Authors: Mimi Foster
Copyright © 2013 by
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions
By payment of required fees, you have been granted the
-transferable right to access and read the text of this book. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of copyright owner.
The reverse engineering, uploading, and/or distributing of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publish
er, except where permitted by law.
Cover design by The Killion Group
Interior format by The Killion Group
This book is dedicated to my very own superhero, my husband David Feith. There are no words to express how deeply appreciative I am of his unwavering love and support and encouragement. He loves me so much that he read this romance novel cover to cover (committed love, indeed). His infinite patience and interaction in sharing ideas and scenarios has made this finished product possible.
During the course of arranging words into a readable story, there are people along the way who encourage us, help us move forward, and give us a reality check. I have had many such blessings in writing this book that I would like to thank. To Amanda Sellet, my brilliant niece and editor, who saw my words and helped me to arrange them into a cohesive thought. To Maggie Eaton, Stephanie Kirby, and Susan Archibald, who suffered through my raw manuscript and gave me the confidence to proceed. To my sweet Callie Foster, whose excitement for me was tangible. To Betsy Madsen, Susie White, Katie Foster, Wendy Evangelisti, and MacKenzie Jordan, who loved me through a myriad of drafts.
To the incomparable Amy Cesario, whose persistent support gave me the impetus to cross the finish line. To Debbie Beck, my most objective friend, who had the fortitude to read my words over and over and over again, bolstered me, cheered me on, and provided me a charming place to escape to write. To my friend Nick Hahn, who energized and motivated me with his unique point of view. And to Kim Killion and Jennifer Jakes of The Killion Group Inc., whose fortuitous meeting gave me the ability to realize my dream of a published novel. To all of you and the many others who inspired me along the way, my sincerest, heartfelt appreciation.
arly autumn in Colorado high country was as enchanting as anywhere on earth. The winding drive through Boulder Canyon taunted me with the promise of escape, and excitement warred with exhaustion to keep me going. The sun set behind the Rockies as I passed through Boulder, taking with it the last of my hard-won stamina.
It was only a one
-hour drive from the heart of Denver to the hamlet of Nederland, but the last few miles to my temporary refuge took their toll. My father’s offer to let me stay in his cabin for a while, affectionately known as his Fortress of Solitude, called to the depths of my soul.
My first glimpse of the Amber Rose was so inviting I would have been tempted to stop even if I didn’t need to pick up the key. Nonetheless, I had to summon the strength for the simple task of getting out of my car.
Bone weary, I pushed the door open to the jingle of a bell. Two men, one on each side of the counter, turned to see who had disturbed their conversation. The leather-faced proprietor, who probably wasn’t nearly as old as he looked, assessed me with an effortless grin. That must be Sam.
The other man was tall, distinctly attractive, with wavy light brown hair that brushed his collar. ‘Electrifying’ was the word that came to mind. I knew about sudden lightning strikes in the high country, but did they also happen inside? Not wanting to stare, I commanded my body to move. I walked across the rustic diner and felt a genuine welcome by the older, grizzled stranger.
“Hi, I’m Callie. I’m going to be staying at the Weston place for a while. I came for the key, and maybe a cuppa coffee?”
The wrinkled man with the sunken eyes and furrowed brow briefly reminded me of a bloodhound. He beamed as he took my hand in both of his calloused ones and worked it up and down.
“My name’s Sam. Friends ‘round these parts call me Wicked Sam; not cuz a my soul, but seein’ as how I got such a wicked sense a humor.” His endearing manner put me immediately at ease and made me a little more confident that coming here was the right choice.
Turning towards the patron leaning casually against the bar, I wondered if that confidence might have been a rush to judgment
Fatigued, I wasn’t in any mood to figure out why this place didn’t feel as calm and relaxing as it had just a few moments before. Nodding, I turned back to the friendlier character behind the counter.
“I’ve heard nice things about you, Sam. I'm looking forward to spending time with you finding out if they’re true,” I teased. Handing him my Thermos, I asked, “Do you have enough to fill this? I’m running out of steam fast.”
“Sure, sure, I just made a fresh pot for Jack here.” He snickered as he headed to the kitchen, “I'll be right back.”
