Authors: Terry Odell
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #romantic suspense, #mystery, #romance adventure
She started by chopping some onions and
garlic. Unless you were making brownies, you could never go wrong
with onions and garlic. After a quick shuffle through her recipes
and a check of the refrigerator, she decided on a Dijon orange and
honey glazed chicken. Over rice. She set a pot of water on the
stove and measured the rice. A salad, and maybe green beans to
round things out.
She’d begun browning the chicken when
she heard Blake’s boots clumping on the porch. The door opened and
he peeked in, as if he wanted to make sure the coast was clear
before coming inside. No question he was keeping his distance. She
tried a smile and found it came easily enough.
His eyes widened and he smiled back.
“Smells good.” She followed his gaze to the array of ingredients
she’d spread out and saw a hint of longing cross his face. “Real
When he gazed back at her, those brown
eyes sucked her in and she took a calming breath. “I’m making
enough for two, Mr. Windsor. I’ve been avoiding you and thought you
might like to join me for dinner. Consider it a peace
Only if you’ll call
She nodded. “Blake.”
His grin spread and he ran his fingers
through his hair. “Hell, you can call me whatever you want. I’m
sick of canned stew and peanut butter.”
It’ll be about half
Let me get cleaned up
and I’ll help.”
I’ve seen you cook.
How about if you set the table?”
Smart woman. I’ll be
Her hands trembled, but only a little,
as she poured the rice into the water. She hoped
Windsor—Blake—wouldn’t think her rude if she started on the wine
before he joined her. Too bad if he did. She took two glasses from
the cabinet and poured one, downing it like water before setting
the bottle and glasses on the dining table.
Get a grip. It was only dinner. How
many times had she cooked for Charles’ business associates?
She made sure her thoughts stayed away
from the times she and Charles had cooked, side by side. Sometimes
abandoning dinner for what he called a bedroom break. Images of
Robert intruded, his rugged face turned feral when he’d poised
himself above her. Her knees quaked and she leaned against the
counter, fighting nausea.
* * * * *
Blake rushed through his shower,
damp-dried, and found a pair of clean jeans. The thought of dinner
that didn’t come out of a can nearly had him out the door half
naked. He dug through his duffel bag and chose a navy blue
turtleneck, slowing down to think. To plan.
Be cool. Why the sudden turnaround in
the Ice Princess? He wanted to give her the third degree. She might
have the same motives. He made sure his cover story was fresh in
Rubbing his jaw, he stepped back into
the cell-like bathroom. He needed a shave. While he lathered his
face, he laid out his plan to garner her trust and impress her with
his restraint. This would be an evening of civility, filled with
proper small talk of the project, with only the slightest venture
into her past.
He finished dressing and strode down
the hall to the kitchen. Whatever she was cooking had his empty
stomach begging. He stopped short when he spotted Kelli leaning on
the kitchen counter, pale and shaky. She looked his way and
although she covered well, the pain in her eyes was unmistakable.
He felt another twinge in his chest.
Are you all right?”
he asked. He took a step forward, arm outstretched, but dropped it
when Kelli backed away.
Kelli sniffed and dabbed at her eyes
with the towel she’d tucked into her jeans. “Fine. Onions.” She
kept the towel to her face. “Wine’s on the table. Help
She was reacting to more than onions.
Whatever had inspired her to invite him to dinner hadn’t eliminated
her need for distance. He poured, then picked up a glass and
extended it toward her, careful to leave room for her to take it
without touching his fingers.
She released the towel and took the
wine. Her hands were steady. “Salad’s in the fridge. Dressing’s in
He crossed behind her, not making
contact, but close enough so he smelled her over the cooking
aromas. Fresh and soapy. He took the bowl of salad from the
refrigerator, tossed it with the dressing and placed it on the
table. “I think I was volunteered to set the table too.”
He gathered plates and silverware,
arranging them on the table. When he finished, he raised his
wineglass. “To Camp Getaway.”
Kelli returned the toast and sipped her
wine. Once they were seated, he took a bite of chicken. Sweet and
tangy at the same time. He swallowed, wiped his mouth on his napkin
and sighed. “This is delicious. You think I could make it? What’s
in it?” He took another bite without waiting for an answer.
exotic—mostly orange juice, honey and some Dijon
Thank God she was talking. Plain,
everyday conversation. “I know those. You think regular mustard
She shrugged. “You could try.”
Before long, the food was gone and they
lingered over their wine. Blake stood and carried his dishes to the
sink. “I’ll wash,” he said. “But please. Stay where you are and
keep me company.”
He filled the sink with soapy water and
worked his way through the pile of dinner dishes. Kelli sat with
her elbows on the table, chin resting in her hands. She wasn’t
actually watching him, he thought. More like staring right through
him, a dreamy expression on her face. Maybe it was the wine, but
she appeared relaxed.
He fought the desire to lean over and
kiss her. He knew better than to mix business with pleasure,
especially with someone as skittish as Kelli. They’d talk, and he
might find out what she was hiding. Because she was definitely
hiding something, whether or not it was her identity. “I saw you
working by the lake yesterday,” he said.
Her eyes focused again. “I was working
on a campfire circle. You know—marshmallows, songs, ghost
He raised an eyebrow. “You really think
inner city kids’ll be singing Kumbaya?”
What?” Her eyebrows
I think tonight’s the
first time I’ve heard you laugh.”
He saw her stiffen and went back to
concentrating on the dishes. He finished the last pan and reached
for a towel.
Let them drain,”
Kelli said. “I’ll put them away later.”
You’re only saying
that because you want to find them again.” He wiped his hands. He
went to the table and picked up his almost-empty wineglass. “Join
me in the parlor, ma’am?” He tilted his head toward the couch.
“Would you like a fire?”
