Genevieve Morano owes just fifty dollars to the leinholder of the diner her father left her. It seems like a paltry amount, but when a strange northerner shows up late one night, she realizes the situation is much more complex, and she’ll have to rely on the handsome yet secretive stranger if she wants to survive.
Max Westlake owes Pete Morano, and the only way he can pay it off after Pete’s death is to protect Pete’s daughter from the man hell-bent on taking her inheritance away. But when she finds out why he’s working so hard to help her, the betrayal might just be too much for her to forgive…
The clocked ticked over to midnight. Closing time.
Wiping her hands on her apron, she steadied herself, and then moved to stand by his table.
“I’m closing up, sir. Can I settle the check for you?”
He glanced out the window and she automatically looked as well. It was pitch black out, aside from the single street light illuminating the dirt parking lot. There was only one car out there, his, she assumed. Aside from a gas station a mile away, the diner was the only stop along the road, a relic of past days before the interstate had stolen all the traffic.
“Do you sleep here?” he asked, that smooth, deep voice like chocolate on her skin even as the question made her take a step back.
“That’s none o’your business, sir. I’d appreciate it if you left now.” She tried to keep the fear out of her voice, but she felt the slight tremor, saw in his eyes that he’d heard it too. Still, she held her ground and his gaze. If he was going to kill her, he’d have to do it while looking her in the eye.
He reached under the left side of his jacket with his right hand, and pulled out a shiny black gun, laying it on the table in front of him.
“Sit down,” he said, gesturing to the other side of the booth, his tone still calm and maddeningly even. Genevieve tried to move, but somehow she couldn’t.
He still hadn’t raised his voice, but the word broke her trance and she slid into the booth across from him, her feet accidentally bumping his. She cringed. Not that it mattered. There was nowhere to go, and no one to help. She was going to die here, in her father’s old diner, for a fifty-dollar bill.
She took a deep breath, letting it out slow as she wondered why he still hadn’t picked the gun up.
No point in keeping quiet now.
“Fifty bucks is nothing compared to the check I sent,” she said. “And I can pay the rest now, straight from the till, in cash. I won’t say anything. I promise, it’s just…why? Why did my father borrow that money? Even if you have to kill me, I deserve to know. Won’t mean a thing, otherwise.”
The man looked out the window again. Genevieve looked too, not sure whether to be relieved or scared when headlights came barreling toward them out of the darkness. Her captor reached for the gun.
She took another breath – probably her last, and closed her eyes.
“Do you have a walk-in freezer?”
She opened her eyes, frowning. “Yes.”
He nodded. “Go lock the back door, and then shut yourself in the freezer. If I survive, I’ll let you out in a few minutes. If I don’t, you’ll be better off in there than out here.”
Genevieve started to argue, but he slid out of the booth and moved to the door, his entire body tense as the vehicle pulled into the gravel lot. It dawned on her that he’d given her a choice – the devil she sort of knew, or the one she didn’t.
She ran for the kitchen.