© 2007 Catherine Mulvany
The late afternoon sun beat down like a curse.
A hundred two in the shade. Not that there was any shade. “Go
to hell, Ms. Cluny,” reclusive philanthropist Charles
Cunningham Nash had said the last time Regan had pestered him
for an interview. And here she freaking was.
A clever woman would have realized fate was conspiring against
her when mechanical difficulties delayed her flight from JFK
to Reno. A clever woman would have taken the hint when her
favorite Louis Vuitton bag vanished into luggage limbo. A clever
woman would have said, “Screw this,” when her
rental car’s air conditioner gasped its last shortly
after she crossed the California border.
But Regan had persevered.
The only thing playing on the radio now was static, the gas
gauge was flirting with empty, and Juniper Basin was nowhere
to be seen, even though according to the MapQuest directions
she’d taped to the Corolla’s dash, she should have
been there already. She must have made a wrong turn somewhere.
Right. Like the second she’d decided to pursue this
story so doggedly. After all, those tabloid photos had been
obvious fakes. Alien cities buried deep beneath the Modoc Plateau?
No way. But her instincts had told her to follow her nose and
damn it, Nash’s lame-assed explanation of what he and
his team of archaeologists were really doing out here in the
middle of nowhere stank to high heaven. After all, why would
anyone invest millions to excavate a nondescript Paleo-Indian
village unlikely to yield anything more exciting than Clovis
points and grinding stones?
Still, was tracking down the truth worth a detour through
The molten sun was riding the rimrocks by the time Regan reached
the next outpost of civilization, a blink-your-eyes-and-miss-it
town named Chisel Rock.
She pulled up to the pumps in front of the Oasis Truck Stop
where neon palm trees decorated one windowless side wall of
the cinderblock building housing the restaurant and mini-mart.
A shabby twelve-unit motel edged the back of the property,
and to the west stood a row of Lombardy poplar skeletons, their
elongated shadows stretching across the parking lot like bony
fingers. Two dusty pickup trucks, a PT Cruiser, and half a
dozen cherried-out Harleys huddled in the meager shade.
Wasn’t exactly the Big Apple, but Regan figured someone
inside could tell her how to find the dig at Juniper Basin.
She unbuckled her seatbelt and stepped out of the car.
A bow-legged mutt with a scruffy patchwork coat suddenly bounced
out from between two big rigs parked along the shoulder on
the opposite side of the highway. The dog crossed the road
at a trot, then made a wide detour around her before pausing
to christen both rear tires of the Corolla.
“Amen, buddy.” Smiling in grim amusement, Regan
filled her tank, then headed inside to pay.
The Oasis’s interior reeked of stale grease. An old-fashioned
jukebox blared eighties’ tunes at a deafening decibel
level. Worse yet, the moment Regan crossed the threshold, six
badass biker types glanced up from the pool table in the corner
to focus their X-ray vision on the front of her cami. None
of which carried any weight when balanced against the blessing
of air conditioning.
“Pump two.” She handed a twenty to the middle-aged
brunette at the cash register. “What’s the best
way to get to Juniper Basin?”
The cashier rang up the gas and counted back the change. “Never
heard of the place, but then, I’m from Reno. Haven’t
lived here long. Josh!” she called to a lanky teenager
who was bussing tables on the far side of the room.
“Yeah?” The kid stuffed a tip in the pocket of
his Wranglers with one hand while balancing a tray of dirty
dishes with the other.
“Lady here’s looking for directions to Juniper
The kid set his tray on an empty table and ambled across the
dining room to Regan’s side. “You looking for Mr.
“Too?” she said.
“His dig site’s become a regular tourist attraction
since it got all that media attention.” He shot her a
puzzled look, probably thinking she didn’t fit the profile.
Most tourists weren’t stupid enough to set off across
the desert in silk suits and stilettos.
“Charles Cunningham Nash and I have business to discuss,” she
said. “He gave me directions to Juniper Basin,”—which
was a lie of the big, fat, you’re-going-to-hell variety—“but
I got turned around. Could you help me, Josh? I’d really
appreciate it.” She gave him her best pleading, doe-eyed
He turned three shades of pink. She half expected him to scrape
the toe of one boot across the tiles and mutter “aw,
shucks.” Instead he shot her a shy smile. “Yes,
ma’am,” he said.
