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Authors: Kathleen Creighton

Shooting Starr

BOOK: Shooting Starr
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“The funny thing is, you know, I do trust you.

“I trust you to behave exactly as you have been, with honor and integrity. The problem is, you and I are on opposite sides of the fence, C.J.”

“I don't think that's true.” His denial was automatic and held no conviction at all.

Caitlyn shook her head. “You still plan on being a lawyer?”

“Yes, I sure do.”

“Well, then? As a lawyer, you are bound as an officer of the court to uphold the law. And there's no getting around the fact that I—” her smile wavered “—for the best of all possible reasons, am often…shall we say…
forced
to circumvent it.” She shrugged as if to say,
That's the way it is. What can you do?

What
could
he do? What could he say? The answer to that: Not a damn thing.

Dear Reader,

The days are hot and the reading is hotter here at Silhouette Intimate Moments. Linda Turner is back with the next of THOSE MARRYING M
C
BRIDES! in
Always a McBride.
Taylor Bishop has only just found out about his familial connection—and he has no idea it's going to lead him straight to love.

In
Shooting Starr,
Kathleen Creighton ratchets up both the suspense and the romance in a story of torn loyalties you'll long remember. Carla Cassidy returns to CHEROKEE CORNERS in
Last Seen…,
a novel about two people whose circumstances ought to prevent them from falling in love but don't.
On Dean's Watch
is the latest from reader favorite Linda Winstead Jones, and it will keep you turning the pages as her federal marshal hero falls hard for the woman he's supposed to be keeping an undercover watch over.
Roses After Midnight,
by Linda Randall Wisdom, is a suspenseful look at the hunt for a serial rapist—and the blossoming of an unexpected romance. Finally, take a look at Debra Cowan's
Burning Love
and watch passion flare to life between a female arson investigator and the handsome cop who may be her prime suspect.

Enjoy them all—and come back next month for more of the best and most exciting romance reading around.

Yours,

Leslie J. Wainger

Executive Editor

Shooting Starr
KATHLEEN CREIGHTON

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Silhouette Books

Silhouette Christmas Stories
1990 “The Mysterious Gift”

KATHLEEN CREIGHTON

has roots deep in the California soil but has relocated to South Carolina. As a child, she enjoyed listening to old timers' tales, and her fascination with the past only deepened as she grew older. Today, she says she is interested in everything—art, music, gardening, zoology, anthropology and history—but people are at the top of her list. She also has a lifelong passion for writing, and now combines her two loves in romance novels.

Chapter 1

South Carolina, Early Autumn

E
ven with the bruises it was the most beautiful face he'd ever seen. Stark against the pillow, it needed no adornment. Framed in white bandages, the features were pristine, elegant, exquisite. It was a face that belonged in dreams, or fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty, maybe, or Snow White…the enchanted princess waiting for her hero's kiss.

If only, he thought, it could be so easy.

The woman in the bed stirred. Eyes the pale gray-blue of sunlit water swept over him, and his breath caught, then fluttered in uneven breaths.

Hearing it, she murmured a soft and slurred, “Who's there?”

He cleared his throat. “It's me.” He leaned forward and touched her hand. “C. J. Starr.”

She closed her eyes and turned her face away. After what seemed a long time, she whispered, “Why are you here?”

He sat and stared at his hands, loosely clasped between his knees, and tried to think how he could answer that without laying the burden of his guilt on her. Finally he shrugged and mumbled simply, “I wanted to be.”

“I don't blame you, you know.” Though still groggy, her voice took on a raspy edge. He looked up and saw that her eyes were wide-open again and gazing at him.
Silver eyes.
“You did what you had to do. I knew the risks.”

He shifted restlessly. There was a heaviness in his chest that wouldn't go away. “If I hadn't been there—”

“—I'd have picked somebody else to hijack. I guess that's true.” There was a pause and then, to his surprise, he heard a whisper of a laugh, soft and ironic. “Of all the truckstops on all the interstates, why'd you have to pull into that one?”

He angled his gaze toward the window, where the sky was the clear, translucent blue it takes on only in autumn, when the early trees are turning and the goldenrod is in bloom. Yellow-flower season, his momma called it—her favorite time of year.

He sighed and settled back in the chair. “I guess I'd have to blame it on the thunderstorm,” he said.

Five Months Earlier—Springtime

It wasn't a bad one, as storms go, even if the rain was coming down in sheets the way it can in the South in the springtime, and visibility was about zero. But it was the third time a four-wheeler had stopped dead in front of him and he'd had to hit his air brakes while he prayed and swore loud enough to outroar the rain on the roof of his big blue Kenworth.

It was in view of the fact that—despite his momma's best efforts—he hadn't been keeping up on his praying the way he should, and had probably used up a goodly portion of his lifetime's allotment of Divine Intervention, that the
next time he saw a sign for a rest stop swimming toward him through the rain, C.J. put on his blinker and pulled off the interstate.

