As the daughter of a presidential candidate, Cassidy Hamilton left the Montana family ranch to escape notoriety and live her own life. But when someone tries to abduct her off a Houston sidewalk, Cassidy finds protection in the tall, dark and sexy form of cowboy Jack Durand. The gorgeous Texan doesn't recognize her, wants nothing from her and is determined to keep her safe.
Jack hates keeping secrets from the beautiful Cassidy, but he knows more about her kidnapping attempt than he's admitting. Forced on the run, Jack and Cassidy begin piecing together a jagged family puzzle, exposing a plot years in the making—one that will either tear them apart or bring them closer together than ever.
The cemetery seemed unusually quiet. Jack Durand paused on the narrow walkway to glance toward the Houston skyline. He never came to Houston without stopping by his mother’s grave. He liked to think of his mother here in this beautiful, peaceful place. And he always brought flowers. Today he’d brought her favorite, daisies.
He breathed in the sweet scent of freshly mown lawn as he moved through shafts of sunlight fingering their way down through the huge oak trees. Long shadows fell across the path offering a breath of cooler air. Fortunately, the summer day wasn’t hot and the walk felt good after the long drive in from the ranch.
The silent gravestones and statues gleamed in the sun. His favorites were the angels. He liked the idea of all the angels here watching over his mother, he thought, as he passed the small lake ringed with trees and followed the wide bend of Braes Bayou situated along one side of the property. A flock of ducks took flight, flapping wildly and sending water droplets into the air.
He’d taken the long way because he needed to relax. He knew it was silly, but he didn’t want to visit his mother upset. He’d promised her on her deathbed that he would try harder to get along with his father.
Ahead, he saw movement near his mother’s grave and slowed. A man wearing a dark suit stood next to the angel statue that watched over her final resting place. The man wasn’t looking at the grave or the angel. Instead, he appeared to simply be waiting impatiently. As he turned…
With a start, Jack recognized his father.
He thought he had to be mistaken at first. Tom Durand had made a point of telling him he would be in Los Angeles the next few days. Had his father’s plans changed? Surely he would have no reason to lie about it.
Until recently, that his father might have lied would never have occurred to him. But things had been strained between them since Jack had told him he wouldn’t be taking over the family business.
It wasn’t just seeing his father here when he should have been in Los Angeles. It was seeing him in this cemetery. He knew for a fact that his father hadn’t been here since the funeral.
“I don’t like cemeteries,” he’d told his son when Jack had asked why he didn’t visit his dead wife. “Anyway, what is the point? She’s gone.”
Jack felt close to his mother near her grave. “It’s a sign of respect.”
His father had shaken his head, clearly displeased with the conversation. “We all mourn in our own ways. I like to remember your mother my own way, so lay off, okay?”
So why the change of heart? Not that Jack wasn’t glad to see it. He knew that his parents had loved each other. Kate Durand had been sweet and loving, the perfect match for Tom, who was a distant workaholic.
Jack was debating joining him or leaving him to have this time alone with his wife, when he saw another man approaching his father. He quickly stepped behind a monument. Jack was far enough away that he didn’t recognize the man right away. But while he couldn’t see the man’s face clearly from this distance, he recognized the man’s limp.
Jack had seen him coming out of the family import/export business office one night after hours. He’d asked his father about him and been told Ed Urdahl worked on the docks.
Now he frowned as he considered why either of the men was here. His father hadn’t looked at his wife’s grave even once. Instead he seemed to be in the middle of an intense conversation with Ed. The conversation ended abruptly when his father reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a thick envelope and handed it to the man.
He watched in astonishment as Ed pulled a wad of money from the envelope and proceeded to count it. Even from where he stood, Jack could tell that the gesture irritated his father. Tom Durand expected everyone to take what he said or did as the gospel.
Ed finished counting the money, put it back in the envelope and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. His father seemed to be giving Ed orders. Then looking around as if worried they might have been seen, Tom Durand turned and walked away toward an exit on the other side of the cemetery—the one farthest from the reception building. He didn’t even give a backward glance to his wife’s grave. Nor had he left any flowers for her. Clearly, his reason for being here had nothing to do with Kate Durand.
Jack was too stunned to move for a moment. What had that exchange been about? Nothing legal, he thought. A hard knot formed in his stomach. What was his father involved in?
He noticed that Ed was heading in an entirely different direction. Impulsively, he began to follow him, worrying about what his father had paid the man to do.
Ed headed for a dark green car parked in the lot near where Jack himself had parked earlier. Jack dropped the daisies, exited the cemetery yards behind him and headed to his ranch pickup. Once behind the wheel, he followed as Ed left the cemetery.
Staying a few cars back, he tailed the man, all the time trying to convince himself that there was a rational explanation for the strange meeting in the cemetery or his father giving this man so much money. But it just didn’t wash. His father hadn’t been there to visit his dead wife. So what was Tom Durand up to?
Jack realized that Ed was headed for an older part of Houston that had been gentrified in recent years. A row of brownstones ran along a street shaded in trees. Small cafes and quaint shops were interspersed with the brownstones. Because it was late afternoon, the street wasn’t busy.
Ed pulled over, parked and cut his engine. Jack turned into a space a few cars back, noticing that Ed still hadn’t gotten out.
