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An old love slept on her conscience, gnawed at her heart and tortured her soul. Betraying Levi Coyote had scarred Myra Delgado for life. She'd spent the past seven years regretting, blaming and cursing herself, but it hadn't changed a thing.
As an assistant district attorney in Houston, Texas, she didn't quite understand what she was doing in Willow Creek, Texas, following the GPS in her Lexus to Levi's home. But then again, she did. Levi was the best private investigator in the state and she needed his help.
She'd called his office and left messages, but he never returned her calls. After all this time, she'd thought he might have mellowed enough to forgive her. Since she couldn't forgive herself, it was understandable that he couldn't, either. It just made her very aware Levi was not a forgiving man.
The GPS said to turn right, so she pulled over on the country blacktop road. Up ahead, bordered by ranch land, were a cattle guard and a mailbox. On the box was written Henry and Levi Coyote.
Had Levi moved here permanently?
He'd often talked about retiring to his grandfather's ranch, but Levi was too young to retire. They were both thirty-four; he was older by five months. But it might explain why he was never at his office. She'd waited there for an hour this morning and he'd never showed.
Driving over the cattle guard, she gripped the steering wheel as the pipe grids jarred her and the car. Barbed-wire fences flanked her on both sides. Cattle grazed on the left in the warm September sun. Horses frolicked on the right. The graveled road led to a small white-frame farmhouse with a wide porch across the front. A chain-link fence surrounded it. Barns, pens and sheds were in the distance. A typical ranch one would see all across Texas.
She stopped at the fence gate. Two trucks were parked in a carport, and a car was behind one of the trucks.
An elderly gray-haired gentleman sat in a rocker on the porch. Myra got out of the car, but loud barks had her scurrying back inside. A black-and-white dog barked ferociously at her and then darted through a hole beneath the fence and joined the old man.
Once again she stepped out, using the door as a shield. "I'm looking for Levi Coyote," she shouted to the man.
"What?" He evidently couldn't hear her, so she had no choice but to step away from the car. She left the door open, though. Seeing her, the dog made a dash for the hole.
"Come back, John Wayne," the man called, easing out of the rocker. "Pay him no mind, missy. He's harmless."
His dog's name was John Wayne. Missy? She didn't have time to react as the dog sniffed around her feet. Please don't lick my shoes, she silently begged. Not my Jimmy Choo heels. Deciding the shoes weren't that tasty, the dog dashed back to the man.
She heaved a sigh and collected her wits. She should be used to animals. Her friend Jessie had all kinds of friends of the four-legged variety, but Myra was more of an indoor person instead of the outdoor type. Now was no time to dissect her failings. There were just too many.
"I'm looking for Levi Coyote," she said to the man. "He lives here occasionally," the man replied. "I'm his grandpa, Henry."
"Is he here now?"
"What's this about?"
"Ah." The man nodded as if he understood something she didn't. "You got a cheating husband you want him to follow?"
She ignored the remark. "Is he here?"
"Yeah, but he's out riding with his girlfriend."
Girlfriend? She hadn't counted on that. But why not? Levi was handsome, virile and available. He'd always wanted a family and a home of his own. One of the few things they'd argued about. He'd longed for children. She hadn't.
Why was she thinking of that now? It had nothing to do with the present.
"Do you know when he'll be back?"
"Nope. Levi's a grown man and he does as he pleases."
She hadn't driven all this way to turn around now. It was too important. "Do you mind if I wait?"
"Suit yourself, but it might be a while. With Valerie around, Levi's not looking at his watch, if you know what I mean."
Sadly, yes, she knew. They used to spend Sundays alone together and never glanced at a clock.
Brushing back a stray strand of dark hair, she asked, "Is there a place I can get a bite to eat or something to drink?" She hadn't eaten a thing this morning. She'd been in too big of a hurry to leave Houston.
"Sure, about a mile up the highway is a convenience store and a cafe. Got good food there. But if you'd like something to drink, we got water, tea and beer."
"No, thank you. I'll just"
The sound of hooves pounding against the hard ground caught her attention. Laughter floated on the wind as two figures on horseback came into view. A blonde with long flowing hair raced into the barn, followed by a man whose features were etched with broad, bold strokes on her memory: strong, hard-boned angles shaped his face, while a tall, lean body with unbelievable muscles, dark eyes and hair were indicative of his Indian ancestry. Levi Coyote personified strength and character and was a hard man to forget. Lord knows she'd tried.
"There he is," Henry said as if he needed to point out his grandson.
"Thank you. I'll drive to the barn."
"Suit yourself." Henry ambled to his rocker. John Wayne sat on his haunches beside him.
She drove to the weatherworn barn and got out, her heel sinking into the dirt. Damn it! She shouldn't have dressed in her business attire. Oh, well, all she needed was five minutes of Levi's time and then she could return to her comfort zonethe city.
The wind tugged at her hair and a pungent scent greeted her. Alfalfa, maybe. As she neared the big double doors, she didn't hear voices, which was strange. She stepped inside and saw why. They were kissing. The blonde had her arms clasped around Levi's neck and his enclosed her small waist, pulling her against him.
She should just walk away, but her feet wouldn't move. It was like watching a car accident. She couldn't tear her eyes away. She'd gotten over Levi a long time agoonly the regrets remained. She just didn't expect to feel this piercing pain in her chest at the sight of him kissing another woman.
This was invading his privacy and she needed to leave. Before Myra could move, the kiss ended and the blonde noticed her standing in the doorway like a voyeur.
"Oh," she said in a startled lilting voice.
Levi swung around and his dark eyes bore into her like a sharp arrow, intending to wound and to frighten her.
