Dark Fire (Best Of The Best Series)

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9780373482917: Dark Fire (Best Of The Best Series)

Ruthless Trace Rawlings had learned to take what he wanted, but when he is unexpectedly attracted to Cynthia Ryan--a woman he once regarded as a pampered princess--he learns the pleasures of passion. Reissue.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Lowell's many novels include ""New York Times"" bestsellers ""The Wrong Hostage"", ""The Color of Death"", and ""Die in Plain Sight"". ""Amber Beach"", ""Jade Island"", ""Pearl Cove"", and ""Midnight in Ruby Bayou"" were also instant ""New York Times"" bestsellers. Lowell has more than thirty million books in print. She lives in Washington with her husband, with whom she writes mystery novels under a pseudonym.

Las aclamadas novelas de suspenso de la autora Elizabeth Lowell incluyen varios bestsellers en la ""New York Times"". Lowell ha vendido ms de treinta millones de ejemplares. Vive con su esposo en Seattle, Washington y Sedona, Arizona, con quien escribe novelas de misterio bajo un seudnimo.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



Good work, Invers. It saves a lot of wear and tear on the hunter when the prey walks right into the trap, Trace thought sardonically as he watched the tall, raven-haired woman weaving through the smoky bar toward him.

At that moment Trace was ready to accept any break Lady Luck was passing out. He had left Invers less than twenty minutes before. No time to shower, shave, change clothes or do anything else in the way of recovery from the past six weeks of trying to keep J. Ivar Polanski, orchid collector extraordinaire, from killing himself or someone else while pursuing living baubles to adorn spoiled rich women such as the one crossing the crowded room right now.

Not that Cindy Ryan needed any decoration, Trace decided as she came a bit closer. The face-only photograph hadn't done her justice. She had the kind of figure that made a man...restless.

"Mr. Rawlings? I'm Cynthia Ryan."

The voice was a husky contralto that made every one of Trace's masculine nerve endings stir. His physical response irritated him. So instead of responding immediately, he sipped at the fine Scotch that the waitress had put in front of him a few moments earlier. Without saying a word he let the smoky, intimate taste of the liquor expand through him like a kiss from the kind of woman he had always wanted and never found. Only after the taste on his tongue had dissipated to a shimmering echo of heat did he look up.

At that moment Cindy found herself hoping she was mistaken and that this man was not Trace Rawlings. It was all she could do not to step backward when his cool green eyes focused on her. The man lounging at the small table with his long legs stretched in front of him wasn't what she had expected to hire. She couldn't believe that this man with his stained khaki bush clothes, scarred boots and a dark, three-day stubble on his heavy jaw, was the guide the American embassy had enthusiastically recommended that she hire. Could this be the bilingual backcountry genius who had no peer in Quito, Ecuador, or anywhere else up and down the South American Andes?

"Trace Rawlings?" Cindy repeated, knowing her voice was too husky, too skeptical, and unable to do anything about it. The man was frankly unnerving. He radiated the kind of relaxed, clearly undo-mesticated presence that people associated with cats stretched out in a patch of sunlight. Big cats. Black jaguars, for instance. Dangerously handsome, dangerously powerful, dangerously sleek, dangerously...dangerous. "That's me."

Trace's voice was a perfect match for his appearance. The resonances were deep, predatory and compelling. Nerve endings Cindy didn't know she had stirred and shivered in dark response.

"Do you have any identification?" Cindy asked finally, frowning as she looked Trace over once more.

Her opinion hadn't changed since her first glance at him. There was nothing reassuring about Trace Rawlings, and Cindy very much needed reassurance right now. Susan had been missing for ten days, and Susan, whatever her quirks, was not the type to vanish without leaving so much as a note for her friend.

Trace felt his irritation turn into a razor edge of anger at the dubious looks he kept getting from Big Eddy's snooty daughter. Coolly Trace gave Cindy precisely the kind of once-over she had just given him.

"ID?" he asked softly. "Sure thing." He turned and called to the bartender in machine-gun Spanish and instantly was answered in the same way. "Anything else?" Trace asked indifferently, reaching for the Scotch once more.

"I beg your pardon?"

Someday, you'll do just that, princess—and mean it, Trace thought with a surge of purely masculine emotion as he sipped the aromatic golden liquor. Snotty rich girls who go slumming in the wrong places tend to get men knifed in back alleys. And beneath that thought was another: God, if Cindy's partner is half as sexy, no wonder Raul wanted to sabotage the radio, lock all the doors and drop the keys into the nearest sacred well.

"You wanted ID. Paco vouched for me," Trace said carelessly. "We've known each other for years."

"But I don't understand Spanish."

Trace shrugged. "Tough taco, princess. It's the language of the day around here."

