Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire
Janelle Taylor

April 2012 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-130-2

Her world is built on Happily Ever Afters. His world is built on a cynical distrust of fairytale romance. Will he prove that she's just another huckster selling fake dreams?

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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Her world is built on Happily Ever Afters. His world is built on a cynical distrust of fairytale romance. Will he prove that she’s just another huckster selling fake dreams?

Wealthy businessman Steven Winngate thinks bestselling novelist Kathleen "Brandy” Alexander is researching him for a book. When he finds her in the desert outside Las Vegas, lost and sick from the heat, he wonders if she’s pretending to be a stranded hiker—conning him just to score an introduction.

But Brandy is the real deal—honest, innocent and very distraught by her sudden dependence on the handsome blue-eyed stranger who rescued her. He says his name is Lance Reynolds, but that rings false. Soon she and "Lance” are circling each other amidst the glitter of Vegas, trying to break down the wall of mystery between them.

Passionate, intense, romantic and intriguing—this hot battle of the sexes will burn both sides.

Janelle Taylor has written more than fifty novels, with nine New York Timesbestsellers and sales in the millions. Bell Bridge Books is proud to publish her novel, VALLEY OF FIRE, for the first time in ebook. Visit her at


Coming soon!


Chapter One

Brandy’s shaky fingers mopped the continual beads of perspiration from her forehead and upper lip for seemingly the millionth time; an unnatural crimson flush was visible beneath her golden tan. Her respiration was labored and shallow; she hadn’t realized that oppressively high heat made it difficult to breathe and to remain alert. Her dark emerald eyes were glazed with a torment never before experienced, unspeakable fear glittering within their expressive depths. Tawny hair clung to Brandy’s moist neck and stuck to the edges of her face; her damp shirt and jeans were glued uncomfortably to her sleek body. For the first time in her life, Brandy Alexander was literally petrified, a feeling which played havoc with her normal self-assurance in handling a trying situation, a feeling which assailed her too often these days.

With nerves on edge, Brandy irrationally berated the reflective glare from the freshly washed hood of the rented Cadillac DeVille. She also fumed at the mechanic who had failed to notice the impending trouble spots which had led to the car’s breakdown, including the vital air conditioner. Without it, the black Caddy was like a brick oven, baking her flesh and roasting her brain.

To instill new hope into her rapidly vanishing spirits, Brandy cautioned herself against overdramatizing this strange and precarious situation. She should not allow herself to readily accept the dire fate which was nakedly glaring her in the face, much like a threatening stare from one of the deadly villains in her novels.

On the last weather report, the man had stated the temperature for Las Vegas was one hundred and eighteen degrees, but it seemed more like one hundred and fifty degrees in the scenic Valley of Fire where she was helplessly imprisoned in a steaming, useless vehicle. The heat was now unbearable, yet bear it she must if she wished to survive.

For the past four hours, Brandy had waited and prayed for help to arrive. Her patience and hope had run a race to see which one would give out first. From her vantage point, their perilous race had ended in a tie. The heat had steadily increased within Brandy’s expensive confines; yet, she had instinctively known the greater danger of abandoning the car and heading off down that winding, black-topped road that stretched out endlessly before her weary gaze like some deadly, sleeping viper that might awaken any minute and strike at her if she dared to tread upon its stygian back.

Brandy absently promised herself that in the future she would be reluctant to leave the cool protection of her rustic ranch house in the midst of summer. She sighed wistfully as she closed her eyes and envisioned the verdant cedars and the lofty pines with their heady odors and a backdrop of intoxicating blue, the sigh painful to her parched throat. It was easy to picture the massive white oaks and the slender willows which surrounded her home, along with the colorful goldenrods, bluebells, and the bluish-green of the Kentucky grasses dancing in a gentle breeze. Yet, for all of her creative ability, Brandy could not realistically imagine the cool, crisp breeze which stirred her long hair and clothes as she worked on her screened porch or as she walked barefoot in the surrounding fields and woods or waded in the swift-running brook near the house.

At the moment Brandy was too ensnared by this frightful dilemma to worry about her many problems, such as her future commitment to Devon Publishing Company, the assignment which had innocently placed her in this dangerous circumstance. She tried unsuccessfully to recall the name of the man who had suggested the Valley of Fire as the best location to research her new science-fiction novel. Even if Brandy could recall his name, how could she blame him for her accident? In the future, perhaps she should stick to writing romances, mysteries, and westerns; inexplicably, each science-fiction novel written had held uncanny surprises for her.

