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Even in the wide open spaces of Texas, secrets find a place to hidein the heart of a shy determined woman; behind the hard, rugged exterior of a DEA agent; and in the dangerous world of drug smuggling.
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The prolific author of more than one hundred books, Diana Palmer got her start as a newspaper reporter. A New York Times bestselling author and voted one of the top ten romance writers in America, she has a gift for telling the most sensual tales with charm and humor. Diana lives with her family in Cornelia, Georgia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"I won't go," Gloryanne Barnes muttered.
Tall, elegant Detective Rick Marquez just stared at her, his dark eyes unyielding. "Hey, don't go. No problem. We've got a body bag just your size down at the medical examiner's office."
She threw a wadded up piece of paper across the desk at him.
He caught it with one lean hand and raised an eyebrow. "Assault on a peace officer..."
"Don't you quote the law to me," she shot back, rising. "I can cite legal precedents from memory."
She came around the desk slowly, thinner than she usually was, but still attractive in her beige suit. Her skirt flowed to midcalf, above small feet in ankle-strapped high heels that flattered what showed of her legs. She perched herself on the edge of the desk. Her high cheekbones were faintly flushed from temper, and something more worrying. She had very long, light blond hair which she wore loose, so that it fell in a cascade down her back almost to her waist. She had pale green eyes and a wide forehead, with a perfect bow of a mouth under her straight nose. She never wore makeup and didn't need to. Her complexion was flawless, her lips a natural mauve. She wouldn't win any beauty contests, but she was attractive when she smiled. She didn't smile much these days.
"I won't be any safer in Jacobsville than I am here," she said, trotting out the same old tired argument she'd been using for the past ten minutes.
"You will," he insisted. "Cash Grier is chief of police. Eb Scott and his ex-mercenary cronies live there, as well. It's such a small town that any outsider will be noticed immediately."
She was frowning. Her eyes, behind the trendy frames of the glasses she occasionally wore in place of contact lenses for extreme nearsighted-ness, were thoughtful.
"Besides—" he played his trump card "—your doctor said..."
"That's not your business." She cut him off.
"It is if you drop dead on your desk!" he said, driven to indiscretion by her stubbornness. "You're the only witness we've got to what Fuentes said! He could kill you to shut you up!"
Her lips made a thin line. "I've had death threats ever since I got out of college and took a job here as an assistant district attorney," she replied. "It goes with the work."
"Most people don't mean it literally when they threaten to kill you," he returned. "Fuentes does. Do I really have to remind you what happened to your co-worker Doug Lerner two months ago? Better yet, would you like to see the autopsy photos?"
"You don't have any autopsy photos that I haven't already seen, Detective Marquez," she said quietly, folding her arms across her firm, small breasts. "I'm not really shockable."
He actually groaned out loud. His hands moved into his pockets, allowing her a glimpse of the .45 automatic he carried on his belt. His black hair, almost as long as hers, was gathered in a ponytail at his nape. He had jet-black eyes and a flawless olive complexion, not to mention a wide, sensuous mouth. He was very good-looking.
"Jason said he'd get me a bodyguard," she said when the silence grew noticeable.
"Your stepbrother has his own problems," he replied. "And your stepsister, Gracie, would be no help at all. She's so scatterbrained that she doesn't remember where she lives half the time!"
"The Pendletons have been good to me," she defended them. "They hated my mother, but they liked me."
Most people had hated her mother, a social-climbing antisocial personality who'd been physically abusive to Glory since her birth. Glory's father had taken her to the emergency room half a dozen times, mumbling about falls and other accidents that left suspicious bruises. But when one bout of explosive temper had left her with a broken hip, the authorities finally stepped in. Glory's mother was charged with child abuse and Glory testified against her.
By that time, Beverly Barnes was already having an affair with Myron Pendleton and he was a multimillionaire. He got her a team of lawyers who convinced a jury that Glory's father had caused the injury that her mother had given her, that Glory had lied out of fear of her father. The upshot was that the charges against Beverly were dropped. Glory's father, Todd Barnes, was arrested and tried for child abuse and convicted, despite Glory's tearful defense of him. But even though her mother was exonerated, the judge wasn't convinced that Glory would be safe with her. In a surprise move, Glory went into state custody, at the age of thirteen. Her mother didn't appeal the decision.
When Beverly subsequently married Myron Pendleton, at his urging, she tried to get custody of Glory again. But the same judge who'd heard the case against Glory's father denied custody to Beverly. It would keep the child safe, the judge said.
What the court didn't know was that Glory was in more danger at the foster home where she'd been placed, in the custody of a couple who did as little as possible for the six children they were responsible for. They only wanted the money. Two older boys in the same household were always trying to fondle Glory, whose tiny breasts had begun to grow. The harassment went on for several weeks and culminated in an assault that left her bruised and traumatized, and afraid of anything male. Glory had told her foster parents, but they said she was making it up. Furious, Glory dialed the emergency number and when the police came, she ran out past her foster mother and all but jumped into the arms of the policewoman who came to check out her situation.
