Hot River (Box Set) by Kate Hill

Hot River (Collection) by Kate Hill

Hot River (Collection)

by Kate Hill

Changeling Press

eBook ISBN: 06560-02110

Magic and lust tempt the supernatural residents of Hot River.

Invisible to uninvited humans, Hot River winds its way through the supernatural world, straight through the lands of good magic and into the Wicked Wild where the evil and enticing dwell.

Triple Shot Tracy: Little does Tracy know that when she drives into Hot River Campground she’s about to enter a real life and very adult fairytale.

Sixty-Nine Sadie: Only a certain type of woman can release Hugo from his curse and he has spent ages looking for her. It seems his chance for freedom is over, until Sadie arrives with the power to set him free in every way.

Second Chance Charity: Shane makes Charity question everything she thinks she knows about men — and sex. In spite of his origins Shane had a tender side that’s hard to resist, even for the Werewolf Queen.

Noodlin’ For Nadine: Nadine is just a water nymph lazing about in her favorite underwater cave when she feels a pair of pleasantly rough male hands rubbing her in all the right places. The man of her dreams has found her, but is their love strong enough to cross the boundary between water and land?

Sugar Plums: A sulky frost giant stumbles upon a powerful, lonely and surprisingly passionate winter icon and they learn just how enchanting the holiday season can be.

Publisher’s Note: The books of the Hot River collection — Triple Shot Tracy, Sixty-Nine Sadie, Second Chance Charity, Noodlin’ For Nadine and Sugar Plums — have been previously published as individual titles.

