Stepping out of your comfort zone can be hazardous…
Denver, Colorado, ER doctor Jillian Rodgers has never done an impulsive thing in her life. But all that changes when she meets the man of her dreams on a ski vacation. Within twenty-four hours, they’ve spent a passionate night together and Jillian is convinced she’s halfway in love. After all, she figures the worst that can happen is she’ll go home with a broken heart…But the man pretending to be an ordinary guy is far from it. In fact, he shouldn’t get anywhere near Jillian. Yet there’s something about her he can’t resist—and she’s perfect for his cover. Besides, he’s sure he isn’t endangering her. Unfortunately, they’re both wrong.
When someone uses their chairlift for target practice, Jillian ends up wounded—and her dream man promptly disappears. Within days, her car explodes. Just when things can’t get any worse, she’s kidnapped at gunpoint. Soon Jillian’s running for her life, and the only man who can save her is the one who deserted her. Or is he just trying to protect her? And can she survive long enough to find out?
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Out of Character
By Diana Miller
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Diana Miller
All rights reserved.
She was going to die today. She knew it.
Of mortification, at the very least.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry." Jillian Rodgers struggled to plant her poles and push herself off the man she'd sprawled on top of. "Are you all right? Your foot, your leg —"
"I'm fine." He moved her off his lap and extricated his skis from hers.
Jillian's face felt hot enough to melt the snow in a three-foot radius as she untangled the rental skis that clearly hated her. She should have known things were going too well. She'd made it to the lift line and onto the chair without embarrassment, had even gotten off without tripping that nice lady from Texas she'd ridden up with, only to tackle the poor man who'd been on the chair directly in front of her.
Four kids who looked all of six whizzed down the slope beside her. Kids were supposed to be the ones falling, not thirty-two-year-old women. That's why they were so much closer to the ground. Pushing herself up, she missed the packed snow and sank armpit-deep in powder.
A black-gloved hand appeared in front of her face. "Let me help you." Her victim, a man a few years older than her with thick mahogany-colored hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, was already standing.
She extended her unburied hand and let him pull her to her feet, managing to avoid stabbing him with her poles. "Like I said, I'm really sorry." She shook as much snow as possible from her snow-caked glove and arm. A clump of hair escaped her ponytail and flopped over her face. She shoved it behind her ear.
"I shouldn't have stopped that close to the lift. Are you ready to go?" The man looked toward the second chairlift required to reach the run their instructor had specified.
"I guess." Naturally she wouldn't embarrass herself in front of someone she could avoid, but one of her classmates. Naturally he'd be the most attractive man she'd seen in ages.
Not that she'd had any better luck with men lately than with skiing.
Jillian shuffled to the lift line on legs as shaky as a post-op patient's, her focus on a target that, to accommodate today's crowds, was cruising at top speed. She stepped up to the mark, then carefully sat back onto the double chair, staring straight ahead and gripping the metal pole so tightly her hand cramped.
When her skis were safely floating in the air, she relaxed. It was an SPF 40 kind of day, temperature in the high twenties, maximum sun with minimum wind. The sky was that shade of blue it only got halfway to heaven, a stunning backdrop to the mountains with their perfect harmony of greens, purplish-grays, and sparkling white.
All this beauty made her more optimistic. Technically she'd only promised that she'd go to a lesson, not stick it out for the entire three hours. She just had to make it down the hill. Then she'd head back to the lodge, get her book, treat herself to something outrageously fattening, and —
"The mountains are incredible, aren't they?"
Jillian looked at her chair mate and shook her head. "Why aren't you keeping far away from me after how I plowed into you? Are you some kind of masochist?"
"Actually, I figured if I rode up with you, I'd have a better chance of staying out of your way." The man's smile softened his strong features. "I'm kidding. Getting off the lift can be tricky. I've been so busy admiring the view that I've run into people myself."
"I doubt it, but thanks for being so nice." Below, the sun glistened off snow so smooth it looked like a bakery cake ready for frosting rosettes. "You're right about the mountains."
"Being in the Rockies makes me wonder why I live in New York City."
"It's not as bad as living in Denver when you're terrified of skiing."
His eyebrows rose above his polarized lenses. "Was that a hypothetical comment, or are you a terrified Denver resident?"
"Unfortunately, it's not hypothetical."
"So you're only in Keystone for the day?"
"For the week," Jillian said. "I was desperate for a vacation, and my friend Kristen's parents have a townhouse here. I plan on spending my time reading and relaxing. But Kristen made me promise that in return for free lodging, I'd give skiing one last chance and take a lesson today."