Brandy felt she could hold the Farley Rent-A-Car Agency responsible for the empty water container in the trunk, if not for the broken air conditioner and radiator hose. Ironically, the man at the rental company had been the very person to warn her against traveling into the desert without "at least one quart of water per person.” This predicament should certainly teach her to look out for her own interests and safety in the future, just as she had done in the past. It annoyed her to realize she had foolishly overlooked such a vital matter as her own preservation. Brandy pondered her sudden disappearance of courage, resolve, and stamina which had aided her successful writing career and her independent life-style.

Lately Brandy had permitted too many problems to interfere with her sound judgment and independence. For the life of her Brandy could not justify or rationalize her decision to rewrite her last historical romance novel to suit Webster Books. She had not needed that large advance, nor the sizable royalties from its following landslide sales. Perhaps that was the raw nerve. She had allowed herself to be talked into adding several explicit love scenes and a glorified murder to her original manuscript for Love’s Cruel Arrows, additions she had vainly argued against as being unnecessary to sales and as too vivid for taste. Plus, Brandy had fretted over offending the Sioux Indians with the harsh changes in several scenes.

But she had watched the novel climb to the heights of the bestseller lists and had even been approached for a movie sale. Even more irritating were the scriptwriter’s demands for more drastic changes, more detailed sex, and more gory violence. She had wanted the novel to stand on its own literary merits and to mirror American Indian history, not become a sensational insult to their noble heritage. How could she intelligently argue with what the public demanded from its writers and movie producers? Evidently it was true that an author could write her own book just to a certain point. Maybe that was the crux of her vexation: with the changes, it didn’t seem like her book anymore. Brandy wondered if the money and fame were all that important...

Brandy could still hear Casey’s final arguments: "Please listen to me, Brandy; you can write all day and toss those manuscripts into a desk drawer if you refuse to give the public what they demand. If they want sex, gore, and realism—close your eyes and let someone else type your final manuscript. What good is all the literary talent in the entire world if no one buys and reads your work? You don’t have any choice; the publishers and readers have certain demands which you must meet. When you finish this current science-fiction title, we’ll have to settle on the movie rights to Arrows. You know they’ll refuse its purchase without those specific changes. Think about it long and hard; they won’t wait forever for an answer.”

Who knows? Brandy thought now. Maybe Casey was right. Maybe she did have to furnish her public with juicy romances which left nothing to their imagination. After all, Casey Treavers was the best literary agent around, and they had been best friends for years. So far, Casey had never steered Brandy in a wrong or an unprofitable direction. Casey was more than competent. She was dependable, genial, trustworthy, and vivacious. Still, the taste of a sellout lingered in Brandy’s pleasingly shaped mouth.

Brandy perched herself sideways on the seat to avoid the full intensity of the sun’s rays and to catch any possible breeze which might pass through the car’s open doors. The escaping steam had long since ceased its climb into the torrid air. Once the sustained s sound had halted, she had been encompassed by total, eerie silence.

There had been no need to burn her fingers by lifting the hood; whether it was the radiator or simply an inexpensive hose, there was nothing she could do. For a woman who had been in sole control of her own life for so long, Brandy was distressed by her recent bouts of helplessness and defeat. It now seemed to her as if other people or novel events were stealing her confidence. Brandy couldn’t help but question if success was coming too easily these days. The challenge and love for writing still burned fiercely within her, but something was wrong. Brandy wasn’t as carefree and happy as she should be; she wanted more from life and from herself.

With all power gone from the motor, Brandy had not even been able to move the stalled car from its precarious position in the center of the narrow, winding road. To alert any possible motorist of danger, she had opened all the doors. Once it had sufficiently cooled, she had also lifted the hood, then the trunk. Having taken all conceivable safety precautions, Brandy had sat down to await assistance.

It had not taken long for her to become acutely aware of the intolerable heat. Nor had it taken but moments to discover the empty water container in the car’s roomy trunk. Numerous realities had quickly settled in on Brandy’s astute mind—there was no water available, even though Lake Mead was only miles away; there was no comforting shade other than the minute amount offered by the car; the highway was now deserted; and it was only midday, hours until release from the heat and glare.

The chartered bus tours had made their scenic trips to this particular location as near to sunrise as possible. Most vacationers came to Las Vegas to gamble or to be entertained by extravagant shows, not to tour a deserted wasteland over thirty miles from town. At midday, all intelligent people were surely within air-conditioned enclosures! With luck, new tourists would show up at sunset, hours from now...

Time had passed at a snail’s pace since her misfortune. At present Brandy was experiencing feelings of overwhelming solitude which were only natural for these harsh conditions. Leaf-green eyes scanned the rugged terrain which surrounded the car. In all honesty this portentous phenomenon of Mother Nature did provide the perfect panorama for Twilight over Venus. This site certainly did seem to be magically transplanted from another world.

