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Angels Fall, Page 3

Nora Roberts

  He was long, Reece thought as she followed the direction of Linda-gail's gaze. A couple inches or so over six feet. She'd give him dark, too. with the shaggy jet hair and olive complexion. But she wasn't sold on handsome.

  It was a word that meant slick and classy to her mind, and this man was neither. Instead, there was a rough, rugged look about him with a scruff of beard over rawboned features. Something rougher yet, to her mind, about the hard line of his mouth and the way his eyes tracked around the room. There was nothing slick about the battered leather jacket, faded jeans or worn-down boots.

  Not the cowboy type, she decided, but one who looked like he could handle himself outdoors. He looked strong, and maybe just a little mean.

  "Name's Brody." Linda-gail said in undertones. "He's a writer."

  "Oh?" She relaxed a little. Something in his stance, his absolute awareness of the room, had said cop to her. Writer was better. Easier. "What kind?"

  "He does magazine articles and like that, and he's had three books published. Mysteries. Fits, too, because that's what he is. A mystery."

  She flipped her hair back, shifted her angle so she could watch out of the corner of her eye as Brody strode to an empty booth. "Word is he used to work for a big newspaper in Chicago and got fired. He rents a cabin on the other side of the lake, keeps to himself, mostly. But he comes in here three times a week for dinner. Tips twenty percent."

  She turned back to Reece as Brody sat. "How do I look?"


  "One of these days I'm going to figure out how to get him to hit on me, just to satisfy my curiosity. But for now, I'll take the twenty percent."

  Linda-gail wandered toward the booth, drawing her pad out of her pocket. From where she sat, Reece could hear her cheerful greeting.

  "How you doing, Brody? What do you have in mind for tonight?"

  While she ate, Reece watched the waitress flirt, and the man Brody order without consulting the menu. When she turned away, Linda-gail shot Reece an exaggeratedly dreamy look. Even as Reece's lips quivered in response, Brody shifted his gaze, locked in on her face.

  The full-on stare made her stomach jump. Even when she quickly averted her eyes she could feel his on her, rudely, deliberately probing. For the first time since she'd begun her shift, she felt exposed and vulnerable.

  She pushed off the stool, stacked her dishes. Fighting the urge to look over her shoulder, she carried them back into the kitchen.

  HE ORDERED the elk chops and whiled away the wait time with a bottle of Coors and a paperback. Someone had paid for Emmylou

  Harris on the jukebox, and Brody let the music hum in the back of his mind.

  He wondered about the brunette and that look in her eye. Richard Adams had coined the word tharn in Watership Down. Good word, he thought, and one that suited the new cook with her sudden, frozen stillness.

  From what he knew of Joanie Parks, the brunette wouldn't have a job if she wasn't competent. He suspected Joanie had a soft heart under the shell, but that shell was thick and prickly, and didn't suffer fools.

  Of course, he had only to ask the little blonde and he'd get chapter and verse on the newcomer. But then it would circle around that he'd asked, then others would ask him what he thought, what he knew. He knew how places like Angel's Fist worked, and the fuel of talk they ran on.

  It would take a little longer to find out about her without asking, but there would be murmurs and comments, rumors and speculation. He had a good ear for that sort of thing when he was in the mood for it.

  She had a fragile look about her, the sort that could turn on a dime to brittle. He wondered why.

  Still, from his vantage point he could see he'd been right about competency. She worked steadily, in that professional cook's way that made it seem to him she had an extra pair of hands tucked away somewhere.

  It might have been her first day on the job here, but he'd lay odds it wasn't her first in a restaurant kitchen. Since—at least for now—she was more interesting than his book, he continued to watch her work while he nursed his beer.

  Not attached to anyone from town, he decided. He'd lived there the best part of a year and if anyone's long-lost daughter, sister, niece, third cousin twice removed was due to breeze in, he'd have gotten wind. She didn't look like a drifter to him. More like a runner, he mused. That was what he'd seen in her eyes, the wariness, the readiness to leap and dash at a moment's notice.

  And when she moved to set a finished order in line, those eyes flicked in his direction—just a flick, then away again. Before she turned back to the grill, the door opened, and her gaze shifted there. The smile flashed onto her face so quickly, so unexpectedly, Brody actually blinked.

  Everything about her changed, went lighter, softer, so that he saw there was more—at least the potential for more—than fragile beauty tucked away in there.

  When he looked over to see what had caused that mile-wide smile, he saw Mac Drubber shooting her a grin and a wave.

  Maybe he'd been wrong about that local connection.

  Mac slid into the booth across from him. "How's it going?"

  "Can't complain."

