Desert Heat [MultiFormat]
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eBook by B. J. Lawry
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: He's the most rugged, most handsome man she has ever met, but Jillian Marsh doesn't trust Lane Pilgrim as far as the next Joshua tree. At his mercy and stranded in the desert outback, she must escape. What happens when she tries is as steamy as the desert itself and more fun than a pack of burros.
eBook Publisher: DiskUs Publishing
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2011
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Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat - What's this?]: eReader (PDB) [122 KB]
, ePub (EPUB) [135 KB]
, Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [83 KB]
, Portable Document Format (PDF) [405 KB]
, Palm Doc (PDB) [90 KB]
, Microsoft Reader (LIT) [122 KB]
, Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [145 KB]
, hiebook (KML) [245 KB]
, Sony Reader (LRF) [157 KB]
, iSilo (PDB) [74 KB]
, Mobipocket (PRC) [95 KB]
, Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [139 KB]
, OEBFF Format (IMP) [132 KB]
Reading time: 82-114 min.
Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
Portable Document Format (PDF) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"Pop, you can't!"
"Now, Jillian, listen. You're a grown woman. You've got a good job at that kindergarten school and it's about time you had a life of your own, on your own." He looked down at his coffee cup, his cheeks reddening under his white hair as they always did when he was prepared to say something that would embarrass him. "And that you meet some nice young man."
"No, no, Jillian. Listen to me. Your old dad has been doing the same thing day in and day out for too many years to think about. It's time I had some fun. Don't you agree?"
"Well, yes, but going all the way to Nevada? To the desert? And how do you know this man's on the level?"
"Let me judge, okay? And wish me well."
"What's he promising you, Pop?"
"He promising me nothing, Jillian, except a life of freedom and adventure."
"I'm sorry, Pop. I just can't buy it. You've been so happy here and we have a good life together in this old trailer house. It's been so peaceful. Why do you need to do this?"
"It's only a year, Jillian."
"Oh," she cried, tossing her napkin against her dinner plate. "Only a year. Yes." Her father was in his late sixties, fast approaching seventy. A year could be forever. Although healthier than anyone else she knew of his age, he was not so hale that a year in a foreign, harsh terrain couldn't have a devastating affect on him.
He was laughing, coming around the table to embrace her shoulders. "Now, Jillian, you're just like your mama was. Don't worry so much. I'm a grown man."
She hugged him around his waist and laid her head against his warm chest. Her father was her best friend, had always been since the death of her mother when Jillian was only six. Perhaps she was not being fair. "I'm sorry, Pop. I guess I'm just selfish."
"No, not selfish. Too possessive of our old dad, that's all. Lighten up. This trip will make me twenty years younger." He withdrew his arm from her shoulder and leaned against the table. "You'll see," he said. "I'll come back in a year with a good Western tan and maybe even a little gold piece for your hope chest."
"Oh, Pop, he didn't promise..."
"He didn't promise anything, Jill."
"I don't trust this."
"I'll say it again. Let me be the judge."
Jillian shrugged. What could she do? Her father had made a decision and she was the last to insist that he change his mind. He would have to discover for himself. She had tried. She had even attempted to reach that man, Lane Pilgrim. She'd left a message at a desert way station so he would call her back. When he did, she pleaded with him not to go through with this. Her father was happy as he was, she told him. He didn't need to exert himself at his age. Leave him alone.
But Pilgrim's deep, easy voice became commanding, accusing. "What are you afraid of, Miss Marsh? Let him have his fun. I'm sure he deserves it. And be a big girl about it, huh?"
She had hung up, disgusted with both Pilgrim and her father.
* * * *
It had been nearly a year since David Marsh stepped up that ramp onto the jet that would take him almost three thousand miles away from the home he had known nearly all his sixty-seven years. Jillian cherished the letters he had written, his stories about the desert animals he had seen, the beauty of the surroundings, the ranchers and the gamblers he had met during trips to "town" and the "kindness" of Lane Pilgrim. Well, if she were to believe Pilgrim's "kindness," the man himself would have to prove it to her. And that was not likely ever to happen. She wanted nothing to do with him, the man who pulled her father away.
As she sat at her kitchen table placing little gold stars on her students' drawing papers, her wall phone rang. She reached behind her and lifted the receiver.
The man's voice was deep, even alluring, but too familiar. Even after all these months, she knew instantly who it was.
"This is Lane Pilgrim, ma'am. From Nevada."
Jillian's muscles tightened as she gripped the receiver and leaned heavily, frowning, against the thin faux pine paneling of her kitchen wall. He was the last person she ever expected to hear from and the last she ever wanted to speak to.
