THE PRIDE OF TEXAS
With his roots tracing back to the original Texas Rangers, Cy Vance takes his job seriously. To protect and defend takes on new meaning when he’s assigned to safeguard Kellie Parrish, a stunning-barrel racing celebrity who has a dangerous admirer. But going undercover to catch the stalker backfires when his inspired scheme awakens feelings that could compromise Cy’s strict code of honor.
To her fans, Kellie just became the luckiest cowgirl on the planet. Too bad her marriage to the hunky lawman is a sham…even if it’s starting to feel like the real thing. She and Cy share something special and rare. Is the dedicated Ranger ready to cowboy up and ask the question that will make him the true hero of her heart?
About the Author
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"This is Tammy White and you're listening to Hill Country Cowboy Radio broadcasting from Bandera, Texas, the Cowboy Capital of the World!
"Oh boy, have we got a lineup for you on this Labor Day weekend, including the star of the Bandera Rodeo, Kellie Parrish from Austin, Texas, our state's hopeful to win the National Barrel Racing Championship in Las Vegas come December. She'll be our guest in the second segment of our show.
"Now hear this. All you cowgirls out there, listen up and hold on to your Stetsons because we have some jaw-dropping, gorgeous, bronco-busting, homegrown cowboys in studio. But that's not the best part. They're four of our famous, legendary Texas Rangers, the pride of the great state of Texas! I've asked my buddy Mel from the fire department to be on hand in case I go into cardiac arrest. It's not every day I'm surrounded by such hunky men. They're not only easy on the eyes, but they wear the star and put their lives on the line every day to protect us.
"Welcome, gentlemen. How come we're so lucky that four of you were willing to be interviewed? Judging by the way you were laughing when you came into the booth, does it mean you're good friends both on and off duty?"
The men all looked at Cy. Their captain in the Austin office had asked him to be the spokesman for this interview. None of them wanted to do it, but the boss insisted it was important for the Rangers to have a positive public presence. Cy had to cowboy up.
"Yup. The four of us share a very unique bond."
"We want to hear all about it, but first why don't you introduce yourselves and tell us where you're from?"
"Sure. I'm Cyril Vance and call Dripping Springs home." Kit took his turn next. "Ranger Miles Saunders from Marble Falls." Vic followed. "Ranger Stephen Malone. I grew up in Blanco." Cy nodded to Luckey on the other side of Vic. "I'm Ranger James Davis from Austin."
"Ladies, it's too bad this isn't television! You'd eat your hearts out if you were sitting where I am. Through the Hill Country grapevine the station learned that a lot of Rangers are in Bandera to help celebrate Jack Hays Days. You'll see them riding their horses in tomorrow morning's parade. It would be hard to believe that anyone in the state of Texas doesn't know the name Jack Hays. But just in case you don't, we want to hear from you why the name of Jack Hays stirs the hearts of every Texan, particularly those of the Rangers."
"I'll take this," Vic volunteered. "When Sam Houston was reelected to the presidency in December 1841, he recognized the effectiveness of the Rangers. And on January 29, 1842, he approved a law that officially provided for a company of mounted men to 'act as Rangers.' As a result, 150 Rangers under Captain John Coffee 'Jack' Hays were assigned to protect the southern and western portions of the Texas frontier. Houston's foresight in this decision proved successful in helping to repel the Mexican invasions of 1842, as well as shielding the white settlers against Indian attacks over the next three years."
Vic turned to Kit. "You tell the rest."
"Be happy to. Jack Hays was responsible for improving the quality of recruitments and initiating tough training programs for the new Rangers, as well as initiating an esprit de corps within his command.
"The Paterson Colt six-shooters had just been invented and Captain Hays and his men were fortunate to be armed with these weapons instead of single shotguns. When the Comanche attacked Captain Hays and his company of forty in Bandera Pass in 1842, they were defeated."
"Gentlemen? I found a quote from Walter Prescott Webb, a twentieth-century US historian who said, 'Their enemies were pretty good the Texas Rangers had to be better.' Do you Rangers still use those old six-shooters? If not, what kind of weapons do you carry?"
Luckey spoke up. "We use a variety that includes the .357-caliber SIG Sauer, the .45-caliber Colt automatic, the SIG Sauer P226 pistol, the Ruger mini-14 automatic rifle and the Remington 12-gauge shotgun."
