Cowboy Incognito (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1567)

Cowboy Incognito (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1567)

by Alice Sharpe

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460381359
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 05/01/2015
Series: Brothers of Hastings Ridge Ranch , #1
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 234,210
File size: 446 KB

About the Author

I was born in Sacramento, California where I launched my writing career by "publishing" a family newspaper. Circulation was dismal. After school, I married the love of my life. We spent years juggling children and pets while living on sailboats. All the while, I read like a crazy woman (devoured Agatha Christie) and wrote stories of my own, eventually selling to magazines and then book publishers. Now, 45 novels later, I'm concentrating on romantic suspense where my true interest lies.

Read an Excerpt

Kinsey Frost loved her adopted home of New Orleans no matter what the weather threw at her. Since moving there a few years ago, various storms had flexed their muscles and she'd kind of enjoyed the drama of it all.

However, on a summer day like this, when the humidity hovered close to a drizzle and no breeze blew off the Mississippi River, mixed feelings tended to sneak their way in. Add a crowded hot sidewalk, time restraint and a sore back from climbing up and down a ladder all day and she was about five seconds away from hailing a cab to take her the six blocks home. She was painfully aware she had an hour to take a shower, change her clothes and return to the gallery she'd just left.

That was cutting it close and she decided on the spot that once she had cleaned herself up, she would drive back to the gallery instead of walking as she usually did.

To take her mind off her wilting condition, she focused on her fellow pedestrians. As an artist, she was always interested in people watching, even when they had their backs to her. Directly ahead walked a woman who had twisted her hair into an intricate knot and secured it with what looked like red chopsticks. In front of her two businessmen in lightweight suits argued about something, their profiles twisted with emotion. Then came a woman wearing a pink dress who held the hands of two little girls. Twins? Probably, as they were the same size and wore identical clothes.

Looking even farther ahead, Kinsey caught a glimpse of a tan Stetson hat. She tilted her head to see on whom it perched and found a tall guy with dark hair touching the back of his shirt collar. A black leather vest stretched across broad shoulders. Through the legs of those between them, she caught sight of jeans and black boots.

This was not Bourbon Street. Few tourists visited this area at five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, fewer still dressed like this man. She watched him for another half block, struck by his steady gait and the aura he emitted of knowing where he was going and what he was going to do when he got there. She couldn't help being curious about his ultimate destination.

Life was full of interesting people with fascinating stories you never had a chance to know. Right now, for Kinsey, the far more pressing issue was time. The gallery was holding an opening-night show for an "outstanding new talent." That's what the owner called anyone to whom he dedicated wall space and a wine-and-cheese party. In Kinsey's opinion, this time he was dead-on right. She'd spent most of the day hanging one beautiful painting after another, striving to suit both owner and finicky artist. No doubt there would be a fair amount of hand-holding required that evening.

The light on the corner changed and the crowd up ahead slowed down to wait it out. Kinsey had lost track of the cowboy, but now he caught her attention again. He stood at the edge of the sidewalk, slightly apart. The giggling antics of the two little girls apparently caught his attention and he turned. As though he sensed Kinsey's stare, his gaze darted from the children straight to her.

The word handsome didn't do him justice, didn't begin to hint at the smoldering warmth of his eyes, the curiosity, the intelligence. His tan was deep, his eyes an unexpected blue, his brows straight and dark. He appeared to be several years her senior, maybe in his midthirties, and she'd bet a bundle he was better looking now than he'd been a decade before. That's what bones like his could do for a man…

Very slowly and with more than a taste of speculation, his sensual lips twitched into a smile as he returned her appraisal. Dazzled and a bit embarrassed to have been caught staring, Kinsey immediately looked away.

And that's how she came to be facing the bicyclist speeding down the middle of the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians like a stiff wind blowing through fallen leaves. She hastily stepped out of the way as he whizzed past, the yellow vest the company's pedaling messengers wore flying out behind him. The matching helmet obscured his features. Kinsey twirled to face the corner and shout a warning, but it seemed everyone had already sensed something amiss. Someone dropped a shopping bag and someone else screamed. The woman with the children grabbed each girl by a hand and dragged them to the shelter of a recessed doorway, but one of them pulled free. Laughing as though caught up in a game, she shot out onto the sidewalk.

The weirdest mixture of slow motion and fast-forward came over Kinsey as she soundlessly watched events unfold. The child suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, struck now by the approaching danger but obviously afraid to move. The cowboy dashed to sweep the girl out of harm's way. The cyclist veered closer to them and then like a flash, unexpected and unreal, he let go of the right grip and shoved the still-moving cowboy, connecting with his shoulder, upsetting his precarious balance. The push propelled man and child toward the street at the same instant a cab cut the corner too close and the cowboy stumbled into its path. The cab stopped abruptly, the driver's face through the windshield one of abject terror.

