Authors: Terry Odell
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #romantic suspense, #mystery, #romance adventure
WHAT’S IN A
* * * * *
Copyright © 2011 by Terry Odell
Cover art by Jason Odell
All rights reserved. Without limiting the
rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the
prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above
publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the
product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The
author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of
various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have
been used without permission. The publication/use of these
trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the
Smashwords Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you
share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it,
or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return
to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the author's work.
To Dan, who thought it was "cute" when
I started to write.
What’s In a
The thud from the front porch was
definitely a knock.
Kelli Carpenter jumped, clutching the
plastic shower curtain to keep from slipping. “Just a minute,” she
called as she reached across the cascading spray to twist off the
taps. So much for the hot, steamy shower she’d been dreaming about
while she lay, freezing her butt off in a stinking mud puddle,
waiting for the perfect shot. She squirmed back into her grimy
From the road, she heard the
distinctive roar of Harley engines. The knock repeated, growing
Take it easy,” she
muttered. Without bothering to towel off, she slipped her
sweatshirt over her head, working her damp arms into muddy sleeves
while she headed for the door, her mind racing through the
possibilities of who would be there. Only park rangers ever came
by. But they wouldn’t pound unless something was wrong. And if they
did, they’d call her name. The familiar fear gnawed at her belly.
Had someone found her?
Shit. She’d forgotten her contacts and
although she doubted any of the rangers would notice—or care—she
hadn’t survived as Kelli Carpenter this long by neglecting the
details. She hurried back to the bathroom and inserted the lenses,
turning her pale gray eyes into a nondescript brown and grabbed her
oversize tortoiseshell-framed glasses. “Coming!” She hurried
through the living room and peered through the window.
Her stomach flipped at the sight of a
total stranger on her porch. Hardly anybody knew about this field
station, tucked away in the mountains of Washington state. Behind
him, she caught a glimpse of a gray pickup truck, the one that had
pissed her off by hugging the center line when she’d driven
Calm down. He’s lost and wants
directions. Tell him what he needs and he’ll be gone.
Yes?” she called
through the door, trying to remember if she’d locked it.
I’m looking for Kelli
Carpenter,” a deep male voice said.
Kelli. Not Casey. Okay
inched the door open. Swallowed. Twice. A man waited on her porch,
wearing jeans and a windbreaker over a black turtleneck, holding an
olive-green duffel bag. He stood at least six-two, with black hair
that hung almost to his shoulders, and a five o’clock shadow at
least two days old.
I’m Kelli.” She
forced herself to meet his eyes. Dark chocolate brown, they grabbed
and wouldn’t let go. He stared, a little longer than necessary and
she crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly all too aware her bra
lay on the bathroom floor.
She took a step backward into the
dimmer light of the living room. “Is something wrong?”
No, nothing.” His
startled expression dissolved into neutrality. “I…um…I suppose I’d
expected a man.” He took half a step forward.
Avoiding his eyes, she took a deep
breath and managed a quick smile. “Can I help you with
He dropped his duffel and extended a
hand. “Sorry. I’m Blake Windsor. I’m here to repair a dormitory
cabin. If you’ll point me to my room, I can put my stuff away and
take a look before it gets dark.”
She ignored the offer of a handshake
and suppressed a shudder at the thought of a stranger invading her
home. “I’m afraid there must be some mistake. There’s no room for
you to stay here.”
He raised an eyebrow and looked beyond
her. “I can take the couch. No problem. Jack Stockbridge said you’d
be expecting me.”
Her mind whirled. Because he knew her
boss’s name didn’t mean he was legit. Camp Getaway was hardly a
secret project. A ripple of fear crept up her scalp. The way he
looked at her when she opened the door, like he was studying her,
and not in a man-woman way. A man hadn’t looked at her like that in
a long time, but not so long she didn’t recognize the difference.
Had someone connected her to Robert after all these years? No. If
they had, that man on the porch would be here with handcuffs, not a
I haven’t heard from
Jack Stockbridge, and I’m sure he’d have told me if someone was
Don’t antagonize him.
She kept her tone civil. “I’m
very sorry, Mr. Windsor, but I suggest you start down the mountain.
These roads can be tough to navigate in the dark.”
The shrill ring of the telephone
interrupted. She twisted her head toward the kitchen. Should she
answer the call there, where she could keep an eye on this
stranger? Or take it in her office, where it was private? But that
would leave this man free in her space. She waited for the
Jack Stockbridge’s voice floated across
the room. “Kelli? Jack. Are you back? If you’re there, Kiddo, pick
Kelli dashed to the kitchen and picked
up the receiver on the red wall phone. Its old-fashioned rotary
dial stared at her like a multi-eyed alien.
I’m here, Jack.” She
cocked her head at her visitor and raised her eyebrows. With a nod
of understanding, he backed out the door.
I’ve been trying to
reach you all day. You ever answer the phone? Or check your
Hey, I’ve been out,
doing what you pay me for. You know how hard it is to get decent
bird pictures?” She paused, waiting for him to say the inevitable,
hoping she was wrong.
