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The publications and research of Catherine Holder Spude.
Romance in Ruins: by Cate Duncan



















Tessa McGyver
looks up from her hamburger to see something yummier than a whole Mimbres pot in pristine condition: a hunky Apache in a Stetson, cowboy boots, and a badge. And he's toasting her with his Whopper. Fifty miles down the road, when she stops to gas up the SUV, she ends up strutting up one side and down the other of said SUV at a silent order from that same Grant County Sheriff's Deputy. Tessa wouldn't dream of disrespecting a man of the law. On the way to Silver City, New Mexico, after passing him on a lonesome mountain highway, Tessa pulls over, yanks off the distributor wire and affects as mournful a face as she can muster. Sure thing, her hero pulls over to save a damsel in distress.

Mik Santos doesn't usually take to rescuing steamy redheads with emerald eyes. He likes to stay away from sexy women, knowing they usually mean nothing but trouble. He almost walks away from her when he gets the report back that she works for Uncle Sam as an archaeologist. The creatures are a dime a dozen in this state, and he doesn't know a one with a lick of sense. But when she waggles what's inside those tight jeans at him in his rear view mirror, he's doomed. Next thing Mik knows, kissing pretty freckles leads to rescuing Tessa from archaeological site vandals, the very bad guys he's been staking out for drug smuggling.

Running drugs from Mexico's bad enough. Kidnapping, shotting an officer of the law, yeah, that'll buy you time in the federal penitentiary. But these guys want to add international trafficking in antiquities to their list of crimes. In Tessa's book, that's just too much. And when they want to do it with an item that could bring about the end of the Tesina Pueblo world, well, even a jaded federal archaeologist knows her limits. She'll enlist all the help she can get, even Apache lovers and cute Hispanic bad guys if she can con them into saving one small part of the universe.

Tessa knows there's only one man for her. He wears a uniform, he has Apache blood, and try as she might, she can't get him in her pants. Both know they have found their life's partner. He vows he loves her so much he won't take her until it's absolutely perfect, heaven brought to earth, with no radios, kids, tents or smelly armpits, just the two of them and the most romantic setting that man or woman can conceive. Oh, yeah, and Tessa has to be fertile.

Will the bad guys ever let the two of them put that perfect combination of conditions together? Find out in ROMANCE IN RUINS. (Located in Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument, New Mexico.)



If you are a publisher or an agent interested in

ROMANCE IN RUINS

please contact Catherine at

montdawn@msn.com

 CHAPTER ONE

 

THE DEPUTY

 

 

 

Tessa sat behind the steering wheel of her SUV, not daring to get out. She knew better than that. No police officer liked someone to jump out of a vehicle and come running up to him. She waited patiently while he jotted down her license plate number, made a slow circuit of her vehicle, and then cautiously approached her left front door. From the back. She watched him in her rear view mirror.

"Ma'am." He touched the brim of his hat, just like he'd done the last time she'd seen him, about twenty-five miles back, at the bottom of the canyon. That time, he'd smiled. She thought he had a nice smile, then. She didn’t grin like she wanted to. Not a good idea to try to charm a cop when he's being serious. Give him some space. Let him loosen up.

"Sir?"

"Driver's license and vehicle registration, please."

His voice rumbled deep inside his throat, smooth and strong as good whiskey. Tessa fought to keep that grin inside. She'd done nothing wrong and had nothing to fear. Give him a minute to check her out, and then they'd be fine. She'd probably be on her way in no time. She hoped not.

He nodded slightly after she handed the requested items to him, and settled back in her seat, her fingers resting on the steering wheel where he could see them, with their heavy silver Navajo and Zuni rings, none of them wedding bands. She liked rings, wore nine of them, one on every finger except the fourth one of her left hand. She hadn't for several years, so she didn't even have a betraying tan line. She noticed he didn't either, not on any of his unadorned digits.