  "Got a hankering to eat something I don't have to fry up myself. What looks good tonight?" He waited a beat, wiggled his eyebrows. "Besides the new cook?"

  "I ordered the chops. Don't see you in here on Saturday nights, Mac. You're a creature of habit, and that's Wednesdays, spaghetti special."

  "Didn't feel like opening a can, and I wanted to see how the girl was doing. Limped into town today with a broken radiator hose."

  All you had to do was wait five minutes or so, Brody thought, and information fell into your lap. "Is that so? "

  "Next thing you know, she's working here. You'd've thought she'd won the lottery by the look on her face. Comes from back East. Boston. Got herself a room at the hotel. Name's Reece Gilmore."

  He stopped when Linda-gail brought Brody's plate to the table.

  "Hi there, Mr. Drubber, how's it going? What can I get you tonight?"

  Mac leaned over to take a closer look at Brody's plate. "That looks pretty damn good."

  "The new cook's a real hand. You let me know how you like those chops, Brody. Get you anything else?"

  "Take another beer."

  "Coming right up. Mr. Drubber?"

  "I'll take a Coke, honey, and the same thing my friend here's having. Those chops look good enough to eat."

  They did, Brody thought, and were presented with a generous portion of scalloped potatoes and lima beans. The food was artistically arranged on the plain white plate, unlike the haphazard mounds Joanie normally served up.

  "Saw you out in the boat the other day," Mae commented. "Catch anything?"

  "Wasn't fishing." He cut into one of the chops, sampled.

  "That's one of the things about you. Brody. You go on out on the lake now and then but you don't fish. Go out in the woods now and then but you don't hunt."

  "If I caught anything or shot anything. I'd have to cook it."

  "There's that. Well?"

  "It's good." Brody cut another bite. "Pretty damn good."

  Since Mac Drubber was one of the few people Brody would voluntarily spend an evening with, he loitered over his coffee while Mac finished plowing through his own meal. "Beans taste different. Fancier. Got to say better, too, but you repeat that where Joanie gets wind. I'll call you a stinking liar."

  "She's putting up at the hotel, she may not be planning on staying long."

  "Booked a week." Mac liked knowing what went on. and who it went on about, in his town. He not only ran the mercantile, he was mayor. Gossip, he liked to think, was part of his duties. "Truth is. Brody. I don't think the girl has much money" He wagged his fork at Brody before stabbing the last of the beans. "Paid cash for the radiator hose, and the hotel. I hear."

  No credit cards. Brody mused, and wondered if the mystery woman was running under the radar. "Could be she doesn't want to leave a trail for someone, or something, to follow."

  "You got a suspicious mind." Mac worked off the last sliver oi elk from the bone. "And if she doesn't, she'll have a reason for it. She's got an honest face.'''

  "And you have a romantic bent. Speaking of romance." Brody cocked his head toward the door.

  The man who came in wore Levi's and a chambray shirt under a black barn coat. He accented it with snakeskin boots, a Sam Brown belt and a stone-gray Stetson in a way that screamed cowboy.

  Sandy, sun-streaked hair curled under his hat. He had a smooth, even-featured face set off by a shallowly clefted chin and light blue eyes that, everyone knew, he used as often as possible to charm the ladies.

  He swaggered—there was no other way to describe the deliberate, rolling gait—to the counter and perched on a stool.

  "Lo's coming 'round to see if the new girl's worth his time." Mac shook his head, scooped up the last of his potatoes. "You can't help but like Lo. He's an affable sort, but I hope she's got more sense."

  Part of the entertainment Brody had enjoyed in and around the Fist the past year was watching Lo knock over women like tenpins. "Ten bucks says he sweet-talks her, and she adds a notch to his bedpost before the end of the week."

  Mac's brows knit in disapproval. "That's no way to talk about a nice girl like that."

  "You haven't known her long enough to be so sure she's a nice girl."

  "I say she is. So I'm going to take that bet, just so it costs you."

  Brody gave a half laugh. Mac didn't drink, he didn't smoke, and if he chased women he didn't do it where anyone noticed. And Brody found his slightly puritanical bent part of his charm. "It's just sex. Mac." Then he let out a full grin when the tips of Mac's ears went red. "You remember sex, don't you?

  "I got a vague recollection of the process."

  In the kitchen, Joanie set a piece of apple pie on the work counter. "Take a break," she ordered Reece. "Eat the pie."

  "I'm not really hungry, and I need to—'

  "Didn't ask if you were hungry, did I? Eat the pie. No charge on it. It's the last of the dish, and it won't be any good tomorrow anyway. You see the one just sat down at the counter?"

