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Just once, Aaron Walker thought with a deep sigh, it would be nice if his twin brother, Andrew, would be the one to screw up. Nothing major, just something embarrassing or a little reckless. Something that would get their large, loving and well-intended family in a tizzy about anything other than Aaron's latest debacle. But even as the selfish wish crossed his mind, he knew it was futile. Andrew rarely made mistakes, and never of the same magnitude as Aaron's. Andrew was the one more likely to rush to the rescue than to need rescuing.
Sure, Andrew had been known to raise a little hell in his time, especially as a member of the "terrible trio"the affectionate nickname given to the twins and their same-age cousin, Casey Walker, during their mischief-prone childhood and teen years. But now Casey had settled down with a wife and a legal practice in east Tennessee, while Andrew was rising in the ranks of the family-owned investigation and security business. Aaron was the only one still regularly causing general concern and disapproval.
Especially during the past few months, all Andrew did was work and complain about Aaron's lack of focus. Aaron had just endured another one of those brotherly lectures, triggered by his decision to quit yet another job that hadn't been working out for him. Andrew had stated that it was time for thirty-year-old Aaron to get serious about his life and his future. If he was determined not to work in the family business, he needed to find a purpose, and soon. Andrew wasn't the first family member who'd given Aaron that speechhe'd also heard it from his dad, his uncles, his mother, his grandfather and a couple of random cousinsbut Andrew was the one who most annoyed him. Had Andrew not been called out of his office for a quick consultation, they'd probably be in the middle of a heated quarrel right this minute.
Though Andrew had asked him to wait, Aaron decided to make his escape, postponing the quarrel for later. Just as he rose to walk out of the office, a colorful brochure lying on the floor beside the trash can caught his eye. It looked as though Andrew had tossed it that way and missed the receptacle. For no particular reason, Aaron picked it up and studied the bright photographs printed on the glossy trifold.
Bell Resort and Marina was located on Lake Livingston, a large reservoir roughly a hundred and seventy-five miles southeast of Dallas. Aaron had never been to that particular resort, but he'd visited the lake a time or two. Good fishing, peaceful setting, nice scenery. Eyeing the photos of people skiing, swimming, picnicking and lounging in the sun, he wished he were there rather than here in Dallas with his beloved but disapproving family. Just for a little while, until he could return to them with a solid new career plan in mind. All he needed was a little time to think, to regroup, to determine why he seemed to be the only one in his overachieving family who hadn't yet found the path he wanted to follow. On impulse, he stuffed the brochure in his pocket and headed for the door.
Twenty-four hours later, he stood beside his car, idly watching numbers flash past on the gas pump from which he was filling his tank. It was midafternoon on this second Tuesday in June, the temperature hovering at ninety degrees even though summer was barely underway. The heavy scent of gasoline hung in the overheated air. He reached up to tug at the neckline of the bright blue T-shirt he wore with khaki cargo shorts and sandals. His longish, near-black hair clung damply to the back of his neck. After his almost four-hour drive, he looked forward to sitting under a tree by the water's edge with a cold beer.
According to his directions, Bell Resort was only another fifteen-minute drive away from this little town where he'd stopped for a fuel-and-restroom break. There wasn't much to see herefrom where he stood, he spotted a few houses, a thrift shop, a dollar store and a tiny post office. Just the sort of laid-back area he needed in which to brood for a few days. Maybe a week. There was no one here to shake a head or a finger at him, no one to lecture him or advise him, no one here who knew him at all .
Even as that thought crossed his mind, a young woman in a tank top and shorts squealed and almost tackled him with a hug. "You're back! It's so good to see you again!"
Aaron staggered a little with the assault, but quickly recovered his balance. He couldn't say he was displeased about suddenly finding his arms filled with a petite, curvy blonde, but he had no clue who she was.
She drew back a few inches to smile up at him and for a moment he forgot how to form words. Damn, but she was pretty. Clear blue eyes framed in long, dark lashes. Dimples deep enough to fall into. A nose that could only be described as "pert," and full lips curved into a smile that made his knees feel suddenly shaky. Her scoop-necked top revealed the upper curves of perfectly sized, creamy breasts, and he could tell by feel that the rest of her was just as nicely formed.
