From the back cover...
She's been erased.
As a protected witness, Brandi Simms has given up everything that made her unique to start over in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Blending into the background isn't easy, but it's vital for survival. When her handsome yet incorrigible neighbor—former Olympic skier turned cowboy—decides her aloof attitude is a challenge rather than a deterrent, she knows the only right thing to do is resist.
The secrets she hides are deadly.
Ryan Landry isn't accustomed to rejection. Three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, he's the local hero who came home to run a ranch and be near his family. The mysterious neighbor who seems content to hang out with dogs rather than humans haunts his fantasies and ignites that competitive drive that led him to the world stage.
He's not one to give up.
When her dangerous past catches up to Brandi, Ryan is determined to break through her secrets to find the truth no matter what the cost. Trapped in a whiteout blizzard with unseen threats lurking in the snow, will they get a chance to create a new beginning or will Brandi's secrets be the death of them?
Fog hovered over the river and clung to the staggered pools of hot springs lining the mountainside. Snow-covered banks were lined with giant boulders and spruce trees. The après ski crowd filled the pools of natural spring water, their laughter and low voices carrying across stone paths shrouded with steam from the cold air colliding with heat of the water. Ryan had already settled into one of the upper, more private pools with her flask tucked near him beneath the towels.
Lyle would hate that she was exposing so much of herself—because of the tattoos she'd refused to laser off—but, at the moment, she didn't care for rules or limitations.
Shivering with the bite of the cool air and thankful for the dim light of twilight that stretched across the sky, she shuffled barefoot over the stone steps and slid into the soaking pool. Hot water eased her weary bones, steam slid across her face, and reckless energy snapped through her veins. It had literally been years since she'd spent time alone like this with a man who wasn't carrying a badge of some type. An untamed beat hammered in her heart, reminding her of what it felt like to be free.
Sighing, she closed her eyes, floated her legs in front of her, stretched her arms across the wall at her back, and slid her foot against Ryan's thigh. She liked the way his hard body felt against hers.
"You've got tattoos, I see." He cleared his throat and shifted away from the contact. "Is that a shark? It's a beautiful blue...nice craftsmanship with the flowers."
"The shark is the sign of the warrior for some Pacific Island tribes," she answered without opening her eyes.
"You confuse the hell out of me."
Smiling, she opened her eyes, lifted her foot from the water, and held it close to his face. "Stardust."
He shook his head, grabbed her heel, and looked at the gold stars tattooed on her foot. He met her gaze and smiled. "Careful, Brandi...you're flirting with someone who isn't afraid to go for it."
She pulled her foot free and narrowed her gaze. "Know what I want to do?"
"Me?" He grabbed the flask, opened it, and took a long sip without breaking eye contact.
She pushed away from her side of the pool, waded toward him, staying submerged up to her chin in warmth, used her hands to push his thighs apart, and slipped between them. If he wanted to have his mind blown, she could do that.
Without looking away from his gaze, she snagged the flask from his fingers and took a long sip without flinching.
His focus dropped to the curve of her breasts that floated above the surface and pressed against his chest. He dropped his hands to her hips and grinned. "And here I thought you were shy."
"Why? Because I didn't drop to my knees the first time you said hello?" She slid a wet finger down his face and traced it across his lips.
"I've enjoyed my fair share of après ski soaks," his fingers trailed up her spine before untying the strings of her bikini, "but this isn't a hook-up. I want more than one night with you."
"Why?" She tilted her head to the side so she could see his eyes more clearly in the twilight and steam.
"Because it's taken me months to get to this point and I'm not going back to square one." He rubbed his knuckles along the shark tattoo on her left ribcage. "I like you and your special brand of crazy."
Her smiled faded. He liked her in a way that no one had in a very long time. Fame had found her at sixteen and she'd spent half her life in a glittery bubble filled with beautiful people saying all the right things to feed her ego. But this—being here with Ryan in the half-light with moisture beading their faces and large snow flakes falling against solar lights while his fingers caressed her skin and his eyes looked into hers—this felt like a dream.
