Read an Excerpt
"Surely you can't be cruel enough to send me away without so much as a nightcap?"
Jaime Collingsworth found that difficult to believe herself. A full moon, a gorgeous, fascinating man who was hot for her, and she was going to dismiss him with a kiss at her door. But duty called—and had left two messages.
"We've been out late every night this week," she reminded him.
"I know," he said, slipping his arm along the back of the car seat to massage her shoulder. "But I have this serious problem. I simply can't get enough of you."
"Slow down, tiger. No need to rush the romance. And I absolutely have to get up in time tomorrow to make it to Jack's Bluff for Sunday brunch. I haven't been to the ranch in four weeks, and my mother is on my case big time."
Actually Jaime missed her mother as well. Her family was huge and could be overwhelming, but still, she was looking forward to visiting with all of them, especially her young nieces and nephews. Her new Houston town-house was great, but Jack's Bluff Ranch was home.
"You could take me with you," Buerto said. "I'd love to meet your family, especially that cantankerous grandpa you keep talking about."
"So you keep saying, but I hate those meet-the-family occasions. They are far too stressful."
"You sound as if you've had a lot of them."
"Not so many." But enough that she hated to go through the ordeal when she didn't have to. "It could be fun, though," she teased. "You'd be sized up more thoroughly than a new bull being introduced to the herd."
"Four protective cowboy brothers checking me out and one of them an armed law enforcement officer," Buerto said. "Why does that not amuse me the way it does you?"
"They all have guns," Jaime said. "But it's my mother you'd really have to worry about."
Buerto waited for the gate to her townhouse complex to open and then drove inside. He slowed as they passed the sparkling fountain, English gardens and finally the privacy border of thick shrubbery.
He stopped in front of her three-story townhouse. "I'll assure your mother that my intentions are honorable."
"It won't help. She knows mine never are."
That wasn't exactly true, but it was close enough. Jaime liked guys. She just never fell in love, at least not the way her sister, Becky, and her brothers had.
For her, men were more like a new pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes or a Roberto Cavalli gown. They were in-toxicatingly seductive when first acquired, but lost their glamour and excitement when the newness wore off.
There was an outside chance it could be different with Buerto—which was reason enough not to throw him to the wolves this early in the relationship.
She shifted in her seat, letting the short skirt of her sky-blue dress inch up to mid-thigh for Buerto's benefit as she reached for the door handle.
He leaned across the seat and kissed her before sliding out his side of the car to walk her to the door.
Once up the short walk, he slipped his arms around her and pulled her close. His advance was interrupted by a black sedan that skidded to a stop behind his silver Porsche.
The doors flew open and three men jumped out. One of the men was short and slightly balding. Another was tall with a crooked scar that ran from his right temple to the center of his cheek. The third was a certified hunk, hard bodied, clean shaven, cocky swagger. And holding a gun.
Panic ripped through her. She and Buerto were about to be robbed. She scanned the area. No one was in sight, and she knew her closest neighbor was out of town.
Two of the men went for Buerto, shoving him backward and pinning his arms against the front wall of her house.
Jaime tore her handbag from her shoulder and threw it into the driveway. "Take the money. Please. Just take it and go."
The hunky guy wrapped an arm around her and started dragging her to the car. "We're taking you with us. Better if you don't put up a fight."
"Take your hands off her," Buerto yelled.
The effort to save her earned him a punch in the face. The shorter assailant shoved him to the pavement and kicked him in the stomach before grabbing Jaime's purse and keys.
Then he put a gun to Buerto's head. "If you go to the cops, your girlfriend's as good as dead. Tell that to her family. We'll be in touch."
The man who held her lifted her and threw her into the backseat of the car. She got in one swift knee to the crotch that narrowly missed its target.
The taller guy was waiting for her in the car. He reached over and she felt a sharp prick in her forearm. A needle.
"Handle her, Rio," the needle wielder barked as he climbed out of the backseat.
The hunky thug slid in beside her.
Not about to give in without a fight, she sank her teeth into his shoulder and bit down as hard as she could. He barely winced, but he quickly closed his hand over her mouth and gripped it so firmly she couldn't even part her lips.
Her vision had begun to blur—no doubt from whatever was in that syringe—but she caught a glimpse of Buerto as they sped away. He was groveling on the ground in obvious pain. He hadn't died trying to defend her. At least there was that.
The man beside her looked her in the eye, and the intensity of his gaze seemed to crawl inside her. He put his mouth to her ear. "Trust me, and you'll get out of this alive."
She'd sooner trust a viper. Her eyes grew heavy and her head begin to spin. This could not be happening to her.
Except that it was.
Zach Collingsworth pushed through the front door of the big house carrying four cold beers. He handed one to each of his three brothers and then took a big gulp of the last one before propping his backside against the porch railing. God, it felt good to be home after three weeks combing dusty Texas border towns.
