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Last Chance Reunion

Two Lone Star Stories in One!
ISBN # 978-0373278350
August 2013

TEXAS COLD CASE

Determined to solve the cold case of his mother’s murder, Colt Chance returns home to Texas. Turns out the new deputy sheriff is the woman who broke his heart. But when someone targets Lacie, Colt will have to decide between the vengeance he seeks and protecting the one he still loves.

TEXAS LOST AND FOUND

After witnessing a murder, firefighter Nina Martinez finds an ally in medic Josh White. On the run, they discover that Nina is the long-missing Chance sister, Cami. Will Cami embrace the love from Josh and her real family before it’s too late?

Last Chance Reunion

 

TEXAS COLD CASE

By the time they reached his mobile home, Colt was reasonably sure they hadn’t been followed across Bar-C land. But he still wanted Lacie to stay over. He would gladly take any extra hours with her that he could get.

“It’s late,” he began as they climbed out of the truck. “Will you stay?”

She turned to him, and he would swear the answer he wanted to hear was in her eyes. “There’s no danger,” she said instead. “And it’s not really that late. I don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to stay.”

“Stay anyway.”

She took him by the hand and the electrical impulses between them ran up his arm. “Please, Colt. We hardly know each other anymore. And I’m pretty sure you are not the same young man who danced with me under the moonlight when were kids.”

He’d forgotten. And at one time, he couldn’t imagine ever forgetting that crazy night and their dance. No music. No dance floor. Just him humming some western song, slow and easy, and holding on to her under the stars like she might disappear if he let go.

But that was just the thing. He’d had to let her go.

Pulling her close now, he murmured into her hair. “We haven’t changed so much. I still remember. Dance with me again, Lace.”

Actually, he couldn’t remember which song he’d been humming back then. But he thought of the slow one they’d just heard on the radio and began singing it under his breath. She slumped against him, and he wasn’t sure what that meant. But when he slipped his arm around her waist, she let him narrow the distance between them to less than a whisper of air.

Laying her head against his shoulder when he began to sway, she followed right along as he took the first step. She smelled so good he forgot all about his game leg. He hadn’t thought of gardenias once in the whole time they’d been apart. But now that scent surrounded him and took him back.

Back to their youth and the promise of a forever love. She’d been his best friend since the day his mother died. The one person he could confide in and count on. By the time they’d had their dance a few years later, he was sure the two of them would be together for the rest of their lives. He’d confessed as much to her that very night.

How young he was then. How terribly young and stupid. He should’ve known better. People didn’t stay together forever. Something always happened to come between them.

His eyes clouded over and he felt a drop of regret as it dripped down his cheek. Holding her again this way, kissing her again, might be too hard. He wasn’t sure he was up to it.

Rearing back, he glanced down at her beautiful face in the moonlight but refused to let her go. She opened her eyes and looked up at him and he found himself gazing in amazement at tear-stained cheeks. She was crying? Over a memory? Or over him?

“Lacie…” He was too choked up to say another word.

Instead he lowered his mouth and placed a gentle kiss against the satin of her lips. Salty kisses. Another memory to add to the rest. Whether he had the nerve or not for anything more, kissing her now was an imperative.

But a moment later, he got lost in the feelings and deepened the kiss. When he nudged her lips open with his tongue, she seemed eager to go along. Heat began rocketing between them, a drop of sweat appeared at his temple, and his skin hummed with the blood bubbling in his veins.

When he slid his mouth along the edge of her jaw and headed for the sweet spot on her neck, she moaned and trembled in his arms. He struggled not to rush ahead, fought with the sudden and overpowering, erotic urges. She’d said it was too soon.

Too soon. Too soon?

Dragging himself into the present and concentrating hard on the woman in his arms, he leaned back again and studied her face.

This time when she opened her eyes, she had a glazed, unfocused expression. But her eyes cleared and the swirling questions he saw in them pushed aside the desperate hunger that had been there only moments before.

“Um…” She cleared her throat. “Yeah, that makes it definite. I have to go home.”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t feel the same thing I did. It would be a lie and you know it.” A war was going on inside him, but he let his arms drop to his side and stepped back.

“I…” She coughed and started again. “You’ll be okay for tonight. And I’ll come out right after work tomorrow so we can begin our investigation. Maybe we should see old Mrs. Murphy first. She knows everything that goes on in Chance.”

He figured she was babbling, and maybe at a loss for real words the same as him.

So he grinned and nodded. “Sounds good. At least what I got out of all that sounded good.”

“I was rushing my speech a little, wasn’t I? She choked back a laugh.

“Maybe a little.”

Her eyes went dead serious. “Can we talk about us another time?”

He took her hand in his. “Sure thing. As long as there will be another time.”

“I’ll be here tomorrow.” She turned and went to her car. “Goodnight, Colt. Thank you for the dance.”

Standing like some damned statue, he watched her start the car and drive away. Our time will come, my love.

He felt her temporary loss acutely, as though someone had died.

And that time will be coming soon. Count on it.

* * *

 TEXAS LOST AND FOUND

Fire exploded up the forty-foot cedar, snapping and cracking like a whip as it raced to chew off every living thing in its path.

Hotshot fire-fighter Nina Martinez struggled with the urge to hold still and ogle the magnificent flames—a firefighter’s worst nightmare. Dropping your guard during a blaze, for any reason, could get you killed.

A little while ago she’d gotten caught behind the fire-lines while stamping out hot spots on orders from her superintendent. But when they’d first arrived on site in Texas, her super gave his crew the coordinates to safety zones and added tricks to finding natural escape routes. No need for her to be overly concerned yet.

