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Calley Graham paced across the second floor of the Double G ranch house, ignoring the chirp of the cell phone in her purse. She'd arrived early for her job interview at Finders Keeperstwo hours early, as a matter of fact. Patience had never been one of her virtues.
It had been three days since she'd seen their advertisement for a temporary private investigator in the classifieds section of the San Antonio Express-News. And it had only taken her about five seconds to decide this was her opportunity to escape. After a little planning, she'd made a furtive call for an interview.
Her first step toward freedom.
Calley had packed her suitcase this morning, leaving San Antonio before sunrise to avoid detection. Then she'd waited at a coffee shop until it was time to make the short drive to Trueblood, Texas. The housekeeper had let her in the front door and directed her to the offices located on the second floor of the sprawling ranch house.
Finders Keepers was run by Dylan Garrett and his twin sister, Lily Garrett Bishop. With a little research, she'd learned that the ranch had apparently been in the Garrett family for generations. After careers in law enforcement, both Dylan and Lily had returned home to start an agency that specialized in finding missing persons.
Calley closed her eyes, mentally reviewing her job pitch. Unfortunately, graduating from a home study course on private investigation didn't sound very impressive. So she'd padded her resume with a degree in criminal justice and listed several cases of freelance investigative work. Thankfully, the confidential nature of this business made it impossible for the Gar-retts to verify her work experience. She wanted this job too much to ruin her chances by telling the truth.
The sound of a plaintive whine made her open her eyes. At her feet sat a full-grown Irish setter, its big brown eyes gazing dolefully up at her. He raised one paw and placed it on her knee.
She laughed and knelt down, stroking the dog's silky head. ''Hello, sweetheart,'' she murmured. ''What's your name?''
The setter scooted closer to her, his eyelids drooping as Calley scratched behind his ears.
''I used to have a dog just like you,'' she said, a lump forming in the back of her throat as she thought of Trixie, her cuddly cocker spaniel. Trixie had been gone when Calley had returned from the hospital ten years ago. Her mother had sold Calley's pet, fearing it might carry too many germs. She took a deep breath and swallowed hard, refusing to let the pain of the past overwhelm her. She needed to concentrate on her future. With a little luck, it would start today.
''His name is Shiloh,'' a voice said behind her.
She stood and turned to see a young woman with chin-length auburn hair and sparkling green eyes.
Calley stroked Shiloh's head. ''He's a wonderful dog.''
''And ornery,'' the woman said, moving behind the wide oak desk. ''He steals the pens off my desk and buries them in the south pasture.'' She reached into a drawer and pulled out a box that made Shiloh trot up to her, his tail wagging furiously behind him.
The woman dropped a dog biscuit into his mouth, then shooed him onto a braided rug near the bookcases along the wall. Brushing her hands together, she turned back to Calley. ''I'm Carolyn Mulholland, the office assistant for Finders Keepers. Are you here about a case?''
''Actually, I'm here to interview for the job. My name is Calley Graham.''
Carolyn's eyes widened. ''Oh, I'm sorry. You're early. And I guess I didn't expect you to be so young.''
''I'm twenty-five,'' Calley said, then wished she'd bitten her tongue instead. What if the Garretts held her age against her? Maybe she should have added a couple more years to her already fictitious resume.
''May I get you a cup of coffee or a soda while you wait?'' Carolyn motioned toward the minikitchen area behind her desk. ''It may be a while yet.''
''No, I'm fine,'' Calley assured her. Then her purse began to chirp again.
Carolyn furrowed her brow. ''Is that your phone?''
''Yes.'' Calley reached reluctantly inside her purse and pulled out the small cellular.
''I'll give you some privacy,'' Carolyn said, misreading Calley's reticence and walking into one of the inner offices.