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Chapter One

Tracy sighed and flopped into a chair in the employees’ lounge at the office where she’d worked for the past ten years. At the moment she was the only one there, and that’s how she liked it. It gave her a break from the same old gossip she heard every working day of her life. It wasn’t that she disliked her coworkers. Most of them were nice enough, but she never felt as if she fit in. Not just at work but anywhere.
She’d lived a normal life. College. Finding a decent job. Dating men her family and friends thought were just fine but who lacked that certain something she was looking for.
Friends. She couldn’t even honestly call them that. They were more like acquaintances. Why? Because she couldn’t be honest with them. Whenever she started talking about her expectations, her longing for some kind of excitement, for love, they told her she was a dreamer.
“Girl, unless you want to spend the rest of your life going home to an empty apartment, you better get your head out of the clouds and down here in the real world with the rest of us.” Those were words of wisdom from Crissa, the woman who worked in the cubicle beside her.
It’s funny how lately their office reminded Tracy of an obstacle course for mice. All the identical little cream-colored cubicles created the maze that led to the exit door where everyone would race at the end of another tedious day. Most of the workers tried to personalize their cookie-cutter spaces with knickknacks from home — framed pictures of their spouses, kids, even their pets. Mini stuffed animals, trinkets that looked like they’d been purchased from those stores where everything from cereal to garden decorations cost a dollar. Somehow these attempts at making the workspaces unique only seemed to make them look more like each other.
Tracy didn’t bother with the decorations. She left her cubicle empty, just like she felt as soon as she stepped into the office. She refused to waste time decorating because she didn’t intend to spend the rest of her life working here. Deep down inside she knew she was meant for something else. Until then, the office was simply a borrowed space. To her bringing in those trinkets from home meant surrender, that she’d accepted a life she hated.
She knew in order to change her life she needed a plan. The trouble was, she still had to figure it out.
One happy thought was that at the close of work today, she was on vacation for two weeks. She’d been thinking about what she’d like to do. Maybe go to the movies, spend some extra time at the gym, work on her art projects.
She picked up the paper and glanced through the Living section.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Crissa said, stepping into the lounge with her usual bright red backpack slung over her shoulder and a paper bag from the local doughnut shop in her hand. There wouldn’t be any doughnuts in that bag, however. Each and every day for the past ten years she’d eat a plain bagel with low fat cream cheese.
Crissa took a seat at the same table as Tracy, unwrapped her bagel, and spread on the cream cheese.
“Damn. I forgot my coffee,” Crissa said and glanced toward the coffeemaker across the room. “I suppose there’s nothing but mud in there.”
“I’m not sure,” Tracy said with a forced smile. She’d been enjoying her time alone, daydreaming.
Crissa went to fix her coffee. “So your vacation starts this afternoon. Any big plans?”
“Not really.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Crissa turned to Tracy and raised her eyes to the heavens. “You should do something fun.”
“I know. I have a few ideas…” Tracy paused and squinted at a rather small ad at the bottom of the page, right near an article about the country’s best beaches.
Hot River Campground
Relax and enjoy nature.
Let your fantasies come true.
A strange feeling of excitement and apprehension shot through her. “This is where I’m going,” Tracy stated with conviction. “Hot River Campground.”
Crissa wrinkled her nose. “What?”
“Right here in the ad.” Tracy held out the paper to Crissa.
“Camping? Are you crazy? Bugs. Snakes. No showers. A shit hole, literally that is,” Crissa muttered, taking her cup of coffee and approaching the table. She took the paper from Tracy, glanced at the ad and snorted. “You are crazy.”
“Why? I love camping.”
“Yeah but this sounds like a sex camp instead of a campground. I mean ‘let your fantasies come true.’ Come on. Unless you’re getting wild on me,” Crissa teased.
Sure. Let Crissa laugh. As if she knew anything about Tracy and her innermost desires. She wouldn’t let someone like Crissa know about her fantasies because she wouldn’t understand. Not everyone had the same dreams. Still, around this place it seemed like if you didn’t want to go chugging down beers in the local pub after work, get married, have kids, cheat on your husband, socialize at office gatherings — as if workers didn’t see enough of each other five or six days a week — they looked at you as if you sprouted a second head.
Tracy knew she had a bitter attitude. If she wanted to change her life, only she could do it. Blaming her family and friends wasn’t the answer.
She certainly didn’t think Hot River Campground was the answer, either, but at least it was a distraction. And it was something she wanted to do. Somehow she felt like she was meant to be there.
“If you’re going there, you better be careful,” Crissa warned. “It sounds freaky to me.”
Sure. Hot River Campground sounded freaky, but last week when almost every woman in the office took the accounting clerk to The Fickle Phallus for a night of drinking and strippers for her birthday that wasn’t freaky. Tracy had passed on that little office outing. Not that she didn’t appreciate hot looking guys, but the idea of one man having money stuffed up his thong by hundreds of women didn’t turn her on. She wanted something a little more intimate and one day, damn it, she would find it.
Probably not at Hot River Campground, but at least it was a start.
* * *
Two days later, Tracy drove deep into the mountains. During the ride, she enjoyed the beautiful scenery — clear skies and green forests — while listening to her favorite music on the CD player. She had a cooler of food in the trunk along with her tent, sleeping bag, and backpack with her clothes and random supplies.
She couldn’t quite explain the feeling of exhilaration and anticipation. Though she knew it was crazy, she had the strangest feeling something wonderful was going to happen on this vacation.
Only when she stopped at an old-fashioned general store and asked directions did she begin to get suspicious. The clerk had never heard of Hot River Campground.
“I’ve lived around these parts all my life and never heard of such a place,” he said, giving her an odd look.
“I saw an ad for it in the newspaper,” she said. “Maybe it’s new.”
He chuckled and scrubbed a hand over his stubbled jaw. “Unless it cropped up overnight, there’s no Hot River Campground around here. In the stand by the front door there are lots of pamphlets for other campgrounds in the area. Why don’t you take a look and maybe you’ll find one you’d like to try? It would be a shame for you to have driven all the way up here for nothing.”
