An innocent woman witnesses a brutal murder and turns to a sexy deputy for protection in USA TODAY bestselling author Cassie Miles's new thriller
Anticipating a week of skiing and self-indulgence at a luxurious Colorado condo, Sasha Campbell gets more than she bargained for. Some innocent spying one evening takes a sinister turn when she witnesses a woman's murder. And unfortunately for Sasha, she could be next in line.
Brady Ellis is the only thing standing between predator and prey. The small-county deputy knows protecting Sasha will be his greatest challenge. And he's not taking any chances. Moving her from the resort to his family's ranch, Brady quickly finds himself drawn to Sasha in less than professional ways. But the job has to come firstespecially when they wind up face-to-face with the killer.
About the Author
USA TODAY bestselling author Cassie Miles lives in Colorado. After raising two daughters and cooking tons of macaroni and cheese for her family, Cassie is trying to be more adventurous in her culinary efforts. She's discovered that almost anything tastes better with wine. When she's not plotting Harlequin Intrigue books, Cassie likes to hang out at the Denver Botanical Gardens near her high-rise home.
Read an Excerpt
If ninety-two-year-old mogul and client Virgil P. Westfield hadn't died last night under suspicious circumstances, legal assistant Sasha Campbell would never have been entrusted with this important assignment in the up-and-coming resort town of Arcadia, Colorado. She draped her garment bag over a chair and strolled across the thick carpet in the posh, spacious, brand-new corporate condo owned by her employer, the law firm of Samuels, Sorenson and Smith, often referred to as the Three Ss, or the Three Asses, depending upon one's perspective. Currently, she was in their good graces, especially with her boss, Damien Loughlin, Westfield's lawyer-slash-confidant back in Denver, and she meant to keep it that way. With this assignment, she could prove herself to be professional and worthy of promotion. Someday, she wanted to get more training and become a mediator.
"Where do you want the suitcase?" Her brother Alex was a junior member of the legal team at the Three Ss and had driven her here from Denver. He hauled her luggage through the condo's entrance.
"Just leave it by the door. I'll figure that out later."
Before the mysterious death of Mr. Westfield, she and Damien had been scheduled to stay at the five-bedroom condo while attending a week-long series of meetings with the four investors who had financed Arcadia Ski Resort Colorado's newest luxury destination for winter sports.
That plan had changed. Damien would stay in Denver, dealing with problems surrounding the Westfield estate, and Sasha was on her own at Arcadia. Nobody expected her to replace a senior partner, of course. She was a legal assistant, not a lawyer. But she'd been sitting in on the Arcadia meetings for months. They knew and trusted her. And Damien would be in constant contact via internet conferencing. Frankly, she was glad she wouldn't have to put up with Damien's posturing; the meetings went more smoothly when he wasn't there.
Drawn to the view through the windows, she crossed the room, unlocked the door and stepped onto the balcony to watch the glorious sunset over the ski slopes. Though the resort wouldn't be officially open until the gala event on Saturday, the chairlifts and gondolas were already in operation. She saw faraway skiers and snowboarders racing over moguls on their last runs of the day. Streaks of crimson, pink and gold lit the skies and reflected in the windows of the nine-story Gateway Hotel opposite the condo. In spite of the cold and the snow, she felt warmed from within.
Life was good. Her bills were paid. She liked her job. And she'd knocked off those pesky five pounds and fit into her skinny jeans with an inch to spare. Even the new highlights and lowlights in her long blond hair had turned out great. She was gradually trying to go a few shades darker. At the law office, it was bad enough to be only twenty-three years old. But being blonde on top of that? She wanted to go for a more serious look so she'd be considered for more of these serious assignments. Alex tromped onto the balcony. "I can't believe you get to stay here for five days for free."
"It's not fair. You don't even ski."
He gestured with his hands inside his pockets, causing his black overcoat to flap like a raven's wings. There hadn't been time for him to change from his suit and tie before they'd left Denver. Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour drive, he'd complained about her good luck in being chosen for this assignment. Among her four older brothers and sisters, Alex was the grumpy one, the sorest of sore losers and a vicious tease.
She wouldn't have asked him to drive her, but she'd been expecting to ride up with Damien since her car was in the shop. "This isn't really a vacation. I have to record the meetings and take notes every morning."
"Big whoop," he muttered. "You should send the late Virgil P. a thank-you card for taking a header down the grand staircase in his mansion."
"That's a horrible thing to say." Mr. Westfield was a nice old gentleman who had bequeathed a chunk of his fortune to a cat-rescue organization. His heirs didn't appreciate that generosity.