Creosote bushes, naked yuccas, and assorted species of small cacti sparingly dotted the otherwise barren, hostile ground. There was not a single tree of any consequence within sight. The ground was covered by a mixture of rocks and gravel of varying sizes and in multiple shades of black and dull white. All except for those imposing dark red mountains surging upwards as if in brazen challenge to the heavens themselves.

This magnificent, uncanny range of peaks and valleys had given this site its more than accurate name. When the rising or setting sun touched those vermilion-colored hills, their surfaces burst into blazing life, as if angrily inflamed from the decades of battling the raw elements of wind, rain, and harsh temperatures. The alert eye could study the striated, pitted surfaces which attested to this merciless attack by the climate and elements, forces which had viciously lashed at their textures and fashioned them into weird or realistic shapes and images, an endless battle which had imbued this valley with an aura of mystery and haunting splendor.

Nervous laughter filled Brandy’s chest as strange images and illusions flickered through her susceptible mind. Upon first sighting this area, Brandy had been awestruck by its wild beauty and fascinated by its unearthly presentation. Those craggy surfaces of dehydrated and baked russet clay appeared to be the mischievous works of some playful, alien giant. The shapes and facades had instantly reminded Brandy of the mud-drippings she had made as a child from the red clay that was so abundant in the South. The dying sun fondled those rusty contours with fiery fingers and stirred them to flaming life as if the Phoenix itself were imprisoned within them, fiercely struggling to be reborn. Brandy had been compelled to return again today with her camera and more film in order to capture the Valley’s uncanny spell. Too, just standing in the midst of such sights created feelings of wonder and finiteness, and she needed to capture such moods and feelings on paper while experiencing them.

Feeling elated by this timely discovery of nature, she had not felt the slightest hesitation about returning here alone. She had always worked alone, denying the possibility of being influenced by another person’s reactions to sights and sounds which she was researching for an upcoming novel. Strange, it almost seemed as if she had been irresistibly drawn back to this valley one more time...

Being a science-fiction author as well as writing in other genres, Brandy chuckled as she contemplated strange mental tuggings to this valley as if by some alien force, as in a recent movie concerning alien encounters. If this was some unearthly test of her mettle or courage, she hoped it would soon terminate. Brandy instantly cautioned herself against such silly dramatics and her overactive imagination, for this situation was very real and very frightening.

Since Brandy refused to wear a watch she had no accurate way of knowing what hour it was. She was annoyed and surprised that the Caddy didn’t have a digital clock. However, judging from the sun’s position and the season, she reasoned it to be around five o’clock. This being Brandy’s first visit at this late hour, she had no way of knowing about the signs which warned against entering this secluded area too close to nightfall, nor could she know of the grounded helicopter which normally patrolled this area.

The heat and the lack of water had taken their toll upon her. By now, she had trouble concentrating upon the rapidly approaching sunset. In fact, she could not seem to think clearly or to focus her attention upon any mind-consuming idea. Brandy’s thoughts flitted from one idea to the next like an industrious honey bee darting from one fragrant flower to another in its avid search for nectar. Her head was light and dizzy as if she had hastily consumed too much champagne.

When Brandy attempted to wipe the moisture which gathered on her upper lip and forehead, she thought it strange to find her fingers numb and tingly. A curious limpness washed over her, making movement difficult. She fervently wished her heart and pulse would cease their violent race with each other. Brandy mutely ordered the imaginary bees to move away from her ears and to halt their incessant humming. She had written about death and torment countless times, but she had never contemplated her own death. Just before she lost consciousness, Brandy wondered why it was becoming so dark and dreamy. She wondered if she was indeed dying.

As Steven Winngate topped the steep hill within visual distance of the black Cadillac which was unexpectedly parked in the middle of the highway, his mind was on his upcoming meeting with the executives of the development company he was planning to invest in if his conclusions about an expensive resort in this promising area were correct. A man who usually had several business deals going at one time, Steven was evaluating a future deal while concentrating on an imminent one. He had assumed he had time to check out this area before heading to his dinner meeting concerning a new oil lease and refinery. Sighting the peril before him, Steven struggled to shift gears and to maintain control of his sleek and powerful Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He made an urgent attempt to brake his speed and to halt before crashing into that car. The smell of scorching rubber flew upwards into the infuriated man’s flaring nostrils. The ear-splitting screams of melting tires being eaten up by the hot, hungry pavement simultaneously pierced his ears.

Steven was relieved he had cautiously reduced his speed after topping that last hill on this snaking road. He gripped the clutch so hard that the knuckles on his left hand blanched white. His toes ached inside his expensive Nocona snakeskin boots as he rapidly shifted foot-gears and lowered his speed in a wild attempt to prevent his bike from leaving the blacktop road and helplessly tearing off across those cutting rocks, biting cacti, and devouring sands. Still, it would be better to risk the landscape than to collide with a parked car. Steven called upon all of his skill, determination, and brute strength to conquer this unexpected danger.

