She's been erased--forced to reinvent herself in Witness Protection
She can't risk being recognized so she hides away.
He's the cowboy next door who finds her mysterious ways a challenge.
The dangerous secrets she hides could be the death of them both.
He's not afraid of danger.
Will a whiteout blizzard be their salvation...or their tomb?
Featuring WhiteOut on Tantalizing Thursday.
The first chapter...
"The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient. There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only."
Joseph Wood Krutch
The nightmares always began with tripping off a stage and ended with her screaming for mercy. Twisted in sheets, Brandi sat straight up in bed and blinked at the log wall. Orange light flickered across the hardwood floor from the gas fireplace. Her German Shepherd, Moose, stared at her from a fluffy dog bed nestled in the corner of the room, ears straight up and alert. Wind stirred the pines, the lonely sound whispering through the empty house. Moonlight sprinkled an ethereal glow onto fresh snow on the wide meadow outside the window.
No threat here. No murderers. No death.
Annoyed that the Ambien hadn't done its job of sending her into dreamless oblivion, she pulled the sheets from her legs and stepped onto the cold floor. Grateful for the furry bunny slippers tucked out of Moose's reach, she shoved her feet inside them and walked toward the kitchen.
As coffee brewed, she stared at the snow-covered meadow and lifted her chin higher. How far did she need to run to escape the past? She'd allowed her hair to return to its natural platinum blonde, bought a dog kennel on a mountaintop outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and suppressed her outgoing nature to blend into the background. Exile, she'd called it when she'd left that last day, which is exactly what this was no matter how the US Marshalls had framed it with catch phrases like 'starting over' and 'clean slate.'
From her vantage point, she could see the lights of the neighbor's home pierce the darkness. Ryan Landry always woke before dawn. Even though a half a mile of forest separated their two houses, she could see the glow of his window perfectly from her kitchen.
The man annoyed her to no end, mainly because he consumed too much of her thoughts. The definition of skiing cowboy, he ran a tour guide operation where he escorted tourists along the Continental Divide by horse for a day's adventure. A three time Olympic gold medalist, he also led the holiday festivities at the resort and would ski down all lit up like some type of circus act. Happy, laid back, a local charmer, he irritated her every time he tipped his damn hat in her direction.
Of course, in another lifetime, she would have been all over him by now. Present circumstances, however, didn't allow for reckless behavior.
Turning her back on the distant glow that indicated human life stirred in the darkness, she filled her mug with a slice of heaven before walking toward the kennels. She'd designed an enclosed walkway connecting her kitchen to the boarding area.
A movement in the trees halted her steps. She pressed her back against the wall and peered out the windows, eyes adjusting to the black-on-black. There. Sure and deliberate. Shadow against darkness.
Slowly, so she didn't make a sound, she set the mug onto the floor, stepped out of the slippers, ducked lower than the windows, and shuffled toward the kennel. Dogs stretched and greeted her with yips from their individual suits when she flicked on the lights. Careful to remain hidden, she checked the door leading to the backyard where she allowed the boarded animals to run in a play area she'd created.
She pressed her forehead against the cool wood and released the breath she'd been holding. She flicked on the outdoor lights and looked out the window. No footprints marred the snowpack.
"It's just me and the beasts," she whispered. "I need to stop freaking myself out."
A cocker spaniel whined, eyes trained on her.
Smiling at the barking bunch, she walked into each suite and lifted the back hatches that led to the large fenced outside area. When Moose stood on her hind legs and whined from where she'd been left in the breezeway, Brandi opened up the main door and let her dog mingle with the guests.
Hugging the sweater around herself, she remained in the shadows while her eyes scanned the fresh snow illuminated by the motion lights. Pine trees at least five stories tall swayed against a star-filled sky, whispering softly in the pre-dawn stillness. Dogs wrestled, rolled, and leaped in the snow.
Brandi grinned and rubbed a restless hand through her hair. Convinced she'd allowed the nightmare to affect her waking world, she closed the door and resumed her morning chores.
