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Dangerous Secret (MF)

The Pinnacles of Power Prequel

Siren-BookStrand, Inc.

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 84,802
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[BookStrand Romantic Suspense, HEA]

Abigail MacKenzie has been trying to put her father’s tragic death behind her. But when a handsome stranger produces a random clue about her father’s shooting, hopes of finding her father’s killer come flooding back to the surface. Abigail is determined to get justice for her dad, even if it means learning the secret of a man with eyes that cut straight through the wall around her heart.

After making a mysterious discovery that costs him his job, Ryan Newberry is happy to accept any position he can get. But when he realizes that one of the employees who’ll be working under him at the Washington Valley Hotel is Abigail MacKenzie, the sweet girl he met weeks before, he fears the past might be in danger of repeating itself. Ryan only hopes that his desires for his new front desk associate won’t lead both of them down a path of danger from which he won’t be able to protect them.

A BookStrand Mainstream Romance

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Abigail was about to attempt an answer when the old-fashioned bells on the door rang. A ray of light streaked against the floor. Through it stepped a man who appeared to be a couple of years older than herself. He was tall and broad shouldered, and he was wearing a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans. At second glance she observed that he had thick black hair and deep blue eyes. Mysterious eyebrows loomed above them. There was a touch of dark stubble on his cheeks.

A jolt of electricity shot up Abigail’s spine as the man approached the counter. His broad chest came into view as he came toward her. The man looked strong, like he could bench press their picnic table in the parking lot.

There weren’t a lot of twentysomethings living in their town. She would probably remember if she’d seen him before. Offering a smile she prayed wasn’t too anxious, Abigail straightened her posture.

His grin broadening, the man placed his large hands against the counter. He leaned forward and said, “Shouldn’t you be off the phone in case a customer walks in? I’m pretty sure that’s against the rules.”

Abigail hung up promptly. “What makes you think this isn’t the company phone?”

“It might be.” The man in the farm-shirt shrugged. “But something tells me the company phone isn’t pink.”

There were several things inside of that room that were pink. But Abigail didn’t suppose the fact would strengthen her case any.

“Probably good instincts,” she muttered, picking up a rag from beside her. Frantically, she scrubbed the counter.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what I’d like?” the man said, offering her a second glimpse of his perfect white smile.

Abigail dropped the cloth she was holding. “I’m sorry. Yes, of course. What can I get for you, Sir?” Of course, he didn’t look anything at all like a ‘Sir’ and a lot like the most handsome guy she’d ever seen.

Unable to hold back, she pressed, “You’re not going to tell anyone, are you? About the phone, I mean. Not that you don’t have every right to be angry. But for what it’s worth, I really need to keep this job.”

A look of sympathy and something she couldn’t quite describe settled about his lightly tanned face. “Tell you what. You make me a vanilla milkshake, throw in an extra pinch of syrup, and we’ll call it even.”

Abigail paled. She was terrible at making milkshakes. What was worse was that the machine had been acting finicky all morning. Saying a silent prayer that she could change his mind, she asked, “Sure that you wouldn’t rather have a banana split instead? We just made a batch of our fresh strawberry ice cream this morning. It’s rich and creamy, made with strawberries grown right here in North Conway.”

“I really don’t think—”

“Did I mention all of our sundaes are fifty percent off today?” She crossed her fingers behind her back.

He said, “I appreciate you letting me know. But it just so happens that I’ve got my heart set on a vanilla milkshake.” Inclining his head in her direction, he said, “In my experience, the more desirable choice is worth paying the price for.”

Ignoring the goose bumps that had formed along her arms, Abigail took a gigantic step back. She could do this. Just because she’d never successfully made a milkshake correctly on the first shot before didn’t mean she couldn’t do it now.

She took three scoops of vanilla ice cream from the dome beneath the counter. Then, she added extract. Sugar came next and finally, milk, which she was very relieved not to spill on the counter. With all of the ingredients packed safely inside the metal cup, she walked over to the milkshake mixer.

Ignoring the feel of her customer’s sinful blue eyes against her back, she proceeded to begin her task. She slipped the cup into place beneath the metal stirring wand. Breath held, she flicked the switch.

Turning the cup in slow circles, Abigail mixed the ingredients. After about thirty seconds, her confidence began to grow. Ice cream and syrup had become a smooth, drinkable liquid she was almost proud of. Beaming, she reached across the counter for the whipped cream, which she’d add to the top when she was finished.

Turning her attention back to the machine, Abigail gave the metal cup a final spin then pushed the switch downward. But instead of turning off, the wand spun harder, causing the chunky white liquid to spill over the sides of the cup. She placed her finger firmly over the switch, but it wouldn’t move. She forced it down as hard as she could, but the metal nozzle popped upward and the stirring wand spun at lightning speed. The contents of the cup flew up and out, landing on the floor and all over the ceiling.

Abigail gasped, turning to where her handsome customer stood. His shirt was covered in thick chunks of ice cream.

“Oh my God!” She grabbed a towel from the counter. Racing from behind it, she went to where he was standing and began rubbing his shirt vigorously.

Seeing that there was an enormous white streak near the bottom of his shirt, Abigail went to work on it. She quickly realized that she was only setting in the stain. She slowed her strokes, inadvertently lifting the man’s shirt as she did so. A wad of cash was sticking out of his pocket, but she barely noticed it, mesmerized by the look of his hard abdomen and silky dark chest hair. She breathed in and out. Warmth flooded her insides.

Clearing her throat, she took a step back and said, “I’m sorry. You’ll probably want to be doing that yourself.”

A smile spread across the man’s face. “Not really. I actually thought you were doing an excellent job.”

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