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Authors: Deborah Smith

Honey and Smoke

BOOK: Honey and Smoke
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“Come with me, Betty, just a moment. We have some business to discuss,” Max said, propelling her into the hallway
.

He pulled her so quickly her flowing silk skirt threatened to become trapped between her legs. They stopped in a softly lit corner, and he faced her, the intensity in his eyes filling her with a mixture of dread and excitement.

“A moment,” she whispered with a note of warning. She felt herself swaying toward him. “What did you want to discuss?”

“Just this—if you want to be kissed in public, come to me.” He put his arms around her waist and pulled her up so that she had to grasp his shoulders for support.

“Max. Max …” she said desperately, shaking her head.

“I love your voice. Say my name again.”

“Maximilian, don’t—”

He kissed her, backing her against a soft quilt hanging on the wall. Betty struggled with her emotions for the length of time his hot, deliciously insistent mouth took to turn her into a conspirator. About two seconds.

She forgave herself for surrendering. He had a way of curling the tip of his tongue along the edge of her upper lip that no woman could resist. He brought a rough power to her that she’d never felt before. He didn’t treat her roughly in the least, but she wanted to struggle within his arms and provoke the same struggle from him. He had trapped her, but he wasn’t forcing her.…

HONEY AND SMOKE
A Bantam Book / July 1990

LOVESWEPT
®
and the wave device are registered trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and elsewhere
.

All rights reserved
.
Copyright © 1990 by Deborah Smith
.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher
.
For information address: Bantam Books
.

If you would be interested in receiving protective vinyl covers for your Loveswept books, please write to this address for information:

Loveswept
Bantam Books
P.O. Box 985
Hicksville, NY 11802

eISBN: 978-0-307-79667-7

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue. New York, New York 10103
.

v3.1_r1

For my cousin, Rita, who knows her barbecue. For my pal, Laura, who knows her marines and for my husband, Hank, who knows the secret recipe.

Contents
One

As a way to recapture his youth it was lousy. As a belated homecoming ritual it stank. It couldn’t erase the twenty years spent away from these north Georgia mountains, twenty years served with great pride in a marine uniform. It couldn’t bring the old spirit of excitement to his blood again or make the autumn air smell like an invitation to adventure, as it had when he was a kid.

All it could do was stand there majestically in a grove of sourwood trees, silhouetted against the burnished red leaves, its large dark eyes peaceful and unsuspecting. All it could do was make Max Templeton realize in the space of a few seconds just how much he had changed in twenty years. And that he had killed enough in his life. He wasn’t interested in killing again, not even a deer.

He felt foolish and perplexed, not unusual emotions for him in the six months since his retirement from the Marine Corps, but painful nonetheless. He had retired to see if there was something new to be learned about himself, but he wasn’t sure that he liked what he’d discovered.

So now he convinced himself that he was going to do what he would have done twenty years ago, or even five
years ago. And would have done without a qualm. He was going to shoot the deer. He remained crouched in the gully, the powerful hunting rifle butted expertly against his shoulder, his large hands holding it without effort, his thick, callused forefinger posed lightly on the trigger. Seconds ticked by. He didn’t shoot. He began to curse silently.

He muttered to himself. “Did you hear about Major Templeton? Big, tough son of a gun. A twenty-year man, and not even forty yet. Real career grunt. He thought he could retire and live like a civilian again. Yeah, it broke him. Now he’s in a home, drooling in his oatmeal. Keeps saying, ‘Bambi, Bambi.’ ”

Max squinted down the rifle’s sight.
Leave, dammit
, he told the buck silently.
And I’ll just pretend I’m posing for a picture in
Field and Stream.

The buck didn’t depart, but something else arrived. Something that bounced out of the underbrush and vaulted over the gully. Something furry that thumped Max in the back of the head as it sailed past.

Max jerked the rifle and blasted a shot into the woods. The buck leapt out of sight. Max twisted and jumped to the lip of the gully in one smooth move, slamming the rifle’s bolt back and then forward, to load another shell.

