Too Close For Comfort
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“Trust me to take the wheel?”
Rosie turned around to face Ian, tipping her head back so she could meet his gaze.
He grazed the back of a finger down the side of her face, a touch he couldn’t have stopped if his life had depended on it. He bent and pressed a kiss against her temple. “Go get some sleep, Rosie. You’re safe, I promise.”
Her heart thudding, Rosie walked toward the ladder. She turned around and found his attention on the water ahead of them. She watched him, wishing she understood what had just happened between them.
Moments later she collapsed on the bed. More tired than she cared to acknowledge, she admitted how much Ian had made her relax. She would never have imagined he could be so gentle.
And so the day ended as unusually as it had begun, her thoughts on a stranger—a man who felt oddly safe in spite of all that he was.…
As always, Intimate Moments offers you six terrific books to fill your reading time, starting with Terese Ramin’s Her Guardian Agent. For FBI agent Hazel Youvella, the case that took her back to revisit her Native American roots was a very personal one. For not only did she find the hero of her heart in Native American tracker Guy Levoie, she discovered the truth about the missing child she was seeking. This wasn’t just any child—this was her child.
If you enjoyed last month’s introduction to our FIRSTBORN SONS inline continuity, you won’t want to miss the second installment. Carla Cassidy’s Born of Passion will grip you from the first page and leave you longing for the rest of these wonderful linked books. Valerie Parv takes a side trip from Silhouette Romance to debut in Intimate Moments with a stunner of a reunion romance called Interrupted Lullaby. Karen Templeton begins a new miniseries called HOW TO MARRY A MONARCH with Plain-Jane Princess, and Linda Winstead Jones returns with Hot on His Trail, a book you should be hot on the trail of yourself. Finally, welcome Sharon Mignerey back and take a look at her newest, Too Close for Comfort.
And don’t forget to look in the back of this book to see how Silhouette can make you a star.
Enjoy them all, and come back next month for more of the best and most exciting romance reading around.
Leslie J. Wainger
Executive Senior Editor
Too Close for Comfort
To Anne, Judy, Robin and Steven
My own personal Fab Four
lives in Colorado with her husband and two dogs, Angel and Squirt. From the time she figured out that spelling words could be turned into stories, she knew being a writer was how she wanted to spend her life. She won RWA’s Golden Heart Award in 1995, validation that she was on the right path.
When she’s not writing, she loves puttering around in her garden, walking her dogs along the South Platte River and spending time at the family cabin in Colorado’s Four Corners region.
She loves hearing from readers, and you can write to her in care of Silhouette Books, 300 East 42nd Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10017.
The touch of a cold, wet nose against Rosie Jensen’s neck brought her wide awake.In the next heartbeat, the telephone on the nightstand rang. She pushed the dog’s muzzle away and reached for the phone.
‘‘Hello.’’ She eyed the bedside clock. Four-seventeen. Only bad news came in the middle of the night. Sudden fear lodged in her throat. One of her sisters. Her parents.
‘‘Sorry to wake you,’’ came the calm voice of her close friend, Hilda Raven-in-Moonlight, over the line.
‘‘This better be good,’’ Rosie grumbled, the band of apprehension around her heart easing. Hilda was the island’s constable, not to mention head nurse of a tiny clinic, and the first to sound the alarm when a tourist got lost in the deceptively rugged interior of the island or tangled up with a bear. Tourists, however, wouldn’t arrive at this remote island in the Alaska inside passage for at least another month.
‘‘It is. A child has been reported lost.’’
Rosie cast the clock another glance. ‘‘At this time of night?’’ She sat up in bed. ‘‘Where? Whose?’’
‘‘That’s where this gets a little strange,’’ Hilda said after an almost imperceptible pause. ‘‘Apparently somewhere close to you. As for who—the man said they were from San Francisco. Yesterday, he somehow got separated from his little girl.’’
‘‘So why didn’t he get help then?’’
‘‘That’s what I asked,’’ Hilda returned. ‘‘The father said he just kept looking—that he didn’t want to think she was lost.’’
‘‘So you haven’t seen the guy. Just talked to him?’’
‘‘Which means we don’t have a specific scent.’’
‘‘Don’t tell me I’m asking the impossible. I know.’’
‘‘You haven’t asked anything. Yet.’’
‘‘If there’s a chance a child is lost…’’ Hilda cleared her throat. ‘‘It still gets pretty cold at night.’’
That was putting it mildly. During the first week in April, the nighttime temperatures regularly dropped to freezing. Rosie pushed the covers aside, got out of bed and peered outside, where dawn was still a promise.
‘‘We’ll have daylight in another hour. I’ll check along the road,’’ Hilda added.
‘‘Oh, sure,’’ Rosie quipped. ‘‘Leave me and Sly with the coastline. This is all pretty fishy, my friend.’’
