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All things considered, she was a traffic stopper.
Tanner raised a questioning eyebrow at the breathtaking woman standing beyond the threshold of the apartment door he had just opened at the buzz of the doorbell.
A tingle attacked the base of Tanner's spine. Her voice had the effect of warm honey trickling down the length of his back. Her eyes were the color of brandy, her hair a rich, deep, glossy burgundy wine. Combined, they warmed him as if he'd imbibed the drinks themselves.
"Yes." He was rather proud of the steady, almost bored sound of his voice, when bored was the last thing he was feeling. Hot, yes. Bored, no. He lifted one brow. She stood there, all five foot nine or so, slim and classically beautiful, dressed casually but expensively.
One deep, dark eyebrow arched, mirroring his action, as she asked, "May I come in?"
The tingle he felt grew into a sizzle. Damn, it had been a long time since a woman had had such a strong effect on him at first meeting. Come to think about it, no woman had ever had this strong an effect on him.
"Do you have a name?" He injected a droll note into his voice.
"Brianna Stewart," she answered, extending a slim-fingered hand to him. "Now, may I come in?"
Curious-about the woman's courage in entering the apartment of a stranger and about several other things-he took her hand, repressed a shiver, then nodded and stepped back, swinging the door wide as he did so.
"Thank you." Head high, spine straight as an arrow, she walked past him into the neat-as-a-pin living room, her stride relaxed, easy. The late-morning sun's rays slanting through the wide window struck fiery lights off her slightly-redder-than-auburn hair.
"What can I do for you, Ms. Stewart?" he asked. Other than sweep you up and carry you to my bedroom. Telling himself to grow up, he repressed the errant thought.
"May I sit down?" She made a graceful move of one hand to indicate his favorite plush leather recliner. "Yeah, sure." What else could he say? "Would you like a cup of coffee?" He wasn't about to impart the information that it was the first pot he'd brewed since rolling out of the sack a half hour before she rang his chimes, so to speak. Hell, his hair was still damp from his shower.
"I'd like that, yes, thank you." She smiled.
He suppressed a groan. As slight and polite as her smile had been, it dazzled his senses. What in blazes was wrong with him? he chided himself. She was just another woman. Okay, another gorgeous woman. Wasn't she?
"You're welcome. It'll only take a minute." Avoiding his mental question and telling himself to pull it together, Tanner escaped into the kitchen. Well, he had hoped to escape.
She followed him into the room. "I hope you don't mind, but we can talk in here just as well."
That's easy for you to say. Keeping the thought to himself, where it belonged, Tanner said, "No, I don't mind. Have a seat." He flicked a hand at the retro yellow-and-white chrome-and-Formica kitchen set. "Would you like something with your coffee...some cookies, a muffin, a scone?" Me?
Knock it off, Wolfe.
Sliding onto a plastic-covered chair, she started to shake her head but hesitated, saying, "What kind of scones do you have?"
"Blueberry," he said, removing two diner-type mugs from a wall cabinet. "Yes, I would. Thank you again." She smiled as if amused at herself. "Blueberry is my favorite."
Damned if her full-blast smile didn't cause a ripple along his nervous system. Lord, the woman was lethal. There was no way he'd admit to her that blueberry was his favorite, too. Even though it was likely obvious, as that was what he had to offer. "Want it warmed?"
"Yes, please." She dazzled him with another smile. Tanner grabbed two scones into paper napkins, shoved them into the micro and pressed the buttons for twelve seconds. He set the steaming mugs on the table while the micro hummed. The timer beeped while he was setting a carton of milk, a sugar bowl and two spoons on the table.
"Want butter or jam on that?" he asked, going to retrieve the pastries.
She shook her head, swirling the smooth red mass around her shoulders. On the spot, Tanner decided he loved red hair. It was a bit of a surprise, as he had always thought he preferred blondes...even though he didn't consider himself much of a gentleman.
Settling his six foot four inch frame opposite her, he bluntly got to the point. "Okay, now, what brings you to Durango, and what can I do for you?" he said, certain she wanted something from him. The question was, what?
"I want you to find a man for me," she said, her voice calm, almost serene.
What's wrong with me? Tanner didn't give voice to that thought, either. He knew what she meant. "Why?"
Her voice went hard. "Because he needs to be found."
He smiled-almost. "Why, and by whom?" Her eyes went as hard as her tone. "By my sister, my father, my mother, me and the law."
Now they were getting somewhere. "The law?" Right up his alley. "For what?"
She drew a deep breath, as if to contain a long-simmering anger. "For the rape and murder of one young woman and the attempted rape of another."
"Who sent you to me?"
