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Addie Crockett heard the footsteps behind her a split second too late.
Before she could even turn around and see who was in the hall outside her home office, someone grabbed her.
She managed a strangled sound, barely. But the person slapped a hand over her mouth to muffle the scream that bubbled up in her throat.
What was going on?
This was obviously some kind of attack, but Addie wouldn't just let this person hurt her. Or worse. She rammed her elbow into her attacker's stomach, but it did nothing to break the grip he had on her.
"Stop," he snapped. "I won't hurt you."
Addie wasn't taking his word for it. She turned, using his own grip to shove him against the wall and into an angel Christmas wreath. The painted wooden angels went flying. But not the man.
Addie tried to get his hand off her mouth so she could call out for help. Then she remembered her brothers weren't at the ranch. Two were still at work, and the other was Christmas shopping in San Antonio. Only her mother was inside the house, and she had a sprained ankle. Addie didn't want her mother to come hobbling into the middle of this.
Whatever this was.
"Stop," he repeated when she kept struggling. His voice was a hoarse whisper, and he dragged her from the hall into her office.
Addie gave him another jab of her elbow and would have delivered a third one if the man hadn't cursed. She hadn't recognized his order for her to stop, but she certainly recognized his voice now.
The relief collided with the slam of adrenaline, and it took Addie a moment to force herself to stop fighting so she could turn around and face him. Even though the sun was already close to setting and the lights weren't on in her office, there was enough illumination from the hall to see his black hair. His face. His eyes.
Yes, it was Wes all right.
The relief she'd felt didn't last long at all.
"What are you doing here?" Addie demanded. "And how'd you get in the house?" Those were only the first of many questions, and how much else she told him depended on what he had to say in the next couple of seconds.
He didn't jump to start those answers. Wes stood there staring at her as if she were a stranger. Well, she wasn't. And he knew that better than anyone. He'd seen every last inch of her.
Ditto for her seeing every last inch of him.
And despite the fact that it was the last thing Addie wanted in her head at this moment, the memories came of Wes naked and of her in his arms. Thankfully, he wasn't naked now. He was wearing jeans, a button-up shirt and a tan cowboy hat.
But there was something different about this cowboy outfit.
Beneath his jacket, he was wearing a waist holster and a gun.
"I came in through the side door." He tipped his head toward the hall. "It wasn't locked."
That wasn't unusual. Because the ranch handsand the familywere often coming and going. They rarely locked up the house until bedtime. Even then, that was hitor-miss since security wasn't usually an issue.
Until now, that was.
"I didn't see your car," she said, and since she'd just come in from the main barn, Addie would have seen any unfamiliar vehicles in the circular driveway in front of the house.
"I parked just off the main road and walked up. I'm sorry," he added, following her gaze to his gun. "But I had to come."
That didn't answer her other question as to why he was there, and Addie wasn't sure if she just wanted to send him packing or try to figure out what the heck was going on.
She went with the first option.
Wes had crushed her heart six ways to Sunday, and there was no need for her to give him another chance to hurt her again.
"You're leaving," Addie insisted, and she turned around to head to the hall so she could usher him right back out the side door.
She didn't get far because he took hold of her arm again. Not the tight grip he'd had before, but it was enough to keep her in place. And enough to rile her even more. "Let go of me."
"I can't." Wes opened his mouth, but any explanation he was about to give her ground to a halt. "We have to talk," he added after a very long pause.
"And you had to sneak in here and grab me to do that? You could have called."
"I had to see you in person, and I grabbed you because I didn't want you shouting out for someone. I didn't want to get shot before you listen to what I have to tell you. And you have to listen."
It was partly her bruised ego reacting, but Addie huffed, folded her arms over her chest and glared at him. "You slept with me three months ago and then disappeared without so much as an email. Why should I listen to anything you have to say, huh?"
Still no quick answer. Probably because there wasn't one. Not one she'd want to hear anyway. But what she did want to hear was why he had on that gun holster that looked as if he'd been born to wear it. Also, why hadn't she been able to find out anything about him online?
Everything inside her went still.
"Who are you, really?" she asked.
Another long pause. "I'm not the man you think I am."
A burst of air left her mouth. Definitely not laughter. "Clearly. Now tell me something I don't know."
The hurt came hard and fast. Addie felt as if someone had put a vise around her heart. The tears quickly followed, too, and she tried hard to blink them away. No way did she want this man to see her cry.
