ICE PRINCESS
by Catherine Snodgrass and Bryndis Rubin
Romantic Suspense - Military
November 2002
Amber Quill Press
1-59279-981-7 print
1-59279-014-3 ebook

Zach Taylor and Claudia Stuart have been at odds with each other for five years, a feud that masks the desire each truly feels. After a night of wine and gambling, they wake to find themselves married to each other. Disgust turns to a partnership when they discover they must use their marriage as a front to find a killer. Forced in close companionship, can passion tear down the wall between them before a power-hungry madman kills them both?

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~ Reviews ~

FIVE STARS!!!A well-written book that kept me glued to my screen, and up to the wee hours of the night trying to finish it! ICE PRINCESS is a Five Star winner and comes highly recommended. But do yourself a favor, read these books in sequence, pick up ALWAYS FAITHFUL first! ~Charlene Smith, Simegen.

Very highly recommended. The plot twists itself inside out, there are interesting characters galore. A fascinating story with believable characters and a mystery that only gets more twisted as it unravels. THE ICE PRINCESS takes romance books to a new depth. I would very highly recommend this book. Lovers of romance and fans of Catherine Snodgrass will not be disappointed! ~Jennifer Macaire, Wordweaving

FIVE STARS!!! Catherine Snodgrass and Bryndis Rubin take the classic elements that make us fall in love with a good story and twists them into something new and exciting. It's a keeper!~ Word Museum

ICE PRINCESS is a fast paced romantic suspense novel. Watching Claudia and Zach trip over their feelings for each other provide a bit of fun along with the seriousness of the plots. The solution to the murder is an ending filled with tense moments. I highly recommend this book, it is one of the best romantic suspense novels I have read this year. ~Hattie Boyd, Reader To Reader

Ice Princess is a fabulous read about a love that is stopped before it can even begin and then coaxed out again when Zach and Claudia are thrown together by their own "mistake" and long-suffering passions for each other. It's a story to warm your heart and send hivers down your spine, and would not be complete without the words of wisdom from good ol' Mom. ~Laura Drewry, Romance At Its Best

4.5 STARS!!! I can't say enough about the authors' remarkable compassion and insight in detailing the events surrounding that plot point from the outsider's point of view. The action scenes were exciting and I particularly loved the way they let Claudia be her own hero and show some "girl power" along the way. This action packed thriller is a definite must-read that will touch your heart and open your eyes. My compliments to Ms. Snodgrass and Ms. Rubin. ~Amy L. Turpin, Timeless Tales

Catherine Snodgrass and Bryndis Rubin deftly develop the love story between Claudia and Zach while expertly keeping the suspense up in Ice Princess. As Ice Princess progresses, the reader is gripped with an urgency to solve the murder and see Claudia and Zach together. Also, Ice Princess efficiently tackles the subject of spousal abuse in the military without stereotypes. A coherent and excellent paced mystery, laced with romance. Be prepared to sit down and read non-stop. ~Dena Kosche, Women On Writing

EXCERPT

Sharp, painful jabs of sunlight forced open Claudia Stuart’s eyelids. She squinted against her pillow, trying to focus on her surroundings through bleary eyes.

"Oh my God."

The soft mewl of agony felt like a shout. Wincing, she fought against the pounding beat of a headache that reverberated throughout her aching body. She tried to center herself by focusing on any one part of her body that wasn’t sore. None existed.

A faint, persistent sound filtered through her pain. For a moment, she imagined she was in her own familiar apartment with foghorns from San Francisco Bay echoing in the distance. Her senses slowly emerged from the blanketing haze. She wasn’t in San Francisco. She was in Las Vegas. And there was an odd noise coming from the far side of her bed.

Stretching out a shaky hand to balance herself against the spinning room, Claudia brushed against something warm, solid, and most definitely male. She gasped and twisted around to see a dark head partially buried in a mass of tangled covers. A frightening thought reared its ugly head.

"Franklin?"

The very idea churned her stomach. Franklin had made his intentions clear. She had made hers even clearer—no. If he somehow breached her defenses and took advantage…

Claudia shook her head. Not possible. She would never be that drunk. Besides, Franklin was in San Francisco. He had no idea she’d gone to Las Vegas. He thought her safely on vacation, visiting her brother in Twentynine Palms, California.

So, if not Franklin, who was she in bed with?

Please don’t let him be a stranger.

Or maybe she should be hoping he was a stranger, then she’d never have to face him again.

She squinted at the waves of dark hair.

Wavy? With growing horror she realized that the head nestled next to hers was clipped military-style, with the hair along the side cut tight and the top allowed to grow a little longer, permitting the errant waves.

"Oh my God!"

The loud croak of disbelief aggravated her headache. Claudia didn’t care. This was too horrible to believe. It couldn’t be! It just couldn’t! Of all the men in the world, why this one?

She lashed out under the covers with one foot, whacking him squarely in the rump. "Get out! What are you doing in my bed?"

A muffled "oomph" and a string of expletives emerged from the pile of sheets.

"What the hell?"