She watched his tall, broad-shouldered form appreciatively as he turned and walked back up the side of the road to his dark green Bronco, the one marked with Grant County Sheriff's Department on the side. And back and front, and probably on top, as well. Yeah, she could see the letters on the hood, so they had to be on the roof, too. A deputy, probably. A very nice looking deputy.

            Just before Tessa bit into that topless double Whopper at lunch in Socorro today, she'd glanced up and met those incredible deep, brown eyes. He'd been holding a Whopper, too, only his had a bun on top. They both stared longer than they should have, and then he raised his burger like he would a crystal goblet in a toast, and clearly said, "Salud."

            Tessa smiled in return, hoping her mouth had not been hanging open, and then returned the gesture and the toast. When she had dared to look again, he had disappeared. In the parking lot, she watched the county sheriff's vehicle turn right into the street and head towards the interstate. She caught only a glimpse of a tall man in a hat behind the wheel.

As she put the gas nozzle back into the pump at the service station off the freeway in Truth or Consequences, Tessa looked up into those same brown eyes. He pulled the handle from the other side of the pump, without breaking eye contact, that same half smile she'd seen in Socorro playing on his lips. This time she noticed he wore a beige shirt and dark green slacks as his uniform, with a western hat. She deliberately let her eyes slide across his shoulders and down his chest, to the armory on his waist, and then down his thigh to his cowboy boots. When her eyes returned to his, the other half of his mouth turned up. He raised an eyebrow, so she stepped away from the door of her SUV, walked to its front bumper, turned, and walked back, giving him time for the once-over. She didn't look in his direction until she had seated herself behind the wheel again. He nodded his appreciation and touched his hat before she moved the SUV to the parking spaces in front of the convenience store, so she could use the restroom.

When she emerged into the bright sunshine again, the sheriff's Bronco was gone.

She'd forgotten about him by the time she'd pulled into the little town of Hillsboro and parked under one of the big old cottonwoods marching up the main street. Stepping out of the SUV, she'd crossed the road and jumped up the two concrete steps to the front of the white-stuccoed General Store Cafe.

Tessa fumbled with the door. The old-fashioned handle sat on the left side of the narrow door instead of the right as she expected, and, after trying to pull it towards her, she discovered it opened in, not out. Pressing down the old latch, the door stuck, so she jiggled and pushed at the same time, realizing that a cafe in operation since 1879 was bound to have a few minor, charming glitches. She gave one more push and shoved herself into the handsome deputy's arms.

"Ma'am? You okay?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah," came the witty reply. "Gracias," she said in her best Spanish.

"De nada. Siempre pica el tirador de la puerta." He told her the door always sticks.

Smartass, she thought.  She asked him to show her the trick of opening it, rattling it off in perfect Spanish, trying really, really hard not to gloat as she did so.

He smiled broadly and waved her out. "You pull the door towards you, press the latch down firmly, and then push, slowly, as you put weight on the handle. That will pull the door down just enough to help it clear the place it hangs up. Here, you try it."

Tessa followed his instructions flawlessly, torn between knowing she could do it right the first time and finding a way to keep him around a little longer.

"Like that?" she asked, as the door swung open.

"Like that," he agreed, the half smile returning.

"Well. Thank you, Officer..." Tessa began.

"You're welcome, Ma'am." He touched his hat once again, turned on his heel, and strode up the street. Only then did she see his dark green Bronco pulled into a driveway half a block up the road.

Tessa kicked the door shut behind, proud of herself for not cursing out loud.

* * *


            He stood by her window again, holding the driver's license and vehicle registration towards her.  "What can I do for you, Ms. MacGyver?" he asked.

"I thought I could offer you a hand," she volunteered. She looked pointedly at the flat tire on the right rear of his Bronco.

"You know how to change one of those?" he asked.

"Well, I've done my share, but it’s not one of my favorite jobs. Still, if you need a hand...traffic control, that sort of thing?"

The deputy looked first up the road, then down it. Not a single car had passed them during the entire ten minutes since she had pulled up behind him.