“Yeah. You’re right,” she said absently. How very strange this was. “I’ll check them out.”
On the way out of the store, she picked up a couple of pamphlets and sat in her car to glance through them.
Shaking her head she gave a sigh of relief when on the back of one was another ad for Hot River. She considered going back to show the man, then decided against it. Arguing with the geezer wasn’t worth the aggravation. Besides, it would be getting dark soon and she wanted to make her camp before sundown.
Several miles later, she turned down a long, winding road. It went on for so long that she started to wonder if the store clerk hadn’t been right after all. Maybe Hot River didn’t exist.
Then she saw a little log cabin with a hand painted sign that read Hot River Campground Office.
She parked out front and stepped into the cabin. The scent of herbs and flowers struck her, making her relax almost instantly. Behind a polished cherry wood counter a tiny red-haired lady sat on a stool that was probably taller than she was. She looked up from the book she was reading. Her large blue eyes flickered in Tracy’s direction and widened with surprise.
“Sorry,” Tracy said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No problem. It’s been so quiet around here today that I wasn’t paying attention. My name is Miranda.” The little lady hopped off the stool, strode around the counter and extended her hand to Tracy who shook it.
“I hope that means you still have some campsites open,” Tracy said.
Tracy raised an eyebrow. “This is Hot River Campground, right?”
“Yes. That’s us.” The woman smiled almost too broadly.
“Do you have any space left?”
“Oh! Yes. Of course.”
Miranda assigned a site to Tracy, collected her fee and gave her the rundown on the campground, using a map to point out the restrooms, showers, general store, swimming and fishing areas.
“Would you like me to bring you to your site?” Miranda asked.
“No, thanks. I’m sure I’ll find it.”
“Remember, if you have any problems, don’t hesitate to come back here or if the office is closed, stop by my site. I told you where it is.”
“Yes. Thanks so much,” Tracy called over her shoulder as she walked toward her car.
She could scarcely wait to set up camp and cook dinner. Then she might even have time to get in a swim before it got too dark.
One way or the other, she was going to make sure this was a wonderful vacation.
* * *
Miranda’s brow furrowed in question as she watched Tracy walk toward her car. Hot River was a secret haven, a favorite vacation spot for those in the magical world. Mortals rarely came here, and only under special circumstances. Cupid and his assistants sometimes used Hot River for their more difficult cases.
No doubt that was why Tracy was here. Cupid and his crew were usually great about warning her ahead of time when a mortal was coming. Somebody sure dropped the ball this time.
With a sigh, she reached into her pocket and pulled out some glistening pink dust. She drew a deep breath and blew the dust in Tracy’s direction. It floated toward the mortal, surrounded her in a luminescent mist, then faded.
Tracy paused for a moment, then shook her head, stepped into her car and drove past the wooden gates into the campground.
Miranda picked up the phone and dialed. A moment later, a deep, sexy male voice said, “Hello. This is Cupid. Here to service all your deepest passions. What can I do for you?”
“You can cut the doo doo, Cupid. It’s Miranda.”
“Oh. What do you want?” he said absently.
She raised her eyes to the heavens. He still hadn’t gotten over her rejection. Not that he wasn’t cute, but he was too boyish for her with that rounded, smooth-shaven face and innocent baby blues. He reminded her of the son she never wanted. There was no way in hell she could contemplate taking him to bed. Unfortunately, Cupid the love man wasn’t used to being turned down. Most women, mortal or magical, fell at his feet.
“I want to remind you and your assistants to give me a heads up when you send a mortal to Hot River Campground. Lucky for you I had just enough love dust left to use on the lady who arrived a few minutes ago.”
“What lady? I sent no one and neither did my assistants.”
Miranda’ s brow furrowed. “Well there’s a mortal here. I thought for sure she was from your office. She had ‘desperate for love’ written all over her.”
“What’s her name?”
“Tracy Di Bernardo”
“There’s no one by that name on my master list.”
“You’re sure?”
“I might not be much of a romantic according to some people, but I do know how to read,” he said sarcastically.
“All right, all right. Cupid, you have got to get over yourself.”
He gave what sounded like a slight growl. Completely unbecoming for the man in charge of all the love in the world.
“Any ideas about who might have sent her?” Miranda continued. “I know she’s here regarding love and romance. My senses never lie.”
“All my assistants have checked in,” Cupid said. “The only one it could be is…” His voice faded and a shiver ran down Miranda’s spine.
“You don’t mean…”
“Yes. Him.”
“But last time the magical community met at the Gathering Place, we made it clear he was not to set foot — or paw — in Hot River Campground or any of the other forests of good magic.”
“I know, but he’s getting desperate and he’d risk angering the council. I suggest you call for extra security at Hot River, at least until the mortal leaves.”
“I’ll do that. If you happen to find out that she was sent by one of your assistants –”
“Don’t worry. I’ll contact you right away. As a matter of fact, I’m going to double check with them all right now.”
“And I’m going to call the Huntvyn.”
“Good idea.”
As soon as Cupid hung up, Miranda dialed another number — an emergency number for the Huntvyn, her best hope of capturing one of the most dangerous outlaws in the magical world.
“Hey, you’ve reached Wolf Whackers Inc. Your beast is our bitch. What can we do you for?” said another male voice, this one just as deep as Cupid’s but not nearly as smooth. It was rather husky, the kind that sent a shiver of delight down Miranda’s spine. Besides, she was a sucker for a Texas accent. She closed her eyes for a moment and smiled. Tripp Princeton was just about the sexiest man in the universe. If he had come onto her instead of Cupid…
“Anybody there?” Tripp demanded. “This call is being traced, so if it’s a crank it’s your ass.”
“Tripp, it’s me, Miranda.”
“Oh hi, pixie face. How are things at Hot River?”
“I think we might have a problem down here.”
“What kind of problem?” he demanded.
“I’m not positive, but I think Hugo is here. A mortal just found us and you know that doesn’t happen by coincidence. Magic hides us from mortals, so that means magic summoned her here.”
“And it wasn’t Cupid or one of his ditzy assistants?”
“No. I just checked with him.”
“Then hang on, kiddo. See you in a few.”
He hung up and she did the same, sighing and raising her eyes to the heavens. Pixie face. Kiddo. It figured a guy like Tripp would think of her as a kid sister but Cupid wanted to fuck her. Oh well. That was the plight of many of her kin. Some people just didn’t take fairies seriously.

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