"So what's up with your new task force assignment?" his brother Langston asked. "Are you getting a handle on curbing the violence?"
"It's hard to say," Zach admitted. "A week ago two border patrol agents were killed, assassination style, in the driveways of their own homes. The week before that, an innocent kid was killed in a drive-by. This week, nothing."
"Any arrests?" his brother Matt asked.
"No. That's the worst part. There were witnesses to the kid getting killed but no one's willing to talk for fear of retribution. And there's no evidence as to who took out the border patrol officers other than it looks like the work of the drug cartels."
"So we're still losing the war on domestic terrorism right here in our own state," Bart said. "This is not the world I want my infant son to grow up in."
"We'll stop it," Zach said. "Texans always come out on top. You know that. I'm just worried about how many innocent people will die before we do."
Langston took a swig of beer and then caught hold of one of the chains that held the porch swing, giving it a rattling shake. "Make sure you're not one of those victims, Zach. You've got a lot to live for."
"So did the agents who went down. But believe me I'm not planning on making my beautiful wife a widow anytime soon. So how's the oil business?" he asked Langston, ready to change the subject. He'd shared about all he could anyway. The operations of the newly formed task force were mostly confidential.
"We're feeling the financial pinch like everyone else, but we're still economically sound."
"And the cattle business?" Zach asked, turning his attention to Matt and Bart, who co-managed Jack's Bluff Ranch.
Before they could answer, the hum of a motor sounded in the distance. All their gazes immediately redirected to the curving dirt ranch road leading to the house.
Zach pushed up the sleeve of the pale shirt Kali had bought for him in the new western shop in Colts Run Cross last week. "Nearly midnight. Awful late for company."
"Sign of trouble," Bart said. "Probably one of the neighbors needing help bringing a troublesome calf into the world."
Tension settled in the pit of Zach's stomach. Over the last few weeks the word trouble had taken on much darker connotations for him. He checked his cell phone. No new messages from Kali since she'd called to tell him that she'd made it back to their neighboring ranch and that her pregnant mare showed no sign of foaling before morning.
Kali had left him at Jack's Bluff to bond with his brothers over beer and conversation. She knew he needed that. Kali had a way of always knowing what he needed. More often than not what he needed was her.
He didn't recognize the low-slung silver sports car that came into view and then slowed as it approached the house. "Not a neighbor," he said, "unless one of them just bought a new Porsche."
"Ten bucks says the driver's lost," Matt said.
Bart stretched and stood from his perch on the porch railing. "Lost or looking for Jaime. There's a full moon tonight and that seems to bring out all her jilted Texas exes."
"Poor suckers," Zach said. His twin sister did have a habit of leaving a string of broken hearts in her wake.
A lean, slightly muscled man jumped from the car when it stopped and strode toward them. When he stepped into the circle of light from the porch, it was clear he'd been in a fight and probably not come out the winner.
Langston walked down the steps to meet him. "Can we help you?"
"I'm here about Jaime."
Zach's stomach clenched as he stepped to Langston's side. There was no way this could be good. "What about her?"
"She's been kidnapped."
An ominous, choking silence hovered just long enough for them to get their minds around the pronouncement. Then the questions started flying all at once.
"Was she hurt?"
"Kidnapped by whom?"
"How do you know this?"
"Who the hell are you?"
The stranger put his hand up as if the questions were blows. "Are you her brothers?"
"Yeah," Matt said. "Now start talking."
"Okay, but I'm on your side. My name's Buerto Ar-redondo. Jaime works for me."
"You're the art collector?"
He nodded. "I'm in the States to buy art for a resort I'm building just outside Mexico City." He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped a stream of sweat from his brow.
"Tell us what happened to Jaime," Zack insisted impatiently. He didn't give a damn what this guy did or didn't collect.
"We'd visited an art gallery in the Heights this evening and then gone to dinner. I was walking her to her door when three men jumped us. I tried to stop them but I couldn't fight off all of them. They threw Jaime in the back of their car and took off."
"Did she know them?"
"No, but I'm pretty sure they knew who she is. They said if I went to the police they would kill her. I was told to make certain her family got that same warning."
Zach muttered a curse and slammed his right fist into his left hand. "Not again." It hadn't even been two years since they'd had to rescue his nephews, Derrick and David, from a lunatic. It was like they'd become a target for all the crazies in the world.
"Did the kidnappers say anything else?" he asked. "Did they give any clue as to who they were or when they would contact us?"
"Did they hurt Jaime?"
"They manhandled her. That's all I saw but who knows what they're capable of. You have no choice but to cooperate with them."
"That's not your decision to make," Langston said. His voice was firm. He was the oldest brother, the leader of the family, a responsibility he took seriously.
Zach didn't question his intelligence or abilities, but kidnapping was a criminal act and that put this squarely in Zach's saddle. Besides, Jaime was his twin. As different as they were in many aspects, he shared a bond with her that none of the others did.