Former CIA agent Matthew Broussard came to Vienna to catch a killer. But when his only lead is shot dead, he is left without answers and with an injured witness in his arms. The enticing young woman may be his last chance to resolve the tragedy that still haunts his past. He cannot let her out of his sight, even if it means getting close to someone again.
For aspiring travel writer Chloe Nichols, escorting a tour group of wealthy old ladies through Europe was supposed to be anything but thrilling. Then she is rescued from an assassin's bullet by a stranger on the train-a perfectly handsome, charming stranger who saves her life with a kiss and asks her to pose as his fianc�e. Chloe believes Matthew is trying to protect her, until the seductive charade becomes part of a lethal international conspiracy in which no one is what they seem-including her captivating hero. . . .
A naive travel writer, a handsome ex-CIA agent and a group of frisky little old ladies are the key characters in Davis's rambling new contemporary romantic thriller (following After Twilight). In an attempt to gather material for a travel article she intends to write, Chloe Nichols has joined a group of seniors for a prestigious European tour. Her plans are disrupted, however, when a murder at a train station in Vienna sends her tumbling into the arms of Matthew Broussard. Matt has traveled to Vienna to meet with a sleazy reporter claiming to have information about Matt's former girlfriend, who was killed 15 years before when she supposedly uncovered dangerous KGB secrets. Now that the reporter is dead, Matt believes that Chloe, who witnessed the reporter's death, will be next on the hit man's list. To keep her out of harm's way, he suggests that she pose as his fiance, which sets the pair up for a romance that seems forced but will satisfy readers hungering for lusty love scenes tinged with humor. The feisty senior ladies deliver all the surprises and enliven the pace of this slumbering narrative with their sharp one-liners. Davis appears to be aiming for a Mission Impossible-meets-Ally McBeal read, and the end result is a confusing mix that misses the mark.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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July 02, 2001
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Excerpt from Just Breathe by Dee Davis
Sudbahnhof, Vienna--Present Day
"So tell me, dear, have you ever actually had a multiple orgasm?"
Chloe Nichols's eyes widened as she pulled her Walkman's earphones from her head. "I beg your pardon?"
"I asked if you've ever had a multiple orgasm?" Charlotte Northrup tilted her head to one side, a perfectly penciled eyebrow raised in question.
Chloe's face heated to lobster red. Great, she resembled a crustacean. Not exactly glamour girl material. The train rumbled along, its clickity-clacking rhythm seeming to underscore the question. She struggled to find words, trying not to stare at her seatmate. Charlotte pursed her lips, obviously waiting for an answer. She looked so earnest--so interested.
"I mean these books--" the blue-haired dowager tapped her well-manicured finger against the cover of her romance novel knowingly "--make it sound so wonderful." The last was more of an exhale than a word. "My ex-husband barely gave me enough time for one orgasm, let alone a whole slew of them." She leaned forward, eyeing Chloe as though she were the shaman of sex. "So have you? Had one, I mean."
If possible, Chloe's face burned even hotter. She hadn't had a single orgasm in, well, ever. And frankly, romance novels depressed her. All those happy endings. Chloe sighed, wishing their other companions would return. She needed reinforcements.
On the other hand, maybe that wasn't such a great idea. Wilhelmina Delacroix and Irma Peabody were cut from the same cloth as Charlotte Northrup. Willie and Charlotte had been friends forever. Lord, they probably talked about these sorts of things all the time. And Irma? Well, her Midwestern practicality would certainly shed new light on the subject. The thought of the three of them, together, discussing multiple orgasms was simply beyond comprehension.
For better or worse, the compartment door stayed stubbornly closed, and Charlotte raised an eyebrow again, obviously waiting for some snippet of coital wisdom. Chloe struggled to think of something to say. Charlotte looked so hopeful. There was nothing to do but lie. It was the only way. She opened her mouth to answer, just as the train lurched to a stop.
Static crackled over the loudspeaker, a message blaring in three languages, all equally unintelligible. Thank goodness, a reprieve. "I think we've arrived." Chloe glanced out the window at the train platform. It was an underground station, and the dim lighting made it hard to see anything clearly.
"We'd best hurry." Charlotte closed her book with a snap and stuffed it into her bag. "You know what Thomas said about getting off the train quickly."
Chloe nodded and gathered her luggage, tucking the Walkman under her arm. Thomas Hardy--obviously a man with a literary mother--was their tour director. She smiled, thinking of his dour face and neatly trimmed beard.