You love it and you
know it.” He cleared his throat. “There’s been a change in plans.
Thornton’s pushed up the schedule. Wants to open right after Labor
Labor Day? That’s not
even two weeks from now. What happened to spring? You know our
deal. I do the environmental studies—alone—and then you send in the
Kiddo, I know, but
there’s no way to finish on time without help. If we lose the
funding, it’s all over. I can’t replace you at this late date and
the dorm cabin has to be repaired, pronto. I’ve sent a handyman to
take care of it. I’m sure you’ll manage.”
She glanced at the front door.
“Six-two, long hair?”
A lead ball filled her stomach. “He’s
* * * * *
Blake rose and walked along the porch,
catching a glimpse of Kelli pacing the kitchen, her movements
restricted by the phone’s twisted cord. For an instant their eyes
met and she spun around. He almost winced at the daggers she’d shot
He left the porch and wandered the
yard, checking for a cell phone signal. Nothing, just as it had
been for the past five miles. So much for calling his boss and
telling him this was a wild goose chase.
He peeled off his windbreaker and tied
his hair back. After some stretches, he began a tai chi form to
work the kinks out of muscles stiffened by hours behind the wheel
of that overloaded EnviroCon pickup. Driving a Ford F-250 over the
winding mountain roads was like driving a tank, but his classic
Corvette wouldn’t fit the handyman image.
He moved through the form, trying to
focus his mind, but he couldn’t shake the surprise seeing Kelli
Carpenter had given him. How his boss could think the frumpy
brunette who’d answered the door was the elegant Casey Wallace was
beyond him. He couldn’t imagine the sleek blonde in the photograph
his boss had sent ever having a streak of mud on her cheek.
She’d caught him staring, and he hoped
she’d bought his flimsy “wrong gender” excuse. He spared another
quick glance toward the house. Still on the phone, she pounded one
fist against her hip.
Something rustled in the bushes. His
head snapped toward the sound. Trees and bushes and things that
slithered and crawled were not on his list of relaxation pastimes.
Why couldn’t this Kelli, or Casey, or whoever she was, live in
I need a favor,”
Dwight Hollingsworth had said. “You’ll be compensated. The Connolly
acquisition is a done deal. You’re nearby. You know the carpentry
business. Take a couple of days, do the handyman routine so she
won’t suspect anything, then tell me if she’s the woman in the
picture. That’s all. Yes or no. I’ll expect your call.”
And Dwight had hung up the phone, and
that was that. The boss had spoken.
To refuse Dwight—or question his
motives—would be career suicide, or at the very least, a major
setback to Blake’s calculated plans. He sure as hell wasn’t ready
to start over, so here he was, out in the woods, keeping his eyes
open and his mouth shut, cursing the fact that his boss knew he’d
been raised by a carpenter.
What the hell. Dwight’s “compensation”
meant Blake would be making a whole lot more money than his father
ever had for a home repair job. That might make it a little easier
to play handyman for a few days.
Mr. Windsor?” Kelli
leaned over the rail of the front porch, and the expression on her
face said she wasn’t happy with whatever Jack Stockbridge had told
I’ll be right there.”
He grabbed his jacket and jogged to the porch. “I take it
everything’s cleared up?”
Jack explained it. He
said you should be done within a week.”
I hope so, but that’s
his estimate not mine. I’ll have to check it out before I can
The look on her face was like a kid
who’d just found out there was no Santa, no Easter Bunny and she’d
be stuck going to summer
summer camp. A twinge in his chest surprised him. “Hey,” he said.
“I’m pretty good. Maybe I’ll be finished sooner.”
Her expression brightened only a
little. “If you give me a few minutes, I’ll clear a room for you. I
hope someone told you to bring your own food.”
He nodded. “I promise not to be any
The look she gave him said he was
already too much trouble. But there was something else. Not only
the irritation and confusion he’d seen when he’d arrived. Something
else. Pain? Fear? His gut told him she was hiding something.
Before he could work on that thought,
she disappeared through a doorway at the far end of the room. He
brought in his food, such as it was. While he found places for
everything in the small U-shaped kitchen, his stomach rumbled.
Trying to get here before sunset meant he’d skipped lunch on the
Your room’s down
there,” Kelli said. He turned and looked in the direction she
pointed. She’d left the door to a narrow hallway open. “Sheets,
blankets and towels are on the bed. I’ve got some work I have to
do.” She practically jumped to avoid physical contact when she
He carried his duffel down the hall and
stopped at the open door. White walls, white painted nightstands
between the three white metal-framed cots, white sheets, white
towels. There were no curtains on the tiny window, but if there had
been they’d have been white too, he guessed. A navy blue blanket
was the only color in the room. He lifted the sash, letting in a
faint pine breeze. As he put his Dopp Kit in the tiny bathroom, the
front door slammed, followed by the sound of a car driving