Her fifth husband, p.1

Her Fifth Husband?, page 1


Her Fifth Husband?

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Her Fifth Husband?

  Jake Gave Her A Look That Defied Interpretation.

  Placing baby, cradle and all on the coffee table, he turned to where she stood surrounded by an assortment of baby gear, plus her usual clutter.

  Sasha forgot to breathe. Was it only her imagination that made her feel as if every cell in her body turned his way, like a sunflower following the sun?

  All it took was the slightest encouragement and she was off on another fantasy, inventing a happy ending that wasn’t going to happen.

  Jake placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her into his arms. With her face against his hard, warm chest, she inhaled the scent that was pure Jake Smith.

  “Fair warning. I’m about to kiss you,” he said calmly.

  “Go ahead,” she said in a voice only an octave or so higher than normal. “I dare you.”

  Dear Reader,

  Welcome to another scintillating month of passionate reads. Silhouette Desire has a fabulous lineup of books, beginning with Society-Page Seduction by Maureen Child, the newest title in DYNASTIES: THE ASHTONS. You’ll love the surprises this dynamic family has in store for you…and each other. And welcome back New York Times bestselling author Joan Hohl, who returns to Desire with the long-awaited A Man Apart, the story of Mitch Grainger—a man we guarantee won’t be alone for long!

  The wonderful Dixie Browning concludes her DIVAS WHO DISH series with the highly provocative Her Fifth Husband? (Don’t you want to know what happened to grooms one through four?) Cait London is back with another title in her HEARTBREAKERS series, with Total Package. The wonderful Anna DePalo gives us an alpha male to die for, in Under the Tycoon’s Protection. And finally, we’re proud to introduce author Juliet Burns as she makes her publishing debut with High-Stakes Passion.

  Here’s hoping you enjoy all that Silhouette Desire has to offer you…this month and all the months to come!


  Melissa Jeglinski

  Senior Editor

  Silhouette Desire


  Her Fifth Husband?

  Books by Dixie Browning

  Silhouette Desire

  Shadow of Yesterday #68

  Image of Love #91

  The Hawk and the Honey #111

  Late Rising Moon #121

  Stormwatch #169

  The Tender Barbarian #188

  Matchmaker’s Moon #212

  A Bird in Hand #234

  In the Palm of Her Hand #264

  A Winter Woman #324

  There Once Was a Lover #337

  Fate Takes a Holiday #403

  Along Came Jones #427

  Thin Ice #474

  Beginner’s Luck #517

  Ships in the Night #541

  Twice in a Blue Moon #588

  Just Say Yes #637

  Not a Marrying Man #678

  Gus and the Nice Lady #691

  Best Man for the Job #720

  Hazards of the Heart #780

  Kane’s Way #801

  *Keegan’s Hunt #820

  *Lucy and the Stone #853

  *Two Hearts, Slightly Used #890

  †Alex and the Angel #949

  †The Beauty, the Beast and the Baby #985

  The Baby Notion #1011

  †Stryker’s Wife #1033

  Look What the Stork Brought #1111

  ‡The Passionate G-Man #1141

  ‡A Knight in Rusty Armor #1195

  Texas Millionaire #1232

  The Bride-in-Law #1251

  §A Bride for Jackson Powers #1273

  §The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom #1331

  More To Love #1372

  Rocky and the Senator’s Daughter #1399

  The Millionaire’s Pregnant Bride #1420

  **Beckett’s Cinderella #1453

  **Beckett’s Convenient Bride #1484

  Social Graces #1550

  Driven to Distraction #1568

  ††Her Passionate Plan B #1628

  ††Her Man Upstairs #1634

  ††Her Fifth Husband? #1641

  Silhouette Special Edition

  Finders Keepers #50

  Reach Out To Cherish #110

  Just Deserts #181

  Time and Tide #205

  By Any Other Name #228

  The Security Man #314

  Belonging #414

  Silhouette Romance

  Unreasonable Summer #12

  Tumbled Wall #38

  Chance Tomorrow #53

  Wren of Paradise #73

  East of Today #93

  Winter Blossom #113

  Renegade Player #142

  Island on the Hill #164

  Logic of the Heart #172

  Loving Rescue #191

  A Secret Valentine #203

  Practical Dreamer #221

  Visible Heart #275

  Journey to Quiet Waters #292

  The Love Thing #305

  First Things Last #323

  Something for Herself #381

  Reluctant Dreamer #460

  A Matter of Timing #527

  The Homing Instinct #747

  Cinderella’s Midnight Kiss #1450

  Silhouette Books

  Undertow 2003

  Home for the Holidays

  “Christmas Eve Reunion”

  Lone Star Country Club

  The Quiet Seduction

  Silhouette Christmas Stories 1987

  “Henry the Ninth”

  Spring Fancy 1994

  “Grace and the Law”

  World’s Most Eligible Bachelors

  ‡His Business, Her Baby


  has won numerous awards for both her paintings and her romances. A former newspaper columnist, she has written more than one hundred category romances. Browning is a native of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, an area that continues to provide endless inspiration.


