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Authors: Paula Graves

Tags: #Suspense

Secret Identity (21 page)

BOOK: Secret Identity
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What she needed—what they both needed—was a break. Get out of the self-imposed prison of Isabel’s house and find a place where they could pretend the past two days had never happened.
A place like the hotel room on Rue du Miroir, where they could escape into a world of their own creation. A world where they set the rules and drove the agenda.
And he knew just such a place.

 

 

“WHAT DO YOU THINK?” Rick waved his arm at the vista spread out in front of them, the smile in his voice barely audible over the roar of water.
Amanda slanted a look his way. He was grinning at her, looking rather pleased with himself. She bit back a grin of her own and pretended to be considering their surroundings with a critical eye. “Where are we, exactly?”
“We’re exactly twenty yards from Crybaby Falls,” he answered, reaching out his hand.
She took it and let him lead her forward until they reached the narrow wooden footbridge that crossed the wide, roiling stream just ten yards from the drop-off that formed the waterfall. The area was heavily forested on each side of the falls, the bridge the only sign of human habitation in view. Amanda was surprised to find no one else around, considering the beauty of the area. “Where are all the tourists?”
“It’s Chickasaw County’s little secret,” he answered, bending close to her ear so he could lower his voice for effect. “The locals think this place is haunted and cursed, and they’ve conspired for over a century to keep outsiders from coming here and learning the secret of our shame.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Or it’s spring break, and all the tourists are in Florida working on an early tan?”
He laughed. “Or that.”
He led her across the bridge and down a steep incline where nature had dug footholds in the craggy rock face. Halfway down the falls, the incline leveled off to a natural ledge, about ten feet square, where enterprising humans had stacked flat rock slabs to build a bench. Rick dusted off the bench and waved for her to sit.
“I thought you said you were taking me somewhere that would remind me of Tablis.” She waved her hand at the woods surrounding the falls. “Nothing like this in Tablis.”
“You’re too literal,” he scolded lightly, sitting next to her. “It’s a little chilly—are you warm enough?”
She couldn’t stop herself from snuggling closer to his warm side. “I’m fine.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, the touch casual. Friendly. But her body’s response was anything but casual. Her entire nervous system seemed to hum with awareness of him. Of his warm male scent and the rasp of his unshaven jaw against her temple as he tucked her closer to ward off the cold.
He was trying to seduce her. He was being subtle about it, but she knew enough about men to know that he hadn’t forgotten what he’d told her the night before.
He wanted her. He knew she wanted him.
It was just a matter of time before he tried to prove himself right. If she was going to keep her promise to herself to avoid any more messy complications in her life, she was going to have to make sure she won this battle of wills.
Unfortunately, sitting here cuddled up in the circle of his arms wasn’t a very auspicious start for Team Amanda.
“There really is a ghost story connected to these falls,” Rick said, his tone serious. “Two, actually. First, there was a Chickasaw woman stolen from her tribe by the Cherokees native to this part of Alabama. Betrothed to a young warrior of her own tribe who’d been killed by her captors, she gave birth to his son while in captivity. Soon after the baby’s birth, a Cherokee tribesman planned to take her as his woman, but she was still grieving the father of her child. So she took her son and flung herself and the baby over the falls to their death.”
Even though she knew the world was full of such legends, almost entirely apocryphal, she couldn’t hold back a shudder at the thought of the unhappy woman who saw so little hope in her future that she saw death as the better option.
She’d been so close to that point herself, near the end of her captivity and torture. If she hadn’t made her escape from the makeshift prison, how much longer would she have lasted?
“But it’s just a legend, of course,” Rick murmured, tightening his arm around her shoulders. She looked up to find him watching her with worry in his eyes, looking as if he regretted ever bringing up the ghost story. “Most mothers who can’t hack it leave their kids behind instead of jumping off a cliff with them.”
She sensed a deeper story behind his words, but she didn’t want to know it. The closer she let herself feel to him, the harder he’d be to resist. “What’s the other ghost story?” she asked, as much to distract herself as him.
“That one, I’m sorry to say, is based in reality.” Rick frowned. “Twenty years ago, a pregnant teenager plunged to her death over the falls. Everyone believes her lover killed her, though no one could ever prove it.”
“How horrible.”
“Folks around here swear that sometimes, at night, they can hear her calling her lover’s name, as if she’s pleading for mercy.” Rick sighed. “Well. Not exactly the ‘forget your problems’ sort of mood I was trying to set.”
“The world is full of dread as well as beauty,” she said.
He rose to his feet and tugged at her hand. “Come on. It’s too cold to be sitting out here.”
With a groan, she joined him in the hike back to where they’d parked the car on the dirt road to the falls. A short drive later, down a winding dirt road littered with pine straw, they pulled up in front of a travel trailer parked at the edge of a large lake.
She cut her eyes at Rick. “Ta-da?”
He grinned at her. “It ain’t the Ritz, but it’s private and it’s paid for.”
The camper was a boxy metal monstrosity about twenty feet long and eight feet wide. But to her surprise, the interior of the camper seemed larger than the outside would have suggested, every bit of space maximized for comfort and function.
Rick dumped their bags on the brown sofa just inside the door. “I bought this a few months ago, after I started working for Jesse. If I was going to be this close to Gossamer Lake, I wanted to have a place by the water. And until I find time to pick out a plot of land and build myself a lake house, this will do.”
He showed her the small kitchen and dining cubbyhole, then waved his hand at the queen-size bed snugged into the other end of the camper. “Sorry there’s not any privacy—I bought it for overnight fishing trips and didn’t go for the luxury model.”
She lifted her gaze to his, not missing the feral gleam lurking behind his dark eyes. “And where are you going to sleep?” she asked flatly.
He bent and spoke in her ear, his breath hot against her cheek. “That, sugar, depends entirely on you.” Drawing back, he flashed her a devilish smile and headed outside.

 

 

THEY SPENT THE REST of the afternoon fishing. “For dinner,” Rick told her with a wry grin. “Or else it’s peanut butter sandwiches for us tonight.”
Fortunately, the small pier that jutted into Gossamer Lake near the camper seemed to be a haven for little black crappie, which snapped up the tiny chartreuse jigs as quickly as she and Rick flipped them in front of them. By the time the afternoon light began to wane, they’d caught twenty keeper-size sunfish, more than enough for dinner.
Rick cleaned and filleted the crappie, frying them in cornmeal on the small camper stove. Finding cans of vegetables in the tiny pantry, Amanda selected corn and turnip greens for their side dishes and heated them in the microwave next to the stove, adding spices from Rick’s sparse collection.
Yet, despite the less-than-ideal cooking conditions she’d toiled under, Amanda found herself delighted with the results, finishing off two large fish fillets and extra servings of the vegetables. Only after she sat back against the banquette bench, wiping her hands on a paper napkin, did she realized Rick was watching her, a smile on his face.
“You must be feeling better. It’s good to see you with a healthy appetite.”
“Not sure how healthy it was,” she said with a wry groan, patting her full stomach. “But it was good.”
“How’s your arm?”
She blinked with surprise at the question, realizing that she hadn’t given her injury a second thought all day. “Better.”
“We should change the dressing before bedtime.”
“Okay. I’ll do you if you’ll do me.” Before the words finished coming out of her mouth, she realized she’d made a big unforced error.
Rick grinned at her slip. The air between them supercharged in a second. “I’ve got no problem with that.”
“You know what I meant.”
“So, do you want me to do you first? Or should we save you for last?”
She got up from the banquette and carried her plate to the sink. “Stop it, Rick.”
“Stop what?” His voice was right behind her, close enough to stir the tendrils of hair that tickled her neck where they’d escaped her ponytail.
She turned to face him, her second mistake of the night. His eyes were midnight-dark, blazing with desire, and she felt as if the tiny room around them spun into nothingness, leaving only her and him and the fire licking between them, drawing her closer and closer, a moth seeking the flame.
“Do you remember that first night we met in Tablis?” he murmured, his fingers brushing her wrist on their way slowly up her arm. “You were wearing a dark blue dress cut up to—”
“I was on assignment,” she breathed. “At a nightclub.”
“Interesting how the CIA works—sending you to a nightclub when you’re supposed to be tracking fundamentalist terrorists.” His fingers had traveled all the way up to her collarbone, sprinkling goose bumps along the path he’d traced.
“You know the Kaziri terrorists used religion only as a tool. What they believed in was power.” He had to stop doing whatever it was he was doing to her collarbone or she was going to melt into a puddle at his feet. “You were as likely to find them in a nightclub as in a mosque. They’re notorious for liking blondes.”
Rick looped a loose strand of her hair around his finger. “They’re not alone.”
She eased away from him before she lost all control. “I should go get the first-aid kit. You packed it, didn’t you?”
“I’m going to take a shower first.” He held her gaze for a long moment, a smile playing with his lips. Then he turned toward the small bathroom, stripping off his shirt as he went.
Amanda stared at the ripple of muscles in his retreating back, her heart pounding. She was still standing there, transfixed, when the shower came on.
Ah, hell,
she thought, unzipping her jeans and letting them fall to the floor. She walked out of her panties, shed her shirt and dropped her bra on the way to the bathroom.
Pushing aside the shower curtain just enough to step inside, she let her gaze move slowly up Rick’s wet, naked body, her eyes locking finally with his. He arched one eyebrow at her, a slow grin curving his beautiful lips.
“You win,” she said, and stepped into his arms.

 

 

RICK WOKE FROM A LIGHT DOZE at the sound of Amanda’s voice purring, low and content, against his chest. “Where’d you find a candle in this place?” she asked.
He smiled, watching the warm golden light dancing around the camper ceiling. “I like to be prepared.”
Her lips brushed his nipple, sending an electric shock straight to his core. “So, this is your designated love shack?”
BOOK: Secret Identity
13.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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