Hot Cops #4
Pocket Star (October 28, 2008)
Mass Market – Contemporary
Order your copy today!
HE KNOWS IF YOU’VE BEEN BAD OR GOOD….
Picture-perfect Evergreen, California, nestled on the shores of Reindeer Lake in the snowy Sierras, is the perfect place for a no-strings holiday fling with a gorgeous Latin lover. Workaholic Kimberly Michaels didn’t come to Evergreen only to enjoy herself, though; she’s there to consummate a development deal in which her company will take over the town — whether the town wants it or not. Ricco Maza, whose sister owns the quaint B & B where Kim is staying, may be the hottest man she’s ever met (and the only one who can persuade her to relax enough for an orgasm!) but if he discovers why Kim is in town, she’ll soon be finding more coal and switches than kisses in her Christmas stocking. And as Kim’s frosty winter nights steam up with her sexy Santa, she realizes she’s going to have to make a choice. Is winning the deal truly the most important thing in life, or will this jaded cynic let Santa finally give her a little taste of Christmas magic?
“You’ll never look at Santa Claus the same way after reading Tabke’s erotic tale set in the quaint, Christmas-themed town of Evergreen. The heat between a sometime-Santa and a workaholic sizzles on the page, while family troubles and a developer with few scruples keep the book moving at a fast pace…
This is a holiday story that is as sweet and spicy as gingerbread.”
A must read!”
Kay Quinn, Fresh Fiction
“Well, put chains on the damn tires!” Kim orderedthe car rental guy over the phone.
“Sorry, lady, the advisory is clear. Stay off the roads. Emergency vehicles only.”
Shit! Nick would kill her if she wasn’t in Evergreen by the end of the day. “Look, I have to be in Evergreen by this afternoon. How much do you want to make that happen?”
“Lady, 80 is closed. It’ll be twenty-four hours before the plows will have it cleared, and that’s if the snow stops right now. Taking 82 into Evergreen will be another two, maybe three, days. Nobody is going in there, and nobody is coming out.”
She slammed down the phone and whipped back the heavy curtains of the window, blanching as bright light pierced her corneas. A whiteout glared back at her. Snow! It was freakin’ everywhere! The blizzard of the decade was not supposed to hit for another twenty-four hours. She only needed an hour to get to Evergreen. Like a petulant child, Kimberly threw herself in a tantrum on the rumpled bed in her hotel room. “I don’t want to be here!” she shrieked. And despite the immaturity of the action, it felt really good. She didn’t let loose often, but when she did, it always made her feel better.
She smiled and warmed. Like last night.
Just as quickly as it erupted, her smile waned. Guilt assailed her, although it shouldn’t have. It wasn’t like she was officially engaged or that her soon-to-be intended gave two shits who the hell she slept with. Frustration gripped her, and the fact that she felt anger at Nick right now bothered her on several levels. She didn’t love him. He didn’t love her. Their impending nuptials were a business merger, pure and simple.
So why was she pissed?
She relaxed and settled more comfortably back into the sheets. Let’s think this through, Kimberly. Just as you would an acquisition.
Last night had been an anomaly. Plain and simple. Not only from the one-night stand angle but also from the pure carnal indulgence of the encounter. Her skin warmed. Yes, last night had been a stress release she hadn’t realized she’d needed. And for that value alone, it had been worth it. A girl couldn’t buy that kind of de-stressor. And knowing her physical health was directly tied to her mental well-being, Kim had no regrets.
She closed her eyes and relaxed back into the thick, downy pillows. A long breath escaped her and she pressed her hand to her chest, the rapid thud of her heart belying her casual dismissal of the gravity of her late-night tryst.
What if she ran into that hunky stud she’d twisted up the sheets with last night? If she couldn’t get out of Reno, neither could he. She twirled a long blond strand of hair between her right index finger and thumb. Heat spattered across her cheeks. If she looked in the mirror right now, she would see that her neck and chest were red and splotchy. She hated that. It was a dead giveaway that she was nervous or embarrassed, or, well, anything other than the hard-ass persona she had worked a lifetime to perfect. In her business, perception was everything. And despite her iron will to tamp it down, the heat continued to rise in her cheeks.
For crying out loud, it wasn’t like she was a prude or anything, but, oh, good Lord, the things that man had done to her last night! And she didn’t even know his name! She flung herself over and cradled her hands under her cheek. A slow, dreamy smile curved her lips. His spicy, masculine scent still lingered in her hair, on her clothes, and on her skin. She closed her eyes and inhaled him deep into her lungs. God, last night had been incredible.
She hadn’t wanted to shower. It would wash away the last trace of him, and she wanted the subtle reminder of him for just a little longer. Her body thrummed. She wanted more than a reminder. She wanted him again. Hell, maybe she should go back up to his room and while away the hours….