"Yeah, it is sort of hectic right now. Guess I could use the help." He pulled open her door as her face broke into a broad grin.

Keeping an eye on her, he led the way to the rear of his vehicle, which he popped open with the key. He handed her a very unstylish orange vest and two orange traffic cones, and nodded both up and down the road. She dutifully put on the vest, and then trooped down the road with the first cone. As she passed on the way back, she noticed that he'd pulled a bunch of metal suitcases out of the back and had reached the spare.

"You'd think they'd sling that outside somewhere, instead of making you dig for it," she commented.

"Can't see out the back, then," he observed.

Tessa nodded, grabbed the second cone, and trudged up the hill.

"Hand me that lug wrench?" he asked, when she got back. She hunkered down next to him, like figuring out how to change that tire was a major technical problem. He, of course, was a technical genius and had the problem well under control. He loosened the lugs, jacked that baby up, jerked off the tire, stuck the spare on, asked for the lugs one by one, twirled them on, asked her to stand back, and by some magic trick, let the Bronco down in one jerk. She admired the muscles in his forearm as he tightened the lugs.

"Yeah, its guys like you that make it impossible for people like me to get those things off when I have to change one of those," she shook her head.

He chuckled. "We don't have any women on the force."

"How diverse of you."

"I'll keep that in mind – I mean tightening the lugs – when we hire any women."

Oops. Open mouth, insert foot. All of it had been pure automatic. Tessa slammed the offending party shut, almost biting her tongue in the process.

"So, you stop to help stranded officers often?" he asked, apparently willing to overlook her prickly side.

"My first time," she replied. "I figure turn-about's fair play."

He smiled. "But it's my job."

She shrugged. But you're cute. She wished she could say it.

He finished putting the last suitcase in the back of the vehicle. He turned to look at her. "The cones, deputy."

Tessa startled. "Yes, sir." She trotted down the hill after the first cone. He met her back at the squad car with the second, smiling wryly. She hadn't directed a single car the entire time. She took off the vest with a little wiggle and handed it to him as he put the last cone in the back of the Bronco.

"Well, um, I guess that's it," she said, her brilliant repartee having failed her.

"Yeah, well, thanks," he replied.

Dufous, she thought to herself. Poop. Dunderhead. Darn.

He touched his hat, she nodded, and then backed off towards her SUV. At the last minute, she turned around and stomped off the last few feet, making sure her backside waggled good so he'd know what he was missing, just on the off chance he was still watching. When she got in her vehicle, she saw he already sat in his Bronco, apparently writing on something.

Rats.

As Tessa drove on up the road, she wondered what she'd done wrong. She'd been sending all the right signals. How could he be so obtuse?

He's a cop. That's why. He wonders if I'm a bad guy. He needs more time to check me out.

Well, I'll give him more time.

She drove up the road about ten miles, and then pulled over. She popped the hood, and then rummaged around under it until she found the distributor wire and pulled it off, praying he wouldn't notice it. Then she stood by the car and practiced looking forlorn.

He showed up about ten minutes later, slowing, driving past, and then parking ahead of her. He walked back with a grin on his face.

"Car trouble, Ma'am?" he asked.

"Seems so, Officer..." she hinted.

"What seems to be the trouble?"

"It just coughed and died. I coasted to the roadside. Why won't you tell me your name?"

That half-smile again. "Have you asked?"

"Twice."

"Hadn't noticed," he lied. "Mik Santos. You're not out of gas?"

"Filled up in T or C," she reminded him.

He nodded, as if he just remembered. "Well, let's see what's under here."

She let him look under the hood, hoping he wouldn't find the trouble. He probed and touched, and seemed pretty thorough. He asked for her keys and tried to start the engine, after pushing back the seat for those long legs, not to mention the heels of the cowboy boots. God, he was big. He made her Izuzu look downright puny. And not an ounce of fat on him, anywhere.

Each time he turned the key, all he got was a click for his effort. "Yep, it's dead," he agreed. "Need's Mort."