"Speaking of thank-you notes," he said, "I deserve something for getting you a job with the Three Assses."
The remarkable sunset was beginning to fade, along with her feeling that life was a great big bowl of cheerfulness. "Number one, you didn't get me the job. You told me about the opening, but I got hired on my own merits."
"It didn't hurt to have me in your corner."
Alex was a second-year associate attorney, not one of the top dogs at the firm. His opinion about hiring wouldn't have influenced the final decision. "Number two, if you want to stay here at the condo, I'm sure it can be arranged. You could teach me to ski."
He gave her an evil grin. "Like when we were kids and I taught you how to ride a bike."
"I remember." She groaned. "I zoomed downhill like a rocket and crashed into a tree."
"You were such a klutz."
"I was five. My feet barely reached the pedals."
"You begged me for lessons."
That was true. She'd been dying to learn how to ride. "You were thirteen. You should have known better."
His dark blue eyesthe same color as hersnarrowed. "I got in so much trouble. Mom grounded me for a week."
And Sasha still had a jagged scar on her knee. "Way to hold a grudge, Alex."
"What makes you think you have the authority to invite me to stay here?"
"I don't," she said quickly, "but I'm sure Damien wouldn't mind."
"So now you speak for him? Exactly how close are you two?"
Not as close as everybody seemed to think. Sure, Damien Loughlin was a great-looking high-powered attorney and eligible bachelor. And, yes, he'd chosen her to work with him on Arcadia. But there was nothing between them. "I'd have to call him and ask for an okay, but I don't see why he'd say no."
"You've got him wrapped around your little finger."
Alex made a quick pivot and stalked back into the condo. Reluctantly, she followed, hoping that he wouldn't take her up on her invite. Spending five days with Alex would be like suffocating under an avalanche of negativity.
Muttering to himself, he prowled through the large space. On the opposite side of the sunken conversation pit was an entire wall devoted to electronicsflat-screens, computers and gaming systems.
"Cool toys," her brother said as he checked out the goodies. "Damien is the one who usually stays here, isn't he?"
"Makes sense," she said with a shrug. "He's handled most of the legal work for Arcadia."
"He's kept everybody else away from the project."
"It's his choice," she said defensively. The four Arcadia investors were rich, powerful andin their own wayas eccentric as Mr. Westfield had been about his cats. They insisted on one lawyer per case. Not a team. The only reason she was in the room was that somebody had to take notes and get the coffee.
"Binoculars." Alex held up a pair of large black binoculars. "I wonder what Damien uses these for."
"He mentioned stargazing."
"Grow up, baby sister. His balcony is directly across from the Gateway Hotel. I'll bet he peeks in the windows."
Carrying the binoculars, he marched across the room and opened the balcony door. "The guests at that hotel are super rich. I heard there'll be a couple of movie stars and supermodels at the big gala on Saturday."
"Alex, don't." She felt as if she was five years old, poised at the top of the steep hill on a bike that was too big, destined for a crash. By the time she was on the balcony, he was already aiming the binocular lenses. "Please, don't."
"Come on, this is something your darling Damien probably does every night before he goes to bed."
"No way. And he's not my darling Damien."
"I've heard otherwise." He continued to stare through the binoculars. "I'm actually kind of proud. Kudos, Sasha. You're sleeping your way to the top."
She wasn't surprised by gossip from the office staff, but Alex was her brother. He was supposed to be on her side. "I'm not having sex with Damien."
"Don't play innocent with me. I'm your brother. I know better. I remember what happened with Jason Foley."
Jason had been her first love in high school, and she'd broken up with him before they'd gone all the way. But that wasn't the story he'd told. Jason had blabbed to the whole school that she had sex with him. He'd destroyed her reputation and had written a song about it. "How could you?"
"Trashy Sasha." Her brother recalled the title to the song. "No big deal. You could do a lot worse than Damien Loughlin."
"That's enough. You should go. Now."
He lowered the binoculars and scowled disapprovingly at her. "Even if you weren't having sex with him, what did you think was going to happen this week? You were going to stay here alone with him."
"It's a five-bedroom condo. I have my own bedroom, bathroom and a door that locks." And she didn't have to justify her behavior. "I want you to leave, Alex."
"Fine." He set the binoculars down, stuck his hands into his overcoat pockets and left the balcony.
She followed him across the condo, fighting the urge to kick him in the butt. Why did he always have to be so mean? Alex was the only person in her family who still lived in Denver, and they worked in the same office. Would it kill him to be someone she could turn to?
At the door, Alex pivoted to face her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
"You got that right."