Kim rolled over onto her back and squinted against the bright light of the snow streaming through her window. But she knew she wouldn’t go upstairs. For a lot of reasons, the number one being he was the kind of guy who liked women too much. And she was the kind of woman who had been burned by his type one too many times.
Stupid, stupid, Kimberly. Always going for the men who gave women like her a token glance before they moved in on the supermodel type. Except this guy, last night. For reasons only known to him, he had paid no attention to the high-maintenance girls flitting around him like annoying gnats on a sweaty dog. Not that Kimberly didn’t have high-maintenance fees — she did, but she just never felt she could compete with those exotic sex-kitten types. She was more, well, basic. “A handsome natural attractiveness,” Forbes had said when she’d been interviewed last year. “Not the kind to distract in the boardroom, but a solid beauty who would withstand the ravages of time.” Great; she felt like a Chevy.
As one of the three “Women of Steel” Forbes had featured, she’d found the article a letdown. In her eyes it had screamed that she couldn’t do anything right in her personal life, but watch the hell out when it came to acquisitions. She was Land’s Edge’s number one gun for hire, and she always landed her mark. Always.
Kim smiled despite dredging up painful reminders of why she was still single. Again. It didn’t matter really, because last night, basic had trumped sexpot, and she had had the night of her life. Thanks to vodka-fortified bravery, she had been all too willing to follow that hot Latin stud up to his room, and there she’d discovered firsthand what all of the fuss was about. He was big, he was sexy, and he’d been the most passionate lover she had ever had the pleasure of slipping between the sheets with.
He’d made her feel things she had never felt before, including a natural orgasm. Multiple natural orgasms. Boy, she’d really been missing out.
When their gazes had caught and locked across the smoky lounge, time had stopped for her. Even from a distance she’d been able to see straight into his dark, soulful eyes. She’d felt like something had knocked into her chest, and it had scared the crap out of her. She’d quickly looked away and prayed he would go away. He hadn’t. He’d approached her in the crowded bar and said she looked like she’d needed some company. She might have a knack for picking losers, but she wasn’t naive. She’d rolled her eyes and turned away from him, giving him the classic brush-off. He’d persisted. His low, husky laughter had done things to her insides she’d tried to ignore. When he’d sat that tall hunky body of his down beside her and bought her a drink, she’d known she would have jumped through hoops right then and there had he asked her to.
Kim’s lips tightened. Because the cold, ugly truth was that he’d nailed exactly how she’d been feeling at that exact moment. Talk about timing! She had needed some company. She’d cocooned herself away for so long in her work that she hardly remembered what it was like to feel attracted to a man.
Figures, the minute she lets her Stay-the-Hell-away-from-Me sign down, one swoops in for the kill. For crying out loud, did she have a Hit-on-Me-I’m-Lonely sticker on her forehead? Kim looked up at the ceiling. She was thirty-eight, divorced — twice — and didn’t even own a cat. She owned a swank condo in the Hollywood hills, which, even four years after she closed, didn’t have furniture except a bed and the requisite office furnishings. Her life was lived out of a suitcase. And hell if she could remember the last time she’d let a guy see her naked.
She grinned. But she’d hit the jackpot last night.
It hadn’t taken long for him to touch her hand and give her that look. And it had taken her brain only a fraction of a millisecond to stand up and follow him up to his room. She had no regrets, except maybe she would have liked to have stayed longer. She didn’t even know his name, and it didn’t matter. Guys like him didn’t remember girls like her, and she would be the better for it.
Such was her emotionally unencumbered life. And that was exactly how she wanted to keep it. Emotionally unencumbered. Speaking of emotionally unencumbered, Kim reached across the bed, dug her cell phone out of her black Chanel bag, and hit a button.
“Gold,” a deep male voice answered. She scowled at the voice. It wasn’t like he didn’t have caller ID and know it was her.
“Hello, Nick, it’s Kimberly.”
“What do you have?”
Her scowl deepened. How was that for Hey, honey, how are you? It bothered her that all of a sudden Nick’s aloofness bugged her. Theirs was a purely platonic relationship, but one that they both agreed would be better served united. A merger. Neat and clean — just like an acquisition for them both. He didn’t want kids, neither did she. He wanted to own the world, so did she, and they both knew that together, there would be no one or nothing that could stop them. They were, in Kim’s mind, sharks of the highest order, and she didn’t have a problem with that. She had long ago tired of getting her feelings hurt by picking the wrong men and diving headfirst into relationships that left her holding the bag. With Nick it was a corporate merger. She smiled. Yeah, she couldn’t wait.
“Hello to you too.”
“Kimberly, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. Knock off the drama.”
“Of course! I mean just because we’re engaged, how silly of me to expect a smidge of emotion from you.” She hated that she’d just said that. It showed weakness.
