Read Driven to Distraction (Silhouette Desire S.) Online

Authors: Dixie Browning,Sheri Whitefeather

Tags: #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Bachelors, #Breast, #Historical, #Single parents, #Ranchers, #Widows - Montana, #Montana, #Widows, #Love stories

Driven to Distraction (Silhouette Desire S.)

Driven to Distraction (Silhouette Desire S.)
Dixie Browning Sheri Whitefeather
Silhouette Books (2004)
Tags:
Contemporary, General, Romance, Fiction, Bachelors, Breast, Historical, Single parents, Ranchers, Widows - Montana, Montana, Widows, Love stories
In-the-know columnist Maggie Riley had a mission
in mind: to write a scathing exposé about a scam artist at an overpriced
retreat. Seducing a woman out of house and home was a crime! But fate,
and a pair of ill-fitting shoes, landed her against the hard chest of
lawman Ben Hunter, who had his own ulterior motives. In such a confined
space, their previous agendas were long forgotten as they flashed hot,
sultry gazes at each other. Maggie couldn't resist Ben's brooding
eyes—not to mention how he filled a pair of jeans. Keeping their hands
to themselves was pure torture! Would stubborn pride stand in the way of
their blossoming love...and a lifetime of wicked fun?
Ben Fingered The Tendril Of Hair She Had Tucked Behind Her Ear.

“Your hair. I've identified three of the colors, but this one right here…I'm not quite sure. Burnt sienna, burnt umber, yellow okra—”

“Ochre,” Maggie corrected absently.

“Yeah, that's what I said.”

For one tingling moment Maggie's world narrowed to include only the man who was standing so close she could see the shards of gold in his whiskey-brown eyes, the iridescent gleam in his crow-black hair.

Without thinking, she reached up and touched his face. He caught her hand and held it against his skin. Heat sizzled between them. Just before he lowered his lips to hers, she heard him whisper, “This is crazy….”

Then there was no more talking, no more thinking, only feeling. And it felt so good, so right in the cool, fragrant morning air. She only wished she were taller so that everything would fit better. It occurred to her that if they were lying down, everything would fit perfectly.

 

Dear Reader,

Thanks so much for choosing Silhouette Desire—
the
destination for powerful, passionate and provocative love stories. Things start heating up this month with Katherine Garbera's
Sin City Wedding
, the next installment of our DYNASTIES: THE DANFORTHS series. An affair, a secret child, a quickie Las Vegas wedding…and that's just the beginning of this romantic tale.

Also this month we have the marvelous Dixie Browning with her steamy
Driven to Distraction
. Cathleen Galitz brings us another book in the TEXAS CATTLEMAN'S CLUB: THE STOLEN BABY series with
Pretending with the Playboy.
Susan Crosby's BEHIND CLOSED DOORS miniseries continues with the superhot
Private Indiscretions
. And Bronwyn Jameson takes us to Australia in
A Tempting Engagement.

Finally, welcome the fabulous Roxanne St. Claire to the Silhouette Desire family. We're positive you'll enjoy
Like a Hurricane
and will be wanting the other McGrath brothers' stories. We'll be bringing them to you in the months to come as well as stories from Beverly Barton, Ann Major and
New York Times
bestselling author Lisa Jackson. So keep coming back for more from Silhouette Desire.

More passion to you!

Melissa Jeglinski

Senior Editor

Silhouette Desire

DIXIE BROWNING
Driven to Distraction

Books by Dixie Browning

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Beckett's Birthright
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Lone Star Country Club

The Quiet Seduction

DIXIE BROWNING

is an award-winning painter and writer, mother and grandmother who has written nearly eighty contemporary romances. Dixie and her sister, Mary Williams, also write historical romances as Bronwyn Williams. Contact Dixie at www.dixiebrowning.com, or at P.O. Box 1389, Buxton, NC 27920.

To all the wonderful printmakers whose works
I've collected over the years. (And the artists whose
reproductions I own because I can't afford the originals.)

