Midnight Rider (Big 'D' Dads: The Daltons)

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9780373698066: Midnight Rider (Big 'D' Dads: The Daltons)
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THIS COWBOY WON'T BACK DOWN 

Houston homicide detective Brittany Garner just got hit with a one-two punch. The twin sister she never knew existed has been found dead, leaving behind a three-month-old daughter. Brittany's vow to find her sister's murderer, as well as the father of the orphaned infant, leads straight to Cannon Dalton. A bull rider who spends his life roaming from rodeo to rodeo, Cannon has only one mission now: protect the beautiful cop and the child who could be his. Caught in the crosshairs of escalating danger—and his powerful desire for Brittany—Cannon races to stop a desperate killer...and a revenge that's been a long time coming.

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About the Author:

Joanna began her professional writing career in 1994. Now, Almost sixty published books later, Joanna has gained a wroldwide following with her cutting-edge romantic suspense and Texas family series such as Sons of Troy Ledger and the Big D Dads series. Connect with her at www.joannawayne.com or write her at PO Box  852, Montgomery, TX 77356.

 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Brit Garner woke to the irritating rattle of her cell phone vibrating against her bedside table. She pulled the pillow over her head and tried to ignore it. It finally stopped only to start again a few seconds later. If this was her partner, she was going to kill him.

She checked the caller ID and then took the call. "This had better be of life-threatening importance, Rick Drummond."

"Not life threatening, but I think you better get down to the morgue."

"What part of 'I'm on vacation with plans to sleep until noon every day' do you not understand?"

"I get it. You've worked your gorgeous butt off the past few months. But I think you'll want to see this."

"I've seen dead bodies before." Too many of them, which was why she needed a few well-deserved days off. A walk in a park or along the beach would do wonders for her state of mind. Time to read a book or visit friends would be heaven.

Her dad had warned her it would be like this.

"Just come down. No work involved. I really think you should see this."

"Why is it so urgent I see this particular body?"

"Just get down here, Brit. I'll buy you coffee and breakfast after."

"A real breakfast. No coffee and doughnut on the fly."

"Anything you want—under ten bucks, of course."

"Splurging and secrecy. You're starting to freak me out. I'll be there as soon as I can throw on some clothes. Not work clothes. I'm on vacation, remember?"

"Hard to forget when you keep bringing it up every ten seconds. Come on up to Autopsy when you get here."

Brit kicked off the top sheet and stretched her legs over the side of the bed. She went to the bathroom, splashed her face with cold water and brushed her teeth. After that she shed her nightshirt and wiggled into a pair of faded jeans and a long-sleeved green T-shirt. A quick brush of her long hair and she was ready.

She'd go to the morgue but, no matter how interesting the case, she wouldn't let Rick sway her to jump in. She really needed the time off. And not only to rejuvenate, but also to try to figure out where she'd gone wrong on a very important case.

The colder a case got the harder it was to solve. She'd been working on her father's murder for three years without a decent lead. She had to be overlooking a key element. No murder was perfect.

Less than a half hour later, she was walking into the autopsy section of the morgue. The facilities were state-of-the-art and as familiar as her neighborhood grocery store, though the odors were far more unpleasant.

Her partner, Rick, was standing next to the gray examining table. Her favorite pathologist, Elise Laugh-ton, was at the other side of the table and slipping out of her gloves.

"Looks like she put up a hell of a fight," Elise said. "Evidently she was just no match for the strength of her attacker."

"Cause of death?" Brit asked by way of greeting, determined to stick to the basics.

"You made good time," Elise said, looking up.

"Traffic was light. And as you can see, I didn't bother with makeup since I'm not sticking around long."

Elise shared a concerned look with Rick and then looked back to her. "To answer your original question, the evidence includes new bruising on the hands and arms and having her throat slashed."

Another morning in Houston. Not that all murders weren't bad, but any detective in the department could handle this, including Rick. There had to be something more going on for him to call her in this morning.

"So start talking, Rick, and this had better be good."

Rick frowned. "Take a look."

Brit stepped closer for an unobstructed view of the body. An icy chill seeped deep inside her as she studied the victim.

She could have been staring into a mirror. The lifeless victim spread out on the cold metal slab looked exactly like her.

Chapter Two

One Week Later

"How about passing that potato salad before Leif goes back for seconds and doesn't leave any for the rest of us?" Travis joked.

"Look who's talking," Leif said as he handed down the serving bowl. "You've been hogging the platter of fried chicken like a starving man."

"That's 'cause I had him out baling hay all afternoon," Adam said. "Nothing like a little ranch work to build up an appetite."

"Save room for the apple pie a la mode," Hadley said. "I made it myself and I'll be insulted if there's a bite left on a dish."

"Ice cream!" four-year-old Lacy added. She pushed her plate back. "I want mine now."

"Me, too," R.J. said, "but I better clean my plate first. You better eat a few more bites of dinner, too."

