Authors: Rebecca Winters
In July 2016, the HARLEQUINÂ® AMERICAN ROMANCEÂ® series will become the HARLEQUINÂ® WESTERN ROMANCE series. Same great stories, new name!
Texas Ranger Kit Saunders is not about to let any harm come to Natalie Harris on his watch. The widow of a dangerous career criminal, Natalie needs protection 24/7. But going undercover in the home of the courageous single mother arouses feelings that could jeopardize Kit's mission.
It was a shock to discover her husband was one of the FBI's most wanted felons. Now Natalie is perilously close to falling for the lawman investigating his murder. But with Kit safeguarding her and her little girl, she knows she can stand up to every threatâ¦even falling in love with her very own Texas Ranger!
“It's not funny, Kit. If anything happened to youâ¦”
He raised himself up on one elbow and looked searchingly at her. He reached for her arm, gripping it gently. “If anything happened to me, then what?”
She could hardly think with him touching her. “I don't want to think about it.”
“What don't you want to think about?” he pressed. “What are you afraid of?”
“IâI wouldn't want you to get hurt protecting me.” Her stammer was a dead giveaway that her emotions were in turmoil.
“I wouldn't want anything to happen to either of us. For you to get hurt on my watch is unthinkable to me. Come here. Let's talk about it.” He pulled her forward until she fell against him on the floor. He gathered her closer and entangled their legs.
“Kitâ” She half gasped his name.
“On second thought, I don't feel much like talking.” He lowered his mouth to hers. Natalie had been wanting this for so long she was past considering the wisdom of it. Kit started kissing her with a hunger as great as her own. In an explosion of need she began kissing him back, forgetting everything as she poured out her feelings for him.
Sometimes on the news you hear about something that sounds so unbelievable, you shudder and are grateful it never happened to you. My heroine in
The Texas Ranger's Family
is such a person, a mother with a child going along living her life the best she can.
But her world explodes when little by little everything she thought to be true turns out to be a lie. She's forced to question if anything in her life was ever real. Her disillusion starts when her husband dies and an attractive Texas Ranger shows up at her back door to inform her she's been married to a killer who's been on the FBI's most wanted list for years.
Nothing fascinates me more than the expert way the Texas Rangers go about solving a case. This third book in the Lone Star Lawmen series shows once again why their fame is legendary, and also why these two people are so heroic, they belong together to form a new and lasting family.
, whose family of four children has now swelled to include five beautiful grandchildren, lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the land of the Rocky Mountains. With canyons and high alpine meadows full of wildflowers, she never runs out of places to explore. They, plus her favorite vacation spots in Europe, often end up as backgrounds for her romance novels, because writing is her passion, along with her family and church.
Rebecca loves to hear from readers. If you wish to email her, please visit her website,
Books by Rebecca Winters
Harlequin American Romance
Lone Star Lawmen
Hitting Rocks Cowboys
Daddy Dude Ranch
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I'm a lucky author to have a great editor like Kathleen Scheibling, who lets me write about the kinds of heroes I love. She's the best!
Texas Ranger Kit Saunders took cover behind a fat pine tree and watched with his binoculars from a distance. Seven people accompanied the honey-blonde widow standing at the grave site at the Evergreen Cemetery on this hot July afternoon in Austin.
The woman was Natalie Harris, and her husband, Rodney Parker Harris, age thirty-three, was being laid to rest. As far as any of the mourners, including his widow, knew, the deceased had been an accountant with LifeSpan Pharmaceutical, a huge private corporation in Austin. A week ago he'd been found at the low-end Sleepy Hollow Hotel, dead of a gunshot wound to the temple.
Kit's captain, T. J. Horton, had assigned him to the case only yesterday.
The police had run the victim's DNA through the database and, according to their report, the name Rodney Harris was the latest in a string of aliases. The name on the deceased's original birth certificate was that of escaped felon Harold Park from Colorado, who'd disappeared eight years ago.
Park was on the FBI's Most Wanted list. After serving only two years of a sixty-year sentence for murder, embezzlement, armed robbery and grand larceny, he and another prisoner, convicted killer Alonzo Morales, had escaped during a transfer from the ADX Federal Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, to Canaan Federal Prison in Pennsylvania. Since that time both fugitives had gone by many false names that prevented the Feds from recapturing them.
The preliminary report from the detective here in Travis County suggested the gunshot wound was self-inflicted, but nothing would be official until all the forensic evidence had been reviewed. Something didn't add up in Kit's mind. It didn't make sense that the felon would kill himself. A clever killer could have set it up to look like suicide.
A search of Harold-alias-Rod's bank records revealed that $400,000 had been deposited into his checking account one day and withdrawn the next. The day after that, he'd been found dead in his hotel room. The size and date of the large deposit were inconsistent with his earnings from the pharmaceutical company, and the abrupt withdrawal was just plain suspicious. Normally that kind of money would have been put in a money market or the stock market at least.
