A passionate new Long, Tall Texans romance from New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer
Clancey Lang knows how to run. She’s been doing it since the day she fled her abusive home to save her and her younger brother’s lives. That was the same day she decided to never let herself depend on anyone else. Especially men. Though she’s tempted—mighty tempted—to put her faith in her boss, ruggedly handsome Texas Ranger Colter Banks. If only he would look her way…
For far too long, Colter has been distracting himself with women he knows will never fully satisfy him. But there’s something about his pretty assistant, Clancey, that he simply can’t resist. Something slowly but surely drawing every ounce of his attention. But is he falling for a woman who’ll never let herself be caught?
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"Even a doctor couldn't read this handwriting," Clancey muttered to herself as she tried to decrypt a note jotted in the margin of a photocopied arrest record.
"What are you muttering about now?" Colter Banks asked from the doorway.
Colter was her boss, a Texas Ranger who worked cold cases for the San Antonio office of the Department of Public Safety. He was gorgeous: tall, narrow hipped, with powerful long legs and broad shoulders. He had dark brown hair and liquid black eyes. Those eyes were glaring at her.
She looked up with a disgusted expression on her oval face. She brushed away a strand of dark, wavy hair from her forehead. Pale gray eyes glared at him. "I can't read this." She waved the sheet at him.
"If you'd like to resign ...?" he offered, and looked hopeful.
"I can't resign. This was the only job available and I have to eat," she grumbled.
He took the sheet from her and frowned as he studied the note he'd placed next to a certain charge on the rap sheet.
"Ha!" she exclaimed.
He glanced at her. "What do you mean, ha?"
"You can't read it, either, can you?" she accused.
He lifted his chin. "Of course I can read it," he scoffed. "I wrote it."
"So, what does it say?"
He stared at it again. He had to puzzle it out or she was never going to let him forget this. While he stared at the scribble and tried to make sense of it, the phone rang.
He tossed the sheet back on her desk. "Phone."
"Excuse," she said under her breath.
He glared at her as he pulled his cell phone out of its holder. "Banks," he said.
He listened. His face grew harder. He glanced at Clancey, who was still waving the sheet at him, and turned his back. "Yes, I can do that," he replied. "Sure. I'll stop by on my way home. No problem. See you."
He put his phone back and looked pointedly at his watch. "I've got to see the assistant DA on a case I'm working, that Reed case from five years ago. We hear that Morris Duffy, who was suspected in his disappearance, may be getting out of prison a year early for good behavior, and soon," he remarked, missing the sudden worried expression on his assistant's face. "We could sure use a break in the case." He glanced again at his watch. "I'd better go on. Almost quitting time."
Clancey got her composure back before his eyes fell on her face. "You still haven't translated this for me," she said pointedly, indicating the sheet.
He glared at her.
"Well, it's not my fault you can't write," she said belligerently. "I'll bet the teacher who tried to teach you cursive threw confetti on the last day of school and walked you all the way to the school bus."
He glared harder. "I can write cursive just fine, thank you."
"Then what does it say?" she persisted.
"I'll take it under advisement and get back to you," he said nonchalantly.
"You can't read it," she said, and grinned.
"I could read it if I wanted to," he retorted.
"How am I supposed to type up this report if I don't know what you've written?" she asked reasonably.
"If they question me about it, I'll tell them you had a senior moment," he said with a deadpan expression.
"I'm twenty-three, not eighty!" she huffed.
"I thought you were twenty-two."
"I was, until last November, just after I came to work for you," she said. "Birthdays come once a year. You don't stay the same age forever."
He didn't react to the snarky comment. He slid his white Stetson over one eye. "If anyone calls, I'll be out until tomorrow."
"If they call, they'll call you, not me," she pointed out.
"You have the fixed phone, that antique thing that's attached to the wall," he pointed out.
"I have a cell phone," she said defensively.
"Does it have anything except numbers on it?" he asked with a sarcastic smile.
She glared at him. "I'm going to get a really fancy smart phone as soon as I pay off my new yacht," she said belligerently.
He turned away before she saw the smile. "Okay, nasturtium. Have a good night."
"I am not a nasturtium!"
"A likely story," he muttered on his way out. "I'll bet my badge you don't even know what a nasturtium is."
"I do so!" she called after him.
When he was out of sight, she pulled the pocket dictionary out of her drawer and looked it up.
It was a flower. Well! Maybe he didn't dislike her as much as he seemed to. She wondered at the irony, because the meaning of her real name was the same as that of the nickname he'd stuck her with. She doubted if he'd paid any attention to her name on the job application. It had been, after all, the department's interviewer who'd hired her for this job.
She glanced at the sheet she still couldn't read and put it in her desk drawer. Tomorrow, she promised herself, she'd pin him down and make him take a crack at it.