"I had you all wrong, Ryan." She didn't move when her bikini top floated up, connected only by the strings around her neck.
His hands covered her breasts while he looked at her with a dare in his eyes.
"Yeah? I thought you checked me out on the internet and knew all about my bad boy ways?" His smile turned wicked in an instant. "All you need to do is tell me to back off—something I know you're not afraid to do—and I will."
"You're a choir boy compared to my old crowd." She liked teasing him, but the reality is they probably missed each other at a few of the same parties back in their glory days. They'd both lived fast and hard, wearing their notoriety with ease.
"I'm older now," he kissed her chin, "tamer."
"How disappointing." She held his face between the palms of her hands and kissed him with a slow intensity that had him moaning into the deep recesses of her mouth.
He squeezed her breast with one hand while the other moved to her ass. His legs wrapped around the back of hers, pulling her closer. Water sloshed between their bodies, fog wrapped them in privacy.
She curled one arm around his neck while sliding her other hand down his chest. Their mouths clung to each other while their hands explored. Animalistic need pulsated through her veins. It had been so long since she'd been touched...or done any touching.
His thumb moved over her nipple. He dragged his mouth from hers and kissed her neck.
She reached between their bodies and found his erection. "Damn, you're full of surprises."
"You like?" He sucked on her bottom lip.
"Oh, yeah, I like a lot." She ground her hips against his hard-on while her fingers teased the tip.
"We're going to get arrested." He smiled, not looking too worried.
"I've got connections you don't know about...I'm sure they'll bail us out." She laughed at the audacity of the moment, trapped in their little world of steam, snow, and spring water.
He put both of his hands on her breasts, lifted them high in the water, and dipped his head to the curve of her neck. He lightly bit her shoulder while she rubbed herself against his erection. His ankles linked behind her knees, holding her in a tight circle.
Their mouths met in a kiss that melted her bones. She wrapped both arms around his neck and held still, knowing that they were dangerously close to crossing a line.
He gasped against her mouth, hands flat against her back, and eyes open. "You taste like whiskey and feel like heaven."
"Such a poet." She grinned, chest heaving against him while she struggled to regain control of her libido.
"Such a smartass." He nipped her chin.
Sounds of the river bubbled inches away from their heads. They kissed—slowly—eyes wide open.
An abrupt sound of music slashed through the quiet. The après ski crowd laughed somewhere further down in the mist.
Her song, her music.
"Laurel..." a man's voice from somewhere in the mist called. "Laurel!"
She broke away from him and twisted in the water looking for the source. Heartbeat slammed in her throat.
The music grew louder.
She bit her lip and sunk to her chin. Having a panic attack could get her killed, how many times had she been coached about how to act?
"What's the matter?" Ryan asked.
"That song..." She shook her head when it turned off as abruptly as it had begun.
"What song?" He pulled her back against him.
She stared at the swirling mist that competed with the flurries wafting down through the darkness. Night encroached fast this time of year. It wasn't even five o'clock, yet the twilight glow had become black sky. Solar lights around the property showed an increasing amount of people in the lower pools, all half-hidden in shadow.
"Didn't you hear that song?" she whispered against his ear. "Or hear that voice?"
"I was a little preoccupied." He retied the strings of her bikini and adjusted the fabric over her breasts. "Do you have a thing against music?"
"It startled me." Damn it, for a rebel I'm acting like a scared little mouse.
"Maybe we should eat. It's getting crowded and I did promise you a decent meal. I believe you gave me a curfew, too, so I had better keep the evening rolling." He shifted his weight so that her butt sat on the low bench in the water, grabbed her knees to open her legs, and slipped his body between her thighs. Hands pressed against the stones above her shoulders, he grinned before kissing her again.
"We could stay here...I don't mind."
"If we stay here," he whispered against her ear, "we're going to have sex, which would be good, I have no doubt, but I'm trying very hard to be a gentleman."
"Did I say I wanted a gentleman?"
"You're one dangerous woman, aren't you, Brandi Simms?" He nibbled her ear before sliding free of her grasp and fading into the steam. "We're going to move on to phase two of our date...after that, anything goes."
