Read an Excerpt:
If he stayed inside for another minute, he'd probably explode. Grateful for the phone call that had distracted his friend, Kenneth Vance stepped from the office into the yard of Montgomery Construction Company. Behind the long, low office building loomed the old red barn that had been the original site of the company. Now eight-foot-high chain link fencing surrounded a whole complex of buildings.
Beyond the fence, Ken could see a steady flow of traffic on the industrial park road. Colorado Springs seemed to have grown in the years since this place, in the shadow of Pike's Peak, had been home to him.
When he moved beyond the shade of the overhang the Colorado sunshine, fierce even in April at this altitude, hit him like a blow. He groped for the dark glasses he'd been forced to wear since the incident.
Incident. That was the term the Air Force used. The official verdict had been that his jet was brought down over South America by insurgents armed with a shoulder-fired missile. Somehow incident didn't seem a strong enough word for something that ruined a man's life.
He pushed the thoughts away forcefully and wandered farther into the yard. Quinn Montgomery, his longtime friend and owner of Montgomery Construction, had made progress in repairing the destruction done by an arson fire at the yard a month earlier, but a jumble of broken concrete and charred timbers still marred the scene.
Ken stiffened, trying to will away the incessant blurring of his vision that was an annoying leftover from his injuries. Someone was moving around in the debris. No one should be there.
He strode quickly toward the spot. With all the misfortunes that had dogged the Montgomery and Vance families lately, he wasn't taking anything for granted.
"Hey! What are you doing here?" It was the command tone that was engrained after eight years as an Air Force officer.
Maybe not much longer, a small voice in the back of his mind reminded him.
A slight figure emerged from a fractured piece of concrete pipe. A teenage boy, he thought for an instant, maybe from one of the street gangs Quinn said had begun to appear on the usually placid streets of Colorado Springs in recent months.
Then the figure straightened, and he realized it was no boy. Slim, small, but certainly no boy. The woman had glossy straight black hair in thick braids. High cheekbones increased the faintly exotic quality of her looks, and dark eyes met his with a startled wariness.
"What did you say?" Her voice was soft, a little husky. Something about it rang a bell, but he couldn't place her.
"I asked what you're doing here."
He took a step toward her and then froze. A dog came out of the pipe behind her-a big German Shepherd that lowered its head and growled at him, pressing close to the woman's side.
"Easy, Angel." Her hand caressed the animal's head. "He's a friend."
Something about the way she said the word increased that sense of recognition. He frowned, annoyed that he couldn't remember. "Do we know each other?"
Her glance touched his face and flickered away. "We did. A long time ago. You're Ken Vance." She smiled faintly. "Everyone in The Springs has heard you're back."
True enough, he supposed. When you belonged to the Vance family and your uncle was the mayor, everyone knew too much about you. They probably even knew why he was here, out of uniform, instead of doing what he was born to do.
"You must have changed more than I have." He tried to manage a smile. "I know I know you, but-" Recognition came then. "You're Julianna Red Feather, aren't you?"
"Yes." She met his gaze squarely, without a hint of embarrassment.
"It's been a long time." He probably felt embarrassed enough for both of them, even though he hadn't thought of that awkward incident in years. Still, meeting her again was easier since she'd obviously gotten over that foolish crush she'd once had on him. "You've changed."
She shrugged, a smile lightening her grave expression. "I've grown up. We all have. And, by the way, I do have permission from Quinn to be here."
"Right." Of course she did. He'd been needlessly officious.
Julianna had changed. He remembered a girl so shy she'd nearly vanished into the woodwork in high school-one he'd thought had been ashamed of her Native American ancestry. Now she confronted him with confidence, head held high. Her thick braids with their woven ties and the turquoise emblem she wore at her throat seemed to announce pride in her heritage.
"So, you two remember each other, do you?"
He hadn't heard Quinn approach but there he was, grinning at them. Quinn bent to ruffle Angel's ears, obviously friends with the dog.
"We've figured it out," he said easily, wondering what the relationship was between Quinn and Julianna. He'd been away for years, except for flying visits when he was on leave. Anything could have happened, and he wouldn't necessarily have heard unless his mother had thought to mention it in one of their frequent phone conversations.
"Julianna's the newest member of Montgomery Construction Company," Quinn said, answering the question in his mind. "She's running the office for us now."
He lifted an eyebrow. "You expect your office manager to clean up the scrap yard?"
