Authors: Terry Odell
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #romantic suspense, #mystery, #romance adventure
Yes. Most wildlife
wants nothing to do with humans. Make noise. They’ll know you’re
coming and leave you alone.”
He clicked on the bright beam and swept
it back and forth across the driveway as he started for the cabin.
Nothing seemed unusual, but how would he know? Every now and then
he stopped, shone the light into the bushes and up into the trees.
Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted. At least he thought it
was an owl. Trees creaked. Bushes rustled. Or things in the bushes
rustled. But nothing came scurrying across the roadway, or swooping
down from the sky.
The trees that lined the path brought
images of the haunted forest in one of the few books he’d owned as
a kid. It had scared him then, too—or his brother had when he’d
read it to him with melodramatic sound effects.
Whistle? A lost cause. His mouth was
too dry to manage more than a feeble note, but he figured his
singing would scare the hell out of anything lurking in the trees.
He burst into a shaky but loud rendition of
Bad, Bad Leroy
* * * * *
Kelli watched as Blake worked his way
down to the cabin, sweeping the flashlight up, down and around.
Afraid of a little wildlife. Drop-dead, soap-opera-star gorgeous.
Chamomile tea, for God’s sake. He was probably gay. Heck, even his
hair looked better than hers did. The thought of Windsor under her
roof became a little less intimidating.
She wondered if he was really going to
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
floated through the
air. She caught herself before she laughed out loud. Windsor’s
off-key singing would definitely keep the critters at bay.
She absently rubbed her hand where
Windsor’s had touched her when he took the flashlight. A frisson
ripped through her. It had been an uncallused hand, with very
Her mouth dried up. There was no reason
a handyman couldn’t be gay, but soft hands? Her brain whirled. It
made no sense. Undercover cop? Private detective? Didn’t fit. They
wouldn’t be spooked out here.
Was he really going out there to keep
the project supplies safe? Or using the cover of the bikers to do
some sabotage of his own? Whoever Blake Windsor was, he was not
going to stop Camp Getaway from opening on schedule. She darted
into her room and retrieved her thirty-eight from the nightstand
She pulled on her parka, stuffing her
revolver into the pocket. Moving through the shadows alongside the
road, she approached the cabin, sticking to the cover of the trees.
A faint glow filtered through gaps in the plywood-covered window
openings. A moment later, Blake came out, picked up one of the new
windows propped against the exterior wall, and carried it inside.
He returned for another and she noticed the heavy work gloves on
his hands. So, he protected his hands. A fragment of tension
Reminding herself it was for the kids,
she stepped forward. “What can I do?”
He jumped but recovered quickly,
flashing her a smile. “I’m just moving everything inside. These are
custom windows. If they break, you’ll be behind schedule.”
It’s good to know you
take your work seriously.”
No point in doing a
job if you can’t do it right.”
She reached for a window. Good grief,
she didn’t want to like this guy.
* * * * *
I never had my tea,”
Blake said when they were back in the house. “Please join me. It’ll
warm you up.” He gestured to the chairs beyond the counter. “Have a
seat. It’ll only take a couple of minutes.”
Kelli hadn’t spoken a word while they’d
worked and he’d backed off trying to engage her in conversation.
But he’d made progress and wasn’t going to lose what little
advantage he had.
She hesitated and he found another mug
in the cabinet. “Humor me?” He turned the burner to high and willed
the water to boil before she could change her mind.
Okay. I’ll be right
back.” She disappeared into her room.
The kettle whistled and he stared at
her closed door. When he heard the knob turn, he smiled and poured
boiling water over the tea bags. “Relax. It’s just a cup of tea.
Kelli slid into a chair—the one
farthest from the counter—and rearranged the salt and pepper
shakers on the red Formica tabletop. He maintained the silence
while the tea steeped, then stirred milk and honey into the mugs.
“Here you go.” He leaned across the counter and set one mug onto
She took a sip and her eyes met his for
an instant. “Not bad.”
