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"Why are they sending their representative instead of meeting with us themselves?"
Dillon Westmoreland glanced across the room at his cousin Bailey. He'd figured she would be the one with questions. He had called a family meeting of his six brothers and eight cousins to apprise them of the phone call he'd received yesterday. The only person missing from this meeting was his youngest brother, Bane, who was on a special assignment somewhere with the navy SEALs. "I presume the reason they are sending someone outside their family is to play it safe, Bailey. In a way, I understand them doing so. They have no proof that what we're claiming is the truth."
"But why would we claim them as relatives if they aren't?" Bailey persisted. "When our cousin James contacted you a few years ago about our relationship with them, I don't recall you questioning him."
Dillon chuckled. "Only because James didn't give me a chance to question anything. He showed up one day at our Blue Ridge office with his sons and nephews in tow and said that we were kin. I couldn't deny a thing when looking into Dare's face, which looked just like mine."
"Um, maybe we should have tried that approach." Bailey tapped a finger to her chin. "Just showed up and surprised them."
"Rico didn't think that was a good idea. From his research, it seems the Outlaws are a pretty close-knit family who don't invite outsiders into their fold," Megan Westmoreland Claiborne said. Rico, her husband, was the private investigator hired by the Westmorelands to find members of their extended family.
"And I agreed with Rico," Dillon said. "Claiming kinship is something some people don't do easily. We're dealing with relatives whose last name is Outlaw. They had no inkling of a Westmoreland connection until Rico dropped the bomb on them. If the shoe was on the other foot and someone showed up claiming they were related to me, I would be cautious, as well."
"Well, I don't like it," Bailey said, meeting the gazes of her siblings and cousins.
"We've picked up on that, Bay," Ramsey Westmoreland, her eldest brother said, pulling her ear. He then switched his gaze to Dillon. "So when is their representative coming?"
"His name is Walker Rafferty and he's arriving tomorrow. I thought that would be perfect since everyone is home for Aidan and Jillian's wedding this weekend. The Atlanta Westmorelands will be here as well, so he'll get to meet them, too."
"What does he intend to find out about us?" Bailey wanted to know.
"That you, Bane, Adrian and Aidan are no longer hellions," Stern Westmoreland said, grinning.
"Go to" Bailey stopped and glanced at everyone staring at her. "Go wash your face, Stern."
"Stop trying to provoke her, Stern," Dillon said, shaking his head. "Rafferty probably wants to get to know us so he can report back to them that we're an okay group of people. Don't take things personally. Like I said, it's just a precaution on their part." He paused as if an idea had come to him. "And, Bailey?"
"Since you're the most apprehensive about Mr. Raf-ferty's visit, I want you to pick him up from the airport."
"Yes, you. And I expect you to make a good impression. Remember, you'll be representing the entire family."
"Bailey representing the entire family? The thought of that doesn't bother you, Dil?" Canyon Westmoreland said, laughing. "We don't want to scare him off. Hell, she might go ballistic on him if he rubs her the wrong way."
"Cut it out, Canyon. Bailey knows how to handle herself and she will make a good impression," Dillon said, ignoring his family's skeptical looks. "She'll do fine."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dillon."
"You got it, Bailey."
Bailey knows how to handle herself and she will make a good impression.
Dillon's words rang through Bailey's head as she rushed into the airport fifteen minutes late. And she couldn't blame her delay on traffic.
That morning she had been called into her boss's office to be told she'd been promoted to features editor. That called for a celebration and she'd rushed back to her desk to call her best friend, Josette Carter. Of course Josette had insisted they meet for lunch. And now Bailey was late doing the one thing Dillon had trusted her to do.
But she refused to accept that she was off to a bad start even if she was. If Mr. Rafferty's plane was late it would not hurt her feelings one iota. In fact today she would consider it a blessing.
She headed toward baggage claim and paused to look at an overhead monitor. Mr. Rafferty's plane had been on time. Just her luck.
Upon reaching the luggage carousel for his plane, she glanced around. She had no idea what the man looked like. She had tried looking him up online last night and couldn't find him. Josette had suggested Bailey make a sign with his name, but Bailey had rolled her eyes at the idea. Now, considering how crowded the airport was, she acknowledged that might have been a good idea.
Bailey checked out the people retrieving their luggage. She figured the man was probably in his late forties or early fifties. The potbellied, fiftysomething-year-old man who kept glancing at his watch with an anxious expression must be her guy. She was moving in his direction when a deep husky rumble stopped her in her tracks.
"I believe you're looking for me, Miss Westmoreland."
Bailey turned and her gaze connected with a man who filled her vision. He was tall, but that wasn't the reason her brain cells had suddenly turned to mush; she was used to tall men. Her brothers and cousins were tall. It was the man's features. Too handsome for words. She quickly surmised it had to be his eyes that had made her speechless. They were so dark they appeared a midnight blue. Just staring into them made her pulse quicken to a degree that ignited shivers in her stomach.
