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Some days it didn't pay to get out of bed.
Unless you had a tall, dark, handsome and naked man waiting in your kitchen to pour you a hot cup of coffee before sitting you in his lap to feed you breakfast. Sheila Hopkins smiled at such a delicious fantasy before squinting against the November sun that was almost blinding her through the windshield of her car.
And the sad thing was that she had awakened in a good mood. But all it had taken to spoil her day was a call from her sister that morning telling her she wasn't welcome to visit her and her family in Atlanta after all.
That message had hurt, but Sheila really should not have been surprised. What had she expected from her older sister from her father's first marriage? The same sister who'd always wished she hadn't existed? Definitely not any show of sisterly love at this late stage. If she hadn't shown any in Sheila's twenty-seven years, why had she assumed her sister would begin showing any now? Not her sister who had the perfect life with a husband who owned his own television station in Atlanta and who had two beautiful children and was pregnant with her third.
And if that very brief and disappointing conversation with Lois wasn't bad enough, she had immediately gotten a call from the hospital asking that she come in on her off day because they were shorthanded. And of course, being the dedicated nurse that she was, she had agreed to do so. Forget the fact she had planned to spend the day working in her garden. She didn't have a life, so did it really matter?
Sheila drew in a deep breath when she brought her car to a stop at a traffic light. She couldn't help glancing over at the man in the sports car next to her. She couldn't tell how the rest of him looked because she could only see his profile from the shoulders up, but even that looked good. And as if he'd known she was checking him out, he glanced her way. Her breath caught in her throat and her flesh felt tingly all over. He had such striking features.
They were so striking she had to blink to make sure they were real. Um a maple-brown complexion, close-cut black hair, dark brown eyes and a chiseled jaw. And as she continued to stare at him, her mind mechanically put his face on the naked body of the tall, handsome man whom she would have loved to have found in her kitchen this morning. She inwardly chuckled. Neither she nor her kitchen would have been able to handle all the heat her imaginary lover would generate.
She saw his head move and realized he had nodded over at her. Instinctively, she nodded back. When his lips curved into a sensual smile, she quickly forced her gaze ahead. And when the traffic light changed, she pressed down on the gas, deciding to speed up a little. The last thing she wanted was to give the guy the impression she was flirting with him, no matter how good he looked. She had learned quickly that not all nicely wrapped gifts contained something that was good for you. Crawford had certainly proven that.
As she got off the exit that led to the hospital, she couldn't get rid of the thought that she didn't know there were men who looked like him living in Royal, Texas. Not that she knew all the men in town, mind you. But she figured someone like him would definitely stand out. After all, Royal was a rather small community. And what if she had run into him again, then what?
She didn't have the time or the inclination to get involved with a man. She'd done that in the past and the outcome hadn't been good, which was why she had moved to Royal from Dallas last year. Moving to Royal had meant a fresh start for her. Although, Sheila knew that where she lived was only part of the solution. She had reached the conclusion that a woman didn't need to be involved with a no-good man to have trouble. A woman could do bad all by herself. And she of all people was living proof of that.
Ezekiel Travers chuckled as he watched the attractive woman take off as though she was going to a fire or something. Hell, she wasn't the only one, he thought as he watched her car turn off the interstate at the next exit. Whoever was trying to ruin his best friend, Bradford Price's, reputation had taken things a little too far. According to the phone call he'd received earlier from Brad, the blackmailer had made good on his threat. Someone had left a baby on the doorstep of the Texas Cattlemen's Club with a note that Brad was the baby's father.
Grabbing his cell phone the moment it began to ring, he knew who the caller was before answering it. "Yeah, Brad?"
"Zeke, where are you?"
"I'm only a few minutes away. And you can believe I'll be getting to the bottom of this."
"I don't know what kind of sick joke someone is trying to play on me, but I swear to you, that baby isn't mine."
Zeke nodded. "And a paternity test can prove that easily, Brad, so calm down."
He had no reason not to believe his best friend about the baby not being his. Brad wouldn't lie about something like that. He and Brad had gotten to be the best of friends while roommates at the University of Texas. After college Brad had returned to Royal to assist in his family's banking empire.
Actually, it had been Brad who suggested Zeke relocate to Royal. He'd made the suggestion during one of their annual all-guys trip to Vegas last year, after Zeke had mentioned his desire to leave Austin and to move to a small town.
Zeke had earned a small fortune and a great reputation as one of the best security consultants in all of Texas. Now he could live anywhere he wanted to, and take his pick of cases.
And it had been Brad who'd connected Zeke with Darius Franklin, another private investigator in Royal who owned a security service and who just happened to be looking for a partner. That had prompted Zeke to fly to Royal. He'd immediately fallen in love with the town and he saw becoming a business partner with Darius as a win-win situation. That had been six months ago. When he'd moved to town, he hadn't known that his first case would begin before he could get settled in good, and that his first client would be none other than his best friend.
"I bet Abigail is behind this."
Brad's accusations interrupted Zeke's thoughts. Abigail Langley and Brad were presently in a heated battle to win the presidency of the Texas Cattlemen's Club.