A number of other drivers had had the same good sense, it seemed, because the rest stop was full and he just did find a place to pull in well up along the on-ramp, the last available spot big enough to wedge an eighteen-wheeler into. Once he'd got the Kenworth buttoned down to his satisfaction, he put on his slicker and jogged back up the sloping drive to the buildings.

It looked to him as if the rain was letting up some, though that could have been because he wasn't on the interstate, where the truck spray always made things seem worse than they were. A chilly wind had sprung up and was blowing what rain there was in nasty gusts under the roofed shelter areas, so with the exception of a couple of women trying to use a cell phone, most people had taken to staying in their vehicles.

C.J. meant to do the same himself, once he'd made use of the rest room and vending machines. He planned on getting himself an assortment of junk goodies to help pass the time, which was something truckers did a lot of and was one of the reasons why some of them got so big-bellied and heavy, or so he'd been warned by his brother, Jimmy Joe, who was also his boss.

C.J. had noticed, though, that after near twenty years driving big trucks, Jimmy Joe himself was as lean and lanky as ever, leading C.J. to conclude that leanness pretty much ran in the Starr family, along with chocolate-brown eyes and dimples.

He wasn't worried much about health and fitness as he fed coins and dollar bills into the vending machines and filled up the pockets of his slicker with tortilla chips and Little Debbie's. What concerned him more was making it back to Georgia in time to take the exam he had scheduled for three days from now. After that one there was just the
final and then he was through with law school after ten long years; that is, if you counted college and before that the time it had taken him to pass his high school equivalencies, since he'd had the bad sense to drop out of school a month into his senior year.

Not a single minute of it had been easy. A whole lot of folks were bound to be surprised he'd made it this far, C.J. included.

Juggling a soda can and a package of cheese puffs, he stuffed the leftover change into the pocket of his jeans, hunched his shoulders inside his slicker and headed back to his truck. A little farther along the breezeway he had to pass by the two women who were still trying to get through to somebody on a cell phone—without much luck, it seemed evident to him.

The one with the phone looked about fourteen. Tall but slender and small-boned, she was wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pushed back, and she had short blond hair cut in that spiky, messed-up way younger women seem to favor. She had her finger stuck in her unoccupied ear and kept turning this way and that, looking up into the mist or down at her feet, the way people do when they're trying to get something besides static on a wireless phone. The other woman was older—maybe early thirties—but pretty, with reddish brown hair worn long, thick and curly, what C.J.'s sister Jess would call “big hair.” She seemed edgy, the big-haired woman did. She kept hugging herself as she watched the girl with the phone, throwing glances over her shoulder into the rainy dusk.

And now C.J. could see a third person there, snugged up against the older woman's legs. A child, a little bit of a girl with dark hair cut to chin length and straight across her forehead, and the biggest, blackest eyes he'd ever seen. Since those eyes were gazing straight at C.J., he did what came naturally to him. He smiled. The eyes kept on staring
at him, not blinking, just kind of shimmering, like deep, dark pools.

C.J.'s heart gave a peculiar quiver, and all at once it seemed like the most important thing in the world to him to see that child smile. So he smiled even bigger, showing those famous Starr dimples, and said, “Hey, hon', how're you doin'?” Since it struck him that the eyes had kind of a hungry look, and that it might have been seeing him tucking those goodies away that was making her stare at him that way, he held out the bag of cheese puffs and added, “Here you go, darlin'—you want some of these?”

C.J. would have been the first to admit there was a lot he didn't know about kids, but even so it set him back some when the child cringed away from him and tried to hide behind her momma's legs, as if there'd been a dead rat in that cellophane package instead of cheese puffs. It wasn't the reaction C. J. Starr was used to getting from people when he turned on that smile—put it that way.

He transferred the smile to the child's mother and ruefully explained, “Sorry, ma'am, I sure didn't mean to scare her.”

The woman gave him a tight little smile in return and muttered something politely vague, along the lines of, “That's okay, but we're fine.”

Not friendly types, these people. With a mental shrug, C.J. was about to go on his way when for some reason he glanced over at the girl with the cell phone, and it happened to be just as she pivoted and looked right at him. His heart gave another one of those odd little shivers. She wasn't as young as he'd thought; young enough, but definitely not a kid. Her eyes were searching, soul-piercing sharp, and…it might have been something about the artificial lighting in that rest stop, but he'd have sworn they were
silver.

He didn't know what it was about her, but whatever flirty comment he'd planned on making went right out of his head. Instead he gave her a polite nod and a mumbled,
“Ma'am…” and added on the trucker's benediction: “Y'all have a safe trip, now,” as he hunched inside his slicker and plunged out into the mist. A few steps farther on he broke into a jog.