"Sounds cheery. In some languages, morte means death," Tessa pointed out. "Can't die twice."

"Can if you're a car," Mik pointed out. "Mort works for Montoya Auto. They tow, but he's also a wiz at fixing stuff on the road. Want me to give him a call?"

Hell, no. I want a ride to town, you moron. "They take AAA?"

"I'll find out."

He sauntered off to his Bronco as Tessa kicked stones under her Rodeo. Poop. He had to be personal friends with a genius at recognizing self-sabotage jobs. She'd have to own up to what she did before she owed the kid three hundred bucks in bribes to keep his mouth shut. Hey! Maybe that would work....

As she was figuring out how to get the guy off by himself long enough to arrange the deal, Mik reappeared next to her. How did he do that? Not a sound on that crunchy gravel.

"No luck. Some big accident down in Silver City's got all the tow trucks tied up for the next couple of hours. I guess it's dumping a ton of snow on the area, with no end in sight. Your SUV's stuck here for a while. Guess you're coming with me, unless you want to tough it out. I see you're prepared for camping." Damn, nosy cop was peering into the back of the Rodeo.

"I'm headed up to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in a couple of days. Gonna' stay in park housing. They said to bring a sleeping bag. It's not meant for cold weather, just for throwing on a mattress in a heated room." It was the truth, every word.

He smiled, as if he admired her ability to think fast on her feet. "I take it that means you're coming with me?"

            Tessa couldn't keep the grin off her face. "Yes, sir. It does."

"Grab your bags, whatever you need for the night," he suggested. "Don't count on seeing this SUV until tomorrow sometime." Tessa hopped to and opened the back window just as the snow started falling around them. She climbed onto the back bumper and rummaged around in the back of the SUV amongst the archaeological dig equipment for her two small personal bags. She let her bottom stick out more than it needed to, especially since she wore those jeans that were a teensy bit too tight. When she glanced back under her hair, she noticed that Mik stood back with his arms folded, watching her posterior with that delicious grin on his face. God, she loved it.

She straightened and rapid-fired the two soft bags at him. He caught them easily. She had jumped to the ground and started towards the passenger side of her SUV before he'd let them drop to the end of each of his arms, a chuckle in his throat.

"Now I'm a bellhop," he muttered. Tessa just grinned as she grabbed her purse and a big canvas bag stuffed with notebooks, paper and who knows what else.

"You're awfully big for a bellhop," she agreed. "No, I wouldn't mistake you for one. Packhorse, maybe?"

He swung the nearest bag at her, but she ducked and it just sailed over her head as she whooped. When he got to the tail end of his Bronco, though, he suddenly chucked both of the bags in her direction. She had to drop the book bag to catch them. She glared as he chuckled, taking them from her again, putting them on top of the aluminum suitcases, and then reaching down for her book bag.

"Oh, no you don't," she warned. "That goes with me. Valuable papers. Can't be out of my sight. National secrets, all that sort of stuff." She flicked her eyebrows up and down quickly in a way meant to stimulate his curiosity, and then turned her back and marched off for the passenger side of his vehicle.

His long legs helped him catch up with her in time to unlock the door and help her up into the seat. Being on the downhill side of the tall vehicle, climbing into the passenger side of a Bronco was no graceful trick. Tessa thanked God for small favors. His arm was just as hard and strong as it looked when she used it for extra leverage. She beamed her appreciation at him afterwards, provoking a small half smile in response. His eyes twinkled out of proportion to the curve of his lips, and she realized she should pay no attention to his mouth, much as she wanted to. His eyes told all.

Tessa watched intently as he settled himself behind the steering wheel, buckled himself in, checked in with his dispatcher, looked for the still non-existent traffic, and swung out in the road.

"Did I do all of that correctly?" he asked.

"What?"

"The way you watched me, I thought you were giving me some sort of an examination," he accused her.

Tessa didn't blush. Instead she threw up her hands. "Oh, what the heck. I'm the least subtle person on the face of the earth, so I'm not even going to pretend. I like looking at you. Does that bother you?"

