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Chapter OneGabriel Riggs got out of his rented four-wheel drive and stood beside it for a moment, going over his todo list one final time in his mind. Fly back from Nicaragua. Check. Drive to Aspen. Check. Smash through the gate cordoning off the drive leading up the mountain to Larry Kanin's ski chalet. Check. There was only one item left on the list.
Find that bastard Larry and make him sorry he was ever -
"Your keys, sir? I'll park your car with the others."
Gabe frowned at the muscular young man confronting him. In the light from the Olympic-style torches lining the drive, the security guard's fresh face contrasted with the commando-like gear he was wearing. The guard's eyes narrowed.
"Wait a minute. Are you on the guest list?"
Gabe headed past him toward the redwood steps ascending to the veranda. Kanin's man grabbed his arm. "If you're not on the list, you're going to have to be escorted off the -"
Get past Security. Check.
Gabe crossed the veranda, not bothering to look back at the sprawled figure in the snow behind him. That was Larry all over, he thought savagely. All style and no substance, even down to the beefcake he had guarding his own property. But hell, when all someone cared about was the bottom line, maybe style was all it took. Recoveries International's corporate clientele roster grew every time Kanin attended a function flanked by his six-and-a-half-foot blond robots.
Probably even Tech-Oil Consolidated would stay with the firm. After all, the death of one of their employees at the hands of kidnappers had saved them a bundle.
The noise hit him as he entered the chalet - a raucous mix of laughter, too-loud music and brittle voices. He'd heard about the beautiful people, Gabe thought, scanning the room and taking in the cluster of apre's-skiers by the fireplace, the group near a buffet table. He guessed that was who these people were, but Kanin wasn't among them. He switched his attention to a redhead who was favoring him with an appraising glance.
"Who cares?" Her hair looked as if she'd just gotten out of bed, but maybe it was supposed to look that way. "I love the silver cuff you're wearing, handsome. It's Apache, isn't it?"
At the far side of the room an open set of polished wood stairs swept in a large curve to a second floor. Kanin had to be upstairs.
Gabe shook his head. "Navajo."
It was an effort to make even that much conversation. He tried to tell himself that what he was feeling was jet lag, or exhaustion from going the past three days without sleep, but he knew it wasn't either of those. These people and their world meant nothing to him. He was here only to settle an account.
He put his foot on the bottommost stair. He looked up and saw the woman, and for half a heartbeat all else fell away.
She was like ice and snow and crystals, he thought, his chest feeling suddenly too tight. Her eyes were the color of an alpine lake, her hair a silvery blond pulled back from the creamy oval of her face and coiled at the nape of her neck. She was wearing a white sweater, white slim-fitting ski pants, small white boots with heels. A full-length coat of some kind of white fur hung from her shoulders.
Even as she swept down the staircase toward him, Larry Kanin appeared at the top of the stairs behind her.
Oxygen slammed back into Gabe's lungs.
"For God's sake, Caro, you're overreacting." Kanin's well-cut lips tightened. "So Jinx and I were having a little fun. It didn't mean anything."
The woman stopped halfway down the stairs. "This is what doesn't mean anything anymore, Larry."
Swiftly she removed a blazing diamond from one finger and flung it over the heads of the guests below. The ring sparkled over the buffet table and landed in a bowl of salmon mousse.
But the woman Kanin had called Caro didn't wait to see it fall. Gabe just had time to step aside before she moved by him, her head held high and those starry eyes not registering his existence. The fur of her coat brushed coldly against his arm, the faint scent that enveloped her - it smelled like small white flowers, he thought disjointedly - touched him briefly, and then she was past. He heard the front door open and close.
Kanin had followed Caro part of the way down the stairs, and for a moment Gabe thought he meant to go after her. Then Larry shrugged, the anger in his eyes quickly concealed.
"I promised entertainment, didn't I?" he drawled to his assembled guests. "Whichever one of you ladies finds that ring first gets to keep it."
There was a chorus of surprised laughter from the females in his party and a general rumble of amusement from the men. The buffet table was instantly surrounded.
Kanin had been watching the stampede that his announcement had started. At Gabe's greeting, his gaze swung away from his guests.
"God - Riggs! What the hell are you doing here?"
"The same thing your woman just did." Gabe mounted the steps that divided them. "I'm breaking up with you, Larry."
Kanin frowned. "This isn't the time or the place, Riggs. We'll talk at the office on -"
"They weren't asking much in the first place. When I reported in by phone I told you I was pretty sure we'd be able to get it down to a quarter-mill, tops." Gabe looked over at the buffet table. "I don't get it. You just turned close to that amount into a party favor."
"For Christ -" Kanin's jaw tightened. "I recommended Tech-Oil draw a line in the sand, all right? They do a lot of business in volatile regions, and if they got the reputation of being patsies for every guerrilla leader looking to fund his war chest, they'd be out of business in a month."
"So instead of advising Tech-Oil to increase security for its people, you told them to stall on delivering the good-faith payment to the kidnappers." Gabe nodded. "I just needed to hear you confirm it. Like I said, we're through. And since I don't have a diamond to throw over this banister -"
Excerpted from Shotgun Daddy by Harper Allen Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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