Read Rock Hard (Siren Publishing Classic) Online
Authors: Tatum Throne
Internal Affairs Agent Wynn South gets a rush from going undercover and taking down the bad guys within the Forest Service. Rock climbing high atop the Arrowhead, Wynn meets her elusive target, Ranger Kade Gentry, for the first time. Wynn must investigate Kade, who has been accused of drug running, to rule him out as the one behind the Appalachian pipeline.
Forbidden passions ignite when a powerful thunderstorm forces Wynn to face her greatest fear, the violence of nature. They take cover along the cliffs, and the only thing Kade is interested in is helping Wynn through her fear.
Wynn quickly discovers that Kade isn’t the man she suspects. Caught between her mission and passion, Wynn crosses the line. Wynn’s mission turns into a fiery affair that she knows she’ll have to end. As the lies build, Wynn knows she risks losing everything. Will she lose Kade, too, when he discovers the truth?
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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Erotic Romance
First E-book Publication: August 2012
Cover design by Jinger Heaston
All cover art and logo copyright © 2012 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
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by Tatum Throne from BookStrand.com or its official distributors, thank you. Also, thank you for not sharing your copy of this book.
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This book is copyrighted intellectual property. No other individual or group has resale rights, auction rights, membership rights, sharing rights, or any kind of rights to sell or to give away a copy of this book.
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This is Tatum Throne’s livelihood. It’s fair and simple. Please respect Ms. Throne’s right to earn a living from her work.
Amanda Hilton, Publisher
This book couldn’t have happened without the loving support of my husband, AJ whose love of rock climbing and bouldering inspired this work. Thank you for being my rock and my soft place to fall.
A very special thank you goes to Stephanie, for being there through everything! You are the best!
To one of my best friends, Kelly, for walking this road with me and going with me on all my research adventures. Love you!
Copyright © 2012
Browynn South could feel the searing heat of eyes on every curve of her body as she rock climbed.
A thrill danced over her skin. She was being watched. Was it her target?
Wynn was desperate to meet her elusive target. She had to make their first meeting a happy accident. To do that, she knew the US Forest Service would report her missing.
Undercover work often didn’t go as planned and left her feeling vulnerable to the elements. This time, she made a vow that work was going to be different. She was going to maintain control of the operation even if it spun out.
She rested, leaning back on her legs and her right arm to look out over the Red. High atop the gorge, she thought she caught sight of someone way off in the distance, but whatever play of shadows she saw was gone. She should’ve been utterly alone.
She knew she wasn’t.
Wynn felt exposed in all the right ways on the heated rock. She should be easy to find.
Red River Gorge was thick with Kentucky summer sunshine and hot on her backside. The sunlight was fading fast with a storm blowing in from the northwest. Thirty feet up the Arrowhead, Wynn was getting her ass spanked hard. She checked her progress. She had at least another thirty feet to go. Somewhere in the gorge, a woodpecker went after a tree with the zeal of a jackhammer. Pause. Jackhammer.
That wasn’t the only thing she heard. There again. Footsteps moving through the thick brush. She wanted it to be her target, but it was probably more climbers coming to the Arrowhead. Wynn looked down the tree line and caught sight of a man with dark hair heading her way.
She didn’t like the idea of investigating one of their own, but that was what she did as an internal affairs detective for the Forest Service.
She dipped her fingers into her blue chalk bag hanging off the nylon strap around her waist. Chalk dust caught in the wind and came back to sprinkle her pants. If she fell, there wouldn’t be a rope to catch her. That was the art and the rush of free climbing, of bouldering.
Wynn climbed on, and the toe of her climbing shoe skipped off the tiny wedge of rock she balanced on, sending both feet spiraling off the cliff. She cranked down hard with both hands as her body swung out and back to grip the rock.
The adrenaline pumping through her blood peaked. Her heart raced out of her chest from the near miss. Sandstone loosened from the cliff, sprinkling down to the forest bed below.
Instinct had her chalked fingers cranking down hard on the stone for a better grip. The rusty red rock was a mix of pebbles, sand, and iron oxide, making it strong but at times prone to crap out.
White tape splinted her two weakest fingers together on both hands. Wynn’s forearms were flexed from exertion. She took a steadying breath and reached for the next hold that had a nice ledge for her feet. The fingers of her left hand flexed around the hold with a caress to test the angle. It was good. She pulled with her forearm and pushed with her left leg at the same time.
She was good again.
Wynn cast a quick glance downward to see her target. Special Agent in Charge, Kade Gentry. This was the one allegedly coordinating the Appalachian pipeline to the north. Last year alone, he
moved nearly two tons of marijuana. If she determined he was the one, he was going down. She’d seen his picture and knew his record by heart, but it was nothing compared to the man. Gentry was a decorated hero, and somewhere along the way he’d turned.
This law enforcement ranger was one of their own, and that made this case personal. She didn’t like it when the good went bad. He looked the professional in his dark-green uniform, but Wynn had reasons to believe he wasn’t.
“You out here alone?” he asked.
“It’s not safe to climb alone.”
“Would you be saying that if I had balls?”
He chuckled. “Yes, I would.”
The next hold was steady under her hand, and she had an awesome ledge to stand on while she worked out her next set of moves. Moves that she hoped would bring her closer to Kade. “Nice day, isn’t it?” she asked.
“It is,” he agreed.
The ranger had a deep voice that carried over the gorge vegetation and whispered right in her ear as though he were standing up against her backside. Annoyance flexed through her limbs. The Zen moment of being in the zone was starting to fade.
She climbed on.
“Rattlesnake Canyon isn’t safe this time of year,” he said. “This area is restricted due to the snakes.”
“Really? I didn’t see a sign posted. Guess I better be careful. I wouldn’t want to get bit.”
He grinned. Now that smile was a distraction worth taking for a long ride. She had to look away before she became too attached.
Most climbers knew that the Forest Service liked to reach as far as it could up the ass of climbers to keep them in check. It was a tight balancing act between the right to climb and playing nice to keep the rules to a minimum. Access could easily be denied.
Wynn knew how to organize this fight in her favor.
“We ask climbers to stay away from parts of the lower gorge region during the high heat of summer. The snakes like to sun themselves on the rocks and between them.”
“Do you now?” she asked. “I suppose I didn’t get the memo. Did you email or snail mail it? Or do you boys like to go door to door with these public service announcements?”
Wind whipped through the gorge. Fear rippled up Wynn’s spine as she looked out at the approaching storm. Thunderstorms terrified her into immobility.
The storm was pushing in faster than Wynn expected. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Wynn took a moment to chalk her hands and to look down at the ranger. Dark sunglasses shaded his eyes. Beyond that she saw a hard, tan face. His wide jaw had a hint of five o’clock shadow. His lips rested in a natural sneer that gave him a menacing appearance. He looked like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with for too long. The ranger’s dark-brown hair had red highlights that glinted under the sun’s fading praise.
She cocked the corner of her mouth upward and saw him do the same. She was safely on the wall, and when she got to the top she’d be so far out of his reach he wouldn’t be able to catch her. Both knew it. For some men, it was all about the excitement of the chase. He was playing right into her hands. Wynn could see the ranger gearing up for the challenge. He took off his sunglasses and secured them in his tactical pants. She could see that he was a man that liked a good chase.
“What’s your name, climber?” he asked.
Here we go.
If things worked out right, he’d dance right into her arms. There was a safety pack on his right leg, another thirty pounds of gear and a weapon locked down on his belt. He’d be slow in a foot chase, but he didn’t look slow. He was all hard, lean muscle, the kind that reminded her of a climber or a runner.