Garrett Skye took his bodyguard job seriously. So when he was accused of taking a life rather than protecting one, he was left with few options but to go on the run. Unfortunately, amateur P.I. Annie Ryder insisted on bringing him to justice. The woman was easy on the eyes, and convincing her of his innocence didn't take much. Especially when she learned about the little girl he'd do anything to protect. Before long they'd uncovered a plot bigger than they'd imagined. But even more worrisome was that Garrett found himself falling for Annie, against every fiber of his ladies' man reputation....
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August 11, 2008
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Excerpt from Bodyguard Father by Alice Sharpe
Annie Ryder was ready to call it quits. Two days of lurking around in the cold, snapping pictures of old buildings, old streets and old ranchers had left her stiff and grumpy. Plus, the unfamiliar black-framed glasses rested heavy on the bridge of her nose while the thick brown wig atop her head itched to the point of distraction.
Oh, who was she trying to fool? Or, worse, impress? "You can't impress a dead man," she mumbled to herself.
A badly tuned engine jerked her from her thoughts. She peered down the street in time to spot a beat-up blue truck approaching. She didn't need to consult the photograph in her pocket to know at long last this was the truck--and hopefully the driver--she'd been waiting for. Round bumpers, dented hood, broken antenna, a faded Forty-Niners bumper sticker, California plates. This was it.
Lifting the camera, she flexed numb fingers. "Stop at the grocery store," she whispered as she watched the truck ramble down the road.
For a second, she thought it would pass by and her stomach twisted into a knot that just as quickly unraveled as the truck pulled to the curb no more than ten feet from where she stood concealed in an alley. The driver got out of the truck and without locking his door or glancing back at Annie's location, limped across the road toward the grocery store on the corner. He wore faded blue jeans and a black jacket. Worn leather cowboy boots looked like the real deal.
He reached into his left pocket, emerged with an old fashioned gold watch that he snapped open, glanced at and snapped shut. He dug a few coins from his other pocket.
Annie raised the camera and peered through the lens, zooming in on his face. She found the chiseled features she'd appreciated in his photo, more obvious now that he'd shaved off the mustache he'd worn before. His hair was darker and scruffier though without the facial hair; he looked younger than his thirty-three years.
Garrett Skye, at last.
She zeroed in on his eyes and for a second, he seemed to look right at her. Her breath caught in alarm, but that quickly evaporated. He had amazing deep-brown eyes, warm and sensual, even when viewed through a lens. Eyes that reminded her of the old "windows of the soul" malarkey, eyes that brimmed with self-awareness, eyes that skated on the razor-thin edge of magic.
She lowered the camera a fraction of an inch and stared back at him, unable to move. His gaze should strike fear in the bottom of her heart. It didn't.
This was nuts. Those beautiful eyes belonged to a man who killed without remorse. No doubt his last victim had thought she saw humanity in those deep, dark irises, too. Well, that woman was dead now, thanks to him, so get a grip!
His gaze shifted. Obviously, he was just looking around, being cautious. He slid a few coins into the paper machine and snagged a copy. Annie quickly snapped the first of a dozen photos before he disappeared into the store.
She hurriedly reinvented what she'd seen through the camera lens. Not warmth, not beauty. Cockiness, smugness, vanity, that's what she'd seen. He thought he was safe. He hadn't counted on the dead woman's grown daughter having deep pockets and a vengeful nature. He hadn't counted on Annie's late father's detective skills.
And he hadn't counted on her, Annie Ryder, intrepid preschool teacher/unofficial private eye.
Her job was simple: verify Garrett Skye's presence, learn what name he was using, get an address in Poplar Gulch, tell the client.
She drew only a cursory glance from two women as she stepped out of the alley and snapped a few random pictures of the hay bales in the back of Skye's truck to reinforce her cover story as an out-of-town photographer writing a book on forgotten ranching towns. She paused. Dare she risk frisking the glove box?
A brisk "Good morning" from a passing pedestrian sent Annie's heart leaping into her throat. She settled on taking a few photos of the mail scattered on the front seat while moving past the truck.
She continued walking to the next block where she'd parked her father's white sedan. The weatherman had predicted snow. Annie wanted to be out of Poplar Gulch and headed home to Reno by the time it fell. All she needed now was a physical address for Skye.
She'd just set the camera on the seat beside her when movement in the side mirror drew her attention. Skye limped back across the street, the newspaper tucked beneath his arm, a small plastic grocery bag swinging from the fingers of his left hand. He opened the driver's door, tossed in his purchases and climbed in after them.
She started her own engine, a blast of cold air coming from the heater vent making her shiver. Skye made a U-turn and headed east. Annie waited a few moments before making the same turn and following at a distance. Golden strands of hay floated out of the back of the truck.
Within minutes, it had started to rain, drops icy enough to make patterns on her windshield. With no vehicle between her and the truck, Annie lowered her visor and stayed as far back as possible. Skye had been on the run for almost four months, surely he'd be feeling pretty comfortable by now. On the other hand, the man was former military, former bodyguard and a wanted killer. Plus, he apparently knew a thing or two about explosives.
He drove for a couple of miles before taking a sharp left onto a dirt road that appeared to lead up a heavily forested hillside. Annie drove past the road, making note of the mailbox on which the name B. Miller was printed, pulling off a quarter mile farther along, parking well off the shoulder. Miller. She recognized the name from her father's files. He was connected to Skye in some way. An old army buddy, that was it.
Another tidbit of information floated into her mind. Miller was a professor at Davis University, currently out of the country on a sabbatical. She'd bet big money Garrett Skye was using his old buddy's mountain retreat as a hideout!
Excited, she clicked on her cell phone, relieved when it picked up a signal, disappointed when the client didn't answer. She waited through Shelby Parker's recorded message and left one of her own, embellishing it a little here and there to make it sound better, making sure Parker understood Annie was working with her father. No reason to mention the fact he had died before he could complete this job. No point in admitting she was his proxy.