“We’ll be officially engaged when Evergreen is in the palm of my hand.”
Nick sighed on the other end of the phone. She could see him now in his penthouse office in the Century Building in L.A. Standing at his window peering out over the smog-laden city, knowing he owned a nice chunk of it, and hungry to own it all. He’d come out of the welfare system in L.A. He’d scholarshipped to Stanford, where he’d earned degrees in business and law. He was the most driven man on the planet, and he had proposed a partnership in Land’s Edge, as well as a merger in the bedroom, when she landed Evergreen.
“Kimberly, let’s not argue.”
And he was right. She knew the score. No emotion. Funny how things worked out.
After she’d worked for years as an acquisitions consultant for Nick, at the High Desert Resort and Casino closing party he’d said to her, out of the blue, “We’re exactly alike, Miss Michaels.” She’d agreed. It had been kind of sad to her when she’d realized that. He’d gone on to explain. “We both like money, power, and the thrill of the hunt.” He’d raised his martini glass toward the celebrating group of Land’s Edge employees. The High Desert Resort and Casino had been a monster to wrestle into submission. But after nearly a year of sweating blood over that one, she had closed the deal. It was the biggest notch on her acquisitions belt to date. He’d continued his sales pitch. “Neither of us likes to lose, and neither of us allows emotions to cloud our judgment. We both understand that while the employees or citizens of whatever business or property we acquire may not think a Land’s Edge acquisition is in their best interest, we know in the long run it is.” Kim didn’t completely agree with that. She’d had a few tinges of guilt here and there, but the golden pot at the end of the rainbow had more than soothed her conscience. Nick had smiled and raised his glass to her. “I think a merger is in order.”
She’d stared at him, not fully understanding his intentions. “I propose a professional and personal merger, Miss Michaels. I want you to work exclusively for me.” She’d opened her mouth to protest, but he’d stopped her. “Bring me Evergreen, and become my VP of acquisitions here at Land’s Edge and my partner in the social world as my wife.”
Dumbfounded, she’d stared at him. It was what she’d always dreamed of — being a managing partner in a Fortune 500 company. Power, wealth; the world would be hers for the taking. He smiled that famous let’s-close-this-deal smile of his and continued with his sales pitch. “Like you, I have no yearning for children, and like you, I understand that love is not the glue to a successful business. We understand that success is built on hard work and dedication. It’s about keeping your head screwed on straight and keeping all emotion out of the equation. If we both enter this merger understanding there is no love expected, then there will be no expectation of it, and in that, no hurt feelings.”
“Sex?” she’d blurted out.
He’d nodded, and his crystal-blue eyes had twinkled as he’d scanned her from the tip of her Jimmy Choos to the top of her blond head. He’d smiled, and while it shouldn’t have, it had made her skin warm. Nick Gold was a powerful, dominant, handsome man. She had, on more than one or two occasions, fantasized of dressing up as Little Miss Secretary and having her way with him on his big marble and teakwood desk.
“I think I could accommodate you in that department.”
“But — ?”
He held up his hand. “Listen, Kimberly, I know there will be times when you’re traveling, when we haven’t seen each other in weeks, perhaps months, and you will have urges.” He set his empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter. “By all means, feel free to indulge when and where you can.” He honed those clear blue eyes back on her and squinted. “But please, keep it clean. The last thing I want is an annoying STD from one of your boy toys.”
There it was: an offer on the table. A professional and personal merger, from which, as far as she could see it, she had everything to gain. She hadn’t needed any time to consider the proposition. They’d shaken on it then and there. An hour later he’d proceeded to fly off to Moscow for a month. He hadn’t bothered once to contact her. She hadn’t even tried to convince herself that maybe in time they would fall in love. She didn’t need love. She wasn’t into the warm fuzzies. In fact, those gushy warm fuzzy people annoyed her. Especially those women and men who gushed over babies, like theirs was the only baby ever to be born. If they only knew how ridiculous they looked.
Long before Nick’s proposal, Kimberly had resigned herself to the fact that she was done with emotional entanglements. Sex, sure, when the urge struck, and that wasn’t often. She knew she sucked in the picking-out-decent-guys department. She picked losers or, like the guy last night, pretty boys. Pretty boys who couldn’t keep their dicks in their pants. Yeah, it was kind of amazing when she thought about it. On the one hand, she could dissect and disseminate a financial statement, breaching even the most diligently protected property for acquisition while knowing in her gut she was right, but damn if she could trust herself when it came to men.
Except Nick. She had no delusions. She had money now, but as Mrs. Nicholas Montgomery Gold, she would have more money then she could ever spend. More than that, though, the doors to the world would be open to her. Nick had hinted just the other day that after Evergreen was procured he had his heart set on an island in the West Indies. The only problem was that it had what appeared to be a thriving economy and solid political structure. Kim smiled. That wouldn’t stop either of them from finding a way to expose the vulnerable underbelly every property had, making it ripe for a buyout. Hostile or otherwise.
