Millionaire rancher Gil Addison does not need Bailey Collins. She is far from the sweet homemaker he thought he wanted. But she is a beautiful woman with a badge, hot on the heels of a kidnapper in Gil's club. And Gil is hot for her!
Bailey can't let her career get sidetracked by the cowboy and his son. She's here to do a job, not find a family. Bailey won't stop till she gets her man in cuffs . Trouble is, Gil won't stop till he gets this woman in his bed!
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Addison didn't like Feds. Even when they came wrapped in pretty packages. Perhaps it was the trace of Comanche blood in his veins that kept an atavistic memory alive all those years of government promises made and broken. Gil was a white man living in a white man's world, no doubt about it. Nothing much of his Native American heritage lingered except for his black hair, brown eyes and olive skin.
But the distrust remained.
He stood inside the house, hand on an edge of the curtain, and watched as a standard-issue dark sedan made its way down the long driveway. Technically, the woman for whom he waited wasn't a Fed. She was a state investigator. But she had been trained by Feds, and that was close enough.
"Who is it, Daddy?"
His four-year-old son, Cade, endlessly curious, wrapped an arm around his father's leg. Gil glanced down at the boy, smiling in spite of his unsettled emotions. "A lady who wants to talk to me. Don't worry. It won't take long." He had promised Cade they would go riding today. "Is she pretty?"
Gil raised an eyebrow. "Why would that matter?"
The child with the big, far-too-observant eyes grinned. "Well, if she is, you might want to date her and fall in love and then get married and"
"This again?" Gil kept his hand over the boy's mouth in a mock insistence on changing the subject. He knelt and looked Cade in the eyes. "I have you. That's all I need." Single parenting was not for wimps. Sometimes it was the loneliest job in the world. And Gil wondered constantly if he was making irrevocable mistakes. He hugged his son before standing up again. "I think I've been letting you watch too much TV."
Cade pulled the curtains even farther aside and watched as the car rolled to a stop and parked. The car door opened and the woman stepped out. "She is pretty," Cade said, practically bouncing with the energy that never seemed to diminish.
Inwardly, Gil agreed with Cade's assessment, albeit reluctantly. Bailey Collins, despite the professional pantsuit that was as dark and unexceptional as her car, made an impression on a man. Only a few inches shy of Gil's six-one height, she carried herself with confidence. Wavy, shoulder-length brown hair glinted in the sun with red highlights. Her thick-lashed eyes were almost as dark as Gil's.
Though she was still too far away for Gil to witness those last two attributes, he had a good memory. Today was not his first encounter with Bailey Collins.
As she mounted his front steps, he opened the door, refusing to acknowledge that his heart beat faster than normal. The first time he met her, they had faced each other across a desk at Royal's police station. Even then he'd felt a potent mix of sexual hunger and resentment. But Bailey was on his turf now. He'd be calling the shots. She might think her credentials gave her power, but he was not prepared to accept them at face value.
Bailey caught her toe on the edge of the top step and stumbled, almost falling flat on her face. Fortunately, she regained her balance at the last second, because in the midst of her gyrations the door flew open, and a man she recognized all too well stood framed in the doorway.
Even as she acknowledged the jolt to her chest, she was taken aback by the presence of a second male. The man for whom she felt an unwelcome but visceral attraction was not alone. He held the hand of a small boy, most likelyaccording to Gil's dossierhis son. Even without written verification, she could have guessed the relationship. The young one was practically a carbon copy of his older counterpart.
The child broke free of his father's hold and stepped forward to beam at Bailey. "Welcome to the Straight Arrow," he said, holding out his hand with poignant maturity. His gap-toothed smile was infectious. "I'm Cade."
Bailey squatted, holding out her hand, as well, feeling the warmth of the small palm as it nestled briefly in hers.
"Hello, Cade," she said. "I'm Bailey."
"Ms. Collins," Gil corrected with a slight frown. "I'm trying to teach him manners."
"It's not bad manners to use my first name if I offer the privilege," Bailey said evenly, rising to face the man who had already given her sleepless nights.
Cade looked back and forth between the two adults.
The thinly veiled antagonism between them was unfortunate, because Cade seemed first confused and then unhappy. The boy's chin wobbled. "I wanted my dad to like you," he whispered, staring up at Bailey with huge blue eyes that must have come from his mother.