He raised his eyebrows and glanced her direction. "Well, um, hmmm." He frowned a little, apparently at a loss for words. "You, um, seem to have me at a bit of a disadvantage, seeing as how I can't return the favor right now, because with this snow coming down, I have to keep my eyes on the darned road!" he swore.

"I'll buy you dinner," she promised, "then you can look all you want."

"Deal," he grinned.

"Besides," Tessa asserted, as she settled back into her corner, "you have a major advantage over me right now anyway. You're way ahead in the information department."

"How's that?" he asked.

"You and that fancy computer of yours. You took my drivers license, you got my name, address, social security number, now you know everything there is to know about me. You know what I do for a living, how much money I make, when I can retire, how big a house I own, how long until I pay it off, how much the mortgage is, how many kids I have, how many times I've been arrested, where I went to high school, my ethnic background, and oh, just about anything else I could think of. Probably how much I weighed last year."

"You don't have any kids."

"See, what did I tell you."

"Fourteen hundred square feet, seventeen years, ninety thousand plus, eight hundred or so a month, zero times, Denver, Colorado, Scottish, and a hundred and eighty pounds. Must have been some diet!"

"Ha! I knew it! You guys live for those things!"

"How'd you lose over fifty pounds? You're gorgeous! Are you going to gain it all back?"

"You're changing the subject. And thank you. No way. I hate being fat. Low carb. I hate potatoes and bread and sugar."

He was back to grinning from ear to ear. Maybe his mouth had something to say after all. Tessa would have to pay attention to both his eyes and his mouth. She wondered how it would feel, on her skin, anywhere on her skin, but most especially on her own mouth.

"So, I was saying that it’s not fair, you knowing all that about me, and me not knowing diddly about you. Come on, now, pretty please, Mik," she whined.

He made an elaborate act of rolling his eyes, looking totally disgusted and put out, and then started from an absolute dead pan. His voice came out as a monotone, robotic, with no change in inflection. "My name is Michael Santos. I was born and raised in Silver City, New Mexico. I went to high school in Silver City, New Mexico. I am a deputy sheriff in Grant County, New Mexico. I have one daughter, twelve years old, named Crysta. She's the love of my life." He even said the last sentence like a robot would say it. Tessa giggled.

He lost the monotone, unable to keep it up. "The house is about three thousand square feet, give or take, no one has measured it in several decades. The family owns it free and clear. Only Crysta, my Mom and I live there now, but others come and go at will, knowing there's always a few spare bedrooms available."

"Others? Brothers, sisters, cousins, wives?"

The grin came back, and he dared to chance a direct look in her eyes. "No wife. None for five years, and good riddance. Take that worried frown off your face, sour puss."

Tessa wiggled in her seat with happiness, letting out a little squeal of joy.

"Why do I feel like the prize at a kindergarten party?" he asked.

"Hey, you started this, with those big brown eyes and toasting with a Whopper and, and, and ordering me to walk up and down along-side my SUV in T or C like that so you could ogle me good, and sabotaging the Hillsboro General Store Cafe door so it got stuck just as I pushed on it, and getting a flat tire, and then making my car break down like that!"

"Oh, all of that was my fault?"

"Well, the eyes and the Whopper."

"Okay, I'll own up to them," he admitted.

"So, why?"

"Can't tell you now."

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Needs candlelight and soft music and me holding your hand. Not me driving through a snow storm staring at the road and you tucked back in that corner. Maybe later tonight."

Tessa melted. "Okay. Provided you tell me. Is that where I'm taking you for dinner? Candlelight and music?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Oh, goodie. I love a romantic date."

"I hope you archaeologists are rich. This place is pricey."

"We're dirt poor. But you'll be worth it. I thought you knew how much money I make."

"Couldn't hack into the federal payroll system. Didn't have enough time. By that time, I knew what I wanted to know...you aren't rich, which means you're accessible. Being a federal employee, I figured you weren't a millionaire, because you were still paying a mortgage."

