Read Alaskan Heat Online

Authors: Pam Champagne

Tags: #Romantic Suspense

Alaskan Heat

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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Alaskan Heat
Copyright © 2009 by Pam Champagne
ISBN: 978-1-60504-465-1
Edited by Linda Ingmanson
Cover by Natalie Winters
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: March 2009
www.samhainpublishing.com
Alaskan Heat
Pam Champagne
Dedication
To Allen: Our Alaskan adventure is forever etched in my memory.
Chapter One
The smell of burning rubber irritated Sophie Branson’s nose as she rounded yet another hairpin curve. After driving down the side of this mountain every other day for the past two weeks, she handled the pickup carrying a Coachman camper like a pro. Tomorrow she’d make the three hundred mile return trip. At the bottom of the steep five mile grade sat a ramshackle garage that, coincidentally, offered brake repairs while you wait. Sophie chuckled. Whoever owned the place had business acumen since there was no competition on this section of the Alcan. The place had to be a gold mine.

The persistent ringing of her cell phone forced her to pull into the parking lot, and she chose a spot at the far end so the owners wouldn’t get all excited about raking in more money. If she had to make this trip for another week, she’d need new brakes. The pads must be wafer thin. The added weight of the camper sitting in the bed of her pickup didn’t help.

“Branson here.”

“What’s happening?”

“Nothing. I think we underestimated him, boss. My calculations could have been off. Perhaps he came onto the highway farther north. We’ve either missed him and he’s already in Alaska, or his luck ran out and he didn’t make it.”

At the long silence she pictured the red creeping into Stan Clement’s face like it always did when he was agitated. “The Canadian wilderness isn’t going to stop Joe Hawkins. I’d bet my wife on it.”

Sophie laughed. “Don’t let Berta hear you say that. You’re cranky, Stan. Sounds to me like you have a bad case of blind faith. What makes you so sure Hawk’s not as guilty as the higher ups say he is?”

“Because I know the man. Damn it, Sophie. I’m disappointed hearing you say that. I’m counting on your support.”

His words added extra weight to her already burdened shoulders. Why was he so sure of her cooperation? Had Stan discovered what had happened between her and Hawk last Christmas Eve? The mere thought got her squirming in her seat.

“Sophie? You still there?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll check in tomorrow. I’ve got to get a move on if I’m to reach my destination before dark.” She flipped the phone shut before he could ask more questions. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t come to terms with her feelings for Joe Hawkins. She’d been hot for him since she’d first laid eyes on him, yet her doubts about his innocence still nagged. The man was a loner, not a good team player at all. In spite of agent’s complaints in that area, they still respected him. Sophie’s own respect for Hawk had dwindled the night he’d left her sleeping in a hotel room without so much as a goodbye.

A quick glance in the rearview mirror brought a grimace. Maybe she’d opt for a cabin tonight instead of sleeping in the camper. A long, hot bath might be just what she needed to make her look human again.

Three hours later she hung a left into the Quick Fix country store parking lot. The same as every other day, she drove to the forest’s edge and backed into a space. Tomorrow she’d travel three hundred miles in the other direction. Not for the first time, she wondered at Stan’s warped perspective. With over a thousand miles of wilderness on this highway, how could he think Hawk would reach the highway in the three hundred miles she was watching? Stupid question. It was because her calculations had come up with it. But sheesh, talk about a proverbial needle in a haystack.

Anyone with a logical mind would realize that, even if she was right—and God knew it was a big if—Joe Hawkins wasn’t going to jump out of the woods and thumb a ride. Not when he was a wanted man.

She dragged her sore ass out of the cab, almost going to her knees when severe cramps attacked her legs. Her first official assignment in the field and so far she’d driven over forty-two-hundred miles without even a glimpse of her quarry. Despite the beauty in this part of the world, Sophie was ready for some pampering in a five star hotel.

Joe Hawkins ran through the woods, hoping to travel five more miles before stopping for the night. Abruptly, he skidded to a stop and listened to noises he’d not heard for two months. He shifted direction and jogged toward the sound of traffic. The wilderness trek was over. Now he could stop worrying about grizzlies and focus his energy on the two-legged animals who’d set him up for a fall and made him a fugitive.

