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Sam wrinkled her nose. “You said she was about sixty? What was her name again?”


“Linda, Linda,” she muttered, pulling her eyebrows together. “That might be the one with the gray braid. She’s the oldest around here and doesn’t say much. I’d guess she’s been here about five years or so. Seems to spend most of her time in the kitchen or taking care of the tiny kids.”

“You’ve been in the house…houses?”

She nodded. “I collect my money in person before I leave. Actually, I collect the money in cash before I do the work. Jed ain’t too reliable if I mail him a bill.” She shot Michael an impish grin that made his stomach clench pleasantly. “He can’t stand seeing me widowed and successful. I’ve had my share of marriage proposals out here.”

“So how do I find Linda?”

“Follow me.” She took off at a fast pace toward the biggest home. He’d never met a woman who walked so fast all the time. Excess energy seemed to roll off her. She was confident, sharp, and smart. And gorgeous.

He trotted after her as if led by a carrot.

They hadn’t heard from Brody in two hours.

“I thought you told him to check in every hour.” Mason watched as his partner tapped at the computer. Mason couldn’t focus on his work, pacing the office, overdosing on coffee. He had to know what the mother said. Hopefully, her answers would specify the next step in their investigation.

“I did. On his last call he said he’d found a way to get in to see the mother but mentioned the cell reception in the area was lousy. Said we might not hear from him for a while.”

“Shit. I knew we shouldn’t have let him do this. If something happens to him…” Mason wouldn’t think about the possibilities. All bad. He pulled open his desk drawer and shook an empty Tums bottle. Damn.

“What’s gonna happen?” Ray pulled his bloodshot gaze from the screen to glare blearily at Mason. “It’s just the southeast corner of the state, for God’s sake. You afraid he’s gonna get bit by a snake?”

Mason didn’t answer. Instead, he eyed his chart of crisscrossed lines. Losing his job and pension was what he was afraid of.


Lacey stared through the windshield of Jack’s truck. She hadn’t seen anything so gorgeous in her life. When Jack had said cabin, she’d pictured a little log A-frame with an outhouse.

This looked like a rich man’s getaway in Aspen. The place was huge. Surrounded on three sides by towering firs, the two- story “cabin” had four gables on the second floor and a wraparound porch. The pine-green roof and dark wood made the home look as natural as possible, blending into the setting. The fresh snow on the roof and ground was pristine, untouched. This was a cover of Sunset magazine

“It’s beautiful.” Lacey felt socked in the stomach. But in a good way. They were miles away from everywhere. Snow was lightly falling and the sky was growing hazy as a new storm blew in. She could live in a place like this. The beauty of the place momentarily disrupted her heartache for Kelly. She breathed deeply, trying to let go of her stress. She simply needed to let the police do their job and find Kelly. Her worrying wasn’t helping them succeed.

“It’s gonna be cold,” he replied. “No one’s been up here for a month and the thermostat is set real low. It’s going to take a while to warm up.

“Is there a fireplace? Can we build a fire?” She was having visions of a toasty fire with hot chocolate and richly colored Pendleton blankets. And snuggling with Jack.

Whoa. She could snuggle under a blanket by herself just fine. She shot a look at Jack, who was frowning at the darkening sky, and knew if they were under a blanket he wouldn’t settle for just snuggling.

Would she? Her stomach twisted pleasantly and she sighed.

“Yeah, there’s a monster of a fireplace. I’ll get a fire going. What’s wrong?”

She abruptly straightened, her eyes open. “Just tired.”

“Didn’t sleep good last night?”

Disbelieving, she examined his innocent face.

“As well as I could with a drunken bear snoring in my ear.”

“I don’t snore.”

“Wanna bet?”

“Yes.” His smile shifted to a leer and she spit out a laugh. The leer was so not him. Her tension evaporated. Still laughing, she threw open the truck door. “I’ll race you up the stairs.” And took off running. She heard him swear and kick his door open.

She beat him to the stairs and took them two at a time. Throwing herself at the gargantuan double front doors, she slammed her hands on the wood.


Arriving a half second behind her, Jack snugly trapped her between his hard chest and the solid door, putting his hands over hers on the wood. His head bent down to nip playfully at her ear and she inhaled sharply. Just like last night in bed. But today he was sober and awake.

“Here’s your prize.” His mouth slid down to her neck and gently kissed and nibbled his way to her collarbone. One of his hands lifted her hair and his lips traced back a slow path to the nape of her neck.

She was melting. It was twenty degrees outside and she was melting.

“God, Lacey.” His voice was low and strained. “I’ve wanted to do this for too fucking long.”

She closed her eyes and breathed deep, leaning back against him. The hot rush down her spine settled between her hips and all her defenses floated away. She wanted this. She deserved and needed a break, a temporary escape from the real world. She wanted to shut out everything but the man behind her. Her head turned toward him and he seized the opportunity to move his lips to her mouth and spin her body to face him.