Franny, to investigate renovation delays, she meets an extremely
annoyed and dapper turn-of-the-century innkeeper. The only problem is
he’s in limbo, neither dead nor alive, and Tallulah and the pug are
the first to see him in a hundred years.
is stuck between worlds until he finds his true love and gives her
his heart. When he first sees Tallulah, he doesn’t know what he’s
feeling. Yet, her stunning beauty, and feisty attitude pull him in.
powerful medicine woman turns Lucius back into a flesh and blood man.
She and Lucius team up to save the hotel, but Tallulah can’t help but
wonder if he will ever let go of his past love and learn to love again.
Tallulah is intrigued by the idea of having a million dollar budget to work with. When she arrives, however, she finds she has her work cut out for her.
A million dollar budget intrigued her. How could she refuse? She’d never been to Montana. And Will, or WWIII as she liked to think of him, hadn’t balked at her price or her terms, including bringing Franny. The GPS directed her to continue on Interstate 90W, skirting the town. At the Yellowstone River, she found a dilapidated sign and the dirt road leading to her destination.
“Oh, baby, I think the owner has some ’splaining to do. That sign is awful. And how are you supposed to get down a dirt road in bad weather.” She shook her head and jotted a note on her ever-present yellow sticky pad. “Good thing we have a four-wheel drive.”
Franny, too short to see over the dashboard, was spared the sight of the run-down wraparound porch, tires serving as planters for bedraggled flowers, and a rusty pickup truck parked in the middle of the driveway. The place looked like a junk dealer’s lot. All that was missing was a barking dog chained to a post.
“This is even worse than I imagined. Hotel LaHelle would be a better name. Maybe he hasn’t seen us yet. We can just back up and—”
A middle-aged man with a ponytail, leather vest, a paunch that drooped over his jeans, and cowboy boots bounded out the front door. He tripped down the steps, righted himself, and shoved his head through her open window.
“Ms. Thompson? Aren’t you a pretty little lady? What a sight for sore eyes! Welcome to Hotel LaBelle!”
Personal space was obviously a foreign concept for her new client. She leaned away from the close talker, his garlic-laced breath, and his unwelcome compliments. “You must be Mr. Wellington. Please, allow me to get out and do a walk around the grounds with my dog.”
He yanked the car door open. “Of course, let me get your bag and take it to your room. When you’re ready, come on in and we’ll have a beer.”
“Coffee, please. I never drink while I’m working.” Her instincts screamed, this guy is bad news! But her checking account yelled, you spent the money already! She grabbed her bag, sticky notes, and pug. “See you in thirty minutes.”
The further away she got from the owner, the better she felt. Her muscles, knotted in a fight or flight response, relaxed as she walked along the winding river and gazed at the islands dotting the water. A startled wild turkey gobbled and flapped his wings at the little dog. Unaware that she was half the size of the bird, Franny raced after him, her curly little tail wagging, stopping only when Tallulah tugged on the leash.
“That’s enough excitement for you today.”
The river view and surrounding lands were the saving grace for this hotel. Make that a positive sticky note. She had to give him some good feedback along with the bad. Front and back, the exterior, the curbside appeal, if you will, had all the charm of a hillbilly hideout, without the handsome hillbilly. She would need to set some very strong boundaries with Wellington—who could very well be nicknamed Smellington at this point. Yuck.
Reluctance dragging at every step, she climbed the front stairs, entered the structure, and gasped.
The long, smooth registration desk appeared to be made of highly polished mahogany, as did the walls and ceiling. Carvings of trees, waterways, and mountains rose across the surface of every wall. Peeking between the trees were deer and turkeys. Fish leaped out of the river and clouds scudded over the mountains. Turning in a slow circle, Tallulah absorbed the genteel grandeur of the lobby. Well, this was getting a lot better, she thought as she jotted more positive notes.
Next to the gleaming wooden stairs, metal lattice work surrounded a wooden box that comprised the elaborate cage elevator. On the second floor, railings on three sides formed a gallery from which the rooms’ occupants could view the entire lobby. Just as she completed her slow circuit and note taking, a woman with long dark braids exited a hotel room, a cleaning basket in one hand and a vacuum in the other. She needed to interview that woman and any other staff Wellington had on site.
