Blue McCurdy is supposed to be dead. So why is the ATF agentand father of Rayanne McKinnon's unborn childtrespassing on McKinnon property? Before the Texan deputy can find out, Blue is injured playing cowboy in shining armor to protect her. When he wakes, he has no memory of what brought him there or the night he and Rayanne spent together.
Blue can't remember why he disappeared from Rayanne's life five months ago. But now, with an unsolved murderand reignited passionraising the stakes, he races to put the pieces of his past together before a vindictive enemy destroys his world once again. And this time, he has so much more to lose.
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Deputy Rayanne McKinnon's breath stalled in her throat, and she did a double take. No, her eyes hadn't deceived her.
She was looking at a dead man.
At least, he was supposed to be dead.
But dead men didn't move, and this one was definitely doing that.
He was crouched behind a big pile of rocks. And he had his attention trained on the back fence that coiled around the pasture of her family's ranch. It was that particular fence and a tripped security sensor that'd caused Rayanne to ride out and have a look. She'd figured a cow had gotten out.
She darn sure hadn't expected to find him.
Even though he was a good twenty yards away and had his face partially concealed with a low-slung white Stetson, Rayanne had no trouble recognizing him.
Just the sight of his ink-black hair, rangy body and chiseled face sent her stomach churning. An invisible meaty fist clamped around her heart, squeezing and choking until her chest was throbbing like a toothache.
The memories came. All bad.
Well, mostly bad, anyway.
Rayanne pushed aside the ones that were good, including the little tug of relief at seeing Blue alive.
She cursed both her reaction and the man himself. Blue was the last person on God's green earth she expected or wanted to see, and yet here he was on McKinnon land.
The question was, why?
This couldn't be about the baby.
Rayanne opened her mouth to shout out that why as to the alive part and remind him that he was trespassing. But a sound stopped her cold. The soft rumble of some kind of engine, and it was moving along the fence line.
Blue reached beneath his leather vest and pulled a gun from the back waist of his jeans.
That got her heart thumping, and not in a "relieved you're alive" sort of way. Rayanne drew her Colt, too, and stepped behind a live oak. As a deputy sheriff, she'd had more than her share of experience in dealing with bad guys.
Blue McCurdy included.
If he was up to something shady, and it was pretty clear that he was, then Blue had brought trouble practically to her doorstep. That was another why, and Rayanne hoped she got answers soon.
The engine sounds stopped, and Blue adjusted his gun. Whoever was out there had put him on edge. He certainly wasn't jumping out from those rocks to greet anyone.
If this was trouble worse than Blue himself, then things were going to be bad.
She wanted to watch for a few more seconds to try to figure out what was going on here, but just in case things went from bad to worse, she'd have to fire off a text to someone who could respond from the ranch house. There wasn't good enough phone reception in this part of the property for a call, but a text would usually go through. She'd learned that during the three months she'd been back here at Sweetwater Ranch while awaiting her mother's murder trial.
That put the clamp on her heart again, and she cursed it, too.
Why the heck did they have to keep messing with her head and every other part of her? It had to be the pregnancy hormones, because she'd never felt this moody and whiny before.
Rayanne thankfully didn't have time to dwell on that, because she saw the movement in the trees behind the fence. Blue must have seen it, too, because he ducked lower.
It was a subtle enough difference for Rayanne to ready her Colt. She didn't want Blue dead before he could explain to her all those whys that kept racking up.
Including why he'd left her naked in bed nearly five months ago.
Rayanne cursed him again and cursed herself for allowing any man to get that close to her. It wouldn't happen again, and as soon as she found out what Blue wanted, she'd send him on his way.
Or maybe arrest him.
Another flicker of movement, and this time she got a glimpse of a man dressed in dark clothes. Tall, marinelike build. Definitely not a friendly sort.
That got her tugging her phone from the back pocket of her jeans, and she sent a quick text to her stepbrother, FBI agent Seth Calder, to request some backup. Hopefully, he was still at the ranch and hadn't left for work yet, so he could get there in a hurry.
"McCurdy?" someone shouted.
But Blue didn't answer.
The shouter yelled Blue's surname again, and this time Rayanne got more than a glimpse. She saw his face and picked through the features to see if she knew him.
But apparently Blue knew the guy well enough to hide from him.
"We know you're here," the man added. "And we're not leaving until someone dies."
That felt like a punch to her chest. Yes, she was a cop, but that didn't mean she enjoyed diving into gunfights, especially now that she had someone else to consider.
Her unborn baby.
Plus, she wasn't exactly keen on taking a huge risk like this to save a man whom she hated.
"Damn you, Blue," she mumbled, and debated if she should identify herself. It might get the gunman running.
It was just as likely to get him to start shooting. Because it was clear this guy wasn't a cop out to arrest Blue. Cops didn't make threats like that.
Not good cops, anyway.
She glanced back at the paint gelding that she'd ridden in on. He was grazing on some pasture grass and would maybe stay put. Rayanne didn't want him in the middle of, well, whatever the heck this was.
Keeping her gun ready, she crouched down and hurried behind another tree. Then another. Moving closer to a dry spring bed that was deep enough to give her some cover. It was also closer to Blue. When she slipped behind a third tree, Blue snapped his head in her direction.
Their eyes met.
His eyes widened.
Blue didn't seem any happier to see her than she was to see him, and using just his left hand, he made a sharp palm-down gesture that Rayanne had no trouble interpreting.
Something he darn sure didn't do.
She could have sworn that her presence changed whatever plan Blue had had in mind, because he appeared to curse, and then he maneuvered toward the end of the line of boulders. Away from her. And closer to the big guy who'd warned him that someone was going to die.
