Authors: Lorie O'clare
Tags: #Man-Woman Relationships, #Bounty Hunters, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Suspense, #Adult, #Fiction
St. Martin’s Paperbacks Titles By Lorie O’Clare
Praise for Lorie O’Clare’s previous novels
Marc King stood in front of the roaring fire, sipped coffee, and stared at the snow falling outside the large window. Several college girls pushed their way into the lodge, giggling and stomping snow off their boots. They spotted him, smiled, and whispered to one another as they hurried across the large lobby area. A bit young but definite prospects. He was going to enjoy his time here.
“Mr. King.” The lady behind the counter grinned a toothy smile when he turned and approached her. “If you continue providing such enticing eye candy to all the ladies as they enter the ski lodge, we’re going to have to put you on payroll,” she said when he reached the counter.
“Does the job pay well?” he asked, deciding he liked how her dark eyes sparkled when she smiled.
“It depends on what you consider good pay,” she returned, her quick candor as appealing as her ready smile.
“I’m not cheap.”
“I’m sure you aren’t.” She shifted her attention to her computer, her slender fingers flying over the keyboard. “But not all payments come in the form of cash.”
“Sometimes being paid in forms other than cash makes the job all the more appealing.”
“Damn shame you consider looking good a job.” Her thick black hair tumbled past her shoulders almost to her ass. And when she turned from the counter, reaching into a drawer and pulling out a card key, then slipping it into a small envelope, he thought it was a damn fine ass.
Marc focused on her name tag, instead of the enticing swell of her breasts, when she turned around.
“Now you’re making a job sound as if it is something unappealing.” He shifted his attention from her name tag to her face. “London, do you not like your job?”
“Now Mr. King.”
“Call me Marc.”
She nodded. “Marc, some jobs are done out of necessity and not for enjoyment.”
“But others are done because you can’t live without doing them.”
Her smile faded, although only for a moment. “You’re in room two-ten.” She pointed to her right. “If you go around the corner here you’ll see the elevator. Do you have any luggage we can bring up for you?”
He held up his duffel. “I travel light.”
Her dark brows lowered over her black eyes. “You have everything you need to stay here for a month in that duffel?”
Marc smiled, admitting he must appear odd. “I don’t own winter clothes. I plan on doing some shopping while I’m here.”
She puckered her lips, red lips that were full and round and moist. “Good looking and he likes to shop.” Goddamn. London was absolutely the most gorgeous creature he’d ever laid eyes on.
Marc leaned against the counter, “Come shop with me.”
London stiffened, holding the card key in its envelope in mid-air. Marc was staring into her eyes, which was the only reason he saw turbulence instantly swarm in them. In the next moment, whatever emotion had spawned to life inside her disappeared. She cleared her throat.
“Enjoy your stay at Elk Ski Lodge,” she said, her tone changing and sounding pleasant and professional. Either she worried about crossing a line between employee and guest or he’d said something that triggered an emotion in her that she was trying to conceal.
“I have a feeling I will,” he told her, winking and even more impressed when she didn’t blush or grin bashfully. Instead, surprisingly, London winked back.
Marc returned to his car, enduring the blizzard blowing outside when he opted to take the wide sidewalk that someone must have been shoveling or snowblowing every ten minutes, since it was relatively clear. He grabbed his laptop and the single suitcase he didn’t mention to London then returned through a service door into the lodge. He glanced toward the large dining area while waiting for the elevator. The lodge accommodated quite a few people and was one reason why he’d chosen this ski resort when he decided on some serious downtime.
Being alone didn’t appeal to him and he’d heard how Elk Ski Lodge was one of the more popular ski resorts, known for being pricey and catering to those who didn’t mind throwing lots of money away to enjoy what Mother Nature offered for free. The holidays were over, and those who could afford it were skiing to work off those excess pounds after eating too much over the holidays.
Marc wasn’t here to burn off calories, although he was definitely entertaining the idea of trying his hand with that hot little desk clerk. Building up a sweat with her a time or two would make this the perfect vacation. Other than finding a hot piece of ass to warm the cold winter nights, the idea of being where no one knew who he was or what he did for a living appealed to him very much.
Marc was proud of the family business his father had started after retiring from LAPD. King Fugitive Apprehension, more commonly known as KFA, was one of the most successful bounty hunter businesses in the world. And Marc knew he’d done his share to help build that reputation. He didn’t mind at all giving his father credit for making the business successful with all his years of being a detective behind him. But Marc held his own.
