Authors: Iris Johansen
I’ve always thought the perfect example of freedom, color, and adventure was the hot air balloon. Whenever I see one of the balloon races on television or actually go to the site, it fascinates me. Man has wanted to have wings since time began and being in one of those balloons with the wind in your hair and the sun on your cheeks must come pretty close to that state. I considered it perfectly reasonable when I decided to write a book that I hoped would zing with adventure and romance to make a hot air balloon both a setting and an important part of the plot.
So I threw my independent heroine, Kelly, into an experimental hot air balloon in search of a story about dashing inventor-genius Nick O’Brien. Then I sent them soaring to Mexico to explore not only the countryside, but their own emotions.
Come along with us and enjoy the ride!
“Iris Johansen knows how to win instant fans.”
“Iris Johansen is a powerful writer.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“[Iris Johansen is] one of the romance genre’s finest treasures.”
“A master among master storytellers.”
Affaire de Coeur
“Johansen serves up a diverting romance and plot twists worthy of a mystery novel.”
“[Iris] Johansen has … a magical quality.”
“[Johansen is] a consummate artist who wields her pen with extraordinary power and grace.”
“Iris Johansen is a bestselling author for the best reason—she’s a wonderful storyteller.”
“Iris Johansen is incomparable.”
The Bronzed Hawk
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2011 Bantam Books eBook Edition
Copyright © 1983 by Iris Johansen
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Originally published in mass market in the United States by Bantam Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1986.
Cover design : Eileen Carey
Cover image: © Irene Lamprakou/Trevillion Images
McKenna, but Mr. O’Brien refuses to see you.” The security guard at the desk in the lobby of the high-rise apartment building returned the phone to its cradle. There was a trace of genuine regret in his face as he regarded the disappointed expression of the young woman across from him.
Kelly bit her lower lip, and her jade green eyes darkened to almost emerald. She hadn’t really expected any other answer than the one transmitted to her by the guard, but she had admitted to a hope that O’Brien would miraculously change his mind and see her. Her lips curved in a
wry smile. What a miracle that would have been! Nick O’Brien’s antipathy toward journalists and the media was practically legend. He had been refusing both her written requests for an interview and all her phone calls for over three weeks now. She sighed. She hadn’t wanted to use the wild card that might gain her entrance to his presence, but now it seemed that she had no choice.
She reached into her voluminous bone leather shoulder bag, drew out a long white business envelope, and handed it to the burly, gray-haired security guard. Her glowingly appealing smile was the same one that once had gotten her past the bodyguard of a South American dictator. And the article resulting from that had earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The memory made her feel even more confident … and bold. “I wonder if you could possibly give this to Mr. O’Brien for me,” she pleaded softly. Her wide-set jade green eyes in their extravagant frame of dark lashes were brimming with a distress that was only half feigned. “I’m sure there must be some mistake. If you’ll just give him this
envelope, I’m positive that everything will be straightened out in no time.”
The security guard shook his head doubtfully. “I don’t know, Miss McKenna,” he said uneasily. “I’m not supposed to leave my desk without a replacement. The building manager would have my job if he happened to drop by and I wasn’t on duty.” Despite his protests, his face softened infinitesimally as he gazed at the young woman before him. There was something very appealing about Kelly McKenna. She had an aura of breathless, wide-eyed eagerness, as if just living was a vividly exciting adventure.
Her ash blond hair was now sun-streaked to almost white gold in places. It was cut so that it clustered about her face, ears, and the nape of her neck in a riot of silken, glossy curls that tempted a man to wrap the strands around his fingers. The most arresting feature of her thin face was her magnificent green eyes. Her lips were well defined and had a curve that was sweetly memorable. She had a vaguely fragile air about her that was belied by her golden tan and the determined tilt of her chin.
That chin was squared now as Kelly McKenna said persuasively, “I’ll be glad to fill in for you until you get back. It will only take you a moment, and I can handle anything that comes along. I earned my black belt in karate last summer.”
