Inside the rambling Texas ranch house were a profusion of
flowers, tables groaning with food and two bars stocked
with plenty of liquor. All the makings of one hell of a
great party, Emmett Jamison thought from the shadowed
corner where he stood. That is, if the guest of honor
hadn't been dead.
"I can't believe he's gone," he overheard a tiny, gray-
haired lady by a punch bowl say to her companion. "I just
can't believe that Ryan Fortune is gone."
Emmett's eyes closed. He wished he couldn't believe it.
But the older man had been diagnosed with a brain tumor
several months before and despite his big, vital
personality and all the family and friends who cared about
him, just that morning Ryan Fortune's ashes had been
spread across the lands of his beloved Double Crown Ranch.
The tragedy of it didn't surprise Emmett. All hope and
optimism had been swept out of him months ago. He expected
no happy endings. He was becoming accustomed to funerals.
"Trying out for the undertaker's job?" a new voice
murmured in his ear. "You've got the morose expression for
"I don't take offense at your ugly mug," he answered
automatically, "so you shouldn't take offense at my
The "ugly" insult didn't have much meat to it, though, not
when the man who had come up beside him was his cousin,
Collin Jamison, and not when all agreed that Collin was a
slightly older version of Emmett himself. They were both
six feet tall and had the solid build of men whose fitness
and training kept them employed â€” and alive. They wore
their dark hair in no-nonsense military cuts, and Collin's
hazel eyes were only a touch lighter than Emmett's green
"You're not offending me," Collin replied. "You're
worrying me. You've got that let-me-escape-to-the-
mountains look about you."
Emmett shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark
trousers. He'd holed himself up in the Sandia Mountains of
New Mexico following his brother Christopher's funeral
last September and the tragic ending to one of his FBI
cases. There, he'd tried deadening himself to that pain
and all that had come before with cheap tequila and
stubborn solitude. Neither had lasted long enough. When
his father had brought the news that his other brother,
Jason, who had been implicated in Chris's murder, had
escaped from jail, Emmett had sobered up and returned to
Texas. "When Dad found me in New Mexico, he confiscated
the keys to the cabin and threatened to burn the place
down." Though lack of keys wouldn't stop anyone from
getting into that shack. "I won't be going back there."
"Good," Collin said, then surveyed the crowded room. "I
haven't seen Uncle Blake and Aunt Darcy, but it's wall-to-
wall people. Are they here?"
Emmett shook his head. "I'm the sole representative of our
branch of the Jamisons. Mom and Dad didn't feel
comfortable attending, considering their son was the one
who kidnapped Ryan's widow just a couple of months back."
Jason's kidnapping of Lily Fortune was what had brought
his cousin Collin to Red Rock, Texas. Emmett had called
him after the older woman's recovery and his brother's
escape. Emmett had wanted Collin's help in stopping Jason.
That job wasn't done.
Collin seemed to read his mind. "We're going to get him,
"I'm going to get him," Emmett corrected, though he and
the authorities on the case were fresh out of leads and
they all knew it. Though Lily had been recovered, Jason
had taken off with the ransom money, killing an FBI agent
in the process. There hadn't been a sign of him since.
"You have Lucy to focus on now, Collin. But come hell or
high water, I'm not going to let my brother make a victim
of anyone else." Jason's ugly criminal tally also included
the death of his own girlfriend, Melissa, and that of a
prison transport guard. Though a prison guard in on
Jason's plan â€” McGruder â€” had been arrested and would
stand trial for his part in the escape, it wasn't nearly
enough justice. Emmett's voice lowered. "If it's the last
thing I do, I'm going to make Jason pay for all the pain
"You're going grim on me again, buddy," Collin warned
softly. "By all means, let's get Jason safely behind bars,
but not at the cost of your heart."
Emmett had to shake his head at that. Falling in love with
Lucy had done a number on his tough-natured
cousin. "Romance has made you soft. You know I don't have
And Emmett didn't feel like talking about it anymore,
either. Without bothering to make an excuse, he wandered
away from his cousin, avoiding the eyes of those around
him. Turning a corner, he almost knocked over an easel
that held a poster-size photo. He reached out a hand to
steady the smiling image of Ryan Fortune. "Husband,
Father, Friend" was printed on the cardboard beneath
it. "Loved By All."
Emmett's fingers lingered on the edge of the poster.
Ryan's eyes seemed to glitter as they had in life, and
then Emmett felt a warm weight on his shoulder, as if the
man were holding him there with a ghostly hand. To tell
him something? To remind him of something?
Struck by a new, vague disquiet, Emmett hurried off,
heading for the ranch house's foyer. He pushed open the
heavy front door, undeterred by a blast of chilly April
wind. The sky was as dark as his mood and it smelled like
rain, but he needed fresh air. More, he needed to be
alone. He didn't need a reminder of what he owed Ryan.
Loved By All. That phrase flitted into Emmett's mind as he
stepped outside. His brother Chris's headstone read
Beloved. Jessica Chandler's family had carved In Loving
Memory onto hers.
