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Authors: Olivia Claire High

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BOOK: The Black Feather
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The old gate creaked opened in a surprisingly short time with enough room for them to squeeze through. Suzanne had the urge to start running across the open field. She probably would have in her desire to get away from the trigger happy sniper next door if Thad hadn’t taken her by
the arm and steered her to
the edge of the meadow.

He led her into a nearby grove of trees amazing her with his ability to see so well in the dark. He finally stopped and leaned her gently against the trunk of a large oak tree. Moonlight played hide and seek with the clouds while a breeze wove through the woods cooling her heated cheeks. Suzanne listened and felt relief flood through her when she didn’t hear the sound of bullets whizzing through the air.

“How did you cut those vines?”

“I had a knife strapped to my ankle.”

“I should have known you’d be prepared for just about anything. I’m really . . .” She stopped and began to shake as reaction set in. “I think I’m going to be sick.”  

Thad pulled her to the ground and pushed her head between her knees.

“Breathe through your mouth,” he instructed.

She closed her eyes and took a few shaky breaths. He got down on his haunches in front of her.

“All right now?”

Suzanne opened her eyes and squinted in the darkness trying to make out his face.

“About as all right as anyone can be who’s been crawling around in the dark on her belly through dirt and waist high weeds. Oh yeah, and dodging bullets. That’s one of my personal favorite ways to spend an evening. Can we go home now?”

“Not just yet. Whoever shot at us has probably left the party, but I want to check it out anyway.”

“I know this looks like my dad set me up, and for a moment I did believe it. He may be into a lot of things, but trying to get his own daughter murdered isn’t one of them. He needs me to help him with his grand escape.”

“You’d know. Stay here while I go take a look.”

“No problem. My legs don’t seem to be working properly.”

Suzanne watched him blend into the darkness and disappear within seconds. It fascinated her to see how easily he could melt into the shadows considering he wasn’t exactly a little guy. She leaned back against the tree and let her thoughts drift to her father.

Was he responsible for this latest shooting fiasco? She’d told Thad she didn’t think so, but she couldn’t quite block out the possibility that he’d used her. Did he send her to their old backyard so some Montane hired gun could find her and appease Muriel’s family? Was this an eye for an eye kind of thing? She shook her head, not wanting to accept that her father would do something so despicable.

He may not need her love, but he did need her to get that bag of evidence. Saving himself and his precious Muriel was all he cared about. It wouldn’t occur to him that putting his daughter in harm’s way was a bad thing. Her father wasn’t picky about a relationship when someone became a tool to be used.

Suzanne sat there nursing her hurt feelings until she had the sensation that she wasn’t alone. Fear rose with the chilled bumps on her arms, as she struggled to her feet. Had the sniper found her hiding place? She needed to get out of here and hoped her wobbly legs wouldn’t fail her.

She’d barely taken a couple steps when a long arm snaked out and clamped on her shoulder making a scream rise in her throat.

“Going somewhere?”

She whirled around and pressed a hand to her heart. “Oh my God! I thought you were the trigger-happy jerk. You keep scaring me like that and I’m going to have to do something really unpleasant to punish you, Thad Novak.”

“Punish me? Hmm, okay. I’ve never been into S and M, but I bet you’d look great in black leather.”

“And I’m sure you’d look adorable with a whip shoved up your nose. How come you’re back so soon? Did you see anything?”

“Yeah. Cops. One of the neighbors called them when the music got so loud. The couple who live there are on vacation. Their college age son was house-sitting and decided to throw a party for forty or fifty of his closest friends.”

“Did the police tell you all that?”

“No. I overheard the neighbor talking to them. I have very good hearing if you’ll recall.”

“I’ve also noticed that you can see in the dark. You’re like some night predator.”

“What can I say? I’m a man of many talents.”

She let out a sniff. “Modest, too. I hope one of those talents includes getting us out of here.”

“I’ve called for a cab. It’ll meet us a couple of streets over.”

“It is okay for us to go back to my place? Or do we have to worry about unwelcomed houseguests?”

“The house has been checked out. We’re good to go.”

Suzanne thought of the black feather.

“But that doesn’t mean someone hasn’t been there while we were gone.”

“That’s why you have me and your new security system.”

“Right.” She looked down at her clothes and back at Thad. “We’re covered with dirt. You must be wanting a shower as much as I do.”

“Is that an invitation to share and save on water? I may not be into the S and M scene, but I’m all for environmental conservation,” he said keeping their light bantering going, as they started walking away.

“I’d love to wash your back, but I’m too strung out. By the way, thanks for saving my life – again.”

“You’re welcome. Try not to make it a habit.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight

 

Suzanne walked into her kitchen the next morning tying the sash of her robe.

“I can’t believe I slept so late.”

Thad turned from the stove.

“It’s the meltdown after the adrenaline rush. Your body needed the sleep to recuperate.”

He poured her a mug of coffee and set it on the table before pulling out a chair for her.