At last he brought his Harley-Davidson to a stop, within inches of the front bumper of the Cadillac. Unsuppressed fury and rapid breathing caused his nostrils to flare and his well-muscled body to stiffen. Steven angrily gritted his teeth as he jumped off of his motorcycle to challenge some idiot to a battle which might knock some sense into his stupid, reckless head. A booted foot kicked the park stand down so forcefully that he almost overturned his huge machine. Ocean blue eyes were stormy and threatening as Steven swaggered towards the open door, fists clenched tightly.

Steven assumed this predicament was some childish prank or an ignorant action since the car had obviously not been wrecked or parked on the almost nonexistent shoulder of the highway. He leaned his towering six-feet-four-inch frame over to peer inside the car. The irate man’s sole intent was to verbally, or possibly physically, attack its hare-brained occupant. Observing the eye-catching figure of what Steven considered to be a youthful female slumped over on the front seat, he cautioned himself to bring his volatile temper under some civil measure of control until he could analyze this puzzling situation which could have left him crippled.

"Miss? Are you sick?” his deep, resonant voice inquired. When there was no answer or movement, Steven lightly shook Brandy’s left shoulder and called out to her again. Still no reaction.

Steven walked around the car and approached the front seat from the right side. When the woman made no attempt to respond, he leaned forward and pulled her limp body out of the steaming vehicle. He gently laid her upon the loose dirt beside the road, knowing the pavement was still full of heat from the day’s sunning.

When Steven pushed wet amber hair from Brandy’s flushed face and viewed it for the first time, he unknowingly stared into her arresting features which were stunningly surrounded by clingy curls the shade of aged brandy. A pleased gaze appreciatively scanned unblemished, golden skin. Long, lush lashes fanned out on her moist cheeks. She had a pert nose which was neither too small nor too large. Steven lifted one lid to peer into a forest green eye with flecks of yellow, enchanting eyes which reminded him of an exotic jungle cat. For a man who was finding himself too bored and restless these days, this unexpected predicament stimulated his senses. If it was thrills or challenges he needed to enliven and tantalize him, this adventure certainly presented them.

The intrigued man gave free rein to his perceptive mind. Even though this enticing creature was darkly tanned to a golden honey shade, he could easily make out the rosy flush upon her exquisite cheekbones. Her mouth was wide and full with a heart like dip. Laughing sapphire eyes noted delicate creases around her mouth and eyes which hinted more at a sunny disposition rather than at marking her age, which he approximated at mid-twenties.

Being a handsome and wealthy bachelor who was incessantly pursued by females, Steven’s eyes leisurely slid over the stirring figure of this unknown challenge. He assessed Brandy to be around five-feet-five-inches tall, probably weighing in at around one hundred and fifteen pounds, wet. Brandy possessed a supple and firm body, giving the impression of vitality and discretion, qualities which appealed to him.

Brandy’s dark blue designer jeans boasted of a flat stomach and slender, shapely legs. Her tapered, poplin shirt with its bold hues of wildflower faces revealed her nicely rounded bustline. Brandy’s flushed, yet ashen, features and clammy clothes and body informed the alert Steven of a mistakenly impulsive nature which had gotten her into this predicament.

A capricious grin flickered across Steven’s face as he noted the white tennis shoes upon her feet. Somehow those snowy Adidas looked incongruous with her costly jeans and shirt, even more inconsistent with the expensive gold jewelry which she was wearing. He lifted her left hand to check out a nagging suspicion. There was no wedding band there, only an emerald and diamond dinner ring.

Steven shrugged his massive shoulders and decided this somewhat careless female was most appealing and nicely rounded in the right places. He lifted a smooth, graceful hand to check her rapid pulse, detecting the doughy feel of her flesh. He pulled her chest close to his alert ear to listen to her drumming heartbeat, enabling him to catch a whiff of a lingering fragrance which stirred his blood.

Steven noted the excessive dampness of her golden mane as he laid her head upon the ground. He was briefly baffled by her unconscious state. It didn’t appear she was visibly injured, and she certainly had not been involved in a wreck. It looked as if she had suddenly halted her car and had fallen over on the seat. He worried when he could not arouse her. If she was drunk, she didn’t give off any odor of liquor. If she was drugged, she had rashly overdone it. Feeling obligated to assist her, Steven berated her accidental intrusion into his tight schedule. He glanced at his watch. Fate couldn’t have chosen a worse moment to attack this beauty.

