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Sometimes a knight in shining armor wears a Stetson
Seven years ago, as a young cop, Darius Franklin saved a vulnerable woman from a violent situation. They shared one night of pure passion before she walked away. Now Darius is a wealthy rancher and security contractor working at a women's shelter. And he's shocked to meet the new social worker: Summer Martindale, a beautiful damsel no longer in distress.
Darius has never been able to forget that night—or forgive Summer for the pain she caused him when she left. And he's suspicious of why she's suddenly in his part of Texas. But neither can deny the desire still crackling between them. When Summer's life is once again threatened, Darius knows he can only protect her if he stays very close to her...
BONUS BOOK INCLUDED IN THIS VOLUME!
Billionaire, M.D. by USA TODAY bestselling author Olivia Gates
Pregnant Cybele awakes in the hospital with no memory of her past—and no clue just how deeply entwined her life is with the handsome Spanish surgeon at her bedside. The truth will change everything—forever.
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Brenda Jackson is a New York Times bestselling author of more than one hundred romance titles. Brenda lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and divides her time between family, writing and traveling. Email Brenda at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her on her website at brendajackson.net.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"What are you doing here, Summer?"
Summer Martindale's eyes froze on the document in front of her at the sound of the husky voice. It was a voice she hadn't heard in almost seven years, yet she distinctively remembered the sensuous timbre and how every audible vibration could stir her senses in a way that even today she could not explain.
In a way she wished she could forget.
She inhaled deeply and after a moment, she lifted her eyes and stared into Darius Franklin's dark and intense gaze. It was a gaze that was emitting a chilling glare.
Summer could just as easily glare back but refused to let him know how disturbing it was to see him again. What had once been between them was over and done with. He had made sure of that in the worst possible way, which she could never forgive him for. His actions had caused her pain—a degree of pain she vowed never to experience again.
"I could ask you the same thing, Darius," she finally responded. Her tone was just as sharp as his had been.
He stood tall, all six foot one inches of him, as he leaned in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest and his gaze fixed directly on her. She thought at that moment the very same thing she'd thought when she'd first laid eyes on him. Darius Franklin, with his pecan tan complexion, close-cut black hair, charcoal gray eyes and neat pencil-thin mustache, was an extremely handsome man. But there were other noticeable changes. His cheekbones appeared more pronounced and his lips seemed firmer.
His dark stare, as well as the way a muscle seemed to twitch in his jaw, were all the evidence she needed that he wasn't happy to see her and if truth be told, she wasn't happy to see him, either. It would be a lie to claim she hadn't thought about him over the years, because she had. Yet at the same time, the memory of what he'd put her through—the humiliation, heartbreak and pain—made her regret ever lowering her guard and letting him into her life.
He stepped away from the door and she watched his every move, wishing she weren't drawn to how fit his body was, and wishing a tug of desire had not invaded her stomach. Although he wasn't as lean as he used to be, he wore his masculinity well. Well-toned muscles outlined his chest and shoulders—muscles she could easily see through the material of his chambray shirt. And then there were jeans that hugged his firm hips and strong thighs. They were thighs that could keep a tight hold on hers as he thrust deeper and deeper inside of her.
She forced the turbulent memories away. Her gaze moved back up to his eyes and she tried not to flinch at the cold look in them. Something inside her shivered and she wondered how a man she had once fallen in love with so deeply could end up treating her so shabbily.
"I live here in Somerset."
His voice cut through Summer's thoughts. He lived here in Somerset? Maverick County? That information immediately filled her with apprehension and dread, as well as curiosity. When had he left the Houston Police Department and why?
"I live in Somerset, as well," she heard herself say. "I moved to town last month to work here at Helping Hands as a social worker."
Surprise lit his eyes. "A social worker?"
She understood his surprise. When he'd last seen her seven years ago, he'd been twenty-four years old and a detective with the Houston Police Department. And she'd been a nineteen-year-old trying to escape the clutches of an abusive fiancé by the name of Tyrone Whitman. After she had broken off their engagement, Tyrone had refused to get out of her life, to leave her alone. He had stalked her for months before he'd finally caught her alone in her apartment, and for three hours he had held a gun to her head, threatening to blow her brains out.
While the SWAT team had been trying to talk Tyrone into surrendering, Darius had broken into the apartment by coming through a bathroom window. He'd apprehended Tyrone and saved her. That night, Darius Franklin had become her knight in shining armor.
