Read an Excerpt
Uh-oh. Big trouble.
"Shut up, lady." One of the two men in the front seat swung his arm over the seat back and smacked her across the cheek. "You're in no spot to argue. You say you can't remember? Well, that ain't my problem."
The driver didn't turn around, but muttered, "When we get back, the boss'll make you talk. And he won't be as nice as we are. You took something that didn't belong to you, and that's a no-no."
"But but I really can't remember." She rubbed at her stinging cheek. "I don't even know who I am." Tears welled up and she fought the panic that was quickly crawling up her spine. She didn't dare cry. Hardly dared to breathe.
Caught in an internal struggle for clarity, she'd been trying to bring up memories from her past. She was desperate to remember anything at all. Even her own name escaped her, and it had been this way for what seemed like hours.
Where there should've been something, there was a huge void. Darkness. A little pain. But nothing even vaguely familiar.
She didn't have a clue as to why these men had forced her into the backseat of this speeding car. Or where on earth they were heading. Everything out the window seemed as alien as everything in her mind. She didn't know what she was doing here. Or who these horrible men were who kept insisting she tell them where "it" was.
The only thing she did know was that these two goons were carrying guns. Big ones. They'd waved them at her when she tried to tell them she couldn't remember.
Oh, God, help her. She was going to die if something didn't give soon.
Putting her hands together, she silently prayed for a break. Some way of escaping this car and these two men.
As if God had answeredher prayer directly, a church spire appeared out the front windshield. The car slowed.
"What the hell is all this traffic about?" The driver sounded irritated as he slammed his foot on the brake. "It ain't Sunday, damn it. Get out of our way, you idiots!"
Oh please, let me find a way out, she silently begged. Let this be the time. Let this be a place where I can find sanctuary and someone who will save a desperate woman with no memory.
Then, quietly, an answer came to her from out of the emptiness in her mind. The Lord helps those who help themselves.
Sheriff Jericho Yates glanced up toward the Espe-ranza Community Church steps looming directly ahead and slowed his pace. He wasn't chickening out of his own wedding, but there was truly no sense in getting there before the bride-to-be would be ready to start.
"You're sure you want to go through with this, bro?" Fisher, his older brother and the best man, slowed his steps too.
With a serious face but eyes that always seemed to be laughing behind his sunglasses, Fisher Yates, U.S. Army captain home on leave, rarely showed any emotion. But at the moment, it was Fisher who looked panic-stricken by the thought of this wedding.
"Hell, yes, I'm going through with it," Jericho muttered as an answer. "I gave Macy my word. But I don't want to piss her off by showing up too soon. We've been best friends ever since I can remember, and I couldn't hurt her feelings by embarrassing her like that."
"Well, I remember when there were three of you best friendsback in the day. You and Macy and Tim Ward. I thought the whole idea of two guys and a gal hanging out and being so close was a little weird at the time. And sure enough, it was Macy and Tim that eventually got hitched. So what were you all those years? The dorky third wheel?"
Jericho straightened his shoulders under the weight of his rented tux and rammed his hands into his pockets. He would not let Fisher get to him today. His slightly shorter big brother, who was only just now back from his third tour of duty in the Middle East, could be a pain in the ass. But Jericho felt he needed to make allowances for Fisherfor possible psychological problems. Or whatever.
He opened his mouth to remind Fisher that the three of them, he and Tim and Fisher, too, had all been half in love with Macy in high school. But then, Jericho thought better of jamming the truth in his brother's face right now. Tim had been the one to win the prize. Jericho also remembered that Fisher had taken off in a hurry to join the army after Macy picked Tim to marryand his brother had never looked back once.
"No," Jericho finally answered, forcing a grin. "I was the best friend and glad about my buddies hooking up and being happy together. I was also the friend who stood by Macy when Tim got sick and died six years ago. And today, I'm the friend who's going to marry her and give Tim's teenage son a new father."
