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On a stormy Texas night, Tyler Blackwell awoke from a car crash to find himself in a castle dungeon, bound under lock and key by an ephemeral jailer with haunting eyes and virginal flesh that begged for a man's touch. Mysterious Melissa Carnes—the woman Tyler had been sent undercover to defend from a deadly enemy intent on destroying her life—was more tempting to Tyler than any assignment. And being her "prisoner" had its advantages. But could Tyler penetrate the...
On a stormy Texas night, Tyler Blackwell awoke from a car crash to find himself in a castle dungeon, bound under lock and key by an ephemeral jailer with haunting eyes and virginal flesh that begged for a man's touch. Mysterious Melissa Carnes—the woman Tyler had been sent undercover to defend from a deadly enemy intent on destroying her life—was more tempting to Tyler than any assignment. And being her "prisoner" had its advantages. But could Tyler penetrate the cold stone wall Melissa had built around her heart before the past emerged like the grim reaper to sentence them both to life terms ?
Freddy calmly leaned back in his cordovan-leather chair and stared at him.
"Tyler, it's precisely because you're my friend that I'm giving you this assignment." Freddy turned away from him in his swivel chair and went back to work. "I owe her, Tyler. It's the least I can do. And you owe me. So I'm calling in my chip. Make sure nothing happens to Melissa Carnes."
What did Freddy have to do with her? She was nothing but a crazy artist who never came out of her self-imposed isolation. And Freddy had a dozen journalists on staff who'd kill for an opportunity to ingratiate themselves to the boss. "Why me?"
"I trust you. I don't dare trust anyone else when it comes to my niece."
"Your niece? Freddy -"
"She needs a champion. For once, she needs someone on her side."
Tyler sneered. The last time he'd tried to be a champion, his wife had died. "If it's a champion you're looking for, you're looking in the wrong place."
"I know that if you give me your word, you won't bail out on me until the job's done. You'll keep her safe."
"After Lindsey, you can still say that?"
"Because of Lindsey, yes."
That vote of confidence silenced him for a while. Since Lindsey's death, even he didn't trust himself.
"I know you," Freddy said. "I've taught you everything you know."
Tyler had come a long way since he and Freddy had been beat journalists together ten years ago. Tyler was just starting then, and Freddy was getting ready to move on to bigger and better things. Freddy had indeed taught him everything he knew. But some things you couldn't prepare for, and no amount of training could get you ready for some blows. Still, Freddy was always there for him - even when everyone else had given up - and that loyalty had to count for something.
"So who's this big bad wolf who's after your little lamb?" Tyler asked, sinking into one of Freddy's well-appointed leather chairs. He'd hear what Freddy had to say. Then he'd lay out a rational argument as to why he couldn't take on the responsibility of looking out for someone else. Freddy would have to listen to logic.
"I'm not sure."
"You're not sure?"
"It's a feeling ..." He shrugged.
Tyler stared incredulously at his friend. "Freddy Gold's calling in a chip on a feeling?"
Seeing Freddy so unsure of himself was strange. Tyler contemplated the man in front of him, noticed through his haze of frustration that Freddy had aged seemingly overnight. His jowls, usually so easy to jiggle with laughter, sagged. Puffed smudges made purple half-moons beneath his eyes. Lines spidered from the corners of his mouth.
"So what exactly is it you want me to do?" Tyler asked.
"I want you to protect her. Keep her safe."
Freddy marched his pen across his knuckles. The muffled noise of telephones and voices on the other side of the office wall filled the uncomfortable silence. Slowly he pulled open the middle drawer of the desk and drew out an envelope. "This came two days ago."
He pushed the envelope across the desk.
Tyler started to reach for it, then sprang up from the chair, backing away, hands held palms out in front of him. "I can't."
"It's an article about Thornwylde Castle where Melissa lives," Freddy said as he unfolded the newsprint. "And a bishop." From his hand, a black chess piece rolled out onto the desk. "It's a warning, Tyler. Someone's playing a game, and I don't like it. I need you there."
"It's just an article." Tyler ran a hand over his face, not liking the sinking feeling weighing him down. "How do you get a warning out of a chess piece?"
"Chess is a game of war. Bishops can move in any direction, but must keep on a diagonal. They're valuable because they can make long, narrow moves."
In spite of his best intentions, Tyler couldn't quite bite off the questions that sprang up. "Who sent the package?"
"I'm working on that." Freddy hid the bishop in the envelope and returned the whole to the drawer. "Melissa's had a hard life, but in some ways, she's very innocent. She won't know how to defend herself."
Who? What? Where? When? How? Instinct kicked in. It felt like old times when the merest hint of a question had sent him sniffing for answers. His limbs became jittery. He tried not to think of all the Tennessee bourbon and oblivion he'd only recently given up, but it was like trying not to think of a blue elephant. The bottle with the black label was all he could see. The fire of the dark liquid was all he could taste. The sweet blackness of nothing was all he desired. He shook his head. Stay here. Stay focused. "You already suspect someone."
"She's a rich woman who'll be even richer in a month. Money makes people do unspeakable things." Freddy frowned, his pen etching deep grooves into the pad on his desk.
Tyler licked his dry lips, tried not to taste the phantom whiskey and rested his backside against the edge of the credenza. "Why don't you just tell her to be careful and be done with it? Why do I need to go there?"
"Because ... we're estranged. She would dismiss anything I told her." The admission seemed painful to swallow. But then, mistakes always were. Tyler should know. He had a Texas-size one stuck in his craw. "She can't know I sent you. She'll just send you away."
Tyler leaned forward. He couldn't do this. Not even for Freddy. "Just how do you propose I accomplish this feat?"
"Find the story. Like you've done a hundred times."
But this time it would be different. "There are ways for her to protect her money from poachers. What story is there?"
"Start with the money, work up to her family. Her stepmother has big social ambitions and those don't come cheap. Her half sister lives for pleasure - also an expensive hobby."
Tyler sprang from his chair, leaned his fists on the desk's top and glared at his friend. "Are you insane? You want to send me into the middle of a family feud?"
"No, I'm dead serious." Freddy kept scribbling, as if the action could keep him anchored while Tyler blustered.
"Twenty-two years ago, my sister told me she didn't feel safe at the castle. A week later she was dead. I dismissed her fears. I don't want to make the same mistake again."
Mistakes, Tyler had made so many already. And here was Freddy, desperate to send him right into the middle of another. "I can't. Not after -"
"When you fall off a horse, you have to climb back on the sucker before he can kick you while you're down."
Too late. He's already kicked. Tyler dropped to the chair like a stone. This wouldn't work. It just wouldn't work. "How am I supposed to get in there to talk to her? You think a recluse is going to open her home to a stranger? Let him peek at her books and play knight to her damsel?"
"You'll pretend to be writing an article on her stallion. Eclipse is a champion. She won't turn down press for him."
That made sense. An article in the most respected news magazine in the state was publicity no one could afford to turn down. "That'll work for an hour, maybe two. After that, what?"
"You'll think of something."
Excerpted from Under Lock And Key by Sylvie Kurtz Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 8, 2009
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