Authors: Alice Sharpe
KEEPING HER SAFE IS A MISSION HE WOULD NEVER REFUSE
For former Special Forces officer Cole Bennett, there’s no room for error or emotions on his latest, all-too-personal mission. Hiding his identity and getting much too close to artist Skylar Pope is the only way to get some long-overdue justice. But keeping his simmering desire under control is one battle Cole would give anything to lose.
Suddenly Skylar discovers everything she believes in is a lie. And if finding the truth means confronting her family’s and Cole’s most wrenching secrets, she’ll go as far as she has to. Yet the explosive chemistry between her and Cole is a temptation more dangerous than any betrayal. And putting herself in harm’s way might be their only chance at a future.
“What happened, Skylar?”
She just shook her head, lips trembling, teeth chattering.
“Can you stand?” Cole asked as they neared his door.
“Ye…yes,” she said.
He kept an arm around her as he used the key card, then as she sagged, picked her up again and carried her inside. The click of the heavy door behind them came as a relief.
He set her down on the padded bench at the foot of the bed. “Take your clothes off, okay?” he said.
The snow had begun to melt, leaving Skylar wet now, and visibly shaken. Cole stripped off clothes and stopped short. He’d done his best to regard Skylar as a fellow soldier in trouble, done his best to look past the tantalizing curves and creamy flesh to the human being in need beneath the skin.
But seeing her standing there breached all Cole’s defenses. Her beauty was fragile, graceful and wonderfully sensual, her body small but lush, breasts modest and perfect, waist tiny and hips curved in a way that jammed his heart in his throat….
And someone had just tried to kill her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alice Sharpe met her husband-to-be on a cold, foggy beach in Northern California. One year later they were married. Their union has survived the rearing of two children, a handful of earthquakes registering over 6.5, numerous cats and a few special dogs, the latest of which is a yellow Lab named Annie Rose. Alice and her husband now live in a small rural town in Oregon, where she devotes the majority of her time to pursuing her second love, writing.
Alice loves to hear from readers. You can write her c/o Harlequin Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279. An SASE for reply is appreciated.
Books by Alice Sharpe
746—FOR THE SAKE OF THEIR BABY
923—MY SISTER, MYSELF*
1076—THE LAWMAN’S SECRET SON**
1190—A BABY BETWEEN THEM
1209—THE BABY’S BODYGUARD
1315—WESTIN FAMILY TIES†
**Skye Brother Babies
†Open Sky Ranch
CAST OF CHARACTERS
This ex-soldier is in Kanistan for one reason only: to exact retribution on the man responsible for destroying his family. He’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal, even if it means breaking his own heart.
Fiercely loyal to her family, she’s in Kanistan to help her ailing aunt. Meeting a dashing compatriot on one of the worst days of her life is just a happy coincidence, isn’t it?
Skylar’s uncle is as ruthless in business dealings as he is kind with his family, especially his wife, to whom he hums a lullaby with a familiar tune. So which is he, gentleman or monster? Or is he both?
Eleanor Ables Futura—
A strong artist when healthy, her current treatments have left her fragile and vulnerable. Skylar will protect her, no matter what the cost.
This coworker blames her current distraction on a new romance. It’s soon obvious it runs much deeper than that.
Futura’s assistant is a greedy man with a huge ego. How far will he go to get what he wants?
A grieving mother desperate to find her missing daughter. She knows exactly who to target. Or does she?
Cole knows he’s lucky this policewoman is almost as determined as he is to get to the truth.
The man from the past, the man suspected of delivering the fatal blow to Cole’s family, the man with the answers, the man no one can find—until now.
Who is this striking brunette and what part does she play?
A friend of the missing girl, she’s decided to get to the bottom of what happened. Now she’s scrambling to save her own life.
This book is dedicated to my sister,
Mary Louise Shumate,
With undying love
Skylar Pope opened her aunt’s art gallery as she had for most of the past six weeks by unlocking the black wrought-iron gate on the alley-side door and cinching it against the wall. The glass door came next and then the alarm system until at last she was able to enter. The heels of her boots clicked against the polished wood floors as she moved through the workroom into the gallery itself, switching on lights as she strode toward the front of the store.
