Authors: Jaycee Clark
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #General, #Contemporary, #Erotica, #Romance Fiction, #Colorado, #Violence, #Suspense Fiction
© copyright April 2004, Jamie Houdyshell
Cover art by Eliza Black, © copyright April 2004
New Concepts Publishing
5202 Humphreys Rd.
Lake Park, GA 31636
Acknowledgments and Dedication
First off, I must thank my critique partners for reading through this, not once, not twice, but several times. There are a special few who read parts even more, brainstormed and listened to complaints and answered unnumbered questions. So a special thanks to: Gail, Shalon, Donna, and Tracy. And Jules, you’re one in a million.
I’d like to thank Andie Ruggera of the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department for patiently answering all my questions.
Thanks to Andrea DePasture, my editor. You’re a gem.
And last, but never least, my boys.
E~Thanks for everything, you’re my world, my always and forever. This one’s for you.
He wiped his bloody hands on the soaked crimson cloth. A soft sigh escaped as his rage
ebbed into a calming storm. The monster no longer roared within him. It was content--for now.
Death filled his senses, bringing with it the promise of peace. He looked out over the
night-blackened mountains, towards the glittering heavens.
Why? Why must they be so evil? So selfish! Jezebels, the lot of them.
Hadn’t he been taught that?
Yes. Yes, of course he had. It was his turn now to teach others. They needed to learn the
valuable lesson that vows were important, a covenant. The holy sacrament must be kept, not
taunted. Not tempted. Never defiled.
Punishment. That is what was needed--punishment and discipline. But, no one must ever
know, he shook his head, quite certain of that. No, others would not understand.
The howl of a wolf pulled him from his musings. Thoughts echoed the rage, stirred the
monster. No, the monster must sleep, must rest. Had to.
Again he looked down. The moonlight played over her lax features, her red hair dull in
the pale light.
She looked so innocent, so perfect.
But it was a lie! A lie! Their purity and fake sweetness hid the whore lurking inside.
Then they smiled. Smiled!
He never looked the other way after that. Someone had to stand for the faithful and true,
abiding men. He would, for it was his destiny. He would be the Avenger, the
Punisher, the Righteous.
The sluts must pay for their sins and he was seeing to it they were. He gave them back
Slowly, he drew in a deep cleansing breath, heavy with the smell of spring. The snows
were melting, muddying the air with earthy fragrances.
He should hurry. No one was likely to come along the road at night, but it could happen,
campers or hikers. Unlikely, but possible. He looked over into the ravine. The darkness
swallowed up the space just beyond him, hiding the bottom, the lush undergrowth, the jagged
rocks. Dark clouds skittered over the sliver of moon.
No one would ever know. With one last swipe of the bloody knife on the cloth, he stuffed
the dirty rag into her jeans and pushed her over the edge with the toe of his boot. No one would
ever find her, and if they did, it would be much too late.
When silence settled around him once more, he turned to leave and felt the euphoria
begin to wane. The tension and excitement of the beast unfurled as he drove away from the evil
behind him. Berlioz played on the stereo, chimes and strings almost discordant as they swirled
together, creating his favorite symphony. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. He was
happy and restful now that the monster had been sated.
Aiden Kinncaid pulled his Jeep up in front of the dark house. Apparently, no one home.
Great. Just great. His entire day had been from hell, why should it suddenly change now at nine p.m.? Sighing, he rubbed the back of his neck and wished he’d taken something earlier for his headache. With an inward groan, he put the Jeep in gear and pulled into the far slot of the three car garage set off several yards from the house. An older red Jeep was parked in the space beside him. Maybe someone was home after all.
He opened the door, grabbed his overnight bag and briefcase, and climbed out of the vehicle. Cold June air, carrying the smell of pine, whipped down off Crested Butte Mountain, a
peak in the Colorado Rockies. Aiden stood and stared at the giant log and stone house. Every window was dark, even though the other Jeep sat in the garage.
He should have stayed at the hotel.
Shuffling his bags to one hand, he dug in his pocket for the key his friend had given him, in case the owner wasn’t home, and walked up the front steps.
Even though he was overseeing the opening of one of his family’s hotels in this resort town, he didn’t want to stay there. He liked to keep his staff on their toes, never knowing when he’d show up. And by staying some place else, he could leave the office at the office so to speak.