Steven walked over to the car to solve this mystery. It was only a few moments before he located the broken hose and the empty radiator. He wondered if she had been left behind by some companion who had gone for help or if she had been traveling alone; either action was dangerous. It was also clear she had either consumed all of her emergency water or she had left town without any: another stupid mistake. Steven scolded himself for his irrational interest in this maiden in distress; he had enough clingy and hungry females pursuing him at present.

Steven Winngate sighed heavily in rising annoyance. He couldn’t deny he was partially to blame for his troubles with the opposite sex. The problem was that he was weary of playing games with women who wanted more from him than he was willing to give or to sacrifice. A curious loneliness and restlessness were plaguing him these sultry days. He would admit he wanted a woman to share his life, one who loved and wanted Steve and not "The Steven Winngate.” If the missing facet to his life was a compatible woman, why was it so impossible to locate one? He certainly had a lengthy line of conquests behind him. Why was it so annoying to have women drawn to his looks, prestige, and wealth? A self-made man with what he had to offer couldn’t help but attract countless females. Now here was another feminine problem dumped into his lap and at a most inconvenient time.

A sensitive, strong-willed man like Steven Winngate couldn’t just ride off and leave a helpless female out here alone and ill. Obviously she was suffering from heat exhaustion. Her car was out of commission, and she was sinking fast. In addition, there could be another victim out there somewhere seeking help, but possibly needing it more than she did. It was approaching time for his meeting. There was no way he could meet both obligations if he didn’t get moving.

He cursed silently. There was only one humane choice; he would have to lay aside his business and pleasure to take this fetching, troublesome female back to Vegas to the hospital. She was vulnerable and beautiful... He grinned devilishly. Perhaps she might find some appropriate way to express her appreciation to him for saving her life.

With luck, he might locate a highway patrolman to hand her over to within the first few miles. Steven reached inside the car and pushed the gear into neutral, then forcefully rolled the car off the side of the highway and pulled on the emergency blinkers. Until the battery gave out, that would offer some hint of the vehicle’s hazardous location. The patrolman could send someone out to tow her car into town.

Just as a precautionary action, Steven gathered her possessions to lock them in the trunk of the Cadillac. He grinned as he picked up a pair of sporty, canvas sandals with a two-inch heel—shoes which were more harmonious with her obvious taste and status than the running shoes she was wearing. He noticed the camera and briefcase without placing any significance on either item. Steven casually flung her beige canvas shoulder bag into the trunk, without thinking to search it for her identity. However, his curiosity urged him to open the shimmering gold shopping bag which contained a size eight sensuous silk dress in muted shades of blue, green, and purple.

He closed the bag as images of how she would look in that stylish dress flickered in his mind, the fusion of shades perfect for her natural coloring. He slammed the trunk. Aware of the passage of time and his uncommon indecisiveness, Steven dropped the car key into his jeans pocket. He closed the car doors in order to remove the steady drain on the battery from the interior lights, energy the flashing lights would require.

As the towering man walked over to where Brandy lay, a new thought came into his already irritated mind. How could he carry an unconscious female back to town on his bike? Steven stalked over to glare down at her. Then he gathered her light body into his strong arms and headed for his bike.

Sturdy legs agilely straddled the motor in his jeans. He sat the girl before him, careful to keep her legs and ankles away from the hot engine and tailpipe. He placed her left leg across his right thigh and her right leg over his left thigh. He removed his yellow bandana which served to entrap his perspiration as well as dress up his western attire. He bound her hands together and slipped them over his head, allowing them to rest around his narrow and firm waist where not an ounce of excess flesh was permitted to exist. The span of his muscular chest and the measured reach of her bound arms brought their heated bodies into close contact. Steven reached backwards and placed her feet within the saddlebags on either side of the back wheel. Steven knew he had no choice but to toss the metal tops off the road. He would worry about replacing the covers later. It was more important to prevent her feet from flaying wildly in the wind. With her secured tightly to his powerful body and her feet prevented from any dangerous mischief, they were ready to move out.

For the first time, Steven realized he had not even removed his indigo helmet. Needless to say, his mind had been elsewhere since this adventure began. Suddenly aware of how this confining setup might appear to curious eyes along the way, he quickly struggled to unbutton his denim shirt. He certainly did not want to draw any unnecessary attention to either of them. Another intruding newspaper or magazine article about him didn’t sit well at all. He was weary of being publicly exploited. Even with his great wealth and power, he couldn’t always protect his privacy, but he damn well gave it his best shot. A lazy grin raced across his enticing features as he recalled how he had solved the invasion of his privacy by his most troublesome and persistent intruder...

