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She was there again. Hank Shoeman glared out the window at the figure on the balcony of the ski lodge below. His cabin was on a ridge overlooking the facility, just far enough away to give him the privacy he needed when he was composing. But it wasn't far enough away from the binoculars the slender young woman at the ski lodge was directing toward his living room window.
He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and glowered at the distant figure. He was used to attention. Leader of the rock group Desperado, and a former linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, Hank had had his share of adulation from women. In the
old days, before his marriage and divorce, it had been flattering and heady to a Texas ranch boy. Now, it was nothing more than a nuisance. He'd had all he wanted of love. And he'd had more than he wanted of starstruck young girls looking for it.
He sighed, the action pulling his silk shirt taut over a hard, impressively muscular chest, and tautening the jeans that outlined powerful long legs and narrow hips. He was thirtyeight, but physically he looked no more than thirty. He had a good body, still fit and athletic. It was his face that frightened people.
He wore a thick beard and a mustache and his dark hair, while scrupulously clean, was unruly and thick around his collar. He wasn't badlooking, but it was impossible to see that. He liked the camouflage, because it kept all but the most enthusiastic young groupies at bay.
None of the rock group looked much better than Hank with his growth of beard, except for Amanda, of course. The other three male members of the bandDeke and Jack and Johnsonlooked as disreputable as Hank did. But Desperado's music won awards, and they were much in demand for public appearances.
The problem with that right now was that Amanda was pregnant. It would be the first child for Amanda and her husband, Quinn Sutton, who lived in Wyoming with his son Elliot. The whole family
was anxious because Amanda's pregnancy had been fraught with problems and she'd been forced to take to her bed to prevent a miscarriage. That meant canceled public appearances and vicious rumors that the band was about to break up. It was let people think that, or admit that Amanda was in fierce difficulties with her pregnancy. No one wanted that tidbit of information to get out, and have reporters hounding her. For the moment, they didn't know exactly where in Wyoming she lived. And Hank was here in Colorado, far away from the group's studiosboth the one down the hill from Quinn Sutton's ranch in the Tetons, and the one in New York City.
Reporters had hounded him so much that he'd had to escape from the New York studio where the group did some of their recording. It had been impossible to go near Amanda's house, for fear of leading reporters right to her doorstep.
So, this cabin in Colorado was Hank's last resort. He'd come here to work on a new song which he hoped might be a contender for another award. The music had been written, now it was up to Hank to complete the lyrics, but it was slow going. Worrying about Amanda and the future of the group was not conducive to creative effort.
Perhaps he was working too hard, he thought. He needed a break. That woman at the ski lodge was getting on his nerves. If she was a reporter spying
on him, he wanted to know it. There had to be some way to get her off his trail and spare Amanda any further media blitz.
He shrugged into his parka and drove to the ski lodge in his white Bronco. The chains made a metallic rhythm on the thickpacked snow covering the road that led to the lodge. Bad weather had plagued the area this January, and there had just been a long period of subzero temperatures and blinding snow, which had made it impossible to ski for the past several days.
When he got to the lodge, it wasn't crowded at all. People who could get out had already gone. Only a handful of hearty, optimistic souls were left in residence, hoping for slightly less arctic temperatures and better skiing when conditions improved.
He walked into the lodge, towering over everyone and attracting a lot of unwanted attention. He went straight to the owner's office.
Mark Jennings got up from his desk and walked around it to shake hands with the visitor.
"What brings you down here, Hank?" he asked with a grin. "Lonesome, are you?"
"I should be so lucky," Hank murmured dryly. "I came down to see which one of your guests is auditioning for the KGB."
Mark's smile faded. "What?"
"You've got a guest with binoculars who spends
a lot of time looking in through my living room window," he replied. "I want to know who she is and what she's looking for."
Mark whistled. "I had no idea."
"It's not your job to watch the guests," the other man said, clapping him on the shoulder with a big hand. "Maybe she's a groupie. I'd like to know, in case she's trying to gather material for the wire services. I've had enough publicity just lately."
"I understand. What can I do to help?"
"I thought I'd hang out in the café for a while and see if she turns up for lunch. I'd recognize her. She's wearing a bright blue parka and a matching cap."
Mark frowned. "Doesn't sound familiar, but I don't get out of this office much lately. We don't have a lot of people staying here, though, so she shouldn't be too hard to spot."
"If you don't mind, I'll have a look around."