"Yes, Mr. Pilgrim."
"I don't know how to tell you this, ma'am..."
"Your father passed away this morning."
Oh, my God! Jillian heard the receiver hit the table, hardly felt it slap against her knee as it fell to the floor. It couldn't be! Her father was fine when he left...
She slowly picked the receiver off the floor as she sank down against the wall to meet it, trying to gather her thoughts, making no sense of anything.
"How?" she whispered.
"He fell, and it appears he had a heart attack, Ms. Marsh. I had the doctor out from the city. Your father left a will for you and directions for burial for me. Can you get out here?"
Directions for burial for him? Why for him? A stranger. Oh, my God. "I..." How could she speak? The words were there but caught in her throat. "Yes... I..."
"I..." She'd have to tell the school. They'd have to make arrangements for a substitute, and there was a shortage this year. Oh, what could she do? "As soon as possible. I don't know... As soon as possible." She couldn't think. Her head was hot under her hand as she rubbed it. Oh, my God!
"Call me when you know. I'll have to pick you up in Las Vegas."
"Yes. Yes. I..."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Marsh."
"How did it happen?" She couldn't have a fever, that was ridiculous, but her face, her entire body was aflame and her tears felt like ice against her cheeks. Her voice grew shrill as her scalp tightened. "He was fine when he left here. What did you do? He was an old man!"
There was silence on the other end of the line, then, "Call me when you get here." He gave her again the number of the highway way station. She frantically scribbled it down, dropped the receiver onto its cradle without saying goodbye. Then, with her head in a storm of grief and anger and disbelief, she picked up the phone and dialed the school.
Lane Pilgrim tossed his black Stetson on the seat of his dusty black pickup and pulled himself into the driver's seat, slamming the door behind him. How did he get himself into this? David Marsh seemed so healthy and, besides, Lane was always careful to make the old man stop to rest, eat right, get his sleep and never do more than Lane felt it was safe for him to do.
And he had a good time, dammit! They both did!
The doctor assumed it was the heart attack that caused the fall, not the other way around. Neither Lane nor the old man had seen it coming, but then it was never easy to predict those things, was it?
And now he had the daughter to deal with, and she wasn't a very friendly woman either. Damn!
He stepped on the gas and pulled the pickup across the long desert drive to the highway, kicking up a swarm of dust, turning south on the two-lane route to Las Vegas. He hoped she wouldn't make it harder than it already was. How do you deal with death? He had never dealt with it before, either personally or as a bystander. Now he'd be in the position of comforting, and he didn't look forward to it. She'd be crying, no doubt, and he couldn't deal with tears. No way. Pat her on the head? No. Not Lane Pilgrim. He couldn't take that. He'd probably walk away, and that would be the worst thing he could do.
He leaned back against the seat, not even noticing the desolation anymore--the sparse vegetation, the little humps of creosote bush dotted here and there, the uplifted arms of the scattered Joshua. The speedometer topped sixty. It was a long, hundred-mile-plus ride to a city he never wanted to see again.
The noise outside the Las Vegas casino was stifling and seemingly endless. Jillian had never been like this. Individual voices and the sounds of traffic melded into one deadly wave that made her ears ache and her eyes water. She shook her head to clear it, stepped back closer to the casino's glass front, and tried to concentrate on something, anything, that would take her mind off the noise. Her nerves were in knots. Everything around her seemed bigger, louder, than anything she had ever known. Above and beside her, the violence of never-ending neon flashed against her brain. She wanted to lie down and cry. This was the place that had killed her father. That's all she needed to know.
"Meet me in Las Vegas," Lane Pilgrim had said, because that was where her plane landed and because she wouldn't have the faintest idea how to find him, he had said. He gave her directions to the downtown casino where he would meet her. From there, he would take her to his cabin to retrieve her father's belongings. She had protested. She would rather not ride with him, she said. There must be a taxi that would take her to his cabin. He had laughed and insisted she wait for him by this pillar in the center of this city. Why did she have to go to his cabin anyway? Couldn't he have brought the belongings into the city? Couldn't he have just taken her to the cemetery and let her be gone? No. He had insisted he could not.
She hated Lane Pilgrim as much as she despised what she had seen of this town. Without Pilgrim, without his come-ons, she was certain her father would still be alive.
She checked her watch. He was late by ten minutes--not bad if she were meeting him in a park. Here, it was just ten minutes more of misery.