Brianna raised her eyebrows. "You are a very well-known bounty hunter with an excellent reputation."
"Uh-huh." This time he did smile, wryly, repeating, "Who sent you to me?"
He gave her a bored look. "Honey, I have a lot of cousins. Give me some names."
She exhaled a weary-sounding, much-put-upon sigh. "Matt and Lisa."
"Ah, the Amazon twins." He smiled fondly at the memory of his six-foot, gorgeous, only female cousins, the former cop, Matilda, called Matt, and the legal eagle, Lisa. His smile vanished as quickly.
"How do you know them?"
"Lisa's my lawyer. She introduced me to Matt," she explained. "But I already knew your mother. She was my history professor in college."
The fond smile hovered once more, while his eyebrows rose in question. "You're from Spruce-wood?" It was his hometown in Pennsylvania, before he'd moved out west to Colorado. His mother, the history fanatic, taught the subject at Sprucewood College. His father was chief of the Sprucewood Police.
"No." She shook her head before clarifying.
"Not really. I'm from the, er, suburbs."
Tanner wondered about the slight hesitation but let it pass for the moment. "And the man you want found is Jay Minnich. Right?" Before she could respond, he said, "Are you the attempted-rape victim?"
"No." She set her hair rippling again with a sharp shake of her head. "My younger sister, Danielle. The young woman he murdered was Dani's best friend."
"So I read." Tanner nodded.
"Will you find him for us?" Her soft voice held a tinge of pleading. "There's a bounty," she quickly added.
"I know-ten grand." His tone was dismissive, as though ten thousand dollars was nothing.
"Posted by your father, the founder and president of Sprucewood Bank."
She frowned at his tone but responded mildly. "Yes, but my father has raised the bounty."
"When?" Surely Tanner would have heard about the bounty being raised if it had been announced. It hadn't. "Now."
"Say again?" He felt he had somehow missed something.
A small, slightly superior smile touched her soft mouth. "Let me explain."
"Explain away," he invited, raising his mug to his lips and staring intently at her over the rim.
"Dani is an emotional wreck." Her voice was low, sad. "Ever since the...awful events, she has withdrawn into herself. She's terrified that terrible man will come back, find her and kill her, as she was the one who identified him. She won't go out of the house...ever." She paused to sigh before continuing. "In fact, she seldom leaves her bedroom, which she keeps locked at all times. Even her family members have to identify ourselves before she'll open the door. She locks it again after we enter."
"That's too bad," Tanner said sincerely. "It's a horrible experience for any woman to go through, especially a woman her age." Having read everything about the case, Tanner knew the girl was not long out of her teens. And he knew, as well, the woman seated opposite him was a few years older.
"Yes." Brianna paused a minute, then went on.
"Although we feel hopeful the law will eventually find this monster, for Dani's peace of mind we want him found and incarcerated as soon as possible. That's why my father entrusted me with finding the best bounty hunter and offering a higher bounty."
From information he had gleaned here and there, Tanner suspected the felon was holed up somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, a big territory to scour. Although recently there had been a rumor the man had been spotted in and around Mesa Verde and the San Juan mountain range. That was still a lot of ground to cover. Tanner had previously considered hunting down the man, but he had been bone-tired from his last hunt. Still, he could always use the cash. But then, who couldn't?
"How much higher?" he finally asked, a thread of skepticism in his voice.
Her soft voice hardened. "A million dollars." A cool mil was worth a man's time needed to comb through that rugged terrain, however tired, Tanner decided. The thought of a million bucks was enough to reenergize a man. If that made him ruthless, tough. Nice guys seldom wound up catching the badasses. Hell, even cops had to be ruthless at times. He should know; there were enough of them in his family.
"Well?" A mixture of anxiety and impatience strained her voice and expression. "Will you accept the job?"
"Yeah," he said in flat tones. "I'll go scour the mountains for him."
"Good." She exhaled the breath he couldn't help noticing she was holding. "I'm going with you."
For a moment Tanner was on the verge of exploding, showering her with heated refusals. Instead he let loose a roar of ridiculing laughter. "I don't think so," he said when his laughter subsided. "I'm not babysitting a rich man's daughter in stilettos as she traipses around those mountains."
Tapping the toe of one stiletto-clad foot, Brianna smiled serenely. "Mr. Wolfe, I don't need a babysitter, thank you. I can take care of myself."
"Yeah, right," he mocked her. "In a fine restaurant or an upscale dress shop. Go home to Daddy, baby," he advised. "I hunt alone."
"I don't think so," she shot back at him. "This time there'll be two hunters in the mountains."
Tanner laughed again.
He should've kept his mouth shut.