"I'll be here all week, too. I'm Mark Jefferson."
"Jillian Rodgers." They'd reached the Prepare to Dismount sign. She raised her ski tips, held her breath. Thankfully, this time she made it without incident to where her dozen classmates had gathered.
The instructor was young, tanned, and so insufferably enthusiastic he must think he was teaching a bunch of gung-ho nine-year-olds rather than cynical adults. "I'll ski to that ridge. Then I want each of you to ski down to me. One at a time, so I can watch you." He pointed at an incline way too steep to be a green run, no matter what the signs said.
Jillian clutched her poles. She was not skiing to that ridge, and the instructor couldn't make her. She was paying him, after all.
Except everyone else in the class would do it. They always did, and she should know with the dozens of skiing classes she'd flunked since moving to Denver six years ago. Just like she would, she acknowledged as she launched herself down the hill when it was her turn. You never outgrew peer pressure.
Jillian was cold and stiff, her heart hammering double-time. Things went downhill from there, despite the suggestions her instructor yelled to her. By the time she snowplowed to a grateful stop, she felt like an ice sculpture on speed.
Mark slid to a hockey stop beside her, a move she'd never dare attempt.
She gave him a suspicious look. "What are you doing here?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you're far too good for this class. Why are you taking it?"
He brushed snow off the sleeve of his black ski jacket. "I broke my leg a few years ago and haven't been skiing since. I thought a lesson might help me ease back into it. We'd better get over there." He glided toward their classmates.
Jillian arrived during introductions, a tactic instructors always used to promote camaraderie. She'd missed most of the names, hometowns, and jobs, although she did learn that Mark was an accountant. Since she was leaving after this run, camaraderie wasn't a priority.
The remainder of the hill looked even steeper than the first part, but Jillian made it down, primarily because Mark skied right above her the entire way, encouraging her and distracting her. So much so that he'd steered her into the lift line before she realized he'd thwarted her escape plan.
Mark rode up the lift with her again and grabbed her arm when they dismounted to stop her wobble from becoming a full-fledged wipeout. As they waited for the rest of their class, Jillian pulled her headband from her sweaty hair.
Mark surveyed the snowcapped peaks and pine-edge slopes with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old on his first trip to Disneyland.
"You still haven't gotten your fill of the mountains," she said.
He shifted his gaze to her and smiled ruefully. "I guess it's obvious I'm a geeky tourist. Why are you scared of skiing?"
"I could claim it's because I'm an ER doctor and know how dangerous skiing is, but the Colorado Tourism Bureau would probably get me fired." Jillian smiled faintly. "It's also a lie, although I did break a finger the last time I skied. I think it's one of those irrational fear things, since I'm usually not a wimp." She pulled off her gloves and stuck them in her pockets, then reached back and tried to stuff several loose hairs back under her ponytail binder. "Kristen's big on self-help books, and she's convinced it's because I'm a control freak. When I ski, I'm out of control, and I can't handle it."
"Maybe a little bit of a control freak," she admitted. "Definitely out of control when I ski. Even when things seem to be going okay, I know my skis are waiting for the first opportunity to dump me into the snow or ram me into a person or tree."
"If you go slower and make wider turns, they won't be able to."
"Except then someone who's out of control will have a better shot at me." She gave up on her hair and shoved her chilly hands back into marginally warmer gloves. "We'd better go." She turned toward their instructor. "I'm planning on ditching the class and heading for the lodge at the end of this run, so it's been nice talking to you."
Mark grabbed her arm. "I've got an idea. Why don't we both skip the class and do a few runs together? I'll ski right above you and make sure you don't get hurt." He removed his sunglasses, revealing a pair of smoky gray eyes. "You've already got good technique." He pulled a cloth from his jacket pocket and polished his glasses. "All you need is a little confidence, and I think skiing with me would help that. Unless you have a husband or boyfriend who might object?"
Her cheeks heated. "Not at the moment. But you don't know what you're offering. You only saw me do one run."
"I'd like to ski with you. I won't let you get hurt, Jillian." His eyes had darkened to charcoal. "You can trust me."
Jillian found herself nodding.
"Good." Mark replaced his sunglasses. "I'll tell our instructor we're bailing out."
Watching him ski away, Jillian fanned her warm face with her gloved hand, as agitated as a high school freshman who'd talked to her secret crush. She'd been so worried about getting up and down the mountain she'd never thought Mark might consider her more than someone to talk to in class. But why else would he have invited her to ski with him, asked her marital status, looked at her like that?