“Sit down and start with that. Your omelet will be ready in a minute.”

“You made an omelet? I’m beginning to think you’re not such a bad guy to have around after all.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

He walked back to the stove, retrieved the skillet, and tipped the food onto a plate before placing it in front of her. “Eat while it’s hot.”

She took a bite, chewed, and swallowed.

“This is really delicious. When did you learn to cook?”

“When I realized I was hungry.”

She laughed.

“The master of evasion. Well, whatever the reason, I’m grateful. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” He filled a mug of coffee for himself and sat down across from her.

Suzanne scooped up another forkful.

“Aren’t you eating?”

“I already have. I’ve been up for a while.”

They made small talk while Suzanne ate. Thad topped off their coffee cups when she pushed her empty plate aside.

“Thanks again,” she said wiping her mouth on her napkin.

“My pleasure.”

“I’ve been trying to figure out how the person who shot at us knew I would be at my old family home, since I was so careful not to leave from my house here.”

“How did you leave from the neighbors? Front or back door?”

“The front door, of course, or they would have wondered what was going on.”

“Do you really think the Montanes would only have people watching your house?”

Suzanne visibly paled.

“Oh God. Do you think I’ve sicced the dogs on them by my carelessness?”

“Hopefully not, but I’ll have someone keep an eye on your friends. You must understand that every time you leave your house you’re going to be followed, because you are the key to finding your father.”

“Not a very comforting thought.” She looked at him from beneath her lashes. “I won’t blame you if you want to come with me, but I really should go next door and explain about taking their phone.”

“I took care of it.”

“You did? How?”

“I promised the old guy I’d let him know when you got home okay. I set their phone on a table when they weren’t looking. I doubt if they’ll remember where they left it last night.”

“Probably not. Greg’s always grumbling about misplacing things. Don’t you think I need to have a phone in case of an emergency? If what’s going on isn’t a crisis situation, I don’t know what is.”

“I’ll see that you get one, but I’d rather you didn’t give the number to your girlfriends, hairdresser, or whomever else women seem to think they can’t live without. Also, try to keep the calls to a minimum.”

“I’ll be careful. What about the twenty bucks I took from Greg? How did you explain that?”

“I told them you needed to buy some very important feminine products and was short of cash.”

She couldn’t stop herself from giggling. “You really didn’t say that, did you?”

He grinned. “No, but the fib was worth it to see your expression. I put the money by the phone.”


Once again I’m in your debt. I’ll pay you back as soon as I finish my coffee.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I don’t like to owe people money. How is it that you know about female products?”

“Are you kidding? A guy can’t turn on TV without seeing ads for that stuff.”

She got up and carried the dirty dishes to the sink.

“Did you trace that number from my father?”

“Yes. That’s the only time he used it.”

“A phone bought for one call? He must be buying them in quantities. So we’re back to square one. What do we do now?”

“Wait until he gets in touch with you again.”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“He will when the contents of that bag turns up in the wrong hands. I had someone go back this morning and look for it. They found the bag, but it was empty.”

Suzanne almost dropped the dish she was rinsing. “What if my dad did send me to that house to get them off his back? What if he . . .”

“Don’t worry about what ifs. You’ve got enough to think about just sticking to the facts.”

“The fact is I don’t think my father gives two cents about me; and I’m not too sure about my mother, either. I guess I’ve always known that. It just hurts to admit it. I remember when they were getting ready to divorce. I heard them arguing over child custody. Neither one of them wanted me, you see. Oh, there were little periods of time when they seemed to care, but it never lasted very long. I hope you know how lucky you are that you have parents who genuinely love you.”

Years doing his job had made it necessary to keep most aspects of his personal life private, but it didn’t seem to matter now when Thad heard the bleakness in Suzanne’s voice. It obviously made her feel worse to think he had it so good – time to loosen up and share a bit of his real self with her.

“I never doubted that my parents loved me. They’re gone now. They died years ago in a house fire.”

Her mouth hung slightly open for a moment.

“I’m so sorry. Were they good people?”

“Very good.”

“I know you must have been a wonderful son to them.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because despite you insisting you aren’t a nice man, I believe you are. I also think you’re the kind of person who’s very loyal to the people you care about.”

“I’d say that description fits you more than it does me.”

“Really? I guess we don’t always see ourselves as others do. Did your parents live on a farm, or did you make that part up, too? I had this fantasy about you helping with the plowing and feeding chickens.”

“Dad had a vegetable garden and my mom kept a few chickens.”

“How about those siblings you talked about. Do they exist?”

“Nope. Sorry. There’s just me, myself, and I.”

“Well, there goes that illusion. You’re such a good liar you really had me believing your story.”

He grimaced.

“Storyteller. Please. It sounds so much less devious.”

“Well, either way you had parents who wanted you. I envy that.”

Thad got up and tugged her to him.

“You deserve so damn much more than either of yours have ever given you,” he said, and brushed his lips over her mouth.

She leaned back and looked up at him.

