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Authors: Claude Dancourt

Goodbye Arizona

BOOK: Goodbye Arizona
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Evernight Publishing ®

 

www.evernightpublishing.com

 

 

 

Copyright© 2016 Claude Dancourt

 

 

ISBN: 978-1-77233-897-3

 

Cover Artist: Jay Aheer

 

Editor: Carlene Flores

 

 

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

 

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

GOODBYE ARIZONA

 

Claude Dancourt

 

Copyright © 2016

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Deb surveyed the corridor from her hiding spot in the alcove next to the vending machine. Laughs and noises of clinking glasses came from downstairs. The Ice Breaker Social held at the annual conference of the Romance Society of America—ROSA for short—was in full swing. She glanced at her watch, counting seconds along the second hand. After a full minute, she grabbed the ice bucket at her feet and filled it. “It’s now or never.”

Bucket in hand, she strode down the empty corridor to the door marked 292. Nerves burned a hole in her stomach. Deb swept the borrowed card in the slit and entered the suite.

The room was larger than hers. Past the little vestibule, there were a couple of tables sporting terracotta lamps. A cream striped sofa faced a mini-fridge. One of the two flat screens of the suite sat on the top of a dresser. The painting of Colorado’s canyons, which was the Arizona Paradise Hotel trademark, hung on the wall above a king bed that ate half the space. The office corner, complete with a desk, a minuscule filing cabinet, and a comfortable office chair, neighbored a small balcony. Unable to resist, Deb peeked at the view. The pretty terrace below glittered with spotlights and small torches. The vivid green of the golf course and the indigo of the mountains provided a breathtaking view.

The dusk light was enough for her task, so she avoided the risk of switching on a lamp. Deb put the ice bucket away and focused on the desk. He already had set it to his taste, the laptop, pens, and papers—all blank, unfortunately—at the ready. A strand of curly walnut-hued hair fell over her eye while she examined the contents of the desk. She pushed the strand away absently.

Apart from the typical ad pamphlets and service book, the drawers were empty. His laptop was off. She tapped the mouse, just in case, but nothing happened. It looked new. Deb wondered if he still used the same password. She doubted it. After last time…

A glimpse at the clock beside the bed announced she only had seven minutes left to the timeframe she’d allowed herself for her search. She pocketed the Wi-Fi access sheet, just in case, and moved to the bedroom.

The garment bag was empty, so she supposed he’d given his suit to the hotel for dry-cleaning and pressing. As usual, Marcus had only half-emptied his luggage, hanging shirts and pants but keeping socks, boxers, and a Hugo Boss tie bundled at the bottom of his carry-on. Deb resisted the urge to arrange the beautiful tie. “Sorry, Marcus, I can’t let you know I was here… But you have to give me something. You haven’t published anything in ages. What is a nice guy like you doing at the ROSA annual conference?”

Still searching the suite and addressing its absent owner, she stepped inside the bathroom. At the same instant, voices erupted on the other side of the door, both angry, and both very well known. Deb jumped, and pricked up her ears.

“No.”

“Be reasonable, cher.”
The Cajun drawl added a lilt to each word.
“Why take such a risk? I’ll go on stage to receive the Suzanne Philipps Award if R.J. wins, and—”

“No, Eden. The game is over. R.J. is about to make their first public appearance. I understand your concern, but I assure you, the shock is going to sell more books than your careful marketing plan.”

“I—we’re going to lose everything.”

“I don’t think so.”

 

Deb clamped her palm over her gaping mouth, eyes wide. She was right. The little prince of sci-fi thrillers
had
something up his sleeve. She. Was. Right! Deb almost made a happy dance in the middle of the bathroom. The enormous news made her head spin. Wow. Marcus James Turner was R.J. Flint, the new symbol of romantic suspense. And he was about to come out of the closet, here, in front of the ones who literally made romance. Wow. No wonder his agent was flippant. She had to be scared to death. Besides Nicholas Sparks and a handful of others, men rarely broke through the tight bastion of women’s fiction under their own name. This was the scoop of the year. Scratch that—the scoop of the decade! Even Nora Roberts had saluted Flint’s talent. Wait until the
Traveler
editor-in-chief reads my piece,
Deb thought
.

Caught in her thoughts, Deb jolted when the brutish light of the ceiling fixtures fired up.

The lights went out above her head, replaced by a softer glow from the main room. She was screwed either way. If Marcus found her in his suite…
Crap, crap, crap, crap
. Frozen in place like a deer in headlights, Deb heard the door close and footsteps going farther into the bedroom. Two soft thuds suggested he’d gotten rid of his shoes. She bit her bottom lip hard. The only way she would move would be if she were sure Marcus wouldn’t see her. She couldn’t dash for the door.
Darn. I’m trapped.
She had to hide. Yes. She needed a place to hide. Where?

God, if he found her… He wouldn’t be lenient this time. He’d been clear enough about her intrusion, and now that she knew…
Calm down, Deb. Calm down and think
. The only place wide enough for her was the shower.
Such a cliché.
Too late anyway. She stepped into the tub and pulled the double curtain. Then she waited.

 

Deb barely dared breathing. She kept her eyes closed, even though the light from the bedroom was scarce. Her ears cocked to pick up the slightest noises. She heard a jingle, then silence. Had he put the TV on mute? A text message, maybe? She’d been so right to leave her smartphone in her room. Another cliché came to mind, the hidden victim betrayed by an ill-timed phone call…

Her legs were stiffening, and she felt pins and needles travel up her ankles, but Deb feared to move and lose her footing in the pristine tub. Half-blind and deaf, she failed to guess her unsuspecting host’s actions. Why was he so quiet? It wasn’t like him.
What are you doing, Marcus
?