The screech of brakes and blare of horns masked the collective gasp of the onlookers. The cyclist had gone down, too, but he'd rolled to his feet and now went to the aid of the fallen. As he hovered over them, the momentum created by the flow of traffic speeding by in the other direction caused his yellow vest to whip around his torso like the wings of a wounded butterfly.

The crowd began moving again. Kinsey hesitated just a second, then dashed into the street, heedless now of her aching muscles and sweating brow. As she closed the distance, the cyclist hopped up, ran to his bike, somehow managed to mount it and pedal away down the sidewalk like nobody's business.

The child, still caught in the cowboy's slack embrace, whimpered. The man lay still as death. Kinsey leaned over them as the woman in pink appeared, screaming something in what sounded like Swedish, while the little girl who hadn't been injured sobbed uncontrollably by her side. Kinsey set her fingers against the man's throat and felt the flutter of his heartbeat, saw the flickering of his lashes. The child's eyes were open, but her skin was pale and she looked dazed. Someone touched Kinsey's shoulder.

"I'm a doctor," a middle-aged woman said. "Please, move aside, let me see them." Kinsey stood and backed out of the way, one hand covering her mouth, unaware of the bloodstains on her white jeans.

Ambulances showed up and soon after, the police. The taxi driver had finally emerged, white faced and shaken. One policeman led him away from everyone else for an interview. Kinsey was questioned along with the other onlookers. Of course, officials were very anxious to hear about the cyclist, and Kinsey discovered she was one of only two people who'd actually seen the shove. Attention of the others seemed to have been focused on the child or even the taxi. Kinsey could offer very little description of the aggressor as it had all happened in such a blur and the helmet had hidden his features.

They wanted to know if it looked as if the cowboy and the cyclist knew each other, or if the child had been the target. They wanted to know if she could recall anything that implied malice. As she watched the ambulance crew load the child and man into separate vehicles and drive away, she blinked rapidly. "Nothing," she admitted. "Except the shove, of course."

By luck, someone had been using their phone to record the twin girls and had caught the incident. Hopefully, the video would reveal things that had happened too fast for the human eye to spot.

"We're going to go to the hospital now to find out more about the victims," one of the officers told Kinsey as he wrote down her name and number in his notebook. "If you think of anything, anything at all, call me."

"What about the company the messenger worked for?" she asked. "Speedy Courier, isn't that the name? Maybe they can identify which of their messengers were on this street today."

"We're checking into that," the officer assured her. He handed her his card and she scanned it quickly. His name was Edward Woods. He nodded at her and walked away toward his car. A second later, Kinsey called out to him.

"Detective Woods? There is something," she said. "Your footsteps just now…" Her voice trailed off as she fought to organize her thoughts. "When the courier ran off, I heard the slap of his shoes."

The detective's shoulders shrugged with uncertainty as to her point.

"I see these messengers all the time," she explained. "My mother lives in one of those beautiful old houses a couple of miles farther up the avenue and the gallery I work at is only two blocks from here. I shop at the little grocery right up the street… Anyway, all the couriers around here dress the same. Their vests are always zipped. This one wasn't. Plus, they all wear black formfitting bike pants and specialty sports shoes, you know?"

Light began to dawn in Woods's eyes. "Sports shoes," he repeated. "With rubber soles."

"Yes. I think this guy was wearing loafers. His feet made a sound just like yours did. He might have been in slacks, too, maybe tucked into dark socks. I can't quite recall."

"You still can't remember anything about his face?"

"No."

The detective sighed.

As she headed home, Kinsey used her cell to arrange backup for the gallery show. The time when she should have returned had come and gone, and once again, a sense of urgency propelled her toward her apartment. The door closing behind her gave a fleeting sense of security and the desire to sit in front of a fan and catch her breath almost overwhelmed her. Instead of giving in to it, she took a hurried shower, pulled on a black dress, pinned up her damp hair and returned to the gallery.

The opening party was in full swing by the time Kin-sey found a parking spot and walked through the door.

Her boss, Marc Costello, caught her eye and gestured for her to join him. Together, they moved to a private alcove, greeting guests before bending their heads to speak.

"I heard about what happened out on the street," Marc said. He was about fifty with a shock of silver hair and looked the part of a gallery owner right down to his black turtleneck worn under a stylish black silk jacket. Not exactly summery New Orleans attire, but that wasn't what he was interested in anyway. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she assured him.

"I have to tell you something. Right about the time of that accident, your boyfriend, Ryan Jones, was in here. He was asking a whole lot of questions."

