When a mystery woman with a gleam in her eye and trouble on her mind hops on the back of Logan Chisholm's Harley, he thinks he's in for a wild ride.
But Jennifer "JJ" Blythe James might be more than he bargained for.
The pretty pop star is running scared. Desperately trying to escape her past, JJ's defenses are on high alert.
She doesn't really want the cowboy's protection, but Logan knows that with a killer on her trail, she needs it. It's the only way the songbird who's corralled his heart will live to sing another day.
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
March 01, 2012
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from Corralled by B.J. Daniels
As he heard the music, he slowed his Harley, the throb of the engine catching the beat coming from the out-of-the-way country-western bar. His kind of place.
He had been headed back to his hotel before that. But drawn to the music, he parked his motorcycle out front and pushed through the door into the dimly lit room. A clamor of glass and conversation competed with the band onstage.
Like him, most everyone inside was dressed in jeans and boots. The dance floor was packed, the air scented with beer and perfume as he stepped up to the bar and ordered a cold one.
Later he would recall sensing her presence even before he turned, a draft beer in hand, and first laid eyes on her.
He shoved back his Stetson, leaning against the bar, as she made her way through the crowd on the dance floor as if heading for the door. Her tight jeans hugged her hips as they swayed to the music, her full breasts pressing into the fabric of her Western shirt.
His gaze went to her boots, a pair of fancy Tony Lama's so fresh out of the box that he could almost smell the new leather. That alone would have made him steer clear. Then he saw her face. It wasn't classically beautiful or even unusual enough to hold most men's attention.
No, but her expression of total bliss caught him like a well-thrown lasso. She stopped him in his tracks as he watched her. She was clearly lost in the music and he couldn't take his eyes off her.
When she finally looked up, her gaze locked with his. Her eyes were the color of worn jeans, her lashes dark and thick like her hair cascading from beneath her straw cowboy hat. She'd tied her hair back with a red ribbon, but loose tendrils had escaped and now framed her face.
As she started past him, impulsively he stepped in front of her. "I think you owe me a dance."
Her lips turned up in an amused smile. "Is that right?"
He nodded and, leaving his leather jacket on the bar stool, took her hand. She didn't put up a fight as he led her out onto the dance floor as one song ended. If anything, she seemed curious.
"You sure you can keep up with me?" she said challengingly as a fast song began.
He grinned, thinking the woman had no idea who she was dealing with. He was Montana born, raised on country music and cowboy jitterbug. But to his surprise, she had no trouble staying with him, giving back everything she got. He loved the way she moved with the music, all grace and sexy swing.
Everything about her surprised and thrilled him, especially the way they moved together. It was as if they were one of those older couples he'd seen in Montana bars who had danced together for years.
When the song ended and a slow dance began, she started to draw away, but he dragged her back and into his arms. She looked at him, that challenge still lighting those washed-out blue eyes of hers.
"What makes you think I don't have friends I need to get back to?" she asked as he pulled her closer, the two moving as one to the sweet sounds coming off the guitar player's strings.
"Why would you want to go back to them--if there really are people waiting for you--when you can dance with me?"
She laughed. It had a musical quality that pulled at him just as he'd been drawn to the bar band earlier.
"You are quite full of yourself," she said as if not minding it all that much.
He shook his head. "I just know there is nothing I want to do tonight but dance with you," he said honestly.
She grew serious as the song ended and another boot-stomping tune began. Her gaze locked with his as he let go of her.
"Up to you," he said quietly. Her answering smile was all invitation.
He took her hand and whirled her across the middle of the dance floor as the music throbbed, the beat matching that of his heart as he lost himself in the warm spring night, the music and this woman.
He made only one mistake as the band took a break not long before closing. He offered to buy her a drink, and when he turned back, she was gone.
As he stepped to the front door of the saloon, he was in time to see her pull away in an expensive silver convertible sports car, the top down. She glanced over at him as she left and he saw something in her expression that made him mentally kick himself for not getting her number. Or at least her name.
As she sped off, he walked back to the bar to finish his drink. He told himself that even if he had gotten her number or her name, he was only in Bigfork until tomorrow. He had to get back home to the ranch and work. But damned if he wouldn't have liked to have seen her again.
When he pulled on his leather jacket, he felt something in the pocket that hadn't been there earlier. Reaching his hand in, he pulled out a key. It wasn't like any he'd ever seen before. It was large and faux gold and had some kind of emblem on it. He couldn't make it out in the dim light of the bar, but he had a pretty good idea who'd put it in his jacket.
Finishing his beer, he pocketed the key again and left. As he climbed onto his bike, all he could think about was the woman. He couldn't remember a night when he'd had more fun or been more intrigued. Did she expect him to know what the key went to or how to find her? She expected a lot from this country boy, he thought with a smile.