He reminded her of someone's butler, or what she imagined a butler to be like. She'd never had any firsthand experience with that sort of thing, but definitely if there was a butler type, Thomas fit the mold. And right now, the memory of his clipped accent was ringing in her ears, warning them that European trains didn't stop for long. "Look sharp, ladies, and move quickly."
Chloe followed Charlotte, stopping at the compartment door to adjust the strap of her bag, balancing it against the weight of her overstuffed backpack, and wondered what in the world had made her decide to carry all this stuff when there was a perfectly good porter assigned just to them.
Chloe sighed. She'd blame it on all those years as a Girl Scout. Be prepared. Or was that the Boy Scouts? Well, either way, a girl never knew what she might get into. Chloe winced. She was certainly walking proof of that statement.
She stepped into the crowded aisle of the train, squeezing between other departing passengers. Charlotte had already disappeared from sight and the rest of the group was nowhere to be seen either. They'd probably already disembarked. She'd best get a move on. Thomas was a stickler for punctuality. And given the circumstances, she didn't want to do anything else to annoy him.
The woman directly in front of her was obviously a devotee to the Chloe Nichols' plan for lugging luggage. She was loaded down with three suitcases, and trying to juggle them as she struggled along seemed to be more than she could handle.
With a muffled and rather unladylike curse, the woman fumbled her burden, two of her suitcases tumbling to the floor. Chloe skidded to a stop, and something hard and solid slammed into her back. She looked over her shoulder directly into a pair of amused gray-green eyes set into a wonderfully masculine face. Chiseled was the word that came to mind. Chiseled and gorgeous. Her heart actually did a half-gainer into the general region of her stomach.
His hand steadied her elbow as the overloaded woman scrambled to retrieve her fallen luggage, the one piece still remaining in her possession swinging precariously as she struggled to maintain her balance. "I don't think she understands the meaning of 'pack light.' ''
His whispered words sent tremors of heat chasing through her, adding to the electricity of his touch. At this rate, she would be answering Charlotte's provocative question affirmatively without ever removing her clothing--or even knowing the man's name. She smiled at the ridiculous turn of her thoughts.
Another passenger stepped out of his compartment, pushing between them before she could respond. A surge of disappointment rocked through her, surprising her with its intensity. Luggage lady finally moved forward, and Chloe followed, pushing all thoughts of the handsome stranger firmly out of her mind.
The steps down from the train were daunting, and she paused, trying to figure out the best way to approach them. The last thing she needed was to wind up sprawled on her butt in a pile of her unmentionables, especially with Mr. Make-Her-Heart-Sizzle somewhere back there.
A ferret-faced little man, cursing all women and their suitcases, shoved past her, pushing her off balance as he descended the steps. She teetered, then fumbled for footing, hanging onto her luggage like a lifeline. Not that it was doing a bit of good.
She felt her stomach drop three stories, and then she careened downward, something stinging her arm as she collided with the pushy man. He broke her fall, but did nothing to preserve her dignity. She ended up straddling him, blood staining the sleeve of her blouse, her skirt hiked up to her thighs, her self-respect taking the next train out of the station.
Amazingly, the platform had cleared and there were only a few people milling about. She grabbed an errant lipstick and comb, stuffing them into her purse, then fumbled for a CD that had managed to escape its case, sighing when she saw the condition of her Walkman. It was doubtful it would ever play again. Except for the throbbing in her arm, she seemed to be unhurt, and she was thankful no one was staring. At least there were no witnesses to her latest debacle. It seemed even Mr. Wonderful had disappeared. She breathed a sigh of relief.
As if on cue, he materialized, kneeling beside her, his face a scant two inches from hers. She could smell his aftershave. Feel his heat. Charlotte's words slid down her spine again. Multiple orgasms.
Her addle-brained daydreaming vanished in an instant. She slithered off the ferret-faced man, noticing for the first time how still he was. "Are you all right?" The little guy didn't move. In fact, he hadn't moved since she fell. Concern spiked through her, and she reached out to touch him.
"Come with me. Now." Mr. Wonderful, who was rapidly turning into Mr. Bossy, yanked her to her feet.
She turned to face him, meeting his steady, green-eyed gaze. "He needs help. We have to do something." Her voice wavered, uncertainty battling with common decency.
Mr. Bossy started to move, pulling her with him, his eyes sweeping across the platform, looking for something. "I'm afraid there's nothing you can do for him now."
"Of course there is. It's my fault that he fell. The least I can do is call for some help."
He urged her forward as he increased the pace. She struggled to hold onto her luggage, grateful when he took it from her. "Right now, the most important thing we can do is get you out of here."
"But the man--" She looked back over her shoulder.