A flash from the corner of her eye sent shivers of apprehension sliding over her spine. She slowly turned her head toward the window. Another flash, like a camera.
She ducked down and flattened her self against the wall. Heart in her throat, she counted to ten...then twenty...reminding herself of all the reasons that no one could be outside.
One: she lived in a remote area outside of Steamboat Springs.
Two: it was damn cold outside and people didn't wander through feet of snow for the hell of it.
Three: she'd been too careful for too long, followed all the rules, and sacrificed everything for anonymity. No one could have found her. Impossible.
On cue, the dogs went crazy with intense barking. Moose scratched against the door as if she were ready to rip it off its hinges.
Brandi reached up and opened the door. Moose ran past her, headed straight for the main house with a ridge of hair standing straight up on her back.
"Moose, come back!" She forced herself to standing and peeked out at the other dogs who were all riled up and barking in the same direction.
The same place she'd seen the flash.
"Coincidence, that's all. No one is walking in the woods taking pictures of me." She wanted it to be true as she locked the backdoor and whistled for the boarded dogs to return to their suites for their breakfast. Hands trembled over the locks on their suites before she speed-walked back to the main house in search of Moose.
The German Shepherd stood on her hind legs, front paws resting against the windows facing the front meadow, ears alert and tail wagging. When she noticed Brandi, she dropped back to the floor and looked at her with concerned eyes.
"I really wish you could talk," she said as she double-checked that the main security system remained active. "You all are freaking me out this morning."
A person couldn't be too careful, especially someone who couldn't risk being found. Her voice training had erased any trace of a New York City accent years ago. As far as everyone in Steamboat Springs knew, she'd grown up in California and had inherited money to buy her dream house and run a kennel in the middle of the woods.
And that's all anyone needed to know.
She poured her cold coffee out in the sink and let her gaze drift toward Ryan's house. There were moments when she wished she had a confidante, just one person who could be trusted completely. How many times had she indulged in harmless flirtation with the hot neighbor? She shook her head and sighed. Not enough. She lashed out at him to thwart his curiosity.
But there were moments like this when she wished she could let down her guard and allow someone—especially a hot cowboy with a smile that could melt ice—close. She smiled at the memory of Ryan Landry riding his white horse near her fence, his slow smile, the quick tip of his hat in her direction...She slammed her empty mug against the counter and cursed.
"Oh, for God's sake, maybe I should go back to bed and start this day over." She pushed away from the sink and walked into the huge living room where a large undecorated Christmas tree dominated the space.
Without thinking of the 'why', she turned on every light in the house before sitting cross-legged in the center of her sofa. Moose growled, a ridge of wavy fur standing upright on her back as she leapt to her feet and snarled at the front door.
"Shh...it's just the wind," she whispered as she scratched between Moose's ears. "We need to stop freaking ourselves out...and I need to stop talking to dogs so much."
Moose looked at her with understanding eyes and leaned heavily against her side.
Brandi stared at the empty branches of the Christmas tree she'd bought on a whim. She'd once had a huge family that had made a big deal out of holidays and all special occasions. She hugged her arms around herself and grinned at the memories of ripping open wrapping paper, bows in her hair, smells of cinnamon wafting through the air, teasing siblings, boisterous relatives filling a too small house, and holiday music playing in the background of the chaos.
She'd give anything to be able to forget all of that. Maybe if she could stop remembering, she could start living this new life.
When Moose growled again and took a step toward the entrance, she gritted her teeth and pushed herself away from the sofa. Screw it. She'd once been a called a force to be reckoned with and that fighting spirit roared to life in an instant. If someone truly lurked outside, they were about to regret it.
* * *
Ryan looked at the beacon across the woods and shook his head in dismay. Why on earth had that crazy dog lady turned on every single light in her house? Ever since she'd moved in across the way, she consistently surprised him with another odd act. Almost daily, another weird thing would come from her side of the trees. Today—a goddamn lighthouse.