He was the same man who had stopped by her apartment the next day to repair the window, and the same man who, after learning that a not-too-smart judge had posted bail for Tyrone, made it his business to become her protector until the trial. After that, he was the same man who she began seeing on a daily basis, who would drop by when his shift changed to spend time with her, to show her how special he thought she was.
The same man who during that time, for one night, had been her lover.
"So, you went to college and got your degree?" he asked, and for a split second she could have sworn she detected a degree of admiration in his voice, but the look in his hard gaze told her she'd been wrong.
"Yes, I got my degree," she responded, proud of her accomplishment and quickly remembering he was one of the few people who'd encouraged her to do so, and convinced her that she could. He had made her believe in herself. And a part of her had believed in them, in a future together. He had proven her wrong.
"Thank you," she said briskly, putting aside the document she had been reading. "So, why are you here, Darius? Although we've established the fact that we're both living in Somerset, I'm sure this town is big enough for the both of us. What brings you to Helping Hands?"
"I'm here to install the security system as well as the billing account for the shelter," he said, as if that explained everything.
She nodded. "I was told the Texas Cattleman's Club would be sending someone over to do those things," she said, finding it hard to concentrate.
She had heard a lot about the Texas Cattleman's Club, a group of men who considered themselves the protectors of Texas and whose members consisted of the wealthiest men in Texas, mostly from old money. The TCC was known to help a number of worthy causes in the community and Helping Hands, a newly opened women's shelter located in the small, impoverished section of wealthy Maverick County, was one of them. They provided all the shelter's funding.
Summer had interviewed for the position at the shelter and once she had been offered the job, had decided it would be a good way to have a fresh start. She had made the move from Austin, where she had been living for the past six years.
"How did you get the job?" She couldn't help but ask.
He shrugged. "I own a security company."
She raised a brow, surprised he had gotten out of law enforcement. He'd made a good police detective and she'd figured it would be his career. "How long have you been living in Somerset?" she asked.
"Around six years."
It was the same amount of time she had lived in Austin. He had moved here a year after they had broken up. She quickly recalled that they really hadn't broken up since they had never truly been together...at least not like she'd assumed they had.
"If you're through with your interrogation, I'd like to get to work," he said.
"Fine. I'll get out of your way if you need to work in here for a while," she said, getting up from her desk. Seeing him again after all this time was just a bit too much. Bittersweet memories were trying to invade her brain and she was determined to fight them back.
"If you need anything, just let the shelter's secretary, Marcy Dillard, know. I'll use this time to go to lunch."
She grabbed her purse out of her desk drawer and quickly moved past him toward the door.
She paused just before reaching the door and turned around. "Yes?"
He still had a hard look in his eyes. "I would say welcome to town, but I wouldn't mean it."
She narrowed her gaze. "Then I guess that means we'll have to learn to tolerate each other, doesn't it?"
Without waiting for him to respond, she turned and continued walking out the door.
Darius leaned back against the desk and watched Summer until she was no longer in sight. It was only then that he made an attempt to begin breathing normally again. But it was hard because although he couldn't see her, he still managed to feel her presence.
Seven years was a long time, yet today when a startled Summer had looked up at him and met his gaze, he'd felt a sensation that was like a swift kick in the gut. Potent memories had flooded his mind, forcing him to recall what she had come to mean to him in such a short period of time, and just how deep her betrayal had cut.
He hit his fist on the desk, angry and frustrated. How could he still find her so desirable after all this time? After all she'd done? Why had seeing her sent sensuous shivers down his spine? She was seven years older, no longer a mere nineteen-year-old who hadn't decided what she wanted out of life other than to be free of an obsessive ex-fiancé. She was just as stunning as he remembered. Even more so.
She had matured beautifully. She was about five-eight, tall and slim with shoulder-length straight brown hair and hazel eyes he could always drown in. Her skin tone, the color of café au lait, had always tempted him to lick her all over.
Darius bowed his head momentarily as even more memories he had tried so hard to forget resurfaced.
After college, he'd gotten a job with the Houston Police Department as a detective with aspirations of moving up the ranks. Authorities had been called to the scene regarding a domestic dispute, and Darius and his partner, Walt Stewart, had been the first to arrive.
A young woman who had obtained a restraining order against her ex-fiancé was in danger. The man, named Tyrone Whitman, had broken into her apartment and was holding a gun to her head, threatening to kill her unless she took him back.
