Heiress Madeline Randall Forsythe is on the run for her very life, hiding in a small Washington town as "Randie." Fleeing a deadly family secret, she plans to move on every couple of months to stay alive. But the night she's due to leave Silver Creek, a blizzard, a crunched fender, and a rescue by a handsome stranger complicate her escape. While she knows relationships are impossible for a fugitive, she seizes her own destiny and lets Aidan rock her world, even as she knows the closer she gets to strangers, the more chance she has of getting caught.
Aidan Chase is a tracker who has never failed to find a target. He does his job and collects his paycheck, never getting personally involved...that is, until Randie Forsythe. There's something off about her creepy old man, and something definitely on about sexy Randie. Looking at her, one would never believe she stole two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, especially when she's in line to inherit millions from a sick father two paces ahead of the Grim Reaper. Against his better judgment, he puts the case aside to learn more about Randie, including discovering, quite by accident, she was a virgin before him.
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: violence.
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Loose Id, LLC
September 19, 2011
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Excerpt from Comes the Wolf by Crystal Kauffman
Aidan had called it. He found Madeline in under one week. It hadn't been much of a challenge for someone like him, but the fact she was using an alias and had abandoned her cell phone confirmed his suspicions that there was more going on here than was on the table. Most rebellious kids didn't go as far as to change their names and dump everything about their old lives; they simply gave their parents the cold shoulder.
Of course, most kids didn't commit grand larceny when they took off from home either.
Madeline had indeed purchased a disposable phone paid for with cash but hadn't used it to make a single call. If she continued to call the mansion looking for Eleanor, the nanny/housekeeper who'd raised her, she stuck to her habit of using public payphones. Old Man Forsythe had not informed him of any additional calls since he'd set out.
Aidan tracked her to a small town in Washington by her laptop. Her unique IP address had been picked up on a fluke -- probably when she'd driven past a WiFi spot with it powered on. That had been three days ago. The computer hadn't shown its fingerprint on the World Wide Web since.
Aidan had switched cars and wardrobes to fit in and driven from Spokane to Silver Creek in a beat-up pickup truck that looked like all the others in the small town. A day into Silver Creek, one of his contacts arranged for an old army buddy to hire Aidan at Joe Wright's, a garage that specialized in the basics like oil changes and tune-ups. Joe knew Aidan was undercover, but that was all he knew.
He'd given Eldridge Forsythe a basic update and settled into his temporary life in Silver Creek.
His first day under the hood of a '65 Mustang that was as far from a classic as it could be, Joe shouted at him from his dingy office off the lift bay. "We're goin' to Dolly's for lunch. Best apple cobbler you'll ever taste."
Aidan wiped the oil off his fingers and went to the trough to wash up. He generally ate organic food and liked his meat so rare people around him raised their eyebrows, but while in Hickorynutville he could do like the hickory nuts.
"Do they know how to whip up a decent burger?"
"They make a more-than-decent burger," Joe assured him. He turned the sign around at the front door, and the crew left on foot.
"And the fries, oh man, you've never seen golden crispy like this," Walt chimed in. The belly he gripped with two hands proved he'd had more than his fair share of french fries.
"The friendly atmosphere is the reason I go," Frank said. "And that little waitress, man, is she a looker."
"Frank's had a crush on Widow Peterson for as long as any of us have known him," Joe explained as the four of them traipsed down Main Street toward Dolly's Bar and Grill.
"I have not! That girl's too young for me. You make me out to be some kinda perv."
"I meant Carol Ann, you dope. Not Sandra."
"Oh yeah. I guess she's a widow too."
While life in an inkblot on the map like Silver Creek would make him insane inside a year, Aidan couldn't deny the genuine friendliness of everyone here felt so foreign it was almost exotic. It was sweet, like one of those fancy cocktails that tastes delicious on the first glass, but a few too many would give you a one-of-a-kind hangover you'd never forget.
Their foolish trust was another subject. The old guy who'd rented him the cabin hadn't even asked for a reference. True, it was little more than a shack, but the owner had been happy with the wad of cash Aidan had plunked over for first and last month's rent on his first day in town, before he'd even been hired on by Joe.
"Anyway, I was talking about that new gal, Randie," Frank clarified. "She's ten different kinds of cute all rolled into one."
A bell rang over the door as they walked in. The restaurant bar was your typical rustic honky-tonk done in wood and brass but with a touch of modern elegance that put it one step up from the kind of place fistfights broke out on Friday nights. The long bar stretching the length of the first floor was made of hammered copper and covered with Plexiglas.
Several regulars already seated leaned over and gave a wave. Judging by the logos on their hats and jackets, these were the Henderson Feedlot guys. Aidan followed his crew to the bar, and they filled the end.
A colorful line of large-bulb Christmas tree lights ran above the mirror. Adjacent to the bar, three plush couches formed a seating area around a circular, free-standing hearth where a cozy fire crackled. Beyond that, a row of six booths provided a comfortable, private dining section, and in the back a pool table sat beneath a staircase leading to a spacious loft area with more table seating that looked over the front. As much as he preferred living in a bigger city, this was the kind of place he felt most comfortable.