"Oh, you are just too clever, aren't you? What if I was an heiress, playing at being an archaeologist, dabbling around at it for fun?"

He risked another look at her, one that plainly said "Give me a break."

"You don't live in this part of the world without knowing real archaeologists," he pointed out. “No one 'plays' at being an archaeologist. Too much work, not enough fun. Too much burn-out. No one who's rich is an archaeologist. No one who's really smart is an archaeologist. No one who wants to stay sane is an archaeologist. In fact, when I learned that you are an archaeologist, that's when I said, adios, amiga. Archaeologists are too much trouble. I’ve run into my share of them coming out of the bars at night. They travel in packs, talk too loud, get drunk and obnoxious and think they know everything about everything.”

Tessa sobered. "What changed your mind?"

"The way you wiggled your bottom as you stomped back to your Rodeo. You were pretty ticked off at me, weren't you?"

"I didn't think you even saw that," Tessa admitted sheepishly.

"Rear view mirror." He tapped on the one in the center of the Bronco's windshield.

"I thought you were the densest man on the face of the earth, and the most insulting one as well."

"So why'd you give it another shot?" he asked.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she huffed.

Mik saw the turnout on the right side of the road and pulled into it. A premature dusk started to settle with the snow. Quiet invaded the Bronco when the engine noise fled. All Tessa could hear was the pinging of the snow hitting the hot hood of the Bronco.

"I know a loose distributor wire when I see one, Tessa. I think that you made it that way and didn't want me to fix it for you." He reached up and pulled her chin around so that she would have to look at him.

"I thought you were just extremely slow. I didn't know you hated archaeologists. You started it, with the eyes," she accused him.

He moved his hand from her chin to her hair and caressed it, pulling his fingers through her soft, red curls. "Oh, Tessa. I don't hate archaeologists. I'm just leery of them, that's all. Your persistence has made me overcome my natural reticence. Yes, I admit it, I shamefully started it at noon today. I’m not supposed to do that sort of thing, especially not with beautiful women. But I'm not sorry. Please forgive me my inexcusable behavior with the flat tire this afternoon, and I'll try to forget all the bad things I thought I knew about archaeologists."

Tessa laughed. "I hate most archaeologists, too! I'd quit tomorrow if I could find another way to make a living. I promise you, cross my heart and hope to die, I am not like them! I can hardly drink more than one beer, and I'm out cold. I will not argue any theories with anyone, I am not--"

"Shhh. The Sheriff will have my badge for this." He slid across the seat to her. He smoothed back her hair with one hand, and tipped her face up with the other, those soft, deep brown eyes of his boring down into her soul. Even if she had wanted to, she couldn't have torn her eyes from his.

His mouth came down on hers, and she no longer had to imagine what it would feel like to have those lips on her skin. They burned, setting her entire body trembling with desire, pulling her to him, sucking her very essence into his being. From the moment the first part of his lip touched the outer part of hers, she was lost. Mik owned her, body, heart and soul.

                                     * * *

            The snow reached blizzard proportions by the time they left the tall pines and entered the juniper forest somewhere near the Chino open pit mine. At least, Mik said that's what that vague shadow lurking over that direction might be, one of the waste piles from the copper  mine. He couldn't be entirely sure, everything seemed different in the snow like this.

“You didn’t tell me about your cultural heritage, Mik. You know mine, European, mostly Scottish. Come on. We gotta’ be even,” Tessa begged as he maintained a silence while driving through the snow.

He threw a glance in her direction that clearly said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Oh, all right. Dark brown hair, what little of it you let grow, dark brown eyes, very easy tan, very nice regular features, smooth skin. Name like Santos. You’re Hispanic, that’s easy enough to see. However, the slight epicanthic fold at your eyes and high cheekbones suggest a more recent American Indian heritage than your usual tenth or fourteenth generation away. The strong jaw and tall stature say you’re not Puebloan. I’d say you have either recent Navajo or Apache blood, a parent or grandparent. Because you’re from Silver City, you’re probably part Apache. But even with that really nice tan, I noticed that your skin is quite fair under your shirtsleeve. And I caught sight of a freckle or two. Your nose isn’t right for an Apache. So I’ll bet you have a pretty recent European ancestor in there, too, don’t you?” Tessa sat back in the seat corner, arms crossed, ready to be told how wrong she was.