  "The one who looks like he just rode in off the trail? "

  "That would be William Butler. Goes by Lo. That's short for Lothario, which he got labeled with when he was a teenager and proceeded in making it his life's work to bed every female within a hundred miles."


  "Now on most Saturday nights, Lo would have himself a hot date, or he'd be hanging out down at Clancy's with his pals, trying to decide which heifer to cut out of that partictilar herd. He's come in here to get a look at you."

  Because she didn't see she had any real choice, Reece began to eat the pie. "I don't imagine there's much to see at this point."

  "Regardless, you're new, you're female, young and, as far as it goes.

  unattached. To give him his due, Lo doesn't poach on married women. You see he's flirting with Juanita now, who he was banging like a drum over a few weeks last winter, until he shifted his sights to some snowbunnies who came around to ski."

  Joanie grabbed the huge mug of coffee that was always close at hand. "Boy's got charm to spare. I've never known any woman he's rolled off of to hold it against him when he buttons his jeans and strolls off."

  "And you're telling me this because you assume he'll be rolling off me some night?"

  "Just letting you know how it is."

  "Got it. And don't worry, I'm not looking for a man—temporarily or permanently. Especially one who uses his penis as a divining rod."

  Joanie let out a bark of laughter. "How's the pie?"

  "It's good. Really good. I never asked about the baking. Is that done on the premises, or do you buy from a local bakery?"

  "I do the baking."


  "Now you're thinking I'm better at that than the grill. And you'd be right. How about you?"

  "Not my strong suit, but I can give you a hand when you need it."

  "I'll let you know." She flipped a pair of burgers, then dumped fries and beans on the plates with them. Joanie was tossing the pickles and tomatoes on the plates when Lo sauntered back into the kitchen.


  "Ma." He bent, kissed the top of her head while Reece's stomach sank.

  Ma, she thought, and she'd made a crack about his penis.

  "Heard you were classing up the place." He sent Reece a slow, easy smile before he tipped back the beer he'd carried back with him. "Friends call me Lo."

  "Reece. Nice to meet you. I'll take those, Joanie." Reece grabbed the plates, took them to the line. And noted with annoyance that for the first time all night, there were no tickets waiting to be filled.

  "Shutting down the kitchen shortly,"Joanie told her. "You go ahead and clock out, head out. I got you on first shift tomorrow, so you be here by six, sharp."

  "All right. Sure." She started to untie her apron.

  "I'll drive you down to the hotel." Lo set his half-full beer aside. "Make sure you get there safe."

  "Oh, no. don't bother." Reece glanced toward his mother, hoping for some help in that quarter, but Joanie had already turned away to shut down the fryers. "It's not far. I'm fine, and I'd like a walk anyway."

  "Fine, I'll walk you. Got a coat'"

  Argue, she decided, and it was rude. Don't argue, and tread on thin ice. She'd have to tread. Without a word, she got her jean jacket. "I'll be here at six."

  She mumbled her goodbyes, started toward the door. She could feel the writer—Brody—staring holes in her back. Why was he still here anyway?

  Lo opened the door for her. then stepped out after her.

  "Cool tonight. Sure you're going to be warm enough?"

  "I'm fine. It feels good after the heat in the kitchen."

  "I bet it does. You're not letting my ma work you too hard now, are you?"

  "I like to work."

  "I bet you were busy tonight. Why don't I buy you a drink so you can unwind a little. And you can tell me the story of your life."

  "Thanks, but the story's not worth the price of a drink, and I've got the early shift tomorrow."

  "Supposed to be a pretty day." His voice was as lazy as his gait. "Why don't I pick you up when you get off? I'll show you around. No better guide in Angel's Fist, I can promise you. And I can bring references documenting I'm a gentleman."

  He had a great smile, she had to admit it, and a look in his eyes that was as seductive as a hand stroking along the skin.

  And he was the boss's son.

  "That's awfully nice of you, but since I only know a handful of people—and those less than a day—you could forge those references. I'd better pass, and take tomorrow to settle in a little."

  "Rain check, then."

  When he took her arm, she jumped, and his voice lowered to soothe as it she were a spooked horse. "Easy now, I'm just slowing you down.

  Can tell by the way you walk like you're late for an appointment you're from back East. Take a minute, look up there. That's a sight, isn't it?"

  Her heart was still beating too fast for comfort, but she looked up. And there, above the ragged shadows of the mountains, hung a full, white moon.

  Stars exploded around it, as it someone had loaded a shotgun with diamonds and blasted away. Their light turned the icing of snow on the peaks an eerie blue, and dashed the crevices and gullies into deep, rich shadow.