‘‘Don’t forget your radio,’’ Hilda responded. ‘‘And take good care of you.’’
‘‘Don’t hang up yet,’’ Rosie said, vaguely alarmed that her friend hadn’t responded with the normal banter that lightened the tension of the job at hand. ‘‘What’s the kid’s name?’’
This time Hilda’s pause was long enough to heighten Rosie’s uneasiness another notch.
‘‘Annmarie,’’ she finally said.
The name wound through Rosie’s chest, leaving behind a gaping ache. No wonder Hilda hadn’t wanted to tell her. Memories washed over Rosie, the events of five years ago nearly as painful now as then. Three people alive knew the whole story—Rosie, her sister Lily and their mutual best friend since childhood, Hilda.
‘‘At least, that’s what it sounded like,’’ Hilda added. ‘‘The man had an accent, and he might have been saying Annie.’’
‘‘It’s probably just a stupid coincidence.’’
‘‘Yeah. Talk to you in a few.’’ Hilda broke the connection.
Rosie replaced the receiver on the phone and stared through the darkness for a moment. Lily’s daughter wasn’t the only Annmarie in the world. If there was ever a protective mother who wouldn’t have lost a child for the better part of a day, it was her sister Lily. Further, Lily’s husband had died two years ago, so no man would have lost her, either, accent or not.
Rosie padded through her dark house, Sly walking along beside her, his nails clicking against the hardwood floor. Rosie opened the front door and stepped onto the porch.
The air was chilly, and she rubbed her hands up and down her arms to banish the goose bumps. A hundred yards away the inlet glistened beneath a bright canopy of stars flung across the sky. She inhaled deeply, loving the scent of the rain-washed air. This simple pleasure was one of the reasons she had come to Kantrovich Island in the Alaskan inside passage just over three years ago. In the solitude she had found herself again and had regained a sense of purpose in her life.
To her surprise the dog didn’t step off the porch to do his usual middle-of-the-night thing, but stood next to her, his head cocked to one side, his nostrils twitching. The last traces of sleepiness left Rosie. This was Sly in his working stance. Someone was out there.
Even though she had seen him like this dozens of times since the two of them had embarked on this vocation two years ago, she still felt a thrill of appreciation. A novice at search and rescue herself, she had the luck of a great dog and a good teacher. Sly was no prize to look at, resembling a cross between a basset hound and a Border collie. His uncertain parentage had given him intelligence, acute hearing, a keen sense of smell and incredible perseverance. Most of all, he had uncanny instincts. Qualities that made him ideal as a search-and-rescue dog. Qualities she completely trusted.
She scanned the property from the inlet to the greenhouse to the nursery beyond, wishing daybreak was another hour closer. In the darkness her yard had an aura of mystery, reminding her that a couple of times yesterday she’d had the odd sense of being watched. Now, as then, she shook her head against that disquieting thought.
The night sounds were all ordinary. The barest rustle of a breeze through the trees, the faint lap of water at the shoreline. Next to her Sly sat with utter stillness, his nose lifted, twitching. A sense of urgency and deep uneasiness filled her, and she decided she couldn’t wait for daybreak.
Within ten minutes she was ready to go, dressed in jeans, a couple of layers of shirts, a waterproof jacket and flexible hiking boots. In the kitchen she clipped the radio onto her belt, picked up a backpack and slung it over her shoulder without checking the contents. She already knew it held everything she needed to administer basic first aid or even to survive in the forest for a couple of days, if it came to that.
Uncharacteristic indecision swept through her as she pulled the door closed behind her. The only time she locked the house was when she left the island—a deliberate habit she had cultivated as carefully as one of her fragile seedlings—proof that here she had nothing to fear.
Hers wasn’t an opinion shared by the man who’d built the house during the height of the cold war. The house was complete with a bomb shelter and a secret passage—whether to get in or get out without being seen, Rosie had never been sure.
Reclaiming control over her imagination, she deliberately stepped off the porch without locking the door and gave Sly a single command. ‘‘Search.’’
His long ears flapping, he took off at an easy lope toward the line of trees separating her meadow from the inlet. She loved working with the dog and knew that he wouldn’t stop searching until he had found his quarry. Who did he smell? The child? Someone else?
Rosie shook her head at the uneasiness that filled her over the mere thought of the name Annmarie. Before the day was over she would call, assure herself that her sister and Annmarie were just fine.
Rosie followed Sly closely, his black-and-brown coat making him nearly invisible in the predawn light, except for the flash of white at the tip of his bushy tail. Why had these people waited so long before reporting their daughter lost? Rosie wondered. She followed Sly past her nearest neighbor’s house, the Eriksens, a retired couple who had gone stateside a couple of weeks ago to visit their kids in Seattle.
The dog continued to follow the shoreline where the forest was generally thinner. Gradually the bright stars faded, and the eastern horizon began to lighten. The black of night gave way to a gray-predawn gloom.