Ma’am? Since when did thirty-three qualify
a woman for ma’amhood?
“Take the first gravel road to the left just past the
church and follow it to hell and gone,” he said, “until
you come to Calliope Rock, a formation that looks like a big
pipe organ. Little dirt track there cuts off to the right along
the river bank. The dig’s about a mile in. Can’t
miss it. Just look for all the tents lined up along the edge
of the basin.”
Lightbulb moment. Juniper Basin wasn’t a town. It was
an actual basin.
So much for MapQuest.
“Be careful if you’re headed out that way, though.
Road’s full of ruts and potholes. Easy to get high-centered.
You don’t want to end up buzzard bait.” A faint
frown drove a line between his eyebrows. “In fact, if
I were you, I’d stay overnight here in Chisel Rock and
head for the dig site in the morning.”
“Don’t tell me. Your parents own the motel.”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“How long a drive are we talking about?” she asked.
“Half an hour. Forty-five minutes tops, only—”
“Thanks. You’ve been a big help.” She
treated him to fluttery eyelashes and a sultry smile. Ma’am
Regan moved her car around the side of the building, parking
under the neon palm trees. Then she headed inside again where
she lingered over a Coke, reluctant to go back out into the
heat. Twenty minutes ticked by. Finally, grabbing a six pack
of bottled water—buzzard bait was so not a good
look on her—she settled her bill.
She emerged from the air-conditioned interior to find that
the sun had dropped behind the mountains, leaving the town
swathed in gray twilight. She’d assumed she had a couple
hours of daylight left to find Nash’s camp, but she hadn’t
factored in the brevity of the desert dusk.
She brushed past the bikers, who, having abandoned the pool
table, now loitered under the awning that shaded the front
of the building. Ignoring their lewd suggestions and mocking
laughter, she hurried to her car. What had sounded relatively
straightforward in daylight now seemed a lot trickier. Would
she be able to find her way in the dark? Maybe Josh’s
suggestion about staying the night here in Chisel Rock wasn’t
such a bad one after all. So she’d miss her flight home
tomorrow morning. Big deal. She could always reschedule.
Juggling her water and purse in one hand, she fumbled for
the car keys.
A breeze stirred the rapidly cooling air, carrying with it
a musky male scent.
Regan spun around to find that one of the bikers had followed
her. He crowded close, backing her against the Toyota. Taller
than average and muscular with dark eyes, dark hair, heavy
beard stubble, and an all-too-lifelike snake tattoo coiled
around one arm, he was dressed in fatigues and a grubby wife
beater. “Need some help, blondie?”
“No, thanks,” she said, feigning a calm she was
far from feeling. “I’m fine.”
He grinned. “Yeah. Yeah, you are.” He grabbed
her chin and tilted her face up to his. Their gazes locked.
His grin faded, and the color leached from his face. “Katie?”
He released her chin. His hand was trembling. “How?” he
demanded, his voice husky with emotion. “I don’t
Neither did Regan. “Look, I—”
Despite the heat, gooseflesh rose along her arms. “I’m
not dead, and my name’s not Katie. You must be confusing
me with someone else.”
“I know you blame me for what happened, but if it hadn’t
been for Nash...” His shell-shocked expression vanished,
replaced by suspicion. “He’s behind this, isn’t
he?” No mistaking the menace in his voice.
Okay. Not just a scary, tattooed biker. A scary, tattooed psycho biker.
Regan’s heart threatened to jackhammer its way past her
ribcage, but she kept her voice calm and steady. “I have
no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t know how he managed it, but he brought
you back, didn’t he? What’s the plan? What’s
he up to?”
“I really don’t have any answers.” Regan
spoke evenly, willing him to believe her. “I’m—”
“The hair threw me at first, but hair color’s
easy enough to change. Only...” He scowled. “Your
eyes are wrong.”
“You aren’t Katie.”
“I never said I was. You’re the one—”
He narrowed his eyes to black slits. “What the hell
is going on?”
