When Duty Calls by Joanna Wayne\B.J. Daniels released on Jun 24, 2003 is available now for purchase.
|Product dimensions:||4.26(w) x 6.62(h) x 1.41(d)|
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When Duty Calls
By Joanna Wayne B.J. Daniels
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-23013-3
Chapter OneLone Star Lawman by Joanna Wayne
Heather Lombardi jerked upright and gulped a breath of stale air. For a second, she didn't
recognize her surroundings, but slowly her sense of place came back to her. She was in a dingy
motel room in Dry Creek, Texas, hundreds of miles from her cozy apartment in Atlanta,
She blinked, rubbed her eyes, then circled the room with her gaze. Pale moonlight filtered
through the window, highlighting the shadowy images that crept across her walls. But in spite of
the moonlight, the room was darker than usual. Evidently, the harsh outside light that had glared
into her room for the last few nights had burned out.
A square of white caught her eye. She stumbled sleepily to the door and picked it up. Her mind
still groggy, she tore open the sealed envelope and hurried back to the bed, flicking on the lamp
so she could read the note.
"Forget Kathy Warren and get out of town. Now. Leave before your welcome wears out and
you find yourself wishing you'd never heard of her or Dry Creek."
It took a minute for the meaning to sink in. When it did, the words were still bewildering. There
was no earthly reason why anyone should care if she stayed or left this town. She'd come here
on aquest, in search of information about her real mother, the woman who'd given her up for
adoption mere days after her birth twenty-five years ago. But so far no one she'd talked to
admitted to having ever heard of Kathy Warren.
Heather reread the note, her mind struggling to make sense of the warning. She walked back to
the window, pushing hard to force it open. She needed fresh air to clear the last dregs of sleep
and help her think rationally. The note was probably some teenaged prank, kids out of school
for the summer and bored.
Minutes later, she closed and locked the window and went back to bed, jumping at the sound
of the squeaky bedsprings beneath the impact of her hundred and twenty pounds. The truth was
she'd like to heed the note. She was tired and more than a little homesick. She missed her
apartment, missed her own soft bed, missed chatting with her friends.
But she couldn't give up and go running home. Not yet. Questions that had haunted her for a
lifetime were still unanswered.
* * *
Matt McQuaid shoved the white Stetson back on his head and let his booted foot grow heavy
on the accelerator. A straight yellow line, miles of smooth Texas highway and two weeks of
well-deserved vacation stretched out before him. Fence-mending, windmills to check, and some
quality time getting to know his own small spread. At least small by South Texas standards.
He'd saved and bought the place while he was assigned to this area, but he'd been promoted
last year, uprooted from his land and plopped down in a city apartment a hundred and thirty
San Antonio never quite felt like home, but he liked the job. So, he was left to commute every
chance he got and scuff his boots on cement streets when he couldn't.
The Lone M, a plot of mesquite-dotted, drought-hardened dirt that beckoned to him like a pot
of spicy chili on a cold Texas night. Not that anyone but him ever called it the Lone M. The
other ranchers referred to it simply as "McQuaid's country," an old South Texas usage, defining
the land by the man who owned it. Matt didn't mind. Any name you called it, the wind blew free
across wide-open spaces, and it was his.
Damn, but life was good.
No bloody crime scenes to be dissected. No district attorneys demanding evidence that didn't
exist. Best of all, there would be no reporters in his face ragging him for information for the news
media to twist and enlarge to suit their own purposes.
After the hellacious case he'd just wrapped up in San Antonio, nothing could be nicer than two
weeks of conversing with nature and cud-chewing critters. Not that he'd ever willingly give up
all the aggravation and challenge of being a Texas Ranger. Being a lawman was in his blood, as
necessary as air or food.
Fingering the dial of his radio, he worked until a country song blared from the contraption. He
rolled down the window of his pickup truck and sang along, enjoying the sting of the dry wind in
his face and the sound of his own voice blending with the whining twang of the female singer.
Another ballad of love gone bad. Woman trouble, one problem he didn't have now and had no
intention of acquiring.
Matt slowed as he entered the town limits of Dry Creek. The sun hovered low on the horizon,
making it difficult to see the road, but painting the shabby town in shades of gold and red that
glistened off tin roofs and sparkled on iron cattle gaps. A fitting homecoming, he decided.
Matt turned into the drive of Ridgely's Feed and Hardware Store and parked between a tractor
and John Billinger's new truck. He'd already stopped for groceries, but he needed to pick up
some supplies so he could start work in the morning with the sun. He might as well let the locals
know he was home for a couple of weeks while he was at it.
His boots clattered against the wooden boards of the porch and heralded his arrival even before
he walked through the open door.
"Well, look who's back, the Texas Ranger who just stuck it to Clemson Creighton like a June
bug to a screen door." Billinger's voice boomed across the store as Matt stepped into sight.
"Just doing my job, Billinger. Trying to make sure you Texans get what you pay for."
"Yep." Paul Ridgely spit a long stream of brown goop into a tin can and then stepped from
behind the counter. He extended a hand. "Of course, it took a McQuaid to nail him. Those
pretty boys up in San Antonio let the man walk around right under their noses for ten years.
You done your pa proud, Matt."
Matt took Ridgely's callused hand and shook it firmly. "I'm sure Jake could have done it better
and faster." The men laughed but nodded in agreement without guessing at the sarcasm that
rode beneath the surface of Matt's words.
It had been almost a quarter of a century since Jake McQuaid had been sheriff around here, but
his legend lived on. Who was Matt to disturb the image with suggestions of imperfection in their
"Didn't much get by old Jake McQuaid," Billinger added. "So, you here for Logan Trenton's big
shindig next weekend, or do you even aim to stay long enough to do a little honest labor?"
"Two weeks. Plenty of time to get my boots dirty." Matt hadn't known Logan Trenton was
throwing a party. Now that he did, he hoped he could escape an invitation. "I'm going to spend
my time catching up at the ranch."
"Well, I hope you make enough time to come by the house," Billinger said. "I'm smoking some
brisket tomorrow, and the wife would love to have you over. Might even bake up one of those
apple pies for you and I'd get a piece of it. She's read another of those tomfool articles on
cholesterol and heart attacks and has me eating my apples from around the core
"I don't know about your cholesterol, Billinger," Ridgely joked, "but that roll of fat around your
middle ain't too appealing. She's probably tired of trying to reach around it."
Excerpted from When Duty Calls by Joanna Wayne B.J. Daniels
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.