Home > Prey (Linda Howard)(4)

Prey (Linda Howard)(4)
Author: Linda Howard, Abby Crayden

No doubt about it, if she’d been happily married at the time she’d have sold off the business and stayed in Billings, simply because she’d built a life there. When her personal life fell apart, though, she’d withdrawn so much that her friends had almost given up on her in exasperation. After moving back here and getting her feet under her again she’d mended those relationships—a woman always needed other women—but by then she’d fallen so in love with her way of life that dynamite couldn’t have blown her back into an office setting.

Thinking that she needed to send some e-mails when she got home, just to keep in touch, she opened the truck door and was about to climb into the cab when she abruptly remembered that she needed some nails and staples to repair fencing, which she might as well get now while she was right here at the hardware store and save herself a trip later. She also wanted to catch up on the community gossip, such as it was, with Evelyn French, the chatty half of the husband and wife team who owned the hardware store. Their son, Patrick, had been the only other kid her age in their little community, and all during their school years the Frenches and her dad had swapped out driving them to school in the nearest real town, forty miles away. Patrick was a cop now, in Spokane, married, with two ankle-biters of his own. Evelyn was crazy about her grandchildren, two little boys ages four and two, and always had time to relate the latest tales of what they’d said and done. She seemed to relish their mischief, as if she thought Patrick deserved everything they did. Remembering some of the things Patrick had gotten up to when they were growing up, Angie had to agree.

She closed the door she’d opened and trudged across the parking lot, watching her step as she went around a deep pothole—and when she lifted her head she saw him, the big man, the devil, Dare Callahan himself, coming straight at her from the parking area on the other side of the store, where his big black truck loomed like a shining, sinister metal monster.

Seeing him was too much. Angie’s heart gave a sudden hard thump, and the bottom dropped out of her stomach. Her reaction was completely automatic. She didn’t stop to think, didn’t give herself a pep talk, didn’t consider how it looked; she simply turned around and headed back to her own truck, muttering under her breath. She’d pick up the nails and staples when she got back from the guide trip; she wouldn’t have any time to work on the fencing until then, anyway. Running was cowardly, but at the same time she couldn’t nod at him and be polite, couldn’t pretend she hadn’t just up-ended her world because of him. Damn it, figures she’d run into him at the hardware store immediately after putting her place up for sale, an action he’d forced her into taking. Sometimes coincidence really sucked.


The deep bark, laden with anger, rolled across the space between them. Angie didn’t look back. She didn’t think he’d be talking to her—after all, for over two years she’d gone out of her way to avoid him if possible and barely grunt a hello if forced to acknowledge him—so she glanced around to see who he was talking to, because she hadn’t noticed anyone else nearby.

With a jolt she realized there wasn’t anyone else. He was talking to her.

Chapter Two

The fine gravel littering the pavement crunched under his boots as he strode toward her. Like his truck, his hat was black, and he wore it pulled low so the brim shadowed most of his face. Black hat equaled bad guy, right? She was good with that, because as far as she was concerned he was definitely the bad guy in her life—the bad guy who was coming at her like a steam locomotive. She grabbed for the door handle, then stopped, fighting her own impulses. She wasn’t afraid of him. She was uneasy around men, but it was her own faulty judgment she didn’t trust. Besides, just how cowardly could she let herself be before she lost all self-respect?

Evidently she’d just reached her own stopping point. Jumping in her truck and driving away was the best thing she could think of to do, especially if she flattened him on her way out of the parking lot, but, okay, she’d let him have his say about whatever had his shorts on fire. She might have lost their battle—hell, maybe even the whole damn war—but she could face him this one time, and afterward she’d never have to speak to him again, not even to be polite. Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she released the handle and stepped away from the truck, her insides like Jell-O but her outside revealing nothing of that, her whole posture that of a gunfighter facing an enemy in the middle of the street.

He bulled right into her space, stopping only when he was so close that the brim of his hat knocked against hers as he glared down at her; so close that, when she looked up, she could see the white striations in his deep blue eyes. Angie took a quick, automatic breath, then wished she hadn’t because the very air she drew in seemed to be filled with him, the scents of leather and coffee and denim, heated by his skin. A primitive sense of danger made the back of her neck prickle, sent chills running down her spine. Instinct screamed at her to back away, get out of touching distance, reclaim her sense of inviolate self that his nearness somehow threatened, but backing away now was one retreat too many on this day of all days, when her pride had already taken too much of a beating because of him.

She clenched her teeth, straightened her spine, and held her ground. “What do you want?” she asked curtly, and, by God, even if nothing else about her was steady, her voice was.

“I want to know what the hell’s the matter with you,” he growled, his voice so rough she had to fight to keep from flinching, as if it had actually scratched her. The words were even more guttural than she remembered. Before she could help herself she glanced at his throat, at the pale scar that slashed at a slight diagonal across the muscled column. Was his voice deteriorating, or did he sound as if he’d eaten ground glass simply because he was so pissed about something? She hoped he was pissed, hoped she’d inadvertently done something to make him so angry he could barely speak; if she could find out what it was she’d done, she’d go out of her way to do it again.

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