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by Diana Palmer


by Diana Palmer

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Tall, lean and headstrong, FBI agent Kilraven lives by his own rules. And one of those rules includes keeping his hands off Jacobsville's resident sweetheart, Winnie Sinclair, no matter the temptation. Shy and innocent, Winnie couldn't handle a man like him—a merciless man with a haunted past. And this small town may hold not only the woman he fights to resist, but the answers to a cold case that is very personal to Kilraven….

Winnie has had her own share of sorrow, and senses Kilraven's pain. Even though she tries to deny it, the gentle 911 operator feels a connection with the darkly handsome agent. As they combine forces in a dangerous investigation, the stakes rise ever higher. Winnie's life is on the line, and she'll need Kilraven more than ever. But if they are to have a future together, her ruthless Texan will need to confront his past and risk it all for their love.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781459205314
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 05/31/2011
Series: Long, Tall Texans Series
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 35,700
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

The prolific author of more than one hundred books, Diana Palmer got her start as a newspaper reporter. A New York Times bestselling author and voted one of the top ten romance writers in America, she has a gift for telling the most sensual tales with charm and humor. Diana lives with her family in Cornelia, Georgia.

Read an Excerpt

Kilraven hated mornings. He especially hated mornings like this one, when he was expected to go to a party and participate in Christmas gift-giving. He, the rest of the police, fire and emergency services people in Jacobsville, Texas, had all drawn names around the big Christmas tree in the EOC, the 911 emergency operations center. Today was the day when presents, all anonymous, were to be exchanged.

He sipped black coffee in the Jacobsville Police Station and wished he could get out of it. He glared at Cash Grier, who smiled obliviously and ignored him.

Christmas was the most painful time to him. It brought back memories of seven years ago, when his life had seemed to end. Nightmarish visions haunted him. He saw them when he slept. He worked his own shifts and even volunteered to relieve other Jacobsville police officers when they needed a substitute. He hated his own company. But he hated crowds far more. Besides, it was a sad day, sort of. He'd had a big black Chow keeping him company at his rental house. He'd had to give it away because he wasn't allowed to keep animals at his apartment in San Antonio, where he would be returning soon. Still, Bibb the Chow had gone to live with a young boy, a neighbor, who loved animals and had just lost his own Chow. So it was fated, he guessed. He still missed the dog, though.

Now, he was expected to smile and socialize at a party and enthuse over a gift that would almost certainly be a tie that he would accept and never wear, or a shirt that was a size too small, or a book he would never read. People giving gifts were kindhearted, but mostly they bought things that pleased themselves. It was a rare person who could observe someone else and give just the right present; one that would be treasured.

At his job—his real job, not this role as a smalltown police officer that he'd assumed as part of his covert operation in south Texas near the border with Mexico—he had to wear suits from time to time. Here in Jacobsville, he never wore a suit. A tie would be a waste of money to the person who gave him

one for Christmas. He was sure it would be a tie. He hated ties.

"Why don't you just string me up outside and set fire to me?" Kilraven asked Cash Grier with a glowering look.

"Christmas parties are fun," Cash replied. "You need to get into the spirit of the thing. Six or seven beers, and you'd fit right in."

The glare got worse. "I don't drink," he reminded his temporary boss.

"Now isn't that a coincidence?" Cash exclaimed. "Neither do I!"

"Then why are we going to a party in the first place, if neither of us drink?" the younger man asked.

"They won't serve alcohol at the party. And for another, it's good public relations."

"I hate the public and I don't have relations," Kilraven scoffed.

"You do so have relations," came the tongue-in-cheek reply. "A half brother named Jon Blackhawk. A stepmother, too, somewhere."

Kilraven made a face.

"It's only for an hour or so," Cash said in a gentler tone. "It's almost Christmas. You don't want to ruin the staff party now, do you?"

"Yes," Kilraven said with a bite in his deep voice.

Cash looked down at his coffee cup. "Winnie Sinclair will be disappointed if you don't show up. You're leaving us soon to go back to San Antonio. It would make her day to see you at the party."

Kilraven averted his gaze to the front window beyond which cars were driving around the town square that was decorated with its Santa, sled and reindeer and the huge Christmas tree. Streamers and colored lights were strung across every intersection. There was a tree in the police station, too, decked out in holiday colors. Its decorations were, to say the least, unique. There were little handcuffs and toy guns and various emergency services vehicles in miniature, including police cars. As a joke, someone had strung yellow police tape around it.

Kilraven didn't want to think about Winnie Sinclair. Over the past few months, she'd become a part of his life that he was reluctant to give up. But she didn't know about him, about his past. Someone had hinted at it because her attitude toward him had suddenly changed. The shy smiles and rapt glances he'd been getting had gone into eclipse, so that now she was formal and polite when they spoke over the police band while he was on duty. He rarely saw her. He wasn't sure it was a good idea to be around her. She'd withdrawn, and it would be less painful not to close the distance. Of course it would.

He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I guess a few Christmas carols won't kill me," he muttered.

Cash grinned. "I'll get Sergeant Miller to sing you the one he composed, just for us."

Kilraven glared at him. "I've heard it, and please don't."

"He doesn't have a bad voice," Cash argued. "For a carp, no."

Cash burst out laughing. "Suit yourself, Kilraven." He frowned. "Don't you have a first name?"

"Yes, I do, but I don't use it, and I'm not telling it to you."

"I'll bet payroll knows what it is," Cash mused. "And the bank."

"They won't tell," he promised. "I have a gun."

"So do I, and mine's bigger," Cash returned smartly.

"Listen, I have to do concealed carry in my real job," he reminded the older man, "and it's hard to fit a 1911 Colt .45 ACP in my waistband so that it doesn't show."

