Maris, the only Mackenzie daughter, is magic. She's fey, almost psychic and can charm the wildest horse - as well as other dangerous animals, such as the undercover FBI agent who's hot on the trail of a killer, and in whose bed Maris lands.
The problem is, she was wanted for horse theft, but she was banged on the head and doesn't remember what happened or how she got there. With no memory, she had little chance of proving her innocence or eluding the villains behind the prize stallion's mysterious disappearance. Her only hope for salvation? The stranger in her bed.
Not all that long ago, the world was a much slower place. Generations of a family would be born, grow up, marry, set up their own homes, and all stay within the same neighborhood. It wasn't unusual for a house to be home to three generations at the same time. Babies were born in the same house where grandparents died, and there was a wonderful sense of continuity, of roots, that has gone by the wayside now as families scatter to the four corners of the earth.
But we still have that yearning for the safe place of our hearts, the center of the family, and Christmas is the perfect expression of that "Are you going home for Christmas?" is a phrase spoken thousands¡Xmillions¡Xof times as the holiday nears. People seldom live in the same house their entire lives now, but the house isn't the home; the family is. The family is the sanctuary, and people travel untold miles to reach it every year at that special time, the time of Christmas. I hope you reach your sanctuary, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Linda Howard Chapter One Her head hurt.
The pain thudded against the inside of her skull, pounded on her eyeballs. Her stomach stirred uneasily, as if awakened by all the commotion. "My head hurts." Maris Mackenzie voiced the complaint in a low, vaguely puzzled tone. She never had headaches; despite her delicate appearance, she possessed in full the Mackenzie iron constitution. The oddity of her condition was what had startled her into speaking aloud.
She didn't open her eyes, didn't bother to look at the dock. The alarm hadn't gone off, so it wasn't time to get up. Perhaps if she went back to sleep the headache would go away. "I'll get you some aspirin." Maris's eyes snapped open, and the movement made her head give a sickening throb.
The voice was male, but even more startling, it had been right beside her; so close, in fact, that the man had only murmured the words and still his warm breath had stirred against her ear. The bed shifted as he sat up.
There was a soft click as he turned on the bedside lamp, and the light exploded in her head. Quickly she squeezed her eyes shut again, but not before she saw a man's broad, strongly muscled, naked back, and a well-shaped head covered with short, thick dark hair.
Confused panic seized her. Where was she? Even more important, who was he? She wasn't in her bedroom; one glance had told her that. The bed beneath her was firm, comfortable, but not hers.
An exhaust fan whined to life when he turned on the bathroom light. She didn't risk opening her eyes again, but instead relied on her other senses to orient herself. A motel, then. That was it. And the strange whump-ing sound she had only now heard was the blower of the room's climate-control unit. She had slept in plenty of motels, but never before with a man. Why was she in a motel, anyway, instead of her own comfortable little house close by the stables? The only time she stayed in motels was when she was traveling to or from a job, and since she had settled in Kentucky a couple of years ago the only traveling she'd done had been when she went home to visit the family.
It was an effort to think. She couldn't come up with any reason at all why she was in a motel with a strange man.
Sharp disappointment filled her, temporarily piercing the fogginess in her brain. She had never slept around before, and she was disgusted with herself for having done so now, an episode she didn't remember with a man she didn't know.
She knew she should leave, but she couldn't seem to muster the energy it would take to jump out of bed and escape. Escape? She wondered fuzzily at the strange choice of word. She was free to leave any time she wanted...if she could only manage to move. Her body felt heavily relaxed, content to do nothing more than lie there. She needed to do something, she was certain, but she couldn't quite grasp what that something was. Even aside from the pain in her head, her mind felt fuzzy, and her thoughts were vague and drifting.
The mattress shifted again as he sat down beside her, this time on the side of the bed closest to the wall, away from the hurtful light. Carefully Maris risked opening her eyes just a little; perhaps it was because she was prepared for the pain, but the resultant throb seemed to have lessened. She squinted up at the big man, who sat so close to her that his body heat penetrated the sheet that covered her. He was facing her now; she could see more of him than just his back. Her eyes widened. It was him.
"Here you go," he said, handing the aspirin to her. His voice was a smooth, quiet baritone, and though she didn't think she'd ever spoken to him before, something about that voice was strangely familiar.
She fumbled the aspirin from his hand and popped them into her mouth, making a face at both the bitter taste of the pills and her own idiocy. Of course his voice was familiar! After all, she'd been in bed with him, so she supposed she had talked to him beforehand, even if she couldn't remember meeting him, or how she'd gotten here.
He held out a glass of water. Maris tried to prop herself up on her elbow to take it, but her head throbbed so violently that she sank back against the pillow, wincing with pain as she put her hand to her forehead. What was wrong with her? She was never sick, never clumsy. This sudden uncooperativeness of her own body was alarming.