R.J. smiled and leaned back in his chair. There was a time not so many months ago that he'd have been sitting at this table all alone. Or passed out somewhere skunk drunk. Now he was alcohol-free, thankful to be surrounded by family. Best medicine in the world for a dying man.

He didn't have much of an appetite these days, even though his daughters-in-law Hadley and Faith had become dadgum good cooks. His third daughter-in-law, Joni, was too busy being the best dang vet in the state of Texas to spend much time in the kitchen.

Besides, he suspected she might be pregnant. She'd turned green and rushed away from the breakfast table a couple of days ago and she'd developed a little swell in the belly. He wouldn't ask. She'd tell them all when she was ready.

It had been over a year now since the neurosurgeon had given R.J. the death sentence. A malignant, inoperable brain tumor that would eventually take his life. For some miraculous reason, the tumor had decided to slow down a bit and give R.J. time to enjoy his family—the family he'd never bothered to get to know when he was drinking and carousing like the SOB he'd been for most of his life.

He'd given little thought to contacting his estranged kids until the grim reaper had looked him square in the eye and chuckled. But getting to know Adam, Leif and Travis and their families had given his life more meaning than he'd thought possible. Why, already there had been three weddings on the Dry Gulch Ranch. Fortunately, none of them his. Four weddings were enough for any one man.

Still, with each passing day, the longing grew stronger to connect with his other three children. So far, no luck there. His youngest son, Cannon, was either too resentful or too busy with his bull riding to give R.J. the time of day.

His daughter, Jade, was the baby of the family, though she was in her early twenties now. The only times he'd seen her was when she came to the ranch for the reading of the will. She hadn't cared much for his requirement that a beneficiary would have to spend a year living on and helping work the Dry Gulch Ranch to get a share in his estate. Hadn't seemed too pleased that he'd had the reading of the will while he was still breathing, either.

Had let him know it, too, in no uncertain terms. As feisty a hellcat as her mother had been. The ranch had never offered enough excitement for Kiki. Apparently it didn't for their daughter, Jade, either.

And that left his oldest son, Jake, rich Texas rancher and oilman. The wealth inherited from his mother's side of the family. Jake had everything a man could want. Fancy cars. Private jets. Gorgeous women half his age draped across him in every picture of him that appeared on the society pages of the Dallas Morning News.

Jake had moved on so far he couldn't even see R.J. in his mind's rearview mirror. No doubt his mother had done the same. Stupidest mistake R.J. had ever made was letting her walk away. He wondered what she was like now. He still pictured her as young and beautiful as she'd been at eighteen when they'd married. Best-looking girl in the small country high school they'd attended. Hell, she was probably the best-looking girl in all of Texas back then.

The doorbell rang.

"Are you expecting company tonight?" Faith asked.

"Nope," R.J. said. "Probably a neighbor stopping by."

"I'll get it," Adam offered, already scooting back from the table.

"You just keep eatin'," R.J. said. "I need a little exercise. Old bones get stiff if I sit too long."

He held on to the edge of the table for extra support as he stood. Never knew when one of those dizzy spells would hit. He ambled to the door, taking his time about it. The doorbell rang again.

"Hold your horses. I'm coming."

He swung open the door and stared into the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. He took in the rest of the stranger, enjoying the tour. He might be near dead. But just because he couldn't sample the wares didn't mean he couldn't window-shop.

"You must be lost," he said, sure he'd never seen the tall, willowy strawberry blonde before.

"Is this the Dry Gulch Ranch?"

"Was the last time I looked at the sign over the gate."

"Are you R. J. Dalton?"

"Yep. You're batting a thousand so far."

"Then I'm not lost." A baby whimpered.

R.J. followed the sound to a baby carrier resting on the porch, next to the stranger's right foot. The young woman reached down and grabbed the handle, lifting the carrier so that he could see the adorable infant peeking from beneath a yellow blanket. The baby kicked and made a few boxing moves with its tiny fists.

"And who might this be?" R.J. asked.

"This is your three-month-old granddaughter, Kimmie."

"My granddaughter. Well, don't that just beat all?"

"Yes, it does." She pushed the carrier toward him. When he didn't take it, she set it on the floor inside the door.

"Come on in," R.J. urged, opening the door even wider.

"No, thank you. I'm just here to drop off Kimmie."

"What do you mean drop her off?"

"Just that. I'm leaving her in your care."

"You can't do that. I'm a sick man. I can't take care of a baby." Had never done that when he was young and healthy.

"Then I suggest you hire someone to take care of her or call your son Cannon and tell him to stop by and pick up his daughter."

So Cannon was playing around with more than bulls. A chip off the old block. But the old block had made a lifetime of mistakes.

"Why don't you go tell Cannon that yourself?"

"I don't have time at the moment to go chasing down some irresponsible bull rider."

Apparently not time to raise her child, either.