As those thoughts went through her head, Kim wondered if her parents would actually show up to wedding number three. They hadn’t bothered for either of her previous weddings. Her mother had wrinkled her nose and asked why she was slumming. Kim wrinkled her own nose. Maybe she wouldn’t invite her parents — let them read about her marriage in the Times! It would serve them right.
Kim settled back into the soft, down comforter and smiled. Last night had been a welcome respite from her life. It would be her last. Because despite Nick’s stand on extramarital sex, she knew that once she said “I do,” she would not sleep around. She was a lot of things, but she was not going to violate the forsaking all others part of the merger. She sighed, hoping that she and Nick would be as compatible in bed as they were in the boardroom. But she doubted he could come close to the guy last night. What she wouldn’t give for just another few hours with him.
She shot up in the bed, so lost in her thoughts that she had forgotten about Nick! “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I said, for the third time, why are you calling me?”
Her rancor rose. “To tell you my flight arrived in Reno as scheduled, but at the moment, this entire county is blanketed under thirty feet of snow. I’m holed up at the Legacy — ”
“Find a way out.”
“I’m working on it, but I was told the road into Evergreen won’t be open until a day or two after 80 reopens.”
“I don’t want excuses.”
Grrr. “I’m not giving you any. I’m telling you, I can’t get out right now.”
“Time is of the essence, Kimberly. Make it happen.”
Damn him! “I guess you haven’t heard a word I’ve said. I. Can. Not. Get. Out.” His deep, throaty chuckle startled her. She didn’t trust his quick mood change. “What?”
“I hear you, but I also know you,” he replied.
And he did. He knew she would find a way, no matter the cost, to get into Evergreen within the agreed time frame. “I’ll get there as soon as humanly possible.”
“That’s my girl.” He hung up.
Kim flopped back into the pillows and slapped her hand over her eyes. Pain erupted behind her eye sockets, and she groaned. Nick would be an ass, then he would turn the tables on her to make her challenge herself to get the job done. While the real Nick — the one she had come to admire — was a prick at heart, she didn’t mind him when he loosened up. Of course the real Nick was a cut-to-the-chase man who created oases out of barren wastelands.
He had a knack for revitalizing properties, from a lowly corner supermarket to entire towns. And right now, Nick had his sights set on Evergreen, California, a small gem of a town tucked intimately between the snowcapped Sierras and the elegant and unspoiled shores of Reindeer Lake. With Reno to its northeast and Lake Tahoe to its south, the town had the potential to explode.
She slowly inhaled and exhaled a deep breath. She wanted Evergreen as bad as he did, but for different reasons. And if he was a bastard about getting it, she could be a bitch about it. And bitch she could be. It was her job to unearth and expose the town’s weaknesses, as well as its strengths, but mostly she was to find its Achilles’ heel. It was how Nick would move in, seize the property, then wave his magic wand.
Kim didn’t usually consider the will of the residents in these types of takeovers — and Lord knew some of them had been hostile — but in the end it always worked out. Besides, who could be unhappy when their beleaguered bank accounts plumped up from Land’s Edge cash?
She glanced toward the bright window and squinted. She was screwed. If it hadn’t been so damn windy she would have hired a chopper to take her into Evergreen. Maybe a snowmobile? She rolled over. Nick didn’t like excuses. It didn’t matter in the least to him that her wings were clipped.
As she always did when she was irritated, Kim reached to the locket hanging from a gold chain around her neck. It was her only link to the grandmother whose love had fortified her when her globe-trotting parents had jetted off, leaving their only child in the old woman’s care. After Gran died when Kim was eight, Kim had been left to a revolving door of nannies.
She jackknifed up in the bed, grabbing at her bare throat. No! The necklace was gone. Hastily she tore the sheets off her bed, scoured the carpet, dumped her purse, tossed the bathroom and her suitcase. Nothing.
Kim stood quietly in the room, her eyes squeezed shut. She knew exactly where it was and how it had gotten there. Excitement rippled through her, but trepidation hurried along behind it. It was in room 417, the one where she’d spent a night in sexual nirvana. She swallowed hard. As much as she wanted another roll in the sheets with Mr. No Name Hotty, she was done with dalliances for the moment. She had work to do, and she would need to focus one hundred percent. Knocking on his door and casually asking about her heirloom necklace, which he had most likely ravaged off her throat, was a surefire way to sidetrack her.
But if she didn’t go up there? She would never see the locket, and while she was not a sentimental woman, it was all she had from the only person who had loved her unconditionally.
Kim quickly showered and changed.