Ahead she saw Sly sniffing about. A moment later he took off at a dead run, and she knew they were getting close.
Two minutes later he bayed, and she adjusted her direction. For the first time since leaving the house, he left the shoreline. Rosie followed, picking her way more slowly, wishing it were daylight. She whistled for him, and seconds later he reappeared. He briefly wagged his tail, then took off again in the direction he had come from.
The trees and undergrowth opened suddenly onto a clearing, near the road that led to town. Sly ran toward a dark mound that was unmistakably human.
Too large to be a child, Rosie thought as she hurried forward. Sly sniffed at the form sprawled on the ground, then moved away, his nose still to the earth. Rosie’s focused on the man.
He lay on his stomach, one arm flung above his head, nothing of his profile visible to tell her who he was. His clothes were wet, a sure sign he had been caught in the storm that had come through hours earlier. Though winter was over, hypothermia was still a real concern. Rosie knelt next to him, sliding her backpack off her shoulders and setting it on the ground. She touched her fingers to the man’s neck, checking for a pulse, relieved to find his skin warm.
The man exploded into action. One moment Rosie knelt next to him. In the next he grabbed her wrist and flipped her onto her back.
Her instant of surprise was followed by terror and by unbearable memories.
His knees straddled her hips. He loomed over her. The fury in his eyes terrified her.
Her terror gave way to unreasoning, instantaneous anger. Once she would have been paralyzed. No more.
Instinctively she scissored her legs up and over his shoulders and pushed. Hard. He groaned, then fell back. She slammed her fist into his crotch.
He crumpled to the ground and cried out, a high awful sound, telling her she had hurt him as effectively as she had intended. She twisted away from him, half surprised her counterattack had worked so well. Fleetingly she mentally thanked the self-defense instructor who had taught her the move.
Grabbing her backpack, she stood and backed away from the man. Shaking, she took in a giant breath and glanced around the clearing. She spotted Sly on the far side of the clearing, and her attention returned to the man.
Curled on his side, he gasped for air.
Fight dirty, fight hard, scream and run. Screaming would do her no good since her nearest neighbors were gone. The adrenaline rush made her legs too shaky to run. She inhaled another shuddering breath, so furious she was half tempted to kick the man just for good measure.
How dare he attack her when all she was trying to do was help. Whoever he was, whatever he was doing in the woods this time of night, let him stay here.
At least until Hilda arrived. She patted her belt for the radio, realizing she no longer felt its weight against her waist. There on the ground on the other side of the man lay the radio. Torn between wanting to run and wanting the radio, she edged away from him, looking for Sly. The dog was casting about for another scent some fifteen feet away.
The unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked made her stop. Slowly she turned around, her heart pounding, her hands and cheeks suddenly icy cold.
The man stood, and with a remarkably steady arm, he aimed a revolver at her.
‘‘Who the hell are you?’’ he asked, his voice gritty.
‘‘You’ve got to be kidding,’’ she said, angry all over again in spite of the fear swamping her. ‘‘You assault me, then pull a gun on me, and you—’’
The sky had lightened enough that she could see beads of sweat on his forehead. Probably a reaction to the injury she had just inflicted. Good. In the next instant she noticed a dark stain that spread across his chest from the collar of his jacket. She could smell the blood. Her instant of triumph was replaced by curiosity and unwanted concern.
She edged to one side, weighing her chances, intending to run at the first opportunity. If the blood was any indication, he wouldn’t be standing much longer.
‘‘Don’t move,’’ he commanded, pressing his free hand against his shoulder.
She stopped. His posture straightened, and his demeanor became even more threatening as he deliberately closed the distance between them, the gun still aimed at her. Her heart began to pound even harder.
She held his gaze, determined that he wouldn’t see a bit of her fear.
‘‘Where’s Marco?’’ he demanded.
‘‘Where’s the child—Annmarie?’’ she countered.
The man became suddenly still, and a glitter returned to his eyes.
‘‘You’re the man who called, right?’’ She swallowed.
Dark hair fell over his forehead above a slash of straight, equally dark brows. His jaw was square, covered with a heavy stubble, sharply defined without a hint of boyish softness, and further emphasized by a cleft in his chin. Tall, broad-shouldered and lean. Everything about him suggested his veneer of civilization was thin.
‘‘What child?’’ It was more a command than a question.
‘‘The one reported missing.’’
He muttered a string of swearwords under his breath.
They were as menacing as the gun he held on her. Her gaze again focused on the dark blob of the radio lying in the grass where she’d dropped it.
‘‘Hell,’’ he muttered, setting the gun’s safety and shoving it in his waistband at the small of his back. That action shocked her. Why pull a gun on her in the first place? ‘‘You’re out here because somebody called you. Mighty generous of you, coming out in the middle of the night like that.’’ Sarcasm laced his voice.
