A brooding cowboy tracks the stalker after his true love — and unborn child.
With an imprisoned serial killer for a father, rancher Ethan Colton never planned on continuing the tainted family name. But six months after a night of passion with a woman from his past, Ethan discovers he's about to be a dad.
Beautiful, independent Lizzie Conner turns up at his Texas ranch, expecting nothing but protection from the guarded cowboy. A stalker is fast on her trail, leaving creepy gifts and notes threatening her and the baby. Now, all that matters to Ethan is keeping his unexpected family safe — and out of a killer's clutches.
About the Author
Addison Fox can't remember a time when words weren't a part of her life. In addition to being an avid reader, she loves writing novels about strong-willed and exciting heroes and heroines – individuals who are meant for each other and who deserve their happy ever after. After she makes them work for it, of course!
Addison lives in Dallas. You can find her at her home on the web at www.addisonfox.com or on Facebook (facebook.com/addisonfoxauthor) and Twitter (@addisonfox).
Read an Excerpt
Stars winked like diamonds in a sky black as pitch, the cool Texas night buffeting him with a thick wind. Frost covered the ground, crunching under his feet, a sure sign winter wasn't yet done with them. Ethan Colton kept his head down and ignored nature's display as he trudged toward the barn and the pregnant horse one of his ranch hands had called him about.
"Boss! Glad you're here." Bill Peabody, his ranch foreman, waved him over to the last stall in the barn.
"Where's Doc Peters?"
"On his way."
Ethan nodded and took in the scene before him. His favorite filly, Dream, wasn't due to deliver for about six more weeks. But her heavy breathing and wide-eyed fright suggested her new foal wasn't prepared to wait for spring.
Ethan dropped to his knees beside Dream, his hands gentle when he reached out to stroke her neck. "Hey, baby. Shh there, beautiful girl. It's okay."
His gaze drifted from the clear lines of pain that suffused her dark brown face on down over the sleek lines of her body. The filly's rib cage contracted hard with her labored breaths, and the distended bellythe telltale sign of her pregnancyquivered almost of its own accord.
"Think we can stop her from delivering?"
"Doc told me to keep her comfortable and as still as possible until he got here." Bill paced next to the stall. "Says he'll know better after he looks at her."
Bill's words kicked up an odd twist of memoryabsolutely unbiddenof another night long ago. But with an outcome that had no hope of ending well.
Those memories had become more frequent of late, his brother's recent tussle with their father stirring it all to the fore. With the iron will he'd honed through the years, he pushed the ever-clear memory away and focused on Dream.
She was his pride and joy, along with the rest of the horses in his stable. The years of hard work, building something that was his own. That no one could taint.
He'd be damned if he'd sit by and let her suffer. Or see to it he didn't do everything he could do to make sure she had a healthy foal.
Bill worked with him in silence as they followed the vet's instructions, keeping Dream as calm as possible while they waited for help. He was pleased to see her breathing even out a bit as they settled a blanket beneath her head and several more to support the long length of her back.
"Babies are a tough thing. They're natural but not normal." Doc Peters bustled in, his cheery smile at odds with the still-sleepy eyes and tufts of gray hair that stuck out all over his head.
"Not normal?" Ethan kept his voice low, not wanting to spook Dream, but he couldn't keep from questioning the vet.
"Of course. Pregnancy is a natural state, but it's hard on the body." Doc Peters dropped to his knees, his lithe form belying what had to be at least forty years of caring for large animals. "But we'll take care of Dream here, won't we, sweetheart."
Ethan kept a calming hand on Dream's neck but said nothing more, allowing the doctor to do his work. The vet inspected the horse, his hands following all the places Ethan's own gaze had roamed for the past twenty minutes. After several endless moments of inspection and even more checks with the stethoscope, Doc Peters got to his feet.
"You ready for a long night?"
Ethan stared up at the doc's slim figure, standing over his horse. "She's having the foal tonight?"
"Not if we can help it. But we do have to get him turned around. There are two pairs of long, long legs pointing exactly where they don't belong."
Ethan took solace that the doctor seemed in control of the situation and nodded his head. "Tell us what to do."
The frigid night had given way to a cold crisp morning, and Ethan breathed in deep as he headed for the ranch house. He'd spent hours worrying they wouldn't be able to help Dream, but Doc Peters had been a pro. Bit by bit, he'd managed to turn Dream's foal back into position. Ethan knew they were out of the woods now, but he hadn't missed the concern that had stamped itself deep in the grooves on Peters's face around four that morning.
Things had been more than touch and go for a while, and Ethan had barely dared to believe things could end well, convinced he needed to brace himself for the worst. For the inevitable.
Yet the doc had done it. Dream was on her feet and happily grazing on a fresh batch of oats Bill had poured just for her when Ethan finished washing up in the sinks in the barn.