One

M
aggie Riley was nobody's victim. She knew all about situation awareness, having once interviewed a police officer for her column. For the past half hour or so the same dark green pickup truck had been behind her. Traffic had been unusually light all the way from Winston-Salem, but when she'd turned off the interstate onto the state road and the green truck had turned, too—and then it had followed her onto a glorified cowpath that led to her destination—well, she'd started to wonder. Maybe the driver just wanted to tell her that her license plate had fallen off or that a tire was going flat.

On the other hand, he might see her as a potential mugging victim, a woman driving alone. Of course there was always the possibility that he was headed for the same place she was. Peddler's Knob, in the
foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, site of the Perry Silver Watercolor Workshop. So far as she knew there was no law against artists driving big 4x4 muscle trucks with muddy license plates.

“So enough with the paranoia,” she muttered, watching as the dark truck pulled into the small parking lot.

She set the emergency brake and turned her attention to the three-story Victorian house where she would be living and studying for the next six days. A wedding cake of a house, it was riddled with turrets and cupolas, gingerbread and stained glass windows, not to mention a dozen fancy lightning rods.

“Beam me up, Scotty,” she murmured.

Two weeks ago when she'd mailed in the application, it had seemed like the perfect solution, even though Maggie knew as much about art as she did nuclear physics. Workshops were for learning, right? So maybe she would actually learn how to paint—not that it was a priority.

Now that it was too late—several hundred dollars too late—second thoughts were swarming thicker than fruitflies at a watermelon bust.

“On your mark, get set—go,” she said softly, eyeing the steep, badly graveled path that led to the house where she was scheduled to spend the next six days as an embedded journalist.

She did like the term embedded. It might be stretching it a bit, although she really was here on a covert mission. Never in a million years would she have thought of enrolling in a watercolor workshop if some smooth-talking jerk hadn't targeted her best
friend, who was not only gullible, but rich as chocolate mocha pie.

Leaning over, Maggie tied on her sandals. She knew better than to try to drive in three-inch platforms after getting one of them stuck between the brake pedal and the accelerator the first day she'd worn them.

With one last glance at the dark green truck again, she told herself that if the driver had been planning to do her bodily harm, he would hardly have waited until there were witnesses. All the same, she waited to see if he would approach her or drive off in a spray of gravel, or…

“Holy mackerel, would you look at that,” she murmured admiringly. Maggie had enjoyed thinking of herself as an embedded journalist, out to save her best friend from being left high and dry with a broken heart and an empty bank account.

The term embedded took on a whole new concept as she watched the long, lean figure wearing faded jeans, western boots and a shirt that barely stretched across his shoulders as he leaned back inside the cab. She had yet to see his face but from the waist down, he looked scrumptious. If this was an example of a male artist, no wonder Mary Rose had flipped out. And if this guy turned out to be Perry Silver, she was licked before she even got started.

Being an advice columnist, Maggie had heard tales that would curl the hair on a billiard ball. She'd tried to reason with her friend, to no avail. On the other hand, if this was the scoundrel in question, she could almost understand.

Thank goodness she was both experienced and
tough as old boots, because it looked as if she had her work cut out for her. Determination reconfirmed, she got out, stretched and began unloading her luggage, watching from the corner of her eye for the man to turn around so she could see his face. With any luck he'd be ugly as homemade sin.

The picture on the front of the Perry Silver Watercolor Workshop brochure had been of a tall, nice-looking fellow with a toothy smile and a French beret. According to Mary Rose, who had met him at an art exhibit her father had sponsored—the Dilyses were big on corporate sponsorships—he was every woman's dream come true. “Oh, Maggie, he took my hand and held it the longest time, while he stared right into my eyes without saying a word. I felt like the most beautiful woman in the world. Did I tell you his eyes are this brilliant shade of turquoise?” Mary Rose had said when she'd called that evening.

Sure they were. With a little help from Lens-Crafters.

