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Authors: Stella Cameron

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Guilty Pleasures

BOOK: Guilty Pleasures
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GUILTY PLEASURES

 

Stella Cameron

 

Every woman has a past, but beloved television personality Polly Crow has one she must conceal at all costs. 

Every man has his breaking point, but ex-Navy SEAL Nas
t
y Ferrito is about to discover how far he will go to protect what he believes in. 

Every pleasure has its price

and every desire its dangerous side

When they meet, they ignite enough sparks to set Washington State on fire. When they fall in love, nothing

not Polly, Nasty or a town harboring a guilty secret of its own

can ever be the same. When the shadowy menace stalking Polly moves closer to home, it will take one woman's trust and one man's courage to fight a smoldering evil before it explodes, destroying a love stronger and truer than anything either has ever known

 

 

 

One

 

 

T
he boy who scribbled,
“Least Likely to Succeed,”
beneath Polly Crow’s high-school-yearbook photo had proudly signed his brilliant comment. He’d also laughed in her face when he handed back the book. Why not? After all, he had nothing to fear from a girl who cam
e from nothing and was going no
where.

Polly folded her white cashmere cardigan tightly about her and breathed deeply of the stiff late-summer breeze off Lake Washington. Back then she’d begun to believe Brad—she couldn’t recall the other name—and his friends were probably right. And if there’d been a least-likely-to-succeed award, she’d have won with no contest. She hadn’t been eligible to win any other prizes.

But they were wrong. They were all wrong, including Polly, because she had amounted to something. And because she’d made good, someone was trying to frighten her to death.

As she liked to do at the end of each day’s filming, she walked along floating docks at the southern end of the town of Kirkland’s waterfront. Leggy impatiens, luminous pink, orange, purple, and white, slumped in wooden planters. Ivy geraniums faded by weeks in the sun trailed from baskets suspended on poles. Before long it would be time for chrysanthemums and winter pansies.

The smell was coming-of-evening rich, sleepy-silk-sway-of-water mysterious.

Polly’s long cotton skirt whipped about her legs. Too bad she couldn’t ignore the other, the menace she’d lived wi
th for
days.

Just some obsessive creep getting a cheap thrill from threatening a TV personality. It happened all the time.

And sometimes these freaks acted on their obsessions.

She wouldn’t change her lifestyle, wouldn’t start locking herself inside the condo, wouldn’t tell anyone who didn’t already know what was happening.

If she said aloud: “Someone leaves messages on my answering machine. No, I don’t know who—he whispers. He says I only made one mistake in my life, but he’s forgiven that, that I used to be really good and I need him to make me good again,” it would all become too real. Polly didn’t want it to be real. She didn’t want to voice, “I want you with me, or I want you dead.” If she did, she’d have to admit she wasn’t imagining the calls, imagining the worst threat of all: “I know you’ll do what I want, what we both want, and get rid of anyone who stands in our way. Otherwise, I’ll have to make sure you do.”

Good?

Only one mistake?

She was twenty-seven years old. An ex-addict. Never married. The single mother of a seven-year-old son. Daughter of a single mother.

Sam Dodge, the handsome rebel who’d wanted her because she made him look good, had taken her so low she should have been dead by now. But she hadn’t died. Polly smiled at the wind, smiled at the watery sting in her eyes, smiled at the jumble of bittersweet memories.

Having Bobby had saved her. Of all things, rather than adding another stone to the weight dragging her down, getting pregnant at nineteen had stopped the fall.

“I ain’t gettin’ slowed down by no brat. If you wanna keep on being my woman, get rid of it,” Sam had demanded when she’d told him about the pregnancy. And when she’d refused
he’d said,
“No
account piece of trash. You’ll
never amount to anything without me.

Even as she shuddered, Polly smiled. Sam had given her a choice between drink, drugs, abusive sex—and Bobby, dear, serious Bobby. No choice. Thank God what was left of herself had made the decision so easy.

The whisperer called Bobby a mistake. That had to be what he meant, and he threatened to get rid of him.

