Read an Excerpt
Shaman Phillips wasn't expecting a blonde bombshell to show up at the front door of the Dark Diablo farmhouse, but one glance at her shapely legs, long silky hair and beautiful face made him believe tonight might be a lucky night for a lone wolf. "Hello," he said. "Can I help you?"
Shaman decided the voice of an angel went with her amazing looks. She was way out of his leagueand yet even a man with scars liked to gaze at beautiful things.
"I'm looking for Chelsea Myers."
"Ah. The Chelsea Myers who married my brother Gage in July. She's Chelsea Phillips now." Shaman leaned forward, out of the doorway, planting his well-worn boots on the porch. "They live at the Callahan place, Rancho Diablo, in Diablo."
The goddess stepped closer, her high fireengine-red heels clicking on the wood porch. "My name is Tempest Thornbury. I met Chelsea and Cat in July, before I returned to Italy." She held up a small Louis Vuitton bag, complete with tufts of tissue paper coming out the top.
Shaman knew what Louis Vuitton was; his sister, Kendall, was a huge fan. "I brought this for Cat. Is there a possibility you could give it to her?"
"Come on in," Shaman said, tamping down the wolflike tendencies fighting inside him. "I'll get their address and you can send it to her. It'd probably be quicker. I never know when I'll see them, now that the school year has started."
Tempest smiled. "Thank you."
Shaman went to get the address, and she followed him into the house. He handed her a piece of paper. "Cat started school in the middle of August in Diablo. She's real happy there."
"I'm so glad."
He decided his visitor was even more beautiful close up. The hot-red suit fit her curves to perfection. She didn't wear a wedding ring or jewelry, just some gold hoop earrings that kissed her cheeks.
"She's a sweet girl," Tempest added.
Shaman nodded, suddenly uncomfortable and not sure why. His first thought was to seduce this angelwhat man could resist?but she was too perfect for him. How dumb was that?
Ten years in the military, most of them spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, might have left him hungry for female companionship, but it had also left him with scars on his back, a chunk missing from his shoulder and a red slash across his sun-browned cheek. He was lucky those were his only visible scars. Many of his buddies hadn't fared so well.
A little less perfection in a woman would suit him better. "Sorry I couldn't be more help."
Tempest smiled and turned on her heel. "I was hoping to see Cat and Chelsea, but I suppose they won't be back until the semester is over?"
"Can't say." He wasn't familiar with Cat's routine. "Chelsea and Gage just announced that they're expecting a baby, so I don't know how often Chelsea will be out here."
Tempest glanced back at him, looking pleased. "That's wonderful! I'm glad to hear it." She opened the front door before he could do so. "I didn't get your name?"
"Shaman Phillips." He held the door for her, and as she walked out, caught a tease of a light flowery perfume. "You staying in Tempest, Tempest?" He grinned. "I didn't realize you were named after the town."
She leaned into him, catching him off guard. "It's a stage name. My real name is Zola Cupertino."
His brain tried to process that information, along with the distracting fact that she was dangerously close to him. And he didn't think it was an accident. If he didn't know better, he'd think she
"Soldier.. " Tempest murmured.
"Yes, ma'am?" he said, out of habit. She must have seen his military bag, and his combat boots in the living room.
"I just got off a plane from Italy," she announced. "I wonder if you might be interested in taking me out to dinner?"
He blinked. "Certainly," he said, trying to be chivalrous and not sound as surprised as he was by her unexpected invitation.
She smiled at him, a sweet, slow, sexy smile, her angelic eyes free of artifice, but holding a silent plea.
Maybe he didn't want to see it. But she was still standing oh-so-close to him, and the next thing he knew, he'd taken the statuesque blonde in his arms and was kissing her like a dying man.
She kissed him back hungrily.
"Wait a second," Shaman said. He was a lucky guy, but not this lucky. Angels didn't just drop from the sky into his hard-edged world. "How did you say you know Gage and Chelsea?"
"Met them this summer. Don't stop what you're doing, soldier."
He kissed her again, his mind trying to find the hook in the sweet deal she seemed to be offering him. She could have any guy in the world. Why would she choose him, instead of running from the sight of his scar-streaked face?
What the hell. A man didn't get too many gifts in life, and if this angel wanted to fly into his arms, he needed to quit acting like a skittish horse. "Hey, you want that dinner or not?" he asked, giving her one last chance to back away.
"After," she murmured, melting into him.
He carried her to his bedroom, taking his sweet time, being careful with the soft suit and delicate white camisole. Her bra and panties were angel-wing white and breathlessly lacy, the kind that didn't do much for support but everything for a man's libido. Keeping the lights low, he whispered to her in soothing tones, expecting at any moment for her to tell him she wanted out of his bed. But she let him do whatever he wanted to her, and she was sweet like he'd never tasted sweet before.
And when he finally entered her, Shaman thought he'd died and gone to some magical place he'd never known existed. In all the dirty, lonely nights he'd been scared out of his witsand he'd been plenty scared, tough guy or nothe'd fantasized about a woman. Any woman. A soft, sweet woman to take away the pain.
This woman was a velvet-soft gift from the gods, and whatever he'd done to deserve this time with her, Shaman wanted the moment to last forever.
Tempest cried his name, and he lost himself in her. She grabbed at his shoulders, and he didn't even think about his wounds or his scars. He held her and kissed her, savoring her like a treasure.
