A Texan for Hire (Harlequin American Romance Series #1540)

A Texan for Hire (Harlequin American Romance Series #1540)

by Amanda Renee
A Texan for Hire (Harlequin American Romance Series #1540)

A Texan for Hire (Harlequin American Romance Series #1540)

by Amanda Renee

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Overview

FIND YOUR SISTER 

Three words scrawled on a piece of paper just upended Abby Winchester's world. She'd never known she even had a sister. Abby's sure she'll learn the truth after traveling to the sleepy Texas town where she was born. And tall, brooding Clay Tanner may find the answers she needs, even if he does look more like a cowboy than a PI. 

The petite blonde who just hired him is tempting Clay to break his rule not to get involved with a client. But the former ATF agent isn't ready for a relationship—not after what once happened on his watch. Still, helping Abby uncover family secrets makes him wonder if it's time to put his own past to rest. Is Abby willing to face an uncertain future—together?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460378779
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 03/01/2015
Series: Welcome to Ramblewood Series
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: eBook
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 441,879
File size: 476 KB

About the Author

Amanda Renee was raised in the northeast and now wriggles her toes in the warm coastal Carolina sands. Her career began when she was discovered through Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. Today, she writes full-time alongside her Schnoodle sidekick, Duffy. Whenever she’s not working, she usually has a camera in her hand. She enjoys road trips, songwriting, playing guitar and piano, and anything involving animals. You can visit her at www.amandarenee.com.

Read an Excerpt

Abby Winchester wasn't used to waking up in a strange bed, let alone one in a strange town, thirteen hundred miles from home. Mazie's Bed & Biscuit in Ramblewood, Texas, was a far cry from her early nineteenth-century row house in Charleston, South Carolina.

She sat up and yawned, replaying the events of the past month in her head. Abby's world had been turned upside down. It had begun with the death of Walter Davidson, her biological father, and had ended with the hospital board once again turning down her animal-assisted therapy proposal. As a physical therapist, Abby was determined to increase her patients' rehabilitation options, and despite the hospital's latest rejection, she vowed to continue fighting for the program she so passionately believed in.

And she would have focused on a new course of action if it weren't for one thing…the note the nurse had given her after Walter died. Scrawled in his handwriting on a piece of scrap paper were three words:

FIND YOUR SISTER.

Only one problem…Abby didn't have a sister. Well, not one she knew of.

Even though Abby doubted the rationality of Walter's dying words, they continued to haunt her. With no other clues to go on, she had decided to begin her search in Ramblewood, the town of her birth. After she'd driven halfway across the country in one straight shot, she was exhausted.

Abby squinted at the nightstand clock—half the morning was already gone. She forced her road-weary body out of bed, breathing deeply as her feet hit the floor. Fortunately the moving-car sensation that usually followed an extensive road trip had subsided.

Her dog, Duffy, lifted his head as Abby stood. She scratched him behind his ears then padded to the bathroom. The knobs on the freestanding vintage faucet above the claw-foot tub creaked as she turned them. It was well after midnight when she'd arrived and she'd been too tired to summon the strength to take a shower. Abby would be forever grateful that the inn's owner, Mazie Lawson, had checked her in so late. Abby wouldn't have been able to handle one more minute cooped up in her car.

Feeling more human after she had bathed and dressed, Abby made her way downstairs with Duffy in tow. She chose an apple-pecan muffin from the basket on the dining room sideboard as her beloved sidekick tugged her in the direction of the front door.

Once outside, they headed for the Ramblewood Bark Park. Located next door to Mazie's Bed & Biscuit, the animal-friendly play area was an added bonus for guests of the converted Victorian inn, which catered to people traveling with their pets.

Duffy tugged on his leash as they walked through the park's double gates. Her schnoodle couldn't wait to run with the other dogs. Some would call her schnauzer and poodle mix a mutt, but Abby referred to him as her designer dog. Once they were securely inside, Duffy sped off to explore his new surroundings.

The pond in the middle of the park enticed panting canines to take a refreshing dip. Some dogs stood belly high, enjoying the coolness of the water—but not Duffy. He didn't have a particular fondness for anything wet, more like a distinct hatred. He tolerated a bath. Barely. There'd be no convincing him a swim was a good thing.

Abby smiled as she watched Duffy make friends with a cute female Scottish terrier. If dogs could talk, she was pretty sure Duffy approved of this trip.

She sat on a wooden bench under a tree, perusing emails on her phone while her dog played. A slight breeze rustled the maple leaves above her head. The early September air was still heavy with Southern heat. However, the temperature didn't bother her— One-hundred-degree days weighed down with one-hundred-percent humidity was the norm for summer in Charleston. The air in the South Carolina peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers was thick with moisture most of the year. Ramblewood's dry weather was a welcome relief. She looked up at the sound of Duffy's barking. He barreled at her like a bull out of a chute. A black standard poodle was hot on his doggy heels. Duffy darted under Abby's bench, pivoted and then shot underneath the poodle. The other dog scrambled to keep up.

