Authors: Robin Kaye
Copyright © 2011 by Robin Kaye
Cover and internal design © 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Dawn Adams
Cover photo © Susan Anderson
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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To my children,
Robert Anthony, Anna Maria, and Isabelle Louise
Toni Russo stood on the porch of the Sawtooth Inn ignoring the mountains cutting the bright blue sky, concentrating instead on Hunter Kincaid’s very confused, very green eyes. She recognized him from the photos on the River Runners’s website. They didn’t do him justice, probably because there was no way to transmit the pheromones rolling off the man onto an image.
Hunter stared at her the whole way from his old Land Cruiser to the porch. He stopped, tipped his baseball cap back, and then put his hands on his hips. “You’re not who I expected to see.”
Well, no shit. “Yeah, I guess you’ll have to learn to live with the disappointment. I know I have.”
“Toni?” A look of relief flashed across his face, then a smile ticked up the right side of his mouth as he made a slow perusal of her from head to feet and back again.
She waited, knowing it would take awhile. Ever since she’d landed in Boise, she’d experienced the same thing. No one quite knew what to make of her. Holding her clipboard to her chest, she wondered if it would have been better to have spent her time in Boise shopping for less interesting clothes. She mentally shook her head and knew it would never have worked. You could put her in a sack, and she’d do something to stand out. She’d long since given up trying to rein herself in. As Catherine Aird said, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” So far, it had worked for her.
Blowing her bangs out of her eyes, Toni checked her outfit. The short, red plaid kilt wasn’t too offensive. She pulled her clipboard away to see she had on her
T-shirt. Maybe he had something against the collage of pistols, brass knuckles, knives, and bullets. But really, he didn’t look like a pacifist, not that she wasn’t—it was a T-shirt for goodness sake, not a personal manifesto. The kitty-face Mary Janes and red skull-and-crossbones knee-socks were a bit busy. Okay, Hunter’s thirty seconds were up. She fingered the D-ring on the studded collar around her neck and cleared her throat. “Do you mind?”
Hunter took a sip of whatever was in the travel cup he held. “Not at all—just wondering if you were going for that naughty-schoolgirl-fantasy look.”
“No, I was going for my not-quite-sure-what-to-wear-for-a-meeting-with-Davy-Crockett look. How’s it working for you?”
Hunter’s mouth worked its way into a full smile. Great teeth. She had a thing for nice teeth, and yeah, his mouth was full of them.
“Really well, thanks. Over the phone, it sounded as if you wouldn’t be caught dead out here. When Bianca came to scout for photo shoot locations, she said something about you having a phobia. What changed your mind?”
Toni took in the rustic porch wrapping around the log cabin lodge and decided to sit on a rocking chair. There was nothing else to sit on except the steps, and they needed a good sweeping. “You asked Bianca about me?”
Hunter leaned against the rough-hewn post holding up the corner of the porch. “I didn’t know it was a federal offense.”
“Bianca was involved in negotiating a big deal so she sent me.” Toni placed her clipboard on her lap and clicked her pen a few times in rapid succession. “I had no choice.”
Hunter’s big hiking boots filled her line of sight. Her gaze wandered up to where neatly rolled, rag-wool socks met hard, tanned calf muscle with just the right splattering of leg hair—not so much you’d be tempted to take a brush to it, and not so little you’d wonder if he routinely waxed. He wore khaki shorts low around the hips, his green River Runners T-shirt pulled tight against his chest and abs. She’d seen him without a shirt thanks to the picture on the website, so she knew if she poked him it would feel like poking a brick wall. She’d bet dollars to doughnuts he didn’t get that hard body in a gym.
When her eyes hit his stubbled chin, she encountered another full-toothed grin. Damn, she hadn’t meant to be so obvious.
The slap of an old-fashioned screen door broke the tension. “Sorry.” James, Bianca’s right-hand man, appeared with two cups of coffee. He handed Toni hers. “That’s decaf. Maybe you’ll be able to sleep tonight.”
Not likely. The woods seemed to inch closer and closer to the lodge. God only knew what roamed out there. She took a sip of bad coffee as James, an ex-model and now her partner in managing the series of shoots, shook Hunter’s offered hand. James’s dark hair glittered with silver at the temples, his bright blue eyes were full of intelligence and humor, and his build was still trim and muscular, but not like Hunter’s. Hunter’s muscles were brought about by his life’s work, James’s by a trainer, weight machines, and a strict diet.
