one chance to clear her sister's name. But tall, sexy
James Marquez was quickly becoming much more than
a private investigator. Miranda had hired him for the case,
but every time she felt his dark eyes on her, she wanted
him on her.
James was consumed with the passionate redhead, yet he
had no place in her big-city life. He had a murder to solve
and secrets to keepsecrets Miranda would never forgive.
With so much at stake, could he let himself be seduced by
a future he could never have?
About the Author
A passionate hiker and traveler, there is nothing Ruth Wind likes better than setting off at dawn for a trip anywhere! New people to meet, new sights to see. Her favorite places so far include the Tasman Sea off the coast of New Zealand, the aromatic and pungent streets of New York City, and the top of her beloved Pikes Peak. Between books, she's currently planning trips to India, China, and a long rest in the damp and misty United Kingdom. Explore her columns on rambling around France and Scotland, working the marathon to the top of Pikes Peak, and many topics.
Read an Excerpt
Alight snow started to fall as James Marquez made his way from his hotel to a coffee shop. It was May, and technically too late, but so high in the mountains, snow could fall at any moment and often did. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his old jean jacket and lifted his face to the sky. He'd grown up in New Mexico, where the sun seemed to shine relentlessly, endlessly, and he loved inclement weather.
This was very wet snow, fat raindrops that had crystallized at the very last second and lost their shape immediately upon landing. Big flakes caught momentarily in the cup of a red tulip growing in a pot by the door of a shop. The sightwhite snow against the satin red petal, yellow stamen poking outmade him pause.
As if to emphasize the whimsy of the combination, sunlight suddenly broke through the dark but scattered clouds and painted a rainbow into life.
He paused, grinning. An old man stopped and looked at him. James lifted his chin toward the vivid display. "God's showing off."
The man, a little stooped and skinny, his skin weathered to freckles, glanced over his shoulder and nodded. "He shows off a lot around here." He paused, big hands hanging at his side, and admired the arching rainbow for a moment, then eyed James sharply. "You in town for the run?"
"I ran it every year myself till three years ago. My wife made me quit." He rubbed his nose, grown too long for his lean face, and scowled. "Don't know what difference it makes if I die of a heart attack in the shower or while I'm running."
"You can take the runner out of the race," James said with a grin, "but you can't take the runner out of the man. What was your best time?"
"Three forty-three back in 1967," he said. "I was forty-nine years old."
James whistled, long and low, and stuck his hand out. "I won't even get close, but let me see if some of that power'll rub off on me."
The old man smiled, shook his hand. "I'll be cheering you on."
The sun had come out, and James lifted a hand in farewell. The old man headed in his own direction.
Less than four hours. Good grief! Speaking of showing off. The Mariposa 50K Trail Run was one of the toughest in the country, up and down steep mountain passes and through forests and over the top of rocky ridges, on very uncertain footing at times. To have made such a time forty years ago was pretty amazing.
With sudden awakening, James realized who the old man had to bePeter Bok. "Holy cow," he muttered aloud, and turned around, but the man was gone.
Peter Bok. It seemed a very sweet sort of blessing. James grinned and saluted the sky. "Thanks, man."
Miranda Rousseau felt vaguely exhausted as she walked down Black Diamond Boulevard in Mariposa, Colorado. A faint headache knocked at the back of her skull, something that seemed to happen whenever she had to think about her mother. Not an hour ago, Carol Rousseau, brilliant scientist and narcissistic social butterfly, had called to airily announce she would be arriving in Mariposa in three days so that Miranda's father could run some stupid race on Sunday.
Three days. Which would put them in town for more than a solid week before Juliet's wedding. Miranda didn't think she could stand to be in the same town with her parents for two days, much less a weekand yet, there was not a single freaking thing she could do about it. They were coming. Miranda's sister Juliet was getting married. They'd all have to just pretend to be one big happy family for a little while.
As if they could.
Miranda took a long breath of mountain air, trying to shake the phone call from her shoulders. It would be such a waste to think about her parents when she was in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Resolutely, she focused on the scene around her.
A few minutes ago, when she'd set out, snow had been falling. Now, sun spilled from between the clouds, a gold that seemed to splash across the streets, dance on the clattering leaves of cottonwoods that lined the river, puddle in corners and curl up with pots of geraniums blooming in front of the shops decked out for summer tourists, who would arrive to hike and fish and visit the expensive spa tucked up in the forest.
Not many tourists had yet arrived, though she'd seen a handful of backpackers, mostly students who took refuge in the hostel. The ski slopes had been closed for three weeks, but the snow up higher was not yet completely gone. It would be another few weeks, the first of June, before the summer crowds would arrive.
Which only meant that Miranda would likely be able to find a table by the window at the ReNew Café, an allorganic café and gift shop she loved better than any other place in Mariposa. The staff played world music and wore hemp clothing, and some of them had dreds, eccentrics who made her feel comforted so far from her East Village digs. She was only here for a month, to help plan the last of the details for Juliet's weddingD-Day was May 25and recharge her batteries. And maybe see if the three sisters could keep one of them out of jail.
Which was why Miranda had come to ReNew this morning. She had arranged to meet with a private investigator, who was the only one of many she'd called who was willing to drive as far as Mariposa. It had been a highly publicized case, splashing the newspapers a couple of months ago, and most of the investigators had felt there was nothing to be discovered. It appeared to be a clear cut love triangle that had ended with a wife killing her adulterous husband. Clear, simple, banal.
However, Desi was innocent, and unfortunately would go to jail for killing her husband if they could not find the real killer.