He didn’t wait for her response. He set
his wineglass on the coffee table and moved to the fireplace. Kelli
brought what was left of her wine and tucked herself into a corner
of the couch. She met his gaze and there wasn’t any fear in her
eyes. His face grew warm and it wasn’t from the beginnings of a
fire. Heat spread a little lower, too.
Stop. Tonight was for talking. He sat
on the couch, on the end farthest from Kelli, laid one arm along
its back and crossed an ankle over his knee. “So. Tell me more. Who
is Kelli Carpenter and what is she doing here in the middle of
She paused for a minute, looking into
the fire. “This is an important project.” She swallowed the last of
her wine. “Hard to believe a drive-by hardly fazes the kids who’ll
come here, but they’ll freak at an owl.”
Not so hard to believe, considering the
way all those night noises had robbed him of a decent night’s
sleep. But at least she was talking. Tempted to simply ask if she
was Casey Wallace, he reminded himself to take it slow. No obvious
references, Dwight had said. Besides, he liked the way her eyes lit
up when she talked about her work.
Found any interesting
creatures in your traps?”
The most exotic species were a red tree vole and Preble’s
Are those things I’d
want to avoid?”
I doubt you’d even
notice—they’re tiny. Harmless.”
He shifted, stretched his legs and
turned so he was facing her. “What made you choose this line of
I went to Yosemite
one summer and fell in love with the great outdoors. Never looked
Everything she said matched the reports
he’d read. “School?”
UCLA.” She leaned
forward to put her glass on the table next to his. “What about you?
Why the temp agency?”
You mean, why not
have a steady job like a normal person?”
She flushed. “I didn’t mean it like
that. You seem to know what you’re doing and you could
Make big bucks in a
huge construction company. Not my style.” Not a lie. Although he
was enjoying the work this week, he didn’t want to go back to a
life of washing sawdust out of every bodily orifice. “I make enough
to meet my needs.” That wasn’t a lie, either. It merely avoided the
fact that his real job had nothing to do with construction. And the
fact that his needs had grown and it took more to meet them. He saw
her hesitate before speaking, as if carrying on a conversation was
something stiff and rusty from disuse.
You been with the
agency a long time?” she asked at last.
Oh, so now who was grilling whom? He
paused to finish his wine. “Depends on what you mean. Construction
Temps has offices all over the country. That’s the beauty of temp
work. A few jobs for one company and you can go try another one
somewhere else. I work for a while, take time for myself, then get
back on their active list. No strings.”
He caught her eye wandering toward his
left hand. “No responsibilities for anyone but me,” he added. That
much was true.
I understand.” Her
words were almost a whisper. Some of the pain he’d seen earlier had
crept back. She stood and carried both glasses to the
He watched her wash them, rinse them
and meticulously set them on the counter, as though performing the
mundane task would bring her peace. And he wondered how bringing
her peace had become important to him.
* * * * *
Kelli dried her hands and went back to
her seat by the fire, determined to finish this evening as one
normal adult talking with another. And as they talked, she wasn’t
thinking of Windsor as a threat. When he’d bent over to start the
fire—well, he had some delightful looking assets. What was she
thinking? She felt herself blush. Had to be the wine—they’d
finished the bottle.
Blake leaned back, crossing his hands
behind his head. His eyes grabbed hers again and she fought to
break his gaze. He wasn’t looking at her the way he had when he’d
first shown up—not exactly. Besides, he couldn’t be interested in
her that way. It was like he was analyzing her. She studied the
flames flickering in the fireplace.
As if he was unaware how uncomfortable
he could make her, he went right on. “You must travel a lot for
this job. Anyplace interesting?”
Interesting? Like the trip to Mexico
where Robert had lured her with promises of romance? And had ended
up dead? She kept her voice steady. “They’re all interesting.
Different habitats, different flora and fauna.”
Are you sure we
haven’t met? You look familiar.”
She fought to control her rising
anxiety. A logical question for normal small talk. His expression
was curious, but bland.
She shook her head. Forced a
smile. “I hear that all the time. I guess I have one of those
faces. I’m sure we haven’t met. I’d remember you.” She barely
breathed, watching his face.
He shrugged, and she exhaled.
He stretched his legs in front of him.
“So, where else have you been? Maybe our paths have crossed.”
I doubt it. My work
leans toward keeping developers and the people you work for out.
EnviroCon is connected with nature groups—the ones who buy land
expressly so people can’t build on it. Leave a few acres of the
planet the way Mother Nature created them.”
Ouch.” Blake gave her
an easy smile. “Hey, even a city boy like me knows fresh air is
good for you. I may prefer the city, but it doesn’t mean I can’t
appreciate the great outdoors—from a respectable distance, of
Don’t tell me you’ve
never gone camping? Your dad never took you fishing? What did you
do as a kid?”
His face clouded. “My old man didn’t
have time for those kinds of things. He worked. Moved us
around—wherever the jobs were.”
It must have been
hard on your mom.”
His gaze grew distant. “She died when I
was three—I never knew her.”
Dad did the best he
Did she see bitterness there? Regret? A
touch of anger? “Single parenting is tough. My dad died when I was
little. Mom remarried, though.” When she realized she’d just
divulged her own childhood, not Kelli’s, she bit her lip. Nothing
in Blake’s demeanor said he’d noticed. She buried Casey’s memories
a little deeper and brought Kelli back.
He stared into the fire for a moment,
then gave her a smile, but there was a tinge of pain behind it.
“Enough dwelling on old memories. Tell me. Where does Kelli
Carpenter live when she’s not in the field?”
She kept her expression neutral. Normal
small talk. Don’t panic. “It depends. I find a motel near the site,
or if there’s a stretch between assignments, EnviroCon has
temporary employee housing.”