Bailey's heart melted. "Your dad and I like each other just fine," she told Cade, daring Gil to disagree. "Sometimes grown-ups get frustrated about things, but that doesn't mean we're angry." Even as an adult of thirty-three, she remembered vague impressions of her parents arguing. Yelling. Saying wretched, bitter words that couldn't be unheard.
Bailey knew what it was like to be a child with no power to shape the course of events. It was because she did understand Cade's dismay, that she summoned an almost-genuine smile and aimed it in Gil's direction. "Thank you for seeing me today. If we can sit down for a few moments, I promise not to take up too much of your time."
With Cade standing squarely in between them, there was nothing for Gil to do but agree. He ruffled his son's hair, love for his child and wry capitulation in his gaze as he spoke. "Why don't you join us in the kitchen, Ms. Collins? Cade and I usually have lemonade and a snack right about now."
"You may as well call me Bailey, too," she muttered, not sure if he heard her or not. She followed the two of them back through the house to the historic but updated kitchen. Gil had taken over the property from his parents when they retired and settled in Austin. The senior Addi-sons had inherited the Straight Arrow from Gil's grandparents. The ranch, whose name ironically described its owner to a T, was an enormous operation.
Four years ago when Gil's wife committed suicide, Gil had hired an army of extra ranch hands and housekeepers, so he could be the primary caregiver for his toddler son. Bailey knew the facts of the situation because she had investigated the man and admired him for his devotion. But that didn't make her any more forgiving of the way he had stonewalled her in their earlier interviews. Even though her file on Gil Addison was thorough and extensive, she was no closer to understanding the man himself.
Cade pulled out a chair for Bailey, sealing the deal. The kid was irresistible. Clearly Gil was not kidding when he mentioned teaching manners. Something about witnessing the boy's interaction with his father made Bailey's assessment of Gil shift and refocus. Surely a man who could be so caring and careful with a child was not all bad.
Bailey's own exposure to male parenting was more like a metaphorical slap up the side of the head. Toe the line. Don't complain. Achieve. Be self-sufficient. Even the most generous assessment of her father's motives left no room for seeing him as anything other than a bully and a tyrantpresumably the reason Bailey's mother had walked out, leaving her young daughter behind.
Bailey sat down somewhat self-consciously, and placed her cell phone on the table. While Gil busied himself retrieving glasses from the pine cabinets and slicing apples to go along with peanut butter, Cade grilled Bailey. "Do you have any good games on your phone?"
His hopeful expression made her grin. "A few."
"Yes. Are you any good at it?"
Cade shot a glance at his dad and lowered his voice. "He thinks that too much time with electronics will make me urn.. " Clearly searching for the desired word, Cade trailed off, his brow furrowed.
"Brain dead." Gil set the glasses on the table and returned with the plate of apples. Taking a chair directly across from Bailey, he sat down and turned his son's hand over, palm up. The little fingers were grimy. "Go wash up, Cade. Ms. Collins and I will wait for you."
When Cade disappeared down the hall to the bathroom, Bailey smiled. "He's wonderful. And unexpectedly mature for a four-year-old."
"He'll be five soon. He didn't have too many opportunities to be around other children until I began bringing him to the daycare center at the club occasionally, so that accounts for the adult conversation. As much as I'll miss him, I think it will be good for him to start kindergarten this fall."
Bailey cocked her head. "I may have misjudged you, Gil Addison. I think you do have a heart."
"Don't confuse parental love for weakness, Ms. Collins. I won't be manipulated into helping you take down one of my friends."
The sudden attack startled her. Gil's classic features were set in grim lines, any trace of softness gone. "You really don't trust me at all, do you?" she asked, her voice husky with regret at this evidence of his animosity.
"I don't trust your kind," he clarified, his tone terse. "Alex Santiago was kidnapped, but now he's been found. Sooner or later he'll get his memory back and be able to tell us who took him. Why can't you people drop it and leave us here in Royal to clean up our own messes?"
Bailey glanced toward the hallway, realizing that Cade could return at any moment. "Surely you're not that naive," she said quietly. "Because Alex has no memory of what happened to him, trouble could strike again at any time. We have no choice but to track down his abductors. Surely you can see that."
"What I don't see is why you think anyone I know is responsible."
"Alex was well-liked in Royal, though obviously he had at least one enemy. You know a lot of people. Somewhere in the midst of all that I hope to find the truth. It's my job, Gil. And I'm good at it. All I need is your help."