"Ask and you shall receive." He stepped from the pool, his silhouette illuminated by the solar lights, giving her enough of a glimpse of the wet swim trunks molding his hard ass and long thighs to make her moan with longing. She wanted nothing more than to peel those trunks off of him with her teeth and let the night play out like a scene from a porn film. "I'll meet you at the jeep. You okay with that?"
"Yes," she managed to say from a throat swollen with longing.
"Sexiest voice I've ever heard," he said before wrapping himself in a towel.
She smiled and grabbed her own towel before stepping toward the bag she'd left on the table just out of view. Humming to herself out of habit, she maneuvered over the stone steps to the changing area. Inside, she ignored a few twenty-something's and a mother struggling with young kids and walked into the shower to erase the strong smell of sulfur.
Music. She heard it again. Her song—one of her songs—that she'd won a Grammy Award for several years ago called Bittersweet. Shutting off the shower, she listened hard over the sound of her drumming heartbeat and the chattering of the other women. As if in a trance, she walked into the room, toweling herself dry as she moved. The sound came from outside.
Tucking the towel securely around her body, she stepped out and looked around at the soft glow of lights illuminating a beautiful landscape.
"I'm driving myself insane," she whispered before stepping back inside to change. She reached for her bra and panties only to stop at the sight of the magazine article that had been dropped inside the bag.
Laurel Lassiter, rock diva, dead at 31.
A large question mark had been scrawled over the headline in red.
She sank to the bench, rested her elbows on her knees, and struggled to catch her breath.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" One of the twenty-something's asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Get yourself together, someone is probably watching for your reaction. Stand up. Get dressed. Act as if nothing has happened. Tell Lyle about it later when no one is studying your every move.
With a shake of her head, she changed into her clothes, brushed out her hair, fixed her make-up, and coached herself to breathe.
Images of that last day flashed in her mind...laughing in the dressing room, joking with her band mates...The brush fell from her trembling hands. When she bent to pick it up, more memories assaulted her...the roar of the crowd chanting her name, their signature pump-me-up song playing while they waited backstage, the sight of her sister giving her the thumbs up.
"Fuck it, not now," she whispered to herself and forced herself to stand on trembling legs. Some memories were meant to never surface. She jammed the brush into her bag, gritted her teeth at the sight of the article, and reminded herself to stay in control because this could all be a test of some kind.
And Lyle had suggested the trespassers were a coincidence? Moron.
She walked from the changing area and through the night with her head held high. If someone watched, she wanted them to think she really was Brandi Simms.
And Brandi Simms wouldn't care one bit about a two-year old article about a dead rock star.
Seeing Ryan lounging against his jeep and talking on his cell phone, she fought the urge to sprint the rest of the way. Snowflakes dotted his black hair like sprinkles. He wore his lined leather coat and Levis with an ease that would make any male model green with envy. His laugh carried to her across the parking lot and made her long for simplicity.
I need to walk away from him before he's sucked into this chaos I call my life. If she had truly been found, then she was putting a target on his back. The knowledge burned a hole in her heart.
About the author...
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published fiction and nonfiction author. Smart is sexy, according to Easton, which is why she writes about strong female characters who have their flaws and challenges but ultimately persevere. She currently has multiple contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels out in the world: Kiss Me Slowly, Riptide, Reckless Endangerment, Anonymity, In Between, Dancing Barefoot, White Out, Proximity, and Duplicity. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to suicide prevention, awareness, and helping others navigate the dark journey of grief.
In addition, Easton works as an editor, freelance journalist, and professional speaker. She speaks on subjects ranging from writing to widowhood. Some of her videos on romance writing have appeared on the international Writers & Authors television network. Current radio appearances are linked via her author website, http://www.amberleaeaston.com.
Easton currently lives with her two teenagers in the Colorado Rocky Mountains where she gives thanks daily for the gorgeous view outside her window. She finds inspiration from traveling, the people she meets, nature and life’s twists and turns. At the end of the day, as long as she's writing, she considers herself simply to be "a lucky lady liv'n the dream."
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