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She looked like every man's fantasy.
Jack Sullivan peered through the grove of oak trees at the woman on horseback. Tall and slender, she rode the large, coal-black stallion with surprising ease. Caught by the breeze, her long wheat-colored hair lifted off her shoulders with each graceful stride. Her slender, jean-clad legs cradled the sides of the horse as they moved through the grassy meadow.
Too bad he wasn't hired to find Willow Kingsley.
Off in the distance, a rocky hillside fringed the seven hundred acres of the Wandering Creek Ranch. Who would have thought an oasis like this existed just thirty miles from Los Angeles? But this ranch was the home of a movie star couple, onetime child star Molly Reynolds and the late western star Matt Kingsley. Their union had produced two children, a son, Dean and their daughter, Willow.
And Jack was hoping big sister could tell him where to find brother Dean.
A smile appeared on Willow's pretty face as the stallion bobbed its head up and down, protesting her control. She tugged on the reins. "So, you're feeling frisky this morning."
Her voice had a smoky quality, and suddenly, Jack wasn't thinking about business, or about why he'd driven all the way from Seattle to Southern California. Those sultry, whispery tones made him forget that he'd been staking out the ranch for the past twenty-four hours, hoping he'd get lucky and Dean Kingsley would come home to his family. Right now, all Jack could imagine was sister Willow; those long legs, that voice, that
The stallion whinnied and Jack redirected his attention to the meadow and found Ms. Kingsley was looking at him.
He'd been discovered.
She held her ground andstared back at him. She didn't look happy.
Jack decided since he was on the other side of the electronic fence he wasn't breaking any laws. That wasn't to say as a private investigator he hadn't stretched them a few times. He was used to using any means necessary to locate his suspect.
And he needed to find Kingsley before time ran out for everyone.
"I would like to talk with you, Ms. Kingsley," he called.
"I don't talk to people who sneak around our property."
"Technically, Ms. Kingsley, I'm not on your property.And I'll leave right away, once you tell me how to find your brother, Dean."
That drew a stronger glare. She just tugged the rein, turned the horse and galloped off.
"Well, you blew that one royally," he chided himself. He prided himself on handling people with charm and wit. Mike had always said, Jack could con the best of them. An image of Mike, his onetime partner and friend flashed in his head.
"I'm not losing my touch, Mike," he muttered as he hiked back to his SUV. "I'm still going to get my man. It just might take a while longer."
An hour later, after she'd finished brushing down Dakota and putting him into his stall, Willow came out of the barn. She usually enjoyed her morning rides, but today's incident had unnerved her a little.
Since her father's death two years ago, the media had left her and her mother alone, and Willow had hoped they'd forgotten about the Kingsley family entirely. But she supposed the reopening of the summer camp was bound to bring out the press again.
On the way to the house, she stopped short when a black SUV pulled into the circular drive, parked, and the stranger from the pasture got out of his car and started toward the porch.
"Don't take another step," she called out and hurried her pace.
The tall, rangy man turned around and had the nerve to smile. "Hello, Ms. Kingsley. I never got the chance to introduce myself. I'm Jack Sullivan."
Willow ignored the intruder's attempt to charm her. "I don't care who you are, only that you're trespassing."
She glanced toward the foreman's quarters. Where was Trevor? It was his job to keep the gate to the road locked so people couldn't invade their privacy.
"If you leave now, Mr. Sullivan, I won't report to the sheriff that you've been stalking me."
"I'm not stalking you, or anyone." He frowned. "As I tried to explain earlier, I'm looking for Dean Kingsley. My business is with him."
Willow didn't recognize the man who was asking about her brother. He looked to be in his midthirties. He was lean, but a black T-shirt revealed a well-developed chest and broad shoulders, only partially hidden under a rust-colored lightweight jacket. Fitted jeans covered his long legs. She felt a shiver of awareness stir inside her, but quickly shook it off.
"My brother doesn't live here, so please leave. Now. You aren't welcome." She waved toward the road that led back to the Southern California freeway.
"Oh, but, I have been welcomed by Mrs. Kingsley. She let me in the gate. She's who I'm here to see."
Jack took another step toward the house. He wasn't going anywhere until he at least had a chance to talk to his suspect's mother.
"Willow?" A petite woman appeared in the doorway. "Mother, it's okay," her daughter said.
"This man was just leaving."
So this was Hollywood's famous child star, sweet Molly Reynolds. The young starlet who had once stolen playboy actor Matt Kingsley's heart.
Today, she was in her midfifties, her brown hair styled short around a still-pretty face. She wore a pair of jeans and a Western-cut blouse over her trim figure. She had the same blue eyes as her daughter, but hers held a sadness that affected even a hard-hearted man like himself.
Jack smiled. "Mrs. Kingsley.As I explained over the intercom at the gate, I'm Jack Sullivan, a private investigator." He reached inside his pocket and pulled out a business card. He handed it to her asWillow went to her mother's side. "I tried to tell your daughter earlier, I'm looking for your son, Dean."
Molly shook her head. "We haven't seen Dean in so long. He's been living and working in Seattle for quite a while now."
"I tried to tell him, Mother, but Mr. Sullivan is insistent." Willow glared at him.
