Agent Daddy (Harlequin Intrigue #1166) [NOOK Book]

Overview



All hell broke loose when word spread that a vengeful serial killer was headed for the Triple T ranch. Fearing the worst, former FBI agent Luke Tripper entrusted his orphaned niece and nephew to Faith Bishop's tender loving care while he hunted down his prey. Their smoldering attraction chased away the winter chill, but the fiercely independent schoolteacher bristled when the brusque cattleman ordered round-the-clock protection. Despite the looming danger, Faith's unflinching courage stirred Trip's deepest ...
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Agent Daddy (Harlequin Intrigue #1166)

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Overview



All hell broke loose when word spread that a vengeful serial killer was headed for the Triple T ranch. Fearing the worst, former FBI agent Luke Tripper entrusted his orphaned niece and nephew to Faith Bishop's tender loving care while he hunted down his prey. Their smoldering attraction chased away the winter chill, but the fiercely independent schoolteacher bristled when the brusque cattleman ordered round-the-clock protection. Despite the looming danger, Faith's unflinching courage stirred Trip's deepest emotions… and he hungered to hold her close. Now with the body count rising and his loved ones in peril, would this hometown hero lay his heart on the line?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426841408
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 10/1/2009
  • Series: Harlequin Intrigue Series, #1166
  • Sold by: HARLEQUIN
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 308,671
  • File size: 164 KB

Meet the Author

I was born in Sacramento, California where I launched my writing career by "publishing" a family newspaper. Circulation was dismal. After school, I married the love of my life. We spent years juggling children and pets while living on sailboats. All the while, I read like a crazy woman (devoured Agatha Christie) and wrote stories of my own, eventually selling to magazines and then book publishers. Now, 45 novels later, I'm concentrating on romantic suspense where my true interest lies.

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Read an Excerpt

Thanks to the fussy baby in the backseat and the rain pounding the truck cab, it was amazing Luke Tripper heard the shrill ring of his cell phone. He answered quickly, expecting to hear his foreman detailing yet another problem on the ranch. "Trip here."

The response was a gravelly voice Trip had assigned to his past. "What's that racket?" his former boss demanded. Timothy Colby was the SAC of the Miami office of the FBI and he had the bark to prove it.

A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed tufts of reddish-blond hair, eyes squeezed almost shut, plump, tear-stained cheeks and two new teeth that glowed like freshwater pearls. "That noise is a frustrated ten-month-old baby," Trip said.

"Say again? I can barely hear you."

"It's Colin, my nephew," Trip all but yelled. His raised voice did what his cajoling murmurs hadn't been able to—Colin abruptly stopped crying. Into the relative quiet, Trip added, "What can I do for you, Mr. Colby?"

"Miss the Bureau yet?"

"I haven't had time," Trip replied.

"I thought being knee-deep in babies and cows, you might miss the excitement, the danger—"

"If you think infiltrating a group of terrorists is tricky, you've haven't tried to raise two little kids," Trip said. "And please, don't get me started on ranching."

Colby laughed, or maybe he growled. The exact spirit of the noise was hard to define.

A car in the other lane swerved too close and Trip accelerated out of the way. He'd witnessed a terrible accident on this very road just a few months before, when a bus driver suffered a heart attack and the bus careened off thehighway. He had no intention of being part of one now. "Sir, I'm running late. If this is a social call, maybe I could get back to you later."

"Not just social," Colby said, his voice sobering. "It's about Neil Roberts."

Trip frowned. "What about him? He's rotting away in jail."

"No. He got away during a prison transfer last night. Killed an officer in the process. Given your past relationship with this man, I wanted to give you a heads-up."

Special Agent in Charge Timothy Colby wasn't the kind to overreact. The fact he felt it prudent to issue a warning went a long way with Trip. "Is there any word Roberts is headed in this direction?"

"Not exactly, but he escaped on his way to Pelican Bay Penitentiary, down in California. All that stands between you and him is the state of Oregon."

Trip glanced back at his nephew again. The baby had snagged Trip's beloved Stetson and was putting his new teeth to work gnawing on the brim. "What are you doing to get him back?"

Colby detailed the combined police and FBI efforts to recapture Roberts and promised to stay in touch. They disconnected just as Trip took the exit into Shay.

The grammar school was on the other side of town and traffic was a mess—made more harrowing by frantic Christmas shoppers with less than two weeks left. Trip drove with extra caution, knowing he was distracted by Colby's news.

Neil Roberts on the loose. Neil Roberts, the scum of the earth, the sludge beneath the mud. Trip didn't want the brute within a thousand miles of his niece and nephew, or anyone else for that matter.

Another glance in the rearview mirror revealed Colin had dropped the hat and was revving up for a new tirade. Not only was Trip running late, he was bringing a sibling to a meeting with his niece's new teacher—even Trip knew that was bad form. There wasn't a thing he could do about it, since the babysitter hadn't shown up or answered her phone. He'd kept his eyes peeled for her broken-down heap beside the road as he drove into town, but he hadn't seen it.

