Authors: Desiree Holt
Tags: #A Western Escape
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Desiree Holt
Cover art by Scott Carpenter
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Decadent Publishing Company, LLC
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Also by Desiree Holt
1Night Stand Stories
He Came Upon a Midnight Clear
The Edge - Valentino’s Delight
Lust Becomes You
A Western Escape
To my wonderful CP, Cerise Deland, who lets me burble in her ear interminably and reads my typo-ridden drafts, who lets me bounce plots off her fabulous brain and always seems to know where I’m going even when I don’t.
This one and all the others are for you.
Nina Foster finished rearranging a shelf to make room for new Books and More stock, all the while casting glances at her computer screen.
It chimes when you get a message, idiot. Staring at it won’t help. Besides, what are the chances it will be him again
You don’t even know him, for pity’s sake. Or anything about him
What she did know was a man who called himself Blake Massie had found her website and begun ordering books. There was nothing odd about the fact in and of itself. Since she’d set up an Internet site for the store, she’d been overloaded with online business. Half of them were for e-books, but a lot of people still like the printed word. And she’d learned people using the website enjoyed the convenience of it, especially if the store was far away. Nearly every day, the express delivery truck pulled up to her back door for another load of packages.
She peered over her shoulder at the computer again. What made Blake Massie different was he lived in Freewill. He could just walk into the store himself and pick out what he wanted. Instead, he ordered from her, always online and never by phone.
Why doesn’t he come in like most of the locals do
Most of her orders she received via the computer came from people who lived too far out of town to make the trip, something she understood. But even when the locals ordered that way, they came in to pick up their purchases. People liked her conversation corner with its coffee and cocoa and fresh baked cookies. Why didn’t Blake do that?
The bell at the front door jingled, startling her from her reverie, and she glanced up to see the huge presence of Sheriff Hawk Blackwater. He pulled off his gloves and rubbed his hands together.
“Damn, it’s cold out there.”
Nina smiled at him. “No kidding. I can’t believe there are any crooks running around in this weather.”
Hawk chuckled. “Even idiots know enough to stay in when the temperature hovers near zero.” He walked over to where she was working. “Bet the delivery truck driver was cursing when he brought these today.”
“You bet. But I really needed this shipment in time for Christmas.”
He scanned the calendar on the wall behind her. “Hell, it’s more than six weeks until then. People shopping already?”
She nodded, lifting a small stack of books onto the counter. “Absolutely. Used to be Thanksgiving was the official start of shopping. These days people are out shopping right after Halloween. And I want to be ready for them. Although I won’t decorate for Christmas for a couple of weeks yet.” She brushed back a stray hair from her forehead. “Can I help you with something? Need a book for Riley?”
Hawk’s wife of one year was six months pregnant, and everyone in the county knew he’d carry her around on a cushion if he could. Nina couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a couple as ecstatically happy. Riley had been running from a fiancé who wanted to kill her, and Hawk had been trying to solve the riddle of the mysterious lights that came and went in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains. When their two situations intersected, he’d been the one to save her, and they were married soon after.
In the five years since Nina settled in Freewill, she’d been sociable to everyone but never let anyone get close. She refused all offers from local men to take her out and kept everything light. With everyone.
But she and Riley had connected from the moment the woman first walked into Books and More. Nina’s parents had been killed in an auto accident the year after she left Forrester Literary Agency. Riley and Hawk were the closest thing to family she had, and she treasured their friendship.
“Hawk?” she said. He was staring at a new book about the history of Wyoming. “Book? For Riley?”
“Oh, yeah. Actually, yes. Some more of those romances she loves so much, if you’ve got any new ones in.” He rubbed his jaw. “I don’t think I’d be any good at picking them out.”
Nina laughed. “No problem. But can I make a suggestion? You should get her an e-reader.” She picked one up from a shelf display. “Much easier to carry around, and you can load it with hundreds of books.”
He took the thin device from her, studying it from all angles. “You know, she mentioned she’d like to have one of these.” He grinned. “Maybe I’ll give her an early Christmas present.”
“I’m hooked into a lot of Internet distributors,” Nina told him. “How about if I load it with some books I know she’d like?”
“Good enough. While you’re doing that, I’ll help myself to some of your tasty hot chocolate if you don’t mind.”
“Go on ahead. I just made some fresh.”
She knew her special coffees, hot chocolate, and cookies were as much an attraction as the books and gifts she sold. As she started to put Hawk’s order together, the computer dinged.
Nina stared at the IM signature on the screen.
Why doesn’t he have an Internet ID like most users do
Is it possible I’m the only one he does this with, so he feels no need to disguise himself
? She tried to still the little flutter in her stomach as she opened the instant message.