"Sorry, we can't help you." She paused.
"Now, if you'll excuse us "
Jack held his ground. Dean Kingsley wasn't getting off just because he came from famous parents and money. No, Jack wasn't about to let that happen again.
"Mrs. Kingsley, do you have an address? Or could you at least tell me the last time your son was home? Does he call you?"
A hint of a smile appeared on the older woman's face. "Dean called last month. He never forgets my birthday."
Did the dutiful son have his family snowed, too? "Other than Seattle or here could you think of another place Dean would go?"
She hesitated. "Is my son in trouble, Mr. Sullivan?"
"I won't lie to you, Mrs. Kingsley. The CEO of Walsh Enterprises, your son's employer, hired me to find Dean. As of right now, we only want to talk with him." Jack hoped his honesty would gain him an ally.
Mother and daughter exchanged a worried look. "I have your card," Molly said, "so I'll call if I hear anything."
Jack didn't know whether to believe her or not, but he couldn't do much more than smile at them. "I look forward to hearing from you. Please don't hesitate to call that number."
Out of the corners of his eye, Jack caught sight of a man coming from the barn. When he reached the porch, he raised his fingers to his hat in greeting to the ladies. "Is there a problem, Willow?" The man eyed Jack closely.
"It's all right, Trevor," she told him. "Mr. Sullivan is just leaving."
Don't count on it. "I'm not going far until I find Dean."
The man named Trevor exchanged a knowing look with Kingsley's sister. "I'll make sure he's escorted through the gate."
Jack waited as Willow and her mother went through the door to the house.
"I don't know what your game is, Sullivan," Trevor began, "but you can't just walk onto posted private property."
"I didn't just walk on, I was invited in by Mrs. Kingsley." An easy smile played on Jack's lips as he eyed the man, who was about the same age as himself.
Trevor didn't back down. He straightened to his height of about six feet. "That problem is about to be corrected real soon. And I suggest you don't try to get invited back."
The foreman walked Jack to his SUV. He climbed in and started the engine, and backed away from the rustic home of cream-colored stucco, with the stone facade and dark green trim. It hadn't been the mansion he'd expected for Hollywood's royal couple, and pictures of Willow Kingsley didn't do her justice. Nor had he expected her to be so feisty.
Jack put the car into gear and headed back down the road, passing by the big white barn and corral. The gravel lane was edged with grand oak trees along the white split rail fencing that lined the entrance of the ranch. He glanced in his rearview mirror to see Trevor talking with another man.
Soon a truck was following behind him. No problem, Jack was still going to locate Kingsley. He drove under the archway that read Wandering Creek Ranch.
He was sure they were trying to hide something, as sure as he was of his own name.And he just had to find out what or who.
After lunch, Willow left her mother in the office working on the vendors list for the summer camp. She went upstairs to make her own call. Although Molly had tried to hide it, she'd been bothered by Mr. Sullivan's inquiry about Dean.
Dean hadn't exactly been the ideal son.
Willow never placed all the blame on her brother. It was hard to live up to a movie icon father.
A rush of sadness washed over Willow at the memory of her father. Not just because he'd been a famous movie actor, but because of his presence. Big and strong, he was every woman's ideal man. Even though Matt Kingsley had been portrayed for years as a womanizer, everything changed the second he met Molly Reynolds. Even with the eighteen-year-difference in their ages, they'd stayed faithfully married for thirty-three years until Matt's death two years ago.
But father and son had had some differences over the years and her brother still felt he'd always be in his father's shadow.
That was the main reason Dean didn't live at the ranch. He went off to work in the Pacific Northwest, hoping it was far enough away that the media would think he wasn't newsworthy anymore.
Willow walked into the bedroom that had been hers since childhood. It had gone through several transformations, most recently in different shades of soft blues. At the desk, she went through her Rolodex to find Dean's number, picked up the phone and made the call to Seattle. After three rings her call was answered by his voice mail.
"Dean. It's Willow. We haven't heard from you in a while. I need to talk to you. Please, give me a call." She paused. "It's important. Love ya, bye."
She hung up and her thoughts returned to Jack Sullivan. She hated the fact that she'd even noticed his dark good looks. It wasn't that she hadn't encountered handsome men before. But Sullivan wasn't your pretty boy Hollywood type. First of all, his nose had been broken, leaving it slightly off center. She doubted he'd ever had his thick sable hair styled. What had drawn her attention was that rough chiseled jaw and those deep-set bedroom eyes.
She suddenly felt her body temperature rise and shook her head to clear any more dangerous thoughts. This man was after her brother.
She sighed. "What have you done now, Dean?"
She used to know everything about her brother. He hadn't been the rough-and-tumble son Matt Kingsley could relate to. Dean never took to sports, and working the ranch had been more Willow's forte. With Dean it had been computers. Matthew Kingsley's son was a computer nerd.
It had taken Dean years to finally find his calling. So the move to Seattle and the job with Walsh Industries had seemed to be a perfect fit for him. "What happened, Dean? Why is a P.I. looking for you?"
Willow walked to the bed and sat down. Something told her Jack Sullivan was out to destroy her family. No matter what, she wasn't about to let that happen.