Tempt Me. Caroline Cross
MILLS & BOON
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John Taggart Steele stood motionless in the shifting shadows that edged the towering stand of evergreens.
Snowflakes swirled in the icy air around him, swept from the treetops high overhead by a capricious wind. Narrowing his eyes against the October sun, he raised his binoculars to zero in on the tidy A-frame cabin in the clearing five hundred yards away, only to jerk the glasses away as his cell phone vibrated. Ripping it from the clip on his belt, he glanced at the screen and saw the call was from Steele Security’s Denver office. He hit the receive button and slapped the instrument to his ear. “What?”
“Looks like it’s her, all right.” As calm as a summer day, his brother Gabe’s voice held neither reproach at the brusque greeting nor satisfaction as he delivered the long-awaited confirmation.
Taggart said nothing, merely waited.
“The truck was recently registered to a woman calling herself Susan Moore. The previous owner is a Laramie grad student who says he sold the vehicle three weeks ago to a cocktail waitress at the bar he frequents. He described Bowen to a T, said she was ‘a real sweet little thing.’ She paid cash for the vehicle and confided she was headed south to see her ailing grandpa.”
Gabe seemed to know exactly what Taggart was thinking. “Yeah. When she left Flagstaff, she bolted toward Denver, not away. Totally unexpected, completely illogical.” There was a pause, then he added thoughtfully, “It was a damn good strategy.”
Good strategy wasn’t quite how Taggart would describe it—not when he’d been chasing the elusive Ms. Genevieve Bowen for close to three months. Still, he shoved away the rude comment that sprang to mind, along with his uncharacteristic impatience. Emotion didn’t have a place in the job he did as a partner in Steele Security, the business he and his brothers ran out of their home base in Denver, Colorado. The kind of work they did—hostage and fugitive recovery, personal protection, threat management, industrial security—required clear but creative thinking, situational analysis, high-stakes decision making.
Taggart regarded being cool and impartial an absolute necessity. It ought to be chiseled in stone, if you asked him—his brother Dominic’s recent marriage to a wealthy debutante he’d rescued from the clutches of a ruthless Caribbean dictator notwithstanding.
He shifted his gaze from the cabin to the ancient Ford pickup parked at the far end of it. Just because the vehicle’s recent history fit with his quarry’s MO—blend in, deal in cash, vanish after dropping false hints about your destination—that didn’t automatically mean it was Bowen. There was still a chance she’d again eluded him—and gained the gratitude and ensuing silence of yet another needy young woman matching her general description—by giving away the truck the way she had three previous vehicles.
Only Taggart didn’t think so. And not merely because his instincts were clamoring that his luck had finally turned. Because this time, damned if he hadn’t seen her himself, bold as brass, driving out of the Morton’s Grocery parking lot on the outskirts of Kalispell.
The cabin door swung open. “I’ve got movement,” he told Gabe. “I’ll catch you later.” Not waiting for a reply, he disconnected and shifted the binoculars into place as a woman stepped out onto the porch that skirted the cabin.
With icy calm, he let his gaze climb her length, starting at her fleece-topped boots and moving up her slim, blue-jeaned legs, past a serviceable green parka until he arrived, at long last, at her face.
He let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. It was her, all right. After the dozen weeks he’d spent on her trail, interviewing her friends and showing her picture around, her features were as familiar to him as his own. There was the full mouth, the straight little nose, the big dark eyes and the slightly squared chin. Her glossy brown hair, which she’d once worn in a thick braid that reached to her waist, was now cropped short and, after a number of cut-and-color transformations, back to its original color.
He frowned as something nagged at him, and then his face smoothed out as he realized he was simply surprised by how small she was. Even though his information on her included the fact that she was only five foot three, for some reason he’d expected her to appear taller.
Nevertheless, it was her—Ms. Genevieve Bowen, Silver, Colorado, bookstore owner and literacy booster, teen mentor, animal lover, occasional emergency foster mother. A woman so well-known for her random acts of kindness that her friends fondly referred to her as their own little Pollyanna.
Polly-pain-in-the-butt was more like it, Taggart thought, recalling the absolute futility of the past three months. Given Ms. Bowen’s glorified Girl Scout reputation, and the fact that your average model citizen didn’t know jack about being on the lam, he’d assumed he’d be able to track her down without breaking a sweat.
Wrong. First to his surprise and then to his exasperation—and his brothers’ not-so-subtle amusement—little Genevieve had made none of the usual beginner’s mistakes. Hell, she hadn’t made any mistakes. Instead, she’d simply vanished, turning a job that should have been a week-long romp into a test of Taggart’s cunning and perseverance.
It was just too damn bad for her that he was very, very good at his job.
That, being a methodical son of a bitch, he’d decided after losing her trail yet again to revisit all the places he’d initially pegged as being potential bolt holes for her, including her late great-uncle’s northern Montana cabin where she and her brother—who was currently being held without bail on charges of capital murder—had spent several long-ago summers.
And that, in an unpredictable turn of luck, he’d just happened to pull into that grocery store lot at the same time she’d been pulling out. Otherwise, he not only would have missed her, he’d have once again struck the cabin off his list for now and most likely spent another few weeks fruitlessly trying to locate her.
Instead, he’d called in the pickup’s plates to Gabe and followed her back here, managing