Deal for Love
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by Gwynn Morgan
Description: Chronic overachiever Kit Poindexter arrives in Arizona with a firm goal: as quickly as possible, she'll amass the million dollars she needs to save her late father's foundering firm from her half-brother's mismanagement. Then she'll head back to Boston to take over Poindexter Enterprises. A chance meeting with gorgeous Bret McClintock dumps an unexpected distraction into her power-suited lap. Kit assumes Bret is a blue-collar guy when he rescues her from a blizzard on a mountain road. They spend a weekend in a rustic cabin, sharing a single sleeping bag, which forces intimacy Kit is not prepared to deal with. Later, her preconceived ideas are shattered when she learns Bret is really a Ph.D. teaching anthropology at the university. She is angry and embarrassed when hersnobbery is revealed, but he's willing to forgive and forget. He even charms her into a camping trip. There she meets his Indian friends and learns their land, where Bret is studying earlier peoples seeking to prove a link to the modem Apache, is the same piece her boss wants to acquire for a resort development. Bret's Apache attorney friend warns him that bis new lady is probably a spy. Bret's temper flares. Once again he's been mistaken for a brainless hunk and used! He treats Kit coldly and soon takes her home. Now she must choose between doing what she knows is right and the goal she has held all her adult life.
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2003 Hard Shell Word Factory
eBookwise Release Date: January 2004
12 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [232 KB]
Reading time: 148-207 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"A great love story! I couldn't put it down. Women all over the country should wish to be rescued from a snow storm by a Brett McClintock. 4 Hearts"--Louise Riveiro-Mitchell, theromancestudio.com
Near Sunrise Ski Resort
Apache Reservation, Arizona
FRESH POWDER -- OUGHT to make for great skiing tomorrow. Kit Poindexter slowed the BMW, feeling the car slip as she took a sharp curve. She flipped on the lights and followed their wavering beams into the swirling white-pocked twilight.
Since arriving in Arizona in January to start her new post with Bernard Brothers Investments, she hadn't had one chance to go skiing, which had been one of her favorite leisure-time activities back home. When she mentioned her planned weekend at Sunrise to Les Bernard, her employer, he had beamed.
"Great timing, Kathy," he said. "I've got a new client coming in, an Aye-rab I think, looking for some good property to be developed into an upscale resort. Understand there's some choice acreage around the edges of the Reservation, so take a look and see if you see anything that looks promising, maybe ask around a little if you can. You locate something, I guarantee there'll be a nice bonus for you."
She hated it when he called her Kathy, but she knew from experience she couldn't make him stop. Being a petite female in the business world brought disadvantages. How did you get the men to take you seriously? But the bonus sweetened his comment. With a few extras like that, she'd have her million and be able to go back to Boston, maybe before Sam sent Dad's legacy into oblivion. Why hadn't he seen she had twice the business acumen of her half-brother?
Another skid jerked her attention back to driving. She was definitely on the highway, but which lane? I hope nobody's coming down the road. Edging the car to the right, she glimpsed the hillside, rising from the roadbed. At least her lane was on the inside.
After what seemed a long, steep climb, the highway leveled off. Her visibility had become so limited she almost missed the turn-off. She managed to get onto the narrow road leading to the ski area. Only one set of tire tracks marred the pristine white blanket of snow that thickened with every passing moment.
She nibbled her lip, striving to stay calm. Only twenty miles now. Surely the storm can't get worse. Her new Arizona friends would laugh if they knew she'd let a little southwestern snow scare her. After all, as she'd told them, she'd lived with real winters most of her life. But that had been in a city where the roads were paved and plowed.
Abruptly the ride went bumpy, as if she'd gone from pavement to a chuckhole-pocked dirt road with no notice at all. This road was even less defined than the highway, rambling up and down, from ridge to ridge, snaking across deep ravines. Trees edged both sides, the only clues that indicated the direction of the road.
Her car slithered, slipped sideways, tilted, and jolted to a stop. A BMW was not supposed to do this. Those glossy TV ads never showed a Beemer doing anything as un-elegant as getting stuck in a ditch. She ground her teeth in frustration, stomping on the gas once more. The wheels spun, throwing mud and snow. The Beemer wouldn't budge.
"Damn it! Why does this have to happen now?" With a resigned sigh, she shut off the motor. As Aunt Catherine had always said, "No use beating a dead horse." Or in this case, a dead Beemer.
Kit turned around and leaned over the back of the seat, rummaging for her boots. If she had to get out, she wasn't going do it in her cross-trainers. The snow must be at least six inches deep, maybe more. She decided to put on her parka, too, glad she brought the thick coat. She hadn't expected to need it. Wasn't this Arizona? Sunny Arizona?
