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Easing his Kawasaki 750 to a halt in front of Stacy Jackson’s house, Ross pulled his sunglasses off and made a slow perusal of the cabin in front of him. It was a single story home made of real logs. A slightly crooked chimney clung to the side of the cabin, which was covered in ivy. Pink and white sweet peas were planted near the steps and trailed up the banisters and railing. From the open windows, frilly white lace curtains waved in the evening breeze.

A deck wrapped its way around the front and side of the cabin and looking to the water, he could see a dock with a small boat tied up alongside. Ross grinned. The whole thing looked like a doll’s house, complete with a huge black cat who lay on the porch rail gazing at him with suspicious green eyes.

He climbed off the bike, setting it on its kickstand, before walking over to the feline watchdog. “Hello there,” he said softly. He put out his hand to stroke the jet-black fur and almost jumped when it started to purr loudly. Ross chuckled. “You just look big and bad, don’t you.”

The rumbling got even louder, and the cat put his chin up imperiously, showing a collar with the name Loki on it. Ross scratched under the wide chin. “You remind me a little of Dutch. You may look scary, but you’re just a marshmallow underneath.”

A low growl sounded behind Ross, and he went still. Carefully looking over his shoulder, he saw an enormous gray and white husky standing behind him. The dog’s hair was standing up and his lips were curled in a fierce snarl.

Shit,” Ross grunted softly as he turned to face the dog. He glanced back at the cat. It looked up at him with a knowing smirk and Ross wondered fleetingly if the two worked together. The cat drew in the unsuspecting victim, and then the dog would tear him apart. He slowly put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m harmless, guys. I swear.”

That, I very much doubt.”

Ross jerked his head around, and all thought drained out of his head. His mouth gaped open, and his hands went loose at his sides. Stacy stood on the edge of the deck, a navy blue towel in her hand. She was wearing a string bikini the same blue-green color of the lake behind her. Her beautiful breasts were barely covered by the twin triangles that clung lovingly to her body. Erect nipples pressed against the fabric, inviting his touch. A third triangle sheltered her mons and tied at each hip. There wasn’t a tan line on her, and he wondered fleetingly if she sunned in the nude. A quick glance around showed she had the privacy to do so if she chose.

“If you’re done looking me over like a side of beef…”

Red colored his cheeks as he met her gaze. Her flashing eyes were now more blue than hazel. “Can’t help it. You’re beautiful.”

Stacy couldn’t prevent a blush herself. His intense gaze made her heart pound and her insides liquefy. Her whole body warmed. But he was a stranger and that was just crazy. “I didn’t wear it to be looked at. I thought I was alone.”

He snorted. “Sure. You bought that little thing for yourself. Right.”

Anger and embarrassment warred with each other. He was right, but she’d be damned if she let him know that. “You’re trespassing. What do you want?”

“Are you always this unneighborly?” He looked down at the still snarling dog. “Is he going to bite me?”

“Only if I tell him to.”

“Come on, woman.” Male exasperation filled his voice. “I think we need to start over. This whole thing has gotten way outta hand.”

Stacy took a step back to consider, and really looked at her visitor for the first time. She’d been too angry and frightened in her grandfather’s office to really see him.

He was tall. Well over six feet and built like a man who could take care of himself. In his tight jeans and yellow T-shirt, it was easy to see his muscular build. Captain Ross Cannon was well formed and powerful, and she could well imagine him standing with a machine gun at the ready. He looked like he could handle just about anything.

His face was strong as well. Not classically handsome, but masculine with his square jaw and rough-hewn cheekbones. This late in the evening, his chin was covered in a dark five-o’clock shadow. Sensuous lips quirked into a half amused-half irritated smile.

His hair was the shade of twilight just before night truly fell. Dark brown with streaks of lighter umber, it slicked back over his head, revealing a wide intelligent forehead. Eyes as dark as his hair gazed at her with unmistakable intent. Stacy wasn’t stupid, she knew and understood that look, and her femininity responded to it in ways she’d almost forgotten. Her legs trembled, and her mouth went dry. She battled back the sudden desire to throw herself in his arms.

Ross’ body heated dramatically as he watched her look him over. He knew turn about was fair play, but he couldn’t help a smart remark. “If you’re done looking me over like a side of beef?”

She blushed and lifted her chin. He was reminded suddenly of the cat. His fingers itched to touch Stacy the way he’d stroked the lazy feline. With difficulty, he pushed the thought away and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “I came to speak to you about the firework display. I know you’re worried, and I thought if you and I could talk, you’d see there’s nothing to get all riled up about.”