Bobby hadn’t questioned being sent to stay with Venus Crow, Polly’s mother, who lived in nearby Bellevue. He’d accepted the story that the show was going into a production crunch and this was a great time for him to run free at the artists’ colony that had once been his home. Venus ran Hole Point, and Bobby loved the place.

Venus hadn’t questioned Bobby’s visit either.

Some members of the cast of
Polly’s Place
had been with her when she got the first message. She’d laughed it off and never mentioned the continuing calls.

The uncomfortable thud of her heart made Polly open her mouth to swallow. She ought to ask for help. The police wouldn’t do anything unless something happened. Her heart leapt again. Unless she was hurt in some way—or someone she loved was hurt—they’d say there was nothing to be done.

She continued walking. Rafted boats jostled at moorages. Gusts of laughter and raised voices erupted from cabins and deckhousing. The wind was enough to send most of the messers-about-in-boats below for their happy hour.

These people weren’t what drew Polly this way so often.

The real reason was something else she ought to pack away in her heap of shouldn’t, and never-will-be’s.

But a woman could look at a man, couldn’t she? Especially when that’s all she would ever do—look?

She strolled to the very end of the farthest dock from shore and searched about. No sign of the big, black rubber dinghy. No sign of the man in his wet suit doing whatever he did at
the end of his day. Maybe he wouldn’t come so regularly as fall and winter approached.

Polly rolled her eyes at the disappointment she felt; disappointment because she might not get more chances to take furtive glances at a man she didn’t know.

He’d never looked her way—not deliberately. He didn’t know her, and she didn’t know him. She’d never even heard him speak.

Polly stopped and narrowed her eyes to focus on the distant, snow-dusted Olympic Mountains. She’d never heard the big man with his sun-bleached hair and curiously light brown eyes say a word, even to the black cat who rode with him in his dinghy filled with diving equipment.

She knew his eyes were brown, and that they were remote— cold even. She knew because he had met her gaze occasionally. Each time their glances had crossed for no more than a few seconds. Polly always looked away first.

Her walks weren’t at exactly the same time each day.

Usually the dinghy appeared. It just appeared, floated into sight from shadows around the dock. No engine noise. The engine didn’t burst to life until she’d retraced her steps to the park that edged the waterfront.

As if he waited for her to come, watched while he pretended not to watch, then left once she was gone.

Rubber fenders squeaked between the rafted boats.

Mooring lines creaked.

The man had strong teeth. She’d seen them between his parted lips as he pulled a mask from his lean face. And he chewed gum. Polly had always disliked watching someone chew gum. Not this time.

Gavin Tucker, an artist who appeared on the show with Polly, said the man ran a dive shop. Gavin had also questioned the diver’s reason for hanging around this section of the waterfront when his shop was a mile away. Anyway, Gavin had pointed out, the scuba lessons advertised by Room Below—the
dive shop—were held in Puget Sound, not here in Lake Washington.

Ferrito. She knew his name was Ferrito, that he chewed gum and liked cats. And he limped. Funny how you noticed some things. Even moving around in his boat, his limp was evident.

Kirkland wasn’t a big town, and the show pulled in people from the community. Polly and the rest of the cast were friendly and open. Finding out about any of them wouldn’t be so hard—including their phone number.

Once more Polly searched about.

Finding out a person’s habits wasn’t so hard, either. But Ferrito wasn’t here today.

He liked cats. He wouldn’t make threatening phone calls. She didn’t know what he would do; they’d never even exchanged a smile. Exasperated by the power of a stranger to frighten her, by her own weakness, by the ridiculous leap in logic she was making, Polly turned back.

She’d never heard him speak

or whisper.

Startled, Polly couldn’t move.

She hadn’t heard the approach of his bare feet on the wooden planking of the dock.

 

 


H
i,” Nasty Ferrito said. “Nice evening.”

Her blue eyes stretched wide open. Very blue eyes, but he already knew that from watching her TV show.

Apart from dropping her hands to her sides she didn’t move. Polly Crow, bubbly singing star of
Polly’s Place,
the most popular children’s show to hit the box in a decade, stared at him with her mouth open. If he didn’t know how ridiculous it would be, he’d say she was afraid of him.