She dredged up every last ounce of courage she possessed, as she had so many times in the courtroom when faced with an egotistical alpha opponent determined to break her.
She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head.
At the sight of her, Levi's heart crashed against his ribs in well-remembered pain. God, he hated the woman.
She'd hurt him more than anyone he'd ever known. Yet he couldn't deny her beauty. Long brownish-black hair was pinned behind her head. She looked like a model, with high cheekbones and black eyes that could flash with anger or smolder with desire.
He'd loved her more than anyone in his life and she'd broken his heart without a second thought. Myra was determined to succeed in a man's world and nothing stood in her way. Not even her love for him.
"What are you doing here, Myra?"
"It's business," she replied, walking farther into the barn in ridiculously high heels.
Valerie kissed his cheek. "I'll go, then. I'm running late, anyway."
Guilt zinged across his conscience. He'd forgotten Val was standing there. "Don't forget to say bye to Pop. He gets a little miffed when you don't."
"He's such a sweetheart." She hugged him and he returned it. "Don't forget I'm fixing dinner."
"I won't." They kissed briefly and Val walked out. Levi refused to introduce them. Myra wasn't going to be around that long.
He placed his hands on his hips. "What do you want, Myra?"
"She's nice," Myra said.
"What do you want?"
"It's about Stu. He'd like to hire you."
"No." The horses neighed and he turned to them, undoing a cinch on a saddle. "You wasted your time invading my privacy. I'm not working for anyone who has a connection to you. Not even Stu."
"If you had answered my messages, I wouldn't have had to come out here."
He threw the saddle onto a sawhorse. "I didn't answer for a reason. You and I have nothing to say to each other. Most people would have figured that out."
"Just give me five minutes. That's all I'm asking."
He undid the cinch on the other saddle. "You just don't give up, do you?"
"I try not to, especially when a friend is involved."
Swinging the saddle onto another sawhorse, he said, "If you were that committed to your love life, you would have been one hell of a woman."
"Why are you making this personal, Levi? I'm sorry I hurt you and I've apologized, but you couldn't seem to get past your anger. After all these years, I would have thought you'd have gotten over it."
His hat lay in the dirt where Val had thrown it. He reached down to pick it up and dusted it off, giving him time to gauge his next words. "I have. It's just the shock of seeing you again, so sudden like, brought back a lot of painful memories. I've moved on and I'm happy now. I don't need you complicating my life."
"I have, too." She tucked a flyaway strand behind her ear. "Yes, we have a past, but we're adult enough to not let it interfere with the present."
He leaned against the saddle and crossed his boots at the ankles. "That's true, but you see I don't want you in my present in any way. Not because I still have feelings for you. I don't. I'd just rather not clutter my life with a past I regret."
"It's not for me, Levi. It's for Stu, who needs a good P.I."
"Stu knows just about every private investigator in the state. Besides, if he wants to hire me, why doesn't he call himself?"
"His daughter's in a coma and he's very distraught."
That threw him. Stu was one of the best friends he'd ever had when he was a cop. But Myra had ties to Stu, too. "I'd rather not get involved."
"Five minutes, Levi. What harm can that do?"
He drew a long breath. "Okay."
"Stu's daughter, Natalie, works in my office in Houston."
"The D.A.'s office?"
"Yes. She's a secretary and has worked with us for about three years. After her mother died, she came to Houston to get closer to her father. Last year, she got involved with Marco Mortez and we all thought it was great she'd found someone. But he turned out to be a loser. On Monday, he beat her into a coma and took their nine-month-old son. The police haven't been able to locate him."
"Were they married?"
"Is he the boy's father?"
"How serious is Natalie's condition?"
She bit her lip, something she did when she was nervous. He was probably the only person who knew that, except for her friend Jessie. He'd heard that Jessie had gotten married but he wasn't in the mood to discuss any details about Myra's life.
"It's bad. The doctor said he must have banged her head repeatedly against the wall or a table. They operated to stop the internal bleeding. Now they're dealing with the swelling of the brain. The doctor said she will either wake up or she won't. She has a fifty-fifty chance. The baby has to be there when she wakes up or she will be devastated."
Levi felt himself being pulled into Natalie's plight, but then, he was always a sucker where a baby was concerned. Still, he wasn't relenting.
"If the police are on the case, I don't see why you need a private investigator. And like I said, Stu still has a lot of pull in the police department." Stuart Stevens had been the police chief in Houston, but he'd retired after a bout with cancer.
She bit her lip again.
"You're not telling me everything, are you?"
"It's complicated, Levi."
He folded his arms across his chest. "Oh, really. I don't do complicated anymore, Myra."
"Okay." She shoved her hands into the pockets of her black slacks. "When the police couldn't locate Marco, I did some checking on my own. His family might have connections to a Mexican drug cartel."
"I don't have any evidence to back it up. Only what people in the apartment complex told me about Marco and the people who visited with him. I'm waiting on a report from the FBI to confirm."
"Well, then, I'd say it's safe to say that baby is in Mexico."
"Maybe not. Marco's parents have a home in Brownsville. The police there checked it out, but they said they hadn't seen their son in weeks. They could be hiding him, though."
"If he's wanted in Houston, he's not hanging around in Texas."
"Levi, please," she begged, her eyes dark with emotions he remembered too well. "I know you can track Marco down and find him when no one else can."
"You have a lot of confidence in me." Confidence that came just a little too late.
"I always have."
He lifted a hand. "Let's not go there."
"Levi, just check into it. Stu is willing to pay your fee plus expenses and a five-thousand-dollar bonus if you bring his grandson back."
"You're asking me to get involved with the drug cartel in Mexico? That's like signing my own death warrant."