Kinsey instantly conjured an image of Ryan: curly blond hair, bittersweet-chocolate eyes, a nice smile. She'd met him several weeks earlier when he came into the gallery to buy a painting for his office and wound up taking Kinsey to dinner instead. Since then, she saw him whenever his New York engineering firm sent him to New Orleans to work on a levee project they'd contracted. "What kind of questions?" she asked.

"Stuff about your background, where you'd grown up, things like that."

Kinsey's brow wrinkled. "What did you tell him?"

"Nothing. You haven't exactly told me a whole lot, you know. I just said something about what a hard worker you are. He said he knew that. Then he started asking questions about your family, specifically, your mother."

Kinsey swallowed hard. "My mother? What did he want to know?"

"Let's see. How old she was and how long had she lived here and where exactly did she live and work…stuff like that. I told him the truth, that I'd never met her, that she was kind of a recluse. He left a few minutes later after getting a phone call."

"That's…odd," Kinsey said. She'd spent years looking after her mother who at times was a social misfit. The thought of a friend asking questions behind her back—well, it was disquieting.

"I thought so, too. That's why I'm telling you." He took a deep breath and added, "On top of that, I'm afraid we have a more immediate problem than a snoopy boyfriend."

"Don't keep calling him my boyfriend," she protested. "We haven't known each other that long and he's only in town—"

Marc held up a hand. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know what I mean. Our star artist is holed up in the ladies' room."

Still reeling over news that Ryan had been asking about her family, Kinsey shook her head. "How long has she been in there?"

"Forever. Someone from the newspaper showed up and wanted an interview and she refused. Turned all shy, refused to have her picture taken or anything. Thank goodness you're here. She's supposed to say something meaningful about her muse in five minutes. Remind her that's why I'm doing this show, to sell her work, not be her therapist."

"I know, Marc. I'll get her back out here."

"Tell her the newspaper guy left."

"Did he?"

"Yeah. I tried to get him to stay, but art shows aren't exactly a huge draw, even when the paintings are as good as these."

The opening seemed to be well attended, for which Kinsey was thankful. She'd sent out over a hundred invitations and it looked as if about half had decided to come, packing the narrow, trendy space with well-dressed people sipping wine. Of course, it was a heck of a lot cooler in the gallery than it was outside, so maybe that helped account for some of the attendees.

As she moved through the room, greeting people as she went, she noticed several discreet sold signs. That should make Marc happy.

Once inside the ladies "lounge," Kinsey found Ellen Rhodes sitting forlornly on a velvet bench, staring at her hands.

"Congratulations, you're a hit," Kinsey said with a giant smile.

Ellen looked up with nervous blue eyes. "I can't do this. I don't like all these people looking at my work."

"Isn't that the point of a show?" Kinsey asked gently. "I didn't know it would be like this. So many people…"

"You've already sold several paintings," Kinsey said.

"You're a hit."

"I just want to go home."

"Listen, I get it, you're not into the publicity side of things, you're not a media hound. But Marc has a lot at stake here. He believes in your work or he wouldn't have offered you this show. Most artists work for recognition, you know. Buck up, now."

"You sound like my mother," Ellen said, but at least there was a little snap in her voice.

"That's because I'm channeling my own," Kinsey said. "I've heard versions of this speech my whole life." Like when she'd come home from a school she'd only attended a month to find her mother packing…again. No matter how much Kinsey pleaded to stay in one place, they inevitably moved on. When Mom got it in her head it was time to go, they went. Period.

Until a few years ago, that is. As soon as Kinsey had announced her independence and settled down in New Orleans, her mother had followed suit. She now took care of a sickly elderly man who had once been wealthy but was no longer, and she seemed almost content.

"Is that newspaper guy still out there?"

"No. Marc gave him an interview and he left." Kinsey's cell phone rang and she slipped it out of her pocket, answering hesitantly when she didn't recognize the number. She listened for a minute or so before responding in a soft voice.

"Is everything okay?" Ellen asked as Kinsey pushed the end-call button.

Kinsey dropped her phone into her evening bag. "Huh? Oh, yes. And no." She made a decision and added, "I'm really sorry, but I have to leave."

"You can't," Ellen squealed.

"I have to. That was the police."

"The police!"

"They want my help with an accident victim. I have to go to the hospital right away."

Ellen started to protest, but Kinsey hustled her back into the main gallery and steered her toward Marc, who couldn't hide the look of relief that flooded his face.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked Ellen.

"I was until Kinsey said she's leaving."

Marc's smile drooped as he turned his attention to Kinsey. "You can't leave. You just got here."

"I'm sorry, but the man who was hit earlier this evening is conscious and the police asked me to come see him."

"Why you?"

"They didn't say."

"But you don't even know him!"

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