Back in his truck, he put the two women and the little girl out of his head while he stashed his goodies in the usual places and popped open the can of soda. Then he turned on the cab lights and reached for the pile of law books he kept handy on the passenger seat beside him. The way he saw it, with that exam coming up and his entire future riding on the outcome, every little minute he could squeeze in some studying was a plus.

 

The roaring of the wind brought C.J. out of his doze.
Damn,
he thought, that storm must be moving back in again.

No, wait—that wasn't wind.
Trucks.
It came to him that what he'd been listening to for a while now was the sound of big diesel engines and a whole lot of tires churning past him down the on-ramp, one after the other. The rest stop was clearing out fast. A check of his mirrors showed him an empty parking lot, but for one nondescript gray late-model four-wheeler in the back row, over by the doggy-john. Somebody else having a nap forgot to leave a wakeup call, he thought.

He had himself a stretch to get rid of the kinks and cobwebs, then gathered up his junk-food wrappers and soda can and climbed out of his truck—one last stop at the rest room, he told himself, and he'd be headin' back out on the road himself.

The air was warm and soupy, but he was a Southern boy, and to him warm and soupy was the way it was supposed to be in the springtime. Wet dogwood petals dotted the grass and sidewalks and the roof and hood of the parked car, and the air smelled of crushed leaves and mud, with a sweetness from some sort of plant he couldn't identify, and
maybe a hint of something rotting off in the woods somewhere. Smelled just right to him. Like spring.

Spring wasn't C.J.'s favorite season of the year, though. “Spring can break your heart,” was the way his momma, Betty Starr, put it, stoic after a late freeze had wiped out her saucer magnolias and flowering crab apple trees for the umpteenth time. C.J. preferred fall, with sky so blue it made your eyes ache, and that indefinable touch of melancholy in the air.

Then he had to laugh at himself like any Southern-raised boy would at such thoughts—even though he knew the momma who'd raised him wouldn't have laughed. Betty Starr was a schoolteacher who'd brought up her three daughters and four sons to enjoy books and reading as much as they did hunting and cars, and to have an appreciation for the softer aspects of nature that was at least on a par with a fine deer rifle or the inner workings of a gasoline engine.

In spite of that, given the circles in which he'd grown up and spent most of his life, C.J. had gotten in the habit of keeping poetic notions to himself.

“Excuse me, sir…”

Lost in his musings and shaking water from his hands as he emerged from the restroom, C.J. damn near jumped out of his skin when the slender form stepped out from behind the wall that screened the entrance, blocking his way. She had both hands tucked in the front pocket of her sweatshirt, and her neck looked fragile as the stem of a flower rising out of the folds of the laid-back hood.

“Whoa!” he said, rocking back and putting out his hands in the exaggerated way people do when they almost collide with somebody, but at the same time turning on his smile, full wattage, to let her know he wasn't put out about it. “Ma'am, I believe you've got the wrong door. The ladies' is around there.”

He would have gone on his way, but she seemed inclined to stay where she was. Though she didn't return his smile.

“I'm sorry to bother you—”

“Hey, no bother—what can I do for you?” C.J. was radiating charm from every pore. And that didn't have anything to do with the discovery he'd just made that the woman was a whole lot prettier than he'd first thought she was, in a strange, almost fairy-tale sort of way, with a ballerina's neck, little delicate chin, soft lips and skin so fine it seemed lit from the inside. But he'd have turned on the charm in equal measures for a freckle-nosed kid or a ninety-year-old with a face like a road map. That was just his way.

“I need to ask you a favor. A really…big favor.” A smile flickered briefly, as if some distant voice had prompted her to mind her manners. It struck him how tense she was, like a deer in that last instant before she figures out you're watching her and bolts for the bushes.

“I'll be glad to do what I can, ma'am,” C.J. responded automatically. But he was beginning to feel uneasy now, too, just a faint “Uh-oh…” whispered in the back of his mind. The last thing he needed right now was more delays.

“My car won't start. I'm afraid it might be the alternator. I was wondering if you—”

“Be glad to take a look for you.” Relieved that what she wanted was something he could give her without taking up too awfully much of his time, he was feeling confident and was already walking off toward the only remaining vehicle in the parking lot. “That it over there?” He spun back and held out his hand. “Got the keys? Won't take me but a minute—”

“No. There wouldn't be any point in you looking at it.” She was standing where he'd left her with her hands stuffed deep in the pocket of her sweatshirt. She was shaking her head, and her voice was a hard, flat monotone. “I'm sure it's dead. What I wanted to ask you was—”

“Did you call Triple A?” Really uneasy, now, he was
remembering the cell phone, and the anxious way her big-haired friend had watched her make the call. Not wanting to, he also remembered the little girl with the haunting eyes.

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