When the devil comes to town, you have to meet him head-on.
Which is exactly what I did when Grant Stone rolled into our small Texas town, driving a sports car I could fit in the bed of my truck, wearing a suit as black as his soul. He’s here to acquire mineral rights to half a dozen farms in town.
And there’s no way he’s getting mine.
I don’t make deals with the devil.
So when he challenges me to show him the small town ropes, my motivation is the prospect of seeing him make a fool of himself. He might have an angle, but if he thinks he can finagle me into endangering my bee farm, he’s got another thing coming.
Until the line in the sand is washed away.
My farm in danger. A town in upheaval. A man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
And me in the middle.
When the devil comes to town, you have to meet him head-on.
And when he sneaks into your heart, he’ll only break it.
Chapter One Sneak Peek
The mood was pretty light, considering we were in the middle of a protest.
My sisters followed in the train behind me, the lot of us smiling a little as we marched in a circle in front of the news crews outside our tiny city hall, chanting, Frack Off!
It wasn’t that we weren’t serious—Flexion Oil’s move to buy up mineral rights for fracking in our town was nothing to laugh about—but given that a whole bunch of us had shown up with puns on our signs replacing the eff in many slang terms with the word frack, it was just plain funny. Especially ninety-year-old Bettie with What the frack? on her T-shirt and Pastor Coleburn wielding a sign reading Frack You!
We’d pulled out all the stops once we learned the San Antonio news outlets were going to cover the press conference Flexion had called, printing up all kinds of merchandise for the occasion, which many of our townies had donned with spirit. There were, of course, plenty of people there to glare, happier to label us a bunch of hippies than consider what it would do to places like my family’s bee farm[ like what]. Some of the people in our conga line didn’t have a say in the matter when Flexion found a cache of natural gas in our little town of Lindenbach, Texas, population eleven hundred and five—their mineral rights were owned by the state. But a whole bunch of us had land in our families for long enough that Flexion would have to convince us to sell.
And we weren’t budging.
My mother, sisters, and I had been schmoozed by representatives of Flexion to no avail, even as their offer rose to heights that would give anyone pause. But selling out wasn’t an option—Flexion could make all the offers they wanted. No way would we sign our legacy over to the devil.
Great-great-great-grandpa Blum would have rolled over in his grave the second we put pen to paper.
We’d switched gears to, Fracking smells, we won’t sell! when a murmur rolled through the rest of the crowd. Movement around the door to city hall caught my attention, and when it opened, I stopped so suddenly, my sister Poppy slammed into the back of me with an oof that left me wondering distantly if she’d smashed the eggs in my backpack.
Because the actual devil himself walked through that door and down the stairs toward the podium.
His hair was the color of a starless night, his jaw chiseled from stone and lips somehow both lush and sharp at the same time. Maybe it was the line they made that felt like a coercion, a temptation. Maybe it was his switchblade eyebrows framing eyes I expected to be as dark and soulless as the rest of him. But they weren’t. They were a blue so intense, I felt their chill in the warm September sun.
He was the embodiment of power, somehow consuming all air, all attention, all thought, until he was the only person left standing. He clearly knew the art of intimidation, but every sharp edge of him was softened by a lusty sort of charm, the kind that let everyone know that he got what he wanted. Anything he wanted.
Everything he wanted.
Poppy nudged me forward, and I hurried to close the gap between me and Bettie, who couldn’t see over my shoulder on her tiptoes. She’d noticed him too—I caught her gaping over the top of gigantic hot-pink sunglasses, though she was practiced enough that she didn’t miss a step, ogling in stride like a goddamn lady, learned over the nine decades or so she’d been a perv.
I noted his size as he stepped to the microphone—he dwarfed the podium and those who had walked out with him, including Mayor Mitchell, that grade A son of a bitch. Mitchell probably got a cash kickback on everybody he convinced to sell to Flexion, though he was nothing but a lowly demon. Stone was the real deal.
When the devil rested his gargantuan hands on either side of the podium, everyone went still and quiet. I marveled over his sheer, overwhelming charisma, understanding completely why Flexion had sent him to close the deal on Lindenbach.
If he could get past my sisters and me.
He began to speak, the deep, easy lilt in his voice hypnotic. When I glanced around me, everyone’s pupils could have been pinwheels—they even leaned toward him just a little.
The man was a black hole.
And it seemed like I was the only one who’d snapped myself out of it.
I elbowed Poppy. She blinked herself awake and elbowed Daisy. Our eyes narrowed at him in unison.
All I heard was blah, blah, blah and hiss, hiss, hiss with a little nom, nom, nom from undeniably skillful lips that made me salivate just enough to piss me off. Poppy pressed an egg into my hand with a wicked smile on her face as tall, dark, and slithery went on about how committed Flexion was to the environment in what was probably a ten-thousand-dollar Italian suit.
I hesitated for a second—I was still a woman with manners and a mother to make proud—but when he started talking about Flexion’s clean diesel, all ability to maintain executive functions went out the window. Lizard brain—activate.
So I did what any hippie bee farmer would do.
I wound up, took a breath, and yelled, “Frack you!” before letting her rip.
The egg sailed in slow motion over the crowd as his face swiveled to the sound of my voice, those dagger-eyes running me through seconds before the egg popped him smack between them.
A laugh shot out of Bettie before she hollered, “Farm fresh, bitch!”
Yolk slid down his nose. His eyes stayed closed for a protracted moment that I suspected he needed to school himself.
When they opened, they locked on mine.
I’d never felt naked under someone’s gaze until that moment, my lungs empty and extremities tingling. He’d pinned me to the spot from twenty feet away, his face unreadable. And though his eyes blazed like a thousand suns, his lips quirked into a tilted smile.
“Nice shot, Miss Blum.” He retrieved his pocket square without breaking eye contact. “Hope it was organic.”
In an out-of-body sort of feeling—and with the shock that he knew my name—I slapped on a smirk of my own, lifting my chin in challenge before offering a dramatic sweeping gesture, accompanied by a condescending nod. The crowd was chuckling and whispering, but the devil wiped the egg off his face and soldiered on, unfazed. But when he closed his speech and stepped back, he shot me dead with his eyes again, his smile sending a message clear as day.
And oh, he had no idea just how on it was.