Since Harold-alias-Rod had crossed state lines and had been an armed, dangerous killer, the police had asked for the Texas Rangers to take over. These were early days in the case. The police report also stated that Mrs. Harris had hired an attorney who'd attempted to serve him with divorce papers on the day he was shot. Since they weren't yet divorced and he'd absconded with money she had half rights to under property laws, it appeared she could have a motive to see him dead.
But if Harris had still been living a life of crime and the money was stolen, then there may have been accomplices involvedâmaybe even other ex-felons from his past lifeâwho might be potential culprits. If the widow was innocent of any wrongdoing, then she herself might be a target for interested parties still looking for the missing money.
Kit hadn't met Natalie Harris. The only information he had on her so far was that she was a twenty-eight-year-old pharmacist and had a sixteen-month-old daughter named Amy. There was no sign of the toddler at the graveside.
He was going to have to build this case from scratch. Knowing of the service today, he'd decided to study the people who showed up and take pictures with a long-range lens. Oftentimes a murderer appeared at the funeral to gloat. Of the seven people present, two were females, but he didn't sense they were family. He had the rap sheet on Alonzo Morales with a mug shot and would know if he saw that face again.
Before long the people assembled at the burial turned to leave and go their separate ways. Kit's first frontal view of Mrs. Harris being helped by the mortuary staff came as a shock to his senses. She was a true beauty; maybe five foot six. He took a picture of her. The classy, tailored black suit couldn't disguise the mold of her shapely body and legs. Everything about her appealed to him, which came as a shock. It had been a long time since he had reacted this way to a total stranger.
Kit didn't know what he'd expected. Maybe to find a widow in tears? But from a distance he got the impression she hadn't given in to whatever emotion she was feeling. Her lovely classic bone structure was undermined by features that showed no animation. Shock could do that to a person in mourning.
But since she'd filed for divorce, maybe she'd passed through her period of grief long before the papers had been served. Whether elated he was dead at her hands, relieved he was gone by another person's doing, or sad or even haunted by the way he'd died, the frozen mask he saw in front of him revealed no secrets.
Was he staring at a killer? If he was close enough to look into her eyes, he might be able to get a feel for what was going on in her psyche.
His gaze followed her to a silver Toyota parked on the roadside. The clergyman helped her in before walking to the car ahead of hers. Little by little everyone drove away from the cemetery, leaving the workers to finish their jobs.
Kit would give her a half hour before he phoned to set up a time to meet, preferably before the day was out. He needed to know her background. Was she a home-grown Texan? How long had she known the man she'd married? What about her parents or siblings? The police report didn't have many details about her background and a dozen questions filled his mind.
Tonight he planned to drive to Marble Falls to watch his younger brother, Brandon, compete in the steer wrestling event at the Charley Taylor Rodeo Arena. Brandon was headed for a world championship competition in Las Vegas this coming December and Kit was excited for him. Until he'd made the decision to go into law enforcement, Kit had competed big-time in the same sport. But when he'd made up his mind to follow in his father's footsteps, he'd given up the rodeo and ended up losing his girlfriend Janie at the same time. She knew that the Saunders brothers had suffered over the loss of their Texas Ranger father in a shootout when they were fifteen and seventeen. Fearing the same thing would happen to Kit, she'd broken it off with him, not wanting any part of a career that could end his life right in the middle of it, leaving a grieving wife and children.
Five years ago Janie had fallen in love with Brandon's hazer, Scott Turner, and they'd married. As of today they had one child. He was happy for her. Any residual pain from their breakup had disappeared a long time ago. When all was said and done, he was content enough with his bachelor existence. His mother and brother needed support and he could be there for them.
Kit would be thirty-one next month. He liked being single and free of emotional baggage. Out of his three best friends in the Rangers, two of them, Cy and Vic, were now married and incredibly happy. That left him and Luckey, who'd been married for a short time before his wife had decided she hated what he did for a living. Their divorce had pretty well scarred him.
Kit was thankful he'd avoided that problem before vows had been said. Janie had done both of them a huge favor. From time to time since then he'd gone out with various women, but no one female after Janie had made a lasting impression.
He made his way back to his truck and started up the engine, driving out of the cemetery to the main road and heading for his town house at Chimney Corners in Northwest Austin. Oddly enough Mrs. Harris lived in the same part of the city; no great distance from his condo. That would cut down his driving time. He'd grab a bite to eat and then make the call. If he could interview her soon, he'd leave for Marble Falls and pick up his mom en route to the arena. It would be good to spend some time with family.
