Silent Night Man
What does Millie Evans want for Christmas? To feel safe. Even though her stalker is dead, he arranged for a hit man to kill her. Now the special government agent Millie has loved from afar for years has vowed to protect her. Tony Danzetta moves the prim librarian into his home and guards her 24/7. Dare she dream of keeping Tony, her own silent night man, by her side forever?
Wyoming rancher and single father Quinn Sutton is raising a child he knows isn't his own. All the love left in his guarded heart goes to the boy. But when a beautiful city woman is stranded nearby in a blizzard, he rescues her and brings her to Ricochet Ranch. Amanda Callaway has her own secrets and plans to keep her distance. If only she weren't falling for her unlikely hero…
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
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At the funeral home the friend of the deceased was a big, richly dressed man who looked like a professional wrestler. He was wearing expensive clothing and a cashmere coat. He had olive skin, black eyes and wavy black hair that he wore in a long ponytail. He stood over the casket without saying a word. He looked aloof. He looked dangerous. He hadn't spoken to anyone since he entered the building.
Tony Danzetta stared down at John Hamilton's casket with an expression like stone, although he was raging inside. It was hard to look at the remains of a man he'd known and loved since high school. His best friend was dead. Dead, because of a woman.
Tony's friend, Frank Mariott, had phoned him at the home of the man he was working for temporarily in Ja-cobsville, Texas. Tony had planned to stay around for a little longer, take a few weeks off from work before he went back to his real job. But the news about John had sent him rushing home to San Antonio.
Of the three of them, John had been the weak link. The other two were always forced to save him from himself. He fantasized about people and places that he considered were part of his life. Often the people were shocked to learn that he was telling his friends that he was on close terms with them.
Tony and Frank thought that John was harmless. He just wanted to be somebody. He was the son of people who worked for a local clothing manufacturing company. When the company moved outside the United States, they went to work at retail stores. Neither of them finished high school, but John often made up stories to tell classmates about his famous rich parents who had a yacht and their own airplane. Tony and Frank knew better, but they let him spin his yarns. They understood him.
But now John was dead, and that… woman was responsible! He could still see her face from the past, red with embarrassment when she'd asked him about one of their assignments at the adjunct college class they were both taking in criminal justice. That had been six years ago. She couldn't even talk to a man without stammering and shaking. Millie Evans had mousy-brown hair and green eyes. She wore glasses. She was thin and unremarkable. But Tony's adopted foster mother, who had been an archivist at the local library, was Millicent Evans's superior and she liked Millie. She was always talking about her to Tony, pushing her at him, right up until the day she died.
Tony couldn't have told his foster mother, but he knew too much about the girl to be interested in her. John had become fixated on her a couple of years ago and during one of Tony's rare visits home, had told him about her alter ego. In private, he said, Millie was hot. Give her a couple of beers and she'd do anything a man wanted her to do. That prim, nervous pose was just that—a pose. She wasn't shy and retiring. She was a party girl. She'd even done a threesome with him and their friend Frank, he'd told Tony in confidence. Don't mention that to Frank, though, he'd added, because Frank was still embarrassed about it.
What Tony had learned about Millie Evans had turned him right off her. Not that he'd found her attractive before that. She was another in a long line of dull, staid spinsters who'd do anything to get a man. Poor John. He'd felt sorry for his friend, because John was obsessed with Millicent Evans. To John, Millie was the queen of Sheba, the ultimate female. Sometimes she loved him, John moaned, but other times she treated him like a complete stranger. Other times, she complained that he was stalking her. Ridiculous, John had told Tony. As if he had to stalk her, when she was often waiting for him at his apartment, when he got off from work as a night watchman, wearing nothing at all!
John's description of the spinster was incomprehensible to Tony, who'd had beautiful, intelligent, wealthy women after him. He'd never had to chase a woman. Mil-licent Evans had no looks, no personality and she seemed rather dull witted. He never had been able to understand what John saw in her.
Now John was dead. Millicent Evans had driven him to suicide. Tony stared at the pale, lifeless face and rage built inside him. What sort of woman used a man like that, abused his love to the extent that she caused him to take his own life?
The funeral director had a phone call, which forced him to approach the silent man in the viewing room. He paused beside him. "Would you be Mr. Danzetta?" the man asked respectfully. The caller had identified him as tall and unconventional looking. That was an understatement. Up close, the man was enormous, and those black eyes cut like a diamond.
"I'm Tony Danzetta," he replied in a deep, gravelly voice.
"Your friend Mr. Mariott just phoned to tell us to expect you. He said you had a special request about the burial?"
"Yes," Tony told him. In his cashmere coat, that reached down to his ankles, he looked elegant. "I have two plots in a perpetual care cemetery just outside San Antonio, a short distance from where my foster mother is buried. I'd like you to put John in one of them." He was remembering a hill in Cherokee, North Carolina, where his mother was buried and a cemetery in Atlanta that held the remains of his father and his younger sister. He'd been in San Antonio since junior high school, with his foster mother. He described the plots, one of which he intended for John. "I have a plat of the location in my safe-deposit box. If I could drop it by in the morning?"
"Today would be better," the man replied apologetically. "We have to get our people to open the grave and prepare it for the service on the day after tomorrow, you understand."
He was juggling appointments, one of which was with his banker about a transfer of funds. But he smiled, as if it was of no consequence. He could get the plat out of the box while he was doing business at the bank. "No problem. I'll drop it by on my way to the hotel tonight."
"Thank you. That will save us a bit of bother."
Tony looked down at John. "You did a good job," he said quietly. "He looks… the way he used to look."
The man smiled broadly.
Tony looked at his watch. "I have to go. I'll be back when I've finished my business in town."