She walked slowly back and forth along the casino's entryway, then back to the pillar. Halfway there a gasp came unbidden from her lips. Her body stiffened and she halted. Someone was watching her, she knew. Patrons streamed past her, in and out of the casino, but she had seen none stop, linger or even look at her. Now, there was no doubt.
She turned and their gazes met and held, her body so tight she thought it might snap. She had heard of desirable men, sensual men. This was the first time she would be meeting one. It was Lane Pilgrim. It had to be. And he was certainly a desirable man. Her skin crawled with the knowledge that she was aware of it and her lips curled.
He was tall, dark, broad and brooding, with close-cropped black hair just tinged with gray at the temples. His shoulders and arms bulged under a black T-shirt and his rugged black boots seemed a statement of his power. His long, slender legs were taut against his black jeans as he stood statue still not ten feet from her, watching her.
A chill ran down her spine as she became aware of an incongruous smile forming on her lips, unfamiliar and infuriating desire coursing through her body. She had no use for him, other than to collect her father's belongings and get out of this place.
He held out a hand as he approached her. "Jillian Marsh?"
"Yes," she managed.
He was smiling, a nice smile that made tiny lines form at the sides of his brown eyes. His teeth were straight and strong as he smiled, and Jillian reminded herself that devils always came in pretty wrappings. She did not offer her hand to him.
"Let's have coffee," he said, ignoring what she clearly meant as a snub.
She followed him reluctantly into the casino through the swarm of people pulling at one-armed bandits, others solemnly taking cards from dealers. He led her to a small coffee shop, inhabited only by a server, and to a narrow table in the corner. She watched as he held up two fingers and the server delivered two coffees. She placed her elbows on the table, folded her hands under her chin. She felt uncomfortable, all arms and legs, totally out of place. She shifted her hands to her lap.
"Thanks for meeting me," she said, not at all thankful. "You know I didn't want to come, and I still don't want to be here. Whatever he left could have been sent to me."
He was stirring his coffee in its thick, ecru mug. He didn't answer. She looked around at the crowds through the cafe windows, sighed and looked back at him.
He said, "I buried him as he wanted me to."
Jillian closed her eyes tightly against the knowledge of her helplessness. "Where did you bury him?"
"Where he wanted to be buried. I'll show you."
"You couldn't wait for me to get here?"
"You wouldn't have wanted me to wait."
Her pain deepened as she thought of her beautiful father. "Why not?"
"He fell, Jillian. It was a bad fall."
She didn't want to know. She turned away again to watch the crowds, to let the bells and whistles clatter against her thoughts. "This place is hell," she said.
He looked up at her. "You've never been to Las Vegas, have you?"
"No, and neither has anyone else I know, including my father until you enticed him out here with that ad." She could feel the hatred swell her tongue and she wanted to spit at him, a man who preyed on an old man's dreams.
She plunked a sugar into her coffee, asked for cream, and his hard hand with its long, deep-tanned fingers pushed a cream packet to her. He had swallowed his smile and was eyeing her. "You blame me."
Her chest caved and her lungs released air she had held for what seemed hours. Her shoulders dropped, her voice returned. "Yes, I do. If it wasn't for you..." She stopped and looked away again. She couldn't face him. "My father was a quiet man. He wasn't an adventurer."
Pilgrim's gaze cut through her and he made no comment. She chilled to see the change come over his face when he stopped smiling--hard now, cold, that thin hint of beard shadowing his jaws. She shook her head and bowed it, looked up sharply, needing to change the subject. "How do you live in a place like this?"
"I don't, and the people who do pay no attention to it. They make their money off of it and go home."
Outside the glass that closed off the casino from the coffee shop, dealers in their white shirts were unsmiling, flipping cards. Women wearing green aprons with change holders at their waists returned nickels, dimes and quarters for paper. Skimpily clad cocktail waitresses moved faster than Jillian thought possible through the crowds, balancing tiny trays of delicate drink-filled glasses at arms' length in the air. Men in dark suits stood, hands behind backs, legs apart, watching it all.
Lane Pilgrim laughed. "Have you ever been in the desert?"
"I'll have to give you a tour."
"No! Give me whatever my father left and I'll leave. I've got a return flight in the morning."
He chuckled and looked down at his coffee. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't bring it with me."
"Why not? I told you there's no reason for me to go to your cabin. All he took with him was one small suitcase. Surely you could have brought that with you."
"It's a trunk he left, besides his suitcase. I don't know what's in the trunk, if anything." He dug into his pocket, pulled out a small silver key and slid it across the table to her. "It isn't my trunk. I didn't open it. I didn't want to bring it into the city and have you not show up."