Once there, she unlocked and opened that door, as well, and stepped out onto the sidewalk of Traterg, carrying with her a sandwich board that advertised the gallery was open for business. She set it up on the sidewalk as usual, shivering as a cold winter wind blew around her legs and teased up the hem of her dress.
Back inside, she returned to the workroom where she took off her coat and deposited that and her shoulder bag in her locker. She took a second to smooth her hair and the dress she’d finished making just the night before, a swirl of lavender and purple with vibrant shots of yellow. The garment was of her own design, one of her better efforts. The fact was she made almost everything she wore with the exception of socks, shoes and underwear. That she hadn’t been told to modify her appearance when asked to help out was just another indication of how ill Aunt Eleanor was.
Skylar opened the vault next and took out a tray of jeweled shells that she tucked into a window display along with several glass sculptures. There were a few other pricey items that she retrieved and set in place, delighting in the sparkle and quality of each.
A pot of coffee, very strong, the way most of the citizens of the small Balkan country of Kanistan preferred it, came next. While it brewed, Skylar opened the square pink box she’d brought along from the bakery down the street and arranged jam-filled cookies on a handblown glass platter infused with replications of the small gold-and-red blossoms that were Kanistan’s national wildflower. Her aunt had made this piece as she had many of the others in the gallery. A flip of a switch filled the air with Verdi.
The store looked and sounded elegant. It was not exactly to Skylar’s taste, which tended to be a little livelier, but it suited her aunt and the mostly kind of stuffy people who came here to purchase art pieces. Skylar thought briefly of getting out her iPod and listening to her own playlist but dismissed the idea. Her job was to greet customers and sell art, not cocoon away behind a sketch pad thinking of new ideas for what she grandly termed her spring collection.
But, hey, she couldn’t wait to get going on it. There was lots of downtime after the gallery closed, time when Uncle Luca worked late and her aunt, exhausted from illness and stress, went to bed early. The grays and blacks of the winter city, so different than all the light she was used to in Southern California, continually stirred creative juices that were finding their way into her designs.
For now, she settled down behind the desk to work on the flyer for the Valentine’s Day open house. She was busily moving templates around, wishing Aunt Eleanor was well enough to consult, when the bell over the door alerted her that the first customer of the day had arrived.
She looked up to find two middle-aged women bundled up against the chill. Their coats, hats and gloves looked well-made if dated. By their accents, Skylar judged them to be from closer to the Ukrainian border. Maybe they were on holiday, and maybe they were looking for gifts to take back home.
Skylar had never been a hasty judge of other people, not until she’d taken this job. But in the few short weeks she’d been here, she’d learned to tell a serious collector from a tourist looking for a keepsake, and these two had the look of the latter. Sure enough, they moved quickly past the pricey sculptures and paintings to gather around a central case.
“May I help you?” Skylar asked.
They raised their eyebrows, probably at the accent they could detect in her speech. The taller one asked to see the tray within the case that held an assortment of handblown glass wine stoppers Skylar’s aunt had created when she discovered the need for something inexpensive for the casual shopper. Skylar fished the tray out of the case and backed off as the women set about the task of weeding out their favorites.
Skylar glanced at her watch. Aneta was late again, had been all week. She was the local girl Aunt Eleanor employed to help out, but Skylar hadn’t found her all that helpful, especially for the past couple of weeks when she’d been distracted and nervous. Aneta had finally confessed she had become involved in a new romance and hinted at trouble. Skylar would have been happy to help if she could, but Aneta’s prickly disposition made it tough.
Another jangle of the bell set Skylar’s head turning. This time, it was a lone man who entered, pausing inside the door as though scouting out the gallery. As his gaze connected with Skylar’s, she felt a small jolt of something akin to recognition although she knew she’d never seen him before.