She pulled a business card and an envelope from her pocket. "If Cannon has questions, he can reach me at this number. Inside the envelope, you'll find everything you need to know about caring for Kimmie."

"I'm gonna need a lot more than some notes."

"Yes, you'll need this to get you started." The woman slid a large canvas tote from her shoulder and handed it to him, as well. "There's formula, bottles, diapers and a few changes of clothing inside."

"You got a momma for her in there, too?"

The woman didn't answer, but he could swear those striking blue eyes of hers were moist when she turned and walked away.

She stopped just before she reached her car. "I play classical music for Kimmie when she gets fussy. It calms her down."

There was a definite quiver in her voice but no hesitation as she got into her car and drove away.

Once her taillights disappeared, R.J. took a look at the card she'd pressed into his left hand.

Brittany Garner, Homicide Detective, Houston Police Department.

Cannon sure knew how to pick them. Gorgeous, sexy and she could handle a weapon. All good traits in a woman—unless she turned the gun on you.

R.J. was still staring at the newest addition to the family when his daughter-in-law Hadley joined him at the door. She stopped and stared at the baby. "Oh, my gosh. Look how adorable."

Hadley reached down, unbuckled the baby from her chair and picked her up, all the while gushing baby talk.

"Hello, little sweetie. Did you just drop from heaven and land at our door?"

"Something like that," R.J. said.

Hadley's eyebrows arched. She dropped the baby talk. "What are you talking about? Who is this?"

"Name's Kimmie, or so her mother said."

"Who's her mother?"

"Apparently a lady cop."

"What do you mean apparently? You must know whose baby this is?" Hadley walked to the door and looked out. "Where is her mom?"

"Gone back to Houston, I s'pect."

"Without her baby? What's going on here?"

"Supposedly this is my granddaughter."

"Who's the father?"

"Allegedly, it's Cannon, but I bet he's gonna be as surprised about this as we are."

R.J. smiled in spite of the situation. Not the ideal bargaining tool, but it was one way to get Cannon back to the Dry Gulch Ranch. His neighbor Caroline Lambert was right. God sure worked in mysterious ways.

Chapter Three

Macabre kicked his way out of the creaky gate with a vengeance that sent adrenaline exploding through Cannon's veins. One. Two.

The bull bucked wildly. The rope dug into Cannon's gloved hand. His lucky Stetson went flying. Bad omen. Three. Four.

The crowd's cheers mingled with the thunderous stamping of the bull's hooves and the frantic beating of Cannon's heart.

Five.

Cannon's body shifted and began to slide. Instinct took over. He struggled to hang on, leaning hard, fighting to shift his weight.

Macabre's fierce back hooves propelled the animal's powerful muscles, twisting and spinning the two-ton mass of fury. The rope slipped. White-hot pain ripped through Cannon's shoulder.

He was on the ground. The rank breath of the snorting bull burned in his own nostrils. Flying dirt blinded him. He blinked, covered his head with his hands and rolled away.

Shouts from the rodeo clown echoed though the arena, but the bull didn't back off. It swerved and came back at Cannon.

Cannon rolled in the opposite direction. The crowd gasped in unison as one hoof came so close to his head that Cannon could feel the vibrations rattle inside his skull.

Then the bull turned and went after the clown. Cannon owed Billy Cox big-time.

He picked himself up, grabbed his hat and waved it to the crowd as he scrambled back to safety. Cox was safe, as well. Only then did Cannon check the results.

Seven seconds.

Disappointment burned inside him. One more second and he would have scored big. He'd drawn Macabre, the most vicious of the bulls on tonight's docket. The animal that could have put Cannon in pay dirt.

Already December, one of the last of the rodeos in what had been a great year for Cannon. Still, he could have used that prize money. Like most rodeo addicts who loved bull riding, the day would come when he'd have to retire. He'd need mucho cash to do that right.

What was a cowboy without a ranch?

"Bad luck," one of the other riders said.

"I'd say good luck," another said. "You could have been leaving here in an ambulance tonight."

"Seven seconds on Macabre should be worth ten on any of the other bulls in the chute tonight."

Cannon acknowledged the comments with a nod and a shrug. Nothing else was needed. They all knew the disappointment of losing to a bull.

"Mighty tough way to make a living."

The voice was unfamiliar, gruff, but with a rattle that came with lots of years of living. Cannon turned to see who'd spoken.

Reality sent a shot of acid straight to his gut. As if tonight hadn't already been bad enough.

"What are you doing here?" Cannon asked.

"I came to see my son ride," R.J. said. "No law against that, is there?"

Probably should be. "You've seen me," Cannon said.

"Now what?"

"We need to talk," ...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780263252941: Midnight Rider (Mills & Boon Intrigue)

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ISBN 10:  0263252949 ISBN 13:  9780263252941
Publisher: Mills & Boon
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9780373748600: Midnight Rider (Big 'D' Dads: The Daltons)

Harleq..., 2014
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9780263260106: Midnight Rider

Mills ..., 2015
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