"If Frank shows up before I get back, tell him that, will you? And tell him not to go out for food. I'll take him out to eat tonight."
The funeral director walked out of the viewing room, pausing to speak to someone. Tony, his eyes resting sadly on his friend's face, only half noticed the conversation.
He heard soft footsteps come toward the casket and pause beside him. He turned his head. And there she was. The culprit herself. She'd be twenty-six now, he judged, and she was no more attractive than she'd been all those years ago. She dressed better. She was wearing a neat gray suit with a pink blouse and a thick dark coat. Her dark brown hair was in a bun. She was wearing contacts in her green eyes, he imagined, because his foster mother had often mentioned how nearsighted she was. The lack of glasses didn't help her to look any prettier. She had a nice mouth and good skin, but she held no attraction for Tony. Especially after she'd been responsible for his best friend's death.
"I'm very sorry," she said quietly. She looked at John with no visible sign of emotion. "I never meant it to end like this."
"Didn't you?" He turned, his hands in the pockets of his coat, as he glared down at her with piercing dark eyes. "Teasing him for years, playing hard to get, then calling the police to have him arrested as a stalker? And you didn't mean it to end like this?"
She felt cold all over. She knew he'd worked in construction years ago, but there had been rumors about him since, whispers. Dark whispers. John had intimated that Tony was into illegal operations, that he'd killed men. Looking into his black eyes now, she could believe it. He wasn't the man she'd known. What had he said about her teasing John?
"Don't bother to lie," he said icily, cutting off her question even before it got out of her mouth. "John told me all about you."
Her eyebrows arched. What was there to tell, except that his friend John had almost destroyed her life? She drew herself up straighter. "Yes, he was quite good at telling people about me," she began.
"I never could understand what he saw in you," he continued, his voice as pleasant as his eyes were homicidal. "You're nothing to look at. I wouldn't give you a second look if you were dripping diamonds."
That hurt. She tried not to let it show, but it did. God knew what John had told him.
"I…have to go," she stammered. She was no good at confrontations. This big man was looking for a fight. Millie had no weapons against him. Long ago, the spirit had been beaten out of her.
"What, no urge to linger and gloat over your triumph?" He laughed coldly. "The man is dead. You drove him to suicide!"
She turned, her heart breaking, and met the tall man's eyes. "You and Frank could never see it," she replied.
"You wouldn't see it. Other men have infatuations. John had obsessions. He was arrested other times for stalking women—"
"I imagine you put the women up to reporting him," he interrupted. "John said you'd accuse him of stalking and then be waiting for him at his apartment, wearing no clothes at all."
She didn't seem surprised at the comment. He couldn't know that she was used to John's accusations. Much too used to them for comfort.
She moved one shoulder helplessly. "I tried to make him get help. When I finally had him arrested, I spoke to the district attorney myself and requested that they give him a psychiatric evaluation. John refused it."
"Of course he refused it. There was nothing wrong with his mind!" he shot back. "Unless you could call being infatuated with you a psychiatric problem." He raised both eyebrows. "Hell, I'd call it one!"
"Call it whatever you like," she said wearily. She glanced once more at John and turned away from the casket.
"Don't bother coming to the funeral," he said coldly. "You won't be welcome."
"Don't worry, I hadn't planned to," she replied.
He took a quick step toward her, infuriated by her lukewarm attitude, his dark eyes blazing with fury.
She gasped, dropped her purse and jumped back away from him. Her face was white.
Surprised, he stopped in his tracks.
She bent and scrambled for her purse, turned and ran out of the room.
There were murmurs outside the room. He glanced back at John, torn between anger and grief. "God, I'm sorry," he said softly to his friend. "I'm so sorry!"
He forced himself to leave. The funeral director was standing at the front door, looking worried.
"The young lady was very upset," he said uneasily. "White as a sheet and crying."
"I'm sure she was grieving for John," Tony said nonchalantly. "They knew each other a long time."
"Oh. That would explain it, then."
Tony walked to his car and felt better. At least he'd dragged some emotion out of her on behalf of his friend. He got behind the wheel of his expensive sports car and revved it out of the funeral home parking lot, his mind already on his appointment with the bank.
Millie Evans sat at the wheel of her little black VW Beetle and watched Tony drive away, out of her life. She was still crying. His coldness, his fury, had hurt her. She'd had to deal with John's histrionics and threats for two years, watching her life and career go down the drain while he told lies about her to anyone gullible enough to listen. He'd persecuted her, tormented her, made a hell of her daily life. Now he was dead, and Tony wanted to make her pay for driving his poor, helpless friend to suicide.
She wiped at her eyes with a handkerchief. Poor friend, the devil! Perhaps if he and Frank had realized that John was mentally ill years ago, they might have made him get help. He might have straightened out his life and gone on.
Millie was secretly relieved that John hadn't carried out his last, furious threat to end her life. He'd told her that she wouldn't get away with rejecting him. He had friends, he told her, who wouldn't hesitate to kill her for the right amount of money. He had savings, he'd raged; he'd use it all. He'd make sure she didn't live to gloat about pushing him out of her life!
She'd worried about that threat. The news was full of people who'd gone off the deep end and killed others they blamed for their problems, before killing themselves. It was, sadly, a fact of modern life. But she'd never dreamed that she—plain, prim little Millie Evans—would ever have something like that happen to her. Most people never even noticed her.
She'd wanted to be noticed by Tony. She'd loved him forever, it seemed. While his foster mother was alive, she'd coaxed the older woman into talking about her adoptive son. Tony had come a long way from North Carolina. He and his sister, both Cherokee, had lived with their mother and her abusive husband—but not their biological father—in Atlanta just briefly, but the man drank to excess and was brutal to the children.