"I'm sorry." He added more of that profanity and reached out as if he might pull her into his arms.
Addie put a stop to that. She batted his hands away. "You knew how vulnerable I was when you slept with me."
"Yes," he admitted. "You'd recently found out your birth father was a serial killer."
There it was, all wrapped up into one neat little summary. Stripped down to bare bones with no details. But the devil was in those details.
Well, one devil anyway.
Her biological father.
"Is everything you told me about your childhood the truth?" he asked.
She hadn't thought Wes could say anything that would surprise her, or stop her from forcing him to leave, but that did it. Addie just stared at him.
"When you were three, some ranch hands found you in the woods near here," Wes went on, obviously recapping details she already knew all too well. "You said you didn't remember your name, how you got there or anything about your past. You don't remember how you got that!''
Before she could stop him, he brushed his fingers over her cheek. Over the small crescent-shaped scar that was there. It was faint now, just a thin whitish line next to her left eye, but Wes had obviously noticed it.
Addie flinched, backing away from him. What the heck was going on?
"Is all of that true?" he repeated.
Addie mustered up another huff and tried not to react to his touch. Wes didn't deserve a reaction. Too bad her body didn't understand that. Of course, her body was betraying her a lot lately.
"It's all true," she insisted.
For thirty years, Addie had tried not to think of herself as that wounded little girl in the woods with a cut on her face. Because she hadn't stayed there.
Thanks to Sheriff Sherman Crockett and his wife, Iris.
When no one had come forward to claim her after she'd been found, Sherman and Iris had adopted her, raised her along with their four sons on their Appa-loosa Pass Ranch. They'd given her a name. A family. A wonderful life.
Until three months ago. Then, there'd been the DNA match that no one wanted. That's when her world was turned upside down.
"Why did your adoptive father put your DNA in the database when he found you?" Wes asked.
Again, it was another question she hadn't seen coming. Her adoptive father had been killed in the line of duty when she was just twelve, so she couldn't ask him directly, but Addie could guess why.
"Because he could have simply been looking to see if I matched anyone in the system. But I believe he wanted to find the birth parents who'd abandoned me and make them pay." That required a deep breath. "I'm positive he had no idea it'd lead to a killer."
And not just any old killer, either, but the Moonlight Strangler. He'd killed at least sixteen women, and fifteen of those crime scenes hadn't had a trace of his DNA. But three months ago number sixteen had. And while the DNA wasn't a match to any criminal already in the system, it had been a match to the killer's blood kin.
Wes took her by the shoulders, forcing eye contact. "The Moonlight Strangler's really your father?"
It took Addie a moment to realize that it was actually a question. "Yes, according to the DNA match, he is. But Sherman Crockett was my father in the only way that will ever matter."
If only that were true.
Addie wanted it to be true. Desperately wanted it. But it was hard to push aside that she shared the blood and DNA of a serial killer.
"I need to hear it from you," Wes said. Not an order exactly. But it was close. "Is everything you said true? Do you have any memory whatsoever of why you were in those woods or who put you there?"
Addie threw up her hands. "Of course not. The FBI has questioned me over and over again. They even had me hypnotized, and I remembered exactly what I'd already told everyone. Nothing."
She had no idea why Wes was asking these things, but it was time for Addie to turn the tables on him.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "And why are you here?"
His grip melted off her shoulders, and now it was Wes who moved away from her. "My real name is Weston Cade, and I'm a Texas Ranger."
Addie had to replay that several times before it sank in. After learning she was the daughter of a serial killer and having Wes leave without so much as a goodbye, she hadn't exactly had a rosy outlook on life. She'd braced herself in case Wes was about to confess that he, too, was some kind of criminal. But this revelation wasn't nearly as bad as the ones she had imagined.
"A Texas Ranger," she repeated. Addie shook her head. "You told me your name was Wes Martin and that you were a rodeo rider."
"Martin is my middle name, and I was a rodeo rider. Before I became a Ranger."
Her mouth tightened. "And I was a child before I became an adult. That doesn't make me a child now. You lied to me."
"Yeah." He nodded. "I didn't want you to know who I was and that I was investigating the Moonlight Strangler."
She stared at him, waiting for more. More that he didn't volunteer. "You were investigating him when you met me three months ago?"
