Today it is my pleasure to spotlight Dangerous Refuge by Elizabeth Lowell
Murder and mystery spark unexpected romance in this captivating new tale from the beloved New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Lowell
On the surface Shaye Townsend has little in common with Tanner. He’s a hard-edged big city cop come home to the historic Davis family ranch to settle his uncle’s estate. She’s working for an environmental conservancy that acquires and protects old ranches—and she wants to preserve the Davis homestead.
When the suspicious death of Tanner’s uncle at his ranch throws the two opposites together, tempers flare and sparks fly. While they have trouble seeing eye to eye, Shaye and Tanner agree on one thing: They need to uncover the truth.
Combining their unique skills—Shaye’s low-key approach and local connections and Tanner’s experience as a homicide detective—the unlikely pair share long nights in the pursuit of justice. Before they know it, the friction they generate turns to heat, igniting a love neither ever expected to find.
They believe passion this intense cannot last. But when Shaye becomes a killer’s target, Tanner realizes he’d give up anything to protect her—including his life.
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His childhood memories were as bright as the stars, and as sharp-edged. He listened to the night and heard nothing unfamiliar, nothing threatening. He clicked on the flashlight and swept the ground ahead. The path to the pool was more overgrown than he remembered, but the boulders and pines hadn’t changed any.
Shaye surprised him by pulling a thumb-size penlight from her jacket pocket and falling into line behind him.
“You didn’t use that at Rua’s,” Tanner said, resettling the towels under his left arm.
“I was afraid to.”
“Smart.” He thought about adding that it would have been a lot smarter to stay put in the car as he had told her, but let it go. The scare she’d gotten was more than enough to make the point.
They walked in an easy silence until they reached the first pool.
“This one is only about ninety degrees,” he said. “We jerry-rigged some plank seats for the next pool. It’s about a hundred and two. The one above that is hot enough to cook trout and smells like the mineral stew it is.”
“Lead me to the second one,” she said quickly.
The idea of soaking was delicious.
The idea of having him next to her was hotter than the third pool.
She squashed the thought. She was too tired and too off balance to be thinking about sex, much less to follow through on it.
The second pool steamed gently in the moonlight, surrounded by rocks and tall pines.
Tanner left the towels on a boulder by the edge of the pool. Then he sat on another waterside rock and began pulling off his shoes and socks. With quick efficiency he stripped off his jacket and shirt, folded them, pulled the gun and holster from the small of his back, and stacked everything neatly on the ground.
“I’ve never gone in the springs wearing more than my skin,” he said, standing and reaching for his belt. “It’s one of the best things about being here.”
She wasn’t surprised, but she was intrigued. “Clothes or no clothes, no promises about anything else.”
A deep laugh floated up as he peeled down his pants and underwear in a smooth motion. “Gotcha. No touching without an invitation. It goes both ways, you know.”
“Damn,” she said without thinking.
Thinking was the last thing on her mind. The shine of moonlight on his bare, muscular chest, the intriguing dark swirls of hair, the clean, strong line of his legs, and his obvious hunger for her made her breath back up in her throat. She had thought her ex-husband was beautifully made, but next to Tanner her ex was … insignificant.
“Both ways,” she said, watching Tanner disappear into the pool a few inches at a time. Then, “You sure?”
“You already have your invitation,” he said, sinking in up to his waist, then ribs, then his chest.
His head turned toward her. “Anytime. Anywhere.”
“I see,” she managed.
“Yeah, I’ll bet you did.”
She tried not to laugh, or at least not to let him hear it. But she was sure he could see her blush. Hastily she bent to undo her hiking shoes. Like him, she folded and stowed everything within reach. By the time she was down to her underwear, she was feeling the biting edge of chill in the air. Hurriedly she peeled everything off and walked to the pool.
“There’s kind of a gravel path into the water,” Tanner said. “Go about a foot to your left. Feel it?”
“Smooth but not slippery?”
The playful breeze raised gooseflesh on her skin. The hot pool was a gleaming lure promising warmth. It wasn’t her first time in one of the many natural hot springs in the area, so she knew to walk carefully on the uneven bottom of the pool until she was almost hip-deep. Then she sank into the water and did a half float, half walk over the rocky bottom. The contrast between cold air and heated water made her take a ragged breath.
The pool became deep enough to swim in.
“You said something about benches?” she asked.
Tanner barely heard her. He was still seeing her careful, graceful entry into the pool. Her body was slender, lithe, and so female in its dips and curves that he was having a hard time breathing.
A hard time, period.
“Benches?” She reminded him.
“Come closer. You’re in the deep end.” His voice was too husky, but he didn’t care. She’d already had an eyeful of just how much he wanted her.
“Over your head.”
“What about yours?” she asked.
“Depends on how well I keep my footing.” He held out his hand to her.
She took it, letting him float her to the underwater bench.
“Nope. Lorne and Dad sanded it in the barn workshop. What they couldn’t smooth out, the water has. Careful, though. It’s wedged between two big boulders and they’re rough on the skin.”
“I’m surprised the plank hasn’t washed away in a spring melt.”
“The springs aren’t a runoff channel,” Tanner said, “so floods aren’t a problem. Hot water bubbles to the surface, makes a chain of three pools, and drains back into the earth again. Probably seeps into the stream somewhere, but we’ve never found where.”
Shaye settled lightly onto the plank, found a place to brace one foot so that she wouldn’t float off—if she concentrated—and sighed. The silence was like a texture of the night, as endless and deep as the starry sky. Heat seeped into her, unraveling her. She closed her eyes and simply let herself be, until she was a part of the hot spring and the forest and the night.
Tanner watched her eyes close and her body relax. When she started to float away like moonlight on water, he gently captured her with his arm around her waist. She opened her eyes, smiled, and curled into him, wrapping her arms and legs around him, letting him anchor both of them. Then she sighed and let herself relax utterly.
He held her in return, ignoring the insistent ache of his erection. The peace she brought him was new, staggering. He didn’t want to disturb it. For long, long minutes they sat in the pool, wrapped in hot water and each other.
An owl called softly. The sound was slow, rhythmic, the heartbeat of the forest given voice.
Finally, reluctantly, Tanner stirred against Shaye. “Time to go back. Too much more of this heat and we won’t be able to crawl, much less walk.”
She nodded. “I know. But this is … incredible. I didn’t know how cold I’d become.”
She tightened her arms and snuggled closer. His erection lay taut between them. A heat that owed nothing to the pool bloomed through her. She had thought the pool had totally relaxed him, drawing out all the tension in his body.
She had been wrong.
“That doesn’t feel cold to me,” she said, rubbing against him.
She felt the involuntary leap of his flesh as it hardened even more. Deliberately, gently, she bit the muscular curve of his shoulder.
“You sure?” Tanner asked almost roughly, knowing how spent she had been.