"There are dozens of questions I want to ask, but since you're pressed for time, why don't you tell our listeners why the four of you are particularly close?"
Cy nodded. "When I joined the Rangers, I didn't know any of the men in the company. On my application, I'd mentioned that I was a descendant of one of the men in Captain Jack Hays's company of forty. During my interview with our captain at company H, he told me there were three other Rangers in our company who could also trace their ancestry back to the original company of forty."
"Wow is right. He got the four of us together. The rest was history."
"Imagine that. What a remarkable coincidence! You guys are the real thing. It's in your genes. Kind of gives you gooseflesh."
Kit chuckled. "That's one way of putting it. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a Texas Ranger. The pride my family felt for our heritage was instilled in me."
"It looks like none of you could escape your destiny."
Luckey grinned. "We wouldn't want to."
"I heard a rumor that everyone at Ranger headquarters has nicknamed you four 'the Sons of the Forty.' That's heady stuff."
"We don't mind," Vic stated. "But it gives us a lot to live up to."
"I'd say you're doing a spectacular job. According to your captain, the governor of our state gave you citations six months ago for your capture of a drug cartel ring on the most-wanted list. Do the four of you always work together on a case?"
Cy shook his head. "No. It's a very rare occurrence that we have an opportunity to do something big together, but we help each other out from time to time. Each case is different."
"Cowboys and cowgirls? Our station is honored that these Texan heroes have taken time out of their busy lives to let us know a little bit more about them. I have it on good report from your captain that the Sons of the Forty will be leading other Rangers on horseback from all over the state in the parade tomorrow. That will be the chance for you ladies to feast your eyes on the best of the best! Thank you for coming in. It's been a Hill Country thrill for me and everyone listening."
"Thank you" they said in a collective voice.
Kellie got out of her truck in front of the radio station, pressed for time. She'd just driven in from Amarillo over three hundred miles away, where she'd made a decent time in the rodeo the night before. But it wasn't the low score she'd wanted. The fact that she didn't get the best time had little to do with her skill or her horse's.
Since she'd been on a five-state, pro rodeo racing circuit over the past five weeks, she'd been deeply unsettled by a guy who'd been following her from venue to venue among Montana, Oregon, Utah, New Mexico and Texas.
He'd come up to her after her win in Pendleton, Oregon, and asked her out on a date. She told him she was married in order to put him off. When she drove to Utah for the Eagle Mountain Rodeo, there he was again while she was brushing down her horse after her event. He was hoping she'd changed her mind and would go out with him.
She warned him that if he ever came near her again, she'd call the police. At the same time she signaled to her horse handler, Cody. He walked over to find out what was wrong and the stalker took off.
Cody was taking care of her horse Starburst, the one she'd brought on this circuit along with her champion palomino, Trixie, who was the best horse Kellie had ever owned. Trixie had helped her get to the Pro National Rodeo Finals, which were held in December. It was only three months away and she didn't need any kind of problems that would cause her to lose focus.
The stalker had so frightened her, she'd stuck with her rodeo buddies for the rest of the night. Later on in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she found a note on her truck window that said she couldn't avoid him forever and accused her of lying about being married. That told her this man had mental problems, and that put her on edge. She kept the note to show the police.
Afraid this wacko might turn up in Amarillo, she'd bunked with her good friend Sally, who was married to Manny Florez, one of the bull riders in the rodeo. Cody stayed with her horses and looked after them.
After one more rodeo tomorrow night in Bandera, she would drive straight to her parents' ranch in Austin instead of going home to her town house. Together they'd go to the police. But right now she needed to get through this radio show and then put her horse through some exercises.
She'd left the animal in the horse trailer at the RV park on the outskirts of town with Sally and her husband. For the time being they were her protection.
Trying to conquer her fear of the man stalking her, she headed toward the entrance of the radio station and collided with the first of a group of tall, jean-clad men in Stetsons and cowboy boots coming out the door.
"OhI'm sorry." She stepped back, shocked by a dart of male awareness that passed through her at the contact. "I didn't see where I was going."
"No problem, Ms. Parrish." His eyes were a piercing midnight blue. "Good luck at the rodeo tomorrow evening. We'll be rooting for you." He tipped his white hat to her.