From the few times she'd actually spoken to him rather than yelled at him for letting tourists too close to her fence, he knew she claimed to be from California, but he called bullshit on that. She had too much edge and sucked at lying. If he had to guess, which he didn't because that would mean he thought about his reclusive neighbor more than he did, he pictured her in a big city somewhere surrounded by steel and concrete rather than palm trees and sand. Not that he cared. If she wanted to hide out in the woods and spend all of her time with animals, who was he to judge?
But, damn, he'd fantasized about her despite her attitude. That platinum hair coupled with large brown eyes a man could lose himself in haunted his dreams. And when she spoke, her voice had a husky lyrical quality to it that made him lose track of his common sense. He did not hook up with crazy dog ladies no matter how drop dead gorgeous they were.
Okay, well, maybe he would. Just once. For curiosity sake alone. Maybe seducing the sexy neighbor with the attitude problem would be his New Year's resolution.
He smiled at the idea, wondering what she looked like beneath the ugly baggy clothes she wore.
He drank his coffee, gave the distant beacon one last glance, and returned his attention to the laptop resting on a granite counter. He had a group arriving from the resort for a trail ride at eight, which meant he needed to get it in gear.
Ryan went about his business of preparing for the day, but his gaze kept drifting toward the windows facing toward the neighbor's. Curiosity nagged at him to know what made such a beautiful woman so reclusive. Ever since his divorce, he preferred uncomplicated women—tourists mainly—who didn't expect than a good time and he had a strong feeling that Ms. Crazy Dog Lady wouldn't even know what that meant.
He pulled the sheepskin coat over his arms and grabbed his cowboy hat from where it had been tossed onto the side table. He jumped at the abrupt knock on his door.
Frowning at the time, which had barely slipped past dawn, he opened it without concealing his annoyance.
"I knew it was you." Crazy Dog Lady herself stood on the steps, a machete of all things in one hand and a flashlight in the other, dressed in pajama pants, a long black wool sweater, and mittens.
"I live here. Who else would you be expecting?" He smiled at the fierce expression on her flushed face.
Man, he could lose himself in those big brown eyes of hers. He propped his hand on the doorframe and grinned at the ferocity emanating from her.
"I followed the tracks." She motioned with the machete toward her house. "I don't appreciate being stalked and you can be damn sure I'll get a restraining order on you before the day is finished."
"Whoa." He held up his hands in mock surrender and stepped back. "I am not stalking anyone. Get in here. You look like you're freezing."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She crossed her arms over her chest and squinted at him. Platinum hair trailed wildly around her shoulders, almost matching the snowflakes sticking to the bottoms of her pajamas that bunched up over the top of her snow boots. "You might think I'm some foolish woman who doesn't know how to take care of herself, but I guarantee you I can. The next time you want to spy on me, I'll set Moose loose on you."
Ah, yes, her German Shepherd that often frequented his house for treats and a good belly rub. He grinned at the threat. "I am not in the habit of skulking through the woods in the dark to stare at women through their windows. If you think—"
"The snow is fresh and there are tracks." She motioned again with the machete.
"Where'd you get that thing?" He couldn't stop smiling at the picture she made, a contradiction of soft and beautiful meshing with hard and fierce.
"It's none of your business where I got this thing," she held it up in the air, "just know that I'm fully capable of using it."
"Message received, ma'am." Because she refused to enter, he exited. He looked in the direction she pointed, unable to believe someone had been out here stalking through the woods to spy on anyone. "Aside from Moose, isn't your kennel full for the holidays? Did the dogs react to this trespasser?"
"There are tracks and I—" She shrugged as if defeated and, for the first time, he noticed the fear in her eyes. "I know what I saw, I know someone watched from the woods. I can feel it. If it's not you—despite you being dressed to go wandering through the snow—then the tracks lead to your property so maybe you should take me seriously."