He scented her before he saw her, and Aidan's attention snapped to the bar. Madeline Forsythe sauntered toward them at a quick pace. The noisy buzz of the restaurant vanished around him.
He almost laughed. It had been too easy.
A chorus of "Hullos" made them sound like randy schoolboys. Madeline put stars in every eye. She fished a menu out of the holder for each, even though it was right there in front of them.
"Joe, the regular?"
"You bet, doll."
She retrieved the menus after they all put their orders in without touching them.
"And here's a new face." Madeline's smile faltered when she finally met his eyes. "You wanna look at the menu?"
Her bubbly demeanor quieted as she settled off the balls of her feet. She swallowed, looking wary.
He breathed her in. She was every bit as pure as the scent left in her panties had suggested, but the essence of the girl was a thousand times more vibrant. Her photo hadn't done her justice either. Now her eyes were bright and her smile easy, or at least it had been until she'd seen him, and her color was high and rising. She wore an oval name tag with RANDIE in curly text.
Frank had been wrong. She wasn't just ten kinds of cute rolled into one: she was downright stunning.
"You got steak here?"
"Corn-fed from Omaha," she said as she filled a large glass of beer from the tap for each man.
"I'll take it rare, with veggies."
"Something from the tap for you?"
A round of guffaws thundered. Frank punched him in the arm. Someone down the bar teased Joe, asking if his new mechanic wanted a pink umbrella in his drink.
Randie grinned. "Coming right up."
The smile she tossed him before dashing away was only slightly brighter than that forced grin in her father's photo.
He wondered if she could tell he was up to no good. He didn't see how, but then again Madeline "Randie" Forsythe was probably suspicious of any new face. Sleeping on a mattress stuffed with two hundred and fifty thousand stolen dollars could make the most seasoned thief nervous, and Randie was no mastermind.
He almost ached with the loss of her scent, and again that overwhelming suspicion that something wrong was going on here made his stomach churn.
If she'd grabbed the money to make her escape extravagant, he couldn't tell. She worked hard as the only waitress at Dolly's, and though she wore the uniform of jeans and a Dolly's T-shirt, otherwise she had no girly bling. No makeup, no sculpted nails, no fancy phone clipped to her belt most girls couldn't live five minutes without. She wore her hair pulled back in a French braid, and he'd be able to smell if she used fancy hair gunk. Instead, under her natural essence she carried the strawberry fragrance of cheap shampoo. The light scent of sweat only he could discern added to her wholesome appeal.
Again he had to wonder, was there something unseemly about her father that made her want to run away from a princess's life?
She darted around the restaurant and back and forth behind the bar with enthusiastic energy, and Aidan could understand why she was well liked.
Madeline only received help from an older woman -- the owner he guessed --when their food came out all at the same time, hot and steaming.
Randie, he reminded himself. If she chose to change her name, far be it from him to tell her she couldn't.
His steak was quite good, for once rare enough, and the vegetables were fresh despite the early November frost that currently put a thin crust on everything in the mornings.
She refilled Joe's beer and tossed him a glance. "How's that steak?"
"Perfect," Aidan told her.
He watched her flit around the restaurant and debated calling Old Man Forsythe. Madeline possessed what he could tell was a newfound vivacity she couldn't possibly have had living in that musty old tomb back in New Hampshire. It almost seemed a shame to destroy it.
Usually when he revealed a runaway's whereabouts to the client, he stuck around long enough to make sure the client found their quarry where he said they would. After that, his job was done. If the target ran again, that was the client's problem.
But Randie wasn't a minor, and her situation had already more than seized his curiosity. This time he might wait a little longer, just to be certain Randie wasn't in any danger.
* * * * *
Randie heaved the garbage bag into the dumpster and swabbed her hands off on the dish rag she kept looped in her apron. She took out the napkin with a handful of small cubes of steak she'd cut out of the leftovers from a customer's plate.
"Ginger, kitty-kitty-kitty. Here, Ginger. I have a treat for you."
She waited patiently and quietly, shivering in the dusk chill. Rolling gray clouds had blocked out the sun since noon, and while that would have given the afternoon a muggy feel in New Hampshire, here the cold seemed to seek out a person's bones.
The tiniest meow rewarded her patience. The orange kitten peeked out from the narrow crevice between two empty crates. Randie knelt and smoothed out the napkin, offering the meat but making the kitten come to retrieve it.
"Sooner or later you're going to have to learn to trust me. It's going to snow any day now, and I'm going to take you inside." She'd wager her paycheck this poor little stray kitten had been born in spring, and the first snowfall was going to come as a nasty surprise.
Ginger cautiously inched forward, tempted by the enticing aroma of corn-fed T-bone steak. The first bite turned the kitten's purr motor on high-rev, and she allowed herself to be scratched behind the ears as she gobbled up the bits.
"I'm going to snatch you up, yes I am, and take you home with me and give you a nice, cozy kitty bed. You'll be living in the lap of luxury, yes you will." She'd already talked to Carol Ann about the kitten. The older woman had been reluctant at first, but only because her beloved cat Elmo had died at sixteen years old the previous fall. Randie didn't intend to bring it up again, but the next morning Carol Ann had a change of heart and told Randie to bring the kitten home as soon as she could coax it out.