The last few years had taught that those stock phrases
didn't solve one damn thing, though. They didn't make it
any easier for the living to carry on. Love didn't make it
any easier for the living to carry on. And love certainly
didn't wake the dead.
Oblivious to the cool temperature, he leaned against one
wall of the covered entryway, staring at the terra-cotta
pots filled with flowers that lined the stone walkway in
front of him. A few brave blooms were already showing
their faces, but in May the April showers would really pay
off. Emmett wondered if he'd still be in Red Rock to see
it â€” and then admitted to himself he more than likely
wouldn't notice if he were. It had been winter inside him
for what seemed like aeons now.
From around the corner of the entryway, a soft, rhythmic
thup thup thup caught his attention. Curious, he shoved
his hands deeper in his pockets and drifted down the steps
to take a look at what was making the noise.
It was a kid, medium-sized, in an expensive navy blazer
and a pair of khakis with a streak of mud on one knee.
Between his shiny loafers was a fist-size, black-and-white
ball that the boy tossed upward with one foot three times,
thup thup thup, before it fell to the stone pathway and he
had to start all over again, lifting it with his toe,
juggling it for a few moments, then losing it again.
Emmett's mind flashed back three months, maybe four. Then,
he'd seen that same child, in a diner in Red Rock, sitting
with an older couple and across from a blond woman. Emmett
had only seen the blonde's back but he'd seen the tension
on the boy's face.
A gust of wind tossed the kid's blond bangs around his
forehead and shook a few raindrops out of the low clouds
above. The kid looked up, shivered, but went back to his
game. The next blast of cold wind started the rain in
earnest. Emmett stepped back toward the front door, almost
calling to the boy to come inside, but then he shrugged.
Hell, the kid wasn't his concern.
He had other priorities.
Behind him, he heard the door open. "Richard?" a female
voice called. "Richard, are you out there?"
The kid ducked his head and kept juggling the ball,
despite the rain and despite the person obviously seeking
him out. Shrugging again, Emmett turned toward the
entryway. He'd wanted fresh air, not a fresh soaking. It
was time to go back inside, find Lily and mumble some more
condolences, then leave.
"Richard?" The voice floated closer.
And then, from around the corner of the house, a woman
came into view.
And brought out the sun.
It was just the capricious spring weather, Emmett knew
that, but it halted him midstride anyway, as a warm beam
of light broke through the clouds to spotlight the woman's
long blond hair, her soft white dress, her slender,
He blinked. She was an angel, a candle, a...
A sign that he needed to get more than three hours of
sleep a night, he thought, disgusted. Her gaze bounced off
Emmett and then zeroed in on the boy.
"Ricky, I keep telling you," the kid muttered. "Ricky,
The woman's forehead wrinkled and Emmett wondered if she
might actually cry. He took a step toward her, driven by
the sudden thought that he should comfort her, care for
her, something, but then she squared her shoulders and her
mouth turned up in a little half smile.
"Well, Ricky-Ricky-Ricky, you shouldn't be outside in the
"It's not raining anymore."
Emmett said that. He couldn't believe he'd insinuated
himself into the strangers' conversation. But then again,
he couldn't believe that odd compulsion he'd had to take
the woman into his arms, either. More sleep was definitely
The woman shot him a puzzled glance, then tipped her face
to the sky, like one of those flowers he'd been looking at
before. Light bathed her features, illuminating her clear
pale skin, her small nose and her pretty mouth.
He thought of springtime again, actually remembered
springtime, with its warmth and sweet scents and green new-
Article 02: Untitled
ness. His feet took another step closer to her before he
"I guess you're right. It isn't raining anymore," she
said, closing her eyes. She swayed a bit, as if slightly
"Doesn't the sunshine feel good?"
Emmett refused to answer the question; instead, he
asked, "Who are you?" Immediately, he was aware he sounded
abrupt and hostile â€” quite a feat for someone as naturally
abrupt and hostile as himself. But the woman unsettled
him, ruffled him somehow, and he wanted to figure out what
it was, exactly, she did to him. And why.
To his surprise, it was the truculent kid who answered.
While he had seemed peeved at the woman himself, now he
moved to stand between her and Emmett, a purely protective
stance. "She's Linda Faraday," the boy said. "I'm Ricky.
Who are you?"
Linda Faraday. Her son, Ricky. Emmett's gut tightened.
He'd forgotten about them in the days since Ryan's death.
Perhaps it explained the disquiet he'd felt when looking
at the older man's photo. And perhaps it was why he'd
reacted so strongly to the woman a few minutes before â€”
his subconscious had recognized her and remembered his
promise. Not the one he'd made for Ryan, about capturing
Jason, but that promise he'd made to Ryan.
"Well?" the kid said. "Who are you?"
Emmett took in a long breath, then gazed into Linda
Faraday's wide blue eyes. Springtime. He had to shove the
thought away before it derailed him. "I'm the man who's
going to be looking after you," he told her.