"Not show up?"
"You didn't sound too anxious about coming. If you changed your mind..."
She sighed deeply, disgustedly. "So, how far do we have to go to get it?
"It's at the site. On my land."
"And how far is that?"
He merely smiled and she noticed for the first time the crevices of dimples flanking his mouth. She shook her head and looked away.
"The stuff in that trunk, whatever it may be," he said, "belonged to your father. You're going to look at it, at least."
She knew he was right. Just because she didn't want to be here with him didn't mean he wasn't right. And she had to see where her father was buried. "Can we get there and back tonight?"
She bristled. "My plane leaves at seven-thirty in the morning. I can't go traipsing all over the state. I just want to see where you buried him. You'll have to send his things to me."
"Everything's on my land. If you want to see his grave, you'll come with me."
There was nothing she could do. She leaned back in her chair. "All right," she said. "I'll postpone my flight. Pick me up in the morning. I'll make a reservation for the next day, but we'd better be back to tomorrow night."
He gave her a one-sided smile. "We'll be back by then," he said. "Do you have jeans and boots?"
"Yes, I have jeans and I'm wearing my boots, in case you hadn't noticed."
"I wasn't looking at your feet," he said with a crooked smile. "And you'd better bring a jacket, too. The desert in December isn't too bad during the day but it gets darn cold at night."
"I can take it."
He studied her eyes, her white cotton jacket, her red silk blouse, then looked under the table at her long, red velvet skirt and her high-heeled black boots whose tops ended beneath her skirt hem. He looked up at her again and shook his head, still smiling. She would admit that her boots were pretty fancy, but she'd be darned if she would buy a sturdier pair for one trip into the desert.
He pulled a five-dollar bill out of his pocket and laid it on the table. "Where's your hotel?" She told him. "I'll be there at six tomorrow morning, out in front. You be ready."
Six? In the morning? "Why so early?"
He chuckled. "You want to get back, don't you?"
She nodded. "I've got to get back. And I really don't want to spend any more time than necessary with you."
His dark eyebrows raised and his smile crept slowly but completely over his face. "Oh," he said quietly, stood, patted her shoulder. "See you in the morning. And if I were you, I'd remember that the most important thing in the desert is a sense of humor."
Arrogant bastard, she said to herself as she watched him walk away through the casino. He spoke to no one on his way out, hands in his pockets, his walk that of a man so confident that gamblers moved to let him pass.
She took a deep breath to stifle a tingling on her skin and a hollowness in her belly.
"Damn Lane Pilgrim!" she said aloud.
"Women!" he said, as he hopped back into the truck and adjusted his sunglasses to start the long drive back to the cabin. She was beautiful to look at but . . . oh, boy!
He was glad to get out on the open road. He'd had enough of traffic and people. His heaven was in the outback, and that's where he intended to stay.
Women, he said again to himself. I put up with one of them long enough. I'm not taking any guff from this one. No way.
Jillian threw her carryall onto the wide, white-covered waterbed and looked around the room that was more a suite than an ordinary accommodation. They really do it up in Las Vegas, she thought.
Before riding the elevator to her room, she had stopped in the lobby to change her plane reservation to the following morning and reserved her hotel room for an additional night, groaning at the dent it would make in her extremely strict budget.
In her room now for the night, she opened her carryall and removed jeans and a bulky gray sweater that had belonged to her father and hung them in the massive walk-in closet beside the bed.
The nerve of Lane Pilgrim! Saying she needed a sense of humor! She wanted no humor where he was concerned.
She was bone tired and her headache was only now beginning to drift away. She walked to the window and looked down on a blaze of neon that trailed away into never-ending blackness. What seemed like hundreds if not thousands of people strolled the sidewalks below. Cars seemed almost stationary in their drivers' attempts to maneuver the few blocks of casino-lined street.
She yanked the drapery cord and began pacing the floor, her arms wrapped around her waist. Her world until today had been so secure and soft and small, as she had wanted it. Why would her father want to come to this God-forsaken place, much less be buried in it?
Shaking her head and wiping back her hair, she fell into a luxuriously white over-stuffed chair. She would have a funeral service anyway; a memorial service. He deserved a more respectable, a much more compassionate, goodbye than she was certain Lane Pilgrim had given him.
The memory of Pilgrim's face burned upon her in the stillness--his straight nose, his eyes, that sardonic smile that accentuated a sliver of a scar on his sun-darkened right cheek. She was aware of him as she had been of no man. She had no use for him, and yet he seemed to haunt her.
An evil, evil man.