Somewhere In Texas
Bar and Grill owner Cameron Randolph is as dependable as the day is long, with a soft spot for any stray. But due to his cheating ex-fiancée he’s cynical about women, and he doesn’t intend to risk his heart again. Yet when a clearly desperate woman breaks into his place one wild rainy night his protective instincts kick in and he feels compelled to help her.
The violent gulf storm that forced Delilah St. John into hiding in Cam’s back room is nothing compared to the danger she’s fleeing. In fear for her life, she takes refuge in the small coastal town of Redfish, Texas, with a man she finds almost impossible to resist.
Delilah is everything Cam knows he can’t trust. She’s too young, too beautiful, with secrets she refuses to share. But she’s also honest, hardworking, and completely tantalizing.
While Cam knows she’s in hiding with a false identity, he doesn’t know everything--and Delilah doesn’t dare tell him. Telling the truth is a chance she can’t take.
The man who sent her life spiraling out of control could find her at any moment. Exposing her secret, threatening her life, and even worse, endangering the life of the tough but tender man who offers her help, passion, and finally, love.
Thunder rolled, a deep, crashing bass. A jagged tear of lightning rent the sky and the wind shrieked an ear-splitting whistle. Cameron Randolph had seen and heard it all before. After living on the Texas coast all his life, a hurricane, or a storm close to it, was nothing new. Even so, he was glad to pull into his carport after the deluge started.
Cam’s waterfront restaurant, the Scarlet Parrot Bar and Grill, was one of the most popular hangouts in Redfish. Which, considering the town was the size of a flea bite, wasn’t saying much. They closed at ten during the week, and on the weekends as well. Mondays he closed all day. Cam had discovered early on that even a single workaholic needed a day off every week, or he risked going crazy.
He came in through the carport entrance and up the back stairs, as he usually did. Instead of continuing up another flight of stairs to his apartment above the restaurant, he took a detour through the restaurant kitchen and on into the main dining room and bar area.
Crossing the wide-planked floor to the hostess station, he grabbed a flashlight from beneath it in case the power went out. Which nine times out of ten during a bad storm, it did. He headed unerringly for the bar and switched on a light, but left most of the room in shadows. It seemed reasonable, since his mood was nearly as dark as the weather.
He made it a policy not to drink alone. As a bartender, he’d seen enough people ruin their lives with liquor to know he didn’t want to go down that road. But tonight was no ordinary night.
Tonight was his fortieth birthday. And he felt as alone as a man could get.
It had been his choice. His sisters had given him a “surprise” party and invited plenty of unattached females. There had been several, he knew, who would have been happy to come home with him. But he couldn’t crank up the interest. Not even in the redhead with the supermodel’s body who’d flirted with him all night. So he’d come back home alone, to try to figure out when and why his life had become so damn boring—and what the hell he was going to do about it.
He picked up a shot glass and a bottle of Wild Turkey Tennessee sippin’ whiskey and came around to the customer side of the bar, seating himself on a barstool in the dim gloom thrown off by the single light left burning.
Cam poured out a shot and toasted the invisible bartender. “To women,” he said, and laughed. A fact known to very few people, tonight was also the twelfth anniversary of the night he’d found his fiancée in bed with another man. A man he’d thought was a friend of his. He hadn’t been tempted since. To marry, that is. Janine’s infidelity hadn’t turned him off women, but it had sure as hell persuaded him he didn’t want to get married.
He didn’t hate women. He had two sisters and a mother he thought were pretty terrific, even if their matchmaking did make him nuts at times. But he’d never yet met a woman he’d trust as he did his family. And if you couldn’t trust a woman, you sure as hell better not marry her.
Deciding he was getting maudlin, he turned off the light, took his bottle and glass with him and headed to the back, through the restaurant kitchen to go upstairs to the small two-bedroom apartment where he lived.
The building had three separate sets of staircases. One around back, unconnected to the restaurant, ran from top to bottom. His visitors used that, and sometimes he did for those times he didn’t want to go through the Scarlet Parrot to get to his apartment. Another came up from the storeroom and continued to the apartment. The third was in front and led directly to the restaurant.
The apartment suited him. It was small, but since he lived alone that didn’t matter. And the commute to work couldn’t be beat.
The noise from the storm faded, as it sometimes did in preparation for getting worse. During the lull, he heard a sound, coming from downstairs, maybe from the storeroom off the carport. He knew he’d locked up, so it couldn’t be the wind blowing open a door. Well, hell. Just what he didn’t need on a night like this—a break-in.