He buttoned up his jacket and nodded. "Okay, I believe you. Let's go for a look together then. Next time call me before heading out after a would-be stalker. A machete and a flashlight? Pajama pants?"
"I was mad and frustrated so I just went." She sighed and looked down at her outfit. "Snow and cold don't bother me."
"Strange for a transplant from California." He looked her in the eye and smiled at the suspicion darkening her eyes to a deep chocolate. "Let's go look for stalkers. My morning just got more exciting."
"It's not funny." She looked away toward the shadows that lingered despite the graying of the sky.
He sobered at the realization that whatever had caused her to come here and lock herself away must have been pretty damn bad. "I know it's not. Next time call me."
"I don't have your number," she said as she stepped off his front steps and looked toward the stables and the driveway beyond. "Look! Is that someone backing up without lights on?"
He squinted through the pre-dawn shadows and walked around her. The sky had lightened enough for him to definitely make out a truck leaving his driveway. "I'm going to call the sheriff."
"We should follow them." She grabbed his arm and looked at him with determination. "Do you have your keys? Your jeep is right there. Let's go before he gets away."
"And then what? Are you going to chop him into pieces? With all the forks in the road, he'll be gone before we reach the highway." He reached for the handle of the machete and shook his head 'no.' "I have security cameras all around the stables and the back of the house. We'll call the sheriff, get you warmed up, and see what the cameras caught."
She hesitated, looking between his house and the end of his driveway. "I suppose you're right, but—"
"Come inside, Brandi." He dropped his hand to her lower back and gently guided her toward his front door.
Surprisingly, she agreed, but she did not release her hold on the machete.
He smiled at her back as she stomped the snow from her boots before bending to take them off. Tucking the machete under arm, she adjusted her mismatched socks and brushed chunks of matted snow from the hem of her pajama bottoms.
He tossed his hat back onto the table and hung up his coat while making a mental note to call Jamie, his hired man who lived in a small house on the opposite side of the stables, to check in on the horses. "My office is straight down the hall, computer password is Buckeye—"
"Why are you telling me your password?" She looked over her shoulder from where she still crouched rolling up the wet part of her pants to her knees so they wouldn't drip on his hardwood floors.
Proximity with Brandi Simms always delivered a sucker punch to his equilibrium. Looking at her now, he had a hard time concentrating on the why of how she'd ended up here so early in the morning. He couldn't explain it...around her, he lost his words. Long, platinum hair dangled over her neck and stuck to the wool of her sweater as she observed him through a wall of caution.
"Well?" She arched an eyebrow and slowly stood when he remained silent.
"Security cameras. You'll need my password to unlock the computer." He cleared his throat. "Click on the camera icon and they'll come up. I record everything on a 24 hour loop."
"Buckeye?" She grinned, the smile transforming her from beautiful to heartbreakingly stunning. She stood and raked her gaze over him from his boots to his messy hair. "Are you from Ohio?"
"No." He laughed, again forgetting what he'd been about to do. "It's the name of the very first horse I had as a boy. My grandpa gave him to me when I was four."
Grin turned into a full-fledged smile. "So you're a real cowboy then. I wondered."
"Why on earth would you have a doubt?" He leaned his hip against the wall, gaze locked on her smile. She needed to do that more often.
"Why wouldn't I? People are rarely what they seem to be." She countered before walking down the hall toward the office.
He frowned at the illicit thoughts popping into his brain as he watched her ass sway back and forth beneath the thin fabric of the pajama pants as she shuffled away. One foot wore a purple sock and the other neon green. Shapely calves had been exposed from where she'd rolled her pants to her knees. When she paused at the office door to look back at him, a wave of guilt for watching her washed through him. Here she feared being stalked and he sat gawking at her every move.
"Don't call the sheriff," she said, her gaze connecting with his. "Not yet."
"What would you rather do? Find the assholes yourself and chop them into bits?"
"Yes, actually, I would."
His smile faded when she stared back without a glimmer of humor.