During his attempt to remove his shirt, Steven became acutely aware of Brandy’s soft and curvaceous appeal. He grinned as he visually traced her multiple advantages, including a seductive figure, a mouth which invited searing kisses, exceptionally striking features which teased at a man’s dreams, and a dainty chin which offered a hint of youthful mischief. Her skin mutely enticed caressing; her carefree mane the color of ripe wheat compelled fingers to wander freely through it. The admiring gaze waxed serious. Steven’s frame grew taut as he caught his train of thought and recognized the discomforting strain upon his jeans. He demanded his logical mind to explain how an unconscious female could have such a potent effect on him. She was too attractive and compelling. No doubt she had broken quite a number of hearts. Women with such looks always used them without mercy!

He placed his denim shirt around her and secured the long sleeves behind his back. He blindly worked to hide her bound hands within its concealing folds. He sighed in relief, for now it would merely look as if she had fallen asleep or as if she was a totally unbridled spirit who was immodestly snuggling up to her lover! But what did he really care about the feelings and thoughts of total strangers? All that concerned him was his privacy and pride, and damn anyone who trampled on them.

The only problems he now faced were no helmet for her and the unknown length of her unconscious state. Of course it wouldn’t matter if the police halted him for this precarious riding position or for her missing helmet. He would gratefully hand her over to someone else. The real danger lay in her coming to. If she suddenly awoke and started fighting with him, they could both be thrown from his bike. Still, he had to chance her rescue and get on to his waiting appointment before those impatient executives headed for their private Lear jet at the airport. One would think men accustomed to waiting months for an oil well to come in would learn some patience.

Steven lowered his face shield and kicked back the park-stand. Finding the correct gear with his right foot, he switched on the ignition and gripped the clutch with his left hand. The roar of the engine brought a smile to his sensual lips. Nothing pleased Steven more than a smooth-running, efficient piece of machinery which belonged to him. He pulled on the light switch and eased the motorcycle around. He gradually increased the gas intake to the engine and eased off so smoothly that Brandy didn’t even shift an inch within his embrace, not that she could.

Along the snaking blacktop highway, Steven’s keen eyes continually scanned the darkened roadside for evidence of a possible companion. If this woman had been traveling with someone, her companion could have gone in the opposite direction towards Lake Mead. As soon as he came into contact with help, Steven would notify the authorities of this strange situation and of her abandoned car.

If one could be grateful for small favors, Steven was extremely pleased with the illuminating full moon which was climbing over the mountains. It was dark now, and the heat of the day had become less demanding. They journeyed for miles with the arid breeze nipping at their bodies. Soon, Steven was forced to halt the motorcycle in order to confine her tawny curls within her shirt to prevent their whipping into his line of vision and endangering their safety. He savored the feel of her hair as he imprisoned it.

As he steadied the bike with his strong legs, he berated himself for a stupid oversight. He reached around her and retrieved his water bottle. He forced the thin spout between her lips and then squeezed on the bottle. Most of the tepid water dribbled from the corners of her mouth, but he saw that she was instinctively swallowing some of the lukewarm water. He did this several times until she moaned softly and snuggled up to his hard chest as an injured child to a parent. A curious feeling of protectiveness washed over him, one which warmed him.

Even though the woman had not awakened, Steven knew he had helped her in a small way. He moistened her lips, then replaced his water bottle. He checked her confines and rested her damp face against his light blue, V-neck T-shirt. He unknowingly hugged her tightly. Insome mysterious way, he almost felt as if she now belonged to him for all time. Didn’t the Chinese have an old saying about if you saved a life you owned it? He eased off once again.

They had traveled for thirty-three miles before he spotted a patrol car just up ahead of them. Steven fed his engine more gas as he hastily attempted to catch up with the car which was beginning to pull away from them. He blinked his headlight time and time again to attract their attention. He pressed his horn with his right thumb. At last the officers seemed aware of his motives and slowed down. Finding a safe location, the patrol car eased off the side of the highway.

Steven pulled over as soon as he was even with them. He turned off his engine to be easily heard and understood. "I’ve got a problem for you. I found this girl in the Valley of Fire. I don’t know how long she’s been out. I was taking her to the hospital in town, but you fellows could do it faster. Her car’s abandoned beside the road back there—broken hose to the radiator. I left the lights on as a warning, but the battery will be drained pretty soon. I locked her things in the trunk. I’ve got the key in my pocket.”

Steven reached behind him and yanked the shirt from around their joint bodies. He ducked as he pulled her bound hands over his head. He lifted her feet from the metal saddlebags and let them hang free across his legs. Suspicious eyes observed both him and the captive girl.

"Here, take her. She’s your problem now. I’m already late for an important meeting as it is,” he stated impatiently, the rosy illusion over now and feeling a curious denial which he didn’t understand.

The Nevada patrolmen had slowly and cautiously gotten out of their car. Both men studied this arrogant man who was issuing orders like a commanding officer. This was a domineering man and an odd situation which demanded closer scrutiny.

