When the Devil Wants In

By: Cate Ashwood

By Cate Ashwood and J.H. Knight



John Turner has been living a lie most of his life. Growing up in the rural Georgia town of Magnolia Ridge, he’s only ever let one person truly know him: his best friend, Chloe. To the rest of the world, they’re the perfect couple, but just between them, she’s helping John hide in plain sight.

Matt Kinsley, a cop from San Francisco, moves to town looking for a slower pace and to reconnect with his Southern roots. Starting over in Magnolia Ridge means taking a step into the closet, but Matt finds that with John for company, he doesn’t mind so much.

As the two start to explore a possible relationship, a horrific murder rips the town apart but brings John and Matt together in ways neither could’ve imagined. Matt must decide where his loyalties lie while John resists the urge to run again. Together, they have to discover who the real devil is before another life is destroyed.





Acknowledgments





A HUGE heartfelt thank-you to everyone who helped us along the way to finishing this book. If it wasn’t for the patience of our families, the kindness of our friends, and the incredible meticulousness and care of our beta readers and editors, this story would never have been told.

And, as always, a giant thank-you to our readers.





Author’s Note from J.H. Knight





GETTING TO write this story with Cate has been such a joy. At times it was like stepping back to my family in Georgia. Their voices are in much of the dialogue. And when I picture Magnolia Ridge, I think of my mother’s own small town where she grew up. I think of her house with the tin roof. I think of her barefoot in the tall grass, chasing fireflies when she was Birdy’s age. I think of my grandmother’s cooking, my aunts talking and laughing. I wasn’t born there, but Georgia’s wild beauty and its quirky, lovable people are settled deep in my heart. I’m glad I got to visit there again, if only in my memories.





Chapter One





“Y’ALL WANT some biscuits to go with that chicken?” Ilene—well, Momma to John—asked as she finished putting together the picnic basket. “They’re fresh from the oven….”

“Have I ever turned down your food?” John asked as he stepped around her to the ice machine on the counter. He grabbed two mason jars and then loaded them up with sweet tea and lemon slices before putting the lids on them.

“Guess that was a stupid question,” she said as she wrapped four warm biscuits in a napkin and set them in the bottom of the basket. She glanced at Chloe and asked, “What about you, hon? I’ve got some blackberry pie left over from last night.”

His mother was a nice plump old thing, and she loved to cook and feed people. She always said it was her way of doing God’s work, that you couldn’t hear the spirit if your stomach was growling.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Turner, but thank you for the offer.” Chloe smiled with her whole face, from her bright green eyes to her apple cheeks and her full red lips. She made everyone’s name sound like a compliment.

“You better start calling me Momma, or shoot, even Ilene. You and Johnny have been together for too long to call me Missus anything, for heaven sake.”

Chloe blushed, but her expression was playful. “I’m sorry, Miss Ilene.”

Ilene huffed a laugh and rolled her eyes. “That’s close enough. For now.” She turned to John with the picnic basket and said, “Here ya go, son. Now gimme some sugar before y’all leave.”

John didn’t need to be asked to give his mother a hug and a kiss, but Ilene always told him to anyway. “I’ll see y’all in the mornin’. Tell Daddy I said g’night.”

“I will. He’s in town fetchin’ some paint for that back porch of yours, but he should be along soon.”

“Shoot, I told him I’d do that tomorrow.”

Ilene started cleaning the countertop, getting ready to cook dinner. She was always cooking something. “Well, you know him. He doesn’t believe in putting things off.”

Given the fact that they hadn’t planned on painting the porch for another three days, John didn’t think of it as putting anything off, but he knew better than to argue. “Well, tell him thank you for me and I’ll pay him back when I see him.”

Ilene waved her hand, shooing a fly or her son, he couldn’t tell. “You two go on now. Have fun and be safe, all right?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Nearly twenty-seven years old, but he sometimes still felt like a child when he was at home. It would probably help if he’d stop shopping in his mother’s fridge, but that was beside the point.