Now all he could think about was a hot shower and roughly a gallon of coffee. He might even manage something beyond the breakfast sandwiches he typically microwaved each morning. In fact, he thought he remembered seeing a rasher of bacon in the fridge the last time Bill's wife, Joyce, did a shopping order.
The back door swung open under his hand and he caught himself. Hadn't he locked it when he headed out?
The smell of coffee accosted him and the mystery of the back door vanished as he imagined Joyce over here, putting on a pot for when he got back. That woman was gold, and he'd have to remember to thank her later.
He dragged off his boots in the mudroom and turned for the kitchen. The distinct scent of bacon assailed him just before the soft, subtle hum of a popular country song followed.
But it was the woman who stood before his stove that had Ethan going still.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Elizabeth Marie ConnerLizzie to the few who knew and loved heralready knew she was pushing beyond acceptable boundaries by coming here in the first place.
Since she figured she had to get this over with, she might as well add bacon to the mix.
Men loved bacon. Heck, there were whole websites devoted to the very best part of the pig. And based on what Joyce had said when she'd let her in, Ethan had just spent a hard night.
She was smart enough to know the bacon wouldn't go all that far to soften the blow she was about to deliver, but she was hungry as a horse all the time, and it would make her feel better.
"That's some welcome."
The man had the sense to look contrite, and she took it as a good sign. But when a quick shot of something warm and hungry flitted through his gaze before those rich hazel depths turned cold once more, Lizzie pressed a firm hand to her fluttering stomach beneath the oversize sweatshirt she'd tugged on for the visit.
Ethan Colton was anything but cold.
And she'd had six months of very warm memories reminding her of that fact.
"You can imagine my surprise to find a woman cooking me breakfast."
Lizzie did her best to keep her body facing the stove, only turning to eye Ethan over her shoulder. "Joyce let me in. Said you were having a tough night with one of your horses. How is she?"
"Good. Fine." Talk of his horse seemed to mellow him a bit more, and he crossed to the pot of coffee.
"No, thanks. I'm not a coffee girl. No one at work can understand it but" She broke off, the reality that there was no work any longer more bitter than she'd expected.
Ethan poured his coffee and, after doctoring it with a sugar and some creamer from the fridge, moved to the long island counter at her back. "Look. I'm sorry for my greeting. I'm tired and I didn't expect anyone to be in here when I got back. And"
He stilled, a small smile edging his lips. "And that's lame. I'm sorry for my greeting. How are you, Lizzie?"
She'd thought she was prepared. Had believed she could keep her emotions in check and her mind clear for all that was still to come between them.
Oh, how wrong she'd been.
Those hazel eyesthe ones that were an amazing mix of green and brown and several spots of graydrew her in and touched something deep inside she couldn't quite define.
Love? She was so not going there.
Even if she had harbored feelings for him since she was young. He was the big brother of her best friend in foster care. As a lifelong foster child, she'd known full well that getting attached was a bad idea, but she'd gone and done it anyway. Josie Colton had been her best friend, and her older brother Ethan Oh, how Lizzie had looked forward to those visits he'd made three times a year to see his sister.
Until it had all ended with nothing but empty promises and long, lonely days without her best friend.
So when he'd appeared like a dream six months ago at a rodeo they were both attending, she couldn't shake off the chance to see him again and spend some time together.
"Lizzie? How are you?"
She pulled herself back from the thick morass of memories and unfulfilled wants. "Good. I'm good."
"You look good" He broke off before he added, "But you always look good. No one I've ever met has green eyes quite like yours."
She stilled, the bacon popping and crackling, as she braced herself for what she had to do. Flipping off the stove, she moved the bacon to the back burner and turned around and looked her fill.
Her gaze roamed, hungry, over the sandy-brown hair she knew was the texture of unrefined cotton. On down over the broad shoulders that seemed custom-made for a woman's hands. And then over the broad chest that was banded in thick sinew, from the hard swath of his pectorals on down to the ridges of muscle that framed his stomach.
The man was a vision, and the sweet boy she'd had a crush on had grown into a formidable man.
Get it together, Elizabeth Marie. Stop ogling him and tell the man the reason you're here.
Yet even as that steely voicethe one that had pushed her through college and on into becoming the youngest loan officer at her bankwhispered to her to just come out with it, she couldn't help but indulge the woman's need that had her stopping for a moment. It was rude to starehadn't one of her foster mothers taught her that?but she couldn't quite help herself.
She'd look her fill, because after this morning things would never again be the same.
And as Ethan's gaze traveled its own path, over her face, a tentative smile quirking his lips, she knew the moment when something else registered.
Knew the moment that smile faltered when he caught sight of the very clear bump that had replaced her normally flat stomach.
A loud popping sound pulled her from the moment and Lizzie turned on a hard exhalation. "Oh, no!"
