Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Fries by Diane Kelly is book #11 in the Tara Holloway series (available February 7, 2017).
SHE HAS AN APPETITE FOR JUSTICE.
But this time IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway is in over her head—and challenging every dietary law in the book…
When the IRS is tasked with assisting the border patrol in pursuing unscrupulous “coyotes” who’ve transported illegal immigrants across the border, Tara finds herself at odds. Not only must she investigate Brett Ellington, her old flame whose landscaping business employs such workers, but now Tara has to convince her new romantic partner in crime, Nick Pratt, that she doesn’t still carry a torch for Brett.
Over the Moon
Half past seven on a Monday night in late June, I sat at a booth in a trendy restaurant in the Uptown area of Dallas, a heaping platter of sweet potato fries on the table between me and my fiancé.
Twenty-four hours earlier Nick Pratt had merely been my boyfriend. But when he’d popped the question last night, my answer had been a resounding Yes! Nick was not the type of guy a woman said no to. And now, here we were.
Or, as we say in Texas, fixin’ to tie the knot.
I could hardly believe it! Though I was in my late twenties, it took everything in me not to whip out a ballpoint pen and write Mrs. Tara Pratt a hundred times on my napkin. With his tall, muscular build, dark hair, and amber eyes, Nick would make a handsome groom. He had a small scar on his cheekbone and a slightly chipped bicuspid, but these things only made him more attractive to me because they made him manly and real. Nope, no perfect pretty boys for me.
At least not anymore.
I’d dated a pretty boy right before Nick, a nice guy named Brett with an impeccable smile, crisply ironed shirts, and flawless manners. Brett was a modern-day Prince Charming. Problem was, I’m no Cinderella, dutifully biding my time, waiting to be rescued. Hell, no. I’m a take-charge type of woman, taking names and kicking ass rather than simply accepting what fate attempts to impose on me. Brett and I had some fun, even developed some pretty deep feelings for each other at one point, but we were a mismatch from the get-go. Those days were long behind me now.
When Nick reached out his fingers to snag one of my fries, I slapped his hand away. “Hands off!” Okay, so maybe I had a hard time saying no to Nick in other contexts, but I could certainly say no to him when it came to my sweet potato fries. But, c’mon. You can’t really blame me. Is there anything more delicious than sweet potato fries? If there was, I hadn’t found it yet.
Despite my protestation, Nick grabbed my wrist and immobilized my arm while snatching a fry with his left hand. “You and I are getting hitched. I put a ring on your finger last night. Here in the state of Texas, that makes these fries community property.”
“Nice try,” I shot back. “We’re not married yet. Not until I’m wearing two rings. So that means the fries are all mine.” I twisted my arm out of his grasp and pulled the platter closer. Selfish, sure. But Nick could be just as bad when it came to chili cheese fries.
The waitress stepped up to our table. “How we doin’ over here?”
Nick cut me a scathing look before smiling up at the woman. “I’m going to need my own order of sweet potato fries. Tara’s being stingy with hers.”
The woman smiled back. “I’ll get right on that.” She stepped away to turn in Nick’s order.
I picked up a fry and ran it along the edge of the plate, gathering some errant sugar crystals. This place served their sweet potato fries with a dusting of granulated sugar rather than salt, essentially turning the fries into a dessert. Not that I was complaining. Still, sweet potatoes were touted as a vitamin-and-mineral-rich “superfood,” so I refused to feel guilty for indulging. I think they even had antioxidants. Good thing, because I’d been feeling quite oxidized lately.
“Have you given any thought to our honeymoon?” I asked Nick before taking a bite.
Nick stole another fry from my plate. “Heck, yeah, I’ve been thinking about our honeymoon. That’s about all I’ve been thinking about.” He sent me a sexy smile and a wink. “How about we spend some time on the water?”
“Good idea. A cruise would be fun.” Maybe we could go to the Bahamas, or Jamaica. There were several cruises that left from Galveston and sailed to ports all over the Caribbean.
“Forget the cruise,” Nick said. “I was thinking we could take my bass boat out to Lake Texoma and do some fishing, maybe catch ourselves some catfish or bluegill.”
Catfish? Is he crazy? I pointed a fry at him. “I am not spending my honeymoon with a bucket of worms at my feet.”
“So I should bring my artificial lures, then?” He arched a brow, his eyes dancing in amusement.
I tossed the fry into my mouth and offered a much better suggestion. “What about Cancún?”
The beautiful Mexican resort town was where Nick and I had first laid eyes on each other, though it had been under challenging circumstances. Nick and I both worked as criminal investigators for the Internal Revenue Service. When I’d joined the IRS a little over a year ago, Nick’s office across the hall from mine sat empty. When I asked about the mysterious unused space, my coworkers told me it belonged to Nick Pratt, a senior special agent who had worked an undercover investigation three years before, targeting a violent criminal mastermind named Marcos Mendoza. Mendoza ran a variety of cross-border criminal enterprises ranging from gambling to credit card counterfeiting. What’s more, Mendoza’s business associates had a tendency to disappear or meet untimely, suspicious, and gruesome deaths. As the story went, Nick had accepted a multi-million-dollar bribe from Mendoza and escaped into Mexico, living out his days in a beach paradise, out of reach of U.S. law enforcement.