"Not so fast, mister! Who is she? What’s your name?” the first officer questioned. He was a big, burly man who brooked no foolishness or intimidation, and positively didn’t like inexplicable events like this one.

"How should I know who she is? Never laid eyes on her till she nearly caused me to wreck my bike out there. I came over a hill, and there she was. Stalled right in the middle of the road. Dumb blondes! Since her car was out, I brought her along with me. For all I know, there might’ve been somebody with her. Seems crazy for a woman like this to be out there alone. I didn’t see anyone on my way in, but he could have headed towards Lake Mead—especially if he’s a stranger to these parts. Wouldn’t hurt to check it out,” he advised the two startled men.

"If you don’t mind, we’ll ask the questions,” the indignant officer tersely stated.

"Go right ahead, officer, but please make it snappy. As I said, I’m late for a meeting. This little vixen’s already been a load of trouble. I’d be delighted for you to take her off my hands.”

"You claim you don’t know who she is?” one officer skeptically asked. "You just happened on her out there?”

"That’s absolutely correct!” Steven snarled, aware of their doubts and his swiftly fleeing time.

"Where’s her purse, her driver’s license?” the second man joined in on the irritating interrogation.

"I told you before, I locked her things in the trunk of her car. I didn’t think about bringing her purse or ID. She looked in pretty bad shape, so I tossed her on my bike and headed out. I suggest you get her to the hospital in a hurry.”

Before the man could reply, Steven cunningly transferred his enticing burden into the second officer’s arms. The speechless bachelor gazed into her lovely face. He caught himself before whistling his appreciation of her beauty, but failed to conceal the hungry look within his wide eyes, an offensive reaction Steven didn’t like.

"Hold on here a minute. Who are you? How do we know you didn’t harm her in some way? Is she drunk? On drugs?” the first man queried, knowing how it would appear on his record if he allowed a criminal to slip through his fingers.

Steven sighed in annoyance and frustration. "I was only doing a good deed for some female in distress. I have no idea what’s wrong with her. I assumed it was heatstroke. I haven’t laid a finger on her except to help her,” he stated as politely as possible considering his turbulent state of mind and the officers’ subtle implications.

"Let me see your license,” the first officer demanded.

"Come on, now, I’m late,” Steven argued, reluctant to divulge his identity, knowing the media would find this episode amusing.

"The license,” the officer insisted, piqued by Steven’s smug manner and odd behavior. This muscular rogue wouldn’t be released until he was convinced of his claims.

Steven angrily withdrew his wallet and pulled out his card. He handed it to the offensive man who was delaying his progress now that he had completed his duty to mankind. He watched the officer’s eyes narrow with suspicion and flicker with alertness. The first man held it up for the other one to scan. The two men locked gazes following their intense study of the man before them and the card in the officer’s tight grip.

"Says here you’re Steven Winngate. Funny, you don’t look like no oil millionaire to me. Got any other proof of your identity? Did you steal this license from Mr. Winngate?” the man scoffed doubtfully, recognizing the name on the imprinted card.

"All the cards in my wallet carry the same name: mine. Just what is an oil man supposed to look like?” Steven snapped in rising aggravation at this ridiculous delay. How dare these men question him like a common criminal!

The second officer injected, "What’s she doing all tied up like this? You calling off some joke or kidnapping plot?”

"This is absurd!” Steven stormed. "I’ve never seen her before in my life. If I was guilty of some crime, would I simply ride up and hand her over to two policemen?” Steven didn’t realize that the first officer had just noticed the Colt .38 special wedged into his boot, the snub-nosed pistol he always carried for protection. He had removed it from the saddlebag to avoid it being bounced out of the open container.

Sighting the weapon, the first officer cautiously drew his gun, intimidated by the towering man before him, painfully recalling when Lieutenant Starnes recently lost his life when responding to an "officer needs help” call. He was also aware that his partner’s hands were full, while this man’s were now free. He leveled the .357 Magnum on the shocked Steven and softly warned, "Just take it easy until we can check out you and your wild story. Cliff, put the girl in the backseat. Be sure she’s really out. See if she has any weapons or ID on her. Then handcuff this man. His tale is a little curious to me. Steven Winngate, huh? After we leave her at the hospital, we’ll check out your ID.”

"You must be kidding!” Steven angrily exploded. "If you dare to arrest me, you’ll be making a terrible mistake. I told you, I’ve never seen her before tonight. I should’ve left her out there and called in her location from my hotel! As for her being tied up, how else could I hold her on the bike with me?” he growled, alerting the two men to his dangerous fury. Steven’s whirling mind was tallying the cost of this good deed; if he failed to show up within the next hour, he would lose an oil option which would cost him five hundred thousand dollars! No impulsive female was worth that much money. He suddenly wondered if he was being intentionally delayed; after all, the impending deal was worth millions.