When the cold water hit her square in the face, she screeched like a banshee.

****

“That was mean, Marcus.”

“You deserved it.”

He scowled at the stunning woman seated on his bed, bundled in a terry-cloth bathrobe. She was drying unruly curls with a towel, at ease, and obviously unconcerned. Irritation made his voice growl. “What the f— what are you doing here? Searching and stealing my things again?”

Deb dropped the towel and crossed her legs. He awarded himself ten points for keeping his stare on her cat-like face. The robe continued sliding to reveal a graceful thigh, miles of soft, sun-kissed skin…
Make that twenty points
. “After San Francisco, you promised never to do it again.”

She stared at him from under her lashes, her aquamarine eyes as clear as the Caribbean Sea. He knew her too well to succumb to the coy act. God knew she’d used every page in that book before. Marcus turned away and started pacing, from the bed to the sofa, to the desk, and back. “This trick is not going to work, Deborah. Either explain or get out.”

“Like this?”

From the corner of his eyes, he saw the little she-devil stand, then smooth the immaculate, fluffy fabric down her hip. Marcus changed direction as he started a new circuit. No need to get too close to temptation. “You should have thought about it before breaking and entering my room. Again. I’m calling you in.”

Her shoulders stiffened imperceptibly.
Ah!
So he
had
a lever in this new round of their everlasting cat-and-mouse game. She narrowed her feline eyes on him. “I heard you and Eden talking in the corridor.”

Marcus shrugged, not giving an inch. “Eden’s my agent. We are to talk from time to time.”

“That’s bullshit, Marcus. I know why you haven’t published any new thriller material in two years. I
know
.” She stressed the last word.

“New material would be an excellent reason to talk to my agent, don’t you think?”

This time, she hesitated, her eyes downcast, cheeks flushing. Guilt tugged at his heart. Marcus set his jaw. She would play him like a violin if he let her. He’d be damned if he danced to that tune again, not after everything she’d put him through. He pressed his point instead. “We agreed that you would send an email, and not pop out unannounced.”

So maybe ‘agree’ was a bit far-fetched. He remembered yelling and throwing her out of his place without really listening to her arguments.

Marcus scowled while a small smile blossomed on those succulent lips. Annoyed, he passed by her to approach the bed table, and the phone. Deb’s head jerked up. “I’ll tell security you invited me in.”

“I didn’t.”

Her voice lowered by an octave, her laugh a siren song. “Oh, Marcus, does it look like you don’t want me … here?” The captivating pause fried some neurons—
no more than a hundred, really
. He flexed his fingers to ease the tautness. “I have an access card...”

“Which you probably stole or finessed out of the clerk.”

“There’s a full ice bucket on the table…”

“That you brought.”

Unfazed, she all but purred, “I’m half-naked...”

She was close enough to smell the honeysuckle shampoo she had borrowed in the complimentary stash after he drenched her while fully clothed. Marcus grabbed her by the shoulders. She moved in his grasp and linked her arms around his neck. The robe shifted and revealed the delicious curve of her throat. His breath caught.

He unhooked her fingers from his collar. “Stop that.”

Her crystalline eyes sparkled with laughter. “But I’m not doing anything...”

What she was doing was driving him crazy. She allured him, irritated him, intrigued him and challenged him—the perfect teenage—and adult— dream. He stopped counting how many times they’d bickered up, how many times they’d hooked up, how many times he had wished she would stop her wandering and settle down…

Marcus took a step back. “I’m still waiting for an answer to my questions. Why are you in my room?”

Deb wet her lips. “You mean besides for the pleasure of your company?”

He nearly lost it. Lust only added to the aggravation. He wanted to wring her lovely neck with that stupid necklace she wore like a trophy. To throw her back on that bed and rehearse the best parts of Flint’s last bestseller. Marcus snarled, hands fisted so he wouldn’t reach for her and—

“All right, all right. I’ll explain everything.” The beautiful eyes sobered up. She pulled the robe over her knees and patted the mattress beside her. “Please, sit. I don’t like it when you tower over me like an angry bear.”

He chose the sofa on the other side of the room. Deb nodded, as if she were gathering her thoughts. “First, I must tell you that I’m covering for the
Traveler
. I had planned to come for a day, check the pulse, but they offered to pay for the full entry because of the poem.”

“What poem?”

“It started moving around a couple of weeks ago. Bloggers and some websites received a poem as a comment on their posts that announced the event, from an anonymous source. ROSA got its copy, too, on the conference’s site, as well as other specialized magazines, as far as I know. They deleted it of course, but the media was already hooked. Haven’t you noticed there are more journalists than usual?”

He couldn’t say he had. He’d arrived late in the afternoon, and had had just enough time to settle down before joining the Ice Breaker. Moreover, people didn’t wear a sticker marked ‘press’ on their forehead, even if they were supposed to.

“What does it say?”

“I have it on my email. If I can borrow your laptop, I’ll show you.”

“Nice try, Deb.” He overlooked her huff. “Give me the broad lines. Why is there so much ado about that stuff?”

“Fine. The poem is about four lines, built out of R.J. Flint’s titles. And it promised a bad outcome to the other nominees for the Sue.”

BOOK: Goodbye Arizona
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