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven


  Stealing a few moments from the job, Sasha lay back on the chaise longue, closed her eyes against the late-afternoon sun and savored the warm sea breeze that fluttered her georgette camisole. She might not have a regular salary, much less benefits, but this beat a desk in a cramped, windowless cubicle all to pieces.

  The sound of distant traffic merged with the nearby sound of the surf to become a soothing lullaby. “Five minutes,” she murmured.

  Five minutes and then she would jump up, finish checking off her list, think of anything she might have forgotten and then stop by another client’s new office complex to see how long before she could get started there.

  As an interior designer, her bread and butter consisted of professional suites—usually law, real estate or medical. Occasionally she did between-season patch jobs for rentals in the various beach communities along the northern Outer Banks, but her real love was having a brand new McMansion to do from scratch. Any budgetary limits only stimulated her creativity.

  She sighed in contentment. When the soft southeast breeze blew her hair across her face, she smoothed it back, still without opening her eyes. If she had the energy she would take off her shoes, but that would require sitting up and bending over to unfasten the ankle straps. She should have worn mules.

  “Vanity, thy name is Sasha,” she murmured. The trouble with pointy-toed, stiletto-heeled shoes was that they were so darned flattering she couldn’t not wear them, even knowing she’d be climbing up and down all these wretched stairs.
r />   She actually owned a few pairs of flats, though she seldom wore them. At home she went barefoot and wore shapeless tents, but anytime she went out in public she took pains to look her best in case she ran into a potential client. Her friends, knowing her background, called it the Cinderella syndrome.

  Sasha had never denied it. Underneath the careful makeup, the streaky cinnamon-tea hair and the fashionable outfits bought at end-of-the-year sales—not to mention the jewelry she adored—Sasha Combs Cassidy Boone Lasiter was still plain old Sally June Parrish, oldest daughter of a dirt-poor tobacco farmer turned preacher.

  At times like this, she almost wished she didn’t give a damn. She wondered if Cinderella’s feet had hurt in those miserable-looking glass slippers.

  “Relax, feet,” she murmured drowsily. “Once we get home you can let it all hang out, I promise.”

  The sun felt marvelous now that it had lost most of its midday heat. A natural redhead—sort of—Sasha freckled whether or not she wore foundation with a serious SPF.

  One more minute, she promised herself. After that she would go back inside and finish her check-off list. The cleaning crew had come and gone last week, but the place still reeked of cigarette smoke. Not only that but one of the bedspreads was rumpled, as if whoever had made it up had been interrupted before they could finish the job. King-size beds probably required a team to do the job right.

  Housekeeping, however, was not her responsibility. She had listed the items that needed replacing. Chair cushions, flatware and a few dishes that had probably been taken out on the beach and lost, one chair with a broken leg, a stained lampshade and two leather-topped bar stools that looked as if they’d been used as targets in a game of darts. Normally the owners would have handled it, but according to Katie McIver, who managed several cottages in the area, the owner of Driftwinds had called at the last minute and asked her to find someone else to bring the cottage up to standard for the upcoming season.

  Sasha had worked with Katie before. This was a peanuts job, but small jobs lead to larger ones and she was in no position to turn down any commission, no matter how small. In the case of the Jamison cottage, if the owners wanted their investment to pay off, Katie or someone needed to screen their clientele, if that was legally possible. The last tenants had waxed surfboards in one of the showers, leaving an unholy mess for the poor cleaning crew.

  Sasha massaged her temples, taking care not to involve her long, acrylic nails. The headache that had been threatening all day was getting closer to a reality. She’d counted on a few minutes of complete relaxation to take care of it, but so far it wasn’t working.

  One more minute, she promised herself. After that she would go back inside and finish making the rounds. She’d already noticed what looked like a red-wine stain on one of the bedspreads that the cleaners had missed. People who had everything—people who could afford to rent one of these million-dollar-plus rentals—too often valued nothing.

  Think peaceful thoughts, she willed silently. Think of bittersweet chocolate melting on your tongue. Alan Jackson singing softly in your ear. Nordstrom’s and a no-limit charge card.

  Here she was in a beachfront cottage—if a six-bedroom, seven-bath house complete with two hot tubs and a swimming pool could be called a cottage—and her blasted sinuses refused to allow her to enjoy it.

  She was still attempting to talk herself into relaxing before her headache got any worse when a shadow passed over her. Without opening her eyes, she frowned. A shadow of what? According to Katie, this entire row of cottages was empty until Memorial Day weekend.

  Opening her eyes, she blinked against the late-afternoon sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, not even a vapor trail. Yet even with her eyes closed, she could’ve sworn a shadow had just passed over her.

  Probably a pelican, she thought, and relaxed again. Sasha hadn’t grown up in this part of the state, but she did know that long before the developers had taken possession, these dunes had belonged to sea birds, sand fiddlers, a few hardy fishing families and a herd of wild ponies.

  Sighing, she let her eyes drift shut again, conscious now of the reddish-brown color of sunlight seen through mauve-shadowed eyelids. She was almost asleep when it happened again. Reddish-brown briefly turned dull black and then back again. Warily, she opened her eyes, lifted her head and looked around.