Oh, yeah, coming here had definitely been a good idea.
"You are coming to Bell Resort, right?" she asked, surprising him again. "You're here because I sent you the brochure and the reminder that you're always welcome?"
The Bell Resort and Marina had been Aaron's destination, though he hadn't taken the time to make reservations. It looked ideal in the brochure his brother had tossed in the trash, but Aaron figured he'd find a room somewhere else on the lake if the resort was full. He hadn't seen the personal invitation that had been enclosed with the brochure, so either Andrew had held on to it or thrown it away separately. "Well, yes, I thought I'd relax for a few days if there's a vacancy. But"
"Great!" She hugged him again, then pulled away. He released her reluctantly. "Of course there's a vacancy for you! Everyone is going to be so happy to see you. We're all still so grateful to you for what you did for us last year."
"You've grown out your hair," she said, studying him with her head cocked to one side. "I like it."
He was beginning to understand. Now if only he could get a few words in to explain it to her. "Thanks, but I"
"You should see Lori's hair. She dyed it coal-black with blue streaks. Dad nearly had a conniption. Pop said she looks like she bruised her head. Steven thinks it's funny, but Lori complains that he's laughing at her. Mom and Mimi just sigh a lot."
"Yes, well, I"
"Hey, Shelby, how's it going?" a lanky young man in a faded camo T-shirt, denim shorts and a sweat-stained red ball cap called out as he ambled from the store toward a battered pickup truck parked at one of the other gas pumps.
"I'm good, Bubba," the blonde replied. "Look who's back."
The guy nodded. "Yo, Mr. Walker. 'Sup?"
Resigned, Aaron nodded in return, saying, "Hey," an all-purpose greeting that seemed to satisfy the younger man.
Shelby turned back to Aaron when Bubba drove off. Her bright smile faded when she asked, "Does Hannah know you're here? She's out of town for a few weeks, visiting her mom's family near Shreveport. I doubt she'll be back while you're here."
"No one knows I'm here," he said with a shrug. "It was an impulsive trip."
She laughed and patted his arm, her momentary gravity evaporating. She was definitely the demonstrative typenot that he was complaining. "That's so funny. I never would have pegged you as impulsive, but I'm glad you're here, anyway."
He nodded, wryly amused now that he'd finally figured out what was going on. He tightened the gas cap on his car and closed the flap, having already paid by credit card. Even here it seemed he was living in his brother's shadow.
"Listen, before we head for the resort, would you mind if I buy you a soda or a cup of coffee inside?" Shelby asked, gazing up at him with a thoughtful expression. "There's something I'd like to discuss with you before you see everyone else. Something's been bothering me and everyone thinks I'm being overly dramatic, but maybe while you're here you could help me out a little? You know, tell me if there's reason for me to be concerned or if I really am nuts?"
He didn't have the faintest idea what she'd just asked, but something about the way she looked at him made him want to agree to any request she made of him. "Let me move my car away from the pump and I'll meet you inside," he said.
The return of her generous smile rewarded him. "Thank you. I knew you would help. See you inside."
He watched as she turned and all but sprinted for the door of the station, her shoulder-length blond curls bouncing against her shoulders. The back side of her was every bit as appealing as the front, he thought, his gaze lingering on those snug shorts. Making himself look away, he climbed into his car. He would park and then join Shelby inside. Maybe when she finally ran out of steam he would find a chance to break it to her that she had embraced the wrong twin.
There was something different about Andrew Walker, but Shelby Bell couldn't quite put a finger on what it was. It wasn't just his hair, though he'd worn it almost militarily short when she'd met him last year. The color of strong, rich coffee, it looked much softer now that he'd let it grow. A girl's fingers could get lost in there for a while. His eyes were the same deep brown she remembered, and his facial structure was classically handsome. But something had changed .
