Read an Excerpt
Texas ... Now and Forever
By Merline Lovelace
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA shrill buzz cut through the air-conditioned silence, haunting the small farmhouse just outside Mission Creek, Texas. Like a deer speared by truck headlights, Haley Mercado froze. Her glance sliced to the FBI agent who'd acted as her controller for the past year.
Across the living room Sean Collins met her desperate look. They'd been waiting for this call, she and Sean. So had the small army of agents guarding the safe house where the FBI had stashed Haley until they captured Frank Del Brio.
Frank Del Brio. The smooth, handsome head of the Texas mob who'd once shoved a square-cut, three-carat diamond on Haley's finger and announced that she was going to marry him. The ruthless thug who'd forced her to flee her home in South Texas and to assume another identity abroad. The vicious killer whose horrific acts had brought Haley out of hiding a year ago and sent her undercover, determined to assist the FBI in bringing Del Brio down.
Frank Del Brio, who'd kidnapped the child she'd placed in safekeeping while she worked undercover, the child who only a few nights ago had been spared in a wild shoot-out that had left her father in ICU and Haley under close protection at this secluded farmhouse.
The phone shrilled again, sending a jolt of desperate hope into her chest. They've got him! Please, God! Please let this call be from the FBI command center, advising that they've cornered Frank and rescued her baby! Her heart in her throat, she wiped her palms down the front of her jeans and kept her gaze locked on Sean as he reached for the cordless phone.
When the FBI operative's face tightened, Haley's hope shattered into a thousand knife-edged shards.
"How the hell did you get this number?"
It was Frank, she thought on a wave of sickening certainty. It could only be Frank.
Collins confirmed it in the next breath. "No way I'm putting her on the phone, Del Brio. You can damned well talk to me."
The mobster's response sent a tide of angry red surging into the FBI agent's cheeks. His eyes blazing fire, Sean snarled back.
"Listen to me, you two-bit piece of slime. You hurt that baby and there won't a patch of dirt anywhere on this earth big enough for you to dig a hole and crawl into."
Haley flew across the living room. "Let me talk to him."
"I'm warning you, Del Brio-"
"Let me talk to him!"
The agent relinquished the instrument reluctantly, signaling for Haley to string out the conversation as long as she could. She understood. The communications technicians hooked into the line would need a few moments to trace the call. She understood, too, that the events of the past year were rapidly spiraling to a terrifying conclusion.
"Frank! Frank, are you there?"
The deep, rich baritone made her skin crawl.
"You fooled me with that brassy hair and nose job, babe, but I have to admit I like the new look."
Haley didn't bother to comment on the fact that he'd penetrated the cover she'd been using for the past year. The long months she'd spent as Daisy Parker didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was her baby. Only her baby.
"Don't hurt her, Frank. Please, don't hurt her."
She hated to beg, hated hearing the abject pleading in her voice, almost as much as she hated Del Brio for the pain he'd caused her and her family.
"What do you want?" she whispered. "What do I have to do to get Lena back?"
"Two million just might do the trick. In unmarked, nonsequential bills. Nothing bigger than a hundred. I'll let you know where and when to deliver it."
His voice dropped to a low caress. Soft and husky, it scraped across Haley's raw nerves like a rusty nail.
"I'd better not see one cop or one fed, particularly your pal Collins or that bastard Justin Wainwright."
Haley's heart squeezed with pain. They'd come so close, so very close. Mission Creek's sheriff and the FBI had almost - almost - captured Del Brio three nights ago. He'd made his escape, gunning down her father in the process. Taking her baby with him.
"If I even smell their stink when you deliver the ransom," Frank snarled, "you'll never see your brat again. You understand me?"
"Good. Talk to you soon, babe."
"Wait!" Her frantic shout bounced off the walls. "Don't hang up! Tell me how she's -"
The hum of the disconnected line thundered in Haley's ear. She wanted to scream, to shriek and batter the receiver against the phone. But she'd spent the past year living a dangerous lie. A year undercover, risking her life every day to ferret out the details of the mob that had operated out of Mission Creek. If nothing else, those torturous months had taught her to subdue every natural impulse. To smile when she shook inside with fear. To hide her anguish as she watched another couple love and cherish the baby she'd been forced to give up temporarily for the child's own safety.
All those months had left their mark on Haley. Instead of shrieking or hurling the cordless phone at the wall, she merely handed it to Sean and listened in stony silence while he barked at the communications techs working the trace.
"Did you pinpoint the location?"
She knew. Even before she saw his mouth twist into a disgusted grimace, she knew. Frank was too smart to trip himself up with a simple phone call.
His jaw tight, Sean punched the off button. Frustration gave a sharp edge to his broad New York accent when he confirmed what she already suspected.
Excerpted from Texas ... Now and Forever by Merline Lovelace Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.