At the rate he was going, that someone would be Blue.
She saw the man's hand snake out. Gun clutched and aimed. He fired right into those boulders where he'd no doubt heard Blue moving around. The bullet smacked into the stone, making a sharp zinging sound, and it was quickly followed by another shot.
Another gunman, too.
No. Not this. If all Hades was going to break loose, why not wait until she had backup?
The shooter's partner ducked out from cover just a few yards from Blue and pulled the trigger. That one clipped the boulder at just the right angle to send some rock chips flying right at Blue. Rayanne got just a glimpse of the blood from the nicks those rocks caused before more shots came.
Sweet heaven. She couldn't just stand by and let this happen. Rayanne scrambled into the dry spring bed, keeping as low as she could, but she lifted her head just enough so she could take aim at the marine-sized guy.
And missed, but it got his attention, all right. Blue's, too.
He cursed at her. "Get down!" Blue yelled.
Rayanne had no choice but to do just that when the gunman sent a shot her way. Too close. Ditto for the one he aimed at Blue.
She fired back but didn't wait to see if she'd hit one of them. Then she scrambled down the spring bed, making her way to the boulders that Blue was using for cover.
"What part of get down didn't you understand?" Blue snarled.
No greeting, no explanation as to why he was on her family's ranch with gunmen after him. Just that barked question.
Thankfully, his attention didn't go in the direction of her stomach, because it wasn't a good time to have to explain the small baby bump that she had hopefully hidden enough with her bulky jacket.
"I'm the one with a badge," Rayanne snarled back. "So if anyone should be staying down, it's you. Plus, you lost your right to give me any kind of advice when you disappeared without so much as a word."
Yeah, the timing for those words sucked, but Rayanne couldn't stop herself. Blue had crushed her, and it was hard to fight back all those emotions.
"You want to save your girl, McCurdy?" the man yelled. "Then both of you put down your guns and come with us so we can talk."
Rayanne clamped her hand over Blue's arm in case he intended to fall for that. Clearly these fools didn't have talking in mind. But Blue didn't move. He only glanced down at where she had hold of him. His long-sleeve black shirt was between her hand and his skin, but she could have sworn she felt every inch of him.
And she cursed her body's reaction again, along with jerking back her hand. Definitely not the time for those memories to rear their ugly, hot little heads.
"Time's up, McCurdy," the man added. "Come out now or you die."
The last word of that threat had barely left his mouth when the shots started again. This time it was Blue who did the clamping. He took her by the shoulder and pushed her to the ground. Her mouth landed right in the dirt and blades of grass that hadn't already been stomped down.
Rayanne didn't stay down, though. She wasn't sure why Blue was suddenly playing cowboy-in-shining-armor, but she wasn't having any part of it.
"Please tell me these bad guys are really bad," she said, levering herself up just enough to get off a shot. "Bad as in worse than you and that this isn't some botched attempt to arrest you."
His gaze cut to her, and those gunmetal-blue eyes narrowed. "No one's as bad as I am."
He paused as if waiting for her to agree or disagree. She didn't do either, but a comment like that definitely fell into the agreement category. Of course, she'd known Blue was a bad boy before she landed in bed with him, so it shouldn't have surprised her that he'd continued his bad-boy ways.
"If you're asking if they're the law," he added, "they aren't."
Rayanne almost pressed him for more about why they were after him, but it'd have to wait. The directions of the shots changed, and it wasn't a good change, either. The two gunmen appeared to be moving away from each other and closing in on Blue and her.
Blue glanced at her again. "You take the one on the right. I'll get the one on the left."
Just on principle, she hated taking orders from Blue, but it was a decent plan considering their position. Rayanne waited, listened, and when she thought she had a good pinpoint on the shooter, she leaned out and fired. Beside her, Blue did the same.
Rayanne heard the two sounds almost simultaneously. The thud of the bullet and a groan of pain. But it wasn't her shot that'd caused those sounds.
It was Blue's.
He'd hit his target, but judging from the way the bullets kept coming, she'd missed hers.
The man who'd done all the shouting started to curse, and she tried to follow the sound of his ripe profanity. It was hard to tell where he was as he darted through the woods toward his partner, who was either injured or dead. Rayanne was hoping it was the latter because she didn't want to battle a riled, injured would-be killer.
She leaned out from the rocks again, aiming her gun at the sound of the movement and the footsteps. But another shot came their way.
Not from one of the two gunmen but from another direction. To their far left.
Rayanne pivoted toward the newcomer and fired. This time she didn't miss, but again she couldn't tell if the man was just injured or dead, because the shots from the other gunmen drowned out any telltale sounds.
But there was no mistaking one sound.
Even over the blasts and her own heartbeat crashing in her ears, she heardand feltone of those bullets. It didn't slam into her.
It hit Blue.
And it didn't just hit him. It tore off a chunk of rock that smacked against his left temple. She knew the exact second of impact from both the bullet and the rock. Blue groaned in pain.
And Rayanne could only watch as he collapsed against her.
She didn't look at him. Was too afraid of what she might see. Besides, she had to deal with the person who'd fired that shot.
The anger slammed into her, along with the fear she had for the baby. She tried to shut out all thoughts when she took aim. However, she didn't get a chance to fire. That was because the moron stopped shooting and started running.
Rayanne nearly bolted after him, but then she looked down at Blue. Unconscious. He was breathing, sucking in shallow breaths, and there wasn't a drop of color in Blue's face.
But there was color everywhere else. Lots of it. From his blood spilling onto her.