Cindy's black eyes narrowed. When Trace focused his attention once more on his Scotch, she fought a sudden, sharp struggle with her temper. Normally she would have been the first to find humor in the situation confronting her, but nothing was normal for her right now. She was tired, had a screaming headache from Quito's ten thousand feet of altitude and was worried about Susan.

In no way did Cindy feel like catering to the irrational male whims of a lean, dark, down-at-the-heels American who had gone native.

"Well, Tarzan, put this in your taco," Cindy drawled. "Invers at the embassy told me that a man called Trace Rawlings has been known to hire himself out...if the price is right. So I guess I'll just have to start naming figures. When the price is right, Trace Rawlings will stand up and be counted."

Only the fact that Cindy had been raised by a steamroller disguised as a father, and had an older brother whose temper was frankly formidable, gave her the courage not to turn and run when Trace looked up at her. There was a long silence while she returned him stare for glare.

Slowly Trace smiled.

Cindy felt tiny shivers chase up and down her spine. If she had believed she could outrun Trace, she would have sprinted for the door right then. But she knew she couldn't outrun him, so she didn't even try. Trace was acclimatized to Quito's staggering altitude, but lack of oxygen would bring her down before she had taken thirty steps. There was no choice for her now but to dig in right where she was and brazen it out the way she had always done with her father.

Besides, Susan was somewhere out in the wilds alone, and this was the wild man who could find her.

"One hundred dollars a day," Cindy said, her voice too husky, almost breathless.

Trace's cold green eyes looked Cindy over again in a very leisurely manner, admiring all the velvet curves and alluring shadows, noting with a kind of distant surprise that she had made no effort to enhance or even to announce the feminine bounty beneath her clothes. The off-white suit she wore was loose and wrinkled. The belt around the waist of her pants could have been tightened several more notches without cutting into tender flesh. She wore flat sandals rather than heels, which would have emphasized the sway of her shapely hips. Her toenails were bare of polish. So were her fingers. If she wore makeup, it didn't show in the bar's dim light.

Maybe that's why Big Eddy keeps picking out men for her—she's so rich she's never bothered to learn all the little tricks and traps poor girls use to get men interested.

"Two hundred."

Trace flicked another disparaging glance over Cindy and went back to his Scotch. The most important thing I'll teach her is that there are some things money can't buy—and Trace Rawlings is right at the top of the list.

"Three hundred."

Angrily Trace wished that he had told Invers to go spit up a rope. But Trace hadn't been that smart. Instead he had promised to keep an eye on Big Eddy's obviously spoiled daughter. In order to do that Trace had to appear to be hired by her...which meant she would think she had bought him.

Combat pay. And I'll earn every nickel of it.

Trace shrugged again. His pride could take it. He had suffered far worse blows and survived. And he owed Invers.

"Four hundred."

Trace stretched, bringing his long arms and large hands high over his head. Cindy measured his size and length and realized with a sudden curious weakness in her knees that she was within his reach.

"Five hundred," she said in a rush.

"Princess, you just hired yourself a guide."

Cindy looked at Trace and wondered how Red Riding Hood would have felt if she had hired the Big Bad Wolf to guide her through the terrors and traps of the forest.

She would have felt the way I do now. Scared!

"All right." Cindy took a deep breath, telling herself she was relieved to have hired a guide, wishing she believed it. "My friend and business partner, Susan Parker, came to Quito to buy native weavings. But she doesn't speak Spanish so she has a native buyer who meets her in Quito and turns over all the cloth from the various native villages on his circuit. You see, we have clothing boutiques on both coasts of the U.S., and Susan is a designer, and we...never mind, that's not important," Cindy said, realizing that she was babbling but unable to stop completely. Trace was too unnerving. She wanted to run but she couldn't, so the next best thing was to finish hiring the jungle cat, find Susan and get the hell away from those disdainful green eyes.

"Susan arrived in Quito ten days ago," Cindy said quickly. "Pedro, the native buyer, didn't show up. She called me and said she was going to check the villages on Pedro's circuit. That was ten days ago. I haven't heard from her since. She hasn't checked out of the hotel, but she hasn't been in her room since she asked directions to the bus. The clerk wrote them for her in phonetic Spanish so she could say them correctly."

Trace reached for the Scotch. "Bus? Phonetic Spanish?"

"She doesn't drive or speak Spanish. She was born in Manhattan."

Trace grunted. "Let me see if I have this straight." He finished off the Scotch and looked at Cindy with heavy-lidded eyes. "Your friend doesn't speak Spanish, doesn't drive and is somewhere out in the boondocks looking for a native known to her only as 'Pedro.'"

Scarlet stained Cindy's cheekbones. Put that way it made Susan sound as though she had the IQ of a toothbrush. That wasn't the case.

"I assure you, Mr. Rawlings, Susan is an accomplished traveler. She speaks neither Arabic nor Chinese, yet she has traveled extensively—and alone—in the Middle East and China."