Your choices for me continue to be right on target.
She took a deep breath and replied.
Thank you. It’s hard making choices for someone when you can’t talk to them.
Not so much. How about face-to-face?
There was a long pause, and she was afraid she’d somehow ticked him off. As she was trying to think of what to say, words suddenly scrolled across the screen.
Things are fine the way they are. What do you have for me today?
Nina sighed. One of these days she would either convince him to talk to her or barrel her way into his house. But today, she typed in the titles she’d set aside for him.
Good. Will you deliver them tonight as usual?
Nina bit back a quick retort. What made him think she’d even bother? It wasn’t as if she’d included personal delivery on her website. But he was a customer, and she didn’t want to antagonize him. Yet.
I may be working late, but I can have someone else bring them.
Another long pause.
No, you. Otherwise cancel the order.
Nina wanted to smack the computer.
Who the hell does this jerk think he is
All right. I’ll do my best.
She hit Send and waited, but there were no further messages. So, he flat out expected her to do his bidding? For almost a full minute, she considered actually asking someone else to make the delivery. But she only lived a mile from him, and if nothing else, he was a good customer. She didn’t want to piss him off, at least during the holidays.
“More orders from the mysterious Blake Massie?” Hawk asked.
“Yes.” Nina gave an exasperated sigh. “Honestly, the man is a real jerk. Why can’t he call the store? He lives in town, so it isn’t long distance. Or come by and pick out the books himself?”
The mysterious Blake Massie had become a hot topic of conversation in town.
“I tried making some inquiries,” Hawk told her, “but the realtor who sold him the old Crider ranch is tighter than Aunt Millie’s girdle.”
Nina laughed. “You don’t have an Aunt Millie, and no one wears girdles any more.”
“Well, if I did, she’d wear one.”
“Seriously, Hawk. Who buys a place like that for cash? And think about all the work he had done on the house. And the huge fence around the house and three acres with an electronic gate. He might as well have giant Keep Out signs.”
Hawk shrugged and took another swallow of his hot chocolate. “Wherever he came from, he’s part of our community and not giving anyone any problems. That’s all I care about.”
Nina leaned on the counter. “But aren’t you the teeniest tiniest bit curious about him? And why no one ever sees him, except for the old cowboy who works for him?”
She recalled his first email message when he placed his order.
I’m surprised to find a bookstore so well stocked in this out of the way place.
She’d wanted to ask him if he thought it was so out of the way, why had he bought a house here. Ticked off, she’d sent him a snarky reply, momentarily unconcerned with saving the sale.
We even have electricity and running water.
Sorry. Forgive my lack of manners. Will someone bring the books to my house?
Deliver the order? She’d gotten very irritated with him.
If you are unable to come to town to pick up what you’ve selected, I suppose I can have someone bring
Then a momentary pang of guilt had struck her. What if he was disabled in some way? But wouldn’t there have been someone to do his errands?
Not someone. You.
Why on earth did he want her to make the delivery herself? But by then her curiosity had been tickled.
Yes. No problem.
Then he’d signed off.
Somehow, after the initial flurry of emails, they’d exchanged instant message IDs, which was how they now conducted their business. She sometimes thought it strange her most intimate social contact came through the Internet with a man she’d never met.
“Taking a short nap, Nina?” Hawk’s voice held a touch of humor.
She blinked, realizing she’d zoned out again. “Oh! Sorry about that. Did you say something?”
He grinned and picked up a cookie from the plate on the counter. “You asked me if I was curious about the reclusive Blake Massie. I said sure, but unless he breaks the law, I’m stuck with minding my own business. You still carrying his books out to him?”
“He only lives a mile down the road from me,” she reminded him. “So it’s not really a big deal.”
“How do you get inside the fortress he’s made out of his place? Or do you leave the package outside the gate?”
“Of course not.” She reached behind her head to tighten her ponytail, having found it easier to work with her hair back from her face. “They have a camera at the gate. They verify who I am and let me in.”
Hawk leaned on the counter, munching the cookie. “Then you got to see what the mystery man looks like.”
“Nope. Sorry.” She loaded books onto the e-reader for Riley. “Some man who’s at least sixty opened the door for me. You know all those books you read in school about the West describing the typical grizzled old rancher? That’s him. Worn jeans, flannel shirt, leather vest, and all.”
“Lily at the real estate office told me he had someone there with him. The same person who took care of stocking the place. I think his name is Grange.”
Nine nodded, remembering how mad she’d been when the man took the books from her, thanked her, and shut the door in her face. She’d been tempted to refuse future orders, but she didn’t want to cut off her nose to spite her face.