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"Move and you're dead." Maggie Somers lifted the .22 higher, trying desperately to keep her hands from shaking. "I have a gun pointed at you."
The large man straightened, his back to her, rigid. "I had nothing to do with this." A piece of paper in his hand fluttered to the floor.
As her gaze swept the living room of her grandfather's ranch house, alarm snaked down her spine. Everything's destroyed. Tears stung her eyes, but she quickly blinked them back. There was no way this man was going to see any kind of weakness.
The intruder started to turn toward her. "Don't move an inch." Her anger pushed aside her fear as she gripped the rifle tighter and placed her finger on the trigger.
"May I turn around and explain why I'm here?" A steel thread weaved through his words, striking against her raw nerves. "Save your breath for the sheriff."
"Look, lady, this is ridiculous." Exasperation now edged his deep, husky voice.
Maggie stepped over the broken pieces of the Indian pottery that had sat on a table near the door, and moved farther into the room. The crunch beneath her shoes told her that more than the one priceless vessel from her grandfather's collection was shattered. Like alcohol in a festering wound, the sound toughened her resolve.
If only her cell worked out here on the ranch, she would have already called the sheriff and he'd be halfway here by now. She glanced at the phone across the room, then at the burglar-dressed in a black turtleneck and black jeans-and knew she had to do something with him before making the 9-1-1 call. If she let down her guard for a second, the man could easily overpower her.
"Pick up the extension cord near your feet. Slowly." She roughened her voice as much as possible, but to her own ears she sounded shaky.
The intruder remained still.
Her arm ached from holding the rifle to her shoulder. "Let me tell you something about myself. I'm an expert shot, and two of the things I hate in this world are liars and thieves. You're batting a hundred."
"Where do you want me?" His movements as he bent over and snatched up the cord conveyed his anger more than his words.
Anywhere but here. She searched her memory, trying to determine how this was done in the movies. "Sit in that rocking chair and tie your feet together."
He walked to it and stopped. "May I turn around now, or do you want me to sit in it backward?" Sarcasm sliced through his question. "Slowly. Any sudden moves and I might get trigger-happy." She was sure she'd heard that in some cop movie.
"Will that make your day?"
He slowly faced her. His gaze locked with hers. The penetrating intensity in his stare unnerved her. As his slate-gray eyes-as cold as a tombstone-assessed her, she had the horrible thought that if he wanted, he could probably disarm her before she got a shot off. This man exuded danger. Why had she decided to come inside? Her heartbeat caught for a second, then battered against her chest. Why hadn't she run when she'd had the chance?
Because she had been so furious that someone had dared to defile her grandfather's memory on the day she had buried him that she hadn't been thinking straight.
She motioned with the rifle. "Sit."
The wooden rocking chair creaked as the intruder lowered himself into it. When he dropped his gaze from hers, she released a long sigh while he tied his ankles together with the cord Maggie had kicked to him.
Rugged features set in harsh lines greeted her perusal. Dark brown hair with touches of fire brushed his nape. His full lips and high cheekbones added to his commanding presence. Over six feet tall, lean and muscular, his frame reinforced that impression of lethal force.
"Does this meet with your approval?"
His insolent question drew her gaze back to his face. His voice held a steely quality that matched his look, as though he had stared down the barrel of a rifle before, and survived.
Fear tingled up her spine. She refused to answer him, but instead found another length of cord and walked a wide circle around the chair to stand behind it. Once he was tied up, she would be all right. "Give me your hands."
He complied. She quickly cradled the rifle between her legs, then looped the cord from the blinds around his wrists. The feel of his flesh against her fingers jolted her. For a long second she fumbled with the rope, almost dropping it. Sucking in a deep, fortifying breath, she hastened to finish the job, blocking from her mind the warmth of his skin against hers. Relief trembled through her as she grasped the .22 and backed away.
With her eyes cast downward, she knelt in front of him and checked the cord about his ankles. She felt the drill of his stare and fought the urge to quail. As she rose, her gaze finally trekked upward. The rage she saw in his expression took her breath away. This man wasn't accustomed to being subdued by anyone. She hurriedly moved toward the phone and picked it up.
"Do you seriously think I look like a thief? Would a thief drive a sports car like the one out front?" he asked after she made the call to the sheriff.
"You probably stole that, too."
"C'mon, lady. I did not have anything to do with this. I came here-"
"Oh," she said, cutting him off, "then you just make a habit of stopping by houses that have been ransacked to have a look around? Were you looking for some garage sale and made a wrong turn? Or perhaps you're an insurance adjuster getting a jump on the job?"
"No, I came to talk to you," he said through clenched teeth.
"Before or after you robbed me?" Her anger held her firmly now that he was tied up. She sat on the coffee table and laid the rifle across her lap. She settled one hand on her knee, the other on the .22, so she'd be prepared if the intruder tried anything.