He set the bottle and glass down and looked around the kitchen, wondering if he should pick up something for protection. Redfish had almost no crime, so he didn’t bother keeping a gun. He kept a baseball bat underneath the restaurant bar, but he’d never had to use it. Occasionally, someone got rowdy, but he generally just tossed them out and didn’t bother with the bat. He could handle most men. And if he couldn’t, help was usually available.
Besides, the most likely visitor this time of night was an animal looking for shelter from the storm. Probably that stray dog he’d been feeding lately. It was wild and scared and wouldn’t come near him, but he’d caught glimpses from time to time when he set out the food.
He went down the stairs and flipped the light switch in the storeroom, but the last crack of lightning must have done its usual number on the electricity. He aimed the flashlight around the sparsely furnished room. There wasn’t much to see except the metal shelves holding some of his stores of liquor and beer. No sense furnishing something that flooded as often as not, which was why he left the first few shelves bare. As he was about to go outside to look around, he heard another sound.
He crossed to the outside door, found it had been forced open, and closed it. Turning back around, he played the flashlight around the room one more time. A glimpse of movement caught his eye and he could just make out a shape in the far corner beneath the window.
“Come on out. If you want to rob me, you won’t get much. I deposit the cash every night.”
He waited, but the figure didn’t move. “The cops will be here in five minutes so unless you’d like to take it up with them—”
The man rushed him, heading for the door. Cam grabbed him, dropping the flashlight as they wrestled. Whoever he was fought like a wildcat, scratching at his face, pounding on him with balled-up fists, but the intruder was small and slight and didn’t do much damage.
Cam finally managed to subdue him, wrapping his arms around him from behind, beneath what felt like... He ran his hand down the front of a soaking wet sweatshirt and found a very feminine chest beneath it. “What the hell?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she turned and kneed him viciously, right in the nuts, and before he could recover from that, she kicked his shin, hard. Cam had sisters who he’d taught how to fight dirty, so he was well acquainted with the moves. He held on and shook her, saying through gritted teeth, “You’re not getting out of here so don’t piss me off any more than you already have.”
“Take your hands off me, you pervert.” Her voice was husky, smooth and dark as the night.
“Like hell I will. You’re the one who broke in and tried to rob me.”
“I don’t want your damn money. I only wanted some shelter—” She broke off as a deep hacking cough overcame her. “Let go of me!” she said when she could speak again. “I just want to leave.”
“I don’t think so.” His hand brushed her forehead. She was burning up. What was she doing, sick and out on a night like this? Surely even a thief would have better timing.
“Come with me,” he said, in a tone that brooked no argument, and dragged her toward the stairs. Thief or not, he wouldn’t throw a sick woman out in this weather. At least, not until he found out exactly what she’d been up to.
She fought him, hissing, twisting and kicking. He had the devil of a time moving her, but his curiosity as well as his temper was roused. “Listen, honey, I’ve got you so you might as well relax.”
She did more than that—she collapsed in his arms. At first, he thought she was faking it, but when he picked her up, her head fell back and her body was limp, and to top it off, she shivered convulsively the whole time he carried her up the stairs. He kept right on going past the kitchen, up the second flight of stairs to his quarters.
With one hand, he opened the door and tried the light switch, hoping the power was back on, but nothing happened. He dropped the woman on the couch, grabbed a blanket and threw it over her before he lit the candles he kept around for emergencies.
It was pretty cold out, and she was soaked to the bone, but he didn’t think that should have made her pass out. Obviously, she was sick, maybe had pneumonia. He thought seriously about calling an EMT, but a quick check told him the phone was out and he didn’t have a cell phone. He hated the damn things and normally didn’t need one. That meant he couldn’t call his brother-in-law either. Jay was a doctor and, even if he couldn’t see the woman, he could at least tell Cam whether he should get her to a hospital.
Cam put his fingers to her neck and felt for her pulse, relieved to find it was beating strongly. He considered stripping her and putting her in some dry clothes, but he didn’t want her to come to and freak out. Besides, she looked young and the thought of taking her clothes off made him feel like a dirty old man.
Instead, he pulled off her backpack and dropped it beside the couch, got some aspirin and water and tucked the blanket around her, hoping she’d wake up soon. If she didn’t, he might have to drive her to the hospital in the teeth of the storm.
Her long, dark hair was plastered to her head. Her skin was clear and looked baby-soft, though at the moment it was flushed with fever. She’d be pretty if she weren’t sick and wet as a drowned rat.
“Poor kid,” he said as he towel-dried her hair. “I wonder what you’re running from.”