The strangest-looking cat he’d ever seen jumped straight up, eyeballed him absurdly, then whirled around and scrambled into a grove of laurel bushes.

Max stood with his mouth open in disbelief. Then his old training kicked in, and he noted details. The cat was too big to be domestic, and it had only a stub of a tail. But it didn’t look like any bobcat he’d ever seen in these woods. For one thing, it was a brindled color, as if someone had dabbed gray paint on an orange background.

For another, it wore a wide rhinestone collar, and it was missing the paw on its left hind leg.

Details didn’t always make sense.

They found Major Templeton in the woods, calling, “Here, kitty, kitty,” and muttering about rhinestones
.

His jaw set in rigid lines, Max charged after the strange, bumbling, three-footed cat that was trying to run silently through the laurel. He might be going soft, but he wasn’t going crazy.

And with his dignity at stake he wasn’t going to give up the chase.

Betty Quint crawled from her cave and squinted in the bright afternoon light. She sat back on the heels of her lace-up boots and brushed dirt from her overalls, then adjusted her sock cap. Shielding her eyes with a hand covered in a work glove, she looked up at the sun beaming through golden poplar trees. Good. It couldn’t be more than five o’clock. She’d lost track of time and had worried that she’d be walking home in the dusk.

“Relax, city gal, you’re safe,” she told herself drolly.

A gun blast split the silence. In the nanosecond when her heart hid behind her windpipe, Betty heard a
ziiiiip
and then the forceful slap of meted hitting rock. Fragments of granite showered her from a spot high on the cave’s face.

Thinking was
such
a bore sometimes, as her mother might have said over Brie and champagne at the country club. Betty put her crawl mechanism into full reverse and scooted backward into the cave. Shaking, she scrambled a dozen feet down the passageway, then crouched in the inky darkness and peered toward the opening.

She heard something running through the woods. It sounded as if it were coming her way fast. Either a hunter had flushed out a deer, or someone was arming the squirrels and they were attacking.

This was her land, she thought in sudden anger. The first thing she’d done after moving here was post no-hunting signs. This was civilized territory. This was
home
.

Was someone shooting at Faux Paw? Betty gasped and started scrambling toward the cave opening. “Faux, Faux …”

But the running feet were Faux Paw’s. She bolted into the cave and all twenty pounds of her collided with Betty. “Good cat, good cat,” Betty said with relief, trying to stroke her. Faux Paw burst away from her and galloped deeper into the cave. “Faux!” Betty twisted in dismay and listened to Faux Paw’s distinctive, three-legged patter fade. The narrow cave entrance opened into a small cavern, and a circuit of man-made tunnels radiated from the back of it.

Betty whipped around to face the opening again when she heard footsteps again—heavier, slower, two legged, deliberate. Her blood froze. Maybe Faux had the right idea. Don’t ask questions. Head for the tunnels.

As she began hurriedly backing on hands and knees, a shadow crossed the cave opening. Betty ducked behind a rock outcropping and gazed up the slope in dread. If it was just a hunter, one of the local men, he’d probably apologize profusely for trespassing and scaring her. But she didn’t relish the idea of being discovered in the woods alone by an armed man who apparently took potshots at anything that moved.

You don’t see the cave opening
, she mentally—and firmly—told the shadow.
You want to keep walking. You’re leaving. Leave
.

He crouched down in front of the opening. He filled the opening. Betty stared at an unnerving silhouette of large, muscular proportions. He was turned half into the sunlight, and she could make out the green-and-khaki camouflage paint on a brawny forearm he rested on one knee. He wore boots, camouflage pants, and a khaki shirt that hugged his large shoulders and lean middle.

When a glimmer of sunshine caught his face, she saw that it was coated in camouflage paint too. She couldn’t define his features or read his expression, but from the fierce way he gripped the huge rifle that was cradled in one arm, she presumed that he was unhappy.

“I saw you go in there,” he called in a deep, cultured drawl that reverberated through the cave. “And if you
think I’m going to let your feisty little tail get away, you’re wrong.”

Betty clutched the wall. Was he talking to Faux Paw, or to her?

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