“See anything you like?” The owner appeared in front of her and waggled his eyebrows. Tallulah hoped he wasn’t referring to himself. “Sure you don’t want something stronger than coffee?”
She tucked the notes into her purse. “Mr.
“Please, call me Will.” He grinned, exposing crooked yellow teeth. One more strike in a growing list of unappealing pitches. “As in, where there’s a Will, there’s a way.”
Okay, time for the talk.
“Mr. Wellington, please behave in a professional manner with me.”
His face fell. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to be friendly.”
“Friendly is a handshake and a polite hello, not leering at me or wiggling your eyebrows.”
At the top of the stairs, the maid burst out laughing. “I told him not to pull that crap on you. Would he listen? No. Thinks he’s a ladies’ man like the original owner, ‘Love ’Em and Leave ’Em Lucius.’ ”
Tallulah looked up at the woman. “And you are?” “Emma Horserider.”
“Emma is just fine.” She grinned displaying even white teeth.
“Okay, I see. I’m Tallulah Thompson. Mr. Wellington called me in to help him save his hotel. I’m only here for a week. I would love to chat with you.”
Emma shot the owner a hard look. “Happy to do it—just not now and not here.”
Tallulah was dying to hear the backstory on this one. “Good, you tell me when and where, and I’ll meet you.”
Emma nodded. “You ever been to Little Big Horn?”
“No, this is my first trip to Montana.”
“There’s a restaurant, a trading post really, just outside the park. You can’t miss it. A huge arrow points to it. I’ll meet you there tomorrow at noon.” Emma turned to Wellington. “If you really want to save this place, you need to behave. This woman is here to help you. Sit down, shut up, and listen.” Emma stomped out the front door.
telepath, Emma Horserider, is called in to calm the herd and find out
what happened. Once on scene she is almost killed by a bullet-spewing
drone, and calls her black ops brother for back-up.
Remote viewer Bronco Winchester takes the assignment because he is
ordered to, but he wonders what type of assistance, his boss’s sister
needs. That is until he sees Emma, a valiant Warrior Woman proud of
her Crow heritage.
stop a hate group. Both are anxious enough without the now growing
attachment they feel for one another. When the lives of many are on
the line, they are not sure if they will live or die—let alone have
a chance at love.
Crow Reservation, Montana
Brandon Winchester, aka Bronco, rapped at the door of the address his boss, Bert Blackfeather, had texted him that morning with instructions to get there pronto. Pushing the big bike as hard as he dared, it had taken him most of the day to get from Colorado to the Crow Reservation in Montana. Once there, he had to navigate his way through the maze of streets, pick-up trucks, SUVs, horseback riders, kids kicking a soccer ball, clusters of adults, and a yappy little dog determined to pursue him for the last mile. Saddle sore, tired, and hungry, he thought about his breakfast back in Denver, and his stomach growled.
Much earlier that day, he’d been sitting in a restaurant, the kind he preferred with three glass sides and the kitchen at his back. On a much needed break between cases, Bronco had been inhaling a mountain of sausages and pancakes dripping with syrup, occasionally slipping a link to his whining friend in his mesh-topped leather backpack. When his phone buzzed and Bert’s number popped up, he knew it was urgent. Sticky fingers smearing prints on the screen, he had finally gotten the phone up to his ear.
Bert’s voice boomed. “We’ve got a situation, and you’re the closest guy I’ve got in the region.”
“What’s the assignment?”
His boss barked, “When you get there you’ll find out.”
Bert never snapped at his agents. Calm and cool under pressure, the big man’s voice held a note of panic.
Something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong.
“Hey, man.” Bronco waved at the server for the check. “I’m not trying to give you a hard time. Just trying to figure out what you need me to take care of.”
“I’m texting you the address. Drop whatever you’re doing and get out there. Call me on my secure line when you arrive.”
Bronco licked his fingers and sighed. He’d been hoping to break the long dry spell created by his last two assignments. So much for asking that cute little blonde in the next booth who’d been flirting with him for the last thirty minutes if she wanted to go for a ride.
“Okay, boss, I’m on it.”
“Good. And by the way, don’t take no for an answer.”