Because of his quirk, he often rented houses in places such as this. If it were a large metropolitan area, he’d probably stay at another hotel, check out the competition. But, as it was, there had been little time to look around. Quinlan, his brother, was supposed to have handled this problem, but somehow Aiden had ended up seeing to it. He’d contacted Tim to find out where he could stay, or a place he could rent. And Tim said he’d set him up. His friend had come through in a matter of hours. Aiden had the rental as long as he needed it.
One small catch.
The owner of the house lived here also. Though as he understood it, the woman would stay above the garage in the mother-in-law suite while she rented the house out. He looked back over his shoulder to the darkened cottage above the garage. Apparently, the owner wasn’t there either. The deep porch was dark, no outer light shone down in welcome. Owners needed to brush up on their hospitality, he thought. Guests should always feel welcome.
As he unlocked the door, he wondered why the alarm didn’t sound. Tim had given him the code, but it looked like he wouldn’t need it. The thing wasn’t even on. The light pad was off and not a sound registered. No shrill sirens sounded. Nothing. As the door shut softly behind him he wondered who the hell would build a home like this, go to the trouble to install an alarm system and then not even bother to turn it on.
Maybe she was a retired lady, one who forgot things easily, and decided to stay here in this lovely climate instead of transplanting to Florida or Arizona or some such place. And why did he even care? Aiden shook his head.
Sighing, he set his bags down on the hardwood floor. “Hello? Ms. Black?” No reason to give the little lady a heart attack in case she went to bed early or something.
Silence blanketed the house.
“Guess it’s just me.” Aiden flipped the nearest switch and the room flooded with soft light. The entry way was large and airy, giant logs speared up from the floor level straight through to the ceiling. No second story here. The décor went with the terrain, ranch, mountain motifs, southwest blends of colors and textures.
He roamed the downstairs, noting the refrigerator in the top of the line kitchen needed stocking as it only contained some yogurt and juice. The bare shelves screamed for objects.
With a glass of water in hand, he took some aspirin and finished checking out the rooms downstairs. The kitchen, dining room and living room all basically ran into the other, one great room. A cluttered office near the back of the house gave testament that someone at least lived here amongst the shelves and stacks of books, papers scattered all over the place. If the rest of the house didn’t look so neat and tidy he’d think someone had broken in and tossed the place. It was so disorganized he wondered how anyone could find a single thing in the mess. Though the computer sitting on the corner was dust free.
Upstairs the hallway split off into more bedrooms and bathrooms. Nice and roomy. The master suite was enough to make him smile. A large, four-poster, king size bed sat in the middle of the room. Made of heavy, blond logs, it demanded center attention. A red and blue quilt covered it. He saw clothes, black lingerie--he raised one brow--trailed out of one dresser drawer and the closet stood open, jeans and shirts hanging haphazardly and piling on the floor amidst jumbled shoes. Did little old ladies wear black lingerie? Why hadn’t he asked Tim more about his landlord?
He sighed. Though he’d love to stay in here, it seemed the owner had yet to clean up.
Fine, he’d take a guest room for tonight. As of now, he didn’t really care. And to be fair, he was here a day early. Tim Kerrin, his friend, assured Aiden that his early arrival would not be a problem.Aiden hoped to hell the guy was right. That was all he needed, to have no place to stay.
Not that he couldn’t find another, he was sure. Money opened locked doors, but he would rather not have to go through the trouble.
He chose the last room down the long hallway. Yawning, he tossed his overnight bag on the bed and sat down wishing the aspirin would kick in.
Today was bad enough as it was. There hadn’t been room for his jet at the local Crested Butte airstrip, so he’d had to land at the nearest town, Gunnison, thirty minutes away and drive up here. The contractors at the hotel were behind schedule, but he’d be damned if
wouldn’t open on time. The painters pulled their contract. Aiden smiled. He’d see about that. By the time the Kinncaid lawyers got through with them, the company would be history.
He wasn’t Kinncaid Enterprises’ CEO for just PR. Now he had to find a contractor to come in and fix all the screw-ups. If they had to work twenty-four-seven, the damn hotel was opening on the scheduled date.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and wished his headache and the whole damn day to hell.