How far had she come from the main highway? She hadn't thought to check the mileage, but she felt like she'd traveled a long way. She could probably hike to the lodge and find someone with a four-wheel drive vehicle to tow her car. Gathering her resolve, she shoved open the door and stepped into the storm.
The cold hit her like a fist in the stomach. She gasped, then slammed her mouth shut as the icy air burned her throat. Grains of snow stung like needles as they hit her face. She pulled the hood of her parka as far forward as possible before she turned to begin slogging down the road. Just her luck -- that direction led her right into the wind.
In mere minutes, she was out of breath. Kit paused, turned her back to the wind, and looked behind her. She couldn't see her car, though she knew she hadn't come very far. The depressions of her footprints were nearly buried by fresh snow. The snow wasn't falling, but swirling and surging, flying as if each flake had internal power, borne by the wind. Maybe I ought to stay at the car. Someone should be along shortly. Kit hesitated. Go back or continue? She couldn't stay here. On this exposed ridge top, the wind howled past like a freezing jet-wash. If only she knew how far the lodge was. She went a few steps, then turned around. She'd be better off waiting in the car. At least she wouldn't be quite so cold inside, out of the wind. She could start it again and run the heater, although she'd heard it was dangerous to sit too long in a storm with a car motor running. Carbon monoxide gas could build up and poison her before she knew what was wrong. Long before she reached the car's meager shelter, her teeth began to chatter and violent shivers racked her. Wind chill. Hypothermia. In Arizona. I don't believe this!
• • •
BRET MCCLINTOCK PEERED through the windshield of his Dodge Ram, straining to find traces of the road. Even though he knew it almost as well as his own drive -- make that the drive at Aunt Melba-Jean's, where he'd lived the past eight years -- nothing looked normal. The snow covered everything and visibility was down to a nose and a half.
He should have stayed home, but when Jason called last night to tell him old Tracks Three was willing to talk, he'd jumped at the chance. The oldest man in the White River Apache tribe, Tracks Three had first-hand knowledge of events long forgotten by most people. He'd heard tales of the legendary Apache leaders from people who had actually fought and fled with them. The old man's tales might confirm some of Bret's personal theories. Though not yet accepted by anyone else, they were ideas that, once published, could change the academic view of Native American tribes of the Southwest and their history. Storm or no storm, he couldn't miss this opportunity.
The clouds brought an early twilight. Even with the truck's lights on, Bret couldn't see much besides snow. Then he saw a dark shape, only half-covered with white, looming ahead. The sight sent jumbled thoughts racing through his mind. A car? What's someone doingout here on a night like this? I bet whoever it was missed the turn-off to Sunrise. Hope he had sense enough to stay in the car's shelter. The wind chill must be twenty below.
Bret braked gently so he wouldn't skid. The truck crunched to a stop behind the stalled vehicle. Leaving the engine running, he got out to investigate. As he approached the driver's side, the window rolled down to reveal a woman's pale face, surrounded by a damp fur-edged hood.
"Oh, thank God! I was beginning to think nobody would evah come by. Surely theah ought to be moah people going to Sunrise. The skiing will be great once this storm cleahs."
The voice sounded feminine, a hint of Boston in the dropped r's. In the dim light, Bret couldn't clearly see her face.
"You aren't on the road to Sunrise, Miss. You passed that turn-off three miles back. This road leads to an Apache settlement down in White River Canyon." Darn newcomers, why can't they stay out of harm's way?
"Oh, no! How am I going to get to Sunrise? Would it be asking to much for you to pull me out and help me get turned around?"
Bret shook his head; snow fell off his battered Stetson. "Wouldn't do much good. Your little car'll never get there in this weather. There's one more steep grade before you reach the lodge. I'm starting to have trouble on the level here, even with high clearance and four-wheel drive."
The woman sat silent for a moment, apparently contemplating his statements.
"What am I going to do?" Her voice held both a plaintive note and a touch of frustrated arrogance -- almost as if the storm was a personal affront, interfering with her plans.
"Come with me. We'll get your car tomorrow or the next day, whenever it clears. I'm going to try to make it to a cabin, about a mile farther on. It'd be suicide to go down into White River or attempt to get to the lodge tonight."
He heard her ragged sigh.
"Okay. My car won't start again, and without the heater, I'm chilled to the bone. I guess I can't stay here, can I?"
"Not unless you want to freeze."
She clambered out, sinking into the snow. "I've got to get some things from the trunk and my briefcase." She waded toward the rear of the car, weaving as if the whirling whiteness made her dizzy. Once there, she fumbled, scraping snow away to find the lock while she struggled not to drop her keys.