He stared at the silent phone. Don’t take no for an answer? What was that supposed to mean? Mounting his bike and kicking it into high gear, he guessed he’d find out soon enough.
Bronco now stood squinting in the late afternoon sun, knocking at a door with no bell, and waiting for a response. Dogs barked and a window curtain twitched. Good. Someone was home. He adjusted his pack, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and said, “Any time now.” As the words slid out of his mouth, he heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being pumped.
He raised his hands. “Don’t shoot. I’m unarmed.” Turning slowly to face his fate, his jaw fell open, and his heart rate kicked up a notch from being on the wrong end of a shotgun or from the weapon holder’s looks, he wasn’t sure. A raven haired Amazon in a tank top, jeans, and metal tipped cowboy boots held the Mossberg 500 in a perfect military stance. Long strands of hair blew across her face in the hot breeze. A large purple bruise bloomed on her left cheek. She squinted her dark brown eyes and gave him a laser-beam once over from his dusty black boots to his sweat soaked do- rag.
“Who are you, and what do you want?”
If he hadn’t been so intent on not getting killed, he would have spent more time staring at those full, luscious, kissable lips and thinking about how she would taste. As it was, he guessed he had less than a minute to respond before getting blasted into the next county.
“Bronco Winchester. Bert Blackfeather sent me.”
Shaking her head, she lowered her weapon, a grimace pulling those pretty lips downward. “Tell him I said no.”
“We have a problem. My boss specifically ordered me not to take no for an answer.”
She scowled, and he could have sworn sparks flew from her eyes. “Asshat.”
She pointed at the door. “Go ahead. It’s not locked. I don’t need a security system.”
Bronco stepped aside. “Ladies first.” Just as the woman passed him to enter the house, his backpack shifted and wiggled. Not a good time. The weight bounced up and down and paws thumped his back in response.
She stood in the doorway and waved him inside. Three large, mixed-breed dogs greeted them with howls and wagging tails.
He chuckled. “These are your watch dogs?” His laugh caught in his throat when she gestured and the pack stood and began to growl and raise their hackles. “Just kidding. Good doggies.”
Another hand signal and the snarling Cujo wannabes sat and wagged their tails. He could have sworn they were smirking at him. “I stand corrected.”
“Yes, you do. And yes, you will be.” After retrieving the chambered shells, she placed the weapon in a rack at the side of the door. “We’re going to call my darling brother and get this little misunderstanding straightened out.”
Bronco’s tongue untangled, “Your what?”
She snorted, “Let me guess. He didn’t tell you I’m his sister.”
He shook his head, and the backpack quaked and emitted a low growl.
The dogs took note, three heads swiveling in a choreographed move that would have broken the Internet, had he gotten it on video. The largest dog, a German shepherd mix, stood on his hind legs like a human and stared at the now dancing rucksack.
“Whatever you’ve got in your pack, you’d better let it out before my dogs knock you down.”
“Probably not a great idea.” The beast on his back yowled. Bad timing, my friend.
Hand on her hip, Amazon woman stared at him and waited in silence.
Bronco sighed. “Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can come out now, Gaucho.” He set the pack on a chair and unzipped the mesh top. An enormous harness-wearing spotted cat with long tufts at the tips of his black ears launched himself out of the bag, landed on his shoulder, teetered for a nanosecond, and then wrapped himself around Bronco’s neck. The end of a long leash rested in Bronco’s hand. Loud purring commenced—and the dogs erupted in howling.
boss with no experience. So what if she’s beautiful or gives him a
jolt when she shakes his hand? He never plans to get seriously
involved with another woman–not in this lifetime.
deaf, gets more than she bargained for with Bert. One touch and she
relives his IED injuries. So what if he’s handsome and hot? She
doesn’t need to add his secrets to her own. Phoebe’s are bad enough.
goes to Montana to help–and Phoebe insists on going with him. Can
these two hard-headed people share their darkest secrets in order to
work together? It may be the only way to save an endangered
child–and their own hearts when Bert’s past rears its ugly head.