"Is the little silver bullet yours?" An older woman with closely cropped, curly salt-and-pepper hair asked as she approached. The dogs had reached the other side of the park before Abby could finish nodding.

"Barney won't hurt him," the woman said. "He loves to run."

"Oh, I'm not worried," Abby said. "Duffy loves to be chased. I swear he thrives on it."

"I can see that." The woman laughed, joining Abby on the bench. "I'm Kay Langtry, by the way."

"Abby Winchester," she replied, shaking the woman's hand. "You have a gorgeous dog."

"Thank you. He's quite a handful. Thirteen months and getting into everything. Barney's new trick is counter surfing, and he's tall enough to reach even the things I've pushed way to the back. I bring him out here to run in a more confined area because he wreaks havoc at the ranch—even the horses keep their distance."

"I can imagine." Abby watched Duffy and Barney run along the outskirts of the park. Her dog was fearless when it came to other dogs, but she could see he was keeping a safe distance from the pond. He refused to get his feet wet.

"Are you visiting someone in town?" Kay asked.

"Is it that obvious?" Abby glanced down at her jeans and T-shirt. She had thought her clothes were Texas appropriate when she threw them on earlier. Maybe she should've chosen a less bedazzled pair, but all of her jeans were heavily embellished with sequins and rhinestones. Now they seemed like overkill for the laid-back town. "I live in Charleston, South Carolina—originally from Pennsylvania—and I'm here on business. I'm staying next door at the Bed and Biscuit."

"How long are you in town for?" Kay asked.

"Not sure. A week at least, two at the most." Abby debated telling the woman her reasons for coming to Ramblewood. What harm would it do? Besides, the more people who knew her story, the more they might be able to help in her search. "I'm looking for my long-lost sister."

"I love reunion stories." Kay clasped her hands in her lap. "When did you two last see each other?"

"Never. My biological father recently died and left me a note telling me to find my sister. I didn't know I had one up until that point. I thought I'd start here since I was born in Ramblewood. I'm banking on someone remembering my parents."

"What are their names?" Kay asked.

"Walter and Maeve Davidson. They divorced when I was a year old and my mom remarried a year later."

Kay listened intently. "Your story is better than an episode of General Hospital!" The woman's eyes widened. "Your parents' names don't ring a bell. Have you considered hiring a private investigator?"

"Not really." Abby didn't want to admit she'd spontaneously hopped in her car and headed west on a whim. Walter's note had troubled her more than she'd openly admitted. "I arrived in the middle of the night, and I'm not exactly sure where to start. I thought I'd stop by the courthouse first, but maybe an investigator isn't such a bad idea, providing it doesn't cost me a fortune. Do you know of anyone local?"

"It just so happens that I do, and I think you'll find him to your liking." A broad smile spread across Kay's face as she removed a cell phone from her bag. "Clay Tanner. That boy practically grew up in my house alongside my four sons. I guess I shouldn't call him or any of them boys anymore. But no matter how old they get, I still picture them running around my house laughing and full of mischief. He's single, to boot."

"Single, huh?" Abby laughed. "Kay, I'm looking for my sister, not a man."

"I don't see a ring on your finger, so I'd say you're free to explore the possibilities of what Ramblewood has to offer."

Abby had never seen a person's eyes twinkle before, but she could have sworn Kay's had done just that. The woman jotted Clay's number on the back of a crumpled envelope she found in her purse and handed it to Abby.

"I wish you the best of luck and if I can be of any help, feel free to give me a call." She pointed to the paper. "I wrote my number on there, too. I own the Bridle Dance Ranch and you're welcome there anytime. Ask anyone in town and they'll point you in the right direction." Kay checked her watch. "Speaking of such, I need to head home and figure out what I'm going to serve my growing brood for lunch. You'd think once they married and moved out of the house, they'd be able to feed themselves. Instead I have double, sometimes triple, the number to feed."

Kay rose from the bench, put two fingers to her mouth and performed a screeching whistle. Barney immediately stopped and changed direction, leaving Duffy behind. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Abby."

"Same here." Abby stood, and looked at the phone number in her hand. She was on a mission to find her sister. If this Clay person could help, then why not call him right away?

Her hands trembled as she entered the numbers into her phone. Sure, she wanted answers, but this man might actually find them. Up until last week, Abby had fought with herself and her family over the possibility that a sister might exist. She had figured Walter would have told her sooner if it were true, or at the very least, made it part of one of the birthday scavenger hunts he sent her on each year.

Since her parents' divorce, Abby recalled seeing Walter maybe four or five times in her life. He had moved to the West Coast when she was still in grade school. After Abby's brother, Wyatt, had been born, she hadn't understood why her last name was different from the rest of the family's. Her stepfather had offered to adopt her. Walter hadn't put up a fight.

Almost ten years ago, on Abby's eighteenth birthday, Walter had contacted her. He'd explained why he had walked away. He hadn't wanted to complicate her new life. And he'd thought she would be better off without him.

