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His name was Lucas Reyes.
At least, that was the name he preferred.
He was also His Highness Prince Lucas Carlos Alessandro Reyes Sanchez of Andalusia and Castile, heir to a throne that had ceased to exist centuries ago, which made him the great-great-great-Dios, too many "greats" to count-grandson of a king who had been among the conquistadores who tamed a distant land.
That land was America and as far as Lucas could tell, once you reached Texas you knew that those conquistadores only thought they had tamed the land.
Or so it seemed on this hot summer afternoon.
Lucas was driving his rented car along an unpaved excuse for a road beneath the glare of a merciless sun. Rain clouds hung on the distant horizon; at first, he'd foolishly thought they would bring some relief but the clouds seemed painted on an endless blue sky.
Nothing moved, except for the car, and the engine seemed to require more effort to manage even that.
Lucas tightened his hands on the steering wheel and mouthed a short, succinct oath.
He was on his way to a place called El Rancho Grande.
His grandfather had been in communication with its owner, Aloysius McDonough, who had assured them, via e-mail, this road would lead straight to it.
And pigs can fly, Lucas thought dourly. The road was taking him nowhere except further into sagebrush and tumbleweed, and the only thing he'd seen thus far that was close to grande was an enormous rattlesnake.
The sight of the snake had sent Lucas's mistress into near-hysteria.
"A python," she'd screeched. "Oh God, Lucas, a python!" He thought of pointing out that pythons didn't live in NorthAmerica, then decided against it. Delia wouldn't give a damn if the creature curled by the side of the road was an alligator. It would be just one more thing to gripe about.
She'd spent most of the first hour telling him the landscape was dull and the rental car was horrible.
At least they could agree on that. One glance at a map and Lucas had told his PA to arrange for a truck or an SUV but the girl behind the rental counter insisted his PA had booked what looked to Lucas like an anchovy tin on wheels. He'd protested but it got him nowhere.
The car was all they had available. "But we might have something else tomorrow," the girl had said brightly.
And spend more time on this fool's errand? Lucas snorted. That wasn't an option. So he'd signed for the anchovy tin, then listened to Delia whine when he said there was no room for her overnight suitcase, hanging garment bag, bulky makeup and jewelry cases in the mini-scule trunk.
"We're not going to be more than a few hours at the most," he'd said impatiently.
Still, she'd protested and he'd finally told her she had two choices. She could leave everything on his plane or she could shut up and get into the car with whatever fit.
She'd gotten into the car, but she had not shut up. She'd complained and complained about the stuff she'd had to leave behind, about the vehicle, about the road, and now she'd taken up a new refrain.
"When will we get there?"
He'd gone from saying Soon to In a little while to We will get there when we get there, the words delivered through gritted teeth.
"But when?" she was in the middle of saying when the anchovy tin disguised as a car groaned in fishy agony and came to a stop.
Then there was only silence. "Lucas, why did we stop? Why did you turn off the air conditioner? When will we get there? Lucas? When-"
He swung toward Delia. Under his cool hazel glower, she sank back in her seat. Still, she couldn't resist one last comment.
"I don't know what we're doing in a place like this anyway," she said petulantly.
That was another thing they agreed on. The road, the car, and now this.
What in hell were they doing here?
Actually the answer was simple. Delia was here because Lucas was supposed to have taken her to the Hamptons this weekend. When he told her he couldn't, she'd pouted until he said he'd take her to Texas with him.
Lucas was here because his grandfather had suddenly told him that he was expected to meet with Aloysius McDonough at a Texas ranch called El Rancho Grande.
"Who is this man?" Lucas had asked. "I've never heard of him or his ranch."
Felix said that McDonough raised Andalusians. "And?" Lucas asked, because surely there was more to the request than that. El Rancho Reyes raised some of the finest Andalusians in the world, surely the finest in Spain. If a pretentiously named ranch in Texas raised them, too, he'd have heard of it.
"And," Felix said, "he has something that I hope will interest you."