Get real. She dropped her flapping hand. He was bored with a class far too easy for him, didn't want to risk a run-in with a jealous boyfriend or husband, and had looked so serious and intensely at her because he was a serious, intense kind of guy. Accountant-like. All he wanted to do was ski with her, and she had a feeling a couple runs would be enough for both of them.
* * *
To Jillian's surprise, she ended up skiing with Mark the entire afternoon. He was right. She kept her skis under control by making slow, wide turns, as innumerable instructors had also told her. This time, however, she didn't have to worry about anyone smashing into her because Mark skied above her, encouraging her. Her confidence grew, until after a lengthy chairlift ride, she looked down on an incline in Mount Everest territory, at least according to the figure eights her stomach was doing. "No way." She turned to find another route down.
Mark had been admiring the scenery, but now he caught her arm and met her eyes. He'd replaced his sunglasses with metal-rimmed glasses. "You can do it, Jillian. Just keep doing what you've been doing. I'll be right behind you."
Jillian took a deep breath, tightened her hands on her poles, and pushed herself off. She started slowly, her skis barely angled downhill, with Mark skiing above her. After a moment, though, she realized she had enough control to avoid any skiers in her way. She didn't need his protection. She accelerated, her skis gliding across snow that glistened like platinum in the late afternoon sun, a cool breeze caressing her cheeks. By the time she reached the bottom she was laughing, her heart pounding with exhilaration and adrenaline as if she'd won Olympic gold rather than simply made it down an intermediate slope. She grabbed Mark's arm the instant he skied up beside her. "That was wonderful. I felt like I was flying. Thank you."
"My pleasure." His smile was warm, his eyes even warmer. Her body heated as she stood there, staring at him.
He broke eye contact, pulled up his sleeve, and glanced at his watch. "It's ten after four," he said in the easy tone he'd used all afternoon. "How much longer do you want to ski?"
Jillian forced herself to match his tone. "I'd better stop now. I was supposed to meet Kristen at the lodge at four, and if I'm any later, she'll worry I broke something major. Thanks for your help."
"I enjoyed it."
"Maybe I'll run into you again. Hopefully not literally." She started for the lodge.
"Would you have dinner with me tonight?"
Jillian turned back toward Mark. She hadn't seen that one coming. Of course, she wouldn't accept, even though he'd told her he was single and unattached. Skiing together was one thing, but a date was an entirely different matter. She never dated any man she hadn't checked out and certainly not one she'd met on the ski slopes who might be lying about his marital status, his name, even be a vacationing serial killer for all she knew. She opened her mouth to refuse.
And met his dark velvet eyes. On the other hand, she'd drive herself, and how much trouble could she get into at a crowded restaurant? "I'd like that."
* * *
"You have a date tonight and didn't tell me before now?" Kristen Bartlett plopped down on a brown leather sofa in the living room of her parents' townhouse. Despite a day of skiing, her shoulder-length dark hair fell in a smooth, shining bob, and her makeup was as flawless as when they'd left the townhouse that morning. Then again, Kristen always looked perfect. Tall, naturally thin, and model beautiful, she was also one of those woman who never had a bad hair or fat jeans day, never got dark circles, zits, or chipped a nail. She even looked good when she cried.
Jillian had decided long ago that if she hadn't loved Kristen like a sister, she would definitely have hated her.
"I waited until we got somewhere private because I knew you'd make it into a big deal, even though it isn't," Jillian said.
"It's a very big deal." Kristen rested her stocking feet on the reclaimed wood coffee table. "You haven't had a single date in over six months. I didn't even take that long after my divorce."
"I've been busy." Jillian walked to the kitchen. She really didn't want to have this discussion again.
"Bull. You're a lot less busy than during your residency, and you found time to date then. You're still upset Andy left you for Tiffany."
"Thanks for reminding me." Jillian grabbed a bottled water and slammed the refrigerator door shut. As she strode back to the living room, she pointedly avoided the oversized mirror on the dining room wall. She didn't need to look to know her ponytail was limp yet frizzy and her supposedly all-day blush and lipstick had faded from her pale skin. She wasn't the perfect type. Her lips twisted as she loosened the bottle top. Perfect women didn't get dumped for twenty-year-old file clerks.
"I wasn't trying to make you feel bad," Kristen said with a sincerity Jillian knew was genuine. They'd been best friends since college. "I was simply explaining why this date is so terrific."
Jillian sat down in a beige and brown striped armchair next to the fireplace. "It's just one date. Mark lives in New York City. After tonight I'll probably never see him again." She took a long drink of water.
