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There was, Priscilla decided, nothing like the scent and colors and sounds of harvest. Sitting on the tailgate of the old Ford pickup that was used for work on the ranch, she watched, entranced, as Buck and her soon-to-be brothers-in-law, John and Hunter, cut and baled the alfalfa that had been planted last spring in the lower pastures. A gentle breeze caught the dust from the fields and sent it swirling, and in the long shadows of the late afternoon, the air turned golden.
Wishing she'd brought her camera, Priscilla couldn't remember the last time she'd felt such peace. She'd been at the Broken Arrow for nearly two months, and in all that time, there hadn't, thankfully, been a single attack against the ranch. She'd had time to heal and to grow to appreciate the land of her American ancestors. And without quite knowing how it had happened, Colorado had become home.
She couldn't, however, stay any longer. She had responsibilities in London she needed to get back to, and she was stunned to realize how much she hated the idea of leaving. How her brother and sisters would laugh when she told them that, she thought ruefully. She'd been the last to leave England, the lone holdout in the family who'd been so positive that she wanted no part of living in the wilds of Colorado. And now just the thought of leaving made her want to cry.
"You're awfully quiet," her sister Elizabeth said as the men called it a day and started across the field toward where the women of the family waited under the lone tree at the edge of the field. "Are you all right? Maybe you should have stayed at the house."
"The doctor said you were supposed to take it easy," Katherine reminded her.The closest sister to her in age, Katherine looked just like their mother when she frowned at her in concern.
"It's been two months since my surgery," she replied. "I'm completely healed. Really."
Studying her shrewdly, her sister-in-law, Rainey, said, "The removal of a spleen's not something you get over in a week or two. And you have been helping out a lot around the ranch lately. Maybe you need to pace yourself more."
Joining them in time to hear his wife's comments, Buck shot Priscilla a sharp look. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said. "Everyone thinks that just because I'm not talking much, I'm not feeling well. I'm fine. I don't need to take it easy. I just have a lot on my mind."
"You want to go back to London, don't you?" Elizabeth guessed, studying her with shrewd blue eyes. "You're homesick."
"She is not!" Katherine retorted before she could answer. "She's still having nightmares about the accident, and she should be. It wasn't an accident! Someone tried to kill her. If I were her, I'd never step foot in England again."
"She has to finish her internship," Rainey reminded Katherine. Turning to Priscilla, she frowned. "I thought you were going to wait until the probation period on the ranch was up, then go back to London after Christmas."
"That was my plan," she admitted. "But I have some things that need to be taken care of now. I can't just keep putting them off."
"No," Buck said firmly.
"I've been paying for a flat that I haven't used for two months," she argued. "And I don't want to be in London anymore. I need to give up the lease, but I can't just abandon my things. I have to go back, make arrangements for movers"
"You can do that from here," Katherine pointed out.
"True," she agreed, "but I also need to talk to Jean Pierre "
"So call him," Elizabeth said.
"No, I need to meet with him face-to-face. I'd like to finish my internship from here, if possible, and I'll have a better chance of talking him into that if I can sit down with him and explain my plan."
"You're safer here," Buck insisted. "Wait until after the ranch is ours and we'll all go back for awhile. I want to show Rainey where we grew up"
"That's another month," she argued. "And I still don't think my accident was anything but thatan accident!"
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do! No one's attacked the ranch since I've been here. If someone really tried to get to me in London, why wouldn't they do it here?"
"Because we're all here together," he replied. "No one's going to take on all four of us together. It's when we're apart that we're vulnerable."
"I'm not going back to stay," she pointed out. "I'll just be in London for two or three days at the most. And no one but the family even has to know I'm gone. I'll fly out of Denver in the dead of night. No one will see me leave, and if you casually mention around town that we've all been staying home because a stomach bug has been working its way through the family, no one will suspect a thing."
When he just looked at her, unconvinced, she played her trump card. "You told me in London that if I would come home with you to the ranch to recover, you wouldn't offer a word of protest when I was ready to go back to London. I expect you to keep that promise."
She had him, and they both knew it, but this wasn't about winning points off each other. Over the course of the last eleven months, when they'd inherited the ranch and then found themselves under attack by the faceless enemies who were after the Broken Arrow, the four of them had grown closer than ever. She needed him and her sisters to support her decision and trust her judgment.
"I'll be careful," she told Buck. "I promise."
He hesitated, his eyes searching hers, only to sigh in defeat. "Okay. But you call in every hour once you land just so we'll know you're safe. Understood?"
"Every hour," she promised, hugging him. "I'll be fine. You'll see."
Less than thirty-six hours later, she walked into her flat in London and found it just as she'd left it. Automatically locking the door behind her, she made a quick tour and wasn't surprised to find the plants on her kitchen windowsill dead and the food in her refrigerator molded and sour. She hadn't exactly had time to clean things out before she'd left. The second she'd been released from the hospital, Buck had given her ten minutes to throw some clothes and personal items into a suitcase before he'd rushed her to the airport and the States.
She'd thought about her flat often over the course of the last two months and wondered how she would feel when she returned. Would she be scared? Nervous? Happy to finally be home? Frowning, she realized, she didn't feel any of those things. Instead, the stale air of her flat seemed to close in on her, and she found herself longing for the fresh, clean air of the ranch. Outside, London traffic rushed by, but all she wanted to hear was the low call of the cattle grazing in the pasture and the whisper of the wind through the pines.
Loneliness tugged at her heart, and she almost reached for her phone to call home. But she'd spoken to Buck the second she'd landed. He'd be worried if she called him nowless than thirty minutes later. She had things to do, anyway. She had to pack, notify the landlord that she was moving out, find a place to store her things. But first she had to call a mover.