‘‘Not just anybody. The constable.’’
Sly’s deep bark interrupted him, instantly followed by a frightened cry.
A child’s cry.
She whirled toward the sound, but not before the man sprinted toward the edge of the clearing, where only Sly’s lazily wagging tail was visible within the drooping branches of an immense fir tree.
‘‘Your damn dog better not bite!’’ he yelled back to Rosie.
She easily caught up with him. ‘‘He hasn’t so far.’’ She passed him. Seconds later she skirted through the brush that hid the base of the tree. ‘‘What have you found, Sly?’’ she asked.
The wagging of Sly’s tail became more enthusiastic, and from under the branches came a soft whimper. Pulling a flashlight from her pack, she dropped to her knees, flicked on the light and lifted the branch out of the way.
Huddled next to the trunk was a little girl no more than four or five, hiding her face behind her small hands. Her braids had come mostly undone, and her pale hair hung in wisps around her face, which was dirty from the tracks of tears that had been wiped away more than once. She sat with her face averted, and her eyes were tightly closed.
‘‘Sweetie, are you all right?’’ Rosie asked gently, hearing the man crash after her.
At the sound of her voice, the child opened her eyes and turned to face Rosie.
A shock of recognition poured through Rosie. The sprinkle of freckles over the child’s nose and cheeks, the almond-shaped, dark-brown eyes and the blond hair were a stamp that marked Rosie, her two sisters and this child.
‘‘Annmarie?’’ This couldn’t be Annmarie, Rosie thought, even as she asked the question.
The child nodded, then swallowed. ‘‘I’m not supposed to talk to anyone till Mr. Ian comes back.’’
‘‘Sweetie, I’m your aunt Rosie.’’ This really was her Annmarie. My God, what was she doing here?
Annmarie uncurled herself a little. ‘‘I haven’t seen you for a long, long time.’’
‘‘That’s right.’’ It had been nearly eighteen months since their last visit. A long, long time. And, she had grown so much since then. ‘‘But on your last birthday I sent you a big teddy bear that you named Lulu.’’
Annmarie’s chin quivered. ‘‘I couldn’t bring her.’’
Rosie held out her arms. ‘‘Then maybe we can find her a sister to keep you company while you’re here.’’
Annmarie scrambled forward. ‘‘Mommy said I should stay with you. So here I am.’’
‘‘Here you are.’’ Rosie chuckled softly, mostly to reassure the child, then shut off the flashlight and dropped it in her pack. First things first. Make sure Annmarie was okay, then find out why she wasn’t with Lily in California.
Annmarie reached toward her. Rosie’s arms closed convulsively around the little girl. Between Lily’s infrequent visits to Lynx Point, she had sent Rosie tapes and pictures. So Rosie knew how Annmarie had grown, had listened to tapes as her cooing became real words, had remembered her birthdays and Christmas with the teddy bears and chocolate the little girl loved. But this was only the fourth time since Annmarie’s birth that Rosie had seen her. As she absorbed the sweet warmth of the child in her arms, Rosie felt a pang of sharp regret.
Tears threatened. Tears Rosie couldn’t afford. She blinked them away, crawled from beneath the canopy of thick branches and stood with the child in her arms. The man—Mr. Ian, she supposed—was breathing heavily. He rested his hands on his knees without taking his eyes off her. My God, why was Annmarie with this wounded, gun-packing stranger?
‘‘You got hurted, Mr. Ian,’’ Annmarie said. ‘‘Did those bad men find you?’’
‘‘They’re gone, petunia,’’ he answered. The gentle tone in his voice was at odds with his scowl.
‘‘Good,’’ Annmarie responded. ‘‘I was real scared, but Mr. Ian hid me under the tree and told me if I was real quiet, everything would be okeydokey.’’ She smiled. ‘‘He was right.’’
‘‘I can see that.’’ More and more curious about the connection between Annmarie and this man, Rosie hoisted the child more firmly against her hip. ‘‘Bad men? What bad men?’’
‘‘The ones Mr. Ian saw in Ketchup Can,’’ Annmarie supplied.
‘‘Ketchikan,’’ he explained when Rosie glanced at him.
‘‘Ah,’’ she murmured. ‘‘And where is your mom?’’
‘‘She’s at home,’’ the child said simply.
He reached to take Annmarie out of Rosie’s arms, but she turned away, heading for the road that bordered the clearing.
‘‘Where are you taking her?’’ he asked.
‘‘There’s no need for that. Just point us toward Comin’ Up Rosie. I don’t want to trouble you.’’
‘‘It’s no trouble,’’ Rosie responded. She wasn’t about to tell him that he had just named her own nursery. Not until she knew a lot more. With any luck at all, they would run into Hilda on the road before they got there. ‘‘I’m headed that way.’’
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