“Oh, I wish you'd been there.” Maggie had declined the invitation using the excuse of having a column to write. “We talked and talked, and then when I had to leave to drive Daddy home, Perry took my hand and said I was the reason he'd been drawn to Winston-Salem, because his soul knew there was a kindred spirit waiting for him here.”

Maggie had snorted, but covered it with a cough.

“It was like—oh, how can I say it without you thinking I'm crazy? It was like we were lovers in another life and recognized each other instantly. That's the only way I can describe it.”

At that point Maggie's gag reflex had threatened.
Using all the tact at her command, she had tried to talk her friend down from cloud nine, but tact had failed and reasoning hadn't made a dent. She'd been about to leave when Mary Rose mentioned endowing a Perry Silver art scholarship at her alma mater. That was when Maggie had realized that quick action was called for.

Oh-oh, tall, dark and dangerous was finally looking her way. Maggie pretended not to be staring as she dragged her big suitcase from the trunk of her dusty hatchback. This job wasn't going to be quite the cinch she'd expected. The man was flat-out gorgeous.

“And you're flat-out dumb as dirt,” she muttered as she reached back inside for her art supplies.

Three cars over, the unknown hottie lifted out a small canvas bag and a large plastic shopping bag. Turning her way, he set them on the ground. Maggie caught her breath. Holy mackerel, if this
did
turn out to be Perry Silver it was no wonder Mary Rose had flipped out. He was
better
than handsome—although if her life depended on it, Maggie couldn't have explained what that meant—and words were her business.

“Need another hand?” he called across two sedans and a hardtop convertible. His voice matched his looks. Slow, sweet and gravelly.

“No, thanks,” she said airily.

She needed six hands, not three. As usual, she'd packed far too much, but she wasn't about to accept a favor from a stranger, not until she'd had a better chance to size him up. When it came to people, Maggie trusted her instincts, which was why she was here in the first place.

While she was still trying to prioritize the load, he strolled over to join her. “I think you do.”

She looked him square in the face, and was sorry she did. The guy flat-out took the breath right out of her lungs, he was that striking. A full head shorter than he was, Maggie managed to look down her nose at him. “I beg your pardon?” Haughty was hard to achieve when you were barely five foot four and a hundred and two pounds only after a big meal. “You're not…”

She started to ask if he were Perry Silver. She knew for a fact that publicity shots were usually heavily retouched, but this man's eyes were the color of clear amber—which also could be due to contact lenses. He was bareheaded, and according to Mary Rose, Perry Silver always wore a beret.

“He wears this beret, and honestly, Mag, he's the most romantic man I've ever seen outside of the movies. Think of a young Gregory Peck. He told me if Raphael had met me first, my portrait would be hanging in the Louvre today. Don't you think that's the sweetest thing you ever heard?”

“Miss?”

“What?” she snapped, jerking her thoughts back in line. He was leaning against her car, staring down into her open trunk, which was half-f of newspapers she kept forgetting to take to the recyclers and other junk she always carried in case of a road emergency. A short length of rope, a flashlight—she reminded herself to check the batteries—and a pair of the world's ugliest shoes.

“Like I said, if you need a hand, I happen to have a free one.”

“Then thank you, if you can carry that—” she pointed at her small, tapestry toilet case— “I can handle the rest.”

Ignoring her suggestion, he reached for her big suitcase, her computer case and the bundle of art supplies she'd bought at Wal-Mart, leaving her to bring her shoulder bag and her toilet case. She followed him up the hill, studying his lean backside in those jeans that were strategically worn in all the right places.

If he
did
turn out to be Perry Silver, then she might as well give up now and go home. No way could she change any woman's mind about this man, even if she caught him, figuratively speaking, with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Watch the gravel,” he warned.

“I'm watching.” She tore her gaze from his trim behind and scowled at the rocky, uneven path.

Maggie's idol was Farrah Fawcett, one of the original
Charlie's Angels.
Farrah had never once tripped during the entire series. Maggie knew, as she'd practically memorized the reruns.