With a resigned sigh, Calley opened the flip phone, hesitated a moment, then switched it off. She couldn't deal with her mother right now. And she definitely couldn't tell her about the impending job interview. Not when Liv Graham routinely sabotaged Calley's bids for independence. All for her own good. Or at least, that's how her mother saw it.
It had started when she'd taken Calley out of high school after the heart condition had been diagnosed, claiming it would be easier and safer to home-school her. Then she'd scared away all of Calley's friends, warning them that if they inadvertently infected Cal-ley with a cold or the lu, they could kill her.
But it was her mother's fear that was contagious. It had torn her parents' marriage apart. Her father was now remarried and living in Florida, leaving Calley alone to deal with her mother's obsessive love. Liv Graham had been so afraid that her daughter would die that she hadn't let her live.
Now that was all about to change.
If she could get this job. Calley walked over to the polished wooden rail bordering the second loor, wishing she knew what would impress the Garretts. What would make them believe she was the perfect candidate for the job? She looked out over the great room below, noting the massive stone fireplace and the heavy, exposed beams. It looked as if the house had once been smaller, then expanded to accommodate a growing family.
Was that the answer to her question? Family ties? It made sense, considering Dylan and Lily Garrett had chosen to open a business together and run it out of their old family home, especially when you considered the focus of the agencyto reunite people with their loved ones.
Family ties. That was the key. Something she could use to her advantage, even if she believed some family ties had to be broken.
''We have to find Matt Radcliffe.'' Lily Garrett Bishop sat propped up in bed, several eiderdown pillows supporting her. ''He's the last beneficiary in Violet Mitchum's will.'' She watched her brother pace across her bedroom loor. He hadn't even heard her. Not surprising, considering he'd been strangely preoccupied since Christmas. ''Dylan?''
He stopped and looked up at her. ''What's the matter? Is it the baby?''
She placed one hand protectively over her swollen belly. Only six months pregnant, she'd gone into premature labor a week ago. Fortunately, the doctors had been able to stop it.
Her husband, Cole, had been at his ranch, overseeing its sale to his ranch foreman, Manny Peres. He'd rushed home, the ink still wet on the bill of sale.
Both he and Dylan hovered over her, along with her father. Treating her like a fragile porcelain doll. She'd meekly accepted their coddling at first, terrified that she might lose her baby. But she was feeling much stronger now, and though she had every intention of following the doctor's orders by staying in bed, that didn't mean she couldn't still play an active role in Finders Keepers.
If only her overprotective brother would let her.
''Sit down, Dylan,'' she ordered. ''You're making me dizzy.''
He immediately complied, his brow creased with worry. ''Are you sure you're all right? Do you want me to call your doctor? Or Cole? He's at the construction site, going over those changes in your house plans with the builder.''
''I'm fine,'' she assured him. ''And so is your niece or nephew.''
Dylan reached out one hand and placed it on her distended belly. A small smile tipped up the corner of his mouth. ''He's kicking up a storm in there.''
''Tell me about it,'' she said, shifting a little to assuage the slight ache in her lower back. ''Although I don't understand why you're so convinced it's a boy.''
''Because with a kick like that, he'll make first string placekicker on the Texas A&M football team and give his uncle Dylan free season tickets.''
She laughed. ''You've never heard of a girl making a college team as a kicker?''
''Sure I have,'' he said, leaning back in his chair. ''But I'd be so busy keeping all those besotted football players away from my beautiful niece that I couldn't enjoy the game.''
Lily smiled as tears pricked her eyes. It felt so good to talk about her baby's future. To believe that she'd safely carry this precious child for the next three months. She reached down and squeezed her brother's hand, silently thanking him for his loving support.
A light knock on the door made them both look up. Carolyn stuck her head inside and waved at Lily, then she turned to Dylan. ''Sorry to interrupt, but there is a Calley Graham here for an interview.''
Lily's brow furrowed. ''Interview? What interview?''
''Oops,'' Carolyn muttered, as Lily struggled to sit up in bed.