"I need to call my hired hand, get him to check on the stables. I'll be there in a minute," he said.
He turned his back on her as he grabbed his phone from his back pocket. He needed to call Jamie first and then the sheriff, despite her request.
"Jamie," he said when his friend answered, "we've had some trespassers on the property, can you check on the horses? I'll be down in a few minutes. I'm going to—"
"What's happening?" Jamie answered, voice slurred from sleep. "Trespassers?"
"Obviously you haven't had your coffee yet. Yeah, I'm still figuring it all out." He looked down the hallway toward his office and whispered, "Brandi Simms is here, she followed tracks from her property to mine and we saw a truck leaving the driveway."
"Crazy Dog Lady's in your house?" Jamie suddenly sounded interested. "Okay, okay, I'm awake. I'll check on the horses right away."
The phone clicked off and he hesitated about calling the sheriff. The look in her eyes gave him cause for concern—for his safety and the fate of those men if she caught up to them—but he couldn't shake that look of fear behind the murderous intentions. Deciding to wait, he slipped the phone into the back pocket of his jeans and walked toward the office.
"There's something here!" she shouted before he reached the doorway. "There are two of them. Your cameras got them!"
Dread clenched at his gut. Trespassers on his property pissed him off, but the fact that someone may have used his place to spy on her pushed his buttons.
Brandi sat behind his desk, eyes wide as she inched within an inch of the screen looking at the evidence of her being watched. "It's very grainy, though. There's no way to make out a face."
"Would you recognize someone? Has this happened to you before?" Hand on the back of the chair, he leaned over her shoulder.
The picture clearly showed two men, one who had stayed back toward the edge of the stables and another who had walked directly past his front porch in the darkness beyond the scope of the motion lights. But the night vision cameras only showed that they were men wearing parkas and stocking caps, nothing identifiable.
"I have security cameras, too, but they only focus on the kennels and entrances, not the property itself," she muttered more to herself than him. "This guy knew to park here and walk to where he couldn't be identified. He's done this before, watched me. He seems to know where the property line is because he didn't cross it. See?"
"How do you know that?"
"Tracks in the snow." She shrugged.
A chill went through him at the matter-of-fact way she spoke about it. She'd come here ready to slice him in two for spying on her and now, when confronted with proof that she'd been right about being watched, talked more analytically than emotionally about it. He bit back the questions and instead reached around her to scroll through the other window from the camera directed at the dark shape of the truck. Nothing could be identified from that either.
"The police won't do anything, no need to let them in on this, unless of course something happened to your horses, but leave me out of it then," she said without emotion. Leaning back in the chair, arms folded across her chest, she stared the screen with her customary closed expression locking out the world. "I'd better get back to the dogs. I fed them, but they'll be wanting to run and I need to scoop out their play area."
He squeezed her shoulder and kept her in place. "Brandi, you need to tell me if you know who those two are. Have you been threatened? You seem almost..."
"Almost what?" She wouldn't meet his gaze. "Resigned to the fact that the police won't do anything until someone is murdered or severely harmed? That's what they will say. I'll bet you a hundred dollars. The sheriff will show up, look at this, come to the same conclusion we have about not being able to identify anyone, will take down our statement and tell us there is nothing he can do. That's how the system works." She stood and faced him, gaze moving over his long-sleeved t-shirt and up his neck as if seeing him clearly for the first time. She looked him in the eye. "You'd better go check on your horses, Cowboy."
"I've got them handled." He couldn't break eye contact. "I won't let you leave yet. You can't simply show up here with machete in hand and then leave without having a cup of coffee. It would be anticlimactic."
She caught her lower lip between her teeth as if debating his proposition. "I should get back—"
"A cup of coffee won't hurt, will it? The sky's getting lighter by the second. This way you can warm up and walk back once the sun is up. Or I can drive you?"
She broke eye contact and shoved her hands through her hair. "I shouldn't have stormed off like that, I guess. I'd just had enough, you know?"
