Authors: Terry Odell
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #romantic suspense, #mystery, #romance adventure
Hopes of sharing a welcoming meal with
the woman in the photograph dissolved like froth in a latte. He
sighed and went to the kitchen.
After wolfing a can of stew and two
peanut butter sandwiches, Blake took advantage of Kelli’s absence.
His quarters were on one side of an open living area. Expensive
deadbolt locks secured two doors on the other side. Kelli’s domain.
So much for checking her out.
He wandered through the space. Plain,
utilitarian furniture. Frumpy, just like Kelli. In front of a brown
and beige plaid couch, a scarred wooden coffee table held a small
stack of books. He strolled over and glanced at the titles. A
battered copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes, an Agatha Christie
collection, and a paperback mystery. He opened the Holmes book and
rifled the pages before setting it down exactly where he found
An easy chair, a mate to one by the
couch, faced French doors overlooking a lake. Binoculars and a
field guide to Western birds lay on a small table beside the chair.
He could see the Kelli he’d just met spending time here. Not the
Casey he was looking for.
Nothing here told him Kelli was Casey
Wallace. Dwight hadn’t said anything about collecting fingerprints,
or DNA samples, not that he had a clue how to do it, but he’d given
his word to investigate and he owed Dwight more than a quick peek.
He’d have to get her talking. He made his living reading people and
was damn good at it.
But for now, he was a handyman, not a
corporate negotiator. He stood on the porch, listening as the
unfamiliar noises of the wilderness faded under the growl of
distant motorcycles engines. To him, it was the motorcycles that
sounded like home. He took a deep breath. Instead of exhaust fumes,
he smelled dirt over something he could only describe as
He drove the truck down to the cabin
and had a look around. The roof needed a lot of work and plywood
covered the window openings. Inside, the plumbing was in bad shape.
He began unloading the materials Jack Stockbridge had supplied,
unpleasantly surprised at how easily he slipped into contractor
mode, assessing what needed to be done and mentally prioritizing
He heard his father from the great
There’s no shame in working with your
hands, son. Learn to take care of the basics and you’ll never want
for a roof over your head.
He ignored the ache in his gut. He’d
sworn he’d never pick up a hammer or cut another board as long as
he drew breath.
Now that the sun was down, the
temperature dropped. Late August at four thousand feet was nothing
like the weather he’d left behind in Seattle. He stomped on the
porch, rubbing his arms against the chill, and eyeballed the small
stack of firewood. He saw no need to freeze. If Kelli
objected—well, he’d apologize, but at least they’d be talking. He
carried an armload of wood inside and lit a fire.
Not much later, Kelli stomped back into
the house, her face ruddy from the chill night air. She’d changed
out of her muddy clothes—and the smudges on her cheek were gone. He
gave her a friendly smile. “Welcome back. It was getting cold, so I
started a fire. Hope you don’t mind. I’ll be glad to replace any
She glanced at him, at the fireplace
and gave her head a noncommittal tilt.
Okay, that hadn’t worked. He tried
again. “If it’s not being too nosy, may I ask where you’ve been?
Please don’t tell me there’s a gourmet restaurant out there.”
She went to the closet and hung up her
parka, then crossed the room to the kitchen. “Running a trap line.
We have to account for any protected or endangered species
inhabiting the area.”
Ah. An opening. “Doesn’t trapping an
endangered animal kind of defeat the purpose?”
She shook her head and gave him an
eye-rolling look somewhere between ridicule and annoyance. “These
are Sherman live traps. Nothing to hurt the animal. First thing in
the morning, I’ll photograph and release anything I catch.” She
opened the refrigerator and peered inside.
