Marnie Wright has seen more than her fair share of testosterone. Growing up with four overly protective brothers was one thing. Now a mountain man named Jake Dolan has invaded a peaceful day of soul-searching at her grandmother's secluded cabin. Sure, she was trespassing on his private property, but did he have to pull a gun on her? There's more to this longhaired soldier of fortune who calls himself the Tin Man, but she's not sure she wants to stick around to find out what. Then he stashes her in his secret lair--an underground techno-fantasy complete with security monitors and an arsenal--and Marnie realizes the guy is military, top secret military. He's also got the most beautiful mouth she's ever seen.
He could get her killed.
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The perimeter alarms were set to go off when anything heavier than a
hundred pounds crossed the almost invisible breakers. At first all Jake
saw on the monitor was the fawn-colored Great Dane. The damn thing was a
mean-looking bastard and as big as a house.
"Where the hell did you come from?"
The dog's large, square head and pointy ears swiveled, as if it could
smell him down here, twenty feet below ground level. Jake stuck his size
fourteens up on the counter and took another swig of soda. His eyes
narrowed as he scrutinized the flat-screen monitor before him.
A second later his feet dropped to the floor at the same time his fist
crushed the empty can. "Shit."
The dog had been hiding her.
For a split second . . .
Jake absently touched the scar on his throat and ignored the from
zero-to-eighty acceleration of his blood pressure. He leaned forward to
adjust the focus and shifted closer to get a better look.
A slender blonde, drowning in a green down jacket, sat not thirty feet
from the front door of his cabin on the tree uprooted by last year's
storm. Fair hair, all the colors of the sun and fingered by the breeze,
danced in joyous spiral curls around her face and hunched shoulders as she
concentrated on something in her lap.
Her skin was fair instead of dusky, her hair silky, not coarse, the angle
of her head unfamiliar. She was no ghost from the past. Thank God.
Nevertheless, he didn't want her here.
Jake didn't know who she was or what she was doing in the high, remote
Sierras at the nose of winter. Her mere presence was suspect. Not that she
appeared to be anything other than a cute blonde on a solitary mountain
hike. But then looks could be deceiving.
Neither the girl nor the dog was welcome.
He didn't like dogs. In his line of work they tended to be unpredictable.
As for the fluffy blonde . . . Jake slam-dunked the squashed can into the
trash, then leaned forward for a better look. He definitely didn't like
that breed, either.
Closer inspection didn't improve her one bit. Unfortunately he hadn't had
a woman in nearly a year, and this cupcake made his mouth water. Too bad.
Like a mouse to
an elephant, like David to Goliath. She was exactly the type of woman he
avoided like the plague--petite, blonde, and delicate.
He was bone exhausted from an assignment in a small, forgotten Middle
Eastern country where all hell had broken loose. All he'd wanted to do was
take a break. Instead
he'd come home to find the shit hitting the fan, his sixteen-year career
in the toilet, and the vacation he'd wanted being enforced.
He had no time for the blonde outside.
Most likely a strong "boo" would send girl and hound running for town.
After they left he'd get back to figuring out who was screwing with his
Marnie Wright wished she'd brought along a warm cap. Cold air nipped at
her ears, making them sting. Dismissing the discomfort, she focused on the
sketch pad on her lap.
It had been a bonus finding this old cottage tucked into the hillside.
She'd hate to waste the light walking the mile back to her grandmother's
cottage just because she was cold. She flipped up her collar and hunched
Only the front walls and the peak of the shingled roof showed through the
surrounding trees, shrubs, and piles of deadfall. It was in better shape
than Grammy's. While rustic, the wood siding and front porch had recently
been repaired. The roof appeared solid, the windows intact.
Marnie flexed her fingers, narrowing her eyes at the log cabin before she
continued drawing. The little house was perfect for the creepy Halloween
story she was working on. All it needed was a little atmosphere. She
shaded a curved whisper of smoke above the chimney, elongating dark
shadows to make the small house unwelcoming and sinister. The fluid black
lines of her charcoal pencil skimmed the page. Beside her, Duchess's head
"What're you listening to? A chipmunk?"
Her dog made a low sound in her throat and wagged her tail.
Marnie laughed, her breath misting in the frigid air. "Don't go far." She
put her hand behind her pet's massive head and looked her sternly in the
eye. "And don't play with it, you hear me?"
Duchess bounded to the closed door of the empty cottage. She settled her
backside on the front step, ears perked. Marnie smiled. Duchess loved her
creature comforts. Rather than frolic about in the cold, she wanted inside.
"That's not home, goofus. Give me a few more minutes and we'll pack up and
She had lugged her sleeping bag and supplies to her grandmother's cottage
before she and Duchess had taken a stroll, ending up at this isolated
place. The exercise, and the cold, had made her hungry, too. She smelled
rain and wanted to be back before it started pouring.
With a frown she considered for half a second going home to Sunnyvale. The
river had a tendency to flood, making the bridge impassable. Leaving would
be the prudent, safe thing to do.
But she didn't want to be prudent and sensible anymore. The decisions and
choices she made in the next couple of days were going to change her
future. After a lifetime of playing it safe, she needed to learn to take
the chances life presented her.
Some of her happiest memories had been made up here
at Grammy's cottage. And here was where she was going to decide the course
of the rest of her life. A little rain wasn't going to deter her.
She'd almost forgotten what a pain in the butt it was to get up here.
She'd left her car at the end of the narrow mountain road, then crossed
the skinny footbridge fording the river, passed over another bridge
spanning the ravine, and then had a three-mile hike up the mountainside.
As kids, she and her brothers hadn't noticed such minor inconveniences. It
had always been a grand adventure to come here with Grammy. They'd
explored every inch of the mountain, played in the river, and climbed the
trees like monkeys.
A little rain and cold wouldn't hurt. This was probably the last time
she'd-- . . .