Settling at the kitchen table with the phone book, she started making calls. She soon discovered, however, that finding the right person for the jobas well as a storage unit she could affordtook longer than she'd expected. Three precious hours later, she finally found a mover who could pick up her furniture by the end of the week. Her lease wasn't up until the following Monday, but she'd hoped to find someone who could come while she was still there to oversee the move. Obviously, that wasn't going to be possible. She'd promised the family that she'd be back in three days, and she was standing by her word. She'd just have to give the key to the landlord and trust him to supervise things. Resigned, she started packing.
Later, she never knew where the rest of the afternoon went. One minute, the sun was high in the sky, and the next time she looked up, the day had given way to the darkening shadows of twilight. Surprised, she glanced around and discovered the flat was littered with dozens of boxes that were packed full of books, dishes, the contents of her kitchen cupboards, not to mention the bathroom and the front closet. And she hadn't even touched her bedroom yet!
Exhausted, she plopped down on the couch. How was she going to get everything packed and still have time to meet with Jean Pierre before she left to fly home? She didn't want to put her internshipand her degree in fashion designon hold, but what choice did she have? She wasn't safe in London.
Suddenly, without warning, there was a sharp knock at the door. Startled, she jumped, her heart slamming against her ribs. She wasn't expecting anyone. No one even knew she was there except her family. So who was knocking on her door?
Her blood turning to ice at the possibilities, she hugged herself and sat as quiet as a mouse right where she was. Whoever was on the other side of the door didn't know she was there. When she didn't answer, he would assume no one was home and leave.
"Miss Wyatt? Are you in there? Open up. This is the police. I need to speak to you. I have some bad news about your family in the United States."
"Oh, God!" Panic suddenly squeezing her throat, she jumped up and ran to the door. She reached for the dead bolt, only to hesitate, horrified by a sudden thought. What if this was a trick? What if whoever was after the ranch somehow found out she'd gone back to London? Could they have found out where she was already?
"Who did you say you were?" she asked, wincing at the quiver of fear she clearly heard in her voice. "I need some identification."
"I'm Officer Hastings," he replied and held up his badge to the peephole in the door.
Priscilla took one look at it and sighed in relief. Lightning quick, she flipped the dead bolt and jerked open the door. "Come in"
She didn't have time to say another word, let alone scream, as two masked men with guns rushed through the door and grabbed her. Gasping, she tried to scream only to have duct tape slapped over her mouth. Frantic, she clawed at the tape, but they were ready for her. In the next instant, her wrists were taped together, then her ankles. Trussed up like a turkey, there was nothing she could do as they picked her up and laid her on the floor. Before she could even begin to guess their intentions, they rolled her up in the living room rug.
Just that easily, fear took on a new name. Terror.
When Donovan Jones caught his secretary on the phone with her boyfriend for the fifth time in two days, he was in no mood to cut her any slack. He'd already warned her numerous times that she was there to work, not visit with her lover, and she'd completely ignored him. She was the third secretary he'd hired in three weeks and the third one who seemed to think she could do whatever the hell she wanted. She was wrong.
"You're fired," he growled. And leaning across the desk, he pushed the disconnect button on the phone.
Sputtering, she surged up out of her chair in anger. "What the hell?!"
Not the least bit impressed with her indignation, he growled, "Get your purse and get out. Now! I'll put your paycheck in the mail tomorrow."
He didn't give her time to argue but simply grabbed her purse from where she insisted on leaving it on top of a file cabinet and strode over to the door. Jerking it open, he waited. She was so furious, steam was practically coming out of her ears. Cursing, she jerked her purse out of his hand and stormed out, slamming the door so hard that she nearly knocked it off its hinges.
"Good riddance," he muttered. "I don't need you anyway. I can find my own files."
But when he stalked over to the filing cabinet, the file he needed for a meeting he had scheduled in fifteen minutes wasn't where it should have been. Swearing, he went through the entire drawer to make sure it hadn't been misfiled, but it was nowhere to be found.
Which meant, he thought grimly as his gaze landed on the secretary's desk, it had to be somewhere in the mountain of paperwork that completely covered the top of the desk. She'd been there a week, he thought, irritated. What the hell had she been doing? He'd been on a case and had to leave the office in her hands. Apparently, she hadn't done a damn thing except talk on the phone to her boyfriend.
Next time, he told himself, he was going to avoid the young chicks like the plague and hire a little, old, gray-haired grandmother instead. Someone who would appreciate the job, he decided, and not take advantage of the fact that he was hardly ever in the office. Someone who
When the outer office door suddenly opened behind him, he stiffened. If the little witch had come back to plead for her job, she could forget it, he thought. She was history. Pivoting sharply, ready to tell her just that, he found himself confronting a stranger, instead.
Frowninghad he forgotten an appointment?he lifted a dark brow. "May I help you?"
"I'm looking for Donovan Jones."
"You found him," he retorted. "But I'm in a hell of a rush. I've got an appointment across town in fifteen minutes, and I'm going to be late as it is. Leave your name and number," he said, pushing a steno pad across the desk to him, "and I'll call you the first chance I get."
"No," the man said in the clipped regal way that only the British could do. "I need your help now."
Donovan wasn't a man who men often said no to. Straightening, he studied the hard look of determination in his visitor's eyes and the set of his jaw and recognized desperation when he saw it. "What's your story?" he demanded.
"I'm Buck Wyatt," he said. "I need you to find my sister."
Surprised, Donovan blinked. "I'm a bounty hunter, Mr. Wyatt. Is there a bounty out on your sister?"
"No. She's been kidnapped."
"How do you know that? Have you received a ransom demand?"
His mouth compressed in a flat line. "No. There won't be any ransom note. I already know what the kidnappers want."