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To Love And Protect Her
By Margaret Watson
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThis was the last place Griffin Fortune wanted to be.
He sat in his truck outside Willa Simms's apartment, staring at the door of the upscale, quietly tasteful building, and reflected that those qualities could also perfectly describe Willa. Which was why he didn't want to be here. Willa Simms was way out of his league.
But he had promised his uncle, Ryan Fortune, that he would take a look at Willa's security system and make sure she was all right, so he'd driven the two hours into College Station from the Fortune's Double Crown Ranch. It was the least he could do for Ryan, who had been a generous host to the recently discovered Australian branch of the Fortune family.
He'd only be here for a few hours, he told himself. For a few hours, he could ignore the way Willa stirred his blood. Self-control was second nature to him. And if he found that self-control strained whenever he was around Willa, no one else needed to know.
The glow from the streetlights glistened on the rain-slicked pavement as he watched the door to her apartment. "The place looks safe enough to me," he muttered to himself. He scowled at the attractive, sturdy building. But he wouldn't leave without checking it out thoroughly. He'd given Ryan his word, and Griff alwayskept his promises.
"Might as well get it over with. Hell!" he exclaimed as he stepped out of the truck and into the cold drizzle. "December is a damn uncomfortable season in Texas."
He had just stepped away from his truck when the door of the apartment building burst open from the inside. Two housepainters dressed in white overalls and with painter's caps pulled down low over their faces, hurried out the door. They carried a rolled-up rug between them, and they seemed to be in a hurry.
Who wouldn't be, on a night like this? Griff thought sourly. Out of habit, he watched as the painters headed in the opposite direction. Even when he was off duty, he paid attention to his surroundings.
As the painters approached the side of the building, the rug they carried began to wriggle. Griff narrowed his eyes and, without thinking, began to run.
"Hey, there," he shouted at the painters. "What are you doing?"
The person in the front glanced back at him, then raised his hand and smashed something down on the rug. It stopped wriggling, and Griff broke into a sprint.
He was gaining on the painters and their burden. They struggled to move faster, but it was clear to Griff that whatever they carried was heavy, and it was slowing them down. As he got closer, the person in the lead took one more look at him and said something to the other person. Then they dropped the rug and ran.
They jumped into a dark blue van that had no windows and no signs on the doors. Griff squinted to read the license number, but the van was too far away and the light was too dim. He was reluctant to leave the rug and its contents lying on the cold, damp ground.
The van tore out of the parking lot, its tires squealing, and disappeared into the night. He watched it leave with a flash of regret that he hadn't been able to stop the two housepainters. Then he bent down to examine the rolled-up rug that was now lying in a puddle of water.
Although it was no longer moving, it was roughly the size and shape of a person, and Griff's heart began to pound. What had he interrupted? As he unrolled the carpet, a throaty moan from inside the bundle made him freeze for a moment. Then his hands flew as he pulled the carpet apart.
"Willa!" He stared in shock at Ryan Fortune's goddaughter. She lay still and unmoving, her face pale and her eyes closed. Her glasses dangled from her right ear, the frame bent and twisted. There was a nasty gash over her left ear, and a trickle of blood trailed down her cheek. A lump was already forming around the cut.
"Willa, can you hear me?" he asked, placing his hand on her neck. Her pulse felt strong and steady, and his own heart rate steadied a bit.
She moaned again, and her eyelashes began to flutter. "No!" she cried. He heard the terror in her voice, and damned the two people who had done this to her.
"It's all right, Willa. Those two men are gone. I'm Griffin Fortune. Do you remember me?"
Her eyes slowly opened, and she stared at him, her blue-gray gaze unfocused. "Griff?" she whispered.
"Right. It's Griff." He subdued the ridiculous surge of pleasure that she had remembered him. "Can you sit up?"
She stared at him for a moment, then nodded. She winced immediately, and a murderous rage swept over him. "Let me help you."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, forbidding himself to think about how soft she felt, and how well she fit into his embrace. Willa had been injured, for God's sake. "Easy does it, mate."
She closed her eyes and clung to him, and he realized that her coat was soaking wet. The water from the puddle had seeped through the rug. He'd have to get her inside as quickly as possible. He didn't want her to get chilled in the cold rain.
"Can you stand up?" he asked, glancing toward the parking lot. He half expected the blue van to reappear at any moment, and he wanted to be safely away from the apartment before that happened.
"I think so."
She held on to him and pulled herself to her feet. Griff saw her grimace, reflecting a spasm of pain, and his admiration for Willa increased. She was apparently a lot tougher than she seemed to be.
"That's the way, Blue."
She gave him a quizzical look, then took a step toward her apartment. She stopped immediately, and Griff saw her swaying on her feet. "I seem to be a bit unsteady," she said, her voice faint. "Could you help me into my apartment, Mr. Fortune?"
"I don't think that's such a good idea," he said, watching for the blue van. "And what's with the Mr. Fortune stuff? It was Griff just a few moments ago."
A faint red color washed her cheeks. "You can hardly hold me responsible for what I said after I had fainted."
Excerpted from To Love And Protect Her by Margaret Watson Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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