The elevator beeped just as two women, possibly five or ten years older than Marc, hurried to join him. He held the door, allowing them to enter, then followed, turning just as London walked down the hall in front of him. She glanced his way, before the elevator doors closed. Her black eyes were so compelling. He held on to the image of them after the doors closed.
“Are you and Harold going on the tour or to the disco tonight?” a platinum blonde with fake breasts and tanned leathery skin asked her friend. She gave Marc a quick once-over when he looked at her.
“He wants to go on the tour.” Her companion was a redhead. One of them wore enough perfume to douse the entire elevator.
Marc smiled and nodded to both of them when the elevator opened on his floor.
“If men like that will be at the disco, I don’t care where our husbands go.” Both women laughed as the elevator doors closed behind him.
Marc found his room and unloaded his luggage, then took a look at the literature by the phone. He found information on the events taking place at the lodge, and there was a disco dance, complete with a live DJ and promises of an incredible light show, planned for that evening. If married women like the ones in the elevator would be on the prowl, he’d be smart to find something else to do. Glancing down the list, he read the details for a walking tour.
“In this weather?” Marc dropped the brochure on the bed and walked over to the window, pulling back the thick curtain and staring at the white wonderland outside. “My blood isn’t thick enough for this.”
He was here to get away from life, though. And he didn’t plan on hiding out in his room and sitting at his laptop. After taking time to set it up and get online, Marc glanced at the list of activities again. He stared at the name of the tour guide listed after the description. London Brooke. There couldn’t be two women named London working here, could there?
Marc grabbed his keys and wallet and stuffed the card key for his room in his back pocket. It was time to go shopping. He needed warmer clothes.
* * *
London closed out her drawer and pulled off her name tag. Leaving the front desk in care of the night shift, she headed to the back storage room where she changed out of her uniform shirt, tugging a sweatshirt over her head.
“London?” Meryl Angelino tapped her knuckles on the door and stuck her head around, her red mop of hair damp and tousled. “Looks like we’re canceling the tour tonight.”
“What?” London grabbed her down ski jacket and slipped her vest over her sweatshirt before hugging her jacket to her chest as she followed Meryl out of the storage room.
“You’d think you’d be happy for a night off. I don’t know anyone who works hours like you do.”
“It’s not hard to do when you don’t have a life.” London tucked her coat under her arm and stared out the lobby window with Meryl.
“You’re a bad liar.” Meryl wasn’t an ugly woman, but her red curls were impossible and she did little to try to control them. Little Orphan Annie didn’t have it as bad. When Meryl grinned, though, her green eyes were full of life and energy. There was an inner beauty about her that was enviable. A man would go after Meryl for more than a piece of ass. She wasn’t cursed with a body that made men forget to think with the head on their shoulders.
“I’m not lying. When would I have time to have a social life?”
Meryl shook her head. “Someday I’m going to get you to tell me what you’re running from.”
“I’m not running from anything. Life is great!” She smiled and meant it. Never again would she have to run from a soul. She was settled and working hard, earning legitimate money, which made life even better. “So how many signed up for the tour?” she asked, changing the subject. Her past was where it belonged, and no one in Aspen, Colorado, had a clue about it. It was going to stay that way.
“Five,” Meryl said, glancing at the clipboard in her hand.
London looked over Meryl’s shoulder, smelling her strawberry-scented shampoo. “Five isn’t that bad.”
Meryl made a face. “The weather is getting worse. You know we can’t take tourists out in a storm like this. They’re worse than children. And the last thing we need is to lose one of them.”
London didn’t know a lot about children, but she didn’t need an explanation of the analogy. Meryl came from a family so large she was never alone, even when she wanted to be. It was an enviable life, but London wouldn’t bitch just because her dad had knocked her mom up and the two of them were forced to allow a kid to tag along during their escapades. Today her life was good enough to make up for the many years she’d slept alone in a car or a shabby motel room while her parents ran con after con until they were chased out of one town and headed to the next.
“Okay. Fine.” She hated having to regroup, and now she would have to figure out what to do with her evening. Today her life was structured and she always knew what she would be doing the next day, even the next week. Interrupting that pattern annoyed the tar out of her. “So we stay here in the lobby until these five show up and let them know it’s canceled.”
“Want me to do that?” Already Meryl was handing her the clipboard.
London laughed, accepting it. “Go. I’ll wait. No point in both of us standing here.”
“You’re a gem.” Meryl gave her a quick hug. “Oh, Mom wanted to make sure you’d be at Sunday dinner.”
“I’ll be there.” The Angelinos didn’t approve of anyone being alone, and London didn’t mind the large family gatherings, for the most part.
“Good enough.” Already Meryl hurried across the lobby. “I’m going to get out of here before I get stuck. Be sure and call me if you can’t get out.”
“I will.” London stared at the list of those who’d signed up for the tour. One name stood out over the others. Marc King. Maybe it was for the best that the tour was canceled. She didn’t need to be stuck in a blizzard with a man like him.
Plenty of men checked in at the lodge, some of them single and some pretending they were single. There were plenty who believed they were God’s gift to all women. But Marc King
God’s gift to women. His powerful, chiseled features would put Adonis to shame. Marc’s hair was short, which London preferred on men. The day-old growth that was just enough to darken his jawline added to his bad-boy appearance. His shoulders were broad. His chest was thick and muscular. Every inch of him appeared to be a fine-tuned machine. Yet a machine to what means? His larger-than-life persona was more than just an aura. Marc King was well over six feet tall. Everything about him spelled trouble. From his easy flirtatious nature to the way he had watched her while she checked him in.
London couldn’t stop the image that appeared in her mind of him standing in the elevator. There were two women behind him, eyeballing that tight, firm ass of his. But the way he focused on her, those compelling light blue eyes, damn near made her trip over her own feet. Marc King had looked at her as if he knew every one of her dark secrets. It was like he understood her better than she did. It was an incredibly unnerving sensation, especially when she felt challenged to know why he was the one person who so easily broke through the protective wall that prevented anyone from seeing her dark, branded soul.
It was a very good thing the tour was canceled tonight. A man like him would melt the snow around him. London didn’t need to be around a man who somehow managed to dismantle her so easily. For over twenty years she’d trained and perfected her outer shell, learning how to smile at the world as if she didn’t have a care.
When he’d checked in and told her to come shopping with him, London had almost agreed. It was definitely a blessing that the weather had taken a turn for the worse.
Nonetheless, a mixture of disappointment and relief hit her half an hour later when everyone showed up for the tour but Marc. She explained to the guests why they were canceling, assured them the tour would probably be on for tomorrow evening, then headed to the front desk.
“Mind putting this on the peg in the back room?” she asked Todd, the night clerk and auditor for the lodge.
“No problem.” Todd, who was a skinny college kid from New York with the accent to prove it, grabbed the clipboard and the phone when it rang as he walked by. “Elk Ski Lodge,” he answered, his voice dropping a notch. “Hello, Mr. King, yes, Marc. What can I do for you?”
London hated how her insides quickened just knowing Todd was speaking with Mr. Eye Candy.
“That sucks, man. I know how you feel. It took me forever to learn how to drive in this stuff. But honestly, we don’t really have anyone to call to come get you.”
London placed her hands on the counter, unable to walk away from the conversation. She raised her eyebrows in a question as Todd looked at her.
“One of our guests is caught in a snowdrift. He can’t get his car out,” Todd whispered, explaining the call to her.
“Have him call a tow truck. Does he need a number?”
“He’s already called a wrecker,” Todd explained. “It’s going to be at least an hour and a half before anyone can get to him. He wants someone from here to come get him.”
London stared at Todd, feeling her fingers press into the counter, her body refusing to move when her brain screamed to walk away. It was a damn shame Marc was stuck. But it happened. She would bet he had a newer car and could sit out the wait in the comfort of his heated vehicle.
“Yes, Mr. King, I mean Marc,” Todd was saying. “I was explaining to our daytime clerk what the situation is.” His expression sobered before Todd looked at London, puzzled.
she mouthed, ordering herself to wave good-bye and leave him to his conversation. She wasn’t listening to herself very well.
“He wants to speak to you,” Todd said, handing her the receiver, and shrugging at the same time.
She took it, moving to the side of the counter closer to the phone, and rested her elbow against the counter. For some reason she didn’t want Todd staring at her while she spoke with a guest. Although Marc King wasn’t just any guest. Something about him turned her insides to jelly, and she shouldn’t be allowing that to happen.
“This is London,” she said, hoping Todd didn’t notice how her voice came out no more than a breathy whisper.
“Yes, that’s me.”
His voice was a deep purr, like a mountain lion or some other dangerous predator. “Aren’t you doing a tour tonight?”
She exhaled, rubbing her free hand against her jeans. The only reason he wanted to speak to her was because he’d signed up for the tour.
“Well, I was. It’s been canceled for this evening. You’re welcome to sign up for it tomorrow night. The weather isn’t conducive for a walk into the mountains tonight.”
“I’d have to agree with you there,” he said. When he chuckled, her heart skipped a beat. Never in her life had she heard such a cheerful laugh sound like a dangerous prediction. “Does that mean you’re off the clock?”
“I don’t suppose you would help a man in need.”
Images flashed before her eyes, when she imagined what kind of help she could offer him.
“Do you think you could come get me?” he asked before she could say anything.
“Oh.” London experienced a sliding sensation, as if she’d been teetering at a steep incline and finally slipped over the edge. She braced herself, sucking in a breath. Tell him anything. Say whatever was necessary to get out of helping him or being alone with him for any amount of time. Lie through her teeth; create some story. Whatever it took. “I guess so. Where are you?” She shoved her insane thinking out of her head. Marc King was just a man.
“This should get you Employee of the Month,” Todd told her when he took the receiver and hung it up.
London barely heard him. She nodded and grunted absently as she walked across the lobby and down the hall toward the employee entrance. What kind of idiot was she? He might be just a man but this was how women were mugged, raped, or worse. Marc King might be the sexiest man London had ever seen, but she didn’t know a thing about him. Stuffing the piece of paper where she’d written down Marc’s cell phone number into her jeans pocket, she stood inside the door and pulled her jacket on over her sleeveless vest. London fought the urge to make a pit stop in the bathroom, check her hair, make sure she looked good.
“Oh no, you don’t,” she grumbled under her breath, forcing herself instead to head out into the cold.
Employees didn’t rate covered parking, and it took almost twenty minutes to let her car warm up while scraping ice off the windows. Snow continued falling in torrents, but fortunately she’d purchased a newer Jeep shortly after moving to Aspen. Learning to drive using four-wheel drive, especially on roads as they were now, took a bit more time. After three years of enduring Colorado winters, London wouldn’t say she was a pro, but she’d learned a few tricks. One of them being staying off the roads when it was impossible to see beyond the beam of the headlights.
“You haven’t listened to anything else you’ve told yourself not to do,” she mumbled under her breath, sitting behind her wheel and warming up as she stared at the windshield wipers beating back and forth across her windshield. “You should call him, apologize. He can sit and wait for the professionals to come haul his ass out. They’ll bring him here.” And at this rate she’d still be here when he arrived.
As she dug out Marc’s cell phone number, from her front jeans pocket, her cell phone rang in her purse.
“Well hell,” she grumbled, straightening and grabbing her phone out of her purse, which was on her passenger seat. The number wasn’t familiar. It rang a second time as she tried again to get under her down jacket and into her jeans pocket to pull out the piece of paper with Marc’s number on it.
Her phone rang a third time. It was the same number written on the paper. Had Todd given Marc her number?
Lodge employees didn’t give out personal information about each other. Three years and she’d never seen that rule broken. Which confirmed how valid her initial reaction was. Marc King wasn’t like other men. She didn’t waste her time imagining what he’d said to Todd to get her number.
“Hello,” she said, aware of how breathy her voice sounded.
“I wanted to check on you.”
“Oh. I just dug out my car and cleared my windows.”
“Okay. I’m not going anywhere. The wrecker service just called me back to let me know it could be another couple hours. I’ll probably be no more than a large lump of snow when you get here,” he added, laughing easily.
London shifted her car into gear. “Hang tight. I’ll come rescue you before you’re completely buried.”
“Where I come from, a man is supposed to rescue a lady.”
“Obviously you aren’t where you come from.”
“You’re right about that,” he agreed, again laughing.
The raw baritone triggered something deep inside her. It was more than sexual. Her instincts, developed and tuned differently than most, were warning her. Was it simply that this incredibly tall, muscular, gorgeous man had what it would take to seduce her? Or was her gut warning predicting that Marc could pull her into another type of danger?
Suddenly, she was anything but cold. A heat she hadn’t experienced in a really long time crept throughout her insides, swelling and creating a throbbing between her legs.