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Copyright © 2012 Dawn Brown
From the window of Luke’s guest bedroom, Ella watched the snow drift softly to the ground like a veil of white in the dying light. A deep expanse of forest surrounded the A-frame chalet like a fortress wall, tree’s tangled, skeletal branches grasping at the blue gray sky above, leaving her feeling isolated, shut off from the outside world.
A shudder rippled down her spine.
She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cold glass. Tonight was the night. Tonight she would have the answers she’d wanted for so long.
Could she do it? She swallowed hard and did her best to ignore the way her hands trembled as she let the drape fall back into place. She turned away from the window and knelt next to her suitcase, checking she had everything she needed for about the one millionth-time since arriving.
Pulling pack the flap on the lid, she inspected the contents. The bottle of sleeping pills her doctor had prescribed for her when Phoebe first disappeared. She hadn’t used them long, feeling groggier and more muddle-headed than she had before taking one. Plastic ties used for securing wires that she bought at the hardware store. She’d considered rope, but didn’t know anything about knots. Besides, Luke wouldn’t be able to wriggle free from these. The only way ties like this would come off would be if she cut them, and she wouldn’t do that until he’d told her everything she wanted to know. And finally, the hammer also purchased at the time she bought the ties. She hadn’t brought any other tools. If the hammer failed to produce the results she wanted, she would improvise with whatever she found around the chalet. She remembered seeing a hatchet on the mantel of the stone fireplace in the living room.
Her stomach lurched and she ground her teeth together to keep from throwing up. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t.
You can. Think of Phoebe. Think of that bastard’s smug expression when you showed up at his door. Think about what he must have done to your sister. And think about the next fifty years not knowing what happened to her while he gets away with it.
She drew in a shaky breath, plucked the pill bottle from the pouch in her suitcase. After unscrewing the child-safe lid she shook a half dozen capsules into her hand. How many did she need? She wanted enough to knock him out for a few hours, but not send him into a coma.
She stuffed the entire handful into her pocket. If a few didn’t work, she’d give him more until he passed out.
The doorbell downstairs chimed, making her jump and her heart start to pound. Who in the hell would that be? They were out in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm, not terribly conducive to drop-ins. Had Luke invited someone else to join their merry little party? That would throw a real wrench in her plans.
She left the bedroom and walked to the rail overlooking living room. The fire crackling in the fireplace reflected orange off the gleaming wood floors. Candles on the mantle and in the center of the coffee table between the two couches glowed warmly next to a bottle of wine and two glasses.
How romantic. Did he actually think she’d mess around with her maybe dead sister’s husband? A man she’d less than a month ago accused of foul play in her sister’s disappearance.
She shrugged off her annoyance. His ego actually worked to her advantage. The wine would be the ideal opportunity to begin drugging him. Or it would be provided whoever was knocking at the door left.
Male voices drifted to her ears as she descended the stairs to the front hall where the men were speaking. Mid-way down both men came into her line of vision. Luke faced her, dressed in black pants and black turtleneck sweater. His eyes gleamed in the dim light like neon and his sculpted lips thinned into a straight line as he eyed the other man.
She froze on the bottom step. Her heart started to pound. Even with his back to her there was something horribly familiar about the other man’s messy brown hair and wet, rumpled coat.
“Ella,” Luke said, catching sight of her. “It would seem we have a guest for Christmas dinner."
The other man turned. Hot golden eyes, the color of whiskey, locked with hers.
“Andy,” she half gasped half squeaked.
Of all the times for her to start using his first name. Andy glanced over his shoulder to gauge Luke’s reaction. If he thought there was anything strange in her reaction to him, Summers wasn’t letting on.
“Ms. Martin,” Andy said. “I must admit, I’m surprised to find you here.”
She gaped at him for a long moment, then cleared her throat and said, “Detective, I assure you the feeling is mutual.”
“It seems,” Summers cut in, drawing Ella’s attention him. “Detective Harlowe has had some car trouble.”
“I see,” she said, her gaze shifting from him to Summers then back again.
“Do you?” Luke snapped. “Because I don’t. What are you doing out in this neck of the woods on Christmas Eve, Detective?”
Andy gave him a hard smile. “Watching you. You’re under surveillance. Didn’t you know?”
“Is that really the sort of thing you march up to your quarry’s front door and announce?” Ella asked, resting her hands on her hips.
“Not usually.” He’d pissed her off. Whatever game she was playing she hadn’t wanted him to see it. “But the battery in my car died and the idea of sitting outside and freezing to death wasn’t terribly appealing.”
“So phone for a tow,” Luke ground out.
“Can’t get a signal on my phone. Probably the storm. It’s supposed let up by morning. Surely, you wouldn’t turn out a police man on Christmas eve.”
Andy smiled wide, his gaze bouncing between two silent, furious stares.
Luke spoke first. “Of course not. It seems it will be the three of us celebrating. How surreal. Let me show you to a bedroom. You’re soaked through. I should have something you can wear. I’m taller than you and wider in the shoulders so what I have might be a bit big.”
Jesus, maybe they should whip out their dicks to see whose was bigger and just be done with it already. “Whatever you have is fine.”
Luke led him to a small room at the end of the hall made smaller by the sharp wall angle of the A-frame. After dropping a pair of jeans and a gray turtleneck on the bed, Luke left, closing the door behind him.
Alone at last. Andy’s shoulder’s sagged and he nearly flopped onto the bed until he remembered his wet clothes. As he peeled the cold material from his skin, the sound of hushed voices carried through the door—unfortunately not loud enough for him to make out actual words. After a few minutes the voices faded as the speakers moved away.
Well, he was in. Next step, stop Ella from getting herself killed and get her as far from that scumbag Summers as possible. He yanked open the fly of his wet pants and shimmied out of them, leaving them in a heap on the floor.
Without warning, his door clicked then swung open. He spun around to face his uninvited guest in nothing but his boxers and a curse on his lips. He froze, the words dying on his tongue as Ella slipped inside, closed the door and leaned back against it. Her pale green gaze moved over his nearly naked body and a flash of need heated his blood.