She'd met Andrew almost a year ago when he'd spent nearly two weeks at the resort, helping her family with a sensitive legal matter. Her dad and grandfather had hired the private investigator from a Dallas firm, and Andrew had pretty much single-handedly saved the family business from a spiteful con man. By the time he'd left, he'd been the family hero, invited to return for free lodging whenever he needed a vacation from his demanding job.
Like the rest of the family, Shelby had been extremely grateful to Andrew for what he'd done for them. She had liked him very much, and she'd certainly noticed how good-looking he was, but there had been no romantic chemistry between them. She had spent little time alone with him, always surrounded by family and guests of the resort. And she'd been dating Pete then, so she hadn't really thought of Andrew in that way. Nor had he seemed particularly interested in her other than as a member of the family he had worked for and befriended.
She couldn't quite figure out what had changed, why she was suddenly noticing things like the shallow indention in his chin and the way his T-shirt outlined the hard, lean body beneath. Why her toes were curling in her flip-flops just because of the way he smiled at her from across the table. She didn't remember him smiling quite like that before. Maybe it had been too long since she'd been alone with an attractive man. She'd broken up with Pete last winterwell, okay, Pete had dumped her, but it sounded better her wayand she had been too busy to even go on a date since.
Drawing her thoughts from such an irrelevant path, she started talking as soon as they were seated in a small snack corner of the station with their drinksiced tea for him, a frozen cherry-flavored drink for her. Now she needed to quickly outline what she wanted to ask him before he had a chance to dismiss her concerns without hearing her out, as her family was prone to do.
"So, I know you've just gotten here and you're probably hoping for a nice, relaxing vacation," she began in a rush of words. "And I know it's presumptuous of me to ask a favor before you even get to the resort, especially after all you did for my family last summerand even more especially since I can't afford to hire you, exactly. But what I ask would only take a few minutes, and I'll make sure you have a great time at the resort in return. Well, not that I wouldn't do that, anywayI mean, we all invited you to come back anytime and to make use of all our facilities for a nice, relaxing vacation, which we all figured you needed because you work so hard."
She was making such a mess of this. In frustration, she powered on. "There's this guy who's been staying at the resort. He's quiet, doesn't make any trouble, is all paid up, even tips very well. But I don't trust him. There's something hinky going on with him, and no one in the family will listen to me when I try to tell them. You know how they are'Oh, you're just being Shelby again,' they say. And, okay, I know I get carried away sometimes and maybe overreact a little, but wasn't I the one who just knew the evil ex had been stealing from us last year? I kept saying that if we looked hard enough, we'd find plenty of ammunition against him and his stupid, greedy lawsuits, and I was right, wasn't I?"
"Okay." He took a sip of his iced tea, and she had a sneaking suspicion that he was trying not to grin. "Why don't you finish telling me about this 'hinky' guy, and then I'll talk?"
She didn't know what it was about her that made people not take her seriously. Just because she was energetic and enthusiastic, quick to show her feelings, a little too prone to jump to conclusions, everyone seemed to think they should just brush off her suggestions and ideas. But Andrew had listened to her last year when she insisted her cousin Hannah's ex-husband had been stealthily stealing from the family business, and that he had then falsified legal claims against them that could have put the resort in serious financial straits had he won. She had even helped Andrew come up with a plan to prove her suspicions, though she had suggested perhaps a half-dozen schemes before she'd stumbled onto one he'd approved. She hoped he would be inclined to listen to her again now.
"So, this guyhe says his name is Terrence Landon, but he doesn't really look like a Terrence, you know? Anyway, he's been at the resort for about two weeks. He pays in cash. Says he's on an extended vacation from a high-stress marketing job in Austin that almost put him in the hospital with high blood pressure and ulcers. Every other day or so, he has men join himassociates, he calls themfor fishing and business talks. They always bring stuff in boxes and cases, and they never seem to leave with the same stuff they brought. And either they're the world's worst fishermen or they just don't try very hard, but they hardly ever bring in a good catch."
"And you think he'swhat? Dealing drugs? Weapons?"