Mustering the smile I had perfected over the years to appear genuine, I took a deep breath and braced myself to engage the delectable stranger, then mentally kicked myself for such a thought. My gaze locked on his blue eyes, and I was sure something had addled my usually competent brain. I was coming here to get away from men, and this one looked like he could be king of the unreasonable hill.
“Hi, I’m Callie,” I said, hoping my hand didn’t shake as I extended it toward the handsome but formidable man.
Stupid thing to do
, I thought,
I certainly didn’t need to be touching him.
I hadn't needed to worry about that, though. He merely looked at my hand indifferently.
“So I heard,” was his sullen response.
“You live here in town?” I asked, trying to thaw his icy manner.
“Yep,” was as much as I could extract from that mouth. A mouth surrounded by perfect lips, I noticed.
What a ridiculous thought. What the hell was the matter with me?
“Been here long?” I was usually adept at engaging strangers.
“Are you always this friendly?”
Not a move, not a twitch, just a brooding stare.
Sam came out with two mugs and a steaming pot of coffee.
“Changed my mind, Sam,” Jack drawled. “Catch you tomorrow.”
The bells sounded again as he opened the door. Before leaving, he impaled me with a look, “You related to Charles?”
I got out a jaunty, “So I heard,” knowing somehow he wouldn’t be pleased with my repetition of his response. One last piercing glance from those azure eyes and he was gone.
“Whew,” I said, smiling at Sam. “What kind of an immovable object was that?”
“Don’t pay no attention ta him, he don’t mean no harm. Jack Franklin’s ‘bout one a the nicest folks ya’ll ever wanna meet. He’s good people, helps anybody who needs it. He don't normally go ‘round yappin’ his trap much.”
Taking a warm sip from my mug, I said, “I’ll have to take your word on it.”
Chuckling, Sam said, “I heard from yer pa. I got yer key right here. Ya jest turn left when ya get ta the back a my buildin', then take the road up ‘bout a mile. It’ll be yer only drive ta the left. Can't miss it.”
“Oh, thank you, Sam. I’m drained right now. Hope you don’t mind if I take off.”
“No doubt, pun’kin. We’re gonna be good friends, jest ya wait ‘n’ see.” Filling my thermos with the last of the pot, he said, “That should help ya til ya get done whacha need ta get done tonight. Now get on down the road. Time fer me ta close up here.”
I squeezed Sam’s hand, then made the drive up the back trail, thinking again of the events that had finally led me to this shelter. I looked forward to reaching the hidden sanctuary that would be mine while I tried to figure out my life. Pulling into the drive, I was sure I must have taken a wrong turn. This was no cabin in the woods. When the key turned and the door opened, I was stunned. It was simultaneously a tranquil yet breathtaking work of art. It felt a lot like the first time I had seen a house built by my favorite architect, Montgomery.
How had my father kept this little secret from me? That old coot. Who knew he had it in him? I’d have to call him first thing in the morning and tell him he was sitting on a gold mine— as if he didn’t already know it. There were touches here and there of my mother, with a few of her favorite knick knacks on display, but overall, it was pure passion.
Enthralled by what I was seeing, I stood in the doorway, trying to absorb the sensations. My job as a real estate agent had trained me to impersonally take in the essence of a building within the first minute of entering. But several minutes passed as I studied the play between rock, wood, polished and unpolished granite, and glass. No other architect I had encountered had the ability to build into his surroundings like Montgomery, and I couldn’t imagine this was the work of anyone else.
There was no part of me that could be detached. I couldn’t find my impartial eye to study the structure because there was so much reverence involved. I wondered momentarily how my dad had snagged such a coup. Montgomery was several years out on his projects, and if this wasn’t one of his, I was excited to find out who had designed it. Tomorrow would be soon enough to explore, but tonight I was thankful for such security.
t was the best night’s sleep I’d had in as long as I could remember. The crisp mountain air and feeling of safety for the first time in a while must have helped bring some much-needed rest. If it hadn’t been for the incredible design of the shower pulling at me like a siren’s call, I’m not sure I could have gotten out of bed that first morning.
It was an oasis on its own. The shower followed the line of the mountain on which the house was built. The glass enclosure extended in a delightful curve and gave it an atmosphere of being in the middle of nature. The water cascading from the shower head mimicked a waterfall and could be turned to feed into the deep blue tub below. It was a strange feeling to stand and look out over the mountain range in the distance. Cleverly situated, there was no possible way for anyone to see in.
