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ONLY WITH A COWBOY
By P.J. MELLOR VONNA HARPER MELISSA MACNEAL APHRODISIA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter One Madison St. Claire feigned sleep, listening as her fiancé, Alan, moved about their darkened hotel room. If he knew she was awake, he might want to have sex again. The thought clenched her stomach.
In hindsight, agreeing to marry Alan Hunsinger was not one of her brighter ideas. Their lackluster love life proved it. She planned to discuss their hasty engagement with him as soon as they returned to Detroit. When he'd encouraged her to leave her engagement ring at home while they traveled to set up a new business in the little po-dunk town of Slippery Rock, Texas, she had hoped Alan was having the same misgivings.
Unfortunately, they had been stuck in Hooterville for almost three weeks now and, quite frankly, she smelled a rat.
And she was increasingly concerned she may be engaged to it.
The door clicked shut and she breathed a sigh of relief, snuggling down farther under the blankets. Thanks to the sleeping aid she'd taken, her mind drifted. Who knew when they would be able to go home? She'd discuss everything with Alan when he returned.
* * *
Loud knocking on the door of her room awoke her. Before she'd done much more than open her eyes, blinding light filled the room through the open doorway.
The silhouette of a woman stood framed against the sunlight. "Sorry!" The woman's twangy accent set Madison's teeth on edge. "I said housekeepin' before usin' the pass key. I thought the room was empty."
Madison struggled through the sleep-induced fog, silently cursing Alan for convincing her to take the sleep aid the night before. "Well, obviously that's not the case."
The maid visibly cringed and Madison immediately regretted snapping at her. But before she could apologize, the maid was gone, closing the door on her way out.
Battling the sheet, Madison got to her feet and walked to throw the privacy bolt to ensure her shower would not be interrupted.
As she turned to make her way to the bathroom, something white on the floor caught her eye. She bent and picked up the paper. Walking to the bedside table, she flipped on the lamp and sank to the mattress to read the motel bill.
Evidently she and Alan had checked out: obviously a mistake. From what she'd seen of Slippery Rock business practices, mistakes happened all the time. Why would the motel be any different?
The front desk picked up on the first ring.
"Hello, this is Madison St. Claire in room 302. Yes, I received the summary, but there must be a mistake. He did? Well, why didn't you just put it on the card we used when we checked in? Oh. That's not possible. I-" She listened for a few moments, jaw clenched, then said, "I understand. What do you mean my room has been reserved? Yes, I know hunters make reservations in advance. Yes, I'll be down soon and give you another card. Sorry for the inconvenience."
What was Alan up to?
* * *
After her shower, she packed her bags and loaded them into the car, then headed to the office to straighten out her bill. With the opening of hunting season, it might be difficult to find another motel room. Bad enough Alan had dragged her to the tiny town in deep southern Texas, but for him to have taken off and left her there was unconscionable. As soon as she paid their bill, she was going to call him and find out where he was and what he thought he was doing.
The old man at the counter looked up from his paper at the sound of the door chime.
"I'm Madison St. Claire, room 302."
"I know who you are." He took a sip from a mug emblazoned with the slogan HOT GRANDPA. His hazel gaze was hostile, at best. "Ran your card again. Denied. Again. Called the company. Card is canceled."
"That's not possible. There must be some sort of misunderstanding. My company will look into it. I-"
"Called them, too. Said you don't work for them anymore."
"What? That's ridiculous!" As soon as she paid her bill, she would call Hunsinger Properties and get everything straightened out. The old man was obviously mistaken. What a surprise. She rummaged around in her purse. "I must have left my card case in the room. I'll be right back with another card."
"Take your time. I'll be here."
With a withering glance, she stomped out of the tiny office and up the stairs to her room.
Once inside, she literally turned the place inside out, tossing bed linens, towels, and papers, moving furniture, opening drawers-all to no avail.
Her mind flashed to Alan slinking around under cover of darkness. At the time she'd thought he was being considerate. Now she knew better.
She checked her wallet.
The rat had not only abandoned her, he'd taken all of her cash as well as her credit cards.
Swiping at the wetness on her cheeks, she paced the length of the room several times, attempting to calm down and formulate some kind of a plan. What was wrong with her? She always had a plan. Why, then, couldn't she wrap her mind around a course of action for this horrible scenario? The only thought she could come up with was to go back to Detroit and strangle Alan with her bare hands. And even that would not be enough.