And then there was his skin tonea smooth mahogany. He had a firm jaw and a pair of luscious-looking lips. His hair was cut low and gave him a rugged, sexy look.
Gathering her wits, she said, "And you are?"
He held his hand out to her. "Walker Rafferty."
She accepted his handshake. It was firm, filled with authority. Those things she expected. What she didn't expect was the feeling of warmth combined with a jolt of energy that surged through her body. She quickly released his hand.
"Welcome to Denver, Mr. Rafferty."
"Thanks. Walker will do."
She tried to keep her pulse from being affected by the throaty sound of his voice. "All right, Walker. And I'm"
"Bailey Westmoreland. I know. I recognized you from Facebook."
"Really? I looked you up but didn't find a page for you."
"You wouldn't. I'm probably one of the few who don't indulge."
She couldn't help wondering what else he didn'tor didindulge in, but decided to keep her curiosity to herself. "If you have all your bags, we can go. I'm parked right outside the terminal."
"Just lead the way."
She did and he moved into step beside her. He was certainly not what she'd expected. And her attraction to him wasn't expected, either. She usually preferred men who were clean shaven, but there was something about Walker Rafferty's neatly trimmed beard that appealed to her.
"So you're friends with the Outlaws?" she asked as they continued walking.
"Yes. Garth Outlaw and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember. I'm told by my parents our friendship goes back to the time we were both in diapers."
"Really? And how long ago was that?"
"Close to thirty-five years ago."
She nodded. That meant he was eight years older than she was. Or seven, since she had a birthday coming up in a few months.
"You look just like your picture."
She glanced at him. "What picture?"
"The one on Facebook."
She changed it often enough to keep it current. "It's supposed to work that way," she said, leading him through the exit doors. And because she couldn't hold back her thoughts she said, "So you're here to spy on us."
He stopped walking, causing her to stop, as well. "No. I'm here to get to know you."
He shook his head. "No, I don't think it is." She frowned. "Either way, you plan to report back to the Outlaws about us? Isn't that right?"
"Yes, that's right."
Her frown deepened. "They certainly sound like a suspicious bunch."
"They are. But seeing you in person makes a believer out of me."
She lifted a brow. "Why?"
"You favor Charm, Garth's sister." Bailey nodded. "How old is Charm?"
"Then, you're mistaken. I'm three years older so that means she favors me." Bailey then resumed walking.
Walker Rafferty kept a tight grip on the handle of his luggage while following Bailey Westmoreland to the parking lot. She was a very attractive woman. He'd known Bailey was a beauty because of her picture. But he hadn't expected that beauty to affect him with such mind-boggling intensity. It had been a whileyearssince he'd been so aware of a woman. And her scent didn't help. It had such an alluring effect.
"So do you live in Fairbanks?"
He looked at her as they continued walking. Her cocoa-colored face was perfectall of her features, including a full pair of lips, were holding his attention. The long brown hair that hung around her shoulders made her eyes appear a dark chocolate. "No, I live on Kodiak Island. It's an hour away from Fairbanks by air."
She bunched her forehead. "Kodiak Island? Never heard of the place."
He smiled. "Most people haven't, although it's the second largest island in the United States. Anchorage and Fairbanks immediately come to mind when one thinks of Alaska. But Kodiak Island is way prettier than the two of them put together. Only thing is, we have more bears living there than people."
He could tell by her expression that she thought he was teasing. "Trust me, I'm serious," he added.
She nodded, but he had a feeling she didn't believe him. "How do people get off the island?"
"The majority of them use the ferry, but air is most convenient for me. I have a small plane."
She lifted a brow. "You do?"
"Yes." There was no need to tell her that he'd learned to fly in the marines. Or that Garth had learned right along with him. What he'd told her earlier was true. He and Garth Outlaw had been friends since their diaper days and had not only gone to school together but had also attended the University of Alaska before doing a stint in the marines. The one thing Garth hadn't done with Walker was remain with him in California after they left the military. And Garth had tried his hardest to talk Walker out of staying. Too bad he hadn't listened.
He'd been back in Alaska close to ten years now and he swore he would never leave again. Only Garth could get him off the island this close to November, his son's birthday month. Had his son lived he would be celebrating his eleventh birthday. Thinking of Connor sent a sharp pain through Walker, one he always endured this time of year.
He kept walking beside Bailey, tossing looks her way. Not only did she have striking features but she had a nice body, as well. She looked pretty damn good in her jeans, boots and short suede jacket.
Deciding to remove his focus from her, he switched it to the weather. Compared to Alaska this time of year, Denver was nice. Too damn nice. He hoped the week here didn't spoil him.
"Does it snow here often?" he asked, to keep the conversation going. It had gotten quiet. Too quiet. And he was afraid his mind would dwell on just how pretty she was.