"Yeah, you are. And right friendly of you, too, bro. But as you said earlier, you and Macy aren't in love. What's the real deal? I'm not buying this friendly daddy-stand-in story."
Jericho wasn't sure he could explain it to someone like Fisher, a guy who'd never had anybody depending on himexcept, of course, for the men in his squad. Well, okay, his brother probably would understand loyalty and honor, but not when it came to women or kids or best friends. Fisher had never let any of those things into his life.
"The real story is that I'm not in love with Macy ."
"You said that already."
"But I do love her and want the best for her. And that kid of hers and Tim's already seems like family to me. I'm his godfather, and I think I can make a bigger difference to his life as his stepfather. I mean to try."
T.J. was the foremost reason Jericho had been so determined to go through with this wedding when Macy had brought up the subject. As kids, Fisher and he had done without a mother after theirs had abandoned them. But they'd had the firm hand of a father to raise them right. As a tribute to his dad, Buck Yates, still by far the best father in the world, Jericho would bring T.J. into the family and do for him what Buck had done for his two sons. Give T.J. the greatest start possible.
"Act like a best man, why don't you, and just shut up about love and real stories." He poked Fisher lightly on his dress-uniformed arm. "We need to waste a few more minutes out here, bro. If you've gotta keep yakking at me, tell me what your plans are for after your leave is over."
Just inside the Community Church, waiting behind closed doors in the vestibule with her maid of honor, Macy Ward fidgeted with her dress. "What do you think everyone in town will have to say about me wearing off-white? Maybe I should've worn a light blue dress instead."
The dress was of no consequence, but Macy didn't want to say what she really had on her mind. Her maid of honor, Jewel Mayfair, was also her boss. And although she really liked Jewel, being too honest in a case like this might not be the best idea. Even though Macy was about to be married, she still needed the job.
So as devastated as she felt by the nasty looks she'd received from Jericho's brother at the rehearsal last night, and as much as she would love to pour her heart out to another woman as kind as Jewel, she would instead keep her mouth firmly shut on the subject of Fisher Yates. Anyway, he was about to become her brother-in-law. So the two of them would just have to find a way of getting along.
But Macy felt nervous and jittery about more than just an irritating old boyfriend in uniform. She was dwelling on something much more important. Her son T.J. had been giving her fits over this upcoming marriage. He'd said he didn't want anyone to take his father's place. Though her boy liked Jericho well enough, and eventually Macy felt sure he would come to love and respect the man as much as the rest of the town.
What was not to love? Jericho Yates was the best man she knew. He was kind, loyal and so honest it almost hurt her heart. His honesty had recently made her feel guilty because she had not been absolutely honest with him or anyone else in such a long time.
"What's wrong, Macy? You don't look happy. You should be ecstatic. Today's your wedding day."
"I'm okay, Jewel. Honest. It's just " She decided to confide in her boss, at least a little. "Jericho and I aren't in love. Not like a man and woman who are about to be married are supposed to be."
"No? But then why get married?"
"My son." Macy plopped down in the nearest chair, disregarding the possible wrinkles to her dress. "T.J. needs a father badly. And Jericho will make such a great dad. I'm the one who convinced our poor county sheriff to take pity on an old friend and do me the honor. I knew he would never tell me no."
"But now you're having second thoughts?"
"Second, third and fourth thoughts actually. I'm about to ruin a good man's life and saddle him with a wife he doesn't love and a kid who's a handful.
"I like Jericho," she added hastily. "A lot. I don't know if I can do this to him."
Jewel knelt on the carpet beside Macy's chair and spoke quietly. "If you ask me, he'll be getting the best part of the deal. You don't seem to understand how really beautiful and special you are, and I'm not sure why you don't get it. You're a terrific mother and a fine employee. I'm both your boss and your maid of honor, a double threat at the moment. So I'm the one who's here to remind you of what everyone else already knows. If you decide not to go through with this wedding, it'll be Jericho's loss, not yours."
