Natural-born warrior Jacob Stone never ignored a lady in distress. So when a stunning brunette clad only in a cocktail dress stumbled to his doorstep, the off-duty air force sergeant went into protector mode. But could he really believe Dee's claims that she'd lost her memory...or was her amnesia a ruse to hide a dangerous secret?
For someone had certainly set their sights on getting rid of Dee. Yet they hadn't counted on Jacob's resolve. Dee was his responsibility. Even more...she'd become integral to his next breath. And no one messed with his lady.
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January 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Out of Uniform by Catherine Mann
"Hell's bells, here comes Betty Crocker in a bustier." Tech Sergeant Jacob "Mako" Stone pitched his remote control onto his family's motel check-in counter and took a second look at the walking contradiction in the parking lot.
Washington winter winds whipped sleet and snow sideways, the icy sheet parting before encircling a shivering woman. She stumbled, righted her spiked heels and hobbled toward the main office of the run-down motel where Jacob had grown up.
Now, he only planned to stick around long enough to get his teenage--orphaned--sister's life in order before he returned to his career as an Air Force in-flight mechanic. Okay, so he was technically on sick leave while his arm recovered from a line-of-duty bullet. But he hoped to be back in his flight suit, tooling around the sky with his C-17 buddies in two more weeks.
Fourteen days certain to be jam-packed settling his sister's life--and his old man's near-bankrupt "estate."
That alone should be enough for his plate. Pulling his gaze off the woman, Jacob adjusted his healing arm in the sling with a wince and shifted his attention to the Dr. Phil rerun again in hopes the shrink could offer up some insights on how to help a teenager with an infant get her life on track. Fixing his sister's situation seemed harder than keeping a multimillion-dollar military aircraft in smooth working order.
Still, curiosity hauled his gaze right back to the parking lot as the woman's coat flapped open. Her slinky dress, racy-red lingerie peeking free with each stormy gust, just didn't match the Junior League face.
She huddled inside her coat and started up the office steps. She probably needed to call a friend, and the phones were out.
The woman wrapped her arms around her willowy body and tucked her head into the storm. She must be from room sixteen, since his only other customer had been a horse rancher who'd checked out an hour ago. Jacob hadn't seen the woman up close when she'd arrived the night before. She'd been slumped asleep in the car while "Mr. Smith" had paid cash for their room.
Jacob glanced toward the parking spaces. Mr. Smith's white Suburban was long gone, snow already piling in the tire ruts.
Sympathy and frustration stuttered through Jacob like the bullets that had come his way during a simple assignment hauling a congressional entourage around Europe. Apparently this woman's wild night out on the tiny town hadn't unfolded as planned.
Double damn. Already he could feel warrior instincts honed in bloody battle zones stirring to life within him.
Jacob pushed to his feet, snagging his remote control from beside the television. Extending his arm, he thumbed the remote, silencing Dr. Phil.
He might not be wearing his uniform, and the woman may not need his help. But that wouldn't stop him from throwing himself in the middle of her problems when she came through the door. The only way to ensure she went out the door all the faster.
Fear seared her roiling stomach as she clutched the icy doorknob. She gripped the edges of her coat and burrowed inside to protect herself from the punishing winds.
Waking up alone in a run-down motel with nothing but sleazy clothes, a hundred dollars and no memory had been bad enough. Now, she would surely freeze to death before she discovered her name and why she'd had blood on her hands.
Crunching her heels into the ice for traction, she tugged on the door to Clyde's Travel Lodge. She slipped anyway, her hand whipping off the knob. The woozy sensation she hadn't been able to shake since waking threatened her balance. She grappled for the rail. Her sweaty palms bonded to the freezing metal. Or maybe it was blood residue, although she'd scrubbed and scrubbed until her hands were as raw as any Lady Macbeth pivotal moment.
Hang tough. Stay calm. She steadied her feet and breathing. There had to be a logical answer.
Only a couple more steps. She could manage that. The manager or clerk would have some record of her name, all the spark she would need to fire her memories.
The hundred dollars, hotel key and EpiPen on the bedside table hadn't brought any recollections. The telephone book in her room had helped some, even if the phones were out of order. At least she knew she'd awakened in the small town of Rockfish, Washington, and that she could order carryout from Marge's Diner until 9:00 p.m.
Great. Just what she needed, a blue plate special to erase what little she did remember--bloodred dress and hands.
She grasped the gold D initial necklace, the only thing that felt right in her whole insane morning. Inhaling a bracing breath that threatened to freeze her from the inside out, she grabbed the doorknob again and twisted. The wind ripped the door from her, banging it against the wall. She stumbled inside and slammed into a broad male chest.