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Clint Westmoreland glanced around the airport and silently cursed. It was the middle of the day, he had a ton of work to do back at his ranch and here he stood waiting to meet a wife he hadn't known he'd had until a few days ago.
His chest tightened as he inwardly fumed, recalling the contents of the letter he'd received from the Texas State Bureau of Investigations. He'd learned from the letter that when he'd gotten married while working on an undercover sting operation five years ago as a Texas Ranger, the marriage had never been nullified by the agency. That meant that he and Alyssa Barkley, the woman who had been his female partner, were still legally married.
The thought of being married, legally or otherwise, sent a chill down his spine, and the sooner he and Alyssa could meet and get the marriage annulled the better. She had received a similar letter and a few days ago they had spoken on the phone. She, too, was upset about the bureau's monumental screwup and had agreed to fly to Austin to get the matter resolved immediately.
He glanced at his watch thinking time was being wasted. It was the first of February and he had a shipment of wild horses due any day and needed to get things ready at the ranch for their arrival.
When he had announced at his cousin Ian's wedding last June that he would be leaving the Rangers after ten years, his cousin Durango and his brother-in-law, McKinnon Quinn, had invited him to join their Montana-based, million-dollar horse-breeding business. They wanted him to expand their company into Texas. Clint would run the Texas operations and become a partner in the business. His main focus would be taming and training wild horses.
Hehad accepted their offer and hadn't regretted a day of doing so. So to his way of thinking, at this moment he had more important things he should be concentrating on. Like making sure his horse-taming business stayed successful.
He glanced at his watch again and then looked around wondering if he would recognize Alyssa when he saw her. It had been five years and the only thing he could recall about her was that she'd been young, right out of college with a degree in criminal justice. The two of them had been together less than a week. That was all the time it had taken to play the part of a young married couple who desperately wanted to adopt a babyillegally.
She had played the part of a despairing, wannabe mother pretty convincingly. So much in fact that a sting operation everyone had assumed would take a couple of weeks to pull off had ended after the first week. Afterward, he had been sent on another assignment. From what he'd heard, she had turned in her resignation after deciding being a Texas Ranger wasn't what she wanted to devote her life to doing after all.
He had no idea what she'd done since then, as their phone conversation had been brief and he hadn't been inclined to even ask. He wanted the issue of their being married dealt with so they could both get on with their lives. She should be about twenty-seven now, he thought. On the phone, she'd said she was still single. Actually, he'd been surprised that she hadn't gotten married or something.
The sound of high heels clicking on the ceramic tile floor made him glance at the woman strolling in his direction. He blinked. If the woman was Alyssa, she had certainly gone through one hell of a transformation. Although she'd been far from a plain Jane before, there hadn't been anything about her to make him want to take a second look until now.
He could definitely see her on the cover of some sexy magazine. And it was apparent that he wasn't the only person who thought so, judging by the blatant male attention she was getting. One man had the nerve to stop walking, stand in the middle of the walkway as if he were glued to the spot and openly stare at her.
Clint cut the spectator a fierce frown, which made the man quickly turn and continue walking. Then Clint felt angry with himself for momentarily losing his senses to play the part of a jealous husband, until he remembered that legally he was Alyssa's husband. So he had a right to get jealous if he wanted to if that rationale at the moment made any damn sense, which it probably didn't.
He shook his head remembering how men used to have the same reaction to his sister, Casey, and he hadn't liked it then, either. For some reason he liked it even less now.
Alyssa was closer and the first thing he thought, besides the fact she was a looker, was that she certainly knew how to wear a pair of jeans. Her hips swayed with each step she took and impossible as it might seem, although he hadn't felt an attraction to her five years ago, he was definitely feeling some strong vibes now.
He was so absorbed in checking her out that it hadn't occurred to him just how close she was until she came to a stop directly in front of him, up close and personal and all in his space. Now he saw everything. The dark eyes, long lashes, high cheekbones, full lips, head of curly copper-colored hair and a gorgeous medium-brown face.
And he heard the sexy voice that went along with those features when she spoke and said, "Hello, Clint. I'm here."
She most certainly was!
* * *
He hasn't changed,Alyssa thought as she struggled to keep up with his brisk stride as they walked together out of the airport to the parking lot. At six-four he was a lot taller than her five-eight height, and the black Stetson he wore on his head was still very much a part of his wardrobe.
But she would admit that his face had matured in ways that only a woman who had concentrated on it years before could notice. The first time they'd met she thought he was more handsome than any man had a right to be, and now at thirty-two he was even more so. Even then she had concluded that the perfection of his features was due to the cool, arrogant lines that underscored his eyes and the dimples that set boldly in his cheeksregardless of whether he smiled or not.