Sinking to the edge of the unmade king-size bed, she reached for a tissue and sniffed. What was she doing? She never cried. Never.
She'd obviously lost her touch. By getting involved with Alan the Rat Hunsinger, she'd dropped her guard, become lax.
Darkness descended while she sat there, wracking her brain for a plan. She was a woman of action. Women of action . . . acted.
She retrieved her briefcase and opened her laptop, only to cuss a few seconds later when she was denied access to the corporate Web site of Hunsinger Properties. What was going on? After trying a few more times, she logged out and back in as Alan. Just as she'd suspected, he'd neglected to change his password. She clicked on the Projects file.
"Son of a bitch!" Flopping back against the pillows, she ground her teeth, blinking back fresh tears. Damn. It was even worse than she'd expected. There was no Slippery Rock project. No construction bonds to sell.
She'd been set up. A few more clicks to various files con- firmed it.
A glance at the digital clock surprised her. Boy, it was really dark for four-fifteen P.M. The clock was obviously wrong.
She shoved back the sleeve of her raw silk suit to check the gold watch strapped to her wrist. The clock was correct.
Thunder rumbled, vibrating the bed.
It was past checkout time. What was she going to do? Where was she going to go? She flipped open her cell phone and punched the speed dial button. The phone emitted a chime. She squinted in the darkness to read the letters on the screen.
"Stupid building probably has tons of crap insulating it, blocking my signal." Stalking to the door, she stepped onto the balcony and tried again.
Chirp. No Service.
Fat raindrops dotted the pavement of the parking lot, splattered the steps leading to her floor.
She had to get out of there. The manager would soon be looking for her, wanting his money. Money she didn't have.
Keeping a wary eye on the office window, she made her way to her Camaro, not taking a deep breath until she'd reached the safety of the leather interior.
She winced when the motor began to purr, casting a nervous glance at the office as she eased the car toward the exit.
Stopping at the end of the drive to decide which way to turn, she remembered her gas card. Rummaging through the console, she closed her fingers around the hard plastic and blinked back tears of relief.
It was the first credit card she'd ever had and had been rarely used in recent years. Alan probably didn't even know it existed. She kept it in the car for emergencies. Her current situation certainly qualified as an emergency.
Now she didn't have to worry about getting a new motel room. Assuming the card was still valid, she could use it for gas and food, sleeping in her car on the way back to Detroit. Although the idea of sleeping in her car was personally repugnant and very likely dangerous, what other choice did she have?
There may be a perfectly logical reason for Alan the Rat deserting her. She'd decide if she wanted to hear it after she strangled him.
The card worked. With her tank full and loaded down with snacks from the gas station's convenience store, she set off down the highway toward the interstate, windshield wipers beating in time to the pouring rain.
She touched the stiff paper in her pocket and silently pledged to send a cashier's check for her motel bill as soon as she got back home.
Chapter Two The tree came out of nowhere, headed straight at her.
One minute, she'd been alternating scrubbing tears from her eyes with wiping the soggy tissue across the fogged front window. The next minute, the tree was barreling down on her.
She screamed and stomped the brake.
Tires locked on the slick pavement, forcing the car to hydroplane down the road.
Lightning jagged through the black sky, illuminating her car through the T-top. The rearview mirror reflected her panic seconds before car met tree with a bone rattling crunch.
Pain shot from her left elbow to her shoulder, taking her breath away and making her fingertips tingle.
The driver's door was smashed against the sturdy tree trunk, bent in almost to the point of reaching her hip. It took some doing, but she finally managed to wedge her hand far enough around to release her seat belt. Her door, however, was firmly stuck.
Trembling, she sat in stunned silence while the rain continued to pound the roof.
Heaving a disgusted sigh, she struggled out of her bucket seat and over the gear shift. Exhausted, she flopped onto the passenger seat to catch her breath while she peered out into the darkness and flipped open her cell phone. No service.
Where the hell was she, anyway? The car had spun so many times, she didn't know which way led out of town or which way led back.
"You are a woman of action," she reminded herself, reaching into the back seat for her briefcase and purse. "Sitting in the middle of God knows where, in the pouring rain, isn't going to help. You need to act."
There had to be a farm or house or something along this road. It was simply a matter of swallowing her pride, walking to the nearest place, and hoping they took pity on her.
Maybe she could even work off any money they loaned her to get her car fixed. Yes, of course. She was always hearing about how kind and generous country folk were. Now was their chance to prove it.