He was still smiling as he cruised back to his hotel. The key was a challenge, and Logan Chisholm liked nothing better than a challenge. But if she was waiting for him tonight, she'd have a long wait.
The next morning Logan woke to see the key lying on the nightstand next to his bed. He'd tossed it there last night after taking a good look at it. He'd had no more idea what it went to than he had at the bar.
Now, though, he picked it up and ran his fingers over the raised emblem as he thought about the woman from the bar. He needed to get back to Whitehorse, back to work on his family's ranch, Chisholm Cattle Company. The last thing he needed was to go chasing after a woman he'd met on a country-western bar's dance floor miles from home.
But damned if he could leave the Flathead without finding her.
"Have you ever seen one of these?" Logan asked the hotel clerk downstairs.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Chisholm, I--"
"Isn't that a key to the Grizzly Club?" asked another clerk who'd been standing nearby. "Sorry to interrupt," he said. "But I have a friend who stayed out there once."
"The Grizzly Club?" Logan asked.
"It's an exclusive gated community south of here," the clerk said. "Very elite. You have to have five million dollars to even apply for a home site inside the development. A lot of famous people prefer that kind of privacy. There are only a few of these gated communities in Montana."
Logan knew about the one down by Big Sky. He thought about the woman at the bar last night. He couldn't see her living there, but he supposed it was possible she'd hooked up with some rich dude who'd invented computer chips or made a bundle as a famous news broadcaster. Or hell, maybe she invented the chip.
It wasn't like he really knew her after only a few dances on a spring Friday night at a country-western bar, was it?
He thought it more likely that she was a guest at the club. At least he liked that better than the other possibilities. "So you're saying this key will get me into the place?"
The clerk shook his head. "That key is to the amenities once you get inside. You don't need a key to get in the gate. There is a guard at the front gate. If someone lost their key, the guard might be able to tell you who it belongs to. I noticed it did have a number on it."
Logan didn't like the sound of a guard, but what did he have to lose? "How do I get there?"
Outside, he swung onto his bike and headed down Highway 35 south along the east side of Flathead Lake. The road was narrow, one side bordering the lake, the other rising steeply into the Mission Mountain Range. Flathead was the largest freshwater lake in the western United States, just slightly larger than Lake Tahoe. This morning it was a beautiful turquoise blue. Around the lake were hundreds of orchards making this part of Montana famous for its Flathead cherries.
The Grizzly Club sign was so small and tasteful that he almost missed the turn. The freshly paved road curled up into the mountains through dense, tall, dark pines. Logan always felt closed in by country like this because it was so different from where he lived. The Chisholm Cattle Company ranch sat in the middle of rolling Montana prairie where a man could see forever.
At home, the closest mountains were the Little Rockies, and those only a purple outline in the distance. Trees, other than cottonwoods along the Milk River and creeks, were few and far between. He loved the wide-open spaces, liked being able to see to the horizon, so he was glad when the trees finally opened up a little.
He slowed as he came to a manned gate. Beyond it, he could make out a couple of mansions set back in the trees. Was it possible one of them was owned by the woman he'd met last night? That could explain the new boots, since few people in this kind of neighborhood were from here--let alone lived here year-around.
He tried to imagine her living behind these gates even for a few weeks out of the year and decided she had to be visiting someone. A woman like that couldn't stand being locked up for long, he told himself.
The guard was on the phone and motioned for him to wait. Logan stared through the ornate iron gate and realized that the woman he was looking for could work here. And that expensive sports car convertible she was driving? She could have borrowed her boss's car last night.
He smiled. And like Cinderella, she'd had to get the car back before morning or suffer the consequences. Now that seemed more like the woman he'd met last night, he thought with a chuckle.
The guard finished his conversation and turning, perused Logan's leathers and the Harley motorcycle. He instantly looked wary. Logan realized this had been a mistake. No way was this man going to let him in or give him the name of the woman connected to the key. More than likely, the guard would call security. The best he could see coming out of this was being turned away--but only after he'd made a fool of himself.
Fortunately, he didn't get the chance. From the other side of the gate, he saw the flash of a small silver sports car convertible coming through the trees. The top was still down. He caught a glimpse of the driver.
She'd done away with her cowboy attire, including the hat. Her hair blew free, forming a wave like a raven's wing behind her as she sped toward the gate. She wore large sunglasses that hid most of her face, but there was no denying it was the woman from the bar.
"Never mind," Logan said to the guard and swung his bike around as the gate automatically opened on the other side of the guardhouse and the sports car roared out.
Logan went after her.