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Agent Wade Coltrane, ex-Army Special Forces, has returned home to Freedom, Texas, for his next assignment: infiltrate the Long K Ranch and bust the owner for attempted murder. The obstacle: Lindsay Kemp, his high school sweetheart—and his target's granddaughter. Wade never expected Lindsay to still be living on the struggling ranch, let alone be a single mother to precious twin girls. Each day he spends undercover only intensifies his lingering desire for Lindsay and rouses his protective instincts. And he'll need them, for there's a killer on the ranch, and he's set his vengeful sights on Lindsay....
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Raised an Air Force brat, Elle James got her work ethic from her dad, creativity from mom and inspiration from her sister. As a member of the reserves, she's traveled, managed a career, and raised three children. She and her husband even raised ostriches and emus. Ask her what it's like to go toe-to-toe with a 350-pound bird! Former manager of computer programmers, Elle is happy to write full time in NW Arkansas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Wade Coltrane stepped out of his truck and stared at the ranch house. Five years hadn't changed much. The paint was a little more worn, flaking off in a few places. The lawn could use cutting and the barn out behind the house had that weathered, old-wood look, but other than that, it appeared the same.
He tried to push back the feeling of having come home. He hadn't returned to the Long K Ranch to get comfortable and reminisce about old times, or to pick up where he'd left off. In many ways you could never go back. Time had a way of changing people, places and perspective.
Wade had come to secure employment with the ranch owner as cover for his real mission—spying on the one suspected of carrying out threats against Governor Lila Lockhart.
second thoughts about his task had no place in his life. After the disaster of his military career, he needed this job and he needed to redeem himself. If not to anyone else, then in his own mind. He had a lot to atone for and nothing and nobody would get in the way of that atonement.
A pang of guilt sat like a wad of soggy sweat socks in his gut. Old Man Kemp had been his father's employer, the grumpy ranch owner had been tough but, for the most part, fair.
Wade had grown up on the ranch, playing in the barn, riding horses and swimming in the creek. Kemp's granddaughter had tagged along, getting in his way almost every step of the way.
Being the boss's kin, he'd put up with her.
An image of a redheaded hellion riding bareback at breakneck speeds across the pasture flashed across his memories.
Lindsay Kemp. Beautiful, passionate and fiercely independent and loyal. The boss's granddaughter. Completely out of his league, only he hadn't been bright enough to recognize it until too late.
A sigh rose up his chest and he swallowed hard. History had no place in the present other than as a reminder not to repeat one's mistakes.
Lindsay had forgotten him as soon as he left for boot camp. By the time he'd built his career in the Army and returned to ask her to marry him, she'd up and gotten herself engaged to a local doctor.
Just as well that she married a doctor. She'd have hated the life of a military spouse. And he hadn't been willing to give up his Army career. Then.
In five years, a lot could change.
Wade knocked at the door. When no one answered, he rounded the house and headed for the barn. He spied movement in one of the training pens and altered his course.
A white-haired man, astride a sturdy bay gelding trotted around a well-worn circle inside the round pen. When he spied Wade, the old guy drew back on the reins, bringing the big gelding to a stop. Henry Kemp glared down at Wade with rheumy blue eyes. We ain't buying anything.
I'm not selling.
I'm here to apply for the ranch hand job you posted at the Talk of the Town.
The old man's gaze traveled Wade's length. Why should I hire you?
Because I know this ranch as well as you do, Mr. Kemp. Wade forced a grin he didn't feel. Do you remember me, Mr. Kemp? Wade Coltrane. Jackson Coltrane's son.
Little Wade Coltrane? Henry slung his leg over the horse and eased to the ground. For a seventy-five-year-old man, Mr. Kemp got around pretty good.
Wade looked closer. The old guy got around but was it good enough to be a real threat to Governor Lockhart? This was the man suspected of hiring Rory Stockett to take a shot at her. The man who might have seeded the highway with horseshoe nails to cause the governor's limo to crash late last night?
Granted the old guy was a perpetual grump, a loudmouth and generally cantankerous, and he loved his granddaughter. A big plus in Wade's estimation.
But if Bart Bellows had good reason to believe Henry Kemp was threatening Governor Lockhart, who was Wade Coltrane, ex-soldier, to argue? He needed the job Bart offered, not only for the money, but also for a second chance. Henry's eyes narrowed. Why you hiding behind that beard?
Wade rubbed the neatly trimmed facial hair. Not hiding. The ladies tell me it's sexy.
The old man snorted. That flyer must be three months old. I hired a ranch hand a long time ago. What do I need another one for?
I hear you've got some fences in need of repairing and roundup next week.
And some people have big mouths. Where'd you learn all that?
Wade reached out to stroke the soft muzzle of the gelding. A couple of mutual acquaintances.
I'd bet my Sunday shorts that was Stan and Fred. Those old coots ain't got a lick of sense.
So do you?