He bolted upright, clutching the edge of the sheet to him like a maiden bride. It did little to cover his naked body.

Claudia’s eyes widened. It was Zach Taylor! What was he doing here, in her hotel room, in her bed? More to the point, what was he doing in her bed without any clothes on? But if the tingle between her legs was any indication, she already knew the answer.

"You little bitch—" Struggling to wake up, Zach focused on the source of the assault against him.

Claudia felt like she was on the other side of the looking glass with nothing making sense and all of her thoughts a meaningless jumble. She fell back on the only thing she recognized, controlled fury.

"I said get out!"

Again, her foot made a lightning strike for his exposed flank, but with a lithe twist, he managed to avoid the kick and pinion her leg under his arm at the same time.

With a quick jerk, Zach pulled her off balance. She flopped back down onto the bed. The sudden movement brought waves of nausea.

Her distress must have been plainly written upon her face because he jack-knifed over the edge of the bed, scooped up a nearby wastepaper basket, and shoved it under her nose. Two used condoms stared back at her. It was all her stomach needed to tip it over the edge.

"Shit!"

Claudia silently seconded Zach’s curse. She heard him slide out of bed and stomp away. After what seemed like hours of wrenching heaves, she levered herself upright, still shaking.

The room was an unholy mess. Clothes, hers and his, were strewn from one corner to the other. Panty hose were draped over the lampshade. A bottle of champagne was upside down in the ice bucket. Another rested unopened on the desk. Room service trays were piled with dirty dishes. Money in denominations ranging from twenty to one hundred dollar bills lay scattered over the bed and on the floor.

Zach strode in from the bathroom and pressed a damp washcloth into her hand. Without looking, she ran the cool towel over her face and tried to gather her wits.

"Here." Zach held out a glass of water and a handful of aspirin. "You look as if you could use these."

He had pulled on a pair of white boxers, but hadn’t bothered with a shirt or shoes. His muscular chest was bare, and she saw the sprinkling of hair that narrowed to a distracting line leading down into the front of his waistband.

Grudgingly, Claudia accepted the glass and the pills. She drank, darting surreptitious glances toward her unwanted companion.

Captain Zach Taylor, attorney, United States Marine, epitomized everything she distrusted in a man. Darkly handsome with full, sensuous lips and a flashing dimple, he represented to her the epitome of a carefree philanderer. The kind of man who could break a woman’s heart and never think twice about it. Well, she’d already had her heart broken once and it was enough to last a lifetime. Her older brother, Phillip, had introduced them years ago, and ever since, the antagonism had been mutual.

"You need to loosen up, Claudia Stuart, and stop being such a prude."

Zach had teased her in front of a crowd of friends at a Christmas party in her brother’s home—mostly fellow attorneys from the Judge Advocate’s Office at Camp Pendleton. Unfortunately, the jibe had drawn a big laugh from the Marines. Zach was one of them, although his personality was in a league of its own.

She recalled that he had wanted her to give him a simple kiss under the mistletoe. Cold rejection had been her answer, delivered publicly to humiliate and discourage further interest. In retaliation he dubbed her The Ice Princess. The nickname had stuck. So had the animosity.

Still she let him egg her on. There was a stupid bet. She lost. The price? That blasted mistletoe kiss. And there was hardly anything simple about it. In all the years that had passed, Claudia would never forget the fire, the raw sensuality that engulfed her, threatened her carefully erected defenses. And she’d done her best to avoid a repeat incident…until now, obviously.

Claudia put down the glass, forcing a calmness she didn’t feel. "It looks like we robbed a bank."

"Hit the jackpot as I recall."

"I remember something like that, but that’s about all. God, this is like my worst nightmare." She rubbed at the ache in her head.

Zach leaned up against the dresser and stared at his toes. "I’ve never had a woman complain before. But in this case I’d have to agree."

His gaze clicked up to hers, nailing her in place with its dark brown intensity. "We’re married."

Claudia’s jaw worked, but it seemed an eternity before she could push out the single word, "Impossible."

"But true."

He shoved away from his perch and walked to the desk. With a flick of his wrist, he dragged out a paper from underneath the champagne bottle. Thrusting it at her, he commanded, "Read it. I found this while you were heaving your guts out."

Claudia craned her neck at the paper, but refused to touch it. A different wave of nausea engulfed her. United this day in Holy Matrimony, Zachary Stephen Taylor and Claudia Marie Stuart

Their signatures were sprawled with untidy abandon at the bottom of the document. Two of the people who had accompanied them to Vegas had signed as witnesses.

"This has to be a joke," she muttered, scarcely believing it herself, although the document and the evidence throughout the room left no doubt.

"Oh, how I wish that were so."

A little melodramatic, but it certainly echoed her feelings.

"Listen—"

Claudia held up her hand. "Put on a shirt or something. I don’t need you prancing around here half naked."

"What’s wrong? Too tempting for you."

She glared up at his smirk. "Why you self-serving—"

"I understand perfectly. You’re pretty tempting yourself." He waved a finger at her.