He laughed, showing all of his white teeth. God, they looked good. “You see why we dislike you archeologists so much, always showing us up? You don’t need computers and databases. You go around guessing and are right most of the time.”

“What part did I get wrong?” Tessa asked, all ears. She could hardly wait.

He peered through the storm, just like it had suddenly gotten worse or there was a big obstruction ahead or something, even though nothing had changed.

Then he mumbled something.

“What? I didn’t hear what you said,” she piped up, cheerfully.

“Nothing,” he pouted.

Tessa yelped and shot a fist in the air.  Mik glared at her.

“Okay, okay, okay.” She settled down, still gloating. She waited like three whole minutes for him to recover his dignity, remembering he was a sheriff’s deputy and deserved some respect, while she hugged herself in delight.

“Okay.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “So who’s who? I mean, your Dad is obviously the Hispanic. Santos and all that. Who was the Apache?”

Mik glared, and then his mouth slowly twisted into a smile. Maybe it was his mouth after all. His eyes softened as lips turned up. “Mom’s father. Very traditional. What he ever saw in that nurse in Edinburgh, I’ll never know. The two of them meshed somehow. She followed him home after the war, World War I, that is, and they stayed here, in Grant County.”

“You probably have more Scottish in you than I do,” Tessa observed. “The MacGyvers migrated four generations ago. I haven’t done a thorough genealogy, but I’ll bet there aren’t that many Scots in the other branches. Goes to show that looks don’t tell the whole story. See. I never would have guessed that part.”

 Mik watched the road ahead, knowing he should never have saluted this vixen with his Whopper. Just like Grandfather, he was a sucker for green eyes and red hair. “We Apache, we’re the porcupine,” Grandfather had told him once. “We’re seduced by the fox. The fox can beguile us. The only way to survive is make that fox love you, so she will take pity on you and let you live.”

 
            The snow had fallen over a foot deep by the time Mik pulled onto Highway 101 heading into Silver City. Street lamps lit small, blazing glows near their poles, but that seemed to be the only sign of life.

"Where did you plan to stay?" he asked as he neared the town.

"Uh, the Comfort Inn, I think," she replied.

His radio squawked, and a woman sent out a torrent of numbers that seemed to mean something to the deputy sitting next to her. He swore under this breath, grabbed the thing, and issued forth a set of numbers of his own.

"Okay," he said in a resigned voice. “Give me fifteen."

"No dinner tonight," Tessa guessed.

"Tomorrow night. I swear. You want KFC or McDonald's tonight?"

She smiled wryly. "Chicken, I guess. Had hamburger for lunch, remember?"

 He nodded and turned right into the parking lot for the Walmart. The KFC stood up front and center. He pulled around to the drive-through window and ordered a couple of double-piece dinners.

"The Buckhorn tomorrow. It's the best in the area. My treat." He held his right hand over his heart and his left one up in a Boy Scout salute.

Tessa tried to smile back, but she couldn't quite muster it. She knew he was needed. She'd have to let him go. God, so close, it just didn't seem fair.

He hauled her bags into the motel lobby and waited while she checked in. She kept expecting him to dash off for that Bronco and all those cars in the ditch and whatever other emergencies he had to take care of. He didn't glance at his watch even once. He grabbed her bags again when she got the key and took off up the stairs.

"Room 220," she told him.

He stopped outside the room and waited while she opened the door, and then brought them in for her and set one on the folding stand, the other on the bed. Mik turned, then, and backed her against the door, pinning her to it. She knew he could feel her heart pounding through the thick, green chamois shirt and bra she wore. He stood so tall his heart fell at her throat. She imagined she could feel the pulsating of the air between them.