Sabra Hitchcock unscrewed the silencer from her gun and slid them both back into the inner pocket of her black leather coat. She didn't particularly enjoy killing, although she couldn't say that it really bothered her either. As far as she was concerned, there were really only two reasons to kill someone--to end a threat or to acquire money. And this job had been about threat.
Charles Messer was dead. And for the moment that was enough. She eyed the body dispassionately from across the platform. The walkway was almost clear. Just a few stragglers, and the bimbo who'd literally fallen over the body.
Why was it that klutzy women always managed to get themselves rescued? It was as if they had neon signs emblazoned on their foreheads, flashing out the message "Save me. Save me."
Sabra blew out a breath in disgust as she watched a magnificently formed male rush to help the bimbo to her feet. He was tall, his shoulders wide, his ass tight. She was all legs and hair. Probably boobs, too. Sabra felt a rush of adrenalin and wondered if it was because of the man or the woman.
Barbie or Ken. Equally appealing.
She started to smile, but the movement quickly twisted into a grimace as the dark-haired man turned toward her. His features were unmistakable, even from this distance. Pain laced through her, sharp and hot. He wasn't supposed to be here. Her heart rate accelerated, sweat popping out on her brow.
Time had done nothing to lesson his hold over her, his mere presence enough to send her into panicked flight. He mustn't see her. Mustn't know. Her eyes locked on his powerful body, and she stepped deeper into the shadows of the station.
Her nemesis. Her obsession. She closed her hand around the cold comfort of her SIG-Sauer. Matthew Broussard. She watched as he hurried the brunette away, one arm locked protectively around her shoulders. Some things never changed. Matthew the protector. A policeman appeared at the far end of the platform. She pulled herself together, wrenching her gaze away from him.
Time to make an exit.
With a last glance at the body, Sabra moved in the opposite direction, years of training helping her to blend into the background.
A nonentity. A nobody.
She forced herself to look straight ahead, fighting the desire to turn for a last look at Matthew. Even now, like this, she wanted him. She licked her lips nervously, still fingering her gun.
Ben was going to shit a brick.
"Dead as in . . ." The woman jerked to a stop, turning to look up at him.
"Dead." Matthew tried to move her forward, but she was rooted to the spot.
"Are you saying I killed him?" She blinked once, her eyes wide, her look confused and a little frightened.
She had the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Clear like a mountain lake. Innocent eyes. He'd never met anyone with such an open trusting look. People like that didn't turn up much in his line of work. "No. He was dead before you hit him."
He felt her relax slightly. A little breath escaped through her lips with a whoosh. Soft brown hair curled around her face, just brushing the tops of her shoulders. "But he's still dead." She looked back over her shoulder as he propelled her forward. "Shouldn't we--"
"No. Best we get you out of here. Whoever did this doesn't need to get a good look at you." He felt her shudder, a delicate ripple that started at her shoulders and moved downward.
"But surely the police need to know?" She looked up at him, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, her eyebrows arched in question.
"They'll find out soon enough. Besides, there's nothing you could tell them that would be worth endangering your life."
"And how exactly would I endanger myself by talking to the police?" Little sparks danced in her eyes.
Backbone. An innocent with backbone.
He was beginning to like this woman. Hell, if the circumstances were different, he might--but they weren't. He tightened his grip on her arm, propelling her forward again. "I'll explain later. Right now we've got to keep moving."
She shot him a look, but kept pace, matching her stride to his. It was almost two to one, his long legs easily outdistancing her, but he had to give her credit, she was hanging in there. Most women would be yelling by now, and a scene was the last thing they needed.
He scanned the platform, but there was still no sign of the killer. It had been a pro from the looks of it, and although he was probably long gone, Matt wasn't about to take a chance. Unless he was way off his game, the bloodstain on her shirt had come from a bullet. A bullet intended for Messer. And whoever was responsible wouldn't like loose ends. Especially a wounded one. He wasn't about to let the bastard get to her. And right now, he was her best chance.
Matt sighed. From the frying pan into the fire. Charles Messer was dead. Whatever secrets he'd been carrying had died with him. And now this woman, whoever she was, had landed, literally, in the middle of it all.
What the hell had Messer been doing on the train? Their meeting wasn't scheduled until tomorrow, and there was no way the little man could have known he was coming in today. He'd been too careful--not certain what it was exactly he was walking into.
A maelstrom from the looks of things. Matt frowned, his instincts sounding a warning. At the end of the platform, he saw the familiar green uniform of the Austrian Polizei. Show time. He looked down at the woman walking beside him. Her face was composed, but he could feel the tension in her body, and there were little lines of stress radiating across her forehead. Her breathing was coming in small gasps.