Had he spotted the tail? Jack waited, half expecting Ed to emerge and come stalking toward his truck. And what? Beat him up? Call his father?
So far all Ed had done from what Jack could tell was sit watching a brownstone across the street.
Jack continued to observe the green car, wondering how long he was going to sit here waiting for something to happen. This was crazy. He had no idea what had transpired at the cemetery. While the transaction had looked suspicious, maybe his father had really been visiting his mother’s grave and told Ed to meet him there so he could pay him money he owed him. But for what that required such a large amount of cash? And why in the cemetery?
Even as Jack thought it, he still didn’t believe what he’d seen was innocent. He couldn’t shake the feeling that his father had hired the man for some kind of job that involved whoever lived in that brownstone across the street.
He glanced at the time. Earlier, when he’d decided to stop by the cemetery, he knew he’d be cutting it close to meet his appointment back at the ranch. He prided himself on his punctuality. But if he kept sitting here, he would miss his meeting.
Jack reached for his cell phone. The least he could do was call and reschedule. But before he could key in the number, the door of the brownstone opened and a young woman with long blond hair came out.
As she started down the street in the opposite direction, Ed got out of his car. Jack watched him make a quick call on his cell phone as he began to follow the woman.
The blonde had the look of a rich girl from her long coifed hair to her stylish short skirt and crisp white top to the pale blue sweater lazily draped over one arm. Hypnotized by the sexy swish of her skirt, Jack couldn’t miss the glint of silver jewelry at her slim wrist or the name-brand bag she carried.
Jack grabbed the gun he kept in his glove box and climbed out of his truck. The blonde took a quick call on her cell phone as she walked. She quickened her steps, pocketing her phone. Was she meeting someone and running late. A date?
As she turned down another narrow street, he saw Ed on the opposite side of the street on his phone again. Telling someone…what?
He felt his anxiety rise as Ed ended his call and put away his phone as he crossed the street. Jack took off after the two. He tucked the gun into the waist of his jeans. He had no idea what was going on, but all his instincts told him the blonde, whoever she was, was in danger.
As he reached the corner, he saw that Ed was now only yards behind the woman, his limp even more pronounced. The narrow alley-like street was empty of people and businesses. The neighborhood rejuvenation hadn’t reached this street yet. There was dirt and debris along the front of the vacant buildings. So where was the woman going?
Jack could hear the blonde’s heels making a tap, tap, tap sound as she hurried along. Ed’s work boots made no sound as he gained on the woman.
As Ed increased his steps, he pulled out what looked like a white cloth from a plastic bag in his pocket. Discarding the bag, he suddenly rushed down the deserted street toward the woman.
Jack raced after him. Ed had reached the woman, looping one big strong arm around her from behind and lifting her off her feet. Her blue sweater fell to the ground along with her purse as she struggled.
Ed was fighting to get the cloth over her mouth and nose. The blonde was frantically moving her head back and forth and kicking her legs and arms wildly. Some of her kicks were connecting. Ed let out several cries of pain as well as a litany of curses as she managed to knock the cloth from his hand.
After setting her feet on the ground, Ed grabbed a handful of her hair and jerked her head back. Cocking his other fist, he reared back as if to slug her.
Running up, Jack pulled the gun, and hit the man with the stock of his handgun.
Ed released his hold on the woman’s hair, stumbled and fell to his knees as she staggered back from him, clearly shaken. Her gaze met his as Jack heard a vehicle roaring toward them from another street. Unless he missed his guess, it was cohorts of Ed’s.
As a van came careening around the corner, Jack cried “Come on!” to the blonde. She stood a few feet away looking too stunned and confused to move. He quickly stepped to her, grabbed her hand and, giving her only enough time to pick up her purse from the ground, pulled her down the narrow alley.
Behind them, the van came to a screeching stop. Jack looked back to see two men in the front of the vehicle. One jumped out to help Ed, who was holding the blonde’s sweater to his bleeding head.
Jack tugged on her arm and she began to run with him again. They rounded a corner, then another one. He thought he heard the sound of the van’s engine a block over and wanted to keep running, but he could tell she wasn’t up to it. He dragged her into an inset open doorway to let her catch her breath.
They were both breathing hard. He could see that she was still scared, but the shock seemed to be wearing off. She eyed him as if having second thoughts about letting a complete stranger lead her down this dark alley.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. “I’m trying to protect you from those men who tried to abduct you.”
She nodded, but didn’t look entirely convinced. “Who are you?”
“Jack. My name is Jack Durand. I saw that man following you,” he said. “I didn’t think, I just ran up behind him and hit him.” It was close enough to the truth. “Who are you?”
“Cassidy Hamilton.” No Texas accent. Nor did the name ring any bells. So what had they wanted with this young woman?
About the Author
B.J. DANIELS’ life dream was to be a policewoman. After a career as an award-winning newspaper journalist, she wrote and sold 37 short stories before she finally wrote her first book. Since then she has won numerous awards including a career achievement award last year for romantic suspense. Daniels lives in Montana with her husband, Parker, and three springer spaniels, Spot, Jem and Ace. When she isn’t writing, she quilts, snowboards, camps, boats and plays tennis. Check out her webpage and blog at bjdaniels.com or join her on Facebook.