Nothing dangerous, I
She slammed the refrigerator shut. “No
and it’s no concern of yours. You’re here to fix the cabin, nothing
Simply trying to be
neighborly,” he said. “Am I allowed to use the living room? Far
left side of the couch? Or should I take one of the chairs to my
room? I didn’t bring any furniture.” He tried to keep a jovial tone
in his voice, but he heard some irritation bleeding
She turned toward him. “Sorry.” For a
moment, her eyes met his. “I’ve been by myself a long time. I’m not
used to sharing. This space is open territory, okay?”
Okay. Can you tell me
more about this project? What did Stockbridge call it? Getaway
Camp Getaway.” She
put a container in the microwave, then turned to face him. “The
plan is to bring inner city kids up here. Get them away from
concrete and drive-bys for a while.”
Sounds like a
worthwhile undertaking. Maybe keep some kids from a life of
She gazed into space. “Yeah.”
The microwave beeped and Kelli took out
something that smelled like a Chinese restaurant. His mouth
Why don’t you eat by
the fire and get warm?” He tried the smile that usually attracted
women like a magnet.
Kelli found a fork, poured herself a
glass of wine and walked toward him. And kept on walking.
* * * * *
Kelli sat at her desk and poked at the
reheated stir-fry. After a bite, she pushed the container aside.
She needed to work, not think about the punk who held up
convenience stores, killing people. People she loved. A place like
Camp Getaway might have turned him around. She wondered if being
left alive was some kind of punishment for her sins.
She shook off the thought, grabbed a
pad of paper and started making a list of everything she needed to
do. With Thornton’s new start date, she was way behind schedule.
And the sooner she finished, the sooner she could get out of here
and away from Blake Windsor.
She tried to assure herself the man who
was sleeping in a room exactly twenty-eight paces from her door
couldn’t possibly know anything about Robert. Windsor was a
handyman, sent to work on the project. Jack had vouched for him.
Checked his references. He’d never send anyone who couldn’t be
trusted. Still, the less contact she had with Windsor the better.
No way was she going to risk spending the rest of her life in a
The phone interrupted. Jack again?
Hey Kelli, it’s
Ranger Peterson. Doug. I wanted to make sure you were all
The hairs on her neck prickled. “Is
Nothing major. It’s
the annual end-of-summer biker retreat, but a couple of
fraternities are here, too. There was a fraternity versus biker
difference of opinion. Probably escalated by alcohol.”
I’ve heard the bikes
all day. Nobody ever comes onto this property. I’m
Okay. There were some
campsites messed up. Petty vandalism. Law enforcement’s on it. You
want me to come by? Just in case, you know?”
No, but thanks. Good
Hanging up the phone, Kelli shook her
head. Even though he was a naturalist, not a park cop, Doug
Peterson protected the park like it was his own backyard. Shortly
after she’d arrived, he’d made some overtures. They’d reached an
understanding that she wasn’t interested in anything other than her
job, but every now and again he’d test the waters.
She stood, arched her back, and went to
the window. The bike noises seemed to be getting closer. She
waited, listening, and they faded away.
She sighed and turned to the paperwork
for the Environmental Impact Statement. What seemed like hours
later, only halfway through the mounds of paperwork, she gave up
trying to fill out the requisite forms. Too restless to sleep, she
clicked the computer mouse and opened her games folder. After
setting the difficulty level to “evil,” she blasted Snoods,
imagining Robert’s face as she wiped the colored icons off the
screen. Robert was gone now, too, like the Snoods.
The smell of congealed Chinese food on
her desk turned her stomach. She picked up the container and headed
for the kitchen, remembering at the last minute to put on her
glasses. She reminded herself to keep her guard up.
Seconds later, she was glad she had.
Instead of being asleep, Windsor stood at the stove, his back to
her. Her heart thumped against her rib cage. She froze. Before she
could retreat, he faced her.
Blake adjusted the burner under the
teakettle. Kelli stood there, clutching the remains of her dinner,
like she wanted the floor to swallow her. He tried his smile again.
“I’m making chamomile tea. Want some?”
Kelli lowered her head. “No, thanks. I
need to wash my dishes.”