Meantime, she typed up the reports she could read.
She worried about the cold case Banks was working on. He didn't know, and she wouldn't tell him, but the victim had been her grandfather, Dalton Reed. She didn't want to share any of her private life with her bulldozer of a boss. Even in prison, her stepbrother, Morris Duffy, could have things done to her, or worse, to her little brother, Tad. He'd even threatened that when he went away. Keep your mouth shut, he'd said. Things could happen to the boy, even if he was in prison. He had friends. The threat was still enough to keep her silent.
She'd always suspected her stepbrother, Morris, of killing her grandfather, but the body had never been found. If there was a body. She grimaced. Her grandfather had always been punctual. If he said he'd be there at six, he'd be there at five forty-five. He would never have just gone away from his job and his family without telling anyone. Unless he was dead.
Dalton Reed was a former sheriff's deputy. Even after retirement, he'd been a volunteer deputy. He could make a guitar sing. Clancey still had his precious guitar. She'd hidden it while Morris lived at home, for fear that he'd sell it. After all, he'd made frequent allusions to its value. He'd also been covetous of her grandfather's antique Colt .45 in its equally antique hand-tooled holster. Odd thing, the gun and gun belt had vanished along with her grandfather. She'd thought at first that Morris might have sold them. But they were collectibles, and a lot of people in San Antonio — including many policemen and sheriff's deputies — knew about them. Perhaps Morris had been too cautious to put them on the market.
Clancey had loved her grandfather. He was the only good in her miserable home life. Her stepfather, Ben, had coddled Morris, his son from a previous marriage, as if he'd invented bread. He protected the boy, got him out of trouble all the time, refused to believe his own son had ever done anything bad. Tad had never gotten the attention from Ben that Morris had. The child got his affection from his half sister, Clancey, who'd loved him from the day he was born. After the death of her mother, Diane, not long after Tad's birth, Clancey and her grandfather had been Tad's protectors, until her grandfather's disappearance.
Tad had only been three at the time when her grandfather didn't come home. But a few days before that, Morris had viciously attacked Tad for crying during his video game. The little boy was screaming as Morris slapped him around. When Clancey had come running at the sound of the child's screams, she saw Morris, cursing, grab up a metal scoop that was used in the open fireplace. As she yelled, horrified, he swung it at the child and knocked him off the couch. Clancey ran to defend the little boy, and Morris swung the heavy scoop at her, breaking two ribs and bruising her as he swung it over and over again.
It had been a brutal act that still kindled nightmares. She'd had bruises and cuts on her face and arms, in addition to the broken ribs, and her back had suffered a torn muscle. There was a worse complication that sent her to the emergency room. Ben had come home from work just after the incident. He grimaced at Clancey's condition and reluctantly called an ambulance, recognizing that her injuries might be life threatening. She begged Ben to let Tad go, too, but Ben refused. The kid would be all right, he said sarcastically. He was just bruised. Morris had told him, drugged up and wild-eyed, that the child and Clancey had been tussling and both fell off the sofa. Ben believed him.
Clancey was horrified at what had happened and sick with fear for little Tad. One of those vicious blows had caught the little boy in the head and he was bawling. She didn't want to tell the truth, out of fear of what her stepbrother might do, but the doctor on call at the emergency room quickly realized that she was a victim of a brutal assault. He dragged the truth out of her. She told him she was afraid for her baby brother, who'd also been a victim of the attack. The doctor had called the police.
Clancey hadn't wanted to cause trouble. The policeman, a veteran, did. He drove Clancey to her home after she was treated, questioning her about the incident. He insisted on seeing Tad, who was obviously injured. He said the child would need medical attention and called for an ambulance. Then he promptly arrested Morris, who was staggering and screaming curses at everyone, even a shaken Ben. Half the neighborhood came outdoors when they heard him yelling. Ben had pleaded with Clancey to tell the police Morris didn't do it, but to no avail. She explained to him that Morris had attacked Tad for interrupting his video game, then he'd beaten her up when she tried to save her little brother.
Ben said Morris would never hurt a child — those bruises were from falling when he'd been playing with Clancey. The policeman said that it was odd that the bruises on the child were shaped like the metal shovel from a fireplace set, wasn't it? He added that Clancey's broken ribs were hardly from a fall while playing. He sent Morris off in another squad car and went into the house to question everybody who lived there. Clancey was intimidated by Ben and said as little as possible, but her grandfather was a gold mine of information on Morris's recent behavior. He added that he thought the boy was on drugs and that he was selling them as well, to afford his expensive video console and the games to go with it. That provoked a violent reply from Ben. The policeman had calmed them both down and continued taking notes. The ambulance arrived then, and Ben climbed in with Tad, already complaining about the expense of it.