"There ain’t no need for your smart mouth. If you’re telling the truth, you’ll be free to go in a little while. If not...” He allowed his silence and tone to slide out meaningfully, clearly doubting Steven’s words. The officer had concluded the stranger was much too tense to be trusted, but he didn’t mention the partially concealed weapon until his partner’s hands were free. Besides, what would a man like Winngate be doing riding a motorcycle in the middle of nowhere? Winngate was alleged to be one of the wealthiest men alive, a man who had a Midas touch where oil was involved.

They debated for a few more minutes as the second officer put Brandy in the backseat and lightly frisked her for hidden weapons. He pulled out his sharp knife and cut the bandana from her wrists. He stuffed it into his pocket, perhaps as evidence. He returned to his partner’s side to handcuff the reluctant, furious man.

Steven was outraged when the first officer ordered him to place his hands on top of his head, but complied when he realized how serious the man was. The officer then told his partner to take Steven’s weapon from his boot. Steven was firmly shoved against the car and frisked for other weapons, much to his astonishment and fury. "I have a permit for that gun!” he shouted angrily at this treatment. "It’s in my wallet.”

"Only if you’re really Winngate,” the officer sneered. "Cuff him.” With that, Steven Winngate was placed in handcuffs.

It didn’t help matters when Steven refused to explain his confidential trip into the Valley of Fire or his critical meeting tonight. He vowed to make these two bumbling officers—and the female who had inspired this trouble—rue this day.

The first man had to forcefully guide the hot-tempered Steven to the car and to shove him into the backseat with Brandy. Steven fumed when Brandy slumped against his shoulder. He mentally determined to make all three of these people pay for this humiliating invasion of his privacy and this unforgivable attack upon his masculine pride: all because he had played the Good Samaritan! Right now, Steven’s mental wrath was directed at the woman next to him.

The officer radioed ahead to the hospital to inform them of their arrival with a possible heatstroke victim. They also notified another patrol car to check out Steven’s story about her car and her accident. After asking Steven several questions, the officer fed his description and those answers over the radio to be checked out by the sergeant on duty.

By the time they reached the Las Vegas Hospital, both men were profusely apologizing to the impatient prisoner in the backseat. After turning Steven over to the hospital officials and answering their countless questions about her, Steven was driven back to his hotel. The second officer hopped out the moment the car halted to open the door for a surly Steven.

Both men pleaded forgiveness for their gross error in judgment. "Sorry, Mr. Winngate. We had no way of knowing you spoke the truth. Men like you ride around in fancy limousines with chauffeurs, not alone in the desert on some motorcycle. Can’t blame us for doubting your word. You were carrying a gun and acting mighty strange. If we can be of any assistance to you, don’t hesitate to call on us,” the first officer stated as he shifted nervously beneath Steven’s frigid glare.

Bringing his temper under reasonable control in order to extract a favor from these two men, he smiled genially and declared, "There is one favor you two can do for me. I would greatly appreciate it if you could record one Lance Reynolds as the man who rescued that damsel in distress this afternoon. A man can’t be too careful with his reputation and privacy. I wouldn’t like the media to get wind of this little fiasco. Do you follow my drift? Publicity? Golddiggers?”

"As far as the records go, Lance Reynolds assisted some stranger in the Valley of Fire this afternoon. You can bet me and my partner won’t mention your name to anybody. We’ll keep this little incident a secret between us. There’s a service bringing in her car right now. By midnight, we’ll know who she is and why she was out there. Appreciate your understanding, sir. I’ll have your bike delivered tomorrow,” he promised with a smile.

"Excellent. And if you gentlemen ever need a favor, don’t fail to contact me. In case you talk to that young lady, don’t reveal my real name to her either. I have enough females chasing after my money now,” he said with a lazy chuckle. He keenly noted the phony smile upon Cliff’s face and recalled how this officer had eyed the unconscious goddess.

The patrolmen returned to their car and pulled out. A well-dressed man rushed from the hotel lobby. Steven’s sapphire eyes locked on his longtime friend and business partner. It was obvious Brent was sorely distressed, but Brent was always uptight when so much money was involved.

"Where the hell have you been, Steve? I’ve been at my wit’s end to keep those men here until I could locate you! This deal’s too big to blow. We have exactly twenty minutes left on that option,” Brent Hartley said anxiously. He was the only man who dared to address Steven Winngate in such a bold manner.

Steven laughed before exclaiming, "If I told you, old buddy, you’d never believe it! Just call me Sir Lancelot in the future,” he playfully murmured as he headed into the plush hotel for the long-awaited meeting in his rented penthouse, thoughts of the lovely stranger lost for the present.


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