He touched her lightly beneath her jaw, turning her face up towards his. "You've been driving me mad with desire all afternoon, Tessa. It's been all I could do to keep my hands off you. You fox, you haven't helped one bit, teasing me constantly the way you have."

"So what stopped you? I've wanted you. How much more plain could I make it?" Tessa panted.

"A cop doesn't strip a woman and make love to her in public," he pointed out. "It's frowned on in this part of the state."

"Oh, yeah. All that traffic," Tessa remembered. "You could have said something. Like, 'Put those pheromones on hold, and I'll take care of them tonight.' With a promise like that, I would have behaved myself. As it was, I couldn't see that I was making any progress, so I just had to keep trying."

"God, woman, I do like the way you try." He stroked the side of her face, sending shocks of electricity through her body, scorching her toes.

"So you see, you enjoyed it. Stop complaining," she teased.

He reached down from his great height and his lips met hers, stopping all bantering. The shock would have knocked her off her feet had he not held her so tightly against the door. No passive kiss, this. He seared a pathway to her heart, then sent a pulsating warmth surging from there throughout her entire body, awakening every nerve to the most enjoyable sensation they'd ever experienced. Another burning path sped straight to her groin, and she groaned her pleasure.

The radio chirped again, another stream of numbers issuing forth in the same woman's voice. Mik held the kiss for five seconds, then leaned his forehead against hers, his eyes closed, breathing heavily, as if bringing himself under control. The same torrent of numbers repeated itself.

Pulling back only far enough to allow the radio to come to his mouth, he issued another stream of numbers into the black rectangle, sounding resigned to his fate. "Five. I'll be there in five. I swear, Maxine. 315. Over and out."

"Come back, whenever it’s over, no matter how late," Tessa urged.

"I can't." The regret in his voice sounded heartfelt.

"Why not?" Her heart dropped to the bottom of her feet.

"Crysta. I've been gone for two weeks, Tessa. I can't just disappear the minute I get home, not on a twelve-year-old. She still needs her Dad. Another year or two, she won't be able to stand the sight of me. I have to make sure she'll come to me, whenever she needs me, during these tough teenage years that are coming up. I can't afford even one night of betrayal. Not even for someone as tempting as you, Tessa. Please, please understand."

He reached, tentatively, for her throat again. Tessa closed her eyes and absorbed the heat of his touch, let the burn course through her body once again, yearning to let it surge again and again and again to ultimate fulfillment.

"Damn it, Mik, I understand. Wish I didn't. I want you even more because of it."

"Tomorrow, Tessa, I swear. Crysta is going to a pajama party tomorrow night. I'm all yours, for whatever you want me, for as long as you want me. We'll go to the Buckhorn. They have dancing. I can paw you in public, and then, you can invite me into your room if you still are of the mind for as little or long as you've a mind.”

Tessa broke into a wide grin, devoid of lechery or teasing or flirting. "It's a date, Mik! I'd wait a month with a promise like that. I'm sure I can wait twenty-four hours."

She flung her arms around him, and he met her mouth with another searing kiss. This time, he kept her on her feet by the strength of his muscular arms and sturdy thighs alone, with no apparent effort. She had no idea how she kept from melting into a puddle at his feet.

"Six, tomorrow, then," he rasped, when he reluctantly let her go. "Wear a dress, a sexy one. I want every man at the Buckhorn to envy me for the next year and a half."

Tessa grinned. "You got it, Mik. A dress, make-up, heels, the works."

He opened the door, backed up three steps down the hall, his eyes still locked with hers, and then stood still as he took two deep breaths. Only then did he turn abruptly and stride down the corridor towards the motel office. Tessa watched him the entire length of the hallway. He didn't look back until he got to the stairs door. There he stopped, paused and met her eyes with a piercing look of desire. He touched his hat and disappeared through the door.

Tessa sobbed aloud once and backed into her room.

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