Then they sleptmaybe for an hour; he wasn't certain. A glance out the window showed a moon that was huge and high in the sky. Getting out of bed, he said, "Let me shower. I'll take you for that dinner."
She smiled at him in the moonlight. "Thanks, soldier."
Afraid to keep the lady waiting, he took the world's fastest shower, dressing like a madman. Yet he wasn't all that surprised when he came out and all that was left on the bed was the little Louis Vuitton bag, and a note that read, "Just remembered I have a meeting in town. Rain check for the dinner? Tempest."
He grunted. She'd signed the note as if it was an autograph for a book or a photo. "A meeting," he muttered. Shaman glanced at the note again, massively disappointed. Rain check.
I'll just bet.
"Who is he?" Tempest asked her dearest friends, Shinny and Blanche Tuck, after they'd hugged each other. It was so good to be here, in the Ice Cream Shoppe where she'd spent so many happy hours. The couple had been parents of sorts, shepherding her through difficult times as a child. Shinny could always be counted on to give her one of his delicious "specials," a frothy chocolate milkshake she'd adored as a kid. Now she knew he'd simply been trying to put meat on her scrawny bones, but back then she'd thought she was the luckiest girl in the world when he gave her the scrumptious treats.
Shinny and Blanche sat across from her in the lipstick-red booth. The store was closed, and soon they'd go home. But for now they were enjoying catching up.
"He's one of the Phillips boys from Hell's Colony," Blanche said. "Seems to be a good family, if his brother Gage is any indication."
Shinny was happy to let his wife tell the story, but filling in the details was his forte. His balding head with its white tufts of hair shone under the fluorescent bulb overhead as he leaned back in the booth. "Gage comes out every once in a while. Shaman and he are trying to fix up Dark Diablo. They're the ones Jonas Callahan hired to bring the place to a working condition."
"Why'd you go there?" Blanche asked worriedly. "You don't want to be around Dark Diablo. Nothing good can come of it, even with him there."
Tempest conceded she wasn't quite sure what had happened tonight. Seduction wasn't her style, and she hadn't had a lover in years. But the man at the ranch had seemed so defenseless, so sexy. Sexier than any guy she'd ever seen, in some way she couldn't identify. His coffee-colored eyes had had a faraway, lonely, almost vulnerable look in them, and for some reason she'd sensed in him a safe harbor. "I wanted to take Cat a present. I thought she and Chelsea would be there. Funny that everything changed in the two months I was gone."
"Yes," Blanche said, her tall dark updo quivering under the light. She had enough hair to make up for Shinny's lack of it. "Gage and Chelsea decided living at Rancho Diablo would be best, to help Cat make the transition to the area. She adores being around all the Callahan children. We went to their wedding, by the way. It was so lovely." Her friends looked at her. "It's the kind of thing I hope you'll have one day."
"oh." Tempest shook her head and stood. "I don't think so, Blanche. But thank you for always wanting the best for me." She looked down fondly at the people who'd been like family to her. "May I rent the bed-and-breakfast from you for a few days?"
"No," Shinny said, standing in turn. "You may stay there free of charge. It's your home, now that you're back."
Tempest gazed out the window for a moment, thinking of her villa in Italy and the job she'd been offered in New York. She hadn't planned to come out of her self-induced retirement, but something in her had said it was time to go home for a visit.
While Tempest had been living a life few people would ever experience, Shinny and Blanche had this small ice cream and soda shop, and a tiny adobe bungalow they sometimes rented as a B and B. They worked like crazy for the little they had.
They were getting older, and Tempest felt they should be slowing down. Most folks their age would be thinking about retiring. Of course, her dear friends didn't burn out from their careers, as she had.
But they were so happy to see her that just looking at their faces revived her. Made her remember that changing from the dull moth Zola Cupertino to the butterfly Tempest Thornbury was something that mattered to people who were important to her. And somehow that pride invigorated her, made her want to swim in starshine again instead of burying herself at her villa. "Either you let me pay or I'll have to find someplace else to stay."
Blanche shooed her to the door, after handing her a key. "We'll talk about money another time. Until then, you go rest. And if I were you, I'd stay away from Dark Diablo." She looked at Tempest in concern. "There's no reason to dig up bad memories by going out there."
Tempest hugged Blanche. "It's all right. Don't worry about me."
"We do." Shinny wrapped the two of them in his big, beefy arms.
Tempest closed her eyes for a moment, enjoying the closeness. "I'm fine," she said. "Truly. Thank you for letting me stay with you." She went out the door, seeing that the moon hadn't changed a bit since she'd left the cowboy soldier. Only in Tempest does time never seem to move.
She got into her rental car and drove around back, parking it in the garage of the only place that had ever seemed like "home" to her, a small southwestern, Pueblo-style adobe house that was clean and spare. It felt wonderful to unpack her bag, take a quick shower and melt into the soft bed.
Recalling the hungry way Shaman had kissed her warmed Tempest, settling her into a hazy place between wakefulness and slumber. Shinny and Blanche thought he was a solid man, a good man, if a loner. Tempest herself was a recluse, had been for years. Maybe that's what she'd responded tothe sense of isolation people sometimes chose when they didn't feel they deserved better. He deserved better than her.