Eyes and ears on high alert, he jogged toward the deepening pink hues of the western sky. He could no longer ignore the cold nights. Jeans, a denim shirt and the ratty camo hooded sweatshirt wouldn’t cut it much longer.

Straight ahead, bright headlights flashed through the forest opening. Hawk hit the ground, stifling a yelp as the aluminum canteen dug into his side. Staying low, he crept forward and rested a shoulder against the rough bark of a jack pine where he gaped in amazement at the lights of a small country store. After almost two months, he’d arrived at the Alaskan Highway. His interest peaked at the sight of a Ford F-250 toting a pickup camper parked not fifty feet from where he crouched.

A movement beside the truck grabbed his attention. A willowy woman did lunges in the parking lot. Next she stretched her arms overhead before bending to touch her toes, giving him the impression she’d been behind the wheel a long time. Shutting the door with her hip, she rubbed the back of her neck and jogged toward the store.

Hairs bristled on his arms. The long, lithe body tugged at his memory. Jesus. It couldn’t be! But he was almost certain it was. If her ass didn’t give her away, the curly red hair would have. Sophie Branson. What the fuck? Had the FBI tracked him here? Impossible!

Once she’d disappeared inside, Hawk dashed to the passenger door. He tried the handle. Unlocked in a silent invitation. Now he knew. This was no coincidence. Sophie expected him. But how?

He flung the door open and readied his weapon, expecting an agent to spring out, gun blazing.
Paranoid fool.
Could be they were in the camper. He should check. Instead, he climbed in and slouched in the hard bench seat to wait for Sophie’s return. As dangerous as it might be, he needed to know the FBI’s agenda, and who better to tell him than Agent Branson? Plus, if there were agents in the camper, he’d have some bargaining power.

The next ten minutes seemed to take at least an hour. What the hell was she doing in there? Two hunters ambled to the entrance and stepped aside as the rickety door swung open. The lady in question came into view. About damn time. Hawk hunkered farther down.

She balanced a cup of coffee and a bag in one hand while opening the door with the other. The overhead light flashed on. Other than a sharp intake of air, she appeared calm, her gaze steady on the gun pointed at her chest.

“Get in,” he growled.

A big smile lit her face. “Damn! It’s about time you got here. I like the Grizzly Adams look. It makes you sexier. Must be the beard.” She hoisted herself into the cab and shut the door. “Put the gun away. If you’d wanted to shoot me, I’d be dead.”

What the fuck was Sophie Branson doing here? He slipped the pistol into his sweatshirt pocket. Easy enough to get in a pinch.

Her bold gaze journeyed over his body before settling on his face. “I’ve spent two weeks driving three hundred miles a day on this road. Back and forth. You’d better be worth it.”

“I want to know what the Bureau’s up to. So spill it.”

Her smile vanished. “You’re in deep shit. Now’s not the time to piss me off. Not if you want my help, which, by the way, you’ll have to pay for.”

Hawk laughed. “Think a few months in the woods has killed my brain? You’re the last person I’d accept help from. Not to mention I’m out of cash at the moment.”

Her grin gave him the willies. What was that saying?
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?

“I’m not interested in your money,” she drawled. “You’re gonna finish what you started last Christmas Eve.”

He didn’t bother pretending ignorance. “Look, Sophie. What can I say? I was three sheets to the wind.” The words flowed from his mouth smooth as honey. Inside, his liver quivered and his crotch tightened at memories of her long, silken legs tangled with his under the cotton sheets. God! She’d been so hot. He’d pushed into her wet warmth and exploded like a sixteen-year-old with his first woman. And then passed out.

Sophie laughed without a pinch of humor. “And to rub salt in the wound, you crept out of the hotel room like a thief before dawn.”

Hawk bristled. “I’ve got more serious problems right now than worrying about your sexual dissatisfaction.”

“Is that right?” Her whisper held a hint of threat. “This can be a win-win situation, Hawk. I save your sorry ass and you give me what I want.”

He twisted to better see her. “Let me get this straight. This ain’t no coincidence. Somehow you tracked me down. Now you expect me to believe in return for your help all you want is sex?”

Sophie’s chin hiked up a few inches. “Not quite.”

“Ah. So there’s more to the story.”