"Andy lives in Denver."
Kristen's satisfied smile telegraphed she was about to top Jillian's date in the big deal department. "He called me a couple days ago. He's broken up with the Barbie doll."
"Why? Did he find someone even younger?"
"He's clearly realized there's more to a relationship than tits and ass. He's going to call you after we get back. Would you consider getting back together with him?"
Jillian opened her mouth to say of course, but closed it before the words emerged. Andy had hurt her, and she wasn't sure she wanted to risk that again. More important, while she'd thought she'd loved him, had even thought they'd end up married, after the initial shock she hadn't been as devastated as she'd expected. She wasn't sure how much of the hurt was from a broken heart as opposed to the humiliation of being dumped for Tiffany. "I don't know."
"Andy's been my friend since law school, but he was a jerk to you, and I hate him for that," Kristen said. "I don't want you to risk trying again with him unless you're sure. I've been worried that if you haven't been near another man in six months, you might mistake lust for love when you see Andy. But now that you have a date —" She waved her hand.
"I'm not sleeping with Mark." Jillian took another drink of water then set the bottle on the fireplace hearth. "To be honest, I'm not sure I should even go out with him tonight. Something about him makes me nervous."
Excerpted from Out of Character by Diana Miller. Copyright © 2015 Diana Miller. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I can't wait to read her other books. I loved the way Paul was so indifferent to her. I really the relationship between the two. Ryan need his own story. I loved him as a co star. Although he didn't have a major role until the end I felt like he was in the book from the very beginning. Sarah was great. Loved it.
3.5 stars. Well rounded story, but nothing to blow me away. Reviewed for Read Your Writes Book Reviews by Gemini Out of Character was a good romantic suspense novel. It has the customary plot twists and romantic interludes with just the right amount of heat. The characters were likeable and had interesting back stories. Out of Character was very well written and was not the least bit predictable. From beginning to end, I felt like I got a well-rounded story that closed without any loose ends. However, there was nothing that truly stood out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just pointing out that it was on par with other books I have read from this genre. Jillian Rodgers steps out of her comfort zone in order to move on from a failed relationship and ends up in the cross hairs of a criminal organization. She doesn’t know who to trust and loses her best friend in the process. As an ER doctor, she is usually in control and has a hard time dealing with her current chaotic situation. To make it more difficult, she inadvertently falls for a CIA operative. He comes with his own set of baggage which further complicates things. How they sort things out between each other is far more interesting than how they elude the bad guys. They spend a lot of time fighting their attraction to each other and we know that can’t last forever since they fit together nicely between the sheets. While I was not blown away by the book, I would definitely read another novel from Diana Miller. **Received a copy from Lyrical Shine in exchange for an honest unbiased opinion.** Rating: 3.5 stars
The plot is great. The prologue just sets a great tone of suspense, and takes a hold of your interest. And the suspense and action is riveting. There are so many twists and surprises, really no idea who is telling the truth, who can you trust, and where will the story go next. There's betrayal, lies, death, sorrow, fear, passion, danger, and risks. Yet, I don't get any of the emotions from the characters that any of these events should, and would, bring out. And I liked the characters, even though Jillian throws temper tantrums like a little kid, and the way the hero treats her at times is just terrible. Yes, there's an excuse he has for this, but still there could have been another way to reach the same results. I nearly gave up on this book, something I just about never do, but I didn't, and read it all the way. And I'm glad that I did, since the turns of the events are rather exciting, at least for me. There's not much dialog in the story, maybe that could have brought some more emotions out of the characters, given them feelings and fervor to reveal. But for the plot ~ Three Spoons
Out of Character by Diana Miller is really a book just like its title. After so many “easy” romance novel it was such a nice change to read again a “good old suspense romance” . Finally a book that has his focus on a background story as well as on the story that is binding the characters. Honestly – you release a movie to this one – I buy the ticketIt will be something in the line of “Transporter” or “Die Hard” just with more romance inside and featuring another main lead actor … something yummy… Yeah I admit there were two small items along the way which I am sure I should not mention here – because I hate to spoiler any of the content and I think it’s only me because I am a freak when it comes to the details of a storyline and if something works out or not. But my mood after reading this book was so good that even those small “things” couldn’t take a star away. I mean really there were one or two chapter endings that hat me shivering and send goosebumps along my arms … when I finally turned the page to the next chapter … #lets say I was considering to have a intense discussion with the author about the serious side effects for my heart. The writing was flawless and the story was fully developed – the characters were great and I am on my way to check out the other books from this author ….