"You have no proof of that and so far I haven't been able to find a link between Ms. Langley and those blackmail letters you've received, Brad. But you can bet if she's connected, I'll expose her. Now, sit tight, I'm on my way."
He clicked off the phone knowing to tell Brad to sit tight was a waste of time. Zeke let out a deep sigh. Brad had begun receiving blackmail letters five months ago. The thought nagged Zeke's mind that maybe if he had been on top of his game and solved the case months ago, it would not have gotten this far and some kid would not have been abandoned at the club.
He of all people knew how that felt. At thirty-three he could still feel the sting of abandonment. Although his own mother hadn't left him on anyone's doorstep, she had left him with her sister and kept on trucking. She hadn't shown up again until sixteen years later. It had been his last year of college and she'd stuck around just long enough to see if he had a chance in the NFL.
He pushed that hurtful time of his life to the back of his mind to concentrate on the problem at hand. If leaving that baby at the TCC with a note claiming she was Brad's kid was supposed to be a joke, then it wasn't funny. And Zeke intended to make sure he and Brad had the last laugh when they exposed the person responsible for such a callous act.
Once Sheila had reached her floor at the hospital, it became evident why they'd called her in. A couple of nurses were out sick and the E.R. was swarming with patients with symptoms ranging from the flu to a man who'd almost lost his finger while chopping down a tree in his front yard. There had also been several minor car accidents.
At least something good had resulted from one of the accidents. A man thinking his girlfriend's injuries were worse than they were, had rushed into the E.R. and proposed. Even Sheila had to admit it had been a very romantic moment. Some women had all the luck.
"So you came in on your off day, huh?"
Sheila glanced at her coworker and smiled. Jill Lanier was a nurse she'd met on her first day at Royal Memorial and they'd become good friends. When she'd moved to Royal she hadn't known a soul, but that had been fine. She was used to being alone. That was the story of her life.
She was about to answer Jill, when the sound of a huge wail stopped her. "What the heck?"
She turned around and saw two police officers walk in carrying a screaming baby. Both she and Jill hurried over to the officers. "What's going on, Officers?" she asked the two men.
One of the officers, the one holding the baby, shook his head. "We don't know why she's crying," he said in frustration. "Someone left her on the doorstep of the Texas Cattlemen's Club and we were told to bring her here."
Sheila had heard all about the Texas Cattlemen's Club, which consisted of a group of men who considered themselves the protectors of Texas, and whose members consisted of the wealthiest men in Texas. One good thing was that the TCC was known to help a number of worthwhile causes in the community. Thanks to them, there was a new cancer wing at the hospital.
Jill took the baby and it only screamed louder. "The TCC? Why would anyone do something like that?"
"Who knows why people abandon their kids," the other officer said. It was apparent he was more than happy to pass the screaming baby on to someone else. However, the infant, who looked to be no more than five months old, was screaming even louder now. Jill, who was a couple of years younger than Sheila and single and carefree, gave them a what-am-I-supposed-to-do-now look as she rocked the baby in her arms.
"And there's a note that's being handed over to Social Services claiming Bradford Price is the father."
Sheila lifted a brow. She didn't know Bradford Price personally, but she had certainly heard of him. His family were blue blood society types. She'd heard they'd made millions in banking.
"Is someone from Social Services on their way here?" Sheila asked, raising her voice to be heard over the crying baby.
"Yes. Price is claiming the baby isn't his. There has to be a paternity test done."
Sheila nodded, knowing that could take a couple of days, possibly even a week.
"And what are we supposed to do with her until then?" Jill asked as she continued to rock the baby in her arms, trying to get her quiet but failing to do so.
"Keep her here," one of the officers responded. He was backing up, as if he was getting ready to make a run for it. "A woman from Social Services is on her way with everything you'll need. The kid doesn't have a name at least one wasn't given with the note left with her."
The other officer, the one who'd been carrying the baby, spoke up. "Look, ladies, we have to leave. She threw up on me, so I need to swing by my place and change clothes."
"What about your report?" Sheila called out to the two officers who were rushing off.
"It's completed already and like I said, a woman from Social Services is on her way," the first officer said, before both men quickly exited through the revolving glass doors.
"I can't believe they did that," Jill said with a disgruntled look on her face. "What are we going to do with her? One thing for certain, this kid has a nice set of lungs."
Sheila smiled. "Follow procedure and get her checked out. There might be a medical reason why she's crying. Let's page Dr. Phillips."
"Hey, let me page Dr. Phillips. It's your turn to hold her." Before Sheila could say anything, Jill suddenly plopped the baby in her arms.
"Hey, hey, things can't be that bad, sweetie," Sheila crooned down at the baby as she adjusted her arms to make sure she was holding her right.
Other than the times she worked in the hospital nursery, she'd never held a baby, and rarely came in contact with one. Lois had two kids and was pregnant with another, yet Sheila had only seen her five-year-old niece and three-year-old nephew twice. Her sister had never approved of their father's marriage to Sheila's mother, and Sheila felt she had been the one to pay for it. Lois, who was four years older than Sheila, had been determined never to accept her father's other child. Over the years, Sheila had hoped her attitude toward her would change, but so far it hadn't.