Tearing past dry cactus and mesquite not yet aflame but heating fast, she had to shift direction to miss a huge rattler in her path. After that scare, she hesitated at the top of a mesa, checking coordinates for the best course for rejoining her crew. But as she gazed to the east, she spotted a ranch house directly below her that lay in the current route of the now reigniting blaze.

Giving the house a thorough once-over with her binoculars, she tried to determine if the place had been evacuated. Thankfully it looked deserted. But as she slowly swiveled her head to find a different heading, two people standing close to a barn came into view. The male and female appeared to be having an argument and not paying any attention to the spreading smoke and flames.

Keeping them in her sights, she started downhill, prepared to give them a lecture about evacuating when told to do so. When she reached their position, there wouldn’t be a lot of time left to move them out of harm’s way.

She used her radio to raise her team, asking for ground evacuation support for the civilians. Her super was not happy about her situation and said to keep moving, in and out of those coordinates as fast as possible. The fire was spreading from the west toward her position. But he agreed to spare someone to help with the evacuation if it came soon. The fire was moving fast.

Crackling fire echoed at her back, while swirling winds showered her with stinging embers. It was difficult not pausing to dig at hot spots. Her training wanted to overrule her conscious mind. But the two civilians had to be first priority.

She closed in while continuing to keep watch on the couple, but all of a sudden a shovel appeared in the man’s hand. Before Nina could yell, he used it to bash at the woman’s head. The female dropped to her knees.

“Hey!” Nina screamed at the top of her lungs. “Stop.”

Ignoring the steep decline, she picked up her speed and raced toward the couple. “Put it down!”

The man hit the woman once again and the force of his blow laid her out on the ground. Only then did he look up toward the noises Nina was making. By that time she’d closed the distance to where he stood to a few yards. His gaze locked with hers and the deep anger in the man’s eyes nearly caused her steps to falter.

But concern for the woman kept her going. Without pausing, Nina reached into her pack for a fusee, preparing to use it if necessary in her own defense against the man.

But after she fisted her hand and took a few more steps in his direction, he finally turned and disappeared around the side of the barn.

Closing in on where the woman lay, still and unmoving, it was apparent to Nina that the female was already beyond help. The pool of blood surrounding her head seemed like more than any human could lose and still survive.

Nina’s stomach rolled as she swiveled and made an effort to chase the man down. After turning the corner of the barn, she expected to see a car or truck pulling away. Instead, she found an open field full of boulders and mesquite.

She spent a moment wondering what direction the murderer had gone when a bellowing roar, sounding just like a freight train, captured her attention. The winds howled, switching direction, and at that moment a sight she’d only heard about greeted her disbelieving eyes.

A fire tornado developed within half a mile of her current position and headed straight at her.

Too late to get out of its way. Within seconds the whirl was fifty feet tall and moving fast.

After dragging her face shroud across her nose and mouth, she grabbed her portable fire shelter by its handles and shook it out. Protecting her lungs and airways was the most important lesson to remember. Another lesson that could keep her alive was to strip off her pack. She pitched her gear as far away as possible, relying on years of training to do things by rote.

She tried to put as much distance between herself and the fire devil as possible in the few seconds remaining. How she prayed to find a good spot to hunker down as she leapt a few more yards away from the barn and into the boulder field. But the intensive heat soon became unbearable. No time left.

Diving for an indentation next to a huge boulder, Nina pulled the shelter over her body and curled up in a fetal position inside it. Face down, she buried her nose and mouth in the air pocket at the base of the rock.

The ferocious shriek from above roared in her ears as the whole world narrowed down to her tiny space between the shelter’s walls. The tiny space that might just save her life.

She should have known something like this would happen in Texas. For years she’d stayed away, only thinking about the God-forsaken place in her nightmares. If her team hadn’t been called in to give the Texas firefighters added backup during the worst firestorms in the state’s history, she never would have set foot inside the Texas state lines.

But wherever the team was sent, she went too.

Mind pictures of the little bit she remembered of Texas from her early childhood came unbidden as she closed her ears to the wailing firestorm outside her shelter. Horses and saddles. The smell of hay. Kind eyes and soft hands. A woman calling her “Cami, love.” A male voice cooing: “Easy, little girl.”

That was always as far into the dream as she ever got before the memories disintegrated and turned to ash. Warm eyes turned cold as ice. Soft hands turned hard as steel.

Pulling herself out of that particular pit of depression, she tried turning her thoughts to something far more pleasant. Her Hotshot unit team. The only reason she’d agreed to this temporary deployment in Texas in the first place.

Her crew: Superintendent Ralston, the strongest man she’d ever met; her fellow firefighters Mad Mike; Geek; and Alabama. And Doc, real name Josh White, the crew’s medic with the sensual bedroom eyes.

As the walls of her shelter overheated, she allowed herself the luxury of concentrating on mind pictures of Doc and his sexy eyes—something she usually wanted to stop. Lustful thoughts of him had already invaded far too many of her daydreams during fire season. But she would never have let him get an inkling of how often she thought of him.

Simply picturing those eyes, green as spring grass and so full of expression, could make her melt with unfulfilled longing. Even in the middle of heavy training. Luckily, thoughts of his rip-cord lean body, all muscle and strength, usually came into her mind during slow times and instead of the nightmares, despite the fact that their relationship was nothing more than a nodding acquaintance.

Her imaginative thoughts now brought a frisson of awareness shooting through her. Being in the middle of a fire tornado was anything but normal, but those feelings for Josh were as familiar as breathing. She gave up trying to get him out of her mind now and focused on the memory of his eyes, ignoring as best she could the extreme heat and gas-filled haze filtering in through her fire shelter’s walls.

Tightening her grip on the shelter’s handles, she refused to consider her situation dire. Don’t think about it. Thoughts of the sexy doctor Josh White were as good a way as any to spend her last seconds on earth.

* * *

 

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