I’d been assigned to reopen the Mendoza case when fresh evidence came to light. The IRS learned that Mendoza had been laundering his money through a local accountant named Andrew Sheffield, who’d been found butchered, his body parts strewn about the state, one foot surfacing in a garbage bin behind the police headquarters in El Paso. Eek!
Nick managed to contact me discreetly and implored me to help him. He told me his cover had been blown when he’d been working the case, and the only way he’d been able to save his own life was to pretend to be for sale. He’d been in forced exile ever since, and desperately wanted to come home and clear his name.
I’d agreed—foolishly perhaps—to go to Cancún to meet him. When he’d emerged from the surf wearing only a tiger-striped Speedo, it took everything in me not to shout Dios mio! Once he’d convinced me of his innocence, I’d smuggled him back across the border, a border patrol K-9 nearly making me wet myself when he alerted on the truck I was driving. Fortunately, the dog had been more interested in the leftover beef jerky tucked under the seat than the man hidden in the locked toolbox in the truck’s bed.
Together, Nick and I risked our lives to nab the murderous crook and the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, being the upstanding guy he was, Nick turned the money Mendoza had paid him over to Uncle Sam. And now, here we were. Totally in love, both with each other and with the sweet potato fries we were eating.
Nick cocked his head. “Cancún would be a great place for our honeymoon. Now that Marcos Mendoza is locked away and he and his henchman aren’t keeping their eyes on me, I could enjoy the place as a free man. Eat all the tacos I want and maybe learn to surf or scuba dive.”
It was my turn to send him a sexy grin and wink. “Be sure to pack your Speedo.”
He groaned. “Forget it. I only wore that skimpy thing back then so you’d know I didn’t have a gun or knife in my pocket. I had to make you trust me.”
I tossed him a scowl. “Party pooper.”
“What kind of dress are you going to get?” he asked. “One of those big ruffled monstrosities that make you look like Scarlett O’Hara?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
While I didn’t have a clear vision of what my perfect wedding dress might look like, I wasn’t worried. I’d heard that a bride knows when the dress is right once she puts it on. I was meeting my mom and Nick’s mother, Bonnie, at Neiman Marcus tomorrow night to start the search. When I’d phoned the bridal department this morning, I’d expected to have to wait weeks for an available appointment. Luckily, they’d had a cancellation. Well, lucky for me. Not so lucky for the bride who’d called things off. But better to break up now than after spending a fortune on a wedding, only to spend a second fortune on divorce lawyers.
The waitress arrived with Nick’s platter of sweet potato fries. “Here you go. Enjoy.”
He looked down appreciatively at the orange mound in front of him before glancing back up at the server. “Thanks.” After she stepped away, he grabbed three fries at once and held them up. “We should serve these at our wedding.”
Sweet potato fries weren’t exactly traditional reception fare, but Nick and I rarely did what was expected of us. Besides, who didn’t love the things?
One hour and approximately five pounds of sweet potato fries later, Nick pulled his pickup into the driveway at my town house. He looked up at the two-story structure. “You and I need to start thinking about where we’ll live once we’re married.”
I hadn’t given our living arrangements much thought yet. Heck, I was still giddy from the proposal! “You don’t want to move in here with me?” I’d bought my two-bedroom, two-bath town house a few years ago, partly because of the tax benefits, partly because my roommate at our apartment had decided to move in with her boyfriend. My place wasn’t large, but it was still spacious enough for two adults, my cats, and Nick’s furry mutt Daffodil.
“Your place isn’t bad,” Nick said, “but I’d like to get something that’s ours. You’ve already staked out all the closet and cabinet space here. I’d be lucky to squeeze in a shirt or two or even a single pair of boots.”
He had me there. No sense arguing with him. Besides, the idea of Nick and me searching for a home of our own in which to start our life together sounded romantic and exciting. “Maybe we could get a place with a jetted bathtub,” I suggested. It sure would be nice to relax in a whirlpool after those especially hard days at work.
“Sounds good,” he agreed. “And we’ll need a bunch of bedrooms and a big yard for the kids.”
At the word “kids,” my uterus sat up and took notice. “How many children are you thinking?”
Nick raised a nonchalant shoulder. “A half dozen ought to do us.”
“Six kids?!?” My uterus squirmed inside me as if seeking escape. Not that I didn’t like kids. I adored my nieces and nephews. I was just realistic enough to know that, as cute as children could be, they were a lot of work, and it cost an arm and a leg to raise them these days. “I’ll give you one,” I told Nick. “Two, tops.”
A grin tugged at his lips. “All right. So long as they’re both boys and I can take them fishing every weekend and name them after Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr.”
“What if they’re girls?”
“In that case it’ll be Reba and Dolly. And I’ll still take them fishing every weekend.” Nick slid out of the truck, circled around to open my door, and walked me to the front porch. He left me with a deep, warm kiss, calling back over his shoulder as he returned to his truck. “See you at the office in the mornin’.”
Copyright © 2017 Diane Kelly.
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Diane Kelly is a former state assistant attorney general and tax advisor who spent much of her career fighting, or inadvertently working for, white-collar criminals. She is also a proud graduate of the Mansfield, Texas Citizens Police Academy. The first book in Diane's IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway series, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure, received a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Book #2, Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte, won a Reviewers Choice award. Diane has combined her fascination with law enforcement and her love of animals in her K-9 cop Paw Enforcement series.