''Oh, hell,'' Dylan muttered. ''I completely forgot about her.'' He turned to Carolyn. ''Thanks. Tell Miss Graham I'll be there in a few minutes.''
Lily waited until Carolyn shut the door before she turned to her brother. ''Okay, Dylan, spill it. What are you up to now?''
He set his jaw. ''I'm hiring a temporary investigator for Finders Keepers.''
Lily arched a brow, willing herself not to lose her temper. ''When were you planning to tell me?''
''I thought you had enough to worry about.''
''Please don't shut me out, Dylan. If I have to lie here and do nothing for the next three months, I'll go completely stir-crazy.''
''Well, you can't go out on assignment, and we have to find Matt Radcliffe.''
''I think I just said that,'' Lily observed ruefully. Matt Radcliffe was a beneficiary in the late Violet Mitchum's will. Widow of wealthy horse rancher and oilman Charles Mitchum, Violet had lived in a Victorian monstrosity in Pinto, Texas, until her death. Finders Keepers had been retained to find the three outstanding beneficiaries among the eight people named in Violet's will. They'd successfully located Sara Pierce and Jillian Salvini, but Matt Radcliffe had proven more elusive.
Dylan sat on the edge of her bed. ''Actually, we do have a lead. Our little gift to his mother finally paid off.''
Lily sat further up in bed, her interest piqued. ''Where is he?''
''Somewhere in New Mexico,'' Dylan replied.
''That sounds a little vague.''
''exactly. That's why we need someone to go out in the field and track him down. I can't do it because of''
''Julie,'' Lily finished for him. The wife of Dylan's best friend, Sebastian Cooper, had disappeared after a car-jacking over a year ago. Her brother's concern for the missing Julie Cooper had almost turned into an obsession, although lately he didn't seem as tense about her disappearance as he had been for the last few months. Had he gotten a lead on her? Or just finally given up hope of ever finding her?
Dylan gave a short nod. ''I also want to stay close to home in case you need me.''
Lily leaned back against the pillows, feeling useless. But maybe there was something she could do. ''Let me interview Calley Graham.''
''That's not necessary. I've already hired someone for the job.''
She blinked. ''Then why is this Graham woman here for an interview?''
He raked one hand through his brown hair. ''Because I forgot to tell Carolyn to cancel the interview.''
Lily wasn't surprised, given how distracted her brother had been recently. Which was further proof that he needed Lily's help. ''It's really not fair to send Calley Graham away now. The least you can do is interview her, or let me do it.''
''Why? I've already as much as promised the job to a man named Simms. I still need to conduct a face-to-face interview with him, but that's just a formality. He's a retired cop with a resume a mile long.''
''We could send them both out into the field,'' Lily suggested. ''Double our chances of finding Matt Radcliffe.''
Dylan stood up. ''That means we'll have to pay twice as much, too.''
She smiled as another idea occurred to her. ''Not if we make it a contest. The first one to find Matt Radcliffe and bring him back to Texas wins the job. We'd pay expenses, of course, but no salary until the winner is hired.''
Dylan stared at her for a long moment, then grinned. ''I see pregnancy hasn't affected your brain cells. You're still as devious as ever.''
She laughed. ''I believe the word you're looking for is creative.''
''So what happens if this Graham woman and Simms both decline our not-so-generous offer?''
She arched a brow. ''Would you?''
''Not a chance. I never back down from a challenge.''
''Neither would I,'' Lily affirmed. ''We want someone with guts and tenacity to work for Finders Keepers. Someone who won't give up when he, or she, runs out of leads.'' She settled back against the pillows with a satisfied sigh. ''The more I think about this idea, the more I like it.''
''Me, too,'' Dylan agreed. ''Once we find Radcliffe, I can finally make arrangements for Violet's memorial service.''
''Then let's stop wasting time,'' Lily replied. ''Send Calley Graham in here. Let's find out how much she really wants this job.''