Shoring her resolve, she slipped her phone into the pocket of her suit jacket and opened the door. A wall of driving rain blasted her in the face with a million tiny, stinging, needle-like drops, nature's warning to stay in the car.
She'd never been one to heed warnings.
Gasping and coughing, she tumbled out onto the shiny pavement.
Rain immediately soaked her silk blouse, adhering it to her body like shrink wrap. She glanced down at her new suede pumps, knowing they would never be the same.
Numb, she leaned against the side of the car, then slid down to sit on the warm, wet road and assess the damage to her body. Except for her heart apparently trying to rip through her chest, she appeared to be okay.
She sniffed, emotion clogging her throat. To her horror, once again tears welled. What was her problem? She never cried. Despite her determination, tears filled her eyes, further blurring vision already obscured by the downpour. One tear, then another, trickled down her already soaked cheeks.
Reaching behind her, she shoved the door shut. No use in ruining the interior too. Dejected, she looked at the front tire, bent at an angle, while the wet ground rapidly soaked her derriere.
What a bitch of a day.
And where was Alan? Fiancés were supposed to cherish and protect, weren't they? Wasn't there some kind of rule about that? If not, there damn well should have been. But instead of protecting and cherishing, Alan the Rat Hunsinger appeared to have hung her out to dry. Stranded her, causing her to have to slink out of town like a common criminal.
Renewed humiliation washed over her at the idea of not even being able to pay her motel bill. She'd heard about the small town mentality. When the people heard about it, about the very real possibility that everything she'd told them had been a lie, it would not be pretty. Of course, it wasn't that she'd intentionally misled them. But the play of circumstances definitely cast her in a bad light.
Eyes closed, she sighed and rested her head against the cold side panel of her car. Rain sluiced through her hair to course down her face, tickle the sides of her nose, puddle on her lips.
What had Alan been thinking, to send her to such a godforsaken little town in the middle of nowhere and then desert her? Had she done something to bring it on? She hated rural life and anything to do with it.
She shuddered. The whole town was crawling with cowboys. Alan knew that, knew her aversion. Yet, here she was, another of Alan Hunsinger's victims.
Jaw clenched, she rolled to her knees.
A loud pop issued from her car. She looked back to see the air bag deflating over her steering wheel.
"Great. Now the air bag deploys." Her tears returned, threatening to choke her. With a sob, she leaned against the rear fender to slide slowly to the warm, wet pavement. Blindly, she reached to shut the door.
After an indeterminable time, she struggled to her feet again, straightening her sodden clothing. She picked up her briefcase and purse and hobbled down the road, her heels protesting every step.
Thoughts of Alan the Rat fueled her temper, put purpose to her steps. How dare he desert her? Hunsinger Properties' latest project's details were murky in her mind. No doubt about it, she'd let her relationship with Alan blind her to what was obviously a risky proposition at best. At worst, illegal.
She sighed and continued walking. The only thing that could make her miserable day worse would be the addition of a cowboy, she reflected as she trudged along the gravel shoulder.
At first she thought the rumble was distant thunder, but then she saw the lights approaching.
A truck appeared over the hill, barreling down the road, heading straight for her.
She dropped her briefcase and waved her arms, hoping the driver would pick her up.
Evidently, he didn't see her. The big truck went into a skid on the same curve she'd missed and came at her sideways.
Hopping back to avoid death, she was hit square in the face with a rooster tail plume of water from the oversized tires.
Stinging her face, it temporarily blinded her. Incensed, she blinked to regain her vision. Her nose burned. She tasted grit between her clenched teeth and staggered backward. Her foot connected with nothing as the truck slid past.
With a yelp of surprise, she fell off the edge of the road. She plunged downward, end over end, her clothing snagging on sharp branches and twigs that stung her face. Mud oozed between her skirt and thighs, wedging beneath her panties as she continued her slippery progress down the steep slope.
Scrabbling for anything to halt her progress, she grasped at everything along the way, her fingers scraping raw. One of her acrylic fingernails popped off, sending pain shooting up to her elbow.
She rolled, over sticks and rocks and assorted squishy things, to land with an unceremonious plop into an ice cold, fast moving creek or river of some kind.
With her luck, it was probably a sewer.
She sat, leaning back on her hands, and let the tears flow as the icy water raced around and over her.
Oh, yeah, the only thing that could possibly make my day worse would be the addition of a cowboy.
Excerpted from ONLY WITH A COWBOY by P.J. MELLOR VONNA HARPER MELISSA MACNEAL Copyright © 2008 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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