He watched her, obviously struggling
with the dilemma of joining him in the confined space of the
kitchen. Without giving ground, he reached out his hand. “I’ll do
Her chin lifted and her eyes,
red-rimmed behind those big glasses, met his. “No need.” She edged
into the space, turning sideways, arms tight at her sides, managing
to avoid any contact when she bent over to scrape her leftovers
into the trash can.
Something creaked outside. He jumped
backward, jostling Kelli. The trash can tipped, spilling its
contents over the linoleum. His stew can rolled across the floor,
leaving a trail of gravy drippings. Kelli sucked in a loud
Hey,” he said.
“Sorry. I heard something outside and it startled me.”
She pushed her glasses up on her nose,
but didn’t look up. “It’s okay.” She bent over, cramming everything
back into the trash.
He wet a paper towel and crouched down
beside her. She smelled of soap and—green, like outside. Not the
expensive perfume he was used to on women. Strangely enticing. “Let
me. It was my fault.”
Avoiding his eyes, she scrambled to her
feet and backed out of the kitchen, almost cowering. Thoughts of
domestic abuse flashed in his mind. But how would that relate to
Dwight? Blake had been so busy jumping to do Dwight’s bidding, he
hadn’t really played out why his boss would want to find someone
like Casey—or Kelli.
A clattering from outside had him on
his feet. “Did you hear that?”
Kelli half-turned and shrugged.
“Probably a raccoon. They like to get into the garbage cans if the
lids aren’t secured.”
Raccoons. I can
handle that. Davy Crockett tails, Lone Ranger masks, right?” He
smiled. The tiniest quirk of her mouth told him he’d made his first
bit of headway.
She raised her eyebrows. “Of course it
might be a bear.”
Involuntarily, he stepped back and
saw one corner of Kelli’s mouth turn up. First law of the
boardroom, and he’d blown it. Never let them see fear. Round two to
He tried to recover some ground. “Um …
should I check to see if the lids are tight?”
She gave an exasperated head shake and
rolled her eyes. “They’re fine. Besides, the bears knock over the
cans. That wasn’t loud enough.”
It doesn’t bother
you, having bears so close?” He did
want to get up close
and personal with the natives. He wondered if Kelli would think he
was a wuss if he drove the fifty yards to the cabin every
Oh, I don’t mind the
bears,” she said. “It’s when the deer eat my herbs that I get
Touché.” He held up
his hands, palms out in mock surrender.
two-legged creatures cause most of the problems. One of the rangers
called to tell me about trouble with some campers. The Park Service
takes care of it. Nobody’s ever come out this far.”
Anything to do with
the bikes I’ve been hearing?”
She nodded. “Bikers and frat guys. But
the rangers are on top of things.”
As if on cue, the bike noises were
back. Kelli glanced toward the door.
Are the building
supplies secure?” she asked.
Not really.” As the
roar grew louder, he glanced in the direction of the cabin. “I
thought you said nobody ever came by.”
She lowered her head and massaged her
neck. “There’s a first time for everything. I’m going to go check
No. Let me
Her head lifted. “That won’t be
necessary, Mr. Windsor.” Her expression belied her words.
I insist. No need for
you to go out. It’s late. I’ll move everything inside the cabin and
get a padlock on the door.”
She studied him for a moment, as if
weighing all the options and consequences. “Suit yourself.”
I’ll get a jacket.”
He went to his room, wondering what had possessed him to volunteer
to go outside in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.
In bear territory. He thought of the expression on Kelli’s face
when he’d volunteered, and he knew.
He pulled a leather string from his
pocket and tied back his hair. Shrugging into his parka, he had one
hand on the front doorknob when Kelli came out of her room.
Here,” she said and
stretched out her arm, extending a large Maglite.
He accepted the light, letting his
fingers brush over her hand before her words registered. “What? Did
you say ‘whistle’?”