Good question. “Look, I don’t know what your problem
is, but I don’t have time for—”
He clamped one big hand around her upper arm and pulled her
close. “You’re playing dumb, but I heard you ask
for directions to Juniper Basin.” He spoke just above
a whisper. “Tell me, if you’re not in cahoots with
Nash, then why the hell are you headed out to his dig site?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your concern.”
“Don’t you now?” His mouth smiled, but his
eyes didn’t as he leaned closer, trailing his fingertips
down her cheek, brushing a thumb across her lower lip.
Her panic bubbled over, escaping as a scream.
He laughed. “Yell all you want, blondie. Juke box is
amped up so loud they can’t hear you inside, and my boys
are the only ones out here. Sad to say, they’re not much
for rescuing damsels in distress.”
“Harper!” one of the other bikers called. “You
“I’m good,” he said.
“So you claim.” The gang’s raucous
laughter ebbed away as they moved from the entrance.
Somewhere beyond Regan’s line of sight, the Harleys
rumbled to life, reminding her of the obligatory chick dismemberment
scene from every cheesy biker film she’d ever seen. Please, God,
don’t let me die a Hollywood cliché.
Harper grinned, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking,
as if her fear fueled his pleasure.
Desperate now, she used the hand still buried in the depths
of her bag to search unobtrusively for a weapon. Lip gloss?
No. Hairbrush? Maybe. Keys? Another maybe. Or... She jammed
the handle of the brush against the soft leather of her purse. “Take
your hand off me,” she warned.
The biker laughed. “Or what?”
“Or I’ll blow a hole through your chest.” She
pointed her fake gun at his breast bone.
Maybe it was just the light reflecting off the neon palm trees
or maybe the biker really did turn a little green around the
gills. Regan wasn’t positive. All she knew for sure was
that he released her arm.
“Now back off.”
He studied her, his face expressionless.
“What?” she said.
“I had this figured all wrong. Nash doesn’t know
you’re coming, does he? If he did, you wouldn’t
have had to ask for directions to the dig.”
She didn’t say anything.
“So what’s your angle, blondie?”
“I don’t have an angle.”
“Bullshit. Everyone’s got an angle.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t know Nash, either. If you did, you
wouldn’t try to scam him. You have no idea who you’re
dealing with, what he’s capable of. He’s not who
you think he is.”
“Thanks for the warning, but Mr. Nash isn’t my
problem at the moment. You are. So move.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Or you’ll shoot me? Go
ahead. Have at it.”
He was calling her bluff, and she had nothing. Worse, he knew
it. A feral glint sparked in the depths of his dark eyes. “Bzzz.
Sorry. You lose.”
This wasn’t a game, damn it. Anger triggered a spurt
of adrenaline. She dropped her purse and, wielding the six
pack with both hands, swung at his face.
But he was too fast for her. Capturing her wrists, he twisted
them up over her head. She lost her grip on the bottled water.
It bounced off the hood, then hit the pavement with a crack.
She jerked and kicked, desperate to free herself, but he slammed
her hard against the car, immobilizing her with his hips.
“Let me go!” Her breath sawed in and out.
“I don’t think so.” He grinned again. Then
slowly, deliberately, he ran one finger down her throat, lingering
on her racing pulse.
Oh, God. She shuddered.
He ducked his head, licking along the path his fingertip had
taken. “Spicy,” he murmured, making it sound obscene.
A door banged open to her left. Two of the kitchen staff,
one male, one female, emerged from a service entrance. Their
voices rose and fell in a good-natured squabble over whose
turn it was to clean the effing grease trap.
The biker clapped a hand across her mouth, smothering her
cry. A major miscalculation on his part.
She bit down hard enough to draw blood and elicit a yelp of
“Shit!” He snatched his hand away and stumbled
back a step, just far enough for her to deliver a knee to the
groin. He doubled up with a moan.
“Is there a problem?” the woman called.
“Get an ambulance,” Regan said. “This
poor man’s bleeding.”
“You’re making a mistake,” the biker croaked.
“Won’t be the first time.”
Back to Booklist | Order
it today | Watch the book