No gaze-dodging this time. Wes, or rather Weston, looked her straight in the eyes. "I met you because I was looking for him. I followed you while you were in San Antonio, and after your interview with the FBI I followed you to the hotel where you were staying. I knew exactly who you were when I introduced myself at the bar."
That hit her like a heavyweight's punch, and Addie staggered back.
The memories of that first meeting were still so fresh in her mind. She'd been shaken to the core after the interview with the FBI, and even though her mother and one of her brothers had made the trip to San Antonio with her, she had asked for some alone time. And had ended up at the hotel bar.
Where she'd met Wes, a rodeo rider.
Or so she'd thought.
The attraction had been instant. Intense. Something Addie had never quite felt before. Of course, that intensity had dulled her instincts because she had believed with all her heart that this was a man who understood her. A man she could trust.
That was laughable now.
"Were you trying to get information from me?" she asked, recalling all the wordsthe lies, no doubthe'd told her that night.
A muscle flickered in his jaw.
Then Weston nodded.
She groaned, and now Addie was the one who cursed. "And you came back to the bar again the next night, after I'd been through the hypnosis. You knew I was an emotional wreck. You knew I was hanging by a thread, and yet you took me to your room and had sex with me. Not just that night, either, but the following night, too."
"That was never part of the plan," he said.
"The plan?" she snapped. "Well, your plan had consequences." Addie had another battle with tears, but thankfully she still managed to speak. "Leave now!"
Of course he didn't budge. Weston stayed put and took hold of her arm when she tried to bolt from the office.
The phone on her desk rang, the sound shooting through the room. Addie gasped before she realized that it wasn't the threat that her body was preparing itself for. The threat was in her office and had hold of her.
"Ignore that call. There are things you need to know," he insisted. "Things that might save your life."
That stopped Addie in her tracks, and she did indeed ignore the call. "What are you talking about?"
He didn't get a chance to answer because she heard another sound. Her mother's voice.
"Addie?" her mother called out. It sounded as if she was in the kitchen at the back of the house. "I picked up the phone when you didn't answer. It's about those mares you wanted to buy."
It was a call that Addie had been waiting on. An important one. Since she helped manage the ranch and the livestock, it was her job. But she was afraid her job would have to wait.
"Tell her to take a message," Weston instructed.
Addie wanted to tell him a flat-out no. She didn't want to obey orders from this lying Texas Ranger who'd taken her to his bed with the notion of getting information she didn't even have.
"Why should I?" she snarled.
"Because you're in danger. Your mother could be, too."
Addie had been certain that there was nothing Weston could say that would make her agree to his order. Nothing except that.
"Mom," Addie said after a serious debate with herself. "Take a message. I'll return the call soon." She hoped.
"Start talking," Addie told Weston. "Tell me exactly what's going on."
But he didn't say anything. Instead, he started to unbutton his shirt.
Either he'd lost his mind, or
It was or.
Addie saw the scar on his chest. The long jagged cut that wasn't nearly as faded and healed as the one on her face. It was one that she'd already noticed the night they'd landed in bed together. Weston had told her he'd been hooked by a bull's horn at a rodeo.
"The Moonlight Strangler did this to me," Weston said. "Your father nearly killed me."
"You know who my birth father is?" She couldn't ask that fast enough.
"No. I didn't see his face. And I didn't have any leads to his identity until I found out the results of your DNA test."
Addie's heart was pounding now. Her breath thin. "You thought he'd come to me?"
Weston nodded. "I counted on it. I know your DNA match was supposed to be kept quiet, but I figured if I could find out about it, then so could the killer."
It took her a moment to gather her voice. "You leaked my DNA results?" She shoved Weston away from her and would have bolted, but, like before, he held on.
"No," he insisted. "But someone might have. Maybe a dirty cop or someone in the crime lab who was paid off."
"Or it could have been you. And to think, I slept with you, not just that one night, either, but the following night, too. I
" Addie stopped because there was no way she would give him another emotional piece of herself. "You used me as bait."
Her voice hardly had sound now, but that didn't mean she wasn't feeling every inch of the proverbial knife he'd stuck in her back.
"No," Weston repeated. "But someone did. And it worked."
There went the rest of her breath. "Who? How?"
Weston shook his head. "I don't know the who or the how, but I know the results." He looked her straight in the eyes. "Addie, you're the Moonlight Strangler's next target."