered the day her father brought the Bengal home as if it were yesterday. At the tender age of fifteen, Calliope had been awestruck by the beautiful animal. A feeling not so dissimilar to the one she’d felt when she’d looked out and seen Chief John Gage standing at her gate.
“I assume this is a family run operation. Where’s the rest of your family?”
“They died in a car accident earlier this year.”
“I’m sorry. That must have been rough on you.”
“Yes, it was...” As the car stopped, Calliope looked at her childhood home and realized, sometime in the last few months, the sorrow in her heart had become manageable. “But here, everywhere I look I see them—always happy. They loved the refuge, the animals, and the work they did here. It was a wonderful place to grow up.”
She turned to look back at John and although his eyes were still hidden, she was certain he studied her from behind them. The only question—whether he thought her a nut or just attractively original. Slowly he reached up and removed the mirrored sunglasses. His eyes devoured the features of her face—lingering, she thought, on her lips. The very notion compelled her to study his sensual mouth, to wonder how he’d taste.
After a long moment he got out of the car. He was half way around to open her door before Calliope recovered enough to comprehend. The gesture tugged at her heart, so she let him play the gentleman. The hand he offered to help her out felt warm and strong. She stepped out of the car and pushed to her feet, then led him around the edge of the house. She was just about to launch into her slightly rusty, guided tour mode when Tasha appeared in the window with a roar. John nearly jumped out of his skin.
“You keep the tiger in your home?” He sounded outraged.
“No, not normally. She has a very safe enclosure on the other side of the house, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting. It’s okay. She’s house broken and very well behaved. I’d be happy to introduce you to her.”
She was startled by the strength of his reaction. Most people were wary, but fascinated by big cats like Tasha.
“You don’t like animals?” She couldn’t marry a man who didn’t like animals.
“Of course I do, but you’ve already said she doesn’t like men. What are you trying to do, get me eaten?”
Calliope laughed. “She doesn’t like men, but she’s not liable to attack you with me handling her either. None of the big cats are ever completely tame, but Tasha’s very well behaved.”
“I didn’t come here to meet your tiger. I came about the elephant.”
“Dolly? I know.” Calliope, held up a hand to forestall any jibes at the name. “It’s a stupid name for an elephant, but it’s the name she came with. Why would you be here about Dolly?”
“I’ve heard you’ve been riding her into town.”
“Oh, my. This is about Jethrow’s silly tickets, isn’t it? I can’t believe it. That man has hated me since kindergarten. You couldn’t possibly have come here to arrest me because Jethrow, for some unknown reason, can’t stand me?”
Just then Tasha chose to roar and paw at the window. Chief Gage swore under his breath. “I came here to decide if you needed arresting. So far the verdict is still out.”