Cash held up both hands. "I know, I know. I used to do concealed carry, too. But now I don't have to, and I can carry a big gun if I want to."

"At least you don't carry a wheel gun, like Dunn does." He sighed, indicating Assistant Chief Judd Dunn, who was perched on the edge of his desk talking to a fellow officer, with a .45 Ruger Vaquero in a fancy leather holster on his hip.

"He belongs to the Single Action Shooting Society," Cash reminded him, "and they're having a competition this afternoon. He's our best shot."

"After me," Kilraven said smugly.

"He's our best resident shot," came the reply. "You're our best migrating shot."

"I won't migrate far. Just to San Antonio." Kil-raven's silver eyes grew somber. "I've enjoyed my time here. Less pressure."

Cash imagined part of the reduced pressure was the absence of the bad memories Kilraven still hadn't faced, the death of his family seven years ago in a bloody shooting. Which brought to mind a more recent case, a murder that was still being investigated by the sheriff's department with some help from Alice Mayfield Jones, the forensic expert from San Antonio who was engaged to resident rancher Harley Fowler.

"Have you told Winnie Sinclair about her uncle?" Cash asked in a hushed tone, so that they wouldn't be overheard.

Kilraven shook his head. "I'm not sure that I should at this stage of the investigation. Her uncle is dead. Nobody is going to threaten Winnie or Boone or Clark Sinclair because of him. I'm not even sure what his connection to the murder victim is. No use upsetting her until I have to."

"Has anyone followed up on his live-in girlfriend?"

"Not with any more luck than they had on the first interview," Kilraven replied. "She's so stoned on coke that she doesn't know the time of day. She can't remember anything that's of any use to us. Meanwhile, the police are going door to door around that strip mall near the apartment where the murder victim lived, trying to find anybody who knew the guy. Messy murder. Very messy."

"There was another case, that young girl who was found in a similar condition seven years ago," Cash recalled.

Kilraven nodded. "Yes. Just before I…lost my family," he said hesitantly. "The circumstances are similar, but there's no connection that we can find. She went to a party and disappeared. In fact, witnesses said she never showed up at the party, and her date turned out to be fictional."

Cash studied the younger man quietly. "Kilraven, you're never going to heal until you're able to talk about what happened."

Kilraven's silver eyes flashed. "What use is talk? I want the perp."

He wanted vengeance. It was in his eyes, in the hard set of his jaw, in his very posture. "I know how that feels," Cash began.

"The hell you do," Kilraven bit off. "The hell you do!" He got up and walked off without another word.

Cash, who'd seen the autopsy photos, didn't take offense. He was sorry for the other man. But there was nothing anybody could do for him.

Kilraven did go to the party. He stood next to Cash without looking at him. "Sorry I lost my temper like that," he said gruffly.

Cash only smiled. "Oh, I don't get ruffled by bad temper anymore." He chuckled. "I've mellowed."

Kilraven turned to face him with wide eyes. "You have?"

Cash glared at him. "It was an accident."

"What was, the pail of soapy water, or the sponge in his mouth?"

Cash grimaced. "He shouldn't have called me a bad name when I was washing my car. I wasn't even the arresting officer, it was one of the new patrol officers."

"He figured you were the top of the food chain, and he didn't like people seeing him carried off from the dentist's office in a squad car," Kilraven said gleefully.

"Obviously, since he was the dentist. He put one of his prettier patients under with laughing gas and was having a good time with her when the nurse walked in and caught him."

"It does explain why he moved here in the first place, and settled into a small-town practice, when he'd been working in a major city," Cash mused. "He'd only been in practice here for a month when it happened, back in the summer."

"Big mistake, to start raging at you in your own yard."

"I'm sure he noticed," Cash replied.

"Didn't you have to replace his suit…?"

"I bought him a very nice replacement," Cash argued. "The judge said I had to make it equal in price to the one I ruined with soap and water." He smiled angelically. "She never said it had to be the same color."

Kilraven grimaced. "Where in hell did you even find a yellow and green plaid suit?"

Cash leaned closer. "I have connections in the clothing industry."

Kilraven chuckled. "The dentist left town the same day. Think it was the suit?"

"I very much doubt it. I think it was the priors I pulled up on him," Cash replied. "I did just mention that I'd contacted two of his former victims."

"And gave them the name of a very determined detective out of Houston, I heard."

"Detectives are useful."

Kilraven was still staring at him.

He shrugged.

"Well, I'm never talking to you when you're washing your car, and you can bet money on that," Kilraven concluded.

Cash just grinned.

The 911 operations center was full. The nine-foot-tall Christmas tree had lights that were courtesy of the operations staff. The LED bulbs glittered prettily in all colors. Underneath, there was a treasure trove of wrapped packages. They were all anonymous. Kilraven glared at them, already anticipating the unwanted tie.

"It's a tie," Kilraven muttered.

"Excuse me?" Cash asked.

"My present. Whoever got me something, it will be a tie. It's always a tie. I've got a closet full of the damned things."

"You never know," Cash said philosophically. "You might be surprised."

Amid the festive Christmas music, the staff of the operations center welcomed their visitors with a brief speech about the hard work they put in all year and listed some of their accomplishments. They thanked all the emergency services personnel, including EMTs, fire and police, sheriff's department and state police, Texas Rangers and state and federal law enforcement for their assistance. The long refreshment tables were indicated, and guests were invited to help themselves. Then the presents were handed out.

Kilraven was briefly stunned at the size of his. Unless it was a very large tie, or camouflaged, he wasn't sure what he'd snagged here. He turned the large square over in his hands with evident curiosity.

Little blonde Winnie Sinclair watched him out of the corner of her dark eyes. She'd worn her blond, wavy hair long, around her shoulders, because someone had said Kilraven didn't like ponytails or buns.

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