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By B.J. Daniels
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOutside Mexico City
He sat on the edge of the bed in the dim mirrorless room, his face swathed in bandages, his mind several thousand miles away. He'd been waiting more years, through more surgeries and more pain than his mind could stand. When he closed his eyes he could still hear the crackle of the flames, feel the intense heat, smell his searing flesh.
He turned to see Dr. Ramon, a small, nervous white-cloaked figure, framed in the doorway.
"Are you ready?" the doctor asked in Spanish as he stepped in, the door closing behind him.
Ready? He'd been ready for years. He said nothing as the plastic surgeon pulled back the curtain. Sunlight streamed into the room, momentarily blinding him. He closed his eyes as Dr. Ramon put down a black medical bag on the edge of the bed beside him.
Slowly, carefully, the doctor began to peel away the bandages, his fingers trembling. They both knew what was at stake here.
Senor Smith as he was called here closed his eyes, having given up hope a long time ago that his face might ever be normal again.
A cool breeze caressed his cheek as the last bandage fell away. With a pain far greater than any physical one he'd ever known, he opened his eyes.
The doctor had stepped back and was now studying his handiwork, his face expressionless. "You are a new man," he said finally, his gaze skittering away at the intensity of his patient's look.
Senor Smith had heard such words before. He didn't want or need false hope. False hope had gotten other even more prestigious surgeons killed.
He reached his hand out for the mirror he knew the doctor had brought in his bag. His hand was steady as he took it. Hope made a person tremble. He had nothing but fear at what monstrous visage he would now see in the glass.
Slowly he held up the hand mirror and stared into the face of the new stranger he found there. To his surprise, this stranger wasn't hideous. Nor was he handsome. He was ... average. The face of a man no one would look at twice on a street corner or across a crowded room.
He could feel the doctor waiting for his reaction, perhaps by now having heard what had happened to the other surgeons.
"It is perfect," he said, looking from the mirror to Dr. Ramon.
The doctor breathed a ragged sigh of relief. "Bueno, bueno. You are free to leave, Senor." He picked up his bag from the bed. "Vaya con dias." Go with God.
Senor Smith nodded and looked in the mirror again at his new face. He would go all right, only he wouldn't be going with God. He'd been to hell and right now he'd sell his soul just to go home again.
Except he'd sold his soul years ago, he thought with a rueful smile. He was going home. And with a face no one would ever recognize, a body that had become hard and lean.
Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, he had survived it all with only one dream in mind. Vengeance.
He couldn't wait to see the look of surprise on J. T. McCall's face. J.T. wouldn't see him coming. Until it was too late.
Outside Antelope Flats, Montana
Regina Holland glared down the empty two-lane highway, wishing a car would appear. Wishing anything would appear. Even a horse-drawn wagon. She was beyond being picky at this point.
But of course there wasn't any traffic now. She kicked the flat tire on her rented red convertible with the toe of her high heel and instantly regretted it when she saw the dark smudge of black on her expensive red shoe. She cursed her luck as she bent down to thumb at the smudge.
She'd been in the state for three days and her luck had gone from bad to worse. It had seemed such a simple task in the beginning. How hard could it be to find a cowboy in Montana? She had two weeks to find him. If she failed, she could kiss her dream goodbye. Everything was riding on this. Her entire future.
Regina knew exactly what she wanted and as was her character, she wasn't about to quit until she got it. Somewhere in Montana was her cowboy. All she had to do was find him.
Straightening, she tugged down the skirt of her expensive designer suit and scowled at the tire. Oh, she'd found her share of cowboys all right. Men of every size, shape and disposition but definitely not "The One."
But right now she swore she'd take the first cowboy who drove up with a jack and the wherewithal to change her tire. Unfortunately, it didn't look like any were going to come riding up. No John Wayne on the horizon. Not even a rodeo clown. The highway was empty and she could see both ways for miles.
A pickup had come by but hadn't stopped even when she'd tried to wave down the man behind the wheel. He'd acted as if he hadn't seen her. So much for western hospitality.
A few miles away, she thought she could make out a couple of buildings, possibly a town. Not much of one from what she could see, but at least it looked like something.
She could walk in this heat and these heels or - she glanced at the bag of tools she'd found in the trunk - or she could try to change the tire herself.
She looked down the highway again. Heat rose off the blacktop and an intense sun beat down from an all-too-expansive clear blue sky. She knew the moment she started to walk in these heels, vultures would begin to circle.
Excerpted from Cowboy Accomplice by B.J. Daniels Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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