Miranda suspected most of the investigators didn't want to make the long drive into Mariposaseven hours over looping mountain roads from Denver. The man who'd agreed to meet her was coming from Albuquerque, a little less grueling drive, but he had an ulterior motive. He was one of those crazy runners who participated in the Trifecta of Trails, a series of three extreme runs in the Colorado Rockies, one of which would take place in Mariposa on Sundaya 50K run at more than ten thousand feet.
The idea made her head ache. Who'd be crazy enough to run thirty-one miles at high altitudes, climbing and descending sometimes one thousand meters? Lunatics. Only lunatics.
Andshe blinked in recognitionher father. Why in the world was he doing such a thing? He wasn't a runner of that caliber! And it wasn't like he was young. He'd kill himself.
Anyway, the P.I. from Albuquerque wanted to run the Mariposa, and that was fine with Miranda. If he could find out who really killed Claude Tsosie, Desi wouldn't go to prison for it. Which it seemed more and thing.
Magenta geraniums in clay pots bloomed on either side of the door to ReNew, and a giant Siamese cat sat in the retail side of the window near Miranda's own St. Chocolata, one of the tongue-in-cheek nichos she'd managed to mass-market to great popularity. Seeing it temporarily eased her slight headache. Life wasn't so bad if she could make a nice living as an artist. How many people could say that? It was a great blessing, and she needed to focus on that. How blessed she was, not how cursed.
Humid air washed over her, redolent of cinnamon and coffee and spices mingling with hints of exotic incense. Miranda breathed it in, feeling tension ease from her neck. A gentle reggae tune played on the speakers, and the boy behind the counter gave her a nod as she put her sunglasses on her head, looking around the room.
It was quiet enough now, with little knots of locals, mostly young, scattered around the tables. A girl with a tangled ponytail and a backpack typed at a bank of computers against the wall. On the retail side of the house, where racks of T-shirts and tourist take-homes and bumper stickers lined the room, a pair of women in their forties chuckled over a bank of cards printed on recycled paper. She wanted to stand there and see if they'd go over to her St. Chocolataand forced herself to look away. And saw him, a single man sitting by the window.
Zounds, she thought, surprising herself. Not her but she found herself unbuttoning her sweater, tossing her hair out of her eyes.
He sat in a pool of sunlight, like a cat. The light glanced off a thick pelt of dark hair, beautifully cut to fall across his brow, not too long. Cheekbones like mesas, a perfect Johnny Depp mouth, a jaw like the edge of a table, so clean and straight and hard. His eyes were large and dark.
Miranda tended to go for big, hearty blondes, but there was definitely something going on with her spine, which was buzzing like a fluorescent light, and her hands felt too big, the palms tickling, itching, the way they did sometimes when she wanted to paint. There was, in the harsh angles and softness and colors of his face, a beauty that kindled something to life in her artist's heart. He would make a beautiful saint, a prophet, with those sharp, clear lines.
As if he felt her attention, he turned and looked at her, straight on, and Miranda felt a kick to her chest. His eyes were incrediblethe thick lashes lent a deceptive innocence, but there was nothing of a child in the direct way he seemed to look right past all of her barriers, right to the center of her, like a priest or a sage might do. He didn't seem to care that he was staring, that she had halted right in the middle of the restaurant, and couldn't seem to go forward.
He stood up and gave her a slight inclination of his head, a courtly gesture, and extended his hand. "Hello," he said, "You must be Miranda. Not many people can have hair like yours."
She'd told him she had long red hair. "Probably not," she said, gathering a hank of it in her hands, and in nervousness, spread some of it over her palm, examining the red-gold waves. "I know it's sort of stupidly long, but I can't seem to ever do more than trim it. It's like a limb."
"Nothing to apologize for." His voice was low and calm. Steadying. He gestured toward the spot opposite him at the table. "What would you like?"
Miranda fluttered to the chair and perched on the edge of it, tossing her hair over her shoulder to glance at the menu, which was chalked on a board over the counter in neon colors. Sunflower Muffins was scribed in green and yellow; Blueberry Scones in purple and white. "What are you having?"
"Coffee," he said, still standing. Waiting.
"Oh, please," Miranda said, "sit down. I'll get it in a minute. When I decide."
It could not be said to be a smile, but something lightened in his face. "Please, allow me."
Miranda shook her head, stood up. He was a little taller than her own five-ten, but not much. Still she liked having to lift her chin a little to look up at him. "I called you. The treat is mine."
"Trust me, you'll pay plenty for my services, Ms. Rousseau." He gestured her back to her seat, inclined his head. "Chai? And I think a cinnamon twist."
It was her order every day. "How did you know?"
"A trick of my trade," he said with a quick wink. Flustered, she tried to think what gave her away. Maybe she didn't look like a coffee drinker. Maybe the paisley print of her peasant blouse made him think of India, thus the chai. But how would he figure out the cinnamon twist? There were dozens of choices in the glass cabinet.
Seeming to sense her confusion, the man took pity and smiled. "The boy at the counter told me. You're a regular."
"Oh." Miranda blinked. Gathered her scattered brain. "You must think I'm an idiot. I've just got this silly headache this morning, and" She broke off.
"Never mind. Chai and cinnamon twist is fine."
He moved away silently, as graceful as an antelope. Miranda turned her head away stubbornly and stared out the window. Water dripped down from the roof and tip-tapped to the sidewalk below. A pair of female athletes in wicking T-shirts and running pants strode by on sturdy thighs, the hair on their arms glinting in the sunlight. Miranda watched them with her hand on her chin. What would it be like to be an athlete? To spend your days in physical pursuits and feel all that muscle all over you?
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