Ah, another convert.”
He stayed where he was, leaning against the kitchen counter.
“Nobody thinks you can put milk and honey into chamomile tea, but I
prove them wrong every time.”
She took another sip and a tiny smile
teased her mouth, although she didn’t look at him again. He stepped
around the counter and pulled back one of the three empty chairs.
He lifted his eyebrows in question, pleased enough when she
shrugged. He set his mug down, then took a seat.
Been here long?” he
Where are you
I move around with
the work.” She studied her tea.
He waited, content to watch Kelli
accept his presence, seeing some of the apprehension leave her
eyes. He tried again.
Have you worked on a
lot of these camp projects?”
She shook her head. “Usually I do
straight environmental studies. Document what lives there. In and
out in a matter of days. But this project is a new venture for
EnviroCon. Thornton, the backer—he’s some kind of
philanthropist—he’s done a bunch of similar ones. Camp Getaway
could be the first of many for Jack and it’s important to him.”
Although she still wouldn’t look at
him, her tone had softened. The project was clearly important to
her, too, and not simply because it was her job. She sipped her tea
then set the mug down. Her fingers, with their short, unpolished
nails, beat a quiet tattoo on the handle.
This job meant
long-term studies, tons of government paperwork, planned
curriculum, not to mention getting permission to bring kids in. If
they’re going to stay in the dorm, it’ll need a Certificate of
Occupancy.” She raised her eyes, almost in challenge. As if she
didn’t think he could do his job.
I can handle it.
Fitting the new windows into the old openings will be the
trickiest. Driving that road with them was nerve-racking, but they
survived the trip and I think they’re safe where they are
She gave him that same exasperated
headshake he’d seen earlier. Even exasperation was better than the
way she avoided and ignored him.
He smiled. “What? Did I do something
On a winding mountain
road, it’s considered common courtesy to hug the shoulder, not the
center line when there’s someone behind you.” She mumbled the words
into her mug.
He thought back to the drive up, of a
Wrangler zipping past him when he’d been trying to get a cell
signal. “Sorry. Lesson learned. Most of my jobs don’t involve
And where would those
Another step forward. She’d actually
initiated a question. “Seattle most recently, but I move around
with the work, too.” Crap, he was tired. He’d almost said
With a nod, she stood and carried her
mug to the sink. “Thanks for the tea, Mr. Windsor. We both have an
early start tomorrow.”
Good night, Kelli.”
He fixed another mug of tea and brought it to his room, along with
the Sherlock Holmes book. To the tea, he added a generous shot of
Scotch from the bottle he’d brought with him. Along with convincing
him tai chi would help him relax, his sister-in-law extolled the
calming virtues of chamomile tea. He never told her about the
On his narrow cot, Blake tossed and
turned, listening to unfamiliar night noises. When sleep wouldn’t
come, he replayed the night’s events.
Kelli, or whoever she was, had appeared
out of the darkness, nearly giving him a heart attack and then
slipped into rhythm working beside him. Together, they’d secured
all the supplies, but for two people working side by side, they
might as well have been on separate planets.
He wondered why she intrigued him. In
his world, he’d never give her a second glance. He imagined
unfastening the clip she used to hold back her hair, watching it
tumble past her shoulders. Running his fingers through it. Taking
off her glasses, giving him an unobstructed view into the depths of
her brown eyes. He groaned and tried to find a comfortable position
on the lumpy mass masquerading as a mattress. When that failed, he
picked up the book and started reading. Maybe some of Sherlock’s
powers would rub off on him.
Sunlight streamed through the bare
windows. Blake crawled out of bed, dealt with a lukewarm shower and
staggered into the kitchen for coffee. Kelli’s Jeep was gone, but
she’d locked her doors. He made a peanut butter sandwich and went
to the cabin.
He’d been working about twenty minutes
when he heard the Jeep approach and stop. Aware he was being
watched, he focused on his work, giving Kelli a quick nod only when
she wheeled the Jeep past him on her way to the house.