Macy's eyes clouded over with unshed tears, but she bit them back. Jewel had become the dearest friend. But when everything was said and over, Macy just could not go through with this sham wedding. At least not today.
"Jewel, will you back me up if I postpone the wedding?"
Jewel put an arm around her shoulders. "Sure, honey. But why don't you go out and talk to Jericho about it first? Maybe you can catch him on his way in."
"Come with me?"
"All right. But we'd better hurry. The guests are already arriving. There's a major traffic jam outside."
* * *
Outside under the cottonwoods and next to the church, standing with his brother Fisher beside him, Jericho had been biding his time. He turned when he heard someone calling his name.
"Sheriff Yates!" The voice was coming from his deputy Adam Rawlins.
Jericho watched as the man he'd hired not long ago hurried toward him. Adam was dressed in his full deputy's uniform because he'd been on duty today and hadn't planned on attending the wedding. Rawlins was a good man who had come to them with terrific references from a deputy job in Wyoming. And Jericho was mighty glad to have found him.
"Sheriff, we've got ourselves a traffic tie-up out here on the highway. Someone called it in and I thought I'd better come over and direct traffic."
Geez. The entire county must be planning on attending his wedding. Who all had Macy invited? He'd left the plans up to her because he'd been so busy for the last few weeks. What with that case of identity theft a while back and then an actual dead body and a murder investigation out on Clay Colton's ranch that had just been put to bed, the sheriff's business was booming lately.
"All right, deputy," he told Rawlins. "Thanks for the quick thinking. I'll be out of pocket here for a few more hours and then I can help you out."
The deputy nodded and raced back toward the highway, apparently all ready to set out traffic cones and organize traffic lanes.
"Aren't you and Macy going on a honeymoon, bro?"
Fisher laid a hand on Jericho's arm, reminding him of his presence and of the upcoming nuptials.
Jericho winced and shook his head. "Not funny, bubba. You already know the answer to that. Besides, Macy and I are planning on spending some quality time with T.J. over the next few days. I thought I might take him hunting like Dad used to do for us. I hear the wild boar hunting has been good up on the north Gage pasture."
"Yeah, wild boar hunting the day after your wedding does sound romantic." Fisher scowled and rolled his eyes.
Jericho shook off his brother's sarcastic comments. He didn't care what Fisher or anybody thought of this marriage to his best friend. Macy was a great lady and a great friend, and Jericho vowed to do right by her and her sonregardless of anyone else's opinion.
Still twisting her hands in the backseat and waiting for a good opportunity, the woman with no past and a questionable future bit her lip and stared out the car's window. There was so much traffic here. Surely one of the people in these other cars would see her predicament and come to her aid.
"Son of a bitch, the traffic's even worse now." The car wound down to a crawl as the driver turned around again to speak to her. "Don't get smart, lady. You call out or make any noises like you need help and we'll shoot you. I don't give a rat's damn if that special item the boss wants is ever found or not. The choice between you giving us the answer and you never being able to answer again ain't nothing to me.
"You got that?"
She nodded, but the movement seared a line of fiery pain down her temple. Another couple of pains like that and she might rather be dead anyway.
"Terrific," the goon sitting shotgun said. "Just look at that, will ya? A local smoky. Out in the middle of the highway, directing traffic. Crap.
"What's going to happen, Arnie?" The man in the passenger seat was beginning to sweat.
"We're not doing anything wrong," Arnie answered with a growl. "We're regular citizens just driving down the road. Nothing to worry about. Stash your gun under the seat until we pass him by."
The driver bent and buried his own gun, then twisted back to her. "Remember, sis. No funny stuff. I swear, if you call out, you're dead."
Shaking badly, she wondered if her voice would work anyway. But right then, the miracle she'd prayed for happened. Their car came to a complete stop, almost directly in front of the church.