“James, this is Hunter Kincaid. Hunter, James Ness.”
“Hunter, good to see you again. Do you want coffee?”
“No, thanks, I brought my own.” Hunter’s handshake turned into a guy hug, which was weird considering James’s sexual preference was in direct opposition to the one Hunter oozed.
Toni caught James’s eye with a raised brow. A quick shake of his head confirmed Hunter was, in fact, straight. She’d forgotten James had accompanied Bianca on the scouting trip. The guys had obviously bonded.
Hunter set his travel cup on the table and sat. She finally saw what was written on the side of the cup: “The Way to a Fisherman’s Heart is Through His Fly,” along with a picture of what looked like an insect with a hook up its butt. Nice.
“I was surprised to find Toni here,” Hunter said as he eased back on the chair.
James let out a laugh that grated on her nerves. “No more than she, I presume. Bianca didn’t give her much notice. Or should I call it warning? Still, Toni can run the show with one hand cuffed behind her back. We won’t have a problem.”
“I wasn’t worried.” Hunter watched her over the rim of his cup as he sipped his coffee, no decaf for him. He slept like a baby every night, no matter how late he drank coffee, but he wouldn’t mind spending a few sleepless nights with a beautiful woman.
He’d wondered what Toni looked like since the first day she’d called River Runners in January. Her deep, husky, raspingly sexy voice brought to mind an unbidden picture of a young, blonde, long-legged Kathleen Turner. The New York accent was all wrong, but that do-me voice was right on. Man, was he ever way off base. He found himself eye to eye with the polar opposite of the woman he’d pictured. Toni wore her jet black, shoulder-length hair in pigtails. Instead of making her look like a schoolgirl, it made him wonder what kind of underwear she wore, if she was into bondage, or if she just dug the whole collar-and-cuff thing for fashion’s sake, and it had him searching all exposed skin for ink. When he didn’t see any, he thought about putting himself in the position to do a full body search.
Checking his dive watch, Hunter looked around for the models he’d promised his brothers they’d be working with when they signed on as guides. That was an ingenious idea if he did say so himself. By bringing Trapper and Fisher along, he not only got free guides and someone to distract Bianca, who, on their weeklong outing, had been determined to share a sleeping bag with him, but supplied a physician and legal help if necessary. Since his brothers had plenty of vacation time racked up, they jumped at the chance to spend a week escorting ten models through the mountains and down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Sawtooth Recreation Area. Hunter could have gotten his brothers to pay for the privilege, but he hadn’t pushed it since Bianca Ferrari, the owner of Action Models, had paid top dollar for his services. “My guides, Trapper and Fisher, will be here any minute for the barbecue and to meet your group.”
Toni flipped through the pages stuck in her skull-and-crossbones stenciled clipboard, which, if he wasn’t mistaken, was shaped like a coffin. The clasp was a bat forged from what looked like pewter with onyx stones for eyes. “I’ve called a 9:00 a.m. meeting tomorrow, and then the models can spend the rest of the day getting acclimated.”
Hunter stopped staring at the clipboard and shrugged, trying not to envision what that bat would look like tattooed on Toni’s lower back, its wings spanning her small waist. “We can take a short rafting trip and have a picnic down by my cabin. Bianca had planned a shoot there. There’s a nice beach with plenty of space for sunbathing and a regulation sand volleyball court. It’ll be an easy trip and will give your group a chance to have a lesson on the rafts.”
James nodded. “That sounds great. I’ll make arrangements to have a lunch packed for everyone. It’s gorgeous, Toni. You’re going to love it.”
Toni paled, which was hard to do since the girl without makeup was pale enough to qualify for a vampire casting call
She was definitely a candidate for skin cancer. Hunter made a mental note to make sure she wore plenty of sunscreen—he’d be happy to help with the hard to reach spots.
She shook her twin ponytails as her lips drew into a deep frown. “I’m sure you’ll have fun. I’m going to stick close to my cabin. I brought plenty of reading material.”
Hunter crossed his arms. “You really need the lesson on the raft, and the only way to do that is to get you on the river.”
Still shaking her head, Toni backed away. Not a good sign.
“If you want to get out of the sun and hang out in my cabin and read, you’re more than welcome to. Put your book in a Ziploc, and bring it along.”