He frowned at that but didn't say anything. 'Enough' implied that she'd been dealing with harassment for a long time. Just like he handled a skittish horse, he backed off and changed his approach.
"Yeah, I understand. We all get to a breaking point where we need to stand our ground." He motioned toward the door. "My hired hand, Jamie, is looking in on the horses. He and his wife live in the apartment above the stables."
"Really? I didn't know..." She smiled weakly at him and shrugged. "How would I know, right? I'm not exactly Ms. Sociable."
He narrowed his gaze, trying to gauge her emotions before motioning toward the hallway. "Let's have that cup of coffee. You can be sociable now."
"At six in the morning?" She grinned and walked ahead of him. "I need to get back. I've already intruded enough."
"We should call the sheriff, Brandi. If someone is—"
"No." She spun around and jabbed a finger into the center of his chest. "It will cause more trouble than you know. The fact that I know I'm not imagining things is good enough. I can take precautions."
"Precautions that involve machetes?" God, he wanted to kiss her hard and wrap that long hair around his fists.
"You don't understand."
"No, I don't so enlighten me."
"I can't." She turned and speed-walked toward her discarded boots.
"Why not? I'm involved in one way or another. These guys used my property to gain access to you. If you know something about who they might be, I think I have a right to know."
"A right to know?" She snorted and shook her head.
Hands on his hips, he watched her shove her multi-colored feet inside her boots and fought the urge to smack a wall. "You're a walking contradiction—hot, cold, nice, nasty, approachable, aloof—I get dizzy being around you for more than five minutes."
"Best that we keep our distance from one another then, right?" She grabbed the machete and faced him with another shrug.
"I haven't been this frustrated with a woman since my ex-wife."
"You get rattled easily."
"Stop being cute."
"Didn't know I was, I'm not feeling very cute." She frowned, eyes shooting fire at him.
"Who are these men? Why aren't you more scared than you are? You're acting like you expected this to happen."
"It was only a matter of time," she muttered before reaching for the door. "So close to the finish line, too...they must have paid someone off."
"Who?" He grabbed her arm and stopped her from leaving. "I'm not a bad guy, Brandi. Let me help you. Whatever you tell me won't go further than this room."
"I didn't mean to say any of that out loud...too much time spent talking to animals has made me lose my edge. Forget you heard that." She yanked her arm free of his grasp. "I don't know what theory you or anyone else in this town has about me, but let's get one thing straight...I can take care of myself."
When she stepped back and tilted her chin up, he knew he'd struck a chord. "You suck at lying and, I have to admit, that's an intriguing quality in a woman and not one I've experienced in a long time."
"Your ex must be relieved to be free of your egomania."
"Maybe she is, I don't know or care about her feelings anymore. She's living in Bermuda with a rich tourist she met."
"I didn't ask for your life story."
"But I'm giving it to you because I have nothing to hide."
"And I do so you're trying to goad me into revealing my secrets?" She blinked at him a second before bursting out in laughter. "Oh, honey, I'm so far out of you league that we're in different orbits." She closed the gap between them, pressed the tip of the machete against his shoulder, stood on her tiptoes, looked him in the eye, and said, "You have no idea who you're dealing with here. I'm more than you could handle. And those men? They're killers. And if you quote me on that to the sheriff or anyone else, I'll deny I said it."
Damn if her words didn't turn him on.
He grabbed her wrists and squeezed until she dropped the weapon. "Never underestimate me, Brandi."
"And vice versa." She wiggled free of his hold, but not before a ghost of a smile had crept onto her face again. "I guess I overreacted. I sometimes let emotion sweep me away."
He enjoyed seeing her swept away by emotion. This version of her beat the hell out of the reclusive woman who hid behind her dogs and sunglasses every day. He smiled at the realization that maybe he liked women who danced on the edge of crazy. It made life much more interesting.
"Let me drive you back to your place."