"I came in after the fact. I did not rob you." Each word was spoken slowly, distinctly, as though he were talking to a child who didn't understand.
"That's what all the criminals say. I think you need to work on your delivery if you're going to get a jury to believe you." She raked her gaze down him, hoping to convey her contempt. "It lacks conviction."
He didn't say another word. His eyes said it all, boring into her with a ferocity that warned her never to be alone with this man.
As she waited for the sheriff, she drummed her fingers on her knee and tried to avoid looking at his eyes, and at the chaos about her. Which was very hard to do, especially the pottery that Gramps had found, each piece smashed beyond repair. She wasn't ready to deal with the mess. One crisis at a time. As a doctor, that was how she handled a medical emergency. That was how she would handle this, too.
Minutes stretched into fifteen, the tension-laden silence gnawing away at her fragile composure. The occasional times she caught the intruder's glare she felt as though she were a specimen under a microscope- pinned to the paper, unable to move, laid bare for examination. The feeling left her extremely uneasy. "You're pretty isolated out here. It'll take the sheriff a while to ride to your rescue." His sarcasm broke the stillness.
"Is that why you picked this place? Its isolation?"
"I picked it because it's Jake Somers's ranch."
"You scum!" She shot to her feet, the .22 clutched in her hands. "You read about his funeral today and came here to rob the place while everyone was gone." She brought the weapon to her shoulder, chambering a bullet. She wanted this man to squirm for what he had done to her grandfather's memory, to his prized possessions, which he'd lovingly collected over the years.
Several heartbeats passed; Maggie stared into the man's cold eyes.
"It's true. I did read this morning about Jake's death and the funeral, but-"
"Shut up! Not another word."
Icy silence pervaded the room, heightening the strain even more.
Finally the sound of car doors slamming closed pulled her attention from the stranger. She lowered the rifle. The sheriff and one of his deputies entered the house and scanned the damage.
"Hello, Maggie. I see you've had some trouble." The sheriff pushed his hat up on his forehead.
"I'm so glad you're here, Tom. I caught this man going through my grandfather's things."
Tom's regard swung to the man in the rocking chair. "You did, did you? Is the whole house like this?" The sheriff gestured at the wreckage.
"I don't know. I haven't had a chance to check."
"Why don't you and Rob do a walk-through? Then he can take your statement while I take care of this stranger. We'll have him out of your hair in no time."
Glad to be out of the intruder's line of vision, Maggie led the way, with the deputy following. After checking the two bedrooms and finding everything in disarray, she headed for the kitchen, her grandfather's favorite room. When she saw the extent of the wreckage, she shuddered. Every drawer was dumped, each cabinet emptied, many dishes smashed. Food was scattered about, as boxes and containers had been ripped apart.
"Dr. Somers, can you tell if anything is missing?" While the deputy began inspecting the area, he withdrew his pad and pen from the front left pocket of his tan shirt.
Maggie pivoted, her gaze taking in the chaos about her, but her mind refusing to register the robbery's total impact. "I don't know. I probably won't know that for days, at the very least. Gramps didn't have a lot of valuable things, except for some Indian artifacts he'd collected. They were destroyed." She waved her hand toward the living room, remembering the shattered pottery underfoot. "This land was about it."
"Tell me what happened when you came to the ranch."
"When I pulled up, I saw the door wide-open and that sports car out front. I knew something was wrong. I know I shouldn't have come inside. But I was so angry. I got Gramps's .22 from his pickup and decided to see what was going on. All I wanted to do was catch the thief."
"You could have been hurt."
"I'd just buried my grandfather and someone was trying to steal his things. I wasn't going to let that happen. Besides, Gramps taught me how to shoot, to take care of myself."
"You said you found that man going through your grandfather's belongings. Is that right?"
Remembering back to the first few seconds when she had seen the intruder in the living room made her breath come up short. She took several deep inhalations to fill her oxygen-deprived lungs. "When I came into the house, he was standing by a table, looking at the contents of a drawer piled on top of it. He held a piece of paper, which he dropped when he heard me."
"We'll take him to the station and sort through this mess. I'll give you a few days to see what's missing. You'll need to file it with us for insurance purposes, but I suspect there's nothing missing, since you interrupted the man."
"Probably not, but the damage has been done." She waved her arm at the disarray.
Maggie trailed after the deputy into the living room. The sheriff had the intruder handcuffed and was reading him his rights. She took great pleasure in watching the scene. She hoped they threw the book at the thief for trying to rob a dead man.
When Tom asked the stranger if he understood his rights, the man looked straight at her. "Yes, I understand perfectly."
"Where are your keys?" the sheriff asked the man.
"In my front right pocket."
"My deputy will follow us to the station in your car," Tom said, retrieving the keys from the trespasser, "and we'll check out your story."
The intruder's stare knifed through Maggie like an Arctic gale. Shivering, she spun away as the officers led the thief outside.