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Friday, 3:12 a.m.
Rented house just outside Denver
Kelly woke from a restless sleep and lay in the middle of the king-size bed, alone as usual. Wouldn't the paparazzi love to have a shot of this? The wife of sexy, rugged film star, Nick Warner, stuck in the rambling, rented ranch house with only her four-year-daughter for company while her husband partied without her.
Stretching, she pushed back the sheet and com-forter and threw her feet over the side of the bed. The house creaked and groaned as she padded barefoot to the bathroom. Renting the house, a rambling struc-ture on the edge of town, had been her idea.
The glitz and glamour surrounding premiers at the Mile High Film Festival turned Denver hotels into a media circus, and Kelly just plain wasn't up to it. She was about to crawl back into bed when she heard her daughter calling for her daddy. "I'm coming, sweetheart." She wasn't Daddy, but she'd have to do. She stepped into her slippers and pulled on her robe. The house was downright drafty.
Kelly found her daughter sitting up and clutching her worn Pooh bear.
"I want Daddy."
"He's not back yet. Did you have a bad dream?"
"No, but Daddy's here. I saw him."
Kelly sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Alex into her arms. "No one's here but us."
"Daddy was in the hall," Alex said insistently. "He stopped right outside my room, but he didn't come in."
A thread of apprehension wove its way along Kelly's nerve endings, but she brushed it aside. It couldn't have been Nick. He never returned from a night of partying quietly. And it couldn't be anyone else. The security guard that Nick had hired was just outside.
Kelly tousled Alex's soft blond curls. "Daddy's not home yet, sweetheart. You must have dreamed it. Would you like a glass of milk? That might help you get back to sleep."
"I'll get it." Kelly was halfway down the hallway when she sensed movement behind her. Her pulse skyrocketed, and she spun around.
A man wearing a ski mask clamped a meaty hand over her mouth and twisted one arm behind her back. "Keep quiet. You don't want that little girl getting in the middle of this."
Her pulse raced. Oh, God, don't let him hurt Alex! He dropped his hand from her mouth. "Where's your husband?"
"He's asleep in the back bedroom," she lied. "He has a gun, and if he hears any noise, he'll come out here."
"You're lying. I've checked the entire house. He's not here."
"No, but there's a guard outside, and if you don't get out of here right now, I'll scream, and he'll hear me."
"There was a guard. Now cut the lying. Where is Nick?"
"He's on his way home from a party. He'll be here any second."
"Where's the party?"
"I don't know. What do you want with him?" He put his face next to hers, and the sickening stench of sweat and garlic made her gag. "That's between me and him, pretty lady." One hand slipped to her right breast.
"Get your hands off me."
"Looks like you'd be glad to have a real man after living with Nick Warner." He shoved her, sending her crashing against the wall. By the time she steadied herself, he was gone.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she walked to the door, afraid to even imagine what she'd find. The door was open, letting in a blast of cold air. She stepped outside.
The guard was there, lying facedown in a pool of blood.
Friday, 8:58 a.m.
Prescott Personal Securities (PPS) Headquarters
"I'M NOT THE MAN for this job."
"Care to explain that remark?"
No, but Jack Sanders knew he'd have to. Evange-line Prescott was the most accommodating boss he'd ever worked for, but she put a lot of thought into the assignments she handed out at Prescott Personal Se-curities, and she'd expect valid reasons for any kind of protest.
Jack leaned back in his desk chair, but avoided eye contact. "I know the woman involved."
Evangeline pressed the palms of her hands on the back of his desk and leaned closer. "You know Kelly Warner?"
"Well, I didyears ago. She was Kelly O'Conner back then."
"How well did you know her?"
Barely. Intimately. Both answers were correct.
"We went to the same high school our senior year."
"That's all? One year of high school?"
"Why do I get the feeling you're leaving out a few pertinent details? Did you date?"
"You could call it that."
Evangeline dropped to the chair opposite his desk and crossed her legs, swinging her right foot, the way she did when she was thinking hard about some-thing. She had great legs. Actually, she pretty much had great everything for a woman who had to be forty or damned close. Long, curly blond hair that she usually wore pulled up and knotted at the nape
But there was no getting the wrong idea with Evangeline. Anytime she was inside the doors of PPS Headquarters, she was all business.
Evangeline glanced down at the sheaf of papers she was holding, then raised her gaze to study Jack. "So you shared an attraction with a soap opera star, and never told us. Such modesty."
"She wasn't a star in high school."
"Actually, she was never much of a star," Evan-geline said, "but she is beautiful. I'm guessing she was in high school, as well."
"Yeah." Damned good-looking. And sexy as hell. And, He shook his head to clear the unset-tling thoughts.
"You might have a couple of awkward moments with Kelly, but I still think you're the man for the job."
"Why is that?"
"You're a smooth talker.You can hang with the Hol-lywood types, and you'll look good on the red carpet."
"Red carpet?" He groaned. "Tell me you're kidding."accompany his wife and daughter for their entire five-day stay in Denver, and that includes tonight's premiere of his film, Savage Thunder."
Jack pushed back from his desk, stood and walked to the huge window on the right side of his cubicle. The view was great from the top of the skyscraper, the city below them, snowcapped mountains in the distance.
And now Kelly O'Conner Warner was here in his asked. "Or is Nick Warner just looking for someone to punch out a few paparazzi?"
Evangeline walked over and stood beside him. "Someone broke into the house where they were staying last night. Kelly and her daughter were home alone."
"The guy didn't, "
"No, all he did was push her around," Evangeline said, saving him the pain of voicing his fears.
"Where was Nick while this was going on?"
"Out. That's all I know. Nick Warner's requested protection for his wife and daughter, and I've assured him that we can handle the task.You'll head up the op-eration, but you can have all the manpower you need."
Jack felt a knot of cold fury settling in his chest as Evangeline explained what she knew about the break-in. He didn't want to think of Kelly at all, but he definitely didn't want to envision her with some stinking punk.
"There's more," Evangeline said.
"The intruder left a calling card."
Jack stiffened, dreading to hear what might come next.
"Home Security, Inc., had been hired to guard the ranch house during theWarner's stay. The young guard
"Sonofabitch! Which detective covered the guard's murder?"
"He's better than most."
Evangeline nodded her agreement. "There's still more."
"Hit me with it."
"One of our regular informants reported a rumor that there's a hit out on one of the celebrities attending tonight's film festival. We haven't been able to verify any of that, and his information was very sketchy."
"Who's the snitch?"
"The one they call Blackie."
"He's on again, off again."
"We can't take chances. PPS has several clients attending the major events tonight, so we're height-ening all our security details. Now, do you still want to turn down the case?"
Yes, for a hundred reasons, all of them having to do with seeing Kelly again. But he wouldn't, for a hundred more, all of them having to do with the fact that some murderous animal had put his hands on her and that there could be more to come.
He stepped back from the window. "Well if you need a tough, good-looking, smooth-talking guy for the job, I guess it would have to be me." His attempt at nonchalance fell flat even to his own ears. "Where do I report?"
"The Warners have moved from the house to a suite in a downtown hotel." She walked back to the desk and picked up the papers she'd been holding when she walked in. "The information is all here. Can I tell Nick you'll be there within the hour?"
He nodded. "Kelly may request a replacement
"If she does, it will be her mistake."
And if she didn't, this might well be his.