"Here." Bret took the key from her stiff fingers and jabbed it into the icy lock. After twisting the piece of metal hard, the trunk swung open and snow slid in soft chunks to the ground. He reached in, grabbed the case, and slammed the lid shut. "You'll have to get into the truck on my side. Try to step in my tracks -- that way you'll get less snow in your boots."
When she followed him without protest, instinct told him she was being uncharacteristically mild and obedient. Bret snorted. She sounds like a real New England Princess, so it's probably a safe bet she's never suffered much discomfort.Like Barb -- she thought roughing it was a regular motel instead of the five star hotels she was accustomed to. Might do her good to learn how being scared and miserable feels. Why do I always have to get mixed up with these damned society women?
After Bret boosted the woman into the cab, she slid across the wide bench seat to let him in. He shoved her bag onto the floor at her feet before he settled behind the wheel. Gingerly, he backed up enough to clear her car, then started on once more.
He stared into the gray infinity ahead, mesmerized with the slow sweep of the wipers. They shoved sluggishly at the accumulating snow, barely clearing the glass. The headlights faded into the grayness; he couldn't see more than one truck-length ahead. Bret swore under his breath. Another mile was going to be tricky. He didn't attempt to make conversation. Distraction from the difficult task of driving was the last thing he needed. Tracks Three and his stories would have to wait. Right now Bret's primary goal was survival.
This must be the longest mile I ever traveled. Even worse than the last mile of the Mule Mountain Double Marathon last May. Probably slower, too. Bret wiggled his shoulders, fighting off the ache of tension tightened his back and arms. He relaxed one hand at a time, wiggling fingers going numb and stiff.
Finally, he recognized the lightning-blasted old Ponderosa pine that marked the turn-off to the cabin. A solid, ageless structure, the stone and log building belonged to an old family friend. Over the years, he'd spent a lot of time there. He eased the truck off the road, rolling to a stop with the bumper almost touching the porch rails.
Turning to his passenger, he saw she'd slumped, leaning against the door. He flicked on the cab lights so he could look at her. Somehow, she'd gotten wet before he picked her up. Even the blast of the truck's heater hadn't counteracted the resulting chill. He realized she was slipping into hypothermia. Bet she started to walk and changed her mind. Lucky for her, or she'd be as good as dead now.
"Wake up. We're here."
She jumped, shook her head, and muttered something. Yep, she was overcome with the typical grogginess brought on by drastically lowered body temperature.
"Le' me 'lone. Wanna sleep."
"No way. Come on." He reached over and grabbed her arm, pulling her towards him. She moved, floppy as an old rag doll. Scooping her up, he backed out of the truck, heading for the cabin door. Hope the old key still works. Hope Bill Kent hasn't sold the place or changed the lock. Ms. Boston needs to get warmed up fast and I'm feeling a little chilled myself. Good thing I brought the old sleeping bag along.
• • •
KIT CAME AWAKE slowly, loathe to leave the warmth of sleep, the comfort of a pleasant dream in which she snuggled in the arms of a man, the perfect man she'd never had time to look for. His masculine strength and heat surrounded her, protective yet not restricting... she jerked upright, shoving aside the restraining flap of a down-filled sleeping bag in the process.
"What the hell's wrong? You're letting the warmth out. Get back here before we both freeze."
The surly words were not part of her dream. This voice didn't murmur sweet assurances or tender phrases of tribute, but it was a masculine voice with a pleasant western drawl. Panic briefly arrested, Kit turned, peering down at her companion by the uncertain light of smoldering logs, flickering dimly in the massive fireplace to her right.
"Where am I and why am I in my underwear? What are you doing in my bed with me?"
"This is my bedding, Boston. My grandpa gave me this sleeping bag in 1978 when I joined the Boy Scouts."
Kit refused to be mollified. She wanted to hit something, to jump up and get the blazes out of here, to scream for help -- none of which were feasible. From the looks of things, she was totally alone with this stranger in a place she'd never seen before. She wanted answers and she wanted them five minutes ago.
"Who are you and how did I get here?"
"My name is Bret and I carried you in here. Now lie down and pull up the damned bag, okay? You aren't in any danger except from the cold."
Kit still couldn't make out the man's face, but his voice sounded gruff, unfriendly.
He probably isn't bent on rape, or he would already have done it, and I'm getting cold again -- fast. She scooted into the warm cocoon of the bag, drawing the edge up over her bare shoulders. She didn't want to touch him, but she had to until she turned on her side and scrunched away as far as she could. Then she touched the zipper, which felt like a long narrow ice-cube.