* * * *
Jesslyn Black looked at the clock on the dashboard. After midnight. On the off chance that Maddy would still be at
The Copper Dime
, she turned off Gothic Road onto Elk Avenue-- picturesque with its neo-Victorian buildings--and drove up to the alley entrance of the bar and grill.
The Copper Dime
was a steak and beer place, dubbed simply,
by locals. Ski and summer tourist seasons were their busiest times. Jesslyn was the minor owner of the establishment. Madelyn Brooks’ SUV was parked outside the backdoor, along with Timothy Kerrin’s--the major owner.
Jesslyn cut the engine of her pickup and climbed out of the four-wheel-drive rig. Climbed being the operative word for her. At five-foot-three, she used the running boards on the side for more than just show. Tim told her they were, in her case, stepladders.
Shaking off the wayward thoughts, she rolled her neck and stretched, wishing the drive from Denver wasn’t so damn long. Warm air, full of liquor, grilled burgers and the faint whiff of coffee, hit her face as she pulled the back door open.
“Lucy! I’m home!” she called.
A bottle crashed to the floor. “Son of a bitch.” Tim stood up from behind the bar.
“You’re paying for that.”
“I didn’t drop it,” she told him. “What was it?”
“Half a bottle of our best Scotch. And, I wouldn’t have dropped it if not for you.” He glared at her as he grabbed the mop from the corner and started to clean up the mess.
Jesslyn leaned against the old scarred bar and crossed her booted feet. His gray eyes narrowed on her.
“You have fun at your meeting?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I guess so. I needed it. Authors must meet with their editors. Though the drive I could have lived without.”
“You could have flown to New York.”
“Oh yeah. You know how much I just love New York.” She shuddered at the thought of all those people crammed in one place, shuffling through the streets. One on top of the other.
Like little ants. “Denver seemed convenient for the both of us.”
He huffed out a breath. “Well, now that your little vacation is over, you can get back to pulling your weight around here.”
“Ah, and here I thought you really missed me.” She stood on her toes and ruffled his salt and pepper hair. “When are you going to dye that? You want to look old or what?”
He cocked a brow at her. Tim Kerrin was in his late thirties, about five-eleven, with a wiry frame, narrow face and sharp gray eyes. He’d owned
for almost ten years and took her on as a partner three years ago.
“I haven’t heard the ladies complaining.”
Jesslyn snorted. “What ladies?”
“And you last dated when?” he tossed back.
“That ass you set me up with.”
“Who? I bet you don’t even remember his name.”
Shit. Leo? Lloyd? “It started with an ‘L’.”
He shook his head. “Lyle. His name was Lyle.”
She snapped her fingers. “There you go. Lyle. And he was an ass and a bore and your matchmaking skills suck. Please spare me your next attempt.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“No, it was worse.” She snagged a pretzel out of the wooden bowl on the bar. “I’m going to talk to Maddy.”
She was at the swinging door leading into the kitchen when he added, “Glad you’re back.” The door swished open and a familiar sight greeted her. Maddy,
chef, was rubbing herbs into a huge slab of meat. Probably a roast or something.
“Hey,” she said, walking over and grabbing a beer out of the fridge. “What’s for dinner?”
Maddy didn’t answer. Normally, the smiling redhead had a comeback for anything, but she didn’t so much as look up.
Jesslyn frowned as she unscrewed the cap. “Everything okay?”
Maddy sighed. “Fine.”
“Uh-huh. And I’m Suzy-Sunshine.” Jesslyn hopped up on the counter and waited.
Maddy wrapped the meat in foil and put it in the refrigerator. Water gushed from the sink, filling the silence as Maddy washed her hands.
Jesslyn studied her friend. A china doll face, full lips complete with dimples, and bright blue eyes added to her fiery red hair. What she wouldn’t give to have boobs like Maddy. Tall, athletic and built for a man’s fantasies, Madelyn Brooks made women envious, men salivate, and
did not have a clue to her charms. But now her straight red brows were pulled into a frown.
“Maddy? What’s wrong?”
Maddy opened her mouth but the thump on the swinging door cut her off.
Tim stuck his head in. “Let’s go home, ladies.”
“I’ve got some stuff to wrap up here,” Maddy said, “then I’ll lock up and head that way.”