Ginger suddenly bounced backward with superkitty speed and flattened her ears. She let out a hiss that could scare a Rottweiler and gave Randie a start.
But the kitten wasn't looking at her; its attention was focused at the end of the alley behind Randie.
She shot to her feet and whirled around. A balled-up paper bag rolled past on a gust of wind. Randie placed a hand to her heart. She was overly paranoid lately, and the wolf sighting, after a similarly eerie sensation of being followed this morning, only exacerbated her tension.
When she turned back, Ginger had vanished, but a man stood in the alley. Randie let out a yelp.
"Brett, you scared me."
He moved closer in a stalking, fluid gait, like a mountain lion on the prowl. Tiny hairs rose all over her body.
"Why don't you like me, Randie?"
"I like you just fine."
"I was hoping for more than 'just fine.'"
She backed away as he moved in too close for comfort. "I don't know you well enough to know if I like you more."
He shot out a hand and snatched her around the waist. "How about we get to know each other better, then?"
She pushed on his shoulders. "Hey, let go."
He leaned in, stinking of booze. Randie arched her back until she couldn't anymore.
"Write me up on a misdemeanor because I'm stealing a kiss, baby."
"What you're going to get is a knee in the nuts if you don't get your hands off," Randie promised him.
His eyes narrowed, but like Ginger he was staring down the alley behind her.
"The lady said hands off."
"Who the fuck are you?" Brett let her go so fast she nearly fell.
"I'm the law in this alley as far as you're concerned, friend, and it isn't a misdemeanor you're going to get but a fist in your face."
"How about you mind your own business, friend," Brett shot back.
Randie sidled out from between them. It took her a minute to place the other man as the new guy at Joe Wright's garage.
"I don't take kindly to hillbillies who manhandle women."
"Enough." Randie sliced the air with a hand. "I don't need you to do my talking for me," she said to the other man. She turned and pointed a finger at Brett. "You don't have permission to touch me. Got it?"
Both glared at each other. Brett strode toward the other man in a slow, menacing manner. "And I don't take kindly to nosy bodies who poke into my business."
He threw a punch. Randie covered her mouth to smother a scream. Even though she knew she should run back inside for help, her feet were frozen to the ground.
The other man caught Brett's fist in his hand. For a moment both struggled, unwilling to be the first to back down. Brett fell to his knees. He grunted, and it turned to a howl of pain.
Her rescuer released him. "Wanna try again?"
Brett cradled his crushed hand. "Screw you." He scrambled to his feet and hurried off with an uneasy glance over his shoulder.
Randie let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She probably wouldn't see Brett for a while, but when she did, his mood would surely be foul.
Her rescuer took a cautious step closer. "Are you okay?"
She hugged her arms in front of her chest. "I'm...I'm fine."
He moved into the pool of light from the single lamp over the door. "Um, I was just walking by, and I heard the scuffle from the street." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder as if to explain that street.
She nodded, realizing she was as goggle-eyed as she had been earlier today when he'd had lunch with Wright's group. Lordy, he was tall and built very nicely: broad in the shoulders and narrow in the hips. His pale blue eyes made a striking combination with his chiseled good looks. He wore a friendly smile, but there was something dangerous about him, probably inspired by the scar that crossed his eyebrow and nicked his cheekbone, as if someone had slashed at him with a knife.
"I'm Aidan Chase." He extended his hand. "Official new guy in town."
"We have something in common, then. I'm...Randie Smith, official new girl in town." Damn, she'd almost said Maddie.
His grip was firm, his hand warm, and his touch brought an instant sense of safety.
"Oh yeah? Where are you from?" He held on to her hand, but it didn't seem inappropriate.
"Back east," she said simply.
He released his grip, and their hands slid apart. "By your accent, I'd say...Massachusetts. No, Vermont."
She smiled while a zing of nerves danced in her belly. She hadn't thought people could pin her by her accent.
"Good guess," she said noncommittally. "You?"
"Utah. Colorado. Wherever the military wanted to send me. I, uh, Joe is my uncle. My mother asked me to hang around a while, make sure he's okay."
He had a really nice face, she decided. "I can tell you had some kind of formal training. You handled him very...diplomatically."
He laughed, and warmth spread through Randie. His smile was wonderful. As much as she wanted to prove her independence -- to others and to herself -- there was something magical about a handsome, heroic man coming to her rescue. Aidan was certainly well stocked in both areas.
"Sorry for snapping at you."
He held up both hands. "No problem."
"Thanks, then. Nice to meet you, Aidan."
She was about to suggest he come into Dolly's for a free beer when his expression went tense. He looked up over the fence separating Dolly's alley from Weekday Hardware. His nostrils flared as though scenting something dangerous she hadn't noticed.
"Go inside, Randie." He took a step in the direction Brett had run off.
Tension wound tight in Randie again. "Did he come back? Should I call the police?"
He shot her a look. She sucked in a breath. For a second...it almost looked as if his eyes had gleamed.
"No." The tension left his expression, but she could tell his smile was forced. "Just go inside."