Kemp's bushy white brows rose. Do I what? Have a lick of sense? Hell, yeah.
Wade chuckled. I know that, but do you have a need for a ranch hand who knows what he's doing and knows the lay of the land?
I tell you what I don't need, and that's a smart-mouth cowboy. Have you learned any better how to take orders?
Take 'em, and give 'em.
The old man glared down at him for a full minute before he spoke again. You can have a rack in the bunkhouse. Dinner's at the big house at six-thirty sharp. If you're not there, you don't eat.
With a tip of his hat, Wade stood with his foot on the lower fence rail. Thanks, Mr. Kemp.
Don't thank me. And don't make me regret hiring you.
The old man had walked right into Wade's trap, believing his story hook, line and sinker. The first step in his infiltration was successful, Wade walked away, his sights set on mission accomplishment. Nothing would get in his way.
Lindsay Kemp steered the rickety ranch truck through the arching gateway of the Long K Ranch. Lyric and Lacey leaned against each other in the backseat of the crew cab, buckled into their booster seats, sound asleep. They usually fell asleep on the way home from the Cradles to Crayons Daycare where they spent two days of the week in the mother's day-out program. Lindsay couldn't really afford it, but the girls needed time to play with children their own age. And Lindsay needed the break to handle things in town and on the ranch without four-year-old, identical twins underfoot.
She glanced in the rearview mirror at the black-haired girls and marveled at how they didn't look a bit like her. Neither child had auburn hair, gray-green eyes or even a single freckle like their mother.
Their biological father had strong genes. He'd been the spitting image of his father, thick black hair, blue eyes and high cheekbones. Somewhere in their ancestry was Apache Indian blood, thus the hair and cheekbones.
Too bad the girls would never know their father and their father would never know them. Because he'd dedicated himself to a career in the Army, Lindsay hadn't wanted to place a burden on him by telling him that she was pregnant. Almost five years later, the opportunity to enlighten him was well past.
Lindsay glanced at her watch. Crap!
She had exactly ten minutes to get the girls into the house, get herself changed and catch the horses before Zachary showed up for his riding lesson. Stacy, Zachary's mother, always arrived five minutes early.
Lindsay pressed her foot to the accelerator, roaring down the gravel road toward the ranch house. She skidded to a stop in front of the only home she'd ever known, slammed the truck into Park and jumped out.
Girls, let's get you inside. Come on. Wake up.
Lacey perked up and stared around, her eyes blinking. Can I have a grilled cheese sandwich? Lindsay lifted her out of the truck and set her on her feet
Maybe after riding lessons, unless Grandpa can make it for you.
Lacey trudged toward the house, her forehead wrinkled in a frown. He burns them. I want you to make me one.
Then it'll have to wait until after lessons.
Lyric remained fast asleep on the backseat, having tipped over.
Her pale skin and bright pink lips looked angelic. Lindsay didn't have the heart to wake her. Despite her aching back, she lifted the child and carried her into the house where she laid her on the couch in the living room.
Gramps, Lindsay shouted, hurrying down the hallway to her room.
That you, Lindsay? a coarse voice called from the study.
Yes, sir. I'm late for my riding lessons. Can I bother you to keep an eye on the girls?
Bother? Her grandfather appeared in the doorway to his office. Since when are my great-granddaughters a bother?
You're a dream, Gramps. Lindsay ducked into her room and yanked a well-worn chambray shirt and equally worn jeans from her closet. Lacey wants a grilled cheese sandwich. She can wait until I get done with lessons.
I'm old, not dead. I can manage a little girl's sandwich, her grandfather groused.
Lindsay had learned long ago that Grandpa Kemp's bark was much worse than his bite. Even the twins had him figured out. Too bad not everyone in Freedom, Texas, understood Henry Kemp. He griped fiercely, and he loved fiercely.
Gramps, she doesn't like it burned. Give her a drink and an apple. I'll make the sandwich when I'm done.
I'm perfectly capable of making a sandwich, he grumbled. But have it your way.
Thanks, Gramps. Lindsay smiled inside her room, slipping out of her nicest jeans and into worn denim. After lessons, she'd be mucking stalls. No use damaging her only good pair of jeans. They can come out when they're fully awake and have had their snack. Lindsay stripped her best white blouse off and shoved her arms into the chambray shirt.
Yes, ma'am. Am I getting that old that I'm taking orders from my granddaughter now?
Lindsay buttoned as she hurried down the hall. She stopped to briefly kiss her grandfather's cheek. You're always the boss, Gramps. I love you.
The old man rubbed a hand to the place she'd kissed, a frown clearing from his forehead. Damn, right.
Watch your language. Lindsay sprinted through the house, grabbing sugar cubes from the jar on the table beside the back door.
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Book Description Harlequin, 2011. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Lgr. Seller Inventory # DADAX0373746024
Book Description Harlequin, 2011. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373746024
Book Description Harlequin Intrigue Large Print, 2011. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373746024