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Deadly Gamble [Secure eReader]
eBook by Linda Lael Miller

eBook Category: Romance/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: She's got an uncanny knack for winning at slots, but her home-sweet-home is Bad-Ass Bert's Biker Saloon. She'd love to go deep undercover with an irresistibly hot cop, but he's got baggage as big as his biceps. She's survived a mysterious tragedy, but Mojo Sheepshanks hasn't quite figured out who she really is or how to get on with her life. And now the wisecracking Mojo is seeing ghosts--the real, ectoplasmic kind--and turning up baffling clues to her real identity. Suddenly a wealthy man is claiming to be her long-lost uncle--and she's being shadowed by an ex-con brother with a talent for killer mind games. As Mojo races to finally uncover the facts, she'll need all her savvy and strange new talent to keep someone from burying her--and the truth--for keeps.

eBook Publisher: Harlequin/HQN
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2006


23 Reader Ratings:
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CHAPTER
1

Cave Creek, Arizona

At first, the chill was a drowsy nibble at the distant and ragged edges of my awareness, raising goose-bumps on the parts of my flesh bared to that spring night. The sensation was vaguely disturbing, but not troublesome enough to stir me from the fitful shallows of sleep. I remember rolling onto my side, pulling the comforter up to my right earlobe and murmuring some insensible protest.

That was when I heard Nick's voice. Or thought I heard it.

Impossible, I told myself, nestling groggily into my polyester burrow. He's dead.

Just then, a hand came to rest on my hip, and the chill sprouted teeth and bit right through cotton nightshirt, skin and tissue to seize the marrow of my bones.

I choked out a hoarse cry, too raw and guttural to qualify as a scream, and shimmied off the mattress to land hard on both feet. In the space of an instant, my senses shifted from dial-up to broadband, and I pressed one hand to my chest, in case my heart tried to flail its way out of my chest. My brains pulsed, Cuisinart-style, then scrambled. I couldn't seem to drag a breath past my esophagus, though my lungs clawed for air like a pair of miners trapped beneath tons of rubble.

I felt that way once on a stair-climber at the gym after sucking in a pack and a half of nicotine in a bar the night before, and subsequently swore off exercise forever. Hell, somebody has to serve as the bad example.

But I digress. Get used to it.

My eyes must have bugged out, cartoonlike. Nick—Nick—lay on top of the covers, dressed in his snappy gray burial suit, with his hands cupping the back of his head. Except for a peculiar greenish glimmer emanating from his skin, he looked pretty much the way he had before he collided with a semi on the 101 North and was thrown through the windshield of his BMW. Along with Tiffany, Nick's lover du jour, who was scarred for life and for some insane reason blamed me for her Frankenstein face and deflated implants.

One of the many things I don't like about dead people is that a lot of them glow in the dark. Not that I'd seen any before my late ex-husband turned up that momentous night, a full two years after his funeral. Since then, unfortunately, I've become something of an authority.

"Hey," Nick said companionably, as though the situation were entirely normal, and not something out of an old segment of Unsolved Mysteries.

My stomach quivered. Like my heart, it was threatening to leap out of my throat and make a run for it.

"You're dead," I pointed out—quite reasonably, I thought, given the circumstances. I knew he'd croaked, but I wasn't sure he'd been notified. He looked so calm and matter-of-fact, as though turning up in his ex-wife's bed in the middle of the night was a perfectly ordinary thing to do.

Nick sighed, slipped his hands from behind his head and hoisted himself as far as his elbows. "Sort of," he admitted, with a rueful note.

I managed a step backward, ready to hot-foot it out of there, jerk open the outside door, and dash down the fire-escape style stairway to Bad-Ass Bert's Biker Saloon. Normally, I didn't seek out the company of Bert's clientele, especially when I was naked except for a slip of cotton jersey that barely covered my thighs, but given the situation, I was game for just about anything. Trouble was, once I'd retreated half a stride, I couldn't seem to move again.

"How can you be 'sort of' dead?" I asked.

"It's complicated," Nick replied. "In some ways, I'm more alive than you are." With that, he swung his legs over the side of the mattress and stood up, turning to face me across the expanse of tangled bedding. The glow surrounding his lean frame flickered a little, as if somebody had turned a celestial dimmer switch.

"Relax," he said. "It's okay."

Sure. No problem. Pay no attention to the walking, talking corpse.

"You're dead," I repeated stubbornly.

"Yeah," he agreed wryly. "I've noticed. So maybe we could get past that?"

"Don't come near me," I ordered. Pure bravado, of course. I'd read The Damn Fool's Guide to Self-Defense for Women and practiced all the moves on Bert, who was a genuine bad-ass, but if there was a chapter on phosphorescent assailants, I must have missed it.

Nick tilted his dark head to one side and looked pathetic, though still damnably handsome. Apparently, being deceased was neither messy nor strenuous; his suit was wrinkle-free, if slightly out of fashion, his hair sleek, and there was no sign of his hallmark five o'clock shadow. No tire marks, either, thank God, and no blood, guts or jutting bone fragments.

He must have read my mind. With a sad grin, he looked down at himself, before meeting my gaze again. "Hell of a patch job, though. You should have seen me before the mortician did his thing." He shuddered. "You haven't lived—so to speak—until you've seen yourself lying in pieces on a slab. Definitely not a pretty sight."

I winced. "Thanks for sharing," I said. At least we were on the same page with the dead-thing. I had a lot of questions, naturally, but I couldn't seem to articulate any of them. Shock does that to a person.

Another fetching grin. "You cried at my funeral," he reminded me, with pleased modesty.

I stiffened. My heartbeat had slowed somewhat, and I was managing a full breath every few seconds, but my knees felt about as substantial as foam on a mug of draft beer. When the last few bubbles popped, I'd be on the floor in a quivering heap.

Copyright © 2006 by Linda Lael Miller.


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