"I walked here, I can walk back." She smiled, though, when she looked at him. "You can't help it, can you?"
She shook her head before looking away. "I'd better go. I don't like my house empty if nosy people are out and about."
He hadn't thought about the fact that the men could have returned to her house while it sat vacant. "That's even more reason why I should drive you back. What if you're walking into something dangerous?"
"Okay, fine, you can drive me." She sighed as if agreeing to sacrifice her first born.
He laughed at her reluctance while shrugging into his coat. "You are a very difficult person to know, do you realize that?"
"I do know that." She faced him, boots on, machete and flashlight in her hands, and frowned. "It's how life needs to be, Ryan. I'd appreciate your number, though, if you don't mind. In case...you know...it happens again."
"I thought maybe you were going to ask me out."
She tilted her head to the side and looked at him as if he were the one acting insane. "I've held a machete to you twice, admitted that those guys could be deadly, and you're...what?...flirting with me?"
"Maybe I'm the kind of guy who leaps at an opportunity when he sees it without regard to timing."
"Or maybe you're in need of some serious counseling."
He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his coat and studied the caution on her face. "I can be a good friend, Brandi. Not all men are bastards."
She raised her eyebrows, obviously surprised by his statement. "I know that. I like my privacy, that's all."
"You're a horrible liar." He shoved his hat on with more force than usual, suddenly frustrated. He'd never had such a hard time getting through to a woman before in his life. He held the door open for her and looked over her head when she passed. He wouldn't look at her again, not in the eye anyway. If she wanted to play it cold and aloof, then fine. He could live with that. He'd be her friendly neighbor who would help hunt stalkers on a whim and nothing else. Fine.
"You know something? I don't like the good guy, chivalrous act, okay?" She poked him in the chest with the flashlight. "I don't buy it. You might be the most charming man in Steamboat Springs with your sexy as sin smile, good manners, and cowboy hat, but I don't want to be your latest conquest, do you hear me? I'm not one of your local admirers or a wide-eyed tourist ready to go down on you for the sake of story to tell with my friends over cocktails."
"What friends? You never leave your damn house. Stop poking me with things." He swiped the flashlight away from his chest and stomped toward his jeep.
"Oh, I have friends. Delores—"
"She owns the feed store, doesn't count. She has to be nice to you because it's business."
"She sells ads for the local paper and—"
"Fuck you, Ryan Landry." She opened the door to his jeep and climbed in with so much flair he had to smile.
"I thought the proposition was going down on me, but if—"
"I have higher standards."
To hell with the consequences, he couldn't help himself. He leaned across the space separating them, grabbed the back of her head and crushed his mouth against hers determined to erase that I-Am-The-Most-Independent-Woman-On-Earth-And-You-Suck attitude from her.
She smacked him with a closed fist until he pulled back.
"I don't know what you're problem is, but I'm not it," he said without letting her go.
"I have the potential of being your biggest nightmare come true," she said before twisting away and jumping from the car. Without looking back, she headed toward the path she'd made in the snow and stomped toward her house.
He leaned back in the driver's seat, hit the steering wheel with both hands, and kept his gaze on her back until she crossed onto her own property.
Brandishing machetes? Killers? Out of his league? The woman had to be certifiably insane.
He leaned against the steering wheel, a slow smile creeping across his mouth that vibrated from the sizzle that had snapped between them with the briefest physical contact. Even though she hadn't kissed him back, the feel of her mouth beneath his had sent currents of electrical volts ripping through his body.
He stepped from the jeep, tossed the keys in the air, and caught them in one hand without taking his eyes off of that platinum hair swaying down her back as she weaved through the trees over snow and through shadows. She'd called him sexy...so she couldn't be too far off the center of sanity.
Whistling to himself, he waited until she'd disappeared from sight before turning toward the stables to make sure those trespassers hadn't messed with his stock. Brandi Simms definitely made an impact that he couldn't shake off.
Keep reading WhiteOut
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.