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Driven To Distraction
By Dixie Browning
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMaggie Riley was nobody's victim. She knew all about situation awareness, having once interviewed a police officer for her column. For the past half hour or so the same dark green pickup truck had been behind her. Traffic had been unusually light all the way from Winston-Salem, but when she'd turned off the interstate onto the state road and the green truck had turned, too - and then it had followed her onto a glorified cowpath that led to her destination - well, she'd started to wonder. Maybe the driver just wanted to tell her that her license plate had fallen off or that a tire was going flat.
On the other hand, he might see her as a potential mugging victim, a woman driving alone. Of course there was always the possibility that he was headed for the same place she was. Peddler's Knob, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, site of the Perry Silver Watercolor Workshop. So far as she knew there was no law against artists driving big 4x4 muscle trucks with muddy license plates.
"So enough with the paranoia," she muttered, watching as the dark truck pulled into the small parking lot.
She set the emergency brake and turned her attention to the three-story Victorian house where she would be living and studying for the next six days. A wedding cake of a house, it was riddled with turrets and cupolas, gingerbread and stained glass windows, not to mention a dozen fancy lightning rods.
"Beam me up, Scotty," she murmured.
Two weeks ago when she'd mailed in the application, it had seemed like the perfect solution, even though Maggie knew as much about art as she did nuclear physics. Workshops were for learning, right? So maybe she would actually learn how to paint - not that it was a priority.
Now that it was too late - several hundred dollars too late - second thoughts were swarming thicker than fruitflies at a watermelon bust.
"On your mark, get set - go," she said softly, eyeing the steep, badly graveled path that led to the house where she was scheduled to spend the next six days as an embedded journalist.
She did like the term embedded. It might be stretching it a bit, although she really was here on a covert mission. Never in a million years would she have thought of enrolling in a watercolor workshop if some smooth-talking jerk hadn't targeted her best friend, who was not only gullible, but rich as chocolate mocha pie.
Leaning over, Maggie tied on her sandals. She knew better than to try to drive in three-inch platforms after getting one of them stuck between the brake pedal and the accelerator the first day she'd worn them.
With one last glance at the dark green truck again, she told herself that if the driver had been planning to do her bodily harm, he would hardly have waited until there were witnesses. All the same, she waited to see if he would approach her or drive off in a spray of gravel, or ...
"Holy mackerel, would you look at that," she murmured admiringly. Maggie had enjoyed thinking of herself as an embedded journalist, out to save her best friend from being left high and dry with a broken heart and an empty bank account.
The term embedded took on a whole new concept as she watched the long, lean figure wearing faded jeans, western boots and a shirt that barely stretched across his shoulders as he leaned back inside the cab. She had yet to see his face but from the waist down, he looked scrumptious. If this was an example of a male artist, no wonder Mary Rose had flipped out. And if this guy turned out to be Perry Silver, she was licked before she even got started.
Being an advice columnist, Maggie had heard tales that would curl the hair on a billiard ball. She'd tried to reason with her friend, to no avail. On the other hand, if this was the scoundrel in question, she could almost understand.
Thank goodness she was both experienced and tough as old boots, because it looked as if she had her work cut out for her. Determination reconfirmed, she got out, stretched and began unloading her luggage, watching from the corner of her eye for the man to turn around so she could see his face. With any luck he'd be ugly as homemade sin.
The picture on the front of the Perry Silver Water-color Workshop brochure had been of a tall, nice-looking fellow with a toothy smile and a French beret. According to Mary Rose, who had met him at an art exhibit her father had sponsored - the Dilyses were big on corporate sponsorships - he was every woman's dream come true. "Oh, Maggie, he took my hand and held it the longest time, while he stared right into my eyes without saying a word. I felt like the most beautiful woman in the world. Did I tell you his eyes are this brilliant shade of turquoise?" Mary Rose had said when she'd called that evening.
Sure they were. With a little help from Lens-Crafters.
"Oh, I wish you'd been there." Maggie had declined the invitation using the excuse of having a column to write. "We talked and talked, and then when I had to leave to drive Daddy home, Perry took my hand and said I was the reason he'd been drawn to Winston-Salem, because his soul knew there was a kindred spirit waiting for him here."
Maggie had snorted, but covered it with a cough.
"It was like - oh, how can I say it without you thinking I'm crazy? It was like we were lovers in another life and recognized each other instantly. That's the only way I can describe it."
At that point Maggie's gag reflex had threatened.
Using all the tact at her command, she had tried to talk her friend down from cloud nine, but tact had failed and reasoning hadn't made a dent. She'd been about to leave when Mary Rose mentioned endowing a Perry Silver art scholarship at her alma mater. That was when Maggie had realized that quick action was called for.
Oh-oh, tall, dark and dangerous was finally looking her way. Maggie pretended not to be staring as she dragged her big suitcase from the trunk of her dusty hatchback. This job wasn't going to be quite the cinch she'd expected. The man was flat-out gorgeous.
"And you're flat-out dumb as dirt," she muttered as she reached back inside for her art supplies.
Three cars over, the unknown hottie lifted out a small canvas bag and a large plastic shopping bag. Turning her way, he set them on the ground. Maggie caught her breath. Holy mackerel, if this did turn out to be Perry Silver it was no wonder Mary Rose had flipped out. He was better than handsome - although if her life depended on it, Maggie couldn't have explained what that meant - and words were her business.
Excerpted from Driven To Distraction by Dixie Browning Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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