Cade popped into the room, the front of his shirt damp from his ablutions. "I'm really hungry," he said. At a nod from his father, he scooped up two apple slices and started eating.
As Bailey watched, Gil offered her a piece and took one himself. His sharp white teeth bit into the fruit with a crunch. She tried to eat, but the food stuck in her throat. She needed Gil on her side. And she needed him to trust her. Perhaps that would require time.
Biting her lip, she put down her uneaten snack and tried the lemonade instead. As father and son chatted about mundane matters, she strove for composure. Usually it took a lot to rattle her. But for some reason, winning Gil's approval was important.
When his phone rang, he glanced at the number and grimaced. "Sorry, Ms. Collins. I need to take this in private. I won't be long."
Cade glanced up at his dad as Gil stood. "Don't worry, Daddy. I'll entertain her."
When Gil returned thirty minutes later, he felt a pinch of guilt for abandoning Bailey to his son's clutches. Not all women were good with children, and Bailey struck him as more of a focused career woman than a nurturer. When he crossed the threshold into the kitchen, he pulled up short. There at the table, right where he had left them, were Cade and Bailey. Only now, they were sitting side by side, their heads bent over Bailey's phone.
The lemonade glasses were empty, as was the plate that had held apples.
Bailey shook her head. "Remember the angles," she said. "Don't just fire it off willy-nilly."
When Gil's son gazed up at Bailey, Gil's heart fractured. Never had he seen a boy so starved for feminine attention. Despite Gil's best efforts at being a perfect parent, nothing could substitute for the love of a mother. If Gil were not careful, Cade would latch onto Bailey and create an embarrassing situation for all of them.
Gil cleared his throat. "Cade. If you'll give me half an hour to speak with Ms. Collins about some grown-up business, I promise you we'll leave for our ride immediately after that."
Cade never looked up from his game. "Sure, Dad. Let me just finish this one"
Gil took the phone and handed it to Bailey. "You have permission to use the computer in my study. Now scram."
"Yes, sir." Cade gave Bailey a cheeky grin on his way out the door. "Will you say goodbye before you leave?"
Bailey rose to her feet and glanced at Gil.
Cade's father nodded. "I'll let you know when we're done."
In Cade's absence an uncomfortable silence reigned. The little boy's exuberant personality had served to soften the edges of Gil's aggressive displeasure.
Bailey hesitated, searching for a way to break the ice.
Gil did it for her. He held out an arm. "Since Cade is in my office, we might as well step onto the back porch. If that's okay with you," he added stiffly.
Bailey nodded. "Of course." The January weather was picture-perfect, and as was often the case during the winter, a bit erratic, as well. Last week Royal had endured storms and temperatures in the mid-fifties. Today the thermometer was forecast to hit eighty, almost a record.
As they stepped outside, Bailey had to smile. The Straight Arrow was an enormous, thriving cattle operation. In addition to its efficiency and profitability, every aspect of the ranch's physical appearance was neat and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It took money to carry out such attention to detail. But Gil had money. Lots of it. Which was a good thing, because his wealth meant he had the luxury of spending time with his son.
Watching and listening to Cade, Bailey understood how very well Gil had managed to give his son emotional security. The child was bright, friendly and well adjusted. Growing up without a mother was no picnic. But Gil's parenting had mitigated Cade's loss as much as was possible.
Gil remained standing, so Bailey followed suit. If she had made herself comfortable in one of the cushioned wicker chairs, he would have towered over her. She suspected he would like that.
Bailey, however, had a job to do. She wouldn't be cowed by Gil's fiercely masculine personality. She worked in a world where men still dominated the profession. Self-preservation demanded she be tough on the outside, even if she sometimes felt as if she was playing a part.
Gil fired the first shot. "I thought you went back to Dallas."
She shrugged. "Only for a week. The case is still open. After I finished the earlier interviews, my boss pulled me to work briefly on another project. But we're in a lull now, and they want me to do some more digging."
"You didn't do so well the last time," he mocked.
Bailey met his hot gaze with composure. "Investigations take time. And just so you know.I get it, Gil."
"You were insulted to be on the suspect list. I impugned your honor, and you're pissed. Have I hit the nail on the head?" She challenged him deliberately, not willing to play the bad guy indefinitely.
His jaw was granite. "I'd think your time would be better spent questioning the criminal element instead of harassing upstanding members of the community."