While Walt tried talking him into surrendering, Darius was able to get into the apartment through a rear bathroom window, overtake Whitman and free Summer.
Concern for her safety when Whitman was released on bond allowed Darius to convince himself that it was important to keep checking on her. But then it became obvious it was a lot more than that. Point-blank, he had been attracted to her and thought she was a special woman who'd gotten mixed up with the wrong guy, and was trying to get her life together. Against his better judgment, although he'd been warned by Walt that Summer wasn't really what she seemed, he had fallen for her, and fallen hard.
He'd assumed he had gotten to know her, and thought she felt the same way after a night they had spent together filled with so much sexual chemistry that it could only end one way: they had made love. Deep, passionate love. Shudders passed through him just remembering that night and the effect it had on him. It was a night he could never forget, although over the past seven years he had tried like hell to do so.
And it was a night that apparently had meant more to him than it had to her.
The following day he had left town when he received word of his brother Ethan's near-fatal car accident. He'd had to leave immediately for Charleston and when he couldn't reach Summer, and had been unable to leave her a message because her voice-mail box was full, he'd left word with his partner to let her know what happened. When he had returned to Houston a week later, he discovered that Summer had packed up and left town without leaving word as to where she'd gone. She'd told Walt to tell him that she wanted to build a new life for herself and was leaving town with an older man. A very wealthy one—something Darius was not.
After nearly losing his brother, it had almost destroyed him to find out that he had lost her, that she had turned her back on what could have been between them to take up with a man with money.
A hard smile formed on his lips and he wondered what she would think to discover that he was now a wealthy man, thanks to smart investments and the success of his security firm. She thought he'd been hired as a laborer for the TCC—he could just imagine her reaction when she discovered he was a member of the Texas Cattleman's Club. The same club that was funding the shelter, including her salary.
Another thought crept into his mind, one that made his skin crawl. What if she knew already? What if the reason she was in Somerset was because she'd heard about his success and assumed after all this time she could ease her way back in his good graces? A woman looking for a wealthy husband would do just about anything. He'd been gullible before and wondered if she thought he would be gullible again. Considering her actions seven years ago, he wouldn't put anything past her.
He leaned against her desk as those thoughts filled his mind. She wasn't wearing a ring on her finger, which was a good indication that she wasn't married. And she had acted surprised to see him. But then it could have very well been an act. He had found out the hard way just what a good actress she was. One thing was for certain: he wouldn't be letting his guard down. She had taken advantage of his heart before but she wouldn't be doing so again.
He was about to begin the work he'd come to do when his cell phone went off. Recognizing the special ringtone, he pulled it off his belt and clicked it on. "Yes, Lance?"
"Hey, man, sorry I missed your call earlier."
"No problem. I just wanted you to know that I heard from Fire Chief Ingle. I'm meeting with him tomorrow evening to go over some things. He indicated that he'll have the official report ready in a week and that it contains proof that the fire was deliberately set."
Lance Brody was Darius's best friend from college at the University of Texas, where the two of them, along with another good friend, Kevin Novak, had been roommates. The three had forged a bond that would last a lifetime. There was nothing one wouldn't do for the other and Darius could rightly say that he could give his two friends credit for his financial success.
Lance, along with his younger brother Mitch, had come from old money and together they owned Brody Oil and Gas Company. The two had included Darius in a number of successful investment opportunities. So had Kevin, who'd made his fortune in real estate development.
Lance and Kevin had grown up in Somerset and had tried convincing Darius to move there after college but he had opted for the job in Houston instead. Then, shortly after that incident with Summer, he'd decided he would move to Somerset to start a new career and a new life.
He worked closely with his friends, and Lance had hired him to investigate a fire at the Brody Oil and Gas refinery a few weeks ago. Although there was significant damage, no one had gotten seriously hurt. Darius had no doubt the fire had been the work of an arsonist, and now Chief Ingle had confirmed his suspicions.
"I can't wait until we nail Alex. I intend to make sure that he rots in jail," Lance was saying.
Lance and Mitch were certain they knew the identity of the arsonist. He was the longtime hated rival of the Brodys, a man by the name of Alejandro "Alex" Montoya.
"Calm down, Lance. The man is innocent until proven guilty," Darius said.
"Wait until the report comes out. Mark my word, Alex Montoya is the person behind that fire."
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