Trace grunted. "Then why are you worried about her?"

"She always leaves me an itinerary. When that isn't possible she calls every few days. Never less than once a week. It has been ten days since her last call."

"Maybe she found Pedro or some other native and holed up with him for a little slap and tickle." Trace let his glance rove over Cindy's body again. "It happens, you know."

"Not to me," Cindy retorted instantly.

"But you're not the one who's lost, are you?"

"Mr. Rawlings—"

"Yes, Cindy?" he interrupted.

The casual use of her first name didn't escape Cindy. Trace was flatly stating that he was in control of the situation and she was not.

"For five hundred dollars a day I expect a little less insolence, Trace."

"Say it again, princess," he murmured.

"What?" she said scathingly. "Your name?"

"No. Insolence. You put just the right amount of nose into it," Trace added, brushing the nail of his index finger beneath his nose in a mocking gesture. "You learned that at a fancy finishing school, I'll bet. Pity they didn't teach you something useful, like good manners."

Cindy felt another wash of heat over her cheekbones and made a desperate attempt to get a grip on her fraying self-control. She told herself she was feeling emotional because of the altitude, the worry, the lack of sleep...anything but the fact that she hated seeing masculine disdain in Trace's cold green eyes. She closed her own eyes, hoping that the stabbing, screaming pain of her headache would be calmed by darkness.

No such luck.

"Mr. Rawlings, I don't have the time or energy to play word games with you." Cindy opened her eyes. "My friend is missing. I was told you were the best man to find her. I have met your price. Could we just get on with it?"

"Oh, you've got plenty of time to play games," Trace said, signaling for another drink. Against his better judgment he used his right foot to shove out a chair for Cindy. "Sit down before you fall down."

Trace spoke over Cindy's shoulder to the waitress, who was approaching with his Scotch.

Cindy understood just enough of the Spanish to be irritated by what he had ordered for her.

"I'm old enough to drink," she said.

"Dumb enough, too, I'll bet."

"Is that the voice of experience speaking?" she asked, looking pointedly at the Scotch Trace had just picked up.

"You'd better believe it, princess."

The whiplash of Trace's voice snapped Cindy's attention back to his face. Not for the first time she realized that he was not a man whose looks inspired a gentle glow of comfort in a woman. Without glancing away from Cindy's pale, strained expression, Trace raised his voice and called out again in rapid Spanish. Two more rounds of Scotch materialized with dazzling speed, accompanied by a warm bottle of Coke.

"Drink up," Trace said, gesturing to the liquor and simultaneously snagging the bottle of Coke in one big hand, taking it out of her reach.

Cindy looked warily at the Scotch. "Why?"

"Right now your head feels like someone buried a hatchet in it, your stomach has a sour disposition and walking across the room is like going up a flight of stairs. It's called altitude sickness. If you want to make it worse, have a shot or two of liquor. Have it on me. The sooner you drink, the sooner you'll know that I am experienced in this territory. You aren't. I may be a peon, but you need me, princess. The quicker you get that straight, the better off you'll be."

Cindy sat down and looked away from the junglegreen eyes staring at her, labeling her, dismissing her. The pain in her head doubled suddenly, making her breath catch. The airline flight attendant had warned the passengers that altitude sickness wasn't uncommon for the first few days in Quito. The best advice was to rest as much as possible, eat lightly, drink juices and take aspirin for the headache. If you didn't feel better after a few days, you were supposed to go to a lower elevation. And stay there.

Sighing, Cindy put her elbows on the table and massaged her temples. "Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Rawlings. I like my headache just the way it is. No additives necessary. So drink up. My treat." When the silence had stretched to the point of discomfort, she grimaced. "The first village on Susan's list was Popocaxtil. Do you know it?"

"Yes."

"How long will it take us to get there?" Cindy lifted her head and unflinchingly met Trace's green glance. "Don't try to talk me out of going with you. If Susan is hurt or needs help, I want to be there for her."

"Is she your sister?"

"No."

"Your lover?"

Cindy's jaw dropped. She tried to say something but no words came out.

It was Trace's turn to sigh. There went the obvious explanation for the fact that a woman who looked like Cindy—and was rich into the bargain—was neither married nor, if Invers were to be believed, interested in men at all.

"Women have been known to prefer women," Trace pointed out calmly.

"Having met you I'm beginning to understand why!" Cindy pushed the two shot glasses of Scotch away f...

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Lowell, Elizabeth
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Book Description Harlequin, 1988. Soft cover. Book Condition: New. Harlequin Reissue of Silhouette Desire #462 Contemporary Romance PAPERBACK 1991. (A) or NEW condition. No creasing on spine. No store stamps. Some tanning due to age. Bookseller Inventory # 10583

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Elizabeth Lowell
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