“Well?” he prompted when she remained silent.

“Stan Clements is on your side. My instructions are to partner up with you…you know, watch your back. Stan knows where you’re going. He also figures Agents Blair and Reed know that too.

For a moment, Hawk was speechless. Stan thought he’d trust him? After being betrayed by two of the FBI’s finest? Had the world gone crazy while he’d been fending off wild animals?

He regarded Sophie for long moments. She might be bugged for all he knew. “If Stan believes in my innocence, why’d he send you? A green kid with no field experience?”

A flicker of anger came and went in her eyes. “I’d forgotten your blunt way of communicating.”

“Answer the question.”

She shrugged and looked away. “I don’t know. Perhaps because I expressed concern about your predicament. I knew you two were friends, so I approached him with the idea.”

Hawk wasn’t buying it. Not for a minute. But for the time being, he’d let it ride. If Sophie was here alone, he faced no immediate threat.

“Besides,” she drawled, her hurt obviously forgotten, “I had my reasons for finding you that had nothing to do with clearing your name.”

“Get real. The stakes are higher than your wounded libido. Both good guys and the bad ones want my hide. I’m exhausted, but I’m not stupid. More of the Bureau have their fingers in this pie than you and Stan. Admit it.”

She cocked her head. “How’d you get mixed up with the Canadian drug cartel? According to Blair and Reed—”

Rage surged to his head. He pounded the dash. “Those double-crossing sons-a-bitches? I suppose they’re having fun nailing me to the wall.”

Sophie sipped the coffee and handed him the cup. “Something like that. Not everyone believes what they’re saying. I don’t.”

His sharp gaze noticed that once again her eyes slid away from him when she spoke.

She opened the bag. “Hungry?”

He gulped the coffee more slowly. The hot liquid burned his throat and still tasted damn good. He pinned her to the seat with a look. Like a starving man, he grabbed the sandwich she offered. Hell, he
was
a starving man. “How’d you find me? Where are the others? The ones with the handcuffs and chains?”

Her eyebrows rose. “Your only choice is to trust me.”

Hawk forced himself to eat. As much as he wanted to stuff the entire ham and cheese sandwich in his mouth, he knew he’d make himself sick. “Fat chance. You’re a goody-two-shoes who’d never risk your job helping a wanted man unless forced to.”

He swallowed more coffee, his gaze never leaving hers. A surge of heat passed through him that had nothing to do with the hot drink. Hawk made it a point never to date colleagues or nice women. Sophie fell into both categories. For two years he’d pretended not to see the blatant interest in her eyes every time they passed in the hall or sat across the table from each other at department meetings. And he’d done a damn good job of steering clear of her until last year’s Christmas party. Damn Jose Cuervo.

“What?” he pressed. “No smart answer?”

“Stan and I are the only ones involved with trying to save your ass.”

“Right,” he scoffed. “I haven’t a clue what you have up your sleeve, but I’m not going down without a fight.”

“Give me what I want. In return, I’ll get you where you’re going.”

He brushed aside a tingle of fear. “And you’re sure you know where I’m headed?”

“Dan and Maria’s. Where else?”

Where else indeed? The whole Bureau knew he was a loner. Former agents, Dan and Maria Rowan were the only friends he’d made over the years. The food and coffee gave him energy, enabling his mind to shift into a higher gear. A loud thump came from the camper. Without hesitation, Hawk whipped the gun into view. “Get out. Now!” he barked when she made no move to obey.

After one long frigid glare, Sophie opened the door and slid to the ground.

Hawk jumped out and walked behind the camper.

Sophie came around the truck’s bumper at a run.

He gestured with his gun. “Is it locked?’

“No. But don’t—”

“Don’t what? Ruin your surprise?”

“I’m warning you…”

He turned the handle. “Hear that noise? That’s me shaking in my boots.” Hawk yanked the flimsy camper door open, prepared to face a pack of FBI agents. Instead, a black monster catapulted through the small entrance, hitting him full in the chest. Air whooshed from his lungs as he landed on his back in the hard packed dirt. A Rottweiler the size of a small bear straddled his body. Drawn back lips exposing teeth whiter than any toothpaste commercial loomed a little too close to his jugular vein. Sweat beaded on Hawk’s forehead.

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