"A horse?" Lucas said in thinly veiled disbelief. "A stud?" His grandfather had smiled. Actually, he'd chuckled. Lucas's eyebrows lifted.
"Have I said something amusing, Grandfather?"
"Not at all. It's just... No. Not a stud."
"You want me to look at an Andalusian mare on a ranch no one's ever heard of?"
"She's not Andalusian."
Dios, was Felix's mind starting to go? "But Andalusians are what we breed," Lucas said gently.
The old man glared at him. "Do I seem senile to you, boy? I know what we breed. I have been assured that she has excellent lineage and fine conformation."
"There are mares in Spain with those qualities."
Felix had nodded. "There are. But thus far, none has what I consider enough intelligence, beauty and heart to improve our line."
Since Lucas ran El Rancho Reyes and had been running it for a decade, he was surprised by that pronouncement.
"I didn't know you were looking, Grandfather."
"I have been looking for years, Lucas."
Another cryptic statement. The ranch had several excellent mares. In fact, Lucas had bought another one only recently...and yet, Felix sounded certain.
Lucas looked at his grandfather. Do I look senile? he'd said, but Felix had just passed his eighty-fifth birthday...
"Ah, Lucas, you are as transparent now as you were when you were a boy, trying to convince me to let you break your first horse." Felix chuckled and wrapped an arm around Lucas's shoulders. "I promise you, mi hijo, my mind is perfectly clear. You must trust me in this. I am not sending you on a wild-goose chase."
Lucas had sighed. "You really want me to go all the way to Texas for something we don't need?"
"If we did not need it, I would not ask you to go."
"I don't agree."
Felix had raised one bushy white eyebrow. "Did I ask you to agree?"
That had ended the discussion. Nobody gave Lucas Reyes orders but he loved his grandfather with all his heart. The old man had all but raised him and provided the only love Lucas had known.
So Lucas had shrugged and said, si, he would go to Texas even though he did not deserve such a punishment.
He'd meant it lightly but for some reason, Felix had laughed as if it were the best joke he'd ever heard.
"Lucas," he'd said, "I promise you, what awaits you in Texas is precisely what you deserve."
Now, looking at the empty road, the empty sky, the blinding sun and the woman sulking beside him, Lucas decided that his grandfather was wrong.
Nobody deserved this. "Aren't you going to start the car?"
Delia's voice was fraught with indignation. Lucas didn't waste time answering. Instead he turned the key. Tromped on the gas pedal. Turned the key again...
Muttering something that would have delighted the street urchins in Seville, he released the hood latch, opened the door and stepped outside.
The heat hit him like a fist even though he'd expected it. Unlike Delia, who was decked out in a gender-challenged designer's misbegotten notion of the Old West, Lucas had dressed for the realities of a Texas summer.
Boots, of course. Not shiny and new but comfortable and well-worn. What else did a man wear when he was going to spend the day ankle-deep in horse apples? Boots and jeans, faded and washed to the softness of silk, and a pale gray chambray shirt, collar open, sleeves rolled up.
In other words, he was sensibly dressed. It didn't matter. One step from the car and he was drenched in sweat.
"Ohmygod," Delia screeched dramatically, "I'll burn up if you don't shut that door!"
Lucas obliged, slamming it with enough force that the vehicle shuddered. Jaw set, he stalked to the hood, lifted it and peered inside. Then he got down in the dirt and looked at the car's undercarriage. Neither action told him anything more than he already knew.
This sad excuse for a car was roadkill.
He dug his cell phone from his pocket, flipped it open and saw those dreaded words. No Service.
"Mierda," he muttered and banged his fist on Delia's window. "Open the door!"
She glared and cracked it an ungracious inch. "What?"
"Do you have your cell phone?"
Could a man's back teeth really shatter if he ground them together too hard?
"Do you have it or not?"
A put-upon sigh before she reached into the doll-size purse that hung from her shoulder.
The purse was white leather.