Glory was taken to the emergency room, where a doctor, sickened by what he saw, gave the police enough evidence to have the foster parents charged with neglect, and the two teenage boys with assault and battery and attempted sodomy.
But the foster parents denied everything and pointed out that Glory had lied about her mother abusing her. So she went back to the same house, where her treatment became nightmarish. The two teenage boys wanted revenge as much as the spiteful foster parents did. But they were temporarily in juvenile detention, pending a bond hearing, fortunately. The foster parents weren't, and they were furious. So Glory stuck close to the two younger girls, both under five years old, whom she had been made responsible for. She was grateful that they required so much looking-after. It spared her retribution, at least for the first few days back at the house.
Jason Pendleton hated his stepmother, Beverly. But he was curious about her young daughter, especially after a friend in law enforcement in Ja-cobsville contacted him about what had happened to Glory. The same week she was sent back to the foster home, he sent a private investigator to check out her situation. What he discovered made him sick. He and his sister, Gracie, actually went themselves to the foster home after they'd read the investigator's covertly obtained police report on the incident—which was, of course, denied by the custodians. They pointed to Glory's attempt to blame her mother for the abuse that had sent her father to prison, where he was killed by another inmate within six months.
The day the Pendletons arrived, the two teenage boys who had victimized Glory were released to the custody of the foster parents, pending trial. Glory had been running away from the teenagers all day. They'd already torn her blouse and left bruises on her. She'd been afraid to call the police again. So Jason found Glory in the closet in the bedroom she shared with the two little girls, hiding under her pitiful handful of clothes on wire hangers, crying. Her arms were bruised all over, and there was a smear of blood on her mouth. When he reached in, she cowered and shook all over with fear.
Years later, she could still remember how gently he picked her up and carried her out of the room, out of the house. She was placed tenderly in the backseat of his Jaguar, with Gracie, while Jason went back into the foster home. His deeply tanned, lean face was stiff with bridled fury when he returned. He didn't say a word. He started the car and drove Glory away.
Despite her mother's barely contained rage at having Glory in the same house where she lived, Glory was given her own room between Gracie's and Jason's, and her mother was not allowed near her. In one of their more infamous battles, Jason had threatened to have his own legal team reopen the child abuse case. He had no doubt that Glory was telling the truth about who the real abuser was. Beverly had stormed out without a reply to Jason's threats. But she left Glory alone.
It became a magical time for the tragic young girl, belonging to a family which valued her. Even Myron found her delightful company.
After Beverly died unexpectedly of a stroke when her daughter was fifteen, Glory's life settled into something approaching normalcy. But the trauma of her youth had consequences that none of her adoptive family had anticipated.
Her broken hip, despite two surgeries and the insertion of a steel pin, was never the same. She had a pronounced limp that no physical therapy could erase. And there was something else; her family had a history of hypertension, which Glory inherited. No one actually said that the stress of her young life had added to the genetic predisposition toward it. But Glory thought it did. She was put on medication during her last year in high school. Severely overweight, shy, introverted and uncomfortable around boys, she was also the target of bullies. Other girls made fun of her. They went so far as to put false messages about her on the Internet and one girl formed a club devoted to ridiculing Glory.
Jason Pendleton found out about it. The girls were dealt with, one charged with harassment and another's parents threatened with lawsuits. The abuse stopped. Mostly. But it left Glory feeling alone and out of place wherever she went. Her health, never good, caused many absences during the time of turmoil. She lost weight. She was a good student and made excellent grades, despite it. She went on to college and then to law school with the support of her stepsiblings, and graduated magna cum laude. From there, she went to the San Antonio District Attorney's office as a junior public prosecutor. Four years later, she was a highly respected assistant prosecutor with an impressive record of convictions against gang members and, most recently, drug smugglers. Her weight problem was in the past now, thanks to a good dietician.
But in her private life, she was alone. She had no close friends. She couldn't trust people, especially men. Her traumatic youth in foster care had predisposed her to be suspicious of everyone, especially anyone male. She had male friends, but she had never had a lover. She never wanted one. Nobody got close enough to Glory Barnes to hurt her.
Now this stubborn San Antonio detective was trying to force her to leave her job and hide in a small town from the drug lord she'd prosecuted for distributing cocaine.
Fuentes was the newest in a long line of drug lords who'dcrossed the border into Texas, enlarging his drug territory with the help of his street gang associates. One of them, with the promise of immunity from Glory, had testified in the trial and despite his millions, the drug czar had been facing up to fifteen years in federal prison for distribution of crack cocaine. A hung jury on that case had let him walk.
After she lost the drug case against him, she'd been sitting in the hall when Fuentes came out of the courtroom. He couldn't resist bragging about his victory. Fuentes sat down beside her and made a threat. He had worldwide connections and he could have anybody killed, even cops. He had, he said, taken out a persistent local deputy sheriff who'd harassed him by hiring a contract killer only two weeks ago. Glory would be next if she didn't lay off investigating him, he'd added with an arrogant smile.
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