“Was that a pity kiss?”

“Yeah. For me.”

Thad cupped her face between his hands before lowering his head again. Suzanne moaned beneath the onslaught of his probing kiss. His hands raced over her, greedy with the desire to touch. What bit of sanity he had left warned him that he would be taking advantage of her if he made love to her now, while she was in such a vulnerable state. Thad didn’t want to be like her parents, using her just to satisfy his own needs. He managed to step back, although his body clenched in protest, and it took every ounce of willpower he had to pull away from her.

He cleared his throat.

“I think you should go to your room and get dressed now.”

“Why do you keep doing that?”

“What?”

“Come on to me, and then back off.”

“I told you, I don’t want to hurt you.”

She tilted her head to one side and stared at him.

“You know what I think?”

“Dare I ask?”

“You’re just a big scaredy-cat. You’re really afraid of allowing yourself to get too close to anyone and letting them get too close to you. Funny, but I never would have pegged you for a coward.”

Suzanne started to walk away, but Thad grabbed her and scooped her up into his arms.

“Coward is it? I can’t have you thinking that; your room or mine?”

“Mine’s closest.”

“Fine. Your room it is, then.”

He laid her on the bed and quickly stripped his clothes off while she watched. Her eyes traveled down his length. He wanted her all right, in the most obvious way. He lowered himself next to her.

“Last chance to back out, Suzanne.”

“Stop stalling, or do you enjoying driving me out of my mind?”

“If I am, I’m right there with you.”

He spent long erotic minutes readying her body with such tenderness Suzanne couldn’t help but admire his control or his expertise. Her fingers were clawing at him by the time he eased away.

“Hold on a second. I have to get something.”

“I’m on the pill,” she said and drew him back down to her. “Do me. Now. Please,” she pleaded.

The warmth of his lips and the heat of his body seared her skin like a brand, marking her as his own. Pleasure tore through them as they strained against each other, eager to receive and give in return. Their bodies shuddered in release moments later. Thad rolled away, holding her hand to keep their connection.

“I know I shouldn’t have let you get to me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this.”

“I may never breathe again,” Suzanne panted.

“Don’t worry I’m very good at giving mouth to mouth.”

“Yes you are; and you’re much better in bed than James. You roar. He whimpered.” 

Thad let out a strangled cough.

“Well, you’re a very dangerous woman, Suzanne Conway.”

“Me? Dangerous?” She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t think so.”

“You made me lose all control. That’s not a good thing in my line of work.”

“I don’t want you to think I’m promiscuous. You’re just too darn sexy for your breeches.”

“Breeches? Now there’s a word you don’t hear very much these days.”

She chuckled.

“One of Nanadoo’s favorites.”

“Sounds like something she’d say. Just so you know, I would never think of you as promiscuous.”

“Good, because I want us to do this again.”

“You sure? Did it ever occur to you that I may be using you just for the sex?”

“I thought I was the one using you.”

She shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter. No strings. Remember?”

“No strings,” he repeated.

“This could be the beginning of a beautiful, uncomplicated relationship. Our choice, Thad.”

“Sometimes there aren’t any choices, but let’s not go into that.”

“Let’s not,” she agreed, kissing him on one shoulder.

“You taste salty.”

“And you taste delicious,” he said, his mouth toying with her lips.

“You’re very good at this lovemaking business.”

“We aim to please, ma’am.”

Suzanne propped her arms up on his chest. “I bet you’ve been with a lot of women.”

“I’m not the kiss and tell type, if it’s a confession you’re hoping for.”

Her phone rang. She picked up the bedroom extension at his nod.

“What’s that crazy father of yours gone and done now?”

“Nanadoo?”

Suzanne shot up into a sitting position.

“Have you seen Dad recently?”

“He’s crashed out upstairs with a little slip of a girl who looks like she should still be wearing pigtails. What’s going on, Suz Suz?”

“My dad is at your house right now?” she said repeating the words for Thad. He leaped off the bed and hurried into the living room to pick up the phone. “I never expected him to go there.”

“Sometimes the last thing you expect to happen is often the first thing that does. He showed up on our doorstep late last night.”

“I hate to ask, but it’s very important to keep him there. I need to see him.”

“Oh my. It sounds like he’s in a spot of trouble as usual.”

“More than a spot this time. Just don’t let him leave; and don’t tell him I’m coming there. I’ll get to you as soon as I can.”

“What has he done to hurt you now?”

“I’ll explain when I see you. I wouldn’t ask you to be involved if there was any other way.”

“All right. Call me when you arrive, and I’ll have the colonel meet you. Be careful. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

They said their goodbyes, and Thad walked back into the bedroom.

“Who’s the colonel?”

The sight of him standing there naked fogged Suzanne’s brain for a moment. She licked her lips.

Who had she been kidding when she said no strings attached? Remembering how it felt to be pressed against his hard body caused her blood pressure to spike to a dizzying level. She couldn’t stop staring.

BOOK: The Black Feather
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