He pulled into the parking lot twenty minutes late, grabbed his hat and the baby and dashed through the rain to the front office. A few minutes later he had a visitor's pass and directions to the afternoon kindergarten. Happy to be out of the car seat, Colin hung on to Trip's collar, his small legs clenched tight around Trip's torso, making little excited noises as they hurried.

The kindergarten was off by itself at the end of a long hall. When Trip finally reached the door, he paused to catch his breath and peer into the classroom.

This close to Christmas break, the room was festooned with chains of colored paper and hanging snowflakes.

Toy-cluttered shelves rimmed the perimeters, easels stood ready for young Picassos. Children's books were scattered across a circular rug in the middle of the room, and a fuzz ball in a cage next to the window gave a small exercise wheel a workout.

No teacher, no Noelle. Now what?

Part of him wanted to slink away. He was sure the teacher would have "suggestions" to fix whatever she thought he was doing wrong with Noelle, and he was just as sure he didn't want to hear them. This was a new teacher, barely here two weeks, a replacement for the last teacher who had left when her husband fell ill. That teacher had bombarded him with unsolicited advice.

Colin grabbed at a painting pinned to the wall and ripped off a corner, stuffing it into his mouth with lightning speed. As Trip rescued the rest of the painting from sure destruction and pried the paper out of Colin's mouth, the baby squealed—he might be small, but he had a mind of his own and the lungs to back it up.

At the sound of Colin's cry, Trip detected movement in the back of the room and watched as a woman seated at a desk he hadn't noticed before raised her head from her folded arms. She looked around blankly, blinking a few times until her gaze fastened on him and Colin. Like a shot, she was on her feet, speaking before she'd taken a step, straightening her ruffled white blouse, patting her hair, smiling.

"Mr. Tripper? Hello, welcome, I'm Ms. Bishop—Faith Bishop. I'm sorry, I… well, it looks like I nodded off."

At the sound of her voice, Colin swiveled in Trip's arms to face her, his noisy protest dissolving into a drooly grin and a series of coos.

At six foot three inches, Trip was used to towering over people, but this woman was truly petite, small-boned and delicate. She had a heart-shaped face, clear blue eyes, a delicate nose and surprisingly full lips. Wavy tendrils of wheat-blond hair escaped a little knot at the nape of her neck. Tiny silver earrings, no ring on any finger, slim hands, silver watch. He detected a slight limp, barely noticeable. He placed her in her midtwenties.

As she neared, the overhead fluorescent lights illuminated three or four fading scars on the left side of her face. He realized he'd been staring when her hand flew to her cheek, fingers barely grazing the scars before continuing on to push a few strands of hair behind her ear. It looked like a subconscious and recurring gesture.

Meanwhile, Colin was becoming increasingly hard to keep hold of, as he wiggled and kicked and stretched tiny arms toward the teacher. The cries morphed into squeaks of delight and anticipation as she stopped a foot or so away.

"You have to be Colin," she said to the baby. "Your big sister told me all about you."

Trip wondered what else Noelle talked about. She was pretty quiet around him, though he was beginning to sense a slight thaw.

The woman took the baby's hands in hers and smiled up at Trip. "It's very nice to meet you, too. Thank you for coming in."

Colin had almost squirmed his way into her arms by now, and laughing, she took his weight. "Persistent little guy, isn't he?"

"You have no idea." Taking off his hat and running his fingers through his short hair, he added, "I'm sorry we're late. The babysitter didn't show up."

"Oh, that's okay," she said as she gently disengaged Colin's hands from her hair. She peeled the baby's damp jacket off of him and dropped it on a pint-size chair.

"She's usually pretty conscientious," he added, determining at that moment to swing by Gina's place on the way home and make sure she hadn't taken ill. "I know I'm not supposed to bring another child to a meeting, either, but there wasn't a choice."

"It's not a problem," she said. "Let's go back to my desk and talk about Noelle." Effortlessly hitching Colin on her right hip, she led the way to her desk. For a small woman with a limp, she had a great walk, enhanced by the snug fit of her trousers and the way her blouse nipped in at the waist.

"Where is my niece?" he asked as he took off his leather jacket and hooked it on the back of a chair at the side of her desk. Sitting down, he crossed Levi's-clad legs, and perched his rain-speckled hat on his knee.

"I sent her to the library with an aide." She scooped up a few plastic shapes and scattered them in front of Colin. The baby squealed in delight as he pounded his hands and scattered them.

"You're sure good with kids," he said.

"It's a plus in my occupation."

"Do you have any of your own?"

She seemed to flinch at his question, but answered quickly enough. "No, but my brother and his wife have seven-month-old quadruplet girls. I'm very close to them."