"Yes, usually a lot this time of year but our worst days are in February. That's when practically everything shuts down. But I bet it doesn't snow here as much as in Alaska."
He chuckled. "You'd bet right. We have long, extremely cold days. You get used to being snowed in more so than not. If you're smart, you'll prepare for it because an abundance of snow is something you can count on."
"So what do you do on Kodiak Island?" she asked.
They had reached her truck. The vehicle suited her. Although she was definitely feminine, she didn't come across as the prissy type. He had a feeling Bailey Westmoreland could handle just about anything, including this powerful-looking full-size pickup. He was of the mind that there was something innately sensuous about a woman who drove a truck. Especially a woman who was strikingly sexy when she got out of it.
Knowing she was waiting for an answer to his question, he said, "I own a livestock ranch there. Hemlock Row."
"A cattle ranch?"
"No, I raise bison. They can hold their own against a bear."
"I've eaten buffalo a few times. It's good."
"Any bison from Hemlock Row is the best," he said, and didn't care if it sounded as if he was bragging. He had every right to. His family had been in the cattle business for years, but killer bears had almost made them lose everything they had. After his parents' deaths he'd refused to sell and allow Hemlock Row to become a hunting lodge or a commercial fishing farm.
"Well, you'll just have to send me some to try."
"Maybe you'll get to visit the area one day."
"Doubt it. I seldom leave Denver," she said, releasing the lock on the truck door for him.
"Everything I need is right here. I've visited relatives in North Carolina, Montana and Atlanta on occasion, and I've traveled to the Middle East to visit my cousin Del-aney once."
"She's the one who's married to a sheikh, right?" he asked, opening the truck door.
"Jamal was a sheikh. Now he's king of Tehran. Evidently you've done research on the Westmorelands, so why the need to visit us?"
He held her gaze over the top of the truck. "You have a problem with me being here, Bailey?"
"Would it matter if I did?"
"Probably not, but I still want to know how you feel about it."
He watched her nibble her bottom lip as if considering what he'd said. He couldn't help studying the shape of her mouth and thinking she definitely had a luscious pair of lips.
"I guess it bothers me that the Outlaws think we'd claim them as relatives if they weren't," she said, her words breaking into his thoughts.
"You have to understand their position. To them, the story of some woman giving up her child before dying after a train wreck sounds pretty far out there."
"As far-out as it might sound, that's what happened. Besides, all it would take is a DNA test to prove whether or not we're related. That should be easy enough."
"Personally, I don't think that's the issue. I've seen photographs of your brothers and cousins and so have the Outlaws. The resemblance can't be denied. The Westmorelands and the Outlaws favor too much for you not to be kin."
"Then, what is the issue and why are you here? If the Outlaws want to acknowledge we're related but prefer not to have anything to do with us, that's fine."
Walker liked her knack for speaking what she thought. "Not all of them feel that way, Bailey. Only Bart."
"Who's Bart?" she asked, breaking eye contact with him to get into the truck.
"Bart's their father," he answered, getting into the truck, as well. "Bart's father would have been the baby that was supposedly given to his grandmother, Amelia Outlaw."
"And Amelia never told any of them the truth about what happened?" Bailey asked, snapping her seat belt around her waist. A waist he couldn't help notice was pretty small. He could probably wrap his arms around it twice.
He snapped his seat belt on, thinking the truck smelled like her. "Evidently she didn't tell anyone."
"I wonder why?"
"She wouldn't be the first person to keep an adoption a secret, if that's what actually happened. From what Rico Claiborne said, Clarice knew she was dying and gave her baby to Amelia, who had lost her husband in that same wreck. She probably wanted to put all that behind her and start fresh with her adopted son."
After she maneuvered out of the parking lot, he decided to change the subject. "So what do you do?"
She glanced over at him. "Don't you know?"
"It wasn't on Facebook."
She chuckled. "I don't put everything online. And to answer your question, I work for my sister-in-law's magazine, Simply Irresistible. Ever heard of it?"
"Can't say that I have. What kind of magazine is it?"
"One for today's up-and-coming woman. We have articles on health, beauty, fashion and, of course, men."
He held her gaze when the truck came to a stop. "Why 'of course' on men?"
"Because men are so interesting."
"Not really. But since some women think so, we have numerous articles about your gender."
He figured she wanted him to ask what some of those articles were, but he didn't intend to get caught in that trap. Instead, he asked, "What do you do at the magazine?"
"As of today I'm a features editor. I got promoted."
"Thanks." An easy smile touched her lips, lips that were nice to look at and would probably taste just as nice.
"I find that odd," he said, deciding to stay focused on their conversation and not her lips.
The vehicle slowed due to traffic and she looked at him.
"What do you find odd?"
"That your family owns a billion-dollar company yet you don't work there."