"So you say you rescued me?
"You got stuck in the snow yesterday evening, remember? I came along and brought you here, to this cabin. You were getting hypothermic so I did the best I could -- rolled out this sleeping bag and got in with you. Works best if everyone's nude, but I figured I could leave our skivvies on."
"Oh God." Kit remembered, all right. She almost wished she hadn't. She didn't want to think about how he undressed her while she was unconscious. All she needed to do was figure out how to extract herself from the current situation and get to the lodge. "Has the snow stopped yet?"
"I doubt it. Storms like this usually lasts at least twenty-four hours. I don't intend to look either, because that would mean opening the door and letting more cold in. But I'd better put some more wood on the fire." As he spoke, he began to move, wiggling backwards until he could sit up without dislodging the bag from around Kit's shoulders.
Even in the dim firelight, she saw his chest was bare. He scooted a little farther. She knew she should look away, but she couldn't. He wore briefs, and that's what they were, brief. A very minimal patch of navy blue in the strategic area, nothing more. Oh for goodness sakes! Cowboys and outdoorsmen are supposed to wear woolly red union suits that cover them from neck to ankles, not some thong like a dancer in a male strip club! But he does look delicious. With that naughty thought, Kit no longer felt cold.
He stood in a single, smooth motion and stepped out of sight behind her head. A moment later, he reappeared, crouching inches from her, and began to stack an armload of logs in the fireplace. Bending forward, elegant tush almost in her face, he blew into the coals until the flames jumped to begin their greedy work on the new fuel. He sat back on his haunches for a moment, then gave a self-satisfied grunt. Crawling around behind Kit's head, he wormed into the sleeping bag.
Kit stiffened and held still. It was difficult, but she tried to banish the image of his beautiful, tanned body, to ignore the touches of his warm flesh against hers.
"Do you have any idea what time it is?" She ground out the question through gritted teeth.
"Prob'ly about three or four in the morning. Go back to sleep. We can't do a thing until daybreak, anyway." Moments later, he began to snore.
Every nerve hummed and tingled. She stared into the flickering flames, but that only made her feel hotter, itchier, and more out-of-sorts. She had never been more aware of anyone than she was of the sleeping man behind her. All the while, he slept on, snoring contentedly. There was no justice in the world, none at all! She should be tucked into a comfy bed at Sunrise Lodge, anticipating a gorgeous day on the slopes. Instead, she lay on a hard floor, with only the inadequate padding of half a sleeping bag between her and what felt like stone. She couldn't turn over because that would leave her face to face with... a gorgeous man who snored.
He shifted, edging closer, until his hairy, muscular legs pressed against hers. She couldn't move away. There was no where to go. Now, she felt his chest against her back. Its furring of hair, just on the soft side of prickly, brushed her. Her sensitized skin tried to ripple like a horse's hide, shaking off flies, with even less effect.
"Damn it, I'm not cold anymore. Give me some room!" Though her sharp whisper sounded thunderously loud in the silence, he didn't stir. The snores changed rhythm, but there was no movement to prove he'd heard her. Kit didn't know whether to laugh or cry. What a dilemma. Any one of her friends, finding themselves in bed with such a hunk, would make the most of the opportunity. Trouble was, she didn't know how to proceed. Especially since the man seemed completely unaffected by her proximity. Even if she wanted to make the first move, to let him know she was definitely interested, what should that first move be?
Starting college at sixteen, she'd been too busy racking up courses that guaranteed success to spend much time socializing. Dating was for girls who sought a "Mrs." rather than an MBA. What did one do with a man who climbed into bed with you only to fall asleep? Try an elbow in the ribs, an imp whispered in her ear. No, that could hardly excite anything but his wrath.
"A Poindexter has certain standards. We make the best of every situation and capitalize on the appearance of misfortune." Her father's oft-repeated admonishment echoed through her mind. What would you do, Daddy, if you were in my... er, my place? If her father's ghost heard her plaintive query, he chose not to reply. She was on her own. Nothing learned at Harvard had prepared her for such an occasion. She could visualize no way to turn a profit from this chance encounter. Probably the best she could hope for was that the storm would end the coming day, they'd get her car out and turned around, and she'd get back to Tucson before Monday morning -- with nothing at all to report to Les Bernard. Sheesh! Then, she'd figure out something plausible to tell Joy and Madge, whom she was supposed to meet at Sunrise.
Her companion shifted again, slinging one arm across her. His broad, warm hand splayed out, seeming to cover all the exposed flesh between her bra and panties, and there was plenty of that. She bit back a groan. I can't believe this is happening.