  Nothing moved. Not even a mosquito.

  More curious than afraid, she tried an experiment, closing her eyes, she passed a hand over her face, just to be sure.

  There it was again—that momentary darkening. Something had definitely blocked the sun for one split second. A fast-moving airplane? Flight-seeing tours were common in the area, but usually not until the season got underway. Besides, unless it was a glider, she would have heard it.

  She struggled to sit up, because whatever it was, it wasn’t her imagination. There was simply nothing up there to cast a shadow. No birds, no planes—not even a flying superhero. Whatever it was that had passed between her and the sun was gone.

  And dammit, so was any chance of relaxing.

  She was still struggling to get up off the low chaise longue when she heard a soft thump and what sounded like a muffled exclamation. Pulses pounding, she glanced over her shoulder. Sunlight reflected off the sliding-glass doors behind her, blocking her view of the interior. Logic told her that no one inside could have cast a shadow over the outer deck, but logic was the first victim when a woman was truly spooked.

  Had she locked the lower door when she’d let herself in? With her mind on so many things at once, details occasionally escaped her attention. Katie could have seen her car and dropped by to check on her progress. Maybe one of the cleaning crew had left something behind. Or maybe they hadn’t finished, which would explain the stained bedspread and the cigarette smell.

  But that still wouldn’t explain a shadow crossing over the upper deck.

  Gripping the sides of the low chaise, Sasha called out, “Dammit, who’s there?” Bracing her feet, she readied herself to dash inside and lock the sliding doors. “Listen, whoever you are, I’m tired, my feet hurt and I’ve got a killer headache. You don’t want to mess with me!”

  Okay, so she’d been reading a lot of thrillers lately—crime was a sad fact of life, even here in an oceanfront paradise. Like most of the upscale cottages, Driftwinds had a state-of-the art security system.

  Which she hadn’t bothered to re-arm….

  Well, shoot. She had the instructions written down somewhere—what numbers to punch in and how long to wait and what to do next. But she hadn’t planned on being here long today, so it simply hadn’t seemed worth the effort.

  Uneasiness gave way to alarm. Oh, God—what if she had to run for it? She wasn’t exactly one of the kick-ass heroines that were so popular now. As much as she abhorred exercise, she had to admit there were times when physical fitness came in handy.

  Crossing to the nearby wooden rail, she peered down at the paved parking below. The only car there was her own red convertible.

  So it wasn’t Katie, and it wasn’t one of the cleaning crew. Warily, she glanced over her shoulder toward the outside stairs, half expecting to see someone step out onto the upper deck. The lack of logic didn’t bother her—she’d figure out later how someone downstairs could cast a shadow upstairs.

  What was it everyone said? Get real?

  Real fact number one: a work crew armed with pneumatic hammers had invaded her skull.

  Real fact number two: she’d just finished her period, so her hormones were probably involved, too. Which didn’t help matters.

  Real fact number three: she had probably imagined the whole thing.

  Sighing heavily—again—she turned to go inside. That’s when she saw the figure silhouetted against the sunset on the upper deck of the cottage next door. The cottage that was supposed to be empty.

  They stared at each other across the fifty or so feet of beach sand that separated the two elaborate cottages. He was holding something in his h
and—something that was aimed directly at her.

  A gun?

  She swallowed hard and forgot to breathe. It was impossible to tell what it was from this distance. The only gun she’d ever met up close and personal was the old .410 her father used to use for squirrel-and rabbit-hunting.

  The thing she was staring at now was small and squarish. Actually, it looked more like some kind of a camera than a gun, but then, there were all sorts of weird weapons in use these days. Tapers—tasters—something like that.

  Common sense—admittedly not her greatest strength—said that if he’d meant her any harm, he would have made his move when she’d been lying there half-asleep and helpless. He was probably just taking pictures for one of the rental agencies. She would never even have noticed him if his shadow hadn’t passed over her.

  Against the low-angled sun, she couldn’t make out his features, but his silhouette indicated broad shoulders that tapered to narrow hips before his body disappeared behind the deck railing. Before she could clamp down on it, her imagination supplied a few more details, and she turned away in disgust.

  “It has to be these flaming hormones,” she muttered. For all she knew he could be an escaped prisoner who’d spent the winter hiding out in a closed cottage, which was a whole lot more comfortable than hiding out in the mountains like Eric whatsisname, that guy who had eluded the FBI for about a dozen years. Only now that the season was about to get underway, he had to get out and find another hiding place. As for those shoulders, he’d probably developed them busting rocks on a chain gang. Maybe that thing he was holding was one of those gizmos that broke glass or read the combination on a wall safe, or—

  She simply had to stop reading so much romantic suspense!

  What was that old saying about the better part of valor? In the stress of the moment it escaped her, but right now the better part of valor was slipping inside where she’d left her purse and dialing 911 on her cell phone, just in case. Like any sensible woman, which she devoutly hoped she was, but secretly suspected she wasn’t, Sasha had the emergency number on speed dial.

  Pretending nonchalance, she crossed to the sliding doors, slipped inside and looked around frantically for her purse, breathlessly watching over her shoulder for someone to burst through the door.

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