Undercover agent Pete Waters was all business until a beautiful distraction became an elusive gunman's target. Now, on top of conducting his own mission, Pete was constantly keeping Elle Medina out of harm's way. Though the businesswoman claimed she was innocent of any wrongdoing, the threats to her life--and the tugging at Pete's protective instincts--seemed to be increasing. Pete knew Elle was hiding something, but interrogating her would blow his own cover. So he kept his identity secret and vowed to make her safety his number one priority. Even if he had to watch her back all night long...
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March 10, 2008
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Excerpt from Avenging Angel by Alice Sharpe
August, Present Day
The moment she flew out of the saddle, Elle Medina knew she'd blown it.
Unless V�ctor Alazandro hadn't seen the fall. Unfortunately, a running horse stopping short of a fence while the rider kept going had a tendency to draw attention.
She hit the water hazard--filled earlier in the day in preparation for this jumping class--with a splash, landing face down in the murk, wishing she could sink into the ooze and disappear below the Nevada soil, right into the center of the earth.
Instead, she raised her head in time to see the dappled gelding trot off toward the corral fence while her student ran toward her screaming, both hands fluttering at her sides like little propellers.
Tabitha fell to her expensively clad knees, avoiding the splattered muck. "Elle? Are you okay? I can't believe you fell off Silver Bells. I've never even done that!" The girl shaded her eyes with one hand as she looked around the corral. "Is he okay?"
Elle, on hands and knees, twisted her torso and plopped back down on her read end. Shoving fine strands of dripping blonde hair away from her face before resting her forearms on bended knees, she said, "I'm fine, Tabitha, stop fussing. Silver Bells--"
"He just stopped," the girl said. "He just ran up to the fence and stopped. And you...didn't."
"I'm fine," Elle repeated. She didn't add what she suspected was the truth. Silver Bells had probably stopped short of the jump because Tabitha had veered him away at the last minute a half dozen times before Elle took over to demonstrate how it was done. Apparently, the horse had had enough. She added, "Why don't you go tend to Silver Bells."
"Poor baby," Tabitha gushed, springing to her feet.
The poor baby in question, reins trailing in the dirt, took one look at Tabitha's frantic approach and trotted toward Mike, the stable hand, who had come to see what the commotion was about.
Elle took stock of her own situation. She might be covered in muddy water, but at least nothing felt broken.
Well, nothing except her pride. Falling off a horse like a blasted rookie. Oh well, get over it. She hadn't been waiting around Tahoe Stables for her big chance just to give up because of a little mishap.
She knew V�ctor Alazandro was on the property. She'd seen him and an assistant arrive, but she'd lost track of his exact whereabouts during the lesson. Sometimes Peg took people inside for a quick drink before giving them a tour of the stables. With any luck, Elle could sneak off and change clothes before the promised introduction to Alazandro.
That slim hope died away as she struggled to her feet. Peg, Alazandro and the man who had accompanied Alazandro stood with arms hooked over the corral railing, staring right at her.
Two options. Walk toward them, run away.
Only one option with any chance for salvaging this disaster. Waving a hand at Mike who appeared to have things under control, Elle started walking toward the three onlookers. She straightened her shoulders, held her head high. At five foot five, she wasn't a particularly tall woman and her outdoor life kept her on the slim side, but she walked as though she owned the ground, ignoring her squelching boots, chafing jeans and the mud-splattered T-shirt plastered against her breasts.
Peg Stiles, owner of the stables and Elle's boss, regarded Elle's approach with a rare grin.
Alazandro's hooded dark eyes, however, revealed nothing. A black Stetson crowned a larger than average head and a body still trim and fit. Alazandro was in his forties, newly divorced, reportedly urbane and calculating. He wore a white silk Western-style shirt piped in black. His black boots, buffed to a high polish, sported two-inch stacked heels.
The second man stood a head taller than Alazandro with a loose-jointed, lanky look. Mid-thirties, blond hair cut military short, angular face, shoulders out to there and back. His clothes weren't as pristine as Alazandro's or as rumpled as Peg's. Jeans and a white cotton shirt rolled up at the sleeves, buckskin vest, dusty boots. A silver buckle caught and reflected the same sunlight that had bronzed his skin. He held a disreputable hat in one hand. And his gaze, steady and very direct, made Elle flinch.
She tore herself from this man's scrutiny and turned all her attention to Alazandro just in time to hear him mutter a few words to Peg. "This is the 'expert' horsewoman you told me about?" he said in a deep, rich voice that held no trace of an accent. No reason it should. His mother had been born in Guadalajara, his father in Rome with both of them emigrating to the U.S. before marrying and starting their large family.
Elle had done her homework.