Even though she'd moved it off the heat, the bacon had continued cooking in the oil and had gone crisp to the point of burning.
"Let me." Ethan moved into her space, gently pushing her aside as he grabbed the thick cast iron off the stove. He tilted the pan over a pie plate she'd already set aside, layered with paper towels to absorb the grease.
And as she watched the bacon slide from the skillet, the grease that had cooked out sliding along with it, Lizzie felt the bottom drop out of her stomach.
Clamping a hand over her mouth, she ran toward the mudroom and prayed she'd make it to the back door in time.
One moment he was staring into eyes of the most vivid green, fresh as a spring day, and imagining things he most definitely should not be imagining. Then his mind had taken an entirely different tack as his gaze settled on her stomach.
And then Ethan was watching Lizzie Conner race out of his kitchen as though Satan's hounds were nipping at her heels.
He slammed the skillet back on the stove, then raced after her. What in the blazing hell was going on?
Ethan heard the hard slam of the back screen door and the distinctive sounds of retching just as he came upon the entryway. As clear as a bell, Doc Peters's words screamed through his mind.
Babies are a tough thing. They're natural but not normal.
"Lizzie!" He pushed through the door, his mind whirling with a thousand thoughts, all louder than the cicadas in August.
But the thought that screamed the loudest was to get to her.
He closed the short distance between the door and the bushes that rimmed his back patio and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, holding her as she leaned forward once more. He kept one hand on her arm while the other gathered the thick, curly strands of her hair into a firm hold.
"Shh. It's all right."
Heat suffused her cheeks, and he felt the same warmth radiating from her slim shoulders as he pulled her close. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, no." The words came out in a mix of half squeak and half moan as she straightened. "Oh, Ethan. I'm so sorry."
Those slim shoulders straightened right up and she pulled out of his hold. The soft strands of her hair slipped through his fingers, and he was surprised at how bereft he felt when nothing but cold morning air took their place.
"What's going on, Lizzie?"
Pregnancy is a natural state, but it's hard on the body.
Those damn words continued to taunt him, the unspoken truth hovering between them more powerful than the tornadoes that whipped through Texas in spring.
"Can we go back inside?" Her lips quivered, and he quickly shrugged out of the old sweatshirt he'd shoved on the night before.
"Layer up. It's only February."
He took her hand and pulled her toward the house. Something in his chest turned over when she dragged the ratty old Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt on over her head, her stomach pressed against the material of the sweatshirt she already wore. She was a slender thing, tall and willowy, but even with another thick layer of material covering her torso, her stomach still bore a definitive bump.
It was no trick of the morning light through his back windows. Nor was it some fanciful play of imagination after a long night without sleep.
The flat stomach he'd explored on a sensual journey one lonely night was nowhere in evidence. And after living with a head full of erotic visions for six agonizing months, he knew damn well his memory wasn't the least bit faulty.
He'd explored every inch of Lizzie Conner's body. Had tasted every soft dip and expanse of her skin. Had buried himself deep inside her, allowing every one of the long, lonely years they'd held in common to fade away in the joy of being together.
Ethan stopped himself, pushing away the sharp tang of awareness that made him want things he had resolved never to have.
The scent of bacon still lit up the kitchen, and he shot a concerned glance at her. "Do you need me to throw out breakfast?"
"No!" She shook her head before wrapping her hands tight around herself. "No, I'm fine now."
"Why don't we go into the living room. It'll keep for a few more minutes."
"Drain it first. Please. It was" She broke off, swallowing hard. "The grease was what turned my stomach. If you don't drain it, we can't eat it later. I just need to slip to your powder room for a quick minute."
He directed her down the hall, then did as she'd asked with breakfast. He snatched up one of the slices as he patted the rest dry with paper towels, knowing full well he needed a heck of a lot more fortification than a few pieces of bacon.
But a man took what he could get.
And braced himself for the news he was going to be a father.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it. Heartbreaking, funny, chilling. The Cottons have layers I can't wait to see and I will flowing them all.
4.5 stars! I loved Colton's Surprise Heir, the second book in the Coltons of Texas series, from start to finish. Ethan is an appealing alpha hero who turns to mush when he realizes he's unexpectedly going to be a father. I loved the way he's more comfortable with horses than he is with people, especially Lizzie. He just can't believe she can love him, given his family history. But Lizzie's loving heart finds a way to convince him she loves him and has always loved him. It's a sweet story, but the chemistry between Ethan and Lizzie is palpable, and the love scenes are great (even though Lizzie is pregnant, the love scenes are totally believable and Ethan is wonderful). A heart-warming story of fighting for what you believe in, and never giving up.