Toni held her clipboard tight against her chest. “I won’t be joining you.”
Hunter moved toward her like he would a spooked horse. “You’re not going to supervise the photo shoots?”
“Of course I will. That’s my job.”
It took him a moment to compute what she’d said since she’d spoken so fast. He tried his most encouraging smile. “Then you’ll want to come tomorrow. If not, you’re not going to be able to do at least two of the shoots Bianca planned.”
Toni stared at James as if she expected him to jump in and save her.
Hunter watched the silent argument going on between them. When no words were spoken, he cleared his throat. “It’s perfectly safe. Everyone wears PFDs and even lightweight helmets. We teach you everything you need to know in case you fall in. We show you how to get back into the raft, how to paddle, and what to do if we get stuck. We’ll be running down a lazy part of the river tomorrow. I promise there will be no class-five rapids.”
When James did nothing more than shrug, she tossed her clipboard on the table and turned on Hunter with both hands on her hips. “What the hell is a PFD?”
“A personal flotation device.”
“And why would I need a helmet?”
“The helmet protects you in the rare instance you should fall and hit your head on a rock in the river.”
Toni blinked twice and looked as if she needed to sit down and put her head between her legs.
“Are you okay?”
She didn’t answer. She just stood there, wide-eyed, looking as if she wasn’t breathing. Really not good.
The purr of Trapper’s Sequoia broke the silence. The engine died as doors opened and shut.
Hunter looked for help from James who suddenly found his shoes very interesting. Great.
When boots hit the steps, Hunter turned. “Trapper and Fisher, this is James Ness. He’s working with Toni Russo, the manager of Action Models in New York.” Hunter turned back toward Toni only to find she’d disappeared, coffin clipboard and all.
Trapper watched Toni slip around the corner of the inn and then run down the path toward the cabins. He whispered to Fisher, “Did you remember to wear deodorant today? I know it wasn’t something I said since I didn’t say a thing.”
Fisher did a sniff test. “Deodorant, check. I even brushed my teeth before we left, but I didn’t get close enough to breathe on her, which, when you think about it, is a real shame.”
Hunter said something to James then chased after the hot, Goth chick.
Trapper leaned closer to Fisher. “Looks like Hunter has dibs on Toni. That means you owe me a twenty. Didn’t I bet you that he’d go after the first model he set eyes on?”
Fisher opened his wallet and pulled out a Jackson. “I’m not sure I actually owe you this since Toni isn’t a model. Hunter said she was the manager of the modeling agency—if the manager is that hot, just imagine what the models look like.”
“Stop being cheap, and hand over the money.”
Fisher did, and Trapper stuffed it in his pocket before his baby brother changed his mind. “You know what this means, right?”
Fisher smiled wide. “We get first dibs on the rest?”
James seemed awfully interested in Hunter and Toni. When they were out of sight, James whistled. “Brave brother you have there.”
Trapper leaned against the porch rail. “Toni doesn’t look that scary to me.”
James sat and curled his hand around a steaming mug of coffee. “Oh she’s not. She’s all bark and no bite, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a handful. Hunter has an uphill climb, that is, if he can talk her into ever coming out of her cabin.”
James shook his head. “Nah, just not a fan of the great outdoors. Well, the great outdoors without paved streets, high rises, and a Starbucks on every corner.”
Trapper tipped his straw cowboy hat back. “At least it wasn’t personal. Fisher and I were wondering.” He sat beside James, who stared at the cabin Hunter had followed Toni into. “You don’t have anything to worry about.”
James pulled his gaze away from the cabin. “I’m not worried.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” Trapper sat back and made himself comfortable. It could be awhile. “Hunter is great with anyone skittish, be it people or horses.”
Fisher dragged a rocking chair over and took a seat. “Oh yeah, Hunter’s used to it in his field of work. Hell, he specializes in it. He spends a few weeks a couple of times a year running a camp for abused kids.”
Taking off his hat, Trapper twirled it on his finger. “It’s amazing how he can reach out to kids who are afraid of their own shadows and have enough baggage to fill a freight train. After a week with Hunter, you wouldn’t recognize them.”
Fisher nodded. “He’s a real miracle worker, my brother.”
Trapper couldn’t agree more. “Toni should be a walk in the park compared to some of the kids he’s worked with.”