Maggie Riley, advice columnist for the
Suburban Record
and investigative journalist-in-training, had tripped a few times. Actually, more than a few times, usually because her attention was elsewhere.

As it was now.

Aside from getting the goods on Perry Silver, she intended to take advantage of the opportunity to learn something about art. The
Suburban Record
didn't have an art critic, but that was not to say they couldn't use one.

Only in her most painfully honest moments did Maggie admit that her “Ask Miss Maggie” column,
like the
Record's
few others regular features, served mainly as fillers between ads, school news, meeting announcements and cents-off coupons.

On the other hand, even Woodward and Bernstein had had to start somewhere.

M. Riley, art critic.

Critic of art?

Too self-conscious. She'd settle for art critic.

“This place needs stair steps.” He had a dark molasses drawl. Southern, but not Carolina.

“Or an escalator,” Maggie said. His legs were roughly a mile longer than hers, even without those slant-heeled cowboy boots. He stopped to wait for her to catch up. “I guess you're here to learn how to paint, too,” she ventured. By now she was all but certain he wasn't Perry Silver. Mary Rose would have mentioned more than just his hands and his eyes.

All the same, she introduced herself. “I'm Maggie Riley. I guess we'll be…studying together for the next week.”

Several steps ahead of her, he glanced over his shoulder, throwing into relief a profile fit for a Roman coin. “Pleased to meet you, ma'am.”

Ma'am?
“I didn't catch your name?”

“Ben Hunter. You ready to tackle the last stretch?”

Maggie looked at the last stretch of badly graveled path. “I guess.” She was readier for that than she was for her first art lesson. The brochure had described the scenic splendor, which they'd probably be asked to paint. She glanced suspiciously at the misty mountains, the dense forest and the blooming rhododendron. No big deal, she told herself with faux bravado. Splash of blue, splash of green, maybe a
streak of pink, and she'd call whatever she created abstract. Who could argue with that? Art was in the eye of the beholder, hadn't somebody famous said that?

Looking ahead, she sized up the group on the porch as she panted up the last few yards. She wasn't particularly surprised to see mostly women. The trouble was, most of them appeared to be middle–aged or older. The only one who looked anywhere near Maggie's age was the blonde in the bandanna bra, but she'd be perfect as bait if Maggie could convince her to cooperate.

It would all work out somehow, she assured herself. She would
make
it work. Mary Rose might be as gullible as a newborn calf, but Maggie wasn't about to be taken in by any smooth-talking leech with turquoise eyes, sensitive hands and a line that would gag an alligator.

Or by a cowboy with whiskey-colored eyes, come to that.

“You okay?” the whiskey-eyed cowboy asked. He paused to wait for her near the rusty wrought iron gate that was half-buried under a jungle of trumpet vine and honeysuckle.

To avoid looking directly at him, Maggie stared up at the house, which appeared to be somewhat shabby up close. “I'm fine,” she assured him just as her foot slipped on the gravel.

She staggered, flailed her arms, dropped her toilet kit and managed to regain her balance before tall, dark and devastating could lay a hand on her. When it came to recoveries, she'd had plenty of practice. Graceful, she wasn't.

“It's this darned gravel,” she complained. Hopping on her right foot, she ran a finger between her left shoe and her bare foot to dislodge whatever had stuck there.

“Here, let me help,” Ben Hunter said, and before she could stop him, he took her foot in his hand and eased a finger between her sole and the platform. “Got it,” he said, brushing out a bit of pea gravel.

Clinging to the vine-covered gate for balance, Maggie thought, talk about getting off on the wrong foot!

Before she could catch her breath to thank him, he picked up her bags and set out again, leaving her to follow…or not. She watched as he climbed the steps, strode across to the front door and disappeared inside the house with her luggage.

“Who put a burr under your saddle?” she muttered. He'd been the one to offer his help, she hadn't asked him to grab her ankle and run his hands all over her bare foot.

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