Outrage filled her face. “I am not riled up.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

She made a quick irritated motion with her shoulders, and his eyes widened when her breasts bounced gently. Damn. He was getting hard again. He had the sudden urge to pull her to him and see if her mouth tasted as good as it looked.

Glancing down, he saw the husky hadn’t moved. It stared up at him with grim intent. If he tried anything, the dog would probably get a taste of him. Ross glanced at the cat who was still smiling smugly. The animal had probably set the whole thing up.

“You’re easily distracted, aren’t you?”

His gaze returned to hers. “I was just wondering if you were going to sic your animals on me.”

Her lips tightened. She snapped her fingers. “Adak, come.” The big dog immediately went to her side, and sat down, but still looked at Ross with hungry eyes. “Better?”

Ross nodded. “Yeah…It’s been a while since I’ve had a weapon pointed at me.” He held up his hand at her automatic protest. “The dog is doing what he’s supposed to. I’m okay with that. But I didn’t come here to talk about your choice of guards. I’m trying to tell you about the fireworks.”

Stacy deliberately turned away and grabbed a short robe from one of the deck chairs. She slipped it over her swimsuit and immediately felt more comfortable. The way the man was looking at her put her on edge. She turned back around and shrugged. “There isn’t anything you can say to me to make me change my mind. Fireworks are too dangerous, especially in a national forest.” And she had her reasons.

His strong jaw tightened. “There are plenty of safety procedures used to keep the danger to a minimum. I’ve been blowing things up for over fifteen years, and I’ve never had an incident. I’m damn good at my job, Ms. Jackson. I don’t take chances.”

She was unwillingly impressed, but a flash of an old memory shot through her, and she shuddered. “It’s too risky. There is no way you can be absolutely sure. You can’t cover every possible contingency.”

“Hell, you’re more likely to be eaten by a shark than killed by fireworks. You’re over dramatizing this whole thing.”

The rich disgust in his voice fueled her temper. “I don’t plan on swimming with sharks, Mr. Cannon, any more than I will allow you to put this town in danger just because you want to make a few bucks!”

She took a step back when his eyes flashed in anger. Adak growled in warning, but then subsided at a snarl from the man. There was a heavy pause, then the dog cocked his head, and his tail thumped briefly. Stacy grimaced. Obviously, there was a whole alpha dog thing going on here, and her animal had just come out second. Not that it surprised her. As she’d thought, Ross Cannon could take care of himself. She watched in helpless fascination as he stalked toward her, fury livid on his face.

“You think you got everything all figured out, don’t you,” he rasped. His hands shot out and grabbed her shoulders. “Did it ever occur to you I might care about this town as much as you do? The last thing I want is a fire. Jesus, woman. Give me some credit.”

She didn’t like the way her body wanted to respond to his nearness, so she struggled, but his hands were like vises. Not painful…just unmoving. “Why should I give a mercenary credit for anything,” she shot back. “If something were to happen, you’d just move on. Too bad, so sad. See you later.” Moisture burned behind her eyelids. “And we’re left picking up the pieces.”

Ross’ hands tightened at the hint of tears in her voice. Something else was going on here. Something he wasn’t yet privy to. His anger faded to be replaced by a slap of desire so strong he almost staggered under it. He gazed down at her impassioned face suddenly wishing she cared about him as much as she did about saving the town. He had a feeling when Stacy Jackson gave you her loyalty…it would be forever.

Without him realizing it, his thumbs began stroking up and down her bare arms. “I can’t give you guarantees, Stacy. But I can promise if it’s in my power to prevent it, I won’t let anything happen to this town or the people in it. Can you trust me enough to believe that?”

She shook her head wildly, her body trembling beneath his hands. “I don’t even know you! I can’t trust you at all.”

The pain from her words was unexpected. Why should she trust him? After all, they just met a few hours ago. But for some reason, he desperately needed it. His grip tightened again. “Your grandfather does.”

Stacy tried to pull away. “Grandpa trusts everyone. It’s his way of getting things done. I’m not so gullible.”

His control wavered. Anger and desire mixed to form a potent cocktail in his bloodstream. “I’m not asking for gullible, just an open mind.”

She tossed her head. “This is as open as I’m going to get. I know your type, Mr. Cannon. You care only about yourself.”

He gave a snarl that sent the cat leaping off the porch rail. Control disappeared in a white ball of frustration and lust. “Fine,” he growled as he pulled her hard against him. “Since you have such a low opinion of me, I might as well give you a reason.” And without another word, his mouth crushed down on hers.


***end of excerpt***




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