The kind policeman had told Clancey it would be all right. They'd lock up Morris and he wouldn't be a threat to her or Tad again.
She wrote out her version of what had happened and signed it. So did her grandfather. Ben would be required to do the same, later. Her grandfather took her prescriptions to the pharmacy and paid for them out of his own pocket. They both knew that Ben wouldn't spend a penny on her. She'd turned on Morris.
But Morris was permitted bail while he awaited his trial, which they said could take months. Ben tried to mortgage the house to afford a fancy lawyer for his son, only to be reminded that Dalton Reed was coowner of the property and until he could be found or declared dead, Ben had no right to sell it. He blamed Clancey for that as well, and he paid no more attention to Tad than was necessary. They'd kept the little boy overnight, to observe him after the mild concussion. Clancey had stayed with him. Her boss, who was then the detective lieutenant at a precinct close to Clancey's home, Cal Hollister, had gone to the hospital to sit with her. He was one of the kindest men she'd ever known, although she had no romantic feelings for him. A widower, he kept to himself and had nothing to do with women. But he liked Clancey. He was furious about what Morris had done and promised that he was going to speak to Darrell Tarley, the assistant district attorney on the case, and make sure Morris didn't weasel out of the very serious charges. The fact that Morris had used a weapon in the assaults made it a second-class felony, which carried a penalty, if convicted, that would put Morris away for several years. Clancey felt guilty for hoping the justice system would remove the frightening man from her life, and Tad's.
For Clancey, it was agony to live in the house, which her late mother had left jointly to Ben and her grandfather. The pressure of her unsettled home life affected her job performance, but Hollister, aware of her problems, protected her. She also had a growing health issue that Ben and Morris ignored. They barely spoke to her.
From high school graduation, she'd worked as a clerk for the San Antonio Police Department. The precinct where Hollister presided over the violent crimes unit was close enough to home that she could walk to work and back. At least Ben did finally understand that Tad was in danger, every time Morris was interrupted at his eternal video games. He yelled furiously at the child, who cried even louder. It frightened Clancey that Morris threatened Tad. He wasn't tolerant of any noise when he was playing. If he lost his progress in the first-person shooting games he favored, he shouted curses at his little half brother. Ben, trying to ward off more trouble for his oldest son, had found a nice elderly lady who worked cheap to take care of Tad in the daytime and keep him quiet.
Morris didn't have a job, a fact that annoyed Clancey to no end. She worked a six-day week for a paycheck that was not as much as Ben made on his job. But she didn't dare say anything to either her stepfather or stepbrother. She was gun-shy after the beating Morris had given her. He seemed to like the fact that she was afraid of him. He told her once, when the others weren't listening, that she'd better hope he got off when the trial came up, or she was going to have some major problems.
It was only a few days after Morris got out on bond that her grandfather didn't come home from work.
Ben and Morris hadn't said much about that. They talked to the detective who worked the case, denying that they'd seen the old man after breakfast the day he disappeared. Morris had been tight-lipped about the whole thing. He didn't even look familiar sometimes. He was jittery and had bloodshot eyes, and he talked nonstop. She wondered if there were mental problems that Morris and her father were keeping from her. Not for the first time, she was sorry that her mother had married Ben. On the other hand, if she hadn't, there would be no Tad. And Clancey loved Tad, more than anyone on earth except her grandfather. That they couldn't find the old man tormented her. She was certain that it had been something drastic, because you could set a watch by her grandfather's actions. He was never late coming home or going to work. It broke her heart when weeks passed and detectives moved the file aside because they couldn't find the old gentleman. They told Ben they suspected foul play, but they had no viable suspects. Odd, she thought, how Morris had looked when they said that. Very odd.
Ben had taken Morris's side over the assault on Clancey. He said Morris had been having a hard time with one of his friends, and he was sure Morris hadn't meant to do anything to his siblings. She knew better, but Ben never saw any problem with his son from a previous marriage. He loved Morris and defended him constantly.
Morris had things to say to Clancey afterward. He told her that she'd better never interfere again when he was playing video games, and that went double for Tad. Next time, he said ominously, he'd do a lot more to her. And he gave her a look that still made her uneasy years later. It was an adult look, as if he knew what was under her clothing. She'd folded her arms over her chest and left without another word. But after that, she caught Morris watching her sometimes.
Her grandfather had told her, before his disappearance, that Morris was running with a very tough crowd and he thought the boy was using drugs. He didn't want Clancey and Tad exposed to his friends, who sometimes showed up at the house when Clancey was at work. He'd been going out in the afternoons, after work, to talk to people about the gang Morris was getting mixed up with. He found a man who said he knew that Morris was using, and he also knew who was supplying the drugs. Her grandfather said that he was going to meet the man the next day after work and get the names from him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unleashed"
Copyright © 2018 Diana Palmer.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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