|To escape an abusive marriage, Rainie Hall has faked her own death and is attempting to start life over as Anna Pritchard, in Crystal Falls, Oregon. She gets a job as a bookkeeper on Parker Harrigan's horse ranch, but within days of her working there, he checks out her references and discovers that she lied on her application. The following scene is a result of that discovery:
Parker was pissed. He seldom lied to anyone, and he expected the same courtesy in return. He tried to calm down as he headed for the stable, but it was an effort in futility. He'd trusted her. When he remembered their conversation the day before yesterday, humiliation seared his cheeks. She'd made him look stupid. Correction, he'd made himself look stupid by allowing himself to be taken in by those innocent hazel eyes.
Anna was standing at a file cabinet, hands full of papers, when he burst into the office. He made a conscious effort not to slam the door closed behind him.
"We need to talk," he bit out.
Her face drained of color. "About?"
She put the papers on top of the cabinet and went to sit in her chair. Today she wore a fake suede skirt that had seen better times and a sleeveless blouse with one button that didn't quite match the rest. As Parker advanced on her, he noticed that her face grew paler by the second and that the cherry surface of her work area gleamed with fresh polish.
"I don't appreciate being lied to," he said evenly.
Agitated and needing something to do with his hands, he reached for the granite paperweight on the blotter. At his movement, she flinched and jerked up her right arm to shield her face, clearly convinced he meant to strike her. Whoa. Parker was angry. He'd be the first to admit that. But he'd never hit a woman in his life, not even his little sister when they'd fought as kids.
Fingertips still resting on the paperweight, Parker studied his frightened bookkeeper with mounting bewilderment. She had a small scar on her left cheek. It still bore the pinkness of a recent wound. Now that he examined it more closely, a very unpleasant possibility sprang to his mind.
In his younger years, he had occasionally gotten into honky-tonk brawls, and he'd seen his share of cheeks laid open by the force of a man's fist. Had some jerk struck her? The question no sooner entered Parker's mind than he knew the answer. Everything about her suddenly added up her fear of him, the countless lies on her job application, the way she shrank from his most casual touch. She had recently been involved in an abusive relationship. He saw it in her eyes a trapped, wary look that made his heart catch. Now she was on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the bastard who'd roughed her up. If he was wrong, he'd eat his hat for supper and his boots for dessert.
This added a totally new wrinkle. He couldn't very well blame a woman for lying to him about her references if she was trying to escape an abusive bully.
The anger that had made him see red a moment ago eased from Parker's body. Turning, he rested his hips against the edge of his desk and blocked her escape with his outstretched legs, angling them across the center aisle between the two workstations. He folded his arms loosely over his chest, hoping his relaxed posture might reassure her a little.
"You never attended Pepperdine University or Seaver College," he said without preamble. "The places of employment you listed don't even exist."
She pushed up from the chair. Parker was surprised that she could stand. Her legs were shaking like aspen leaves in a brisk breeze. She went to the file cabinet to collect her purse and then turned toward him, holding the bag to her midriff as if it were a shield. Without a word, she tried to step over his crossed boots. No way was Parker going to let her leave, not until he had some answers. He thrust out a hand to grasp her arm.
"Oh, no, you don't. I hired you in good faith. I offered you an extremely attractive employment package. The very least you owe me is some sort of explanation."
He could feel her arm muscles quivering under the press of his fingertips. He knew she was terrified. Yet still she said nothing.
"Well," he said softly, "if you've got no explanations to offer, let me venture a couple of guesses. I think some asshole beat the ever-lovin' hell out of you, and not that long ago, judgin' by that scar on your cheek." Her body jerked as if he'd slapped her. "My second guess is that your name isn't really Anna Pritchard. How am I doin' so far?"