Mark nodded. "Help yourself. Any chance that you and the group might sign on next season for entertainment?" he added hopefully.
Hank chuckled. "Ask me again in a few months."
"Don't think I won't!"
Hank shook hands with him and went on into the café, shucking his parka as he walked. It was a bad time to have to hunt down a spy. He was already upset enough about Amanda and the relentless press. Lately
his career was playing a bad second to complications of every sort.
He glanced around as he walked into the small café. There were only three women in it. Two of them were drinking coffee at a table overlooking the ski lift. The other was clearing tables. She saw Hank and grinned.
"Hi, Hank," she greeted him, tossing back her blond hair. "Long time no see!"
"I've been busy, Carol," he said with an affectionate smile. She'd been a waitress at Mark's place for several years. There was nothing romantic between them; she was just a friend.
She moved closer, so that they wouldn't be overheard. "Better watch your step down here today," she said confidentially. "One of the women at the side table is a reporter for Rolling Stone.I heard her telling the other woman that she'd gotten some juicy gossip about Amanda and that you were in hiding up here. She said she was going to file a really big story with her magazine over her computer modem tonight."
He caught his breath in muted anger and stared at the table intently. One of the women was very petite with short dark hair. The other was a redhead, attractive and full figured. He scowled. "Which is which? " he asked impatiently.
She grimaced. "That's the thing, I couldn't tell. I
dropped a plate and I wasn't looking at them when I overheard her. Sorry, Hank. You know most of their reporters, don't you?"
He nodded. "But I don't recognize either of those women. She could be a stringer or even a freelancer, hoping to find something worth selling to them on a tentative goahead."
"I'll bet it's the redhead," she whispered. "She looks like a reporter."
"And I'd bet on the brunette," he remarked as he suddenly registered the color of her jacket. Royal blue. She was the one who'd been spying on him with the binoculars.
"Could be," Carol replied. "I wish I could be more help. Heard from the rest of the group?"
He shook his head. "We're all taking a rest from public appearances."
"I guess you need one! Give everyone my best, won't you?"
He watched the women from the next room, staying out of sight for a minute, before leaving the lodge. He was easily recognizable these days, with all the media attention, and he couldn't afford to give that reporter a shot at him.
He was going to have to do something, but what? If she filed that story, reporters were going to swarm Amanda like ducks on bugs. He couldn't have that.
Her pregnancy had been one big secret so far, ever since she started to show and the band cut short their tour. They were still recording, but no one knew why they'd left the road so quickly. Where Amanda was, on Quinn Sutton's ranch, no one was likely to be able to get near her. Quinn was a formidable bodyguard, and he loved his pretty blond wife to distraction even if they'd gotten off to one of the world's worst starts.
He leaned against the hood of the Bronco, ignoring the sudden snow flurries and folded his arms over his chest while he tried to decide on a course of action. How was he going to prevent the reporter from filing her story? All sorts of wild ideas occurred to him, the first being that he could cut the telephone wires.
"Great solution," he murmured to himself. "You should try writing fiction."
As he turned over possible solutions to his problem, lo and behold, the brunette came walking out the front door of the ski lodge with a camera and binoculars around her neck and a backpack over one shoulder. She came down the steps and started around the Bronco and Hank when the perfect solution presented itself to him on a silver platter.
Without thinking about consequences, jail terms or FBI intervention, he suddenly walked behind her, picked her up bodily and slid her into the Bronco
past the steering wheel. Before she could get over the shock, he had the vehicle headed up the mountain.
Poppy O'Brien stared at him with wide dark eyes full of shock. "Either I'm still asleep and dreaming or I'm being kidnapped by a grizzly bear," she said suddenly.
"I'm not a grizzly bear."
"You look like a grizzly bear."
He didn't look at her. "Insults won't do you any
"Listen, I have terrible diseases
" she began, using a ploy she'd heard on a television talk show.
"Don't flatter yourself," he remarked with a speaking glance. "I don't seduce midgets."
"Midgets?" Her dark eyes widened. "I'm five foot
He shrugged. "Okay. So you're a tall midget. You're still too small for a man my size."
She looked at him fully then. His head almost touched the roof of the Bronco. He was huge; not fat, but well built and powerful looking. "Are you one of those wildeyed mountain men who kidnap
He shook his head.
"Hopelessly lonely and desperate for companionship?"
He smiled reluctantly. "Not a chance."