"Thank you," she murmured as they headed to a van in the parking area.
Kellie had met hundreds of cowboys in all shapes and sizes over her years pursuing her dream to get to the Finals. She'd dated quite a few, nothing serious. But these four were exceptionally good-looking. The man she'd brushed against had momentarily caused the breath to freeze in her lungs. Why hadn't he been the one to ask her out on a date in Oregon? She might have been a fool and said yes without knowing anything about him.
Stunned by her immediate attraction, she hurried inside the building afraid she was late. The receptionist told her to walk straight back to the broadcast booth.
"Oh, good. I'm glad you're here. We're on a station break. I'm Tammy White. You're even more beautiful in person. Thanks for doing the show. You're one of our state's biggest celebrities."
"Maybe with a few rodeo fans."
"You're too modest. Your appearance here is making my day."
"Thanks, Tammy." Kellie shook hands with her and sat down. "I barely got here in time."
"I don't suppose you bumped into the Sons of the Forty while you were on your way in here?"
Kellie blinked. "I actually did bump into one of them. Waitaren't they the Texas Rangers who brought down a drug cartel recently? It was all over the news."
"Yup. You had the luck of getting to see them up close and personal." Up close and personal is right. "I swear if I weren't married " Kellie knew exactly what she meant. The man with the deep blue eyes was a Texas Ranger!
Kellie couldn't believe it, except that she could. With his rock-hard physique and rugged features, he looked as if he could handle anything. Come to think of it, he had been wearing a badge over his Western shirt pocket. But she'd been so mesmerized by his male charisma, nothing much else registered.
"Okay, Kellie. We'll be live in seven seconds.
"No. I'm no good behind a microphone." Her mind was still on the striking Ranger. Her body hadn't stopped tingling with sensation.
"Don't worry. Leave it all to me. This is going to be fun."
It would be fun if it weren't for the menace lurking somewhere out there. Thank heaven for Sally and her husband, who were letting her stay in their trailer with them tonight and tomorrow night. Monday morning she'd take off at dawn.
She couldn't get back home fast enough to tell her parents what had been happening and go to the police. Kellie had put off telling them about this, hoping the man would give it up, because she didn't want her folks worrying about her. But she'd gotten a call in the middle of the night last night, which was the last straw. Her stalker was potentially dangerous, and that terrified her.
Cy's captain, TJ Horton, walked into his office Monday morning. The veteran Ranger now sported a head of gray hair, but he still looked tough enough to take on any fugitive and win. "It's good you're back."
"I'm just finishing up some paperwork on my last case."
"I've got a new one I'd like you to look over. It just came up. Come on into my office."
"Sure." He followed him down the hall. The captain told him to shut the door and take a seat. Cy could tell something was up.
TJ sat back in his swivel chair with his hands behind his head and smiled at him. "You men did the department proud over the weekend. I listened to your contribution on Hill Country Cowboy Radio. Whether you liked it or not" nope, none of them liked it "she made you guys out as the poster boys of the department. You're now known as the Famous Four. I thought that might happen, but good publicity never hurts in an age when law enforcement takes a lot of unfair hits. The favor you did for me personally was much appreciated."
"Anything to help, sir."
"I heard a but in there. Next year I'll pick another bunch to carry the flag."
"That's a relief."
TJ chuckled, but then leaned forward with a serious expression. "The police turned over a case to our office this morning. It's high profile and the victim could be in serious danger. Because the case has crossed state lines, they feel our department is better equipped to deal with it. I'd like your take on this one." He handed him a folder.
Cy nodded and opened it. The name Kellie Parrish leaped out at him. She was the person in danger?
With her silvery-gold hair and cornflower-blue eyes, the barrel racer was a knockout. Under other circumstances he would have liked to hang around the radio station and listen to her interview. She'd been on his mind ever since he'd seen her a few days ago.
He scanned the folder's contents. She was being pursued by a stalker. He'd followed Ms. Parrish across her latest five-state racing schedule. She'd given the lieutenant a description of the man and a typewritten note he'd left on her truck windshield.
The most alarming aspect of the case was the fact that this stalker had phoned her cell phone as recently as the middle of Friday night. She'd been asleep in her friend's trailer in Bandera before driving to Austin this morning. Terrified, she'd gathered her parents and come straight to police headquarters.