* * *
Toyota Corolla into the driveway and pressed the remote. She was still getting used to entering the garage devoid of Rod's white Sentra. The police had impounded it when they'd investigated the crime scene at the hotel a week ago.
But the second the garage door lifted, she realized someone had been there since she'd left for the graveside service. The lawn mower and equipment for the yard had been moved around. Items from the shelf, including a Christmas tree stand, had been thrown on the cement floor, preventing her from driving in. What on earth?
Frightened that a burglar had broken into her house, she backed out to the street and parked along the curb a few houses away to call Detective Carr. He'd been the one who'd come to see her following Rod's shooting in the hotel where he'd been living temporarily. The detective had told her to call him if she needed anything.
Her hand shook as she waited for him to answer. “Mrs. Harris?”
“Yes. I'm so glad you're there. I just got home from the service to find my garage in disarray. I think someone has broken into my house. He could still be inside.”
“Where are you?”
“In my car, parked down the street.”
“What make and color?”
“A silver Corolla.”
“Stay right there. Officers will be at your home within minutes.”
“Thank y-you,” she stammered and hung up. There'd been too many shocks already and now this...
She sat there trembling as she stared at her house, watching to see if someone would come out. Before long, two police cars arrived. Three officers got out and started casing the place, and the fourth walked toward her car. She rolled down the window.
“Yes. Thank you for coming.”
“If I could have a key to your home, we'll check inside.”
She pulled her keys out of the ignition and gave him the one that would unlock the front door. “There's a crawlspace under the house. You have to get to it through the laundry room. Someone could be hiding in there.”
“We'll check. Stay right where you are.”
Natalie nodded and waited. There were several cars parked on each side of the street. Any one of them could be the intruder's. After several minutes the same officer came back outside.
“Whoever ransacked your house is gone.” He handed back her key. “Please pull into your driveway, but stay in the car until you hear from Detective Carr. He'll follow up and give you instructions.”
“Okay. Thanks for coming so quickly.”
* * *
she watch the police drive away than her phone rang. She clicked it on. “Detective Carr?”
The deep, attractive male voice didn't sound like anyone she knew. “Yes?”
“This is Miles Saunders with the Texas Rangers.” Natalie's heart skipped a beat. Why was a Texas Ranger phoning her? She thought they only worked on big federal cases. “Detective Carr contacted me. I hear you've been burglarized while you were attending your husband's graveside service.”
“I'm about six minutes away. Leave your car in the driveway and go into the house through your garage. I'll park on the next street over and walk through a few neighbors' yards to knock on your back door. Use a hand towel to open it. Don't touch anything. A forensics team will arrive right away to go through everything. They'll come to your front door.”
She heard the click as he disconnected, still unable to believe what was happening. She knew there were unscrupulous people who read through the obituaries and chose to break into people's homes on the day of a funeral.
Taking a deep breath, she started her car and pulled into her driveway. She got out and entered the house through the garage as instructed, passing through the small laundry room into the kitchen. Cupboards were open and foodstuffs were on the floor.
Natalie had only been gone two hours, but it looked as though a wrecking ball had been at work. As she walked through her two-bedroom rambler, she saw that drawers and closets had been ransacked. Her bedding had been thrown on the floor and her mattress lay halfway off the box spring. Numerous items lay strewed on the floor of both bathrooms. She checked the nursery and found it in shambles. Some intruder had gone through every room, causing total upheaval.
She was wild with anger. Last evening after returning from her work at the pharmacy, she'd thoroughly cleaned the rambler in case someone dropped by after the graveside service. The house would be neat, clean and filled with flowers.
She'd inherited this house from her deceased mother, and she and Rod had made it into their home. But their marriage had started to fall apart soon after Amy was born, and now he was dead and her family home was a disaster.
Half a dozen floral arrangements had arrived during the week, but several of them had been knocked over. Water had spilled on the carpet. The fireplace screen had been knocked over. Cushions were piled on the floor in the living room and den. The drawers of her computer desk had been pulled out, the contents dumped on the floor. Several framed prints had been taken off the walls and the backings torn. Whoever had gone through her house had been desperately looking for something.
While she waited for the Ranger, she reached again for her cell and placed a call to Jillian.
Her good friend lived just across the street and had been looking after Amy since Natalie had gone back to work. The little girl was good company for Jillian's eighteen-month-old daughter, Susie, and the arrangement allowed Jillian to earn a little extra money while her husband, Bart, served another tour of duty overseas with the marines.
“Jillian? You're not going to believe this,” Natalie said when her friend answered. “I just got home from the service and found that my house has been broken into”
“I wish I were. Life has been a nightmare since I got that call from the police about Rod. Can you keep Amy a little longer? I have to wait for some Ranger to come over.”
“I have no idea. And a forensics team. As soon as they're gone, I'll be over to get her.”