Abby respected his decision and never held any ill will toward him. But even after they'd reconnected, Walter had never offered to see her. She'd never asked why either. She'd always thought there would be plenty of time for visits in the future. Now she wondered if there was more to the story.

Once Walter was back in her life, they remained in regular contact with each other. It was also when he began sending Abby an envelope every year on her birthday. Delivered by courier, the envelope never showed a return address. Inside, there were always instructions for a treasure hunt.

One year, Walter had sent her a brochure of the Delaware Water Gap and a map of Monroe County, Pennsylvania. The hunt had forced her to head home for the first time since her residency had started at the hospital a year earlier. Various clues had led her to her parents' house. It had been Walter's way of telling Abby she needed a break from work and was long overdue to spend time with her family.

Why hadn't he confided in her that he'd had cancer? Things would have been different. She would have been there for him. But, Abby guessed that was the point. Walter wanted her to remember him as he was, not as a dying man in a veteran's hospital on the other side of the country. Abby's birthday was next month, and in her heart, she sensed this note—a three-word clue to find her sister—was Walter's way of giving her one final gift.

No one in her family comprehended how Abby could grieve for someone she hadn't seen since preschool when Walter had still had visitation rights—not that he'd used them very often. Even Wyatt didn't get it, and they were close. They shared a house. Her brother simply didn't understand what she was going through and tension had formed between them.

She sighed as she held her cell phone to her ear. "Hello, Mr. Tanner? My name's Abby Winchester. A woman named Kay referred you to me. I need your help finding my sister."

Clay pocketed his phone and turned to his best friend, Shane Langtry. "Your mom just sent a client my way."

"I hope this one pays you in something other than livestock," Shane joked as he helped Clay set a newly constructed roof on the chicken coop. "Any more animals and you'll need a second job to keep you in feed." He shook his head as he surveyed Clay's modest ranch.

"Isn't that the truth!"

"Keep your eye on that shelter over there." Shane pointed to the farthest pigpen. "The roof support looks like it's seen better days."

Clay nodded, thinking about the ideas he'd had for the ranch when he'd purchased it a few years earlier. Raised in a family that raised sheep for wool, he had intended to raise alpacas, hoping to bring his father aboard once he got the farm off the ground. Watching the man manage someone else's fiber mill when he knew his father's heart was elsewhere pained Clay. And he felt partly responsible for it.

Money had already been tight before Clay's birth, and it had never seemed to get any better. When his sister, Hannah, had come along twelve years later, it had been even tighter. At a young age, Clay had picked up on his parents' financial struggles and had never asked for things that weren't necessary.

After Clay graduated high school, he knew his father was disappointed that Clay chose to study criminal justice instead of agriculture. His father had wanted him to help run the family business. Despite his disappointment, Gage Tanner had urged his son to follow his heart. It made sense. Wool production had been slowly declining in the United States. The industry wasn't nearly as profitable as it had been when Clay's great-grandparents had started sheep farming seventy-five years ago.

Halfway through his time away at college, Clay's parents had faced foreclosure. He'd offered to come home and help with the ranch, but his father told him it wouldn't change anything. Days before the bank had been ready to auction off the Tanners' land, they'd received a reprieve of sorts.

Their close relationship with the Langtrys had allowed his parents to keep the family home along with a handful of acres when Joe Langtry purchased the property. The sale had been enough to cover their debts, but the Tanners had been forced to sell off the sheep to other area farmers.

Clay knew the animals' fate bothered his mother. She had prided herself on the fiber processing mill she'd built from the ground up and it nearly killed her to watch her beloved sheep taken away by the truckload.

Clay had paid for college on his own with the aid of student loans, but that hadn't eased the regret he had for not being around when his father needed him most. Now Clay wanted to regain some of that Tanner pride and raise alpacas, which were much more valuable for their fleece.

He shook his head. He'd never imagined wanting to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, but life changed in a heartbeat—Clay was proof of that. The new ranch wouldn't be the same as the one his family had once owned, but it would be a chance to regain their rich history in fiber production.

Clay laughed to himself. He would have gotten somewhere with his dream if more of his private investigator clients actually paid him in cash.

It didn't matter that he told people his fees up front, the majority of the time they could barely afford his retainer. Farmers were having financial problems thanks to a multi-year drought and the ever-increasing amount of imported goods into the States. Unable to say no to the people he'd known his entire life, Clay had accepted animals as payment. He now owned a small herd of goats, more pigs than he cared to admit and enough chickens to warrant constructing an addition on the coop. He kept what he could afford, the rest he sold. Except for the chickens, which earned their keep by providing breakfast on most days. The remaining eggs his neighbor graciously sold for him at her farm stand. It didn't make him a great businessman, but helping his clients helped ease his conscience a bit. He had more than his share of sins to atone for.

"Thanks for helping me out this morning." Clay tugged off his gloves and shoved them in his back pocket, irritated that he'd allowed the past to disturb his thoughts. He kept himself constantly busy for that exact reason. To forget. "I need to clean up and head out to The Magpie to meet my potential client."

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