The security guard disguised a chuckle as a cough. Kelly McKenna couldn’t be more than an inch or two over five feet tall and except for her height, she looked like a fashion model. Her designer blouse was left open stylishly to display just a hint of cleavage; her rust suede skirt was slit to the thigh in front to reveal tantalizing glimpses of shapely limbs, emphasized by knee-length high-heeled boots. She looked about as lethal as a baby fresh from its evening bath.
He took the envelope and rose slowly. “In that case I’ll feel safe to leave you in charge,” he said solemnly, his eyes twinkling. “You watch sharp now.” He moved briskly to the elevator and pressed the button for the penthouse, leaving Kelly to stare after him with satisfaction mixed with a tinge of displeasure.
It certainly wasn’t the first time she had encountered
indulgent condescension from the male sex, she thought crossly, but still it never failed to irritate her. She was well aware that her size and general air of fragile femininity were deceptive, but it took a good deal of effort to convince men of that! Most of the time she found it wasn’t worth the effort and saved her strength for the more important battles that faced a woman photojournalist in a field dominated by men. When she was first starting out, she’d thought her “image” was very important and, trying to look anything but delicate and feminine, she’d chosen a wardrobe of only pantsuits and jeans. But she soon found that she was defeating her purpose. The day she had overheard herself described as “cute and cuddly” in a pair of shapeless bib overalls, she’d grimly abandoned that fruitless strategy.
This afternoon she was wearing the most sophisticated outfit in her entire wardrobe; even
hadn’t caused the security guard to treat her with respect for her maturity, she mused. It certainly didn’t bode well for her coming confrontation with Nick O’Brien, who was a much more
dangerous proposition. She had done extensive, in-depth research on O’Brien before approaching him for this interview. What she had learned would have intimidated her under normal circumstances … if only it weren’t for that blasted bet she’d made with her editor, Mac Devlin!
Then she chuckled and shook her head ruefully. She wasn’t being honest with herself. The more difficult or dangerous an assignment, the more she enjoyed it, and Mac had known that when he’d made that damned bet with her. She was well aware that Devlin was manipulating her, but the challenge had been irresistible when he had thrown the assignment at her and sweetened it with a wager that he knew she couldn’t refuse.
When she’d returned from the Mideast six weeks earlier and had to be hospitalized with a bout of malaria, Mac had adamantly refused to give her any further overseas assignments for at least six months. Despite her pleas, threats, and constant nagging, he had remained unmoved for three weeks. Then he’d dangled the lifting of the ban as his part of the wager she was now engaged
in. If she lost the bet, she was to accept his edict and cease her efforts to change his mind.
“You were right, Miss McKenna,” the security guard said genially, as he stepped from the elevator. “Mr. O’Brien said you were to go right up.”
I just bet he did, Kelly thought.
“Step into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly
. She squared her shoulders and rewarded the guard with a warm smile. “Thank you, you’ve been very kind,” she said sincerely, stepping into the elevator and pressing the button.
When she got out of the elevator, she took one final deep breath and composed her features into an expression, she hoped, of bland sophistication. Then she knocked firmly on the paneled teak door of O’Brien’s apartment. It was opened immediately by the man himself, and Kelly felt her mouth fall open in surprise before she quickly regained her composure.
Nick O’Brien’s dazzling good looks were quite familiar to her, for she had been observing him for three weeks, but she had never seen him at such close range or seen quite so
of him. The man was wearing nothing but a white bath
towel, which was wrapped casually about his hips, and he was as unconcerned as if he were dressed in black tie and tails. Though if more men possessed such overpoweringly virile physiques, perhaps nudity would have been the mode, Kelly thought dazedly. She had never before seen such a gorgeous man. A little over six feet, he was all bronze muscular power. A triangular pelt of springy dark hair covered his broad chest before narrowing to a thin line and disappearing into the towel draped around his hips.