Everything she wore was white leather. The ridiculous sombrero perched on her artfully-coiffed hair. The tiny fringed vest. The tight pants. The boots with four inch stiletto heels. She looked ridiculous, Lucas thought and realized, with icy certainty, that what had been dawning on him for a while was true.
Their affair had run its predictable course. As soon as they got back to New York, he'd end it.
As if she'd read his mind, Delia all but slapped the phone into his outstretched palm. A glance told him she used a different wireless provider. Maybe there was hope.
At least, when he flipped the phone open, he didn't see the ominous No Service.
But he couldn't get a transmission bar, either.
He held the phone at arm's length. At shoulder height. He went through the inane dance steps of the frustrated wireless user.
Cursing under his breath, he went to the front of the car. To the rear. Trotted up the road. Down the road. Stepped across the narrow, gravel-filled culvert that ran alongside it. Stepped back into the road. Into the middle of the road...
Miracle of miracles, a bar blinked to life on the screen. Lucas grinned, pumped his fist in the air-and lost the bar. Easy, he told himself, easy. Move an inch at a time. Watch that screen...
The bar was back. And another. And another... "Look ooouut..."
His head came up. A horse the size of a brontosaurus was galloping toward him, a rider hunched over its neck. He saw the animal's dilated nostrils, heard the pounding of its hooves...
"Damn it, look ooouut..."
The yell came from the rider. Lucas jumped back, stumbled and rolled into the culvert as the horse thundered past with barely an inch to spare.
Lucas shot to his feet. He shouted; the rider looked back. Lucas saw a worn ball cap. A grungy T-shirt. Jeans. Boots.
And a boy's startled face.
The rider was a kid, damn it, skinny and long-legged, riding without a saddle or stirrups. Was riding people down what passed for fun in this anteroom of hell?
Lucas shook his fist. Let fly with a string of Spanish obscenities.
The kid laughed.
Fury welled in Lucas's gut. If only the damned car worked! He'd jump into it, gun the engine, catch up to the horse. Pull the reckless brat off its back and teach him a lesson!
A gust of wind swept down from out of nowhere, plucked at the dust rising in the horse's wake. When it settled, horse and rider were gone.
"Lucas? Are you all right?"
He shot a look at the car. The near-collision had, at least, driven Delia out of it.
"I'm fine," he growled.
"That horrid animal! I thought it had killed you." Lucas dusted off his jeans. "And you wondered," he said tersely, "how in hell you'd get out of here on your own."
"You're in a horrible mood today, Lucas. I was worried about you. Yes, perhaps I did wonder..." Delia's eyes widened. She giggled.
"You find this amusing?"
"Well, no. It's just that you have something in your hair..." He reached up. Closed his fingers around a handful of tumbleweed and threw it aside.
"I'm delighted to be the source of your entertainment."
"Don't be such a grouch." Delia slapped her hands on her hips. "You can't blame me for-"
"No." His voice was flat as he walked toward her. "I blame only myself for our situation, Delia. Not you."
Her expression brightened. "I'm glad you understand." Lucas reached into the car for his hat. Then he patted his thigh.
"Put your foot here."
Delia gave a breathy laugh. "Lucas," she purred, "do you really think this is the place to-"
"Your foot," he said impatiently.
Smiling, she leaned back against the door, raised one leg and put it against his thigh. He grunted, took her foot in his hands and broke off the heel of her boot.
"Hey!" Delia jerked her leg back. "What are you doing? Do you have any idea what I paid for these boots?"
"No," he said bluntly, "but I will, once I see my Amex bill this month." His eyes met hers. "Or are you going to tell me I didn't pay for that ridiculous outfit you're wearing?"
"Ridiculous? I'll have you know-"
Lucas squatted down, grabbed her other foot and snapped the heel off that boot, too.
"Now you'll be able to walk."
"Walk?" Her voice rose. "Walk where? I am not walking anywhere in this heat, on this road, with pythons and wild horses and crazy people all around... Lucas? Lucas, where are you going?"
He didn't answer. After a moment, she came trotting up alongside him.