“Getting colder.” Talking about the weather. He’d finally decided to quit stalling and force a meeting with the woman, and he was talking about the weather.

She nodded, almost imperceptibly. On television her straight, thick hair appeared lighter. In person it was a dark honey
blond
.
This evening she wore it pulled back into a band at he
r
nape. Her skin was pale. He’d found out from watching her; on the docks that she was thi
nner than she appeared on the
screen. Average height, but small.

He preferred more substantial women—stronger women.

Or he had.

Hell, he felt shaky.

This wasn’t close enough. Nothing would be close enough. He wanted to touch her.

“Are you cold?” he asked. Sounded too personal.

Polly Crow shook her head. Her neck was slender, the bones at its base delicate. He’d read about seeing people’s pulses beat. This was the first time he’d ever noticed.

She bowed her head and looked up at him from beneath dark lashes tipped with gold.

And Nasty’s heart stopped beating. He hadn’t imagined the effect she had on him—no, he hadn’t imagined that. A man shouldn’t be able to feel protective and
predatory at the same time. So
he was breaking new ground. He’d like to cover her up and protect her from the world—and be inside her while he did it.

Good thing he’d spent almost as much of his adult life wearing a wet suit as he had anything else. Wet suits were great. Short of armor, they were the best way he knew of masking an erection. The hard-on inside his suit felt as if it had the power to punch holes in concrete. He dropped to sit on his heels and stroke Seven, who had, as usual, followed him up the steps from the side of the dock
where he’d tied up the dinghy.

This wasn’t the way he’d rehearsed this meeting, but then, he was no expert at approaching women he thought he could fall in love with. In fact, he’d never done this before.

He’d never fallen in love. “Fall’s coming.”
Hell.

“Yes,” she said. Her voice wasn’t breathy on television.

“Beautiful time of year.”

“Yes.”

Oh, great. “Am I bothering you?”

Her shoulders rose. She gripped one of the standards that supported a hanging basket.

Nasty picked up Seven and bounced to his feet. “I wouldn’t want to intrude.” Yeah, he would. “Excuse me i
f—

“No.” She shook her head emphatically. “No. You excuse me, please. You took me by surprise, that’s all. It’s pretty quiet out here.”

A nice voice. More than nice. Sometimes he closed his eyes to listen to her on TV. Laughter hung out somewhere in there. And she could sing. All those kids songs he listened to. He smothered a grin. Nasty Ferrito, ex-Navy SEAL, tough veteran of more life-on-the-line covert operations than he could remember, made a point of tuning in
Polly’s Place
and listening as if he was into Down and Out the Main Monsters, and watching Gavin the Paint Man. Ferrito’s crusty partner, Dusty Miller, had plenty to say about that. Ferrito passed it off as practice for when Junior, an old friend’s little girl, came to visit. Dusty wasn’t fooled.

“Nice black cat.”

Her spontaneous comment surprised him. He stroked Seven’s sinuous body and long tail. “Unlucky for some,” he said. “We get along.”

“That’s thirteen.”

Ferrito squinted at her. “Seven.”

“Thirteen—unlucky for some. Not black cats are unlucky for some—or seven.”

Definitely not the way he’d rehearsed this encounter. “Communication gap,” he said. Each time he looked into her face, that look lasted a little longer. He risked stepping closer and turning until the cat faced Polly Crow. “Her name’s Seven.”

“Ah, I see.” Polly laughed. Her fingernails were short and devoid of polish. She smoothed Seven’s head. “Why Seven?”

“Always liked the number
, and I found her—scratch that—
she found me on a Sunday. Seventh day of the week. What
are you afraid of?” He’d have to put that off-the-wall question down to rusty social skills.

“I’m not afraid of anything. What makes you think I am?”

He slung Seven into her favorite position, draped over his shoulder. “Hell, I don’t know. Just a feeling.” Another sense you developed when you lived largely on your instincts for a long time.

Her eyes became unblinking. She nailed him with that stare. “Why do you come by here each evening?”

BOOK: Guilty Pleasures
7.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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