His eyes narrowed as he studied Maddy. Jesslyn knew that look. Tim appeared autocratic and cynical, but she knew he was a softy under it all. He’d given her a job when she needed interaction with people, even let her in on his business after one of her hare-brained ideas--the partnership.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Fine,” both she and Maddy answered.
“Uh-huh. Well, I’m outta here. I’ve had enough for one day. Bar fights with college kids,” he muttered with a glance at the clock.
“What?” Jesslyn asked, taking a swallow of her beer, the salty taste cool on her tongue.
“Oh,” Maddy said, “he’s still pissed about the college kids who started a fight tonight.”
“Flying chairs do not sit well with the family at the next table trying to eat their burgers and chicken strips,” Tim grumbled.
Jesslyn could only imagine. Swallowing past the chuckle, she said, “How bad was it?”
“Busted table, busted chair and I threw them out and called Garrison.”
“And did our local Chief Tight Ass ride to the rescue?” she asked.
He only glared at her. “Your sympathy is too much.”
“Look at the bright side,” she told him. “It could always be worse. Could have burned the place down or something.”
His smile was razor thin. “Your optimistic attitude is so refreshing and only reinforced with that cheery motto.”
Maddy snorted. “Optimism and Jesslyn are not words that belong in the same vocabulary.”
“True,” Tim added.
“What is this? Pick on Jesslyn day?”
“You’ve been gone.” He looked again at the clock. “And I’ve got to be going.”
“Hot date?” she asked.
“Will you lock up?” He pulled on his coat.
“Who is she?” Maddy added.
“Night, ladies,” he waved.
“We’ll find out,” Jesslyn said.
“Night, ladies.” The door swung shut.
“We will!” she yelled.
The muted thump of the back door echoed in the quiet bar.
“Okay, spill it,” she told Maddy.
Maddy was gathering her stuff up. “Nothing new, just problems with Kirk.”
Kirk the Jerk.
“Maddy, why don’t you ditch the guy? You could do so much better.” Kirk Roberts was not worth a woman’s time. He’d tried to make a pass at Jesslyn during the Octoberfest last year.
It hadn’t been the last. The man had an ego problem and apparently lacked simple rudimentary listening skills. ‘No’ seemed to be beyond his comprehension. Jesslyn hadn’t told Maddy
because she didn’t want to hurt her friend. “He may be the president of Crested Butte Bank, but he doesn’t deserve you. He’s a womanizing prick and only wants you to complete his ‘perfect’
picture with the two kids he already has.” She took a drink, knowing this was old ground. Then asked, “Why do you think he has such a problem with you working here? It’s beneath him, tarnishes that ideal image he’s created.”
Maddy held up a hand.
“Sorry,” Jesslyn said. “I’ll keep my opinions to myself.”
“Like I said, it’s nothing new.” Her sigh was heavy.
There was something else. “So if it’s not Kirk, then what?”
Maddy looked at her. “I got another bundle of lilies for my birthday.”
“Oh.” For several weeks, Maddy had received lilies from someone. “Still no card?”
“No, just the stupid things on my doorstep again.”
At first they had laughed about it. A secret admirer. But now?
“Did you tell anyone?”
Maddy nodded. “Yeah, I told Kirk to stop sending them as I don’t like lilies and it was starting to creep me out.” She shrugged. “That’s when we started fighting again. He thinks I’m seeing someone else and it just got blown all out of shape.”
Fine for him to boink his secretary at the teller bar and try for any other woman, but not for Maddy to get flowers. Figures. Jesslyn took another swallow of beer hoping that this would really be the end of Maddy and Kirk’s on-again-off-again relationship. “Well, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“What? No, ‘dump the dick’? Forget the creep? You’re better off without him?”
She couldn’t hold in the grin. “As I said, you know
opinions where Kirk’s concerned.
Want to come to my place and trash guys? I’ll make brownies.”
Maddy smiled. “No thanks. I’m going home and soaking in the bathtub and don’t plan to get up till noon tomorrow.”
Jesslyn hopped off the counter, poured the rest of her beer down the sink and threw the bottle in the glass bin. Together they walked out and locked up. The June night air was cold against her arms and she rubbed them turning to Maddy.
“You call me if you get anymore of those flowers.” She reached over and gave her friend a hug. “I will. Promise. Something about the whole thing is just creepy.”