Then there were his chin and jaw that seemed to have been carved flawlessly, not to mention full lips that were, in her opinion, way too perfect to belong to any man. To say he hadn't made quite an impression on a fresh-out-of-college, twenty-two-year-old virgin was an understatement. The one thing she wouldn't forget was that she'd had one hell of a crush on him, just like so many other women who'd worked for the bureau.
"My truck is parked over there," he said.
His words intruded into her thoughts and she glanced up and met his gaze. "Are we going straight to the Rangers' headquarters?" she asked, trying not to make it so obvious that she was studying his lips.
Those lips were what had drawn her to him from the first. He'd been a man of few words, but his lips, whenever they had moved, had always been worth the wait. They demanded attention. And she would even go so far to say, demanded a plan of action that tempted you to taste them. Dreaming of kissing him had been something she'd done often.
Needless to say, she had been the envy of several female Rangers when she'd been the one chosen to work with him on that assignment. He was considered a private person and she seriously doubted that at the time he'd been aware of just how many women had lusted after him, or made him a constant participant in their fantasies.
"Yes, we can go straight there," he answered, breaking into the middle of her thoughts. "I figure it shouldn't take long to do what needs to be done. Hopefully no more than an hour," he said.
She was suddenly tempted to stop walking, place her hand on his arm and lean up on tiptoes and go ahead and boldly steal a kiss. The very thought made her heart rate accelerate.
Inhaling, she tried concentrating on what he'd said. She, too, hoped that what needed to be done wouldn't take more than an hour. If she spent much more time with this man, Alyssa was certain she would lose her mind. Besides, she hadn't brought any luggage, just an overnight bag. After they took care of matters, she would check into a hotel for the night and fly back to Waco in the morning.
"So, how have you been, Alyssa?"
She glanced over at him. She knew he was trying to be cordial so she smiled accordingly, while thinking another thing he'd still retained over the years was that deep, sexy voice. "I've been doing fine, Clint.And you?"
"I can't complain."
She figured he couldn't if what she'd heard from the few friends she still had with the bureau was true. No longer a Ranger, Clint now operated a horse-breeding ranch on the outskirts of Austin on over three hundred acres of land. It was a ranch he had inherited from a close relative. And according to her sources, the horse-breeding business was doing quite well. Although she was curious as to why he had left the force, she really didn't feel comfortable enough with Clint to ask him about it. She would have sworn he'd make a career of it.
Deciding it was none of her business, she thought of something that was and said, "I can't believe the bureau would make such a mistake. The nerve of them sending that letter saying we're married."
They had reached his truck and he shrugged massive shoulders when he opened the truck door for her. "I couldn't believe it at first myself. I guess it's a good thing neither of us ever took a notion to marry."
She decided not to tell him that she had taken a notion a couple of years ago, and had come as close as the day of her wedding before finding out what a weasel she'd been engaged to. To this day Kevin Brady hadn't forgiven her for leaving him standing at the altar. But then she hadn't forgiven him for sleeping with her cousin Kim a week before the wedding.
From the corner of her eye she could tell that Clint was looking at her as she slid into the smooth leather seat and couldn't help wondering if he could see the heat that had risen in her cheeks denoting there was something she wasn't telling him.
"You look different than before," he said, as he casually leaned against the truck's open door.
She threw him a sharp glance at his comment and wondered if she should take what he'd said as a compliment or an insult. She decided to probe further and asked, "In what way?"
A smile touched her cheeks. He was still a man of few words. "I am different," she admitted.
"In what way?"
She chuckled. Now he was the one asking that question. "I live my life the way I want and not the way others think that I should."
"Is that what you were doing five years ago?"
"Yes." And she figured he didn't need to know any more than that. He must have thought so, as well, because he closed the door and crossed in front of the truck to the driver's side without inquiring further.
"It will be lunchtime in a little while," he said after easing onto the seat and closing the door shut. "Do you want to stop somewhere and grab a bite to eat before we meet with Hightower?"
Lester Hightower had been the senior captain in charge of field operations when they had done that undercover assignment five years ago. "No, I prefer that we meet with Hightower as soon as possible," she said.
He lifted a brow as he glanced over at her. "Maybe I spoke too soon earlier. If you hadn't taken a notion to get married before should I assume you might be considering such a move now?"
She stared over at him and he did something she hadn't expected. He smiled. And immediately she tried to ignore the heat that touched her body when the corners of his lips curved. "No, you can't assume that. I just don't like surprises and getting that letter was definitely a surprise."
He nodded as he broke eye contact to start the engine. "Yes, but it's one we shouldn't have a problem fixing."
"I hope you're right."
He glanced back over at her as he backed out of the parking space. "Of course I'm right. You'll see."