Claudia glanced down. She was fully uncovered, naked as the day she was born. Nothing was left to the imagination. Embarrassment burned her from head to toe. With as much nonchalance as she could muster, she tugged the blanket over her.

Zach cocked a half-grin. "Pity. I was rather enjoying the view."

"Shut up."

His brown eyes narrowed. "That’s a fine way to speak to your new husband."

Claudia began to laugh. "You? My husband? You’ve got to be kidding." She rubbed her forehead and tried to control the laughter that was threatening to turn hysterical. "You would be the last person I’d consider marrying."

"At least the feeling’s mutual. But, to put it bluntly, that looks like what we’ve done. We’re husband and wife." He waved the certificate once more, then tossed it to the rumpled bed. "Legally married by Reverend Thompson at the Vegas Chapel. Wherever the hell that is." Any humor his voice held was gone, replaced by tightly controlled anger.

Claudia tugged the edges of the blanket closer. "I didn’t think they were allowed to marry people who were drunk."

"Maybe they didn’t realize how far gone we were." He clutched his hands to his heart. "Or maybe our unboundless love and devotion to each other were too much to deny and they married us without delay."

"Cut the melodrama," she snapped. "In any event, it’s something I plan to rectify at the earliest opportunity. It’s been…fun, but I’m sure I won’t hurt your feelings when I tell you I’ll be filing for divorce as soon as possible."

"Summary dissolution," he corrected.

She massaged the ache in her head. Here they were in this lousy predicament and he wanted to debate technicalities. "I need a lawyer."

"You just married one, remember?"

Claudia wanted to screech at him; instead she kept her voice level, speaking in cold, clear tones even a moron would have no trouble understanding. "I don’t care what you call it or how it’s done, I just want out of this alcohol-induced nightmare. Do you understand me?"

"Loud and clear." The ice in his voice matched her own.

Good, at least that was something else they agreed on, although from the looks of the room, they had found other mutually agreeable matters during the night.

Her stomach clenched. It looked like they were careful, but what if they weren’t? "What…what if I’m pregnant?"

Zach tossed back a body-shaking laugh. "Claudia, there are two condoms in this trash can. Two more in the bathroom. I know you think I’m a sex-starved animal, but believe me, I have my limits. Frankly, I’m surprised to find more than two."

His gaze traveled a brazen circuit down the length of her body and back. "It must have been some night. Too bad I can’t remember…Mrs. Taylor."

Claudia narrowed her eyes to slits. Trying to ignore her aching stomach and pounding head, she wrapped her blanket around her rigid body, and headed for the bathroom to change. She expected his laughter to follow her. What she got was silence.

Shutting the door, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Platinum-blonde hair was flying out in all directions, and her skin had a tinge best described as greenish in the overhead lighting. Her blue eyes looked almost black in her pinched face and they were bloodshot as well.

A stunning sight, she thought sarcastically and stepped into the shower.

"If you can’t remember it, then it never happened," she whispered into the biting chill of the spray.

But it did happen. If she wanted to deny the evidence around her, that was one thing, but her aching muscles and soreness were quite another.

So, it did happen. But how…and why? Obviously she didn’t leave much of an impression on Zach…not that she wanted to anyway. Still, his convenient amnesia stung her pride.

Claudia laughed at herself. She didn’t want him, yet she wanted it to be a night he remembered forever?

She warmed up the spray and let the water beat life into her system. Sinking into the bottom of the tub, she tried to focus on the last twenty-four hours and figure out just where she had faltered, where her defenses were breached.

Her sister-in-law, Rowan, had talked her into going to a wedding. Her brother, Phillip, was the best man. Immediately following the ceremony, Rowan had gone into labor and delivered a son.

Then there was the wedding reception. Drink flowed. Claudia abstained. And at some point the wedding party decided to take a road trip to Vegas. They wanted to borrow Phillip’s brand-new van. He agreed, on one condition—Claudia must drive. She agreed. It was the least she could do for her brother.

They arrived at midnight with Zach and six other people. All Claudia wanted to do was find a room for the night. But, as usual, she allowed Zach to bait her.

"Just one slot. Play just one. I’ll even give you the dollar."

Anything to shut him up. She plopped the dollar in…and got a thousand back. The cocktail waitress brought one drink after another. She and Zach gambled…and kept winning. Champagne, wine, and beer mixed with lethal intensity.

Claudia let her head drop to her knees. A vague memory of one hell of a kiss with both of them plastered against the slot machine drifted into her foggy senses. A glint of gold and diamonds caught her eye. He’d even bought her a beautiful ring. It made no sense…any of it.

They despised each other. They always had. The constant sniping proved that. How in the world could they have gotten married?

Pounding at the bathroom door startled her from her thoughts. She tensed, afraid he might barge in.

"What do you want?" she shouted.

"I have to go to the bathroom," he snapped back.

"Can’t you wait?"

"You’ve been in here for half an hour already. I can’t wait much longer. If you don’t come out, I’m coming in…whether you like it or not. I’m giving you another five minutes."

Claudia balled her hands into fists and stood. It was going to be a long drive back to Twentynine Palms.

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