As exhaustion took hold, she felt her limbs growing heavy and limp. She couldn't grasp a thought long enough to remember why she was upset. There was nothing she could do anyway, so fighting the inevitable was pointless. She stared into the flickering coals until they dimmed and faded as her lids drifted shut.
• • •
BRET AWOKE, FIGHTING an unusual sense of claustrophobia. His sleeping bag had never felt so confining, so crowded. In spite of the story he'd concocted on the spur of the moment to hush Boston up, the bag was new. He'd awakened too many times as a kid unable to breathe to ever sleep well in a confining space. He'd deliberately bought the largest bag he could get to avoid that problem. Eyes still shut, he moved experimentally.
Nope, it's not my imagination. Warm, firm flesh that felt suspiciously like a feminine rear pressed against... whoa, no use thinking about that... His body was already well aware of the situation.
Stifling a groan, he levered up on one elbow. Dim light streamed in through the two high windows on either side of the fireplace. It was either still early, still snowing, or both. All he could see outside was pale gray. He glanced down at his companion as memories of the previous evening's events began to intrude.
Boston. He felt a smile tug at his mouth. Asleep, at ease, and silent, she looked both young and pretty. Her pink lips were parted slightly, soft in appearance, devoid of makeup. Twin fans of brown lashes rested across the faint freckles dusting her cheeks. Honey-colored hair, though tousled, looked silkily tempting to touch. His fingers twitched, started to move. He jerked his hand back, putting it behind him.
Come on, you don't take advantage of sleeping ladies. Get your butt out of this bag before you get carried away.
Although he moved more rapidly than he might have under normal circumstances, she didn't stir or waken. Consider that a blessing. He struggled into his cold, stiff shirt and jeans. Drying over a chair by the fire hadn't softened them any. The boots were worse, but he got them on with only minor grunting and swearing.
Bret turned to the lady's things -- brand new jeans and a soft pink turtleneck with a matching pink and blue plaid shirt. They were dry but stiff, too. He shook them a little before folding them into a pile on the floor near her head. Wouldn't help much, but they'd be handy for her there, when she awoke.
He saw the wood box was near empty. He needed to step outside anyway, so he pulled on his parka. Easing the door open, he pushed out into the snowy morning. At least the wind had died, but snow still fell, thickly as ever. Drifting flakes veiled all but the closest pines circling the small park in which the cabin had been built. A good eight inches of fluffy white covered the pickup, practically burying it.
Dragging the door shut behind him, Bret shook his head. They weren't going to be leaving soon. That information probably wouldn't make Boston's day, but there wasn't much he could do to change the weather. He found a large pile of wood at the rear of the cabin, protected by the overhang of the roof. He carried several armfuls around to the front. Rummaging in the truck, after brushing away enough snow to open the door, he dragged a box of MREs out from behind the seat.
Not the most appetizing stuff in the world, but a damned sight better than going hungry. Be willing to bet a month's pay Boston never ate MREs before, though. Well, gotta be a first time for everything. Sometimes initiating a virgin is fun. He grinned as he shouldered the door open to step into the cabin.
She still slept, burrowed into the bag until only her face showed, half-shadowed within the down-plumped nylon folds. He had let in some chilly air, and the fire again burned low. Wondering if the smell of coffee would get her going, Bret squatted to rebuild the fire. When the new logs kindled to a bright blaze, he stood to glance around the room. Yep, just as he recalled. Across the room, a set of rough shelves held rudimentary cooking supplies and utensils. Crossing the flagged floor, he took down the old enameled coffeepot and a battered steel kettle with a twisted wire bail.
The hand-worked pump that drew water up from the cistern beneath the cabin squealed like a scared piglet. He had begun to doubt it would work when a gush of rusty water squirted out. After a few more pumps, he filled the coffeepot. He turned just in time to see his guest bolt upright, eyes wide. Her face reflected pure terror.
"Oh my God, what's that awful noise?"
"Not to worry, Boston. The wolves can't break down the door."
After he made the flippant reply, Bret felt a twinge of regret. She probably had no idea what roughing it was like. How could she? She was clearly a New England princess, one whose idea of camping was a nice room with hot and cold running water.
Thought skidded to an abrupt halt. The bag had fallen to her waist, revealing a lot of creamy skin and a lacy pink bra. Whew. His temperature soared ten degrees in as many seconds. He ought to look away, but he couldn't. That's some bra, one of those lift-and-push-out jobs, and boy, does it. A flush began at her cheekbones and spread up and down until every inch of visible skin turned rosy. Strawberries and cream, with maybe a bit of peach thrown in. He could savor every luscious bit.
Copyright © 2003 by Gwynn Morgan