Very good book that kept me hooked until the very end. Ethan and Lizzie had known each other as teenagers, when Lizzie was in the same foster home as Ethan's youngest sister Josie. Lizzy had had a crush on Ethan, and when she met him again years later she discovered the feelings were still there. A passionate night together left her pregnant with his baby, and not sure whether to tell him. Ethan's father was convicted of murdering Ethan's mother and also being a serial killer. Ethan was the one who found their mother's body and his testimony helped convict his father. He is still haunted by the memories and swore long ago that he would never pass his tainted blood on to another. He's stunned to find out that Lizzy is pregnant, but determined to do his best to be a father to his child. Lizzy came to Ethan because she has been receiving creepy notes and gifts since her pregnancy became public. When the stalker broke into her house twice, she had enough and fled to Ethan. He is determined to keep her and the baby safe, but also try to keep an emotional distance from her. I loved the development of their relationship. Because they have known each other for so long they are familiar with each other's pasts. Lizzy doesn't judge Ethan by what his father did, she knows the man he really is. Ethan has tried his best to put his past behind him and devotes his time to his ranch. His love of animals shows that the ability to care is there if he will just open himself up to it. Lizzie has also made a good life for herself and is determined to take care of her baby. The trouble that Lizzie is in brings out Ethan's protectiveness. Having her in his home makes him realize how empty his life has been, but he is wary of making a commitment. One of the things I liked best about the book is that Ethan and Lizzy talk to each other about their pasts and their fears. It isn't easy, but she gets him to open up to her about his father. Even when they argue they are able to admit when they are wrong and apologize. I loved seeing them grow closer as they adjust to the idea of being parents. There are some good conversations between them about the baby. It takes almost losing her for Ethan to realize that she is more important than his fears. There are three suspense stories woven throughout the book. The first is who is stalking Lizzy. Someone is leaving creepy notes and gifts about the baby, and Lizzy is scared. She goes to Ethan for protection and for help in figuring out who it is. I had a feeling about the stalker, part of which was correct but part of it was a surprise. The final confrontation was intense, but the danger was dealt with quickly by Ethan. The second is the story of the alphabet killer, which started in the first book and looks like it will continue through the series. It looks like a copycat, who is imitating the methods used by the Coltons' father twenty years earlier. With several of the family members in law enforcement, they are all determined to find out who it is. In this book we actually see one of the murders committed and who does it, but the motivation is still unknown. The killer is also still on the loose. Due to space limitations, review continued at: http://susans2016readingblog.blogspot.com/2016/03/coltons-surprise-heir-addison-fox-hrs.html
Enjoyed very much
Once again Fox has created a novel that had me hooked on the suspense and rooting for the loveable characters that she’s created. The tightly woven plot kept me guessing throughout. The insightful analysis within the novel adds an extra deep chilling feeling to the entire tale. The dual lines of suspense running through the plot were captivatingly haunting. . I also enjoyed the way that the relationship between the main characters developed. The history between them was tempered by the true friendship that we see today. Ethan and Lizzie’s similar yet completely different pasts made them interesting to get to know and very different from the vast array of romance couples out there. I loved Lizzie’s strength and caring, even in the face of utter terror. Ethan’s mood swings and bouts of indecision were well explained and easy to understand, yet at the same time, they were so bountiful that after a while I found them hard to swallow. When he finally came into his own I nearly cheered. This novel combined the fast pace of a romantic suspense with the hopefulness of a contemporary romance. It was a fantastic mix that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others who enjoy the genre. Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
What a great story! This is one of those books, that once you start it is very hard to put down, until you finish it, and then you wish it would continue on, because you feel attached to the characters, and you want to hang around them. Thankfully, this is book two in a new series, so there's more opportunity for that. I adored Ethan and Lizzie together, they had the chemistry, the attraction is palpable, and when they are in close proximity to each other, they just melt, become one, always standing together against the threat, danger, and malice of the world. And they talk, they talk about the hard things, the difficult topics, about life, the choices they made, the memories they share, they talk to each other, you know, like normal people do. And they don't always agree, they argue, they even fight couple times. But they are willing to admit their weaknesses, they admit when they are wrong, or are acting like a jerk, they take a stock, stand back, and adjust as needed. You really see how they grow even closer together, and how they grow as parents to be, as a couple, as people. And while all this is going on, the story doesn't lack suspense, fear, danger, action, even murder. The story is built so well, that the multiple layers of threat and danger exists at the same time as the romance is developing. It is intense, the jeopardy is constant, and the instability is growing. The siblings, the Coltons, have had a hard life, with their mother dead, by their serial killer father, and Josie, the youngest of them missing, my heart went out for them. But they have all managed to build a good life, a life to be admired, they are solid, hard working people, who support each other, and stand together, no matter how hard it is at times, and how much they annoy each other every now and then. Oh yes, the Coltons has won my heart, and I will look forward to get to know them better as the year folds out, and more books come out in the series. ~ Five Spoons