"You're too damn naive, Sasha. You look around and see rainbows. I see the coming storm. This condo is a first-class bachelor pad, and Damien is a smooth operator. You'd better be careful, sis."
As soon as the door closed behind him, she flipped the dead bolt, grabbed the handle on her suitcase and wheeled it across the condo into the first bedroom she found in the hallway. Her brother was a weasel for trying to make her feel guilty when she had every reason to be happy about this assignment. The fact that Damien and the other partners trusted her enough to let her take notes at these meetings was a huge vote of confidence. She wasn't going to be a paralegal for the rest of her career, and she'd need the support of the firm to take classes and get the training she needed to become a mediator.
She unpacked quickly. In the closet, she hung the garment bag with the dress she'd be wearing to the galaa black gown with a deeply plunging neckline. Too plunging? Was she unconsciously flirting? Well, what was she supposed to do? Shuffle around in a burka?
Across the hall from her bedroom, she found a hot tub in a paneled room with tons of windows and leafy green plants. Damien had mentioned the hot tub, and the idea of a long, soothing soak was one of the reasons she'd agreed to this trip. She'd even brought her bathing suit. Following posted instructions, she turned on the heat for the water.
On her way to the kitchen, she paused in the dining area by the back windows. On a bookshelf, under a signed seri-graph of a skier by LeRoy Neiman, was a remote control. She punched the top button and smooth, sultry jazz came on. Another remote button dimmed the lights. Another turned on the electric fireplace in the conversation pit. Though she didn't want to think of this condo as a bachelor pad, the lighting and sexy music set a classic mood for seduction.
In the kitchen, she checked out the fridge. The lower shelf held four bottles of pricey champagne. Not a good sign. It was beginning to look as if Alex the grump had been right, and Damien had more than business on his mind.
She should have seen it coming. This was Jason Foley all over again, strumming his twelve-string and singing about Trashy Sasha. If she wanted to squash rumors before they started, she'd get a room at the hotel. As if she could afford to stay there. And why should she run off with her tail between her legs? She hadn't done anything to be ashamed of.
Her fingers wrapped around the neck of a champagne bottle. She was here and might as well enjoy it. She popped the cork and poured the bubbly liquid into a handy crystal flute that Damien had probably used a million times to seduce hapless ladies. And why not? He was single, and they were consenting adults.
"Here's to you." She raised her glass in toast to her absent boss and took a sip. "This is one consenting adult you're not going to bed with."
Taking the champagne with her, she changed into her bathing suit and went to the hot tub, where she soaked and drank. All she had to do was just say no. If people wanted to think the worst, that was their problem.
The windows above the hot tub looked out on a pristine night sky. As she gazed at the moon and stars, her vision blurred. Was she getting drunk? Oh, good. Real professional. Clearly, three glasses of champagne were enough.
Leaving the tub, she slipped into a white terry-cloth bathrobe that had been hanging on a peg. Though she wasn't really hungry, she ought to eat. But first she needed to retrieve the binoculars Alex had left on the balcony.
After a detour to the bedroom, where she stuck her feet into her cozy faux-fur boots, she crossed the room and opened the balcony door. The bracing cold smacked her in the face, but she was still warm from the hot tub and the champagne. She picked up the binoculars. Even if Damien was a womanizer, it was ridiculous to think that he might be a Peeping Tom. He probably couldn't see into the hotel at all.
Holding the binoculars to her eyes, she adjusted the knobs and focused on the nine-story building that was a couple of hundred yards away. Only half the windows were lit. The hotel guests might be out for a late dinner. Or maybe the rooms were vacant. The resort wouldn't officially be open until after the Saturday-night gala.
Her sight line into one of the floor-to-ceiling windows was incredibly clear. She saw a couple of beautiful people sitting at a table, eating and drinking. The woman had long black hair and was wearing a white jumpsuit, an elaborate gold necklace draped across her cleavage. She was stunning. The man appeared to be an average guy with dark hair and a black turtleneck. Sasha's view of him was obscured by a ficus tree.
Spying on them ranked high on the creepiness scale, but the peek into someone else's life was kind of fascinating. Sasha noticed they weren't talking much, and she wondered if they'd been together for a long time and were so comfortable with each other that words were unnecessary. Someday she hoped to have a sophisticated relationship like that. Or maybe not. Silence was boring.
Despite telling herself to stop spying, she switched to a different window on another floor, where two men were watching television. In another room, a woman was doing yoga, moving into Downward-Facing Dog pose. Apparently, the floor-to-ceiling windows were in only the front room, which was fine with Sasha. She had no intention of peering into bedrooms.