"Julianna didn't tell you?" Now it was Quinn's turn to raise his brows. "She and Angel are also members of a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team. She thinks this mess I haven't cleared up yet will be an ideal site for training exercises for her team."
"No, she didn't mention it." He smiled at Julianna, relieved that they'd moved past a rocky beginning. "You've turned into a talented lady."
She shook her head slightly, something guarded in her dark eyes.
"We're proud to have her here." Quinn patted her shoulder, not seeming to notice. "She and Angel have gone to rescue sites all over the place. They're heroes."
"I'm impressed." He didn't know how the dog felt about it, but Julianna was obviously embarrassed. Or was the feeling something deeper than embarrassment? He wasn't sure.
Quinn gave him a challenging look. "You know, buddy, you could do worse than join the team here at Montgomery Construction while you're home on leave. I could use you, and you'd like it here. Wouldn't he, Julianna?"
The proposal startled him, but before he could respond, something else startled him even more-the look in Julianna's face at the comment. Dismay filled her dark eyes before she masked her expression.
"I'm sure he would." She turned, clicking her fingers to the dog. "You'll excuse me, won't you? I need to get back to work."
Woman and dog moved quickly away. He watched Julianna's slim, straight back for a moment before turning a frowning glance on Quinn.
"I'm not looking for charity." His voice grated on the word. "Thanks anyway."
"Good thing," Quinn replied evenly. "Since I'm not offering it."
"Nice try, Q, but I don't know a thing about the construction business and you know it." He didn't know about anything but flying. And if he couldn't do that-- "Did my mother put you up to this? Or Holly?"
It would be just like his twin sister to interfere. She was so eager to distract him from his troubles that she was driving him nuts.
"Nobody put me up to anything," Quinn said. "You always were too stubborn for your own good."
"You're a good one to talk. Your father used to say you could give lessons to a mule."
Once Quinn made up his mind to something, there was no moving him. Maybe that quality in common had helped forge their friendship.
Quinn shrugged. "Face it, buddy. You need something to occupy your time while you're stuck on medical leave, or your loving family will drive you crazy by fussing over you."
True enough, but Quinn's job offer still sounded like charity.
"And I need someone I can trust around here." Quinn paused, his usual smile dimming. "You know that we seem to have become a target in the past few months, don't you?"
He nodded. "I've heard something about it. My mother keeps trying to protect me from hearing anything bad, but she couldn't prevent my knowing about the fires. Or about Uncle Max getting shot."
Maxwell Vance had been in a coma since the shooting, a continuing grief to the family. Some people said he'd made too many enemies during his brief term as mayor by taking a hard line on drugs.
"That's been a tough situation. You know we're all praying for him."
"Yes. Thanks." His throat tightened at the thought.
Quinn's face darkened. "As for the fire, the investigators seem to think Neil O'Brien was responsible. You wouldn't know him, probably. He was an assistant fire chief."
"The department suspended him while the investigation's going on. There's even a rumor he may have been involved in drugs."
"You'd think they'd have him under arrest, then."
Quinn shrugged. "Suspicion isn't evidence. On the surface, there's no connection between that and your uncle's shooting and the vandalism we've been having, but I'm not taking any chances."
"I don't know much about security, either."
In fact, he didn't know much about any job, other than flying. If he couldn't do that any longer-bitterness washed over him. If God were really in control, why were all these bad things happening to them?
"Maybe not, but you're smart and you're tough. And I can trust you." Quinn nudged his shoulder. "Anyway, you owe me. Think of all those times I got slammed to the turf protecting the quarterback so you could throw a touchdown pass."
"If that's how you remember it, maybe you hit the turf a few too many times." He grinned, suddenly feeling a little more like himself again. At least Quinn didn't treat him like an invalid. "All right, sign me up. I'll do it."
Quinn grabbed his hand and shook it, obviously pleased with his decision. Maybe now wasn't the moment to add the reservation in his mind.
I'll do it, for the time being. But when this injury heals, when I can see well enough to fly again, I'll be out of here in a hurry.
He had to say when, not if. He couldn't handle any other possibility.
Quinn clapped him on the shoulder. "Come inside, and I'll go over the operation with you. We'll tell Julianna to spread the word, so everyone knows why you're poking around."
Julianna. A faint unease entered his mind. Julianna had been dismayed at the prospect of Quinn offering the job. How was she going to react now that he'd accepted it?
back to romantic suspense book page