When the afternoon sun beat down, he
moved from the roof to work inside where it was cooler. He heard
Kelli drive off again and he stepped out of the musty confines of
the cabin, tugging the rawhide thong from his hair. He shook his
ponytail free, trying to dispel some of the sawdust. The cabin
floor was covered with it. More clung to his clothing and he
slapped his jeans and stomped his feet in a futile attempt to be
rid of it.
He needed a break and he needed to
report to Dwight Hollingsworth, not that he had much to say. He’d
demand Dwight tell him why he was really here, or—or what? He’d go
back to Chicago and start work on the Whitaker account? No way.
Dwight had insisted he play carpenter in this godforsaken
wilderness, and that’s what he was going to do. It certainly had
nothing to do with wanting to help Kelli.
He drove about a mile down the winding
dirt road before finding a spot wide enough to pull over. He
checked for a phone signal. Nothing yet. Running his fingers
through his hair, he sat for a moment, listening to birdsong and
the wind rustling the leaves, not the traffic noises he was used
to. He got out of the cab and opened the lockbox in the bed of the
He wrested the large manila envelope
from under the spare tools. Although he’d encountered only a few
cars, he jumped down from the truck and hiked down a trail until he
came to a clearing. Once he was certain he was away from any
eavesdroppers of the human variety, he unfastened the clasp and
slid out the small stack of papers.
The grainy eight-by-ten photo, blown up
from some magazine column, showed Casey Wallace beaming at her
tuxedo-clad husband, who was holding a framed plaque and smiling
for the camera. Casey wore a low-cut red dress which displayed an
ample bosom and clung in all the right places. He tried to
superimpose Kelli’s face on Casey’s. Subtract the blonde
chin-length bob and the wispy bangs. Add glasses.
He stared for a good five minutes, but
Kelli wouldn’t pop. Hollingsworth must be grasping at straws.
He sighed and leafed through the
background papers. Computer hotshot, married at twenty-three,
almost ten years ago. One son, born a year later. Newspaper
clippings—society pages, Casey an adjunct to her husband. An
article about a convenience story robbery-shooting, killing the
husband and three-year-old son.
He looked at the photocopy of a
newspaper obituary. A blurred black-and-white photo of the memorial
service, with the grieving family virtually unrecognizable.
He scanned the reports from
Hollingsworth. Nothing he hadn’t read twenty times. Kelli Carpenter
had a perfectly normal history with no apparent connections to
Casey Wallace, except in Hollingsworth’s mind. Kelli had a degree
in environmental science from UCLA, had worked for Stockbridge at
EnviroCon for the past three years.
Why Hollingsworth connected the two
women eluded him, but Blake would do what he was being paid to do.
And for now, that would be to tell Dwight Hollingsworth there was
no way Kelli and Casey were the same person. Or to hire a licensed
PI, not an Mergers and Acquisitions executive who grew up pounding
Rustling leaves, flickers of motion,
and the distinct feeling of being watched sent a tingle across
Blake’s skin. Some sort of bird in the tree? A flash of movement in
the underbrush had him leaping to his feet. Crap, there were
probably snakes out here. What the hell was he doing in the woods?
He stuffed the papers back into the envelope and jumped up,
brushing debris from his jeans. Again, something moved. Blake
froze. He debated whistling. Or shouting. Seconds later, a
distinctly human figure moved deeper into the woods. Recognizing a
park ranger uniform, Blake relaxed. He must have wandered across
the park boundary.
He drove another twenty minutes, eyes
flicking between the winding road and his cell phone readout,
before he got a clear signal. Five more minutes before there was a
turnout in the road. He punched in Hollingsworth’s number and got
the cool, efficient voice of Mrs. Madison, Hollingsworth’s
Is he in?” he
I’m sorry, Mr.
Windsor. He’s meeting with Mr. Griffith—his campaign manager—until