Remnants of stress washed away as I lathered my weary body. Not for the first time I wondered why doing the right thing was so grueling? I had lost so much - the home I loved, my best friend, my business had suffered. And for what? Pressing charges and going through a trial, and the perpetrator wouldn’t even spend as much time in jail as it had taken to get him there?
The metallic click of the handcuffs grabbing his wrists yesterday morning echoed again. The deputy had him almost out of the courtroom when Jason turned. He didn’t say a word, but the threat was implied in his glare as he was pushed through the doorway.
Stepping out of the soul-refreshing steam, I shook off my dark thoughts and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was conscious that the marks on my body had disappeared. I liked what I saw, and strengthened my resolve that I would never be anyone’s victim.
It was over now. I was safe. The splendor of the surroundings called my name. I felt like a woodland nymph. Magical. I might even want to build my own little cabin, but I’m not sure anything could match this exquisiteness.
I dressed quickly, packed my camera, and headed into town with a lightness of spirit I hadn’t known in years. I would see if Sam had suggestions for a rookie hiker who was set on becoming an accomplished photographer.
The weather was perfect, and life was full of new promise. Sitting at the counter, I had the first of what I figured would eventually be several hundred cups of coffee in this place. Sam came out with a fresh loaf of warm bread and honey butter and placed it irresistibly in front me. It was cozy. I had made the right decision.
It troubled Jack that she walked into the Amber Rose as though she was a regular. It was only the second time she’d been there, but he didn’t want her getting too comfortable or feeling like she was going to be welcome here.
Jack was conscious of the fit of her jeans as she raised her lithe body onto the stool at the counter. Ordering coffee, her soothing voice could have tamed a wild animal. It had the opposite effect on him. Sam was clearly smitten. He poured her a steaming cup of coffee, smiling like a simpleton. Jack had never seen Sam react like that to anyone. He didn’t like it.
Both her fondness for the withered Sam and for black coffee surprised him. Wordlessly, Sam slid the morning paper toward her as though they had done this many times before. She worked magic with her smile, and Sam blushed as he carried dirty dishes to the sink.
Was it possible she hadn’t noticed him in the booth behind her when she sat down? Dear God, how could she not notice
? Jack wondered.
He had thought of little else since meeting her.
“You got business here in town?” Jack was surprised when the words actually left his mouth. There was a slight hesitation before she answered. Maybe she
known he was there.
“Uh huh,” she said, opening the paper.
His peace and quiet had been disturbed since this attractive stranger had walked in last night. Hair the color of well-aged cherry wood, it was tied with a ribbon of the same color. It bothered him that he noticed that detail.
Met with silence, he continued to push as if he had a right to know. “What brings you to town?”
“Alice,” she said, inclining her head towards the window.
Looking in that direction and seeing no one, he turned back toward her.
He understood what she was doing. He had been rude with his one-word responses when they met, and it looked like she could give as good as she got.
“Alice - my car. She and Anita take me wherever I want to go,” she said, paging through the newspaper.
“Ok, I’ll bite, who’s Anita?” He was beside her now, standing close enough to smell her fresh scent, wanting her to be aware of his proximity, surprised he was pressing for answers.
Her spontaneous smile lit deep emerald eyes as she took a sip of coffee. She was perfection.
“My GPS . . . you know . . . Ah-Need-A address. Anita tells me where to go, Alice gets me there.” Her laugh crinkled her flawless nose. Finally looking Jack in the eye, he felt like he’d been sucker punched by what appeared to be her innocent sensuality.
“Ah, a wise ass. You still haven’t answered. How long you here for?”
“As long as it takes,” she replied cryptically, unsatisfactorily, moving ever so slightly away from him. He wondered what she was hiding.
“As long as what takes?”
Did he really just fall for that? Why was he goading her? He’d only seen her once. What was wrong with him? He hadn’t let a woman get under his skin like this since Marcie. Just the thought of Marcie could make him crazy.
He threw some bills on the table for the coffee that sat cold in his cup. Nodding to Sam as he left, he paused, “It’s not important how long you’re here, as long as you’re gone soon.”