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Chapter One:
Champagne and Bullets

Chapter Two:
A Glass Half-Full

Interlude:
Two to Tango

Chapter Three:
Four Aces and a Queen

Chapter Four:
"X" Marks the Spot

Chapter Five:
Mayhem at Midnight

Interlude:
Morning in the Mountains

Chapter Six:
Making Old Acquaintances

Chapter Seven:
The Grand Tour

Chapter Eight:
The Loyalty Test

Chapter Nine:
Walking the Plank

Chapter Ten:
Don't Look Back


Charlie Steele and the Menace In the Mountains

- A Thrilling "Hollywood Knights" Adventure! -

By Nancy Berman with Noah Dudley


Interlude: Two to Tango

As Charlie slipped out of Dave Chasen's private office, she could tell from the noise in the main room of the restaurant that the party was in full swing. After her meeting with Norm and their elusive benefactor, she wasn't in any mood to fight her way through the crush and make small talk with the Knights' fawning admirers. She was looking around for somewhere to grab a few minutes to herself when a warm breeze ruffled a draping of sheer white curtains to her left, revealing a narrow door. She glanced around quickly to see if anyone was watching her, then slipped out and found herself in a jewel-like solarium.
 

A beautifully finished hexagonal parquet floor gleamed under her feet. Nestled among an assortment of palms and ferns was a small comfortable-looking banquette seat. Charlie sank into the rich velvet cushion, grateful to have some privacy. Even with the door closed, she could still hear the music—a tango—although the conversation (no doubt extolling the heroic virtues of her squadron) was blessedly muffled.

Charlie stretched her long, silk-covered legs out in front of her as she leaned back against the soft fabric and closed her eyes. There was so much to think about right now and she wished she had a crystal ball so that she could be sure she would make the right decision. The Marauders needed more training, the Knights were in disarray, and now she had to deal with the looming threat from Sky Haven. She was beginning to feel like the heroine in a Saturday matinee cliff-hanger, wondering what new danger would rear its ugly head, intent on strapping her to the train tracks.

"Champagne?"

Her eyes flew open at the sound of the deep, rich baritone that had interrupted her contemplation. Earlier that evening, she had made brief, tantalizing eye contact with this handsome stranger, before he vanished into the admiring throng. She had momentarily considered hunting him out of the crowd, before being swept into the party.

He was tall, tanned and green-eyed, sporting the latest in designer evening wear and holding two Baccarat crystal champagne flutes filled with Dom Perignon. The stranger was dark and impossibly handsome. Charlie couldn't tell if he was part Gypsy or perhaps Native American; no matter his background, he was elegant charmer and rakish scoundrel at the same time.

She reached for the proffered glass and sipped, keeping her eyes on the stranger who drained his glass and set it down on the floor. Charlie swallowed the rest of the light amber liquid and looked around for somewhere to put her glass. She wasn't going to put a glass that expensive on the floor.

The man reached down and, in one fluid motion, managed to relieve her of the glass and pull her up from the banquette. Before she could protest, Charlie found herself drawn into his arms and pressed against him … in a perfect position to begin the tango.

The music swelled and her mysterious partner dipped her back into a brief courteé before guiding her with a firm lead through the intricate steps of the passionate Latin American dance. Charlie had danced the tango before, and in fact had even been partnered by Rudy Valentino at a wild party at Nora Desmond's, but that was nothing compared to this dance.

She felt light-headed and dizzy, as if she had drunk the entire bottle of champagne, and she could barely catch her breath. The stranger's emerald gaze burned into hers while he whipped them around the room in tight turns and elaborate dips. She tried to ask him his name, but every time she began to speak, he would twirl her, taking her breath away.

As the music reached a pounding crescendo, Charlie felt his strong right hand move from the small of her back up her spine, leaving a trail of fire along her bare skin, until it cradled her neck. He pulled her even closer, then kissed her with a fierce concentration, as if nothing else in the world mattered except gaining possession of her, body and soul. Just when she thought she would faint, he released her, and she staggered back slightly as she felt herself ejected from the whirling vortex of their connection.

Her anger slammed to full throttle; she was furious at him for the insolence of the entire experience … and herself, for her complete lack of control of the situation. She swiftly drew her right hand back and slapped the man hard across his cheek. He didn't flinch in the slightest, but smiled at her and shook his head slightly, saying, "Si supieras, mi amor." With that, he backed away and slipped through the narrow door, leaving Charlie alone, more than a little stirred up and finding that perhaps she wasn't quite as outraged as ought to be.

When she had regained a semblance of her usual self-control, she re-entered the restaurant, but the handsome man was nowhere to be found and none of the people she questioned remembered having seen him.

On the drive home, the cool leather seat of the limousine did little to soothe her skin, which still felt like it was on fire. She kept reliving the sensation of the dance, that embrace, and those piercing eyes. I'm acting like a schoolgirl, she said to herself sternly. He was probably some two-bit publicity hound who had crashed the party. Still, she didn't recall ever having seen such an elegant and accomplished gatecrasher. There was definitely something about this guy.

When she got home, she changed into a light silk nightgown and kimono. In all the fuss of the party, she had not had a chance to eat and she was famished. As she rustled around in the refrigerator, Serena came into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes.

"Miss Charlie, you're up so late. Did you just get in?"

"Oh, Serena, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

"No es problems. Here, you sit and I'll fix you something." As the housekeeper moved around the kitchen, Charlie remembered that her mysterious dance partner had said something to her in Spanish.

"Serena, can you tell me what 'si supieras' means?"

"It means 'if you only knew,' Miss Charlie. Why do you ask?"

"No reason. Just curious, that's all," she said as she bit into half of a turkey sandwich that Serena had put in front of her. "I'll clean up here, Serena, thanks. Good night."

"Buenas noches, Miss Charlie. Duerme bien."



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Charlie Steele