Chapter One (Continued)
Homeland Security Headquarters
If Bert could read her mind, he’d see how big of a failure she really was. Mexico City had been a disaster—but only she was aware of how enormous a fiasco it had been. And how devastating. Claiming health reasons, she ended the Fulbright early and came home in a profound state of depression. She’d been unable to even consider applying for jobs. What child advocacy agency would want someone incapable of protecting an at-risk child? Phoebe hadn’t shared the reason for her abrupt departure from the study with her mother by text or email. However, her mother intuited a tragedy had occurred. Using her own methods, she had dragged the story out of her daughter, consoled her, and then badgered her to get back into the fray, to fight for other children. Phoebe ached just thinking about working with kids. She couldn’t do it. Never again.
She’d only allowed her relentless mother to coerce her into this political appointment because she was tired of fighting. When the Under Secretary position became vacant, Phoebe’s mother made it her mission to secure the job for her daughter, arguing it was high time for the Deaf Community to have greater representation. Although uncomfortable with being The Deaf Representative in D.C., she couldn’t refuse the role. Out of loyalty to her mother, a fierce pride in her deaf identity, and love of her country, she took the job. Today Phoebe wore the position like an ill-fitting suit— and to make matters worse, she had just bullied a key employee, the director of a top-secret division, no less, into offering his resignation.
Great work, Phoebe. She had to make this right. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea,” she signed. “Please don’t quit. Let me make it up to you. I’ll come with you. On my own time, unofficially, off the clock. I have my own resources—connections in the Intelligence Community and the State Department, not just in this agency. I can help.”
“Not necessary. The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s department and local FBI are on the scene. This is a private kidnapping. Not something you or the federal government should be involved in. I have lots of vacation time saved up.”
“I insist on going with you.” If she could help rescue this child, would that balance the scale of justice? No. It wouldn’t bring Angela back, but maybe doing something, knowing she hadn’t simply sat on the sidelines when there was something she could do, would give her some kind of solace. She had never expected to be thrust into a situation where she could help another endangered child—not here in this management role. This was an opportunity to redeem herself, if not in the world’s eyes, then in her own.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” His jaw twitched. “I’m sure you’re needed here.”
Phoebe shook her head. This was not going well. Summoning up her legal prowess, she decided to pursue the argument from a different angle.
“You just told me the lives of your agents depend on your discretion. You’re the only person who knows every single agent in the division. Would you agree your information would be highly attractive to a malicious foreign power?”
He rubbed his chin and nodded. “Yes, I would agree with that assessment.”
“Would you agree your family is the most important thing in your life?”
He shifted in his streamlined wheelchair and looked everywhere but at her. Heart thudding in her throat, she waited what seemed an eternity for his response.
His gaze finally returned to hers. He nodded. “Family first.”
“So, how do you know for a fact this event has nothing to do with the extremely important secrets you carry in your brain?” He shrugged and looked away. Rude and obstinate. Phoebe wasn’t taking no for an answer. She tapped his hand, forcing him to look at her—and triggered a feathery feeling again. “You may be the real target. Someone could have kidnapped the child to lure you into a trap.”
He stroked his chin. “I hadn’t considered that possibility.”
A thrill ran up her spine, and she ducked her head to hide a quick smile of victory behind a curtain of hair.
“I see from your bio you can ride,” he said. She nodded, wondering where this was going.
“If you come with me, you’ll be put on a horse and sent out to search along with every other volunteer in the community. Out there, I’m the boss. If you can’t follow instructions, you’ll be useless.”
A frisson of excitement pierced her backbone. Phoebe’s heart skipped a beat, and her breath came just a tad too fast. This was it. She was going. Thank God it was Friday. She couldn’t wait to get home and pack. “I will do whatever I can to help. I swear. I can—” Stopping herself before revealing more, she glanced at Jean. The interpreter might hold a top-secret security clearance, but this was not the time for Phoebe to reveal her gifts. “—be ready in an hour.”
He’s not the only one with secrets. I have a few of my own.
rejection slips to prove it. An RN, she provided health care
delivery, became a researcher, association executive, and obtained a
PhD in Public Health. She is the author of the Hotel LaBelle Series,
the Jinni Hunter Series, and the Obsession Series. When not
attempting to make students and colleagues laugh or writing, she can
be found fishing, walking her dogs, herding cats, or breaking bread
and laughing with family and friends in Baltimore, MD and Punta Gorda, FL.
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