Authors: Avery Gale
The ShadowDance Club 4
Trace & Tori
Tori Paulson has been stalked by a Houston police officer for the past year. When she unexpectedly inherits a small ranch near Climax, Colorado, from a great-uncle she’d never even met, Tori thinks fate may finally be planning to give her a break.
Braving roads she doesn’t believe really qualify as highways while battling near-blizzard conditions, Tori misses her meeting with the local attorney, and that is only the beginning of the bad news. Sitting outside in the snow wondering where she is going to sleep without freezing to death, she suddenly realizes the gorgeous cowboy watching her thoughtfully has actually spoken to her.
Dom Trace Bartell is totally unprepared for the snow angel he finds sitting stunned in front of the local tavern. He is drawn to the vulnerability he senses in her. But Tori’s stalker hasn’t given up. Can Trace keep Tori safe from a stalker whose past is much darker than anyone knows?
The ShadowDance Club 4
Siren Publishing, Inc.
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IMPRINT: Erotic Romance
TRACE & TORI
Copyright © 2013 by Avery Gale
E-book ISBN: 978-1-62242-342-2
First E-book Publication: February 2013
Cover design by Harris Channing
All cover art and logo copyright © 2013 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
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Trace & Tori
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For my husband...who knows first-hand where the source of stories of Tori’s disastrous cooking escapades. You have no doubt earned a special “dining spot” in heaven!
TRACE & TORI
The ShadowDance Club 4
Copyright © 2013
Trace Bartell was one of the few Doms at The ShadowDance Club that everybody liked and respected. Club owners, Alex and Zach Lamont had always maintained that anyone who thought ranchers weren’t multitalented, versatile businessmen who could step in to almost any situation and make it fly had never met the man known locally as The Gentle Giant. Bartell was known for always being cool under pressure, and his aptitude for business was widely regarded as nothing short of brilliant.
After losing his wife going on three years ago, when she’d been run off the road by a drunken teenager from a neighboring community, the man had done the unthinkable and become the offender’s advocate. Even though he had been devastated by his loss, he had lobbied the prosecutor and judge to impose a sentence that would require the young man to work on his ranch for nothing but room and board for a year and perform a thousand hours of community service. Trace had discovered the kid had been considered a problem in his hometown for years. Everybody he’d talked to had expected the young man to fail, and damned if he hadn’t tried his hardest to prove them all right. But the year he spent on the Bartell Ranch had turned the kid around. Trace had taught him values and was even helping fund his college education. When people had asked him why he’d done it, he’d assured everyone it had been healing for them both. Trace had reasoned that imprisoning the kid would have made the single-fatality accident that stole his loving wife into a double fatality. Everyone who knew him hoped that Trace would find a woman who would appreciate the kind spirit that was still mourning the loss of a great love.
Trace had been trying to buy the small ranch next to his for years, but the elderly owner had always politely refused even the most generous of offers, telling Trace that his family would need his place someday. The old man had often referred to his modest acreage as the “thing that will be that young gal’s saving grace.” Trace had never understood the man’s ramblings even though they’d been neighbors as long as Trace could remember, and he’d never known any family members to visit the elderly rancher. While Trace’s parents still lived on the ranch, his mother had always invited their neighbors for holidays.
Smiling to himself, Trace remembered the celebrations his family had shared. Their home had been a virtual cornucopia of anyone in or around their hometown who didn’t have a family of their own to celebrate with. Some of his fondest childhood memories were based in those mixed-up holiday observations. When his elderly neighbor had passed away a few months ago, Trace had made inquiries again and been told the old man had left his entire estate to a family member living in Texas. He’d been told Victor Paulson was a Harvard-educated attorney and that the man was expected in town later today. Trace had wondered briefly what had happened to the woman the old guy had so often referred to, but had come to the conclusion it was useless to think about wanderings of another man’s mind.
* * * *
Trace could honestly say he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been completely blindsided by anything other than his wife’s death. But it had certainly happened today. And finding out that Victor Paulson was in fact Victoria Paulson, the beautiful woman he’d found sitting in front of the local tavern had been the best news he’d had since he’d lost his sweet Nan.
The electricity that had raced up his arm when he’d helped her up off the snowy bench had shocked him. He was sure Tori had felt it too when he’d heard her soft gasp. Trace had recognized the instant connection he felt to Tori and his only explanation was that his friends’ predictions that Nan would send him an angel had finally come true.
The hour he’d spent away from her while he’d helped with the craziness of the local Dominatrix trying to shoot one of The ShadowDance Club’s subs had been excruciating. He had known from the first moment he saw Tori sitting out in the snow looking like she’d lost her best friend, that their mutual attraction was too strong to ignore.
When he’d discovered that everything she owned in the world was in that piece of shit car she’d been driving it had created more questions than it had answered. Why in the hell was a Harvard educated lawyer basically living out of her car? It just didn’t make any sense and he made a mental note to contact Mitch Grayson at Shadowdance to see what he could find out. Mitch was a friend and fellow Dom, and furthermore, he would be discreet. Trace had heard The Club’s owners laugh about how their resident communications and computer guru had access to information legitimate law enforcement agencies could only dream about.
* * * *
Sitting in Trace Bartell’s Dodge pickup staring out into the inky darkness, Tori wondered if she’d lost her ever loving mind. After the toe-curling drive through the mountains over highways that should really be labeled as roller coaster paths for cars she’d found herself homeless in a matter of minutes after arriving in the picturesque small town. Agreeing to go home with a complete stranger was just about the most baffling thing she’d ever done. But there was something about the man that she was drawn to. It was as if they were kindred spirits. She sensed a sadness in him, a remoteness that was hauntingly familiar.
Thinking back to the moment when she’d seen the sign on the door of the town’s only attorney’s office wishing her a “Happy Thanksgiving” and saying he’d meet her the next Wednesday she’d almost burst in to tears. She had known that without the elderly attorney’s key to the home she had recently inherited, she was going to have to find another place to stay for a few days and she’d been beyond exhausted. And then she’d been told the house had burned down and Tori had felt her world come crashing down around her.
She’d dealt with losing her mother to cancer, her father to his own stupidity, and a year of hell at the hands of a stalker and she could count on one hand the number of times she’d wanted to give up and just sit and sob. She hadn’t had anyone to rely on since her mom had died when she was only fifteen and she’d been surprised at how good it had felt when Trace had wrapped her in his arms and just held her when he’d seen her tears earlier in the small diner where he taken her so she could warm up and he could feed her.
In the back of her mind she’d known it was dangerous to trust a man she didn’t know. Hell, that’s how she’d ended up with the stalker from hell, but there was strength of spirit surrounding this man that spoke to her soul. Sighing she realized that she had two choices at this point, trust the man she was riding with or jump out of the truck in to the freezing cold.
Cripes, I must be more exhausted than I thought if I see jumping out of a moving vehicle as an option.
Tori found herself drifting closer and closer to total relaxation. The warmth of the truck cab, the clean, masculine scent of the gorgeous man sitting next to her, and her satisfied hunger were letting her slowly sink into oblivion. Deciding that she’d think about all of her problems later, Tori let her eyes drift shut and finally surrendered herself to the exhausted sleep her body was craving.