"Local?" he asked, thinking of that flinch. After ten years in the Bureau, he'd learned to read people pretty well and to trust his instincts. Those instincts now said there were nuances here that aroused his curiosity. Ms. Bishop might look put together on the outside, but inside, he'd be willing to bet, there were troubles.

He instantly chided himself. He wasn't an agent anymore and she wasn't a desperado. What had driven him to invade her personal space by asking about children? He made a mental note to knock it off.

"No, my family lives up closer to Seattle, in a little town called Westerly."

"I imagine you're planning to go home for the holidays," he said, unsure why he kept questioning her, just intrigued by the undercurrents.

She blinked a time or two and said, "No, not this year," and in what appeared to be a blatant attempt to get the discussion back to him, added, "I want to be honest with you. Even though I've only been in Shay a couple of weeks, I've heard quite a bit about you."

"Uh-oh."

"Don't look so nervous."

"Where did you hear about me?"

"Here and there. The teachers' lounge."

"Gossip," he said.

She shrugged. "I wouldn't call it that. Concern for Noelle, intrigue over you—"

"Me?"

She titled her head. "You're a hometown boy who left the family ranch and joined the FBI. Plus you're a bona fide hero."

"That hero stuff is way overblown," he said, repositioning his hat, hoping she'd let it drop.

"Modesty aside, you saved everybody on an overturned bus right here in your own hometown. That's heroic."

"Not everyone," he said, glancing away from her blue eyes and down at Colin. The baby had abandoned the blocks and now lay sprawled against Faith's breasts, fingers curled in her ruffled blouse, eyes drooping, perfectly content. What male wouldn't be in such a position?

"I didn't know," she said gently. "I was under the impression everyone got out."

"There was an older woman trapped under a seat—" He stopped talking again as his nostrils seemed to fill with the smell of gasoline, his head with the screams of the trapped woman. He shifted in his chair.

"I'm sorry I've made you uncomfortable," she said. "I didn't realize…"

The truth was, he was used to being the one who knew things about other people, and he was finding he didn't much like being on the other end of things. "It's okay. People talk."

"But not unkindly. You shouldn't think that."

"Well, it's water under the bridge," he said. "Old news."

His next thought made his blood run cold. Was it old news? It had happened less than five months ago when he came home to see his dying mother. There'd been a newspaper article, too, despite the Bureau's attempt to keep it hush-hush.

What about Neil Roberts? All the escaped man had to do was hit a library computer and do a little digging.

Trip's jaw tightened. He had to get back to the ranch, alert people, get a picture of Roberts and pass it around. But not now. For fifteen more minutes he was here to focus on Noelle, not Neil Roberts.

At first he was relieved when she brought the subject of the meeting back in focus. "Noelle is a great kid," she said.

"Yeah—"

"A little shy, but you know that."

"She's been through a lot," he said, narrowing his eyes.

"I know."

"But she's resilient. She'll be okay."

"I'm sure she will. I know she will."

"Losing her folks was hard on her," he said gruffly.

"And on you, too, Mr. Tripper. Hard on all of you."

Here it came, the "How To Help Noelle" speech. Hell, maybe she had an idea or two on how to fix him, too. Very carefully, he said, "I think Noelle is coping as well as can be expected. She needs stability and time—"

"Mr. Tripper? Please don't get the idea I have anything negative to say about Noelle, or your parenting, either, for that matter."

A big knot Trip hadn't even been aware of seemed to unravel in his gut. "I guess I'm getting defensive," he admitted slowly. "I'm new at this."

"Noelle and Colin are lucky kids to have you. Not all uncles would be willing to change their lives and step in when needed."

He nodded, feeling uneasy with accolades he knew he didn't deserve. He'd done what needed to be done, sure, but he'd had to give himself a few stern lectures along the way. At thirty-seven years of age, it was no easy trick going from self-centered bachelor agent to single dad in the course of a day or two.

He glanced back at Faith in time to witness her smothering a yawn with her hand. She'd done it a couple of times already, and up close, bluish smudges showed under her eyes. When she caught him watching her, she shook her head. "I'm so sorry."

"Keeping late hours?"

"Not intentionally."

"Excuse me?" he asked, intrigued.

She took a deep breath, seemingly on the edge of explaining, and then she shied away, glancing down at Colin again, running fingers lightly over his spiky hair.

Undercurrents. Issues. He'd bet the ranch she was in trouble, but what kind he couldn't imagine. She didn't seem the kind for trouble with the law—that left family, and she'd said she had no family here. That didn't mean there wasn't a boyfriend, however. So, what was worrying her at home? Something to do with the scars on her face and the limp?

"This isn't fair," he said.

"What isn